The 5Ws with James Lindsay

December 21, 2015

Who is your favourite author, or the author who has had the greatest influence on you (either personally or professionally)?

In an essay titled, “'Regard the Twists of the Bugle/That Yield One Clear Clarion’: The Dean Young Effect,” Tony Hoagland illustrates Young’s influence over (mostly) young (mostly) male poets, who end up being unworthy imitators of his unique style. This struck a particularly sensitive chord with me, as I was fully guilty of trying to do just that after my first exciting encounters with Young’s work. Hoagland goes on to say that, “[Young] has enough theoretical fluency, enough metatextual reference, to be accredited as a postmodernist on the one hand, and enough regular-guyness to appeal to the poetry reader in the street.” That’s still a pretty accurate synopsis of what I try to do with my own work. Young helped me to experiment with the tone of my poems and to incorporate elements of pop culture and humanism, demonstrating how to twist them together, while also expanding my reading by acting as my gateway to the New York School poets. I’ve been reading him for so long at this point, beginning at a time when I was very susceptible, that his influence seems inescapable, even when I try to resist it. I sometimes ask myself “Is this too Youngy? Am I mimicking right now, or is this my own voice? Am I just another white dude trying to sound like just another white dude?” Probably. But then, I think this insecurity has also been helpful in breaking the repetitious bad habits I always try to be on the look out for. Like unconsciously aping Dean Young.


What one book couldn’t you live without?

The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim gives me chills just thinking of it. The novel fits into a loose trilogy, along with Elect Mr. Robinson For a Better World and The Verificationist, which explores the absurdity of modern masculinity, told from the perspectives of inept man-children who struggle against any accountability in their lives. The Hundred Brothers' protagonist is Doug, the family fuck-up and scapegoat, who, along with his ninety-eight fraternal brothers (one is missing), is meeting in their deceased father’s decaying library to discuss what’s to be done with it, something they’ve been attempting to do for years. One of the book’s most amazing aspects is that it is told in a singular breath, with no breaks, over the course of one evening, as a tense, manic energy builds and builds, leading to a vicious finale. The book is mocking and highly critical of stereotypical “manhood,” cataloguing what groups of men supposedly do when assembled – talk power tools and sports, eat meat, drink, masturbate – all in a grotesque, knee-slapping farce.


Why is writing important to you?

It's my sole creative outlet. I've been doing it for so much of my life that it feels like a compulsion that I try to treat like a craft so it won’t slip away. It’s never easy and always challenging, but when it's going well, the feeling of making something is one of the most rewarding things I can think of. 


Where do you write, and do you have any rituals, special instruments, or other requirements?

I write on my couch, usually in the morning. I drink lots of coffee and read a bit beforehand. I listen to music, but nothing with lyrics. Lyrics get in the way. If it’s a good day, and I have the time, writing can last up to five hours or so. But then once I have something, I’ll revisit it for days, constantly thinking about it and scribbling notes down. I love to revise. I’m always trying to improve my poems. I never really think of them as complete.


When did you first decide you were a writer, or when did you first feel like a writer?

I was a poor student in high school, more interested in getting stoned and listening to music than studying or going to class. But I was still reading on my own and wanted to write. I was frustrated that my school didn't offer a Creative Writing course, so I ended up enrolling in Drama because I heard that students could write and perform their own plays. I didn’t get along well with most of my teachers, but my drama teacher was one of the few adults who pushed me towards something positive. She was very supportive of my writing and introduced me to Albee, Beckett, Pinter, Artaud and Daniel MacIvor. I was constantly reading plays and trying to incorporate what I was reading into my own work, which was slowly starting to come together. I even got to enter a silly little one-act play into a regional competition. We had rehearsals every day, and every night I would go home with my notes and revise the script. My home life at the time was chaotic, but through this routine I was able to find stability and a kind of independence. I came to think of this as what being a writer was, and decided that no matter what, from then on I would keep it a part of my life.


James Lindsay's debut poetry collection, Our Inland Sea, came out with Buckrider Books in Fall 2015. You can read more about the book and hear James read from it over on the All Lit Up blog, where he's featured in a Poetry in Motion post.


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