An interview with abbigail baldys, from The Write Stuff series:
abbigail baldys received her MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California. Her work has appeared in Three Rivers Review, 491 Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in Berkeley, CA with her dog, Blaze.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
The easiest answer was to say ‘I’m in school,’ but now that I’ve just graduated, I can’t say that anymore. Usually, though, I do say I’m a poet. It’s still odd to claim, so typically I just make a bad joke about never making money.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
What’s pressing me most immediately is this little trouble I have ascribing meaning to found objects. For the past few months, I’ve been discovering paperclips in public spaces—sidewalks, parking lots, subway floors, etc.—I still haven’t been able to create a satisfying sense of symbolism for their various appearances. Despite being aware that whatever symbolism I eventually choose is entirely fabricated (so really the pressure is minimal here) I can’t seem to determine it. And maybe this is representational of other struggles in my life or work—I’m not sure. I suppose our habits of imposing meaning on most likely meaningless or insignificant events or objects is a bit concerning to me, constantly… although I guess that’s how we stagger through existence—what’s left beyond metaphor?
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Yes and no. Parts of me are successful each day, in terms of the goals I’ve assumed for that time (usually “wake up” and “walk the dog”—I dream big); parts of me fail to meet similar tasks (“wash the dishes” is particularly tough). I apply that logic to the wider scale, too. I think one of my favorite poetry “lessons” is that, because we’re constantly failing—you know, the gap between experience and our linguistic rendering of that experience persists despite our attempt to suture it—poets tend to accept failure as the most basic facet of action. I’m constantly failing, so that means I’m (en)acting.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Anything involving drag queens.
What are you working on right now?
The thing I’m most excited about working on right now is exercises from the Abramovic method. Marina Abramovic has described these exercises—I like to call them experiments—which enact a sort-of deep presence. From what I’ve gathered, the first is to drink a single glass of water for 30 minutes. The next is to write your name on a piece of paper for 1 hour, and you try not to finish writing your name. I’ve completed both of these, and they’re astoundingly perception-altering on many levels—my conception of time has been pleasantly torqued; an hour is barely a centimeter, really. The experiments are also incredible for re-learning attention. When you’re engaged in a seemingly simple task for as long as the experiments dictate, you are forced to attend to what you’re doing in new ways—it’s very much like writing a poem, but instead of on paper, you’re doing a kind of writing within your physical and psychological bodies. It’s moving. These experiments are some of the most important activities I’ve ever done. And some of my friends think I’m crazy, they say they could never do it, but that’s part of why I’ve been doing it—why you should do it—because you’re not sure if you can. It’s about limits. It’s about so many things.
Most recently, I’ve counted rice for 3 hours. I won’t elaborate on that, except to say that I couldn’t quite settle into the exercise. I’m planning on returning to all of these experiments multiple times before turning to the next—a 6 hour slow walk.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I admire writers who push language, who are aware of their culpability, who, in the potential in each instance of their speech, assume a responsibility to investigate language and/or experience in methods that might be dangerous. And those methods could manifest in a variety of ways. Risk matters. I also admire writers who are willing to be participatory, by which I mean writers who are willing to provide a space to explore their work. For me, this has a lot to do with feeling uncomfortable. I like to be confused, provoked, prodded—maybe not for the entire reading experience, but I’m definitely not a reader who will question the legitimacy of something simply because I don’t immediately understand it. Conversely, I admire writers and poets who are more realist craftsmen—they’ve cultivated a strict discipline in adhering to a sense or a logic. Sometimes it’s much more devastating to remain in the real.
I’ve been reading Daniel Borzutzky’s in the murmurs of the rotten carcass economy (I highly recommend it), and he writes this, which is a brilliant way of getting at what I’m trying—and failing—to mean: “…I have little interest in writing that doesn’t make a mess: of itself, of the world, of its own reason for being.” I aspire to make that kind of mess.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I don’t think this is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen—those are some high stakes—but the other night I saw about, oh, 80ish quarters in a planter near BART. I didn’t disturb them.