by Caleb Beckwith
Andy Fitch’s most recent books and projects are Sixty Morning Talks, Sixty Morning Walks, Sixty Morning Wlaks and (with Amaranth Borsuk) As We Know. With Cristiana Baik, he recently assembled the Letter Machine Book of Interviews. He has dialogic books forthcoming from 1913 Press and Nightboat Books. He also edits Essay Press, teaches in the University of Wyoming’s MFA program, and directs the MA program in literature.
Caleb Beckwith: I'd like to start by asking how you first became an interviewer. It’s clear from Sixty Morning Talks that your craft as an interviewer is well-refined, but how did this come to pass?
I know I became an interviewer by accident. Having joined The Volta as a perhaps too-eager undergrad, I admired The Conversant from afar before jumping at the opportunity to join as soon as an editorial position opened up. To say my path into interviewing was anywhere close to planned would be wholly incorrect. I'd never really thought of interviews as a particularly generative form of archival material until looking at The Conversant as part of my poetry education.
Did you also simply find yourself in interviewing? Or was your involvement in the genre more purposeful, directed and planned?
Andy Fitch: Thanks for the questions, Caleb.
Chance exposures and embodied circumstances tend to shape what I work on, I guess.
In terms of literary experience: as an undergrad, I loved one oral-history project focusing on African Americans growing up in Jim Crowe-era Mississippi. I could absorb the narratives so fast and yet they stayed with me and kept me thinking in a constructive way that more polished historical narratives might not. I probably learned less from this reading experience than from others, but felt more intellectually engaged. Studs Terkel’s book Race got assigned in a class the next semester, and offered a similar experience. After that, I always had my eye out for transcription-based projects (John Cage, David Antin, Steve Benson, Tan Lin, Alice Notley’s idiomatic and speech-inflected work, Pat Hackett’s ventriloquy through Andy Warhol and vice versa, for instance), and by the time my friend Jon Cotner and I edited this special issue of the Belgian journal Interval(le)s, I had encountered much more interesting work in polyphonic transcribed prose than in single-author written texts. Jon and I had begun putting together our own book, Conversations over Stolen Food, which 1913 will publish soon. We both were pretty oblivious, as I still often find myself, and heard of Kenneth Goldsmith one random day in early 2006, amid our conversations work, and went to meet him at a reading and he joined us at a grocery store the next afternoon, and I think our dialogue publications started coming more frequently after Kenny solicited a piece. Then my friend Melissa Dunn pointed me to Hans Ulrich Obrist’s interview collections, which prompted lots of amorous identification. Finally, while meditating one day, which gives me any ideas I ever have, an expansive interview collection with poets seemed possible. Then first, for practice, I interviewed Anna Moschovakis. Many people probably can attest to what a thoughtful and devoted friend Anna is, but she also is super fun and seemed the ideal person with whom to try out something new and to know something smart inevitably would come from it. Then, soon after, the interview book started with another all-time favorite collaborator, Amaranth Borsuk.
Then, in terms of miscellaneous life details: I had moved to Wyoming for work by this point, and felt pretty desperate to stay in touch with lots of interesting writers, and always to meet new ones (the only way I typically learned of new writers had been to meet them at parties, and in Wyoming you can see old friends at parties, but you rarely can make new ones). A visual disability had grown increasingly problematic as I worked on my PhD, to the point at which I couldn’t read the New York Times anymore, so that I started getting lots of news listening to interview shows online while cooking and stretching. As I assembled my first scholarly manuscript, it seemed clear I had little future in scholarly writing. I wanted to evoke ideas, or get people to think up their own ideas, but drawing out a well-informed, watertight, provocative prose argument felt too depressing.
Then in terms of recent history: as social-media conversations became an increasingly popular form of poetics discourse, I felt increasingly isolated, because my eyes can’t read much off of a computer or a phone. But also, beyond physical incapacities, I probably used my eye trouble as a crutch to avoid having to read friends’ Facebook posts and such. I just never cared. Whereas with conducting interviews, I love learning extensively about somebody, then talking at length to the person, then putting together a fluent record of a complicated exchange. I actually don’t think of interviews as predominantly archival material. For me, dialogues comprise a form, or genre, or mode of inquiry like any other, just as worthwhile to read as any poetic or critical or philosophical text.
CB: I identify with this narrative even more than I originally expected to, especially the contrast you draw between the interview and academic argument. Do you see the freedom inherent to the interview form in its social, dialogic qualities? The improvisatory performance that necessarily accompanies oral, rather than written, engagement? Some mixture of the two?
I’ve definitely observed considerable differences in the sort of conversation that happens across the different forms of real-time conversation and written exchanges like, let’s say, this email correspondence. But I haven’t yet had enough experience with these separate forms to theorize about the strengths and weaknesses of the critical documents produced by each. Could you speak a bit to the different modes of criticism produced by these separate interview formats? Beyond the practical reasons already described with reference to your visual disability, does the oral form possesses a particular appeal for you? You mentioned transcription—with reference to David Antin and Steve Benson—is there something about the translation from spoken to written media that you find particularly exciting/illuminating when it comes to poets talking about their poetics?
AF: Lots of interesting questions. Definitely the social component of dialogue appeals to me. I’ve always envied, say, people involved in theater, working together, at night, in a dark and echoing space. And feeling some sort of almost athletic performative rush every night in public sounds great, as I articulate it right now (though, as a writer, I often dislike performance).
Also, for dialogues, I especially love the degrees of texture, or layered syntactical and rhetorical depth (less concerned with content here) that they offer to prose. I think of dialogues as a form of fortuitous juxtaposition, as much as of purpose-driven inquiry. I like when one person doesn’t answer the other’s question, or when a question gets misunderstood or misremembered first by the interviewee, but then by the interviewer too—creating any number of shadow or potential or lost qs-and-as. If we could consider the “plot” of a conversation to consist in such volleys and in the embodied durations that situate them, then that’s the plot I find most musical and most intellectually generative, and that I most prefer to follow. And that plot often (though definitely not always) seems juiciest when people talk to each other in real-time. Email-based exchanges have their place too, of course. I experimented with them while assembling The Letter Machine Book of Interviews. But since I don’t typically think of dialogue as “getting anywhere” (we’re still mortals, still going to die and lose our precious thoughts, still listening impatiently and not really hearing each other, still destroying other living beings all along the way—for me, that’s the perennial and ever-timely content), the types of hyper-composed responses that poets and scholars tend to offer in email-based interviews often get in the way of the best material.
In “From Speech to Writing,” I think, Roland Barthes catalogues his lifelong attachments to the mother tongue, to writing with the mouth, to attuning oneself to the human muzzle. That makes perfect lived/intuitive sense to me (though I would add that I love dogs’ muzzles even more).
So again, I don’t mean to sound evasive, but I often don’t think of dialogues as straightforward critical documents, so I don’t know if I have much to add to your smart question on that topic. In terms of critical discourse, I can say this: whenever I attend an academic conference, I mostly just think about how panelists seem to want to appear authoritative, imposing, compelling, convincing, but that it might work better for them to come across as disarming. I’d so much rather have panelists construct rhetorical space to coax forth my own thinking, instead of telling me about their thinking. I have the most intellectual respect for people who can do this, and I don’t consider this response entirely indulgent or narcissistic on my part. I just sense that thought gets stale pretty fast and needs perpetual refreshment. Dialogue at its best provides and dramatizes one antidote to this lamentable fact.
Many of my peers emphasize their investment, as teachers, in processes of active learning. I’d love for their scholarship to pick up more on this animating pedagogical impulse. And of course I have overgeneralized and gotten a bit reductively carried away here in my discussion of present scholarly practice—I blame the fact that I’m sitting in a reverbative room with the door closed, and not talking to you in person!
CB: Were we sitting together in person, talking, I could read gesture and tone, judging when, where and how to diverge from your divergences. I’d probably joke in some way, as jokes tend to open that space of freedom, interpretation and warmth you describe. It’s what I sought in my pedagogy when I taught writing—and teaching—in grad school, and you now remind me that its probably lurking somewhere in my own turn towards the interview as a primary critical form. This turn also coincides with my decision to leave PhD life over very similar dissatisfactions with the academic form, but that’s another conversation.
If dialogic interviews are open, exciting and accessible in the ways you describe, what happens as you transcribe them? I know I, for one, can’t bear to transcribe my own interviews, as the conversation immediately feels stale. Not to go back to one of those perhaps too-smart questions, but I think of David Antin—his sense of transcription as translation that necessarily occurs in order to keep the piece alive in the moment of composition (both talking and writing). Antin, then, changes the talk piece in order to preserve it—to maintain its spontaneity. Interviews don’t allow this. So, do you find the energy of a dialogic exchange translating to the page, for readers? Or is the appeal of the dialog the places that it gets you in conversation, not necessarily the process of getting there?
I’m slipping into cliché here, but this is the place in conversation where I’d complicate that comment by undermining it with a self-deprecating shift in tone—signaling that I am at least aware of my devolving into the process versus product platitude.
AF: Oh man, Caleb, now I feel that I have irresponsibly overstated my case. We don’t have to discuss it here, but I’m all for you returning to grad school. I just don’t know of many other comfortable places to gain one’s literary footing. And I should add to any critique that I so far have made of academia: academia provides one of the few social spaces (in the U.S. at least) in which a professional institution tolerates a decent amount of non-normative behavior, and even endorses and encourages constructive critiques of itself. But hopefully you have found something better. I only have waited tables and worked in the academy so far.
In terms of transcribing: I can’t do it anymore, because I basically can’t look at a computer screen except in sliding glances. But I totally loved transcribing. People complain about transcription taking so long, but it thrilled me to create an intellectually dense 20-page document in three hours. And I retained enough spare consciousness (which otherwise doesn’t happen when writing) to stay aware, moment to moment, as a new piece came together and grew longer and longer. I fluidly made the types of small-scale editorial decisions that most interest me as a writer, and felt a sense of dialogic plurality pushing out from my brain, and couldn’t believe that work ever could come so easy. To add my own cliché: the overall experiential process resembled, say, watching flowers bloom in accelerated video footage. I also of course trashed my wrists, ears, back, neck, even somehow my knees transcribing, but I definitely miss it.
I actually find most parts of interviewing pretty fun, and fueled by desire (always at play for me when work comes easily, comes socially), to the extent that I never can tell which of these process-based energies find their way towards a pleasing experience for readers. I tend not to think much about a reader’s experience, and I think I use the “socially beneficial” alibi of an interview focusing on somebody other than myself to worry even less about such questions. Interviewing provides useful intellectual stimulation (and refreshment—I do interviews between other projects), keeps me reading more widely, offers a focused and intimate engagement with somebody new and hopefully helps the interviewee’s work to circulate. I also enjoy editing texts and can’t imagine many days of life without editing. With interviews flowing in, I endlessly have new pieces to finalize. For all of these reasons, I have remained hooked.
Reading David Antin’s transcriptions provides its own great pleasure, and I do always try to think of new ways to refine and reshape the texts I produce. But I sense that the counterpoint processes at play in dialogue (partially described above) provide more space for transcriptive spontaneity to endure in such texts, as opposed to the translational properties so prominent in documents from Antin’s and others’ site-specific performances.
Just to keep the labor from going invisible here, I now pay people to transcribe for me. I have worked primarily with two terrific transcribers: Maia Spotts and Nicole Monforton. I really enjoy working with them. Both Maia and Nicole have added much to the texts that they send me. And I enjoy professional relationships in general, and especially talking shop. This discussion makes me feel sentimental. I just hallucinated (from gate C3 at the Fort Myers, Florida airport), the folky sound of wood knocking wood in Die Meistersinger. Maybe a fellow passenger set that as his/her cellphone ring.
CB: I now fear that I’ve overstated my case as well! Though I also understand such mutual neuroses as an unavoidable component of conversations between poets—people who dedicate much of their life to evoking and detecting subtexts.
I believe you’re right about graduate school/the academy as one of the few spaces in which the non-normative is not just permitted, but encouraged. I should also add that my own—recently terminated (suspended?)—grad school experience was both open and nurturing; if anything, I was given too much space, intellectually and emotionally, to explore the lines of critique and change that presented themselves as necessary during those years of my life. Ultimately, I chose a line of flight from the academy, for now at least, as that sanctioning of the non-normative came to feel even more restrictive than the predictable/traditional prohibitions of 9-5 working life.
This was partly because, like many writers of my generation, the professional poet/academic lifestyle came to appear as less and less of a realistic possibility than it was to even the grad school cohort preceding me. Appropriately, it was Brian Teare, one of my grad school mentors, who laid the foundation for my necessary turn to the interview, when he remarked that with greater institutional credentials comes greater institutional oversight. As we see the credentials of the academy become increasingly de-valued by, among other factors, the overpopulation of MFAs and literature PhDs, I find the interview to be a profoundly honest reckoning with the work/reward equation required by the current economic climate.
That said, I’m also sure that this attitude is determined by profession (and writers of my ilk seem to be increasingly eschewing the academy, even those with the advantage of a giant foot in the door) at least as much generation. How much, or little, do you find interviews affect your and/or your interviewees professional lives? Clearly an interview doesn’t do as much for a CV as, say, a University Press monograph, but does it help? Does professionalization enter into the equation at all? And how, if at all, does this affect the conversation itself?
I ask all these question as a person whose professional life—including but not limited to academics—continues to benefit from the publicity and experience the interview, as a form, affords.
AF: It probably makes sense for me to speak more to the experience of the interviewer than the interviewee here, just based on my own work. But I do think that interviews benefit interviewees, and not only for obvious reasons of promoting their writing. Amazingly, even for the most engaging, smartest, most fascinating books, authors seem rarely if ever to have participated in an extended dialogue focused on a given project and its infinite possible ramifications. Or, at least, interviewees often claim surprise and appreciation for that part of the conversation (I never know of course who is just being polite—like people complimenting you after you give a reading). But, for me, that relatively untraceable part of the exchange, helping to create that possibility of focused discussion for an author who clearly deserves it, makes an interview project already experientially worthwhile and aesthetically/philosophical sufficient—without much concern for professional consequences.
But then moving onto professionalization: as a person never all that inclined towards tracking (or, perhaps, just never earning much) professional recognition, I probably can’t gauge well how much professional benefit one gains conducting interviews. I do remember, at a relatively early point in my writing career (basically at the start, in my late twenties—I’d never felt very future- or career-oriented until that point, and certainly didn’t write much or think of myself as a writer), deciding that I couldn’t stand putting much effort into submitting (still blissfully oblivious of the whole need/process of promoting) my work, and that instead I would put extra time and effort into the work itself, and just hope that something sustainable came about. And interviews and related dialogues/collaborations always seemed to have a life of their own. It felt much easier to find a home for them, particularly without as much internal friction (corny Midwestern shyness, mostly).
So I guess we could consider these developments as benefits to the interviewer, though they still make little sense to most university hiring and tenure/promotion committees. From what I remember, my university still requires that professors’ CVs relegate interviews to some shameful category I forget the name of, separate from articles and creative publications. I’ve ignored that requirement, and nobody has given me a hard time. But beyond this local, anecdotal experience, I don’t see many job postings come up for writers working in dialogue, in interviews (I do remember one, at a school where I would really love to work, and I got an MLA interview even though the actual job description focused on theater, and the whole interview went really well until the last question, when somebody asked: “So how do all of these projects connect to theater?” and I mumbled some dumb response about how my girlfriend worked in casting).
Still I should say that space always exists to make the case for what you most want to write, as a worthwhile literary endeavor—that tacit, even unconscious assumptions we make privileging certain forms and methods and modes of discourse can give way, sometimes surprisingly easily, to an energetic push, and that hopefully you and I and many others have, in terms of dialogue, made that push for some time now. Though people do still often characterize my interview work as “generous,” which cracks me up. Imagine if, after you gave a reading, everybody told you you had been really generous up there. Or you found out that the person you had a serious crush on primarily thought of you as generous. I actually think of myself less as generous than as pursuing certain intellectual/aesthetic/situational desires in pretty relentless fashion.
For what it’s worth, I feel I perhaps have failed to provide the honest reckoning you asked for, particularly in terms of the current economic climate. Instead your phrasing returned me, after several lost decades, and via YouTube, to R.E.M.’s song “Time after Time.”
CB: If not the requested reckoning, your mention of corny Midwestern shyness and R.E.M. provided a welcome opportunity to reflect on the way that my own disposition towards the interview might also stem from my upbringing in the American South, more particularly Athens, GA. After spending the first twenty-three years of my life in Georgia, I’ve now triangulated the country, living first in Philadelphia, PA and now, as of six months ago, Oakland, CA. Though the communities found in both of these moves were 100% by design, I still feel fortunate to have inhabited two of the more vibrant poetry cities this country has to offer.
About a year into my time in Philadelphia, I was lucky enough to organize a reading group involving some of the poetry all-stars I daydreamed of learning from/studying with for, quite seriously, years before. At that time, my eagerness was only matched by my own brand of shyness, so the job as a point person negotiating the schedules of my idols was far beyond my reach. We maybe spent a month trying to plan our initial meeting, as I simply could not imagine myself as the person who disappointed (insert accomplished elder poet here) by scheduling the meeting at a time that they couldn’t attend. Finally, after weeks of mutual headaches, Brian Teare—oddly enough, the same mentor who I mentioned earlier in this conversation—pulled me aside and remarked: you’re being too Southern.
Brian was from Alabama, so he properly read my passivity as a, perhaps deviant, strain of Southern gentility; in me, he seemed to have recognized an earlier version of himself as a displaced, disidentified Southerner. Needless to say, I’ve encountered similar experiences out West, though California—and especially the Bay Area—has a proprietary brand of “chill” that’s changed the shape of these encounters from their origin with Philadelphia’s characteristic bruskness.
Though I’ve now long-since departed from this younger passivity, I must admit that I gravitated towards the interview as path of least resistance—or, more accurately, a path of less promotion. I wonder, since your Midwestern identity led you to the interview as a means of publication, how has it shaped your demeanor as an interviewer? In my experience, the same Southern disposition that earlier made it difficult for me to schedule group meetings has also allowed my one-on-one conversations to archive a critical depth that I truthfully never expected when I first started the practice of interviewing some time ago. If, as you suggest, interviews are really about giving writers an active role in the reception of their work, then they might prove a critical space in which a more modest inhabitation of intellectual space achieves the most. Generosity be damned, though, because my friends who let me interview them are doing me a favor. Thanks yall. All yall.
AF: “Proprietary” stands out as a particularly funny word there. I do remember feeling that Bay Area chill as a 22-year-old, and opting out, preferring neuroses, attending Woody Allen films by myself at Berkeley’s California Theater. And I love your formulation of constructive interview approaches adopting a modest inhabitation of intellectual space. I hear echoes of what Stanley Cavell refers to as the philosophical poverty performed by Beckett, Wittgenstein, Emerson. For me, let’s say in grad school, Joe Brainard and Andy Warhol stood out as the authors most willing (or able) to provide space for the reader’s whole embodied being to think. And I always admired their acute transformations of purported Middle American blandness, passivity, taciturnity into a Hegelian contemplative echo chamber—one in which to think or talk or read about “nothing” might mean to enact thinking for the first time. But I don’t mean to emphasize any regionalism, which I’ve never really believed in (perhaps because I don’t come from the South). I identify more with Barthes’s mode of domestic structuralism, working with the exact same desk, lamp, office arrangements wherever I go. And in terms of Barthes: I meant to say that I would take your sense of good interviewers giving interviewees a more active role in a work’s reception, and apply that idea analogically for what my favorite writers do for/to their readers. So I often think of dialogues as closet-drama enactments of what it means to read at all, to think through somebody else’s thoughts, to dwell within an identity symbiotically assembled alongside all the other identities around you (your family, your peers, your texts). Warhol (ventriloquized, again, through Pat Hackett) said that his films attempted to “show how people can meet other people and what they can do and what they can say to each other. . . . and if you thought it could apply to you, it was an example, and if it didn't apply to you, at least it was a documentary, it could apply to somebody you knew and it could clear up some questions you had about them.” Rather than scoring petty argumentative points, my favorite dialogues tend to try for something similar. Like now you’ve made me veer towards more regionalist identifications. Do any good interviewees ever come from the East Coast? . . . Ah yes, Charles Bernstein, Leonard Schwartz, maybe early Errol Morris and Frederic Wiseman, maybe Rosebud Ben-Oni comes from there, or Cindy King. Studs Terkel of course, even if he seems so Chicago.
CB: This conversation just led me to discover that the interviewer whose style I most consciously try to imitate—ESPN/former Grantland NBA reporter Zach Lowe—is from the East Coast. More specifically, Connecticut, which seems very much apart from the NY/Boston/DC/Philly corridor, which I think we both referred to as “Northeast,” but which backs up your throwing of a productive wrench into the South/Midwest constructions I drew earlier.
Like the art interviewers we discussed earlier, Lowe simply lets his guests talk. But what his role as an NBA reporter highlights, for me at least, is the way that interviewing itself is predicated upon privileged modes of access. In my experience at least, it’s been tough to occupy the gracefully semi-present position of our ideal interviewer without some prior social credentials—and that means access. For example, though we’ve actually never met in person (very much looking forward to AWP now), I’ve worked with you on The Conversant long enough to 1) ask for your time in the form of an interview, knowing you well enough to trust that you’ll enjoy the exchange and 2) feel comfortable diverging into, let’s say, basketball as my mind takes me there. Lowe is the same way, though his access to actual celebrities highlights what you might be aware of my now getting at—poetry and the oft-perceived (though mistakenly so, in my mind) star system of its own.
So, if poetry, like any creative field, involves the exchange of social capital, how does this impact interviewing as a craft? Do you think of these exchanges at all? As a younger (let’s hope one might say up and coming) poet, I know I can’t ever totally put these exchanges out of my mind. For example, as much as I pride myself on my interviewing acumen, I must also acknowledge the social and material conditions in which that acumen developed. In my case, it was an editorship at The Conversant (not to mention scholarship for free grad school) that emboldened me enough to ask for interviews with perceived poetry “celebrities” in the first place, which then led to friendships, more publications, and the wheels keep spinning.
AF: Might I admit that my current desire for increased privileged access leaves me somewhat clouded on this subject? I’d love to start, say, a “Death and Disaster” dialogue series in which I interview prominent philosophers, climate scientists, bioscientists, astronomers, computer engineers about humanity’s most pressing existential risks. I’d love to interview a generation of conservative leaders around my age about their current stances regarding climate change—as a sort of time-capsule project to dredge up and reflect upon two decades from now. I probably spend more time than a grown adult should fixated upon certain late-twentieth-century-and-beyond musical acts (Sparks, The Clash, Prince, New Order, The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, PJ Harvey, Björk), and would feel so incredibly lucky to talk to them.
With that scale in mind, I for now (for this present discussion) don’t feel all that guilty about social capital arbitrarily assigned to me at birth, or at least about any modicum of privileged access built up through excessive work since then. For sure I could put this social capital to more precisely focused purpose, but, alas, I think I would need still more privileged access to do so. So I just want more privileged access. Don’t dialogues sometimes make you say obnoxious things? But here I’d hate to preclude the glib, the catty, the naively aspirational. I think we need to harness these tendencies more productively, towards more progressive ends. I don’t know this Zach Lowe figure, but that name gets me thinking of my own hero, the musician Chris Lowe, and his famously lousy performances as an interview subject. His silences, his superficial-seeming asides always help to sharpen my thinking. I don’t hold him accountable to his words. I have a galvanizing crush on him.
CB: Now that’s what I call access! This is the point in the interview where I should show all my cards, explaining how my own growing frustrations with the conversations—both present and online—surrounding poetry capital lead me ask others about it in the course of almost any interview. That’s to say that I’m both appreciative of and relieved to read your very timely reframing around actual power, actual capital, actual concerns.
Still, I find myself in these conversations increasingly often, and I can’t tell if it’s due to any particular era or geography in which I currently find myself.
I brought up social capital as relates to interviewing half-expecting to make this turn. In my experience, the interview is the critical form best prepared to illustrate perhaps the most underlooked aspect of any poetry scene—the real, lived social bonds structuring them. The best example I have here is the interview chapbook I put together for you and Essay Press. I’ve known Gordon Faylor and Danny Snelson since I moved to Philly three years ago now, and I think them as friends first and poets second, both being huge support structures as I navigated the major life changes that led to my leaving Philly for the West Coast. Divya Victor, the only contributor whom I did not know personally beforehand, became a dear friend over the course of the interview. Through the expressions of a whole range of affects (especially frustration) that friends so often share, we came by the rarity of a new adult friendship.
This is not to say that having one’s friends as an editor at a journal, small press, or some other outlet doesn’t help---Gordon, for example, has been my publisher at Gauss PDF. Rather, in my experience at least, friendship always precedes the convenience. Or they at least become so conflated that one can’t disentangle the social from the aesthetic bonds, making the interview a near-perfect document of their inculcation. Do you think of the interview in this way? As a way of accessing, or at least illustrating, the ineffable effect of coterie in poetry? Or should I say “sociality” to signal the endearing register of my tone—one focusing on affection rather than exclusion?
AF: I guess I mostly interview people I don’t know, and probably won’t be meeting soon. Again, I did start on dialogue by collaborating with friends, and did do my first interviewish exchanges with friends, and it meant a lot to start Sixty Morning Talks with two good friends, Amaranth Borsuk and Chris Schmidt. But more generally, I tend to think of interviews as talks that happen with people I won’t talk to often. Interviewing provides one of the only prescribed forms of professional acquaintanceship that appeals to me. To repurpose an American sage:
I’d love to follow what intense young people say on social media but I can’t
I’d love to go to a conference and feel engaged enough to attend some of the panels, but I can’t
I’d love to pick up (or download) a cool journal and just browse and see what I find, but I can’t
I’m not the type.
And then, to quote this sage more directly:
By the way, people will often try to convince you to do something by saying that it doesn't matter if you're not the type, or that you could be the type if you wanted to be, but don't break down and try to do something that you're not the type to do, because you know what type you are, nobody else does.
Focused exchanges about authors’ books have provided one of the few available approaches for me for what feels like genuine interest, let alone spontaneous friendship. And I do feel quite friendly towards interviewees afterwards, like we once had talked all night at a party.
So does that count as coterie? As cagey cultivation of professional sociality? To me, it just feels like quite personal, compulsive habit. And then we dissolve back into text, long questions. It doesn’t have to solidify any more than that.