1. What are you working on?
I’m revising a book of poems called Simple Machines. Frustrated with my infertility diagnosis, and the mechanical metaphor for the human body that I felt governed much of the discussion of how I should get pregnant, I responded by taking the metaphor literally and collaborating with machines.
The book is in three sections–in the first, I use the “Advanced search” feature of the online Oxford English Dictionary to make word lists from which to compose poems. I take two words that name a machine named after a person–such as “Ferris” and “wheel”–and put them in the Advanced search boxes in the OED online. That gives me a list of words that contain both the words “Ferris” and the word “wheel” in their definitions, and then I write a poem with as many of those words and as few other words as possible. In the second section of Simple Machines, I write erasures, another kind of “mechanical” poetry, of scientific articles about artificial intelligence. I respond to a book I had as a child called How Your Body Works: A Trip Around the Body Machine. In the third section, I make origami poems that I intend to be cut out of the book, folded, and manipulated to make poems–poem machines, in homage to the language machine in Gulliver’s Travels.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I do intend for the poems to have a physical life of their own off of the printed page, or at least cut out from the rest of the printed pages in the book. Sometimes, the word list poems can seem a bit crazy-lyrical, but that’s not that different from what others are doing. I guess I can’t really be crazy-lyrical without some kind of help. From a computer. Like a nerd. I over-think poems and kill them, so this mechanical process forces me to think in a different way, to puzzle out the most lyrical and true sentences lurking in the word lists.
3. Why do you write what you do?
I love words. Once we can put the OED online and make it searchable, the hidden connections between words can finally be apparent to us–we can use computers to help us be more creative as humans. Vernor Vinge calls this collaboration “Intelligence Amplification,” or IA, as opposed to AI. I see it as a way to embrace new technologies without being afraid of them, and my natural state tends to be fear. There are words that are having relationships without us, and we can watch if we just have computers to help! It’s like word pron, the OED online. Not LIKE word pron; it IS word pron.
4. How does your writing process work?
HA! If I could tell you I would do it and then I’d always be writing and I’d always be happy. Isn’t that the poet’s dream? I try to write every day, and my job gets in the way, or it feels routine and not poem-y. Then, I try to write when I’m inspired, and that’s rare. Then, I try to write when I’m drinking, and then I fall asleep. I write when I can. It usually starts with a deep dive into the dictionary. Then I compose. Then I revise until my eyes bleed. Then I send stuff out once I can’t stand to look at it anymore. Then I feel a deep sense of shame.
Next up are two great writers–one a poet and one a lyrical nonfiction writer. Both of them are close friends of mine I met when we all lived in Salt Lake City. They’ll post by April 30. In alphabetical order:
Harmony Button is a contributing editor at PaperTape Magazine and the English Department Chair of the Waterford School in Utah. Her work has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Web awards, and has appeared in journals such as Colorado Review, Chicago Quarterly, Southwestern American Lit, Cobalt, Rock & Sling, Drafthorse, and Ithaca Lit. Her blog is http://harmonybutton.wordpress.com/.
Nicole Sheets is an assistant professor of English at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. She blogs about style for Wanderlust & Lipstick, a women’s travel company based in Seattle. She’s the web editor for Rock & Sling (rockandsling.com) and the editor of How To Pack For Church Camp, an online anthology of creative nonfiction. You can find her blog at http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/blogs/wanderchic/.