The Next Uncomfortable Thing
An Unfriendly (but Imaginary) Interview
A couple of years ago, the big thing on writery blogs was The Next Big Thing, posts in which writers interviewed themselves about their new books. As interviews went, these were pretty friendly situations. The questions were set in advance, and I don’t think anyone pounced on themselves with any vicious “gotcha” journalism moments. I mean, I did one of these Next Big Things, and I left feeling like my interviewer really understood me. But what if the (fictional) interviewer were less sympathetic? What if your interviewer were like a too-honest person who you meet randomly at a party and who’s been drinking a little and who looks at your whole writing life with an attitude somewhere between bafflement and hostility? I think that would be called The Next Uncomfortable Thing, and I think it would be interesting. So, here’s my Next Uncomfortable Thing:
TNUT: What are you telling me? You wrote a book or something?
Me: Um, yeah. It’s called We Were the People Who Moved and it was published by Tebot Bach.
Well, nobody’s even reading anymore, so I’m not sure why you’re still writing, but whatever — what kind of book is it, anyway? Like is it a biography of a President, hopefully? I kind of like the way those look on my shelf. Or is it a novel that could be made into a movie with explosions?
The coolest people are still reading. Aren’t they? Anyway, my book is a collection of poems. It’s about —
Wait — did you say poetry? Are you actually serious? I heard poetry was dead.
Yeah. I heard that, too. But if poetry were really dead, I bet people would stop saying it was dead all the time. Maybe it’s just badly wounded. Or playing dead. Or it could be that we’re just bad at measuring signs of life. Or maybe it’s completely alive and we’re all playing a mean-spirited prank on poetry, pretending that we think it’s dead in order to make it upset. In which case we should stop.
Okay. I don’t really know what to say to that. Is your book even about something?
Sure — there are all kinds of things in here — childhood and parenthood, landscapes and story-poems, work and love, but mainly these are poems about moving from place to place and what that does to a person. It’s about dislocation and relocation, about trying to figure out what “home” means and where it might be.
No — that answer was way too long. I didn’t listen to very much of it. What’s the book about, in hardly any words at all?
Why did you even bother to write about that?
I’ve moved a lot in my life, and yet I can’t shake the idea of home, some immovable and stable home — maybe one that I carry with me. There’s a poem in the book called “Autogeography,” because I think where I’ve been is a big part of who I’ve been.
[yawns] Listen — are there any explosions in your book or what?
Um…there’s a kinda dramatic thunderstorm in the poem “Shavuot.” Also maybe the reader’s inertia, if s/he’s feeling any inertia — reading the book might make that explode.
Oh, brother. Can you name even one person — not including family members — who gives a crap about your book?
The writer Kelly Cherry read my book and said, “These profoundly moving poems register in the reader’s heart and won’t be budged. Truth-telling and tonic, they are poems by which to measure one’s life.” So that was nice.
Well, I’m getting bored and I’m going to go get another drink somewhere that isn’t near you. But, before I go, give me just one reason why anybody should ever read your book.
I think that the ordinary things that happen to ordinary people are actually incredibly amazing if you look at them with a close and sympathetic eye. That’s what I try to do with these poems: I try to show the incredible in the everyday. Because —
[not really paying attention] Uh-huh. See you. [leaves]
Okay. I’ll just stand here and wait for maybe someone else to talk to. Thanks?
[stands and waits, possibly for a long time]
— — — — — — —
Writers out there, feel free to use The Next Uncomfortable Thing (or a modified version) to interview yourself about your own new book — just please link back here, okay? Oh — and, if you’re interested, you can find out more about my book We Were the People Who Moved here.