Laura Walker on Poetry that Rewards Peripheral Vision
Laura Walker is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Follow-Haswed (Apogee Press, 2012). A fifth book, story, will be published by Apogee any moment now. She received her MFA from San Francisco State University and has taught creative writing at SFSU, University of San Francisco, and UC Berkeley Extension. She lives in Berkeley with one spouse, one cat, two sons, five chickens, and 30,000 bees.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I use a lot more words than I need to. Maybe just a reflection of my propensity for awkward small-talk. I say something like, “I write poetry, and I teach poetry, and I think about poetry a lot….” None of the simple “I’m a poet” for me.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
It’s not a very unique struggle, I think: I have a hard time sitting down and actually writing. I love revising—I think of that as a joyful kind of messing around—but getting those first words on the page, giving myself something to play with, is really hard for me. I’ll do almost anything to avoid it, even though not-writing also makes me crazy.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
When I left college, I quit writing for almost a decade. I think I felt it was somehow self-indulgent. And then I had a complete change of heart, and re-shaped my life around writing and teaching writing. So I guess I would want to encourage people to write if they’re moved to write, whether or not they’ve written before, or have had long years away from their practice, or are simultaneously doing other things, or etc. I’d also want to make sure that people understand that the vast majority of creative writing teaching jobs are not tenure-track, and are not well-paid.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
If success is getting to do work that engages me creatively and also stymies me at times, that insists I constantly find new ways to approach it—then yes—both writing and teaching do that for me. If success is being well-known or making money, then no.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
I have a lot of quirky relatives, and I’m really grateful to have that tribe—to remind me, when I forget, that being different, to put it in the seventies-speak I grew up with, is okay.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
When I was ten I probably wanted to write books and/or live alone in a forest. I’ve written some books but I live in a city. We’ll see.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I once spent three days by myself on a small wild island off the coast of Maine. I think my ideal would be something like that—really sinking into a place, the only human but far from alone, letting time slow around me, and becoming aware of things I’m not usually aware of.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Way more than I used to. I got married, and we share. But I hope I’ll never forget what it was like to have not so much in there.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
I love this question. I’ll just say: I would like to make more space for falling in love.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Radical listening. Profound listening. Fanatical listening.
What are you working on right now?
I find the language of the KJV Bible really haunting, and right now I’m working on a second project that involves that language—channeling the Psalms. Not sure where it’s going.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I admire poetry that discovers a way as it goes; poetry that explores what language can be, do, enact, cage out, break; poetry that evokes, where something completely inarticulable hovers—Barbara Guest’s little ghost; poetry that rewards peripheral vision. Poetry that can’t be summarized, where “meaning” isn’t presented in a small box; ineffable, questioning, exploring; things broken, fragmented lyrics, pieces of pieces, eddies, iterations… I could go on. And on.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
One thing? So hard. Maybe rent, which prices out or locks down so many people.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Walking around in the dark by myself.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Daffodils, lilacs, sweet peas; new mud; rotting leaves.
Photo by Mark Lemkin