Hello, Typewriter conducts regular interviews with established and emerging writers working within the literary industry to showcase writers writing about writing. Here, July Westhale interview Brett Lauer, Deputy Director of the Poetry Society of America.
What books do you love and are currently reading?
Lynn Melnick’s If I Should Say I Have Hope, Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature, Triple Canopy’s Corrected Slogans: Reading and Writing Conceptualism, Jennifer Moxley’s There Are Things We Live Among, and listening to Michael Zapruder’s Pink Thunder.
Are there any hobbies or activities that you enjoy, outside of writing? Do you think that these activities help you with your writing?
I am the youngest of four boys, and by the time it came to little league or learning the piano, my parents caved at my first complaint or resistance, having had to hound my older brothers for a decade to keep to it. So on the weekend now, I watch the pick-up games of soccer in the park with a sense of longing.
Did you have a mentor—how valuable was that? How did the relationship come to be?
I was very lucky when I moved to New York City to attend the New School as an undergraduate and to have the opportunity to take classes with a variety of poets including Rebecca Wolff, Marjorie Welish, Karen Volkman, Matthew Rohrer, and Ross Martin, all of whom were incredibly generous with their time and encouragement and provided me with my sea legs or a faith that I would develop sea legs, or a tail, or fins, or some yet unknown appendage to assist in some semblance of balance. While I was taking night classes at the New School I was also working at the Poetry Society of America full time, and there, I had the good fortune to have colleagues such as Timothy Donnelly, Andrew Zawacki, and many others, who did provide me with insight, advice, and poetic models.
What do you think is the stuff of nonfiction?
I’ve been working on a memoir for the past five years, and some of those sections have appeared online on The Rumpus (a section about being a teenage Hare Krishna, and on Amanda Stern’s Happy Ending Reading Series blog (an excerpt on how I began to write fake missed connections). Having been out of the academic setting for a few years, in which time my prose, for better or for worse, was restricted mostly to business letters and emails, I found the experience of writing longer form non-fiction and sentences that hopefully connect with a little more transparent logic to be both incredibly difficult, and also strangely generative in my own thinking, my own poems, and reading.
How do you balance work and life? How do you make money–does most of your income come from your writing, or not?
As I mentioned above I work at the Poetry Society of America. I started there as an intern in 1998, so a good portion of my adult working life has been spent in the office. This job has been tremendously gratifying—I’ve worked on the chapbook program which is ten years old this year and has published 40 volumes of poets who had yet to publish a first book, and also on the website content, among numerous other things. Having the opportunity to be a part of an organization with a mission to raise the awareness of poetry and to support poets has kept me engaged in my own work and kept me aware of the work other poets are doing. It would be a lie to say that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind about what having an office job unrelated to “the field” would be like, if there would be more space in my brain to allocate to my own work, and I’m certain for some writers they require that distance or time from the obligations of the office or household. I don’t imagine though that I’m the type of writer who would actually get much writing done at a retreat in the woods—where my only obligations were to mark off the hours until meal time. I tend to work better when there is a buzz of activity around.
Tell me something good—anything you want.
My friend Andrew Kenower is working on this event in Oakland, and this seems like the type of work good literary citizens are often up to: