Monday, April 15, 2013

Gregory Lawless: Next Big Thing Interview for Foreclosure

What is your working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

The book’s origins were formal.  Foreclosure consists largely of spatially-constricted (short-margined) prose poems, which I started writing as a solution to poetic exhaustion.  I had just finished a manuscript and felt trapped in certain ways of speaking and seeing.  So, I sought out prose as a cure to my stasis and poemsadness, which worked, in no small part, because I felt like I could say things in prose that I couldn’t say in lines.  I also loved how the poems travelled quickly down the page, since vertical descent, in poetry, more or less equals moving forward in time—and that illusion of progress helped trick me into a new idiom.

Topically/thematically: I wanted to work with a kind of fictionalized visual journal, a mode as kinetic, inclusive, and inherently generative as the form described above; what the poems “documented”—visions of withered landscapes, psychological extremis, the spoiled economies on Northeastern, PA—took shape gradually as the project matured.  I started by describing images of abandonment, empty houses, etc., which were then on my mind (this was in late 2011).  Eventually it became clear that I was describing, in addition to derelict properties, the retreat of capital—which, incidentally, the descent of natural gas mining corporations on Northeastern, PA has done little to redress. 

What genre does your book fall under?

Pastoral prose poems.  Post-nature paralytics.  Ecopoetical ravings.  Regional hallucinations.  Great Recession elegies. “Country Surrealism.”  Some or most of the above.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Nervous, repressed watchers, a bad wife, a bad father, and a handful of fitful bit players appear in this collection.  So maybe a young Dustin Hoffman from the first half of Straw Dogs, ineffectual, always fixing his glasses; Laura Linney qua wife; Brad Sullivan qua father; and a smattering of extras from Wiseblood.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I’m sure I’ve written it by now.  But if I haven’t: Voyeuristic pastoralist suffers ecopoetical ravings in Ambivalence, PA.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Published through Back Pages Publishers, an exemplary operation, run out of Waltham, MA.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

My first draft was an insult to the word draft, but I’d say 1½ months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’ll talk about influence instead of comparison first: those books by Richard Hugo and James Wright that deal with American towns and cities in demise.  Plus, a number of works of non-fiction:  Alan Wiesman’s The World Without Us was very important to me, as was James Galvin’s The Meadow, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, Thoreau, Barry Lopez, John McPhee, and many others…all of which, in different ways, helped me describe into critique, if that makes sense—to interweave drama, context, and argument in one work.

And Foreclosure compares to any book of poetry that hovers nervously in the vicinity of the fraught pastoral, simultaneously wary of and lured by it.  Many contemporary pastoral poems regard themselves as anti-pastorals, or post-pastorals—they imagine that the pastoral is impossible because it’s terminally problematic, and, thus, they fret in the wake of that “fact.”  The poems in Foreclosure fret differently, I guess—not by abandoning convention or reference altogether, but by manifesting what I call critical ambivalence toward them—at times embracing, and at times rejecting these things, as the poems demand.  But ultimately this is a book born of familiarity with a place.  I have looked at certain things, looked at them to death—things extant and crumbling—and write as though that is the case. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Partially explained above; the poems evolved from a handful of ill-assorted prose pieces about abandoned houses into an attempt to confront both the long- and short-term economic/cultural circumstances that affected what I—a partial outsider, a soft-exile from the region—was seeing in Northeastern, PA, specifically on the border between its post-Anthracite/post-industrial and rural communities.  I am a stranger to this place now, but a conflicted, proprietary stranger, someone without an immediate political connection to its political disorder, though it’s where I keep all my imagery.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

It’s a book that exposes the reader to contradiction, observation, befuddlement.  It’s a book of problems.  It details grief and grievance in the face of political impossibilities.  It’s the flea market of late capitalism.  You’re welcome there anytime. 

Gregory Lawless is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop and the author of I Thought I Was New Here (2009) and Foreclosure (2013).  You can find his poems in such places as Pleiades, The Journal, Salamander, The National Poetry Review, Sonora Review, The Cincinnati Review, Paper Darts, Ilk, Transom, H_NGM_N, and many others.