Some Other Kind of Way To Be Alive: An Interview with Dana Ward

by Lauren Russell

Dana Ward is the author of This Can’t Be Life, The Crisis of Infinite Worlds, Some Other Deaths of Bas Jan Ader, and a number of chapbooks. He lives in Cincinnati, where he hosts the Cy Press @ Thunder Sky Inc reading series and co-edits Perfect Lovers Press. He read with fellow poet Anne Boyer at the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series in April.

Hot Metal Bridge: Friendship is a major theme in all of your work—most recently in the long sequence in Some Other Deaths of Bas Jan Ader but really all over everywhere—a poetics of community. What is the role of friendship in poem making? Or being a poet in the world? Is it possible to be a poet in isolation?

Dana Ward: I think anyone who wants to be can be a poet anywhere, & may sort of always be one anyway, regardless of acknowledgement, depending on the breadth [of] what’s considered to be poetry by who, & wherever, & when.

So with that kind of bigness in mind, I think isolation is a tricky sort of word. Some poets I know, who are socially surrounded by a ton of other poets, find that kind of situation isolating finally, & for lots of different reasons. The poets that some people find to hang out with might do stuff to make them feel there’s no way to be friends. Then, some people might be writing poems partially to make some sort of space for isolation, someplace that even their friends can’t access. Who knows?

For me, both initially & now, but speaking here of what was formative, being with my friends, our moment-to-moment group relay of thought, that’s what first made me start writing. We’d contend & think about the world we fucking hated, & learn from what we heard & did that seemed to be about some other kind of way to be alive. Those things, in collision, made it feel like contradiction was the constitutive logic of our thinking when we talked. It was poetry that way, & I loved it, so I started reading poetry a lot, got into writing some myself & sharing it with them, & they encouraged me.

I can’t imagine writing, or thinking at all, without doing so somehow with others, especially those friends permissive enough to co-create, & then perpetuate, a space where its ok to fuck things up by writing stuff that might say really really stupid shit, change each other’s minds, & then still be around no matter, going on doing writing, not writing at all, keeping up with one another out of need & love, for the specific forms that people make, so doing.

HMB: A number of your works appeared as limited run chapbooks before appearing in full-length books. (I actually prefer the experience of reading Typing Wild Speech in the original chapbook form.) Is the genre of the chapbook important to your work?

DW: I don’t know that I think about the chapbook as a genre, but I’m utterly lacking in finesse where considerations of genre are concerned. Anyway, I tend to think in terms of scale & composition, then, what might be required if it’s something to be published.

The books that you’re talking about (Typing Wild Speech, The Squeakquel, Some Other Deaths of Bas Jan Ader) were just really generative for me. Each of them had a particular gravity that kept me afloat, so I wrote some other poems I could constellate around them. If that hadn’t been the case, like, I don’t know if I’d have been eager to collect them somewhere else or not.

I’ve always been super attached to little books that feel both intimate, & cosmically enormous, those “my heart is in my pocket” type of books. Maybe I pretend they’re like a genre?

So, regarding Typing Wild Speech—it does seem like more of whatever it is to me too, in the Summer BFF edition. I guess I mean that it gets complicated differently, refreshed by absence, rather than by clutter? The chapbook version’s more polite. I think I needed to be rude to it too, have it jostled up by all the other stuff I wrote in relation to it. Maybe that’s me, trying to interrupt Geoff [the friend whose death is at the center of Typing Wild Speech] a little bit. If I don’t try to he can really be the only thing, or only way I think sometimes. He’s overly-inflective for when I’m thinking & writing, my memory of the kinds of things he’d say. Imaginary simulations in the present. Not that I mind. He sounds generous & funny still. Negative too. He had a way of being that teasingly re-routed rivers of delusion, & he was swimming in them too, a mean sweetheart.

HMB: You’ve recently transitioned from working as a social worker to teaching in an M.F.A. program, right? Do you feel like this has had any effect on your creative practice?

DW: Well, first, my partner Sarah & I had a kid, so the first transition was more from social work to being a parent full time. & now, in addition to that, I’m teaching at the M.F.A. school at Bard in the summer.

I can’t easily describe the whole childcare thing. It’s been a continual transition through novel experiences of time. & then all kinds of new viscera, funny & horrifying being with another in this kind of proximity, & sweetness that’s kind of unspeakable too, not really sweetness at all. I’ve been writing about all this elsewhere. Anyway, that’s the transition that’s impacted the writing I do more than anything else these past years. I keep writing about it all the time.  But I miss the work I was doing before in the sense that I deeply miss the people that I got to be around.

Otherwise, yeah, being at Bard’s been amazing. I feel incredibly lucky to be there & talking & thinking & making art with people, making friends. Certainly all of the stuff I’ve learned being there & doing that gets mixed up with what I’m writing somehow. The stuff I do in working there is sort of like a waged version of what I’ve always done with my friends who are artists. Get together & talk about whatever we’re making in relation to everything else.

HMB: Alice Notley seems to be a major influence for you. She comes up in every book. I’ve also seen you mention Jack Spicer (in This Can’t Be Life), Joe Brainard and Lyn Hejinian (in The Crisis of Infinite Worlds), Ted Berrigan and Hart Crane (in Some Other Deaths of Bas Jan Ader), as well as a number of your contemporaries. Some of the poems in The Crisis of Infinite Worlds are addressed to poets of your generation—Karen Weiser, Cedar Sigo, Thom Donovan, Anne Boyer. Who are your poetic heroes? And who are you reading now?

DW: Yeah, in a certain kind of wonderland the rabbits follow Alice, & I’m one of the bunnies like that.

It’s kind of like with Geoff, when I’m writing, I’m always hearing how I’ve read & heard her poems & the way that’s always changing. Everything I’ve made is in the vein, or mood, of doing that, & then too its variously amplified & blended with all kinds of other things, a few of which I see now I’ll be involved with indefinitely.

As to my heroes, eh, god I’m sorry Lauren I hope it isn’t shitty, it’s sort of way too big of a deal for me to get into, so much writing I’ve gotten to encounter, endless crucial things, & just naming all of that feels sort of hopeless, plus, I always end up talking way too much, about this kind of thing especially & so, you know, lol, ‘don’t even get me started!’

As for reading right now, there’s lots of stuff, but most important recently, this book called Yeah Yeah Yeah, by Bob Stanley, about the history of popular music in the U.K. He was in that band St. Etienne. I’m influenced by their take on a Bob Wratten tune called “Let’s Kiss & Make Up.” Re-listening a lot to that has been as big an influence as anything of late.

As well as, in the book I’m writing now, the day-to-day poetries Sarah & Viv [my daughter] & my mom make, the way they contend & make contrivances of time via relation, ways of being with others that have a special sort of fabrication, the conditions & contingencies of that.

HMB: Who are you listening to now? When I read your Coldfront article “A Year in Music” I was most struck by how you almost apologize for loving a lackluster song—Michel Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet,” which you describe as kind of a Beatles rip-off. “It wants to be ‘Penny Lane.’ & it is. In the same way that, you know, Barack Obama is a communist.” I thought this was hilarious, but I also wonder how your love of pop music and easy listening relates to your process of making work that seems so unconcerned with being “pop.” Does one support the other?

DW: Hahaha, yeah. I don’t know why I wanted to apologize for that?! Who would I even apologize to? Well, quite frankly I don’t remember what I was thinking, & whatever it was, I don’t think I even thought it then. I was probably just looking for a rhetoric & tone so I could talk about the song, & over did it. Pastiche might be mildly apologetic anyway. Remorsefully mimetic, since it’s just been going through a phase.

So yeah, totally, one supports the other, the way that reading supports writing, or that writing does.

This book I’m writing’s mainly about hearing certain things, certain songs, & thinking about this thing of ‘formativity,’ or what’s ‘formative’, what that even means for specific bodies. I’m still in some kind of inexhaustible thrall to songs that I heard when I was young, a handful of which I feel like I’ve been following around my whole life. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Prince & Brian Wilson, again, today. That’s what I’ve really been reading the most these past months.

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  1. […] All weekend I was in New York, which is like AWP all the time (((minus the one time they had turkey legs ((although I’m sure if you put your mind to it you can find a turkey leg in New York (although maybe not because that seems to be a “country” fair type thing and believe it or not I didn’t see a damn deer until I was 18 years old so what do I know)))))). I got back to DC on Sunday and at work on Monday I gchatted Mike and I says “Sucks, dunnit” and he says “wha” and I says “not being there” and he says “TRU.” Which was a little confusing, since it wasn’t really that memorable of a weekend, but then I saw that Lauren Russell interviewed Dana Ward at Hot Metal Bridge and Dana said: […]

  2. […] All weekend I was in New York, which is like AWP all the time (((minus the one time they had turkey legs ((although I’m sure if you put your mind to it you can find a turkey leg in New York (although maybe not because that seems to be a “country” fair type thing and believe it or not I didn’t see a damn deer until I was 18 years old so what do I know)))))). I got back to DC on Sunday and at work on Monday I gchatted Mike and I says “Sucks, dunnit” and he says “wha” and I says “not being there” and he says “TRU.” Which was a little confusing, since it wasn’t really that memorable of a weekend, but then I saw that Lauren Russell interviewed Dana Ward at Hot Metal Bridge and Dana said: […]

  3. […] Dana Ward (Hot Metal Bridge, Jul 2nd) […]