Friday, August 10, 2012

1/2 Dozen with Seth Brady Tucker

Here is a 1/2 Dozen with Seth Brady Tucker whose debut poetry collection, Mormon Boy, came out earlier this year.

WARNING: The final line of this interview might haunt you for a very, very long time.

 I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I’m also very suspicious of inspiration, especially in respect to the writing of a whole book.  My students actually love to use that as an excuse for not writing at all, or for poor writing—“I just wasn’t inspired.”   My answer to that is generally, “Who ever said writing was about inspiration?”  There really wasn’t a moment of inspired genius for my book (I doubt many poets ever experience that for a whole book, unless of course they are working with a central theme or concept by which all the poems will be connected).  For me, it was simply the recognition that I could do it.  I’d never thought of myself as strictly a poet before, so when I started to write this book, I was surprised to find that I had enough ideas to muster and compile into a full-sized collection.  If I was inspired, I think it was just being inspired to work hard.  I devoted myself to each of these poems individually, and I think that is why the collection went from getting close as a finalist in seven different poetry contests, to being an actual award winner with Elixir.  And maybe that’s enough—simply to be inspired enough by a project to trust the work you put in will be worth it in the long run.

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

I am currently extracting myself from a long and emotionally abusive relationship with my writing—I love writing (and reading, and preparing to write), but struggle with the simple discipline of sitting my ass in a chair long enough to actually do it.  In the past, I would spend enormous amounts of energy feeding my guilt when I didn’t write every day.  This guilt was restrictive, and foolish, and often left me frozen in front of the computer.  The worst part was that this guilt was born of my preconceptions regarding what great writers were all supposed to be doing—for years, I thought all “real” writers would get up at 8am, and write for eight hours a day (I am actually very suspicious now of writers who make claims such as these, because if you do the math, it only takes ten pages a week to write a novel a year, and I don’t see anyone cranking out five or six novels a year).  I know I can’t do it that way—I will never be a writer who sets strict schedules like that for my own writing.  I have to give myself the freedom to obsess about other things in my life.  I have improved my writing process in the past couple of years though, by establishing some very simple expectations for myself; the first of which is that at some point in the day, I will write for at least an hour.  It doesn’t sound like much, but as I said, it doesn’t take much to write a novel a year if you stick to it.  I even give myself the weekends off (even though I very often do my best writing during the weekend anyway).  The only other guideline I have created for myself is to “leave breadcrumbs” for everything I write—if I am writing a story, and I know I won’t finish the draft in one sitting, I make sure that I leave ideas on the page regarding what I think might happen.  The same goes for poems and the novel—if it isn’t finished, I imagine how it might play out.  I’ve found this gives me a profound advantage when I return to the project—I’m no longer wasting time trying to find the thread that will unravel the mystery of my stories.

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

Listen, having writer’s block, or worrying that you aren’t good enough, is a first world luxury.  It means you have time to think about writing rather than how you will get through another day soldering the same wire to the same circuit, over and over and over, until you are released for sleep so you can do it all over again the next day.  If you are having a hard time finding the time to write, it means you probably aren’t thinking about where you will find the money to bury your fourteen year old daughter, who was killed because she wanted to go to school.  My guess is, the average downhearted writer probably didn’t have to kick someone in the stomach in the struggle for a bag of rice today.  Worried about writing? Seriously!? Put your big boy or big girl panties on!  You are LUCKY to be writing, to have anything else but survival on your mind!  You have already won the lottery by being born during a time when most of our worries have to do with not being able to scrape enough money together to buy a new iPad.  So get writing.  I find that if I can keep this notion that the opportunity to write is simply manifested of good fortune, it is easier to write without regard, without fear, without expectation, and thereby successfully just get it down on paper.  Do away with the “entitlements” of guilt and fear, and it is suddenly easy to accomplish what Anne Lamott said of writing—“Get it all down.  Let it pour out of you onto the page.  Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft.”  That’s when the hard part starts…

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

Absolutely not.  Isn’t even close.  In the process of simply answering this question, I will probably get up and water some plants, respond to an offensive post on FB, then obsess about the stupidity of the FB poster, maybe try to trap the rabbit that is currently eating up the beans in my garden, hover over my wife as she studies for the MCAT, and tease my Labs with a tennis ball that they undoubtedly think is magic.  Let me know if you figure that one out.  I could use the help.

If you teach the craft of writing, why do you do it -- other than cash?

I teach both poetry and fiction workshops because I love to see what happens when the creative light is turned on in a student.  I remember the liberation and freedom of the act of creation, my first time in a Forward Observation Post in Iraq, where I could see movement for miles in any direction.  I wrote some stupendously awful poetry in that hole, but it felt like there was suddenly something worth fighting for, and it wasn’t oil or freedom.  That’s the beginning, of course—you have to realize how terrible you are (I thought my first poem, which tried to rhyme “image” with “rage”, and compared soldiers to Jesus was brilliant.  It wasn’t.), so that you can begin to write pieces that have something at stake for the reader.  For me, it doesn’t matter how much natural talent my students have—it is about lighting that fire, then making sure that they learn all the many strategies for tending it. 

What's your worst writerly habit? 

I check my new poetry book’s ranking on Amazon, like, every couple of hours.  Honestly.  I don’t know why, but I will be in the middle of a story or a poem, and I will click refresh on the website to see where “Mormon Boy” ranks (currently #998,189 in Books).  I need an intervention with social media as well—it has almost become a compulsion (read, IS a compulsion) to check my email, Facebook, etc. hourly.  My guess is that over the course of this year, the time wasted on media will amount to an entire book that I could have written.

Seth Brady Tucker's poetry manuscript, “Mormon Boy,” won the 2011 Elixir Press Editor’s Poetry Prize, and was released in 2012.  He has been a scholar at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the keynote speaker for the “Words Beyond Bars Poetry Project,” and a nominee for the Pushcart Prize.  His poetry and fiction is forthcoming or has appeared in the Antioch Review, Verse Daily, Connecticut Review, Chautauqua, River Styx, Indiana Review, Rosebud, North American Review, Witness, Rhino, Southern Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, among many other fine journals and anthologies.  

Seth has degrees in Creative Writing and English from San Francisco State University, Northern Arizona University, and Florida State University (PhD).  Currently, he splits his time teaching at the Light House Writer’s Workshop in Denver, and at CU Boulder.  Seth is originally from Wyoming, and served as an Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the Persian Gulf.