Apr 7, 2014


Thanks to poet Martin Woodside for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.  You can see his own response here.

What Are You Working On?
1.     What am I working on?

I am currently working on many things.  I am putting the final touches and last-last revisions on a group of poems that are the final poems of my new manuscript, Scavenger Loop.  I just signed a contract with W. W. Norton for that book to appear in May or June of 2015.  It is a book of poems that range from fairly formal (syllabic, stanzaic) to fairly scattered (fragments, pieces, shards).  Some of the central crises of the poems are my mother’s death; the terrible destruction of our landscape and environment; the decay of Midwestern towns and villages; the persistence of human love and stupidity; despair; hope. 
      I am working on a few new poems, subsequent to this new book.  They are poems, so far, about the Caribbean, about popular songs, and about the subjects above—especially environmental and natural issues.
      I am also working on some new essays—about Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks.  I am drafting notes for a book on poetic form/s.  I am beginning to shape and reshape the first shadows for a new-and-selected gathering of poems from all my books of poems. 
            I am also working on my lawnmower, which needs an oil change and a sharpened blade.

2.     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It is different because I wrote it, not someone else. 
But in another regard, how can my poems be notably different from the genre of poems
and poems in that genre?  They are poems, and so they share the characteristics and rhetorical promises—variable and contradictory as they may be—of poems. 

3.     Why do I write what I do?

I write out of many different causes and reasons and impulses.  Why?  Because on one
day I may be one David, on another another.
I write about obsessions of mine, the nature of memory and desire.  I write these days
about the environment, about “nature,” about farming and the “development” of land in the Midwest, about families, love and loss.  Witness and invention.
            I write poetry because of the intense musical nature of poetic language.  Because of the formal rigor.  Because of the obsessive compressive necessity of it all.

4.     How does your writing process work?

I notice that three of the four questions here use the word “work.”  That’s such a Western or American or capital virtue, isn’t it?  Toil, labor—the production of things by such toil and labor—and this gives our “work” its value, its commercial validity, the commodity of its meaning.
      I do not think much about process.  I do not want to have a process.  I want to write.  Sometimes I want to write, and sometimes, more often, I do not want to write or cannot write or do not have time or occasion to write.  People who aren’t writing often talk about the process of their writing.  People who are writing are writing. 
      I have written poems in this way:  I often start with an idea, or a musical tone or phrase or instrumentation, or a frustration or sense of awe or beauty, or a conundrum or a challenge.  I often take notes—from books, internet sources, experience, other poems, songs, menus, maps, museums.  Sometimes I take a lot of notes, and sometimes I take my lot of notes and figure I might write a single poem from all those separate notes for separate poems. 
I look for a sound, and a line, and a setting.  I often write early drafts in syllabic lines.  I often then take apart those syllabic lines and fracture them, or recompose them, or put them in quantities of syllables or fractal-like stanzas.  I write more drafts.  A typical poem (there are no typical poems) might be, say, 25-40 lines, but that short poem might have taken me 40 or 75 drafts over many days or weeks or months or years.  I proceed very slowly very quickly.  I mean that literally.
      Then I start over.  Then I start back.


Among David Baker’s fourteen books are his most recent poetry collection, Never-Ending Birds (2009, W. W. Norton), winner of the 2011 Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, and Talk Poetry: Poems and Interviews with Nine American Poets (2012, Arkansas). This latest title is cosponsored by The Kenyon Review and gathers Baker’s KROnline interviews with a number of important poets. For his work, Baker has been awarded fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Society of America, Ohio Arts Council, Society of Midland Authors, and others. He currently serves as Professor of English at Denison University where he holds the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing.

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