Monday, November 27, 2017

TtD supplement #92 : seven questions for Tessy Ward

Tessy Ward is currently working on an MFA in poetry at Boise State University. She has an MS from Illinois State University, where she was a Sutherland Fellow and worked on SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review) and Downstate Legacies.

Her poems “Fogs You Come” and “First Time” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Fogs You Come” and “First Time.”

A: “Fogs You Come” was written last fall after I read about the upcoming election in the Netherlands. One of the candidates, Geert Wilders, was using anti-Islam threats as a campaign tool. Wilders had written pledges to close borders to Muslim immigrants, shut down Mosques, and ban the Koran. Many citizens were concerned with any far-right viewpoint that could contradict the liberal openness that has been created, although that seems to be changing some too. After the United States’ election results, I was equally surprised and horrified to read of a similar candidacy situation. I think the poem resists a strangeness happening in the world today; it meditates on exclusion and selfish power, and what that might mean for the rest of us.

“First Time” was written from a fun-fact app on my phone that I used during a daily writing project. The app exclaimed it was Sputnik’s anniversary, which made me realize I didn’t remember much about Sputnik. I went on to read about the beginning of a technological, military, and nationalist revolution. When I learned about the satellite as a child in school, I never considered the large risk the USSR took during the launch. Sputnik was a propaganda child, a loved possession that needed to be prized upon its successful return. This poem has always read hauntingly slow in my mind, kind of distracted by the immediate needs to preserve oneself. 

Q: How do these pieces fit in to the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Lately, my work has had a sense of overwhelming to it. I think that sense fits in with these poems. These two poems originate from one specific event or person and I find that in my work quite often.  My poetry can be written as an instantaneous reaction or emotion from a striking thing I hear or read. It can also be written from the afterthoughts of that striking thing. I think lately my work is focusing on the afterthoughts of things rather than the instant response. I think I have taken the reactions I wrote about and am writing about their aftermath.

Q: Have you any specific models for the way you approach writing? What poets or works have altered the ways in which you write?

A: In short, no, I don’t have any specific models for how I approach writing. I’ve played with several different types of procedure (Oulipian, Cagean, etc.,) but I’m not attached to any particular set of steps.

Recently I’ve been interested in a method Keith Waldrop spoke of in an interview about Transcendental Studies. He said while reading he would take note of small words or phrases from different texts, and later on form the poetry. Since I’ve dedicated my summer to an overload of reading I figured I would try it. So far I’ve taken the tedious task of citing everything, but we’ll see how long that lasts....

Q: How has this method shifted the ways in which you see, or even approach, your own work? If at all?

A: I think this method has brought a revitalized attention to language in the texts I’m reading. I am noticing each author’s aesthetic with more detail, and now I’m attempting to find my own. Choosing phrases is fun, but placing the language in a way I find pleasing has become quite a challenge. I’ve taken more steps to create poetry than I am used to, which is both time consuming, tedious, and engaging.

Q: To date, you haven’t published in chapbook or book form; is this something you are working towards?

A: I am currently working on production of a chapbook, which should be forthcoming this fall.

I haven’t found a project/book idea quite yet, but I’m sure entering my MFA in the fall will help me work towards a larger piece of writing.  

Q: How are you finding the process of putting together a chapbook-length manuscript? Have you had any models for such? How are you approaching the selection/grouping?

A: Unpracticed! I’ve looked at models from friends and colleagues, which is immensely helpful, but at times still difficult to use when considering my own writing. The selection has been focused around the body and its betrayal. Mostly, I’m working closely with the publisher and taking knowledgeable advice.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I have to say, I’m a big fan of C.D. Wright’s Deepstep, Come Shining. Sometimes, poetry in general feels intimidating to me. My language feels inadequate, or just generally not up to standard to the work I read.  I'll keep in touch with Academy of American Poets “Poem-a-Day” and look up author interviews. This is a good way for me to strip some of the poet-pedestal I see in others. I’ll get a laugh out of something someone says, or be reminded how incredible poets are indeed humans too.

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