Lucy Tiven on Courage and Keeping People Connected
Lucy Tiven is a first year MFA student at San Francisco State University. Most recently, her poems have appeared in the Scrambler, Metazen, and HTMLgiant. She has a book forthcoming from Plain Wrap and watches the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon every weeknight.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I usually say I’m a grad student. Which is true.
Sometimes I say poetry, but that can get you in trouble, like they’ll try to talk to you about the Beats who I don’t really like, or ask what your poems are “about” and you find yourself saying some totally pretentious vague thing and then this creeping self-loathing.
I write articles for the Fanzine too. People think that means like, “a fanzine”, something you staple together yourself, but it’s a legitimate website. It’s very good.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
I take things personally. I am sensitive. Most of the things I’m proud of/pleased about in my life result from that, but I also can get very depressed and anxious.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Which part? I think poetry is a wonderful thing. It makes you attuned to the world and has this weird way of getting you out of yourself and involved in the world at the same time.
I would say if you want to write poems try to be writing poems already. Read as much as you can and be open to many different kinds of knowledge, experience, people. Listen. Try to take things in.
I think good writing is always personal, but the most interesting writing involves perspective: oscillates between a self and an experience it inhabits. Kafka said a thing about orbiting. I think that’s a good word for it.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I consider myself lucky that I get to do what I love a lot of the time! I don’t love my own writing all the time, but there are days when I feel like I’m getting at something that is important to me and days when I am told it’s also important to someone else. And that’s a wonderful feeling. And I’m so young. I’m thrilled that anyone likes the work I’m doing now, but it’s also exciting to think about how I and my work will change as I get older and have more experiences in the world. Obviously, it would be wonderful to experience as much critical/financial success as possible, but I feel like I’m still developing so much as a writer and human.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
More of a Netflix gal. I only really use YouTube to watch music videos with my roommate when we’re getting drunk in our apartment. Sometimes I watch videos of Salem the talking cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch on YouTube, but not really as a coping mechanism.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My great-grandma Ivy was some kind of sheep-herding frontier woman. I think she was a Morman, or came from Mormans. The details are a bit lost on me now.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I’ve always admired my mom. She’s an intelligent, beautiful and kind person with such a capacity for humility. I think at that age I also admired Jewel. My mom is better than Jewel though.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I used to really self-identify as disliking the outdoors but I’m coming around to it.
Still, I get neurotic about dirty hair and armpits and don’t sleep well in a strange environment. So I can imagine I would be cranky and irritated ~1.5 days in, pretty awful to be around.
I like to swim in open water but other than that the outdoorswoman thing just isn’t my bag.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
You know, once I saw this show in LA at a place called “Jumbo’s Clown Room” and the dancers did amazing acrobatic feats and had such a… ‘namaste’ sensual aura, like, very calmly magnetic, sort of serene. I remember one of them used the Stevie Nicks song “Gypsy.” She was a very ethereal person. It would be good to be like that but I’m not.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
You know, I just found out I have way more than I thought! My dad texted me about it. I’m psyched. I’m going to buy a bong. Can I say that?
What’s wrong with society today?
Damn kids won’t cut that out…
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
I take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication daily. It is a pink square. I take Ambien XR to sleep. I am prescribed amphetamines but don’t take them daily and benzos that I take mostly if/when I have a panic attack or feel one coming on. Which doesn’t happen too often.
What is your fondest memory?
When I lived in Manhattan, my mom would take me to my horseback riding lesson on Saturdays on the Upper West Side. After, we would go to McDonald’s and I would order a McChicken sandwich and one of those shaker salads I think has been long-since outmoded. There was a rumor that the parent of some girl from my college invented them. Hah. Anyway, after that we would go to Barnes & Noble and read for hours. I remember that my mom was re-reading Proust at one point, and reading Angela’s Ashes at another.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Maybe this isn’t an exact answer. I don’t fall in love often but I always hold on to it! I guess I don’t believe in falling out of love. I still feel I am in love with multiple people in different ways; even though those relationships didn’t work out or even when the love I felt or feel wasn’t reciprocated. I think it takes a great deal of courage to allow yourself to feel love that goes unreturned. But I guess I believe in that. I think it’s important.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
There’s that episode of 30 Rock where Tracy Jordan is like “What is an actor? What isn’t an actor? A lamp. A couch.” It’s funny. He’s wearing a beret. The plot is that he’s trying to be taken seriously to win an Emmy I think. I really love TV.
Anyway, art. I guess I think art can be anything a person makes, composes, or even finds and presents to communicate some message. Even when that message is allegedly a non-message, the refusal to admit to transmit a message… that is also a kind of a message.
We are so alone here. And we are also all here together! So, if art is, to put it as lamely as possible, an act of “self-expression”, it is, also, necessarily a way of saying “this is how I am here with other people.” What I mean is this: art is a way of keeping human beings connected. And that’s hard. It can be painful and lonely to be a person. On one hand, art is how we say “I am here, I am fucking lonely and this is what it is like.” At the same time, it manages to remind us that we aren’t [alone].
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
Instead of answering that question and risking the shattering of my aura of mystery, I will tell you a brief story that will give you a little insight into what I am like in an intimate situation. Once, in a post-coital moment I recited a scene from Kill Bill 2. I did both the voices, Bill and Uma Thurman. I feel good about myself in that story, like the character playing me is the person I actually am.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a collection of poems for Plain Wrap working with Mark Rothko’s life and work. I am also editing a quarterly for them.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I admire all kinds of things. I can’t say that enough. I love Mary Ruefle. I love Kathleen Graber. I love Joshua Beckman. I love Sarah Bridgins. I love Dotty Lasky. I fucking love Keats. I guess what all the work that most interests me has in common is its reflection of an involved self: it says something about what it is like to be a person in the world, with other people, in a moment in time. I would say there is always perspective. Most writing I am not engaged by is stuff I would say “lacks perspective”, “navel-gazes”, etc.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
My roommate is also my best friend (incidentally, an SF weekly writer Neha Talreja. Shouts out!!). We usually go out together, meet up with other friends at a bar or party, eventually end up talking mostly to each other (we call this “holding court”: peripherally commenting on a party with each other in a corner or on a porch/ledge usually).
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
Once I saw a horse impaled on a fence and its intestine come out. It was horrible.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
a) three haiku
hi hi hi hi hi
hi hi hi hi hi hi hi
hi hi hi hi hi
middle hi hi hi
hi hi hi hi hi hi hi
hi hi hi hi hi
hi hi hi hi hi
hi hi hi hi hi hi hi
whatever. Bored. done
b) seems cool to say something like “get 500 pennies and make it rain on someone sad-looking” but that’s sort of irresponsible. I would probably get groceries. Maybe I would treat myself to a nice cheese and wine. I like Port Salut. And a Spanish red I guess, but not the one I got from Trader Joe’s for $4 that tasted super vinegary… Sort of a selfish answer… I could donate the “leftovers” to the humane society? I like animals.