Sunday, August 30, 2015

In which we talk grieving, loss, anxiety and ball-peens with the Jonathan Travelstead at The Rumpus.

And why do we this? Because despite doing a podcast with him, the world will always need more Travelstead. Excerpt? Word.

Rumpus: This reminds me of the time I was on a long run and a PSA came on the radio with Phil Jackson talking about breast cancer and I thought about my mom—who is a survivor—and I started crying profusely. But that’s not a question; my question is about anxiety and whether you think there are any benefits to struggling with anxiety when you’re a writer or artist?

Travelstead: In my case, absolutely. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I try to borrow the same motivations from my career as a firefighter and consider the writing process as seriously as I do entering a house with black smoke puffing from its eaves. In a poem any unconsidered line, word, or break can have toxic consequences to the speaker’s authenticity, or intent. Which is not to say I emerge from writing in the same state as I do after a structure fire—I just may feel like it, emotionally.

With any craft, or work in which someone takes pride and makes a living, I can’t imagine anxiety not being a functional tool for producing their best work. However, I consider it to be the best tool only when confined to the final stages of the writing process, and stifling in the early, creative stages to the point of analysis paralysis—that condition where the writer smothers the poem by over-thinking it, or planning too much. As a work is revisited and crafted I find anxiety to be helpful, necessary even.

I write for an imaginary audience that has ADD but that is also shrewd and discerning, and whose attention I will lose if it intuits a writer’s lack of authenticity—both in terms of my own struggle with the underlying tensions, and also of the speaker’s within the narrative.
 As writers, if we’re minding our craft—and a little lucky—then that struggle is passed along to the reader. It’s not only a motivator, it’s also a defense mechanism for combing out a word choice or movement that can throw off a poem’s voice, or identifying whether a risky line inches too far towards sentimentality.

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