A One Question Interview with Joanna Howard

Our literary festival and fundraising event, Feed The Writers, is just a few days away, and we are so excited!

The event will feature readings by Laura Brown-Lavoie, Rick Benjamin, and Joanna Howard (yes, this is an amazing line-up). This week Joanna answered one question for me. One thing (of many) that I love about her response is that she refers to Rosemarie Waldrop, a wonderful poet and person whose books will be up for raffle (along with Joanna’s and work by many other incredible local authors).

If you manage to get out of this event without feeling serious fall writing inspiration (and happy to be alive in general), I will be shocked and not believe you.

Joanna, what is the meeting point of your identity as reader, as writer, as human?

In her short essay “Collage or the Splice of Life” poet Rosmarie Waldrop discusses Tristan Tzara’s famous Dadaist recipe which urges writers to take an article, cut it up, draw out the scraps from a hat, and assemble a poem and ‘the poem will resemble you.’ Waldrop tells us she used collage techniques to avoid writing poems about her mother, only to discover after following this recipe, that the poems were still about her mother. However, she says “something else was also beginning to happen.”  She admits, “Even with such a mechanical method, ‘the poem will resemble you'” but, she adds, “any constraint stretches the imagination…Any constraint pulls us into semantic fields different from the one we started with…” and in a sense takes us out of ourselves.

As a writer often working with language collage techniques, and working under many hidden constraints, it is still my eye that finds the scrap of text, and my mind which sees within the juxtapositions of disparate scraps inevitable but uncanny serendipities. When I know I am also working with content from my life–people I have met, phrases I imagine they have uttered–the incorporation of the random or chance elements only opens up the imagination to other possibilities within these known materials.

In short: as a reader I collect, as a writer I collate and collage, as a human I can not avoid my own subjectivity–my politics, my personal feelings, my limitations will inevitably infect my work–though these former techniques allow imagination to help take me out of myself.

Joanna Howard is the author of Foreign Correspondent and On the Winding Stair. Her work has appeared in many literary magazines, including Conjunctions, the Chicago ReviewUnsaidQuarterly WestAmerican Letters and CommentaryFourteen Hills,Western Humanities ReviewSalt HillTarpaulin Sky, and others.

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