Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Habitual Poet: Jason Bredle

Installment #13

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: editor@poemeleon.org.

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

I’d prefer to get them from a really awesome bookstore, but I usually get them from Amazon or directly from the press.

Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

I have no idea. Maybe like 300? I’m not a big book buyer because I don’t really like owning books I haven’t read. I’d say I’ve read about 75% of those. The only ones I haven’t read cover to cover are anthologies and a few I’ve purchased recently.

Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

Usually during time off from work or on weekends.

Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

Sestets by Charles Wright; How Beautiful the Beloved by Gregory Orr; the Mary Ruefle book of prose poems.

Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

EM Forster’s A Passage to India, Rimbaud’s letters, Waiting for the Barbarians by JM Coatzee.

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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

I try to vary my process so that the results continue to be fresh (for me, anyway). Right now I write a lot in notebooks (thoughts, lines, pages of free writing, whatever – nothing really composed) and when I have time to devote to a poem, I go through the notebooks to see what interests me. Sometimes it’s just a couple of lines that I can take somewhere. Sometimes it’s an assembly of lines, like more of a collage. When I do have time to write an actual poem, it’s usually in the early evening after I’m done with work. I tend to be loose about everything so I really just go with whatever makes me happiest at the moment.

Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

This varies quite a bit depending on what week or month we’re talking about. Ideally I’d like to do something new once a week, but sometimes I’ll go months without doing anything and sometimes I’ll write four or five in a week.

Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

I revise immediately and pretty much constantly. There are times where I think my poems are beyond revision and I scrap them and use lines from them in other poems, though.

Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

When it’s been published in a book and revising it further would be kind of pointless.

Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

I don’t really have one. I submit if I’m solicited, and maybe one other time a year I’ll send out a bunch of unsolicited poems.

Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

I received an acceptance from DIAGRAM this week. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I expected it, but I thought the odds were good because they published my chapbook a few years ago. This past spring I submitted unsolicited poems to 18 journals and received two acceptances.

Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

It’s a mix. I feel like online has a lot of neat possibilities – large readership, no length restrictions, more issues and writers than print journals – but I miss publishing in print as much as I used to. It’s nice to know you’ll have a physical thing for as long as you know where it is, whereas anything online could go away at any moment.

Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

I’ve had really wonderful experiences through the years with Green Mountains Review and DIAGRAM, which were both instrumental in propelling my writing toward larger audiences (not to mention just providing me encouragement). Recently I had some poems accepted by diode, then later realized some of them had already been published elsewhere. Not only was the editor extremely forgiving about my mistake, she even read some other work and picked another poem to publish.

Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

I receive fan mail and it’s spectacular. It’s great to know you’ve affected someone enough to write you. It’s a validation of what you’re doing – someone “got it.”

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Practical considerations:

Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

I work in health-related quality of life research – research that quantifies and analyzes patient perception about their quality of life in order to improve medical care. Patient data is collected via patient reported outcomes questionnaires, questionnaires that ask you about things like your physical and emotional health, relationship with family and friends, etc. I’m part of a group that translates these measurements for cross-cultural, international research. Definitely working with researchers and translators around the world affects my worldview and my appreciation for language, which in turn affects my writing.

Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

She’s an English teacher, so we get to talk about literature.

Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

I didn’t write from 2000-2003. I was pretty miserable during that time for a number of reasons and was kind of too depressed. In retrospect, I would have done a lot of things differently during that time if I could now, but I can’t do anything about that now.

Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

I’m not quite sure what that means, so I guess not. I guess it’s anything goes!

Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

I don’t think so. If I’m doing something for art it’s more or less something I love to do.

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Random nonsense:

Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

Only on the playground.

Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address
b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed
c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)
d.) Do none of the above; instead you: _____

I guess d. I’d never write anything intentionally scathing about Mom. If I were to unintentionally upset her, I’d apologize and try to explain where I was coming from.

Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

I’d give it up but I’d have to find something else to do.

Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

E because it’s the first vowel I thought of.

Q: Finally write a couplet for a collaborative ghazal using the following kaafiyaa and radif: “said the poet”.

You asked if I've ever eaten strawberries in the snow.
That's a good question, and I don't know, said the poet.


Jason Bredle is the author of two books and three chapbooks of poetry: A Twelve Step Guide (New Michigan Press, 2004); Standing in Line for the Beast (New Issues, 2007); Pain Fantasy (Red Morning Press, 2007); American Sex Machine (Scantily Clad Press, 2009); and Class Project (Publishing Genius, 2009). Individual poems have appeared in the Knopf anthology Poems About Horses, 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day from Random House, TriQuarterly, and many other places. He lives in Chicago, where he works in the patient reported outcomes translation field.

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