Poetry News

Amy Lawless Interviewed by Interview Magazine!!

By Harriet Staff


Though they missed the chance to capture Amy Lawless's (can we say...trademark?) huge blue eyes by photographing them in black-and-white, Interview Magazine did bring the world some joy by interviewing the poet about her work. To be specific, Lawless has a new book out, My Dead, from Octopus Books, about which she speaks here. Her interlocuter, Ryann Donnelly, writes:

My Dead delves into the process of mourning loved ones with Lawless' calm, characteristically non-melodramatic poise. She cites videos of elephant mourning rituals seen on the Internet as a main source of inspiration. While humor might have been used to subvert heavier topics in the past, she chooses control and intimate dissection this time around. Lawless will be heading out on the "Sex and Death" tour with fellow Octopus writer James Gendron, with a reading at Goodbye Blue Monday in Brooklyn today. In preparation for her book's release, she sat down with us to discuss her creative development and how it all started with a hatred of peas.

From the interview:

DONNELLY: What is your writing process like?

LAWLESS: I talk about this with my friends that also write poetry, and we notice that if we don't write for awhile, we get kind of grumpy. I don't have a particular process, but its usually I'll just be in my room, sometimes just sitting at my desk, and I'll have Microsoft Word open, and there's something on my mind—ideas or images or a character. But, the most fun I've had lately writing poems is while watching Planet Earth episodes. I like to multi-task. I like to watch a movie and be on my phone and writing. I do well in that chaos. Like, if my life has five windows open at once, I can soften the other four, but they're still there.

DONNELLY: Do you regiment yourself about when you're going to write?

LAWLESS: If I haven't written something in a week, I make sure I have time for it. Lately I've been writing prose as well, and that usually has to be first thing in the morning. I don't feel like I have to do it every day, though.

DONNELLY: What was the editing process like for you? Some of this was done during a trip to Colorado, correct? What was it like to work outside the New York environment?

LAWLESS: The two editors that took the lead in editing my book were Mathias Svalina and Alisa Heinzman. Mathias lives in Denver, and I happened to be going to visit two poet friends, Maggie Wells and Dan Hoy, for New Year's Eve, so it made sense for Mathias and I to meet up and go over the edits when I was out there, as opposed to doing a three-to-five-hour-long Skype conversation. It was a really empowering process because I had never had such an attentive editorial experience. Mathias is a brilliant poetry editor, and it felt like those little crazy things you think in your head about your words are validated by this person who is not crazy. It became clear that these are things we all think about. Being able to have that conversation was so exciting. And I guess one of my blind spots is putting together a poetry manuscript. When I first gave it to them, the sections were all different. I had made choices, but in working with them, it became whole.

DONNELLY: Were there thematic adjustments that came out of editing the structure?

LAWLESS: Yeah. I write so many different kinds of poems—funny or scatological or whatever. There were certain poems that just didn't fit My Dead. My Dead is a book that is mostly concerned with death, and things swimming around that topic. There were certain poems that were really funny that just didn't speak to that. That was the other thing that Mathias was good at pointing out in a very kind way. That goes over so much better when you're in the room with someone than when you see a Microsoft Word comment next to something that's like, "Meh."

DONNELLY: Can you expand on what we can expect from My Dead?

LAWLESS: It was written in four sections. Two of the sections are long poem sequences. "Elephants in Mourning" I wrote after a few of my relatives had died—three in a year and a half. I sort of hadn't dealt with it for a variety of reasons. One day I was just home watching YouTube videos of elephant mourning rituals, and it moved me so completely, because they remind you of humans keening and mourning. Suddenly, I felt so overwhelmed with my own personal loss. I just wrote the whole "Elephants in Mourning"—a 17- page poem—in a day. It took me a year to edit it, but that was the first piece.

It goes on. Read it all here!

Originally Published: March 19th, 2013