Douglas Piccinnini’s debut collection of poems, Blood Oboe, was published by Omnidawn in 2015 and earlier that year, Story Book: a novella appeared with The Cultural Society. His writing has been featured by The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day, Antioch Review, Lana Turner, The Poetry Project Newsletter, The Seattle Review, Verse, and The Volta—among other journals. He lives in Lambertville, NJ.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book(s) Blood Oboe (Omnidawn) and Story Book (The Cultural Society) appeared within months of one another. They have been an extension of my life in a very practical way: the poems in Blood Oboe are, in some sense, the document of my life for the past decade: moving to New York, living in New York, leaving New York and all the parentheticals in between. As a novella, Story Book is in many ways a companion text to the poems in Blood Oboe.
At its best, I hope that this work has the potential to change the thinking lives of people around me (and distant to me) more than my own life.
It might be foolish to think that my own book would change my life, though the making of these books was a way of getting to know the world.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry first came to me in the form of Religion. I was raised Roman Catholic. When I was young I prayed. A prayer is a kind of poem. I prayed in poems. And, I often thought in terms of a spiritual language, a language that reached for insight.
That part of my life is in the past now, but I think I approach poetry with a spirituality that tries to set the days in their place—: A poetry concerned with the passing time and the coming time. To remember is to travel back in time and to dream is to travel forward in time. But time is a warped thing and each minute asks new questions and confronts what you thought you thought you knew in different ways.
At present, I am interested in a poetics that confronts the idea of linear time.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I like to work on writing in multiples. I mean: to approach a subject or subjects from a number of different angles, like a painter might make a series of studies that hang together.
A feeling arrives in a pattern or, a pattern arrives like a feeling and I begin writing.
The poems are the notes: they communicate with other poems and other writing. Instead of attempting to break down my impulses and make the poem confess something it didn’t do or doesn’t know, I’ll move on to another poem and retain some of the energy involved in the making of the previous poem.
A poem begins with the compulsion to begin and ends with compulsion to begin something else.
I don’t know yet. I’d like to be able to slip either way in terms of process. A book is the fetish of the poem and the fetish of a life in poems.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are fun but feed into the cult of the author. I’d like to hire people to read my poems—people that don’t think of themselves as poets and people who do—to put the words in their mouths, to have them live the words a little.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The only question is the question of time. From there: the horrors and joys of life are revealed. The question of time lived in resistance—in a reality of conflict and contradiction.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The current role of the writer in public and in private is to think globally and act locally. To be an action of peace and engaged in an active inquiry toward justice and peace.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The physical act of writing is mostly a solitary effort but its intended effect suggestions a broader physical and intellectual connection in and of the world. To make writing is to admit to yourself the possibility that what you do or what you mean may become part of someone else’s life—a good editor understands this.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
It’s important to have a good pair of shoes and, something to wear to a funeral.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s more difficult for other people to understand when the work changes direction. It feels OK for me to follow an impulse.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I like to drink coffee and work in a café. I like to read over what I’ve made. After, I like to have a drink and read what I’ve made and feel the floor building under my feet. Though this doesn’t always happen.
I’d prefer not to write where I live but I do. I like to travel. Being in other spaces, places that aren’t clear to me.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I’m a very private person that likes to live in public. I’ll go for a walk in the town I live in. I’ll sit in a bar or a café beyond a comfortable amount of time—waiting for something to happen. I’ll wait past when it’s OK. And then, when nothing happens I’ll wait longer.
When I lived in Brooklyn, I would walk for miles over bridges and back home. A couple of months ago I was in New York for a reading. The night before, I stayed at my friend Aaron Hodges’s place in Greenpoint. We used to play music together. He plays in a band called “Longshoreman.” On a bright fall morning, we walked from his apartment over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens and then, over the Queensboro Bridge and into Manhattan—went to Central Park, etc. He had an appointment and had split off around lunchtime. I walked around the park for a while then walked to Chelsea. It’s not that far of a walk but you can go through a lot of different parts of the city just by walking a few miles. A subway ride can hide the neighborhoods.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? Which home?
My home has been and will always be wherever my body is while I am alive. I like the smell of my body. I don’t like cologne or perfume because it conceals this.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
The culture of books begets books. Wouldn’t it be nice if a strong oral tradition existed, returned? Music is very important to me, probably more important than books. Often when I am working on something at home, I’ll stop and sit down at the piano for a while and play something. I’ll play something I don’t know or something I do and that is refreshing. Then I can usually go back to writing again. When I write poems, I often listen to very repetitive music; music that is like a landscape of rocks on a desert. I am listening to “A Brown Lung Hollering” by Vincent Gallo right now.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
This list is incomplete: John Ashbery, Cassandra Wilson, Bob Dylan, Virginia Woolf, David Bowie, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Cage, Terry Gilliam, Tim & Eric, Eric Satie, Jean Luc Godard, Brian Eno, Rae Armantrout, L. Frank Baum, Emily Dickinson, Martin Scorsese, Lead Belly, Frank O’Hara, John Lennon, Andy Kaufmann, Charlie Kaufman, Chuck Berry, Paul Éluard, Nina Simone, Spike Jones (director), Little Walter, Groucho Marx.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to go to Antarctica; there’s lots of poetry there but not a lot of people get there.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I think deeply about cinema and about putting people and objects into a space: in a scene and in an image; trapped in time, in a timing.
For me, film is the most powerful, complete medium of all art.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It’s an easy medium to travel with. It’s a lonely medium too. You can write in transit but you can’t always play guitar or piano—writing is an accessory for me and, it is accessible in that sense. I can finish a poem with only a few inexpensive tools.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
A few books that have recently been on my mind: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen; Amiri Baraka’s Blues People; Ernst Meister’s Of Entirety Say the Sentence; Wallless Space; In Time’s Rift translated by GrahamFoust and Samuel Frederick. I am reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, right now.
A few recent films that have been on my mind: Tangerine (dir.) Sean S. Baker and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch; Beasts of No Nation (dir.) Cary Fukunaga.
I find myself returning and turning to (in no specific order) Rae Armantrout, Paul Celan, Emily Dickinson and Paul Éluard. I keep a copy of Leaves of Grass in the bathroom. What’s not to like about Walt Whitman except that so much of contemporary American poetry is full of poets doing impressions of Walt Whitman taking chances.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am finishing a manuscript of poems called Grave Year Soul and working into a novel called The End Of My Life So Far.