Q: What style of music do you think most closely resembles your poetry?
A: I could spend a lifetime agonizing over this answer. In fact, I’ve already spent a few weeks doing so, and haven’t gotten anywhere. I’m very bad at genre.
Q: Did you choose your writing style, or did it choose you? What does your style allow you to do with your poetry, that other styles would not?
A: Most certainly not. I find myself so often reading poems in styles I wish I could use, but my poems come the way they come and other than a few refusals/redirections on my part, I don’t necessarily think I have total control over that. I have a hard time looking at my work as “one style / one voice / one body” but I assume commonalities are there that others can simply see better than I can. I still try to challenge myself in adopting or mimicking other styles, but those poems are usually one-offs.
Q: How do you choose what a poem will look like on the page?
A: Generally, I figure out what shape the poem wants to be within writing the first line. If the line is short, I find the following ones want to be as well—I adore balance in that kind of thing. A long line maybe wants to burst past the page/margin, or maybe fits best in a prose block. I like a lot of blank space on a page, but counter to a poem, so a poem will be either fat and short or long and thin. But if the sound of it gets knocked about because of that fixation, I play around with it until it makes sense. Though I think I favor the run on, I truly appreciate a solid pause, and sometimes can’t find a better pause than white space. I definitely play with it but often end up not making very many changes at all.
Q: How do you choose your punctuation, or lack thereof? Does it have more to do with grammar, visual cues, or auditory/musical cues?
A: I fight with punctuation a lot, but understand that it does so much of my job better than any other method, so I oftentimes relent. In many ways, I want to escape it, I like the ambiguity of a unmarked sentence: is that a question or not? But when I hear it, even if I want to mark the possibilities, I find I’ll speak it one way and then try to punctuate between the two. For me, it is more important that one understand HOW (sonically) I am trying to say something than to know conclusively which (of multiple interpretations) I am saying. So I’ll want to leave out any punctuation that I find doesn’t tell you how to say it, even if it tells you what I am saying. I try to keep consistent. I try not to piss off grammarians too much, but I really couldn’t care less sometimes. I’m not that attached to making sense.
Q: Do you think that punctuation can be equated with musical notation symbols such as note value, rests, and dynamic markings? How do you think of white space? Between words and stanzas? As it relates to the size and shape of the paper your work is printed on?
A: Of course. I think my major (struggle) is using punctuation for grammar rather than sound. I think I err on the grammar side more often than not, but I dream of unpunctuated work that still says what it means in the way that I hear it. But sonically, a period is more definitive than white space, an em-dash more abrupt than a period. So I certainly use those to my advantage, especially if I’m not “utilizing” white space so much. I think of white space as in the color spectrum—white being all colors at once. The white part of the page is everything else in the world of the poem. It’s the noise in the bar where you’re looking it over, the subway underfoot, the sirens out the window. It’s so much that it sounds like silence: it’s the ultimate white noise. The poem, in turn, fills that space with everything else: the things you implied or invoked but didn’t say, the echo in the reader’s mind, their own lives until now.
Q: Do you think your poetry gives visual auditory cues to the reader? Do you think the reader hears the way you read your poetry by sight alone? If not, what do you think impedes this transfer of information?
A: I certainly hope that this is the case. Some things I obviously leave to the reader—I will write a line that breaks for significance / ambiguity but read without it. At readings, I often think I read too fast, but in spaces where I know I race ahead (despite a written pause or line break), I don’t change the page because it’s correct.
Q: How do you notate your poetry to make up for the lack of your voice being there? Do you try?
A: Not too much, honestly. My readings and my poems are likely two different things, though I do think you will hear “it” if you read it aloud, in any voice, I’m not sure how much of “me” I leave on the page, sonically. Sometimes I leave in jokes built on my own pronunciation, & I’m not sure if it translates the same. But also there’s something else that’s maybe more universal/obvious to grasp, not based on the way I feel like saying a word at a particular time for my own amusement. For example, I have a line in a poem that looks like:
see – deuce – deux
which is as much a notation to myself of how to say “seduced” when reading but also playing with numbers & time and trying to shake us to slow down and look around.
Q: Do you consider yourself a performer of your poetry, or a reader? How come?
A: I do, in part; or rather, I have been. Many of my first reading experiences were with The Poetry Brothel, and there I was in fact, playing a character and experimenting with how I’d read my poems versus hers, how to hear a poem in the way that grabs you the most. Also, it was just fun, and when you’re comfortable and engaged in the reading yourself, I think that helps and shows. I’m not necessarily performative, but I’m accessing a different person or part of myself, so it can feel that way to me. I turn on.
Q: How would you describe your performance/reading style? Do you think that popular reading styles have shaped the way you read, or have you actively worked against the pull of mainstream performance style?
A: I don’t think I read in a mainstream style. Well, I know I don’t. I’m very conversational. I’ll make any statement as though I’m saying, “and pick up that squash, yeah?” I like the intimacy it engenders (at least on my side), when I read to you the way I read to myself. I’ve always loved the whole self-interview thing, like when you’re a kid and answer questions into your mirror. Did anyone else do this? I still do. That voice in which I talk to myself–perfectly confident and maybe a little cocky– that’s my dream. I like playing matter-of-fact when I’m terribly uncertain.
Since that’s my default, I haven’t really had to rail against traditional/popular styles, but as a listener, I certainly rail against it. Your poem will, yes, speak for itself on the page. It should. But if I’m watching you read, you better be speaking for your poems. It’s your job to bring me inside of them. It’s your job to make me care.
Q: Do you think you’re the best performer/reader of your own work?
A: I like to think I can get anyone if I read my work to them. I think the sounds written will do one thing (if you let them—I really believe my poems should be read out loud, even if not by me), but I know them best and what they want and I’ve been changing their stank diapers since draft one.
That’s not to say somebody couldn’t come along and read them differently and blow my mind—with a different inflection, different cadence, different tone. A different accent or interpretation. I’d be into that. But if I want someone to really hear & love my poems, I’m gonna read it to them myself.
Lauren Hunter is from North Carolina and lives in Brooklyn. She received her MFA in poetry from The New School and works with the team at Telephone Books as their Managing Editor. Lauren is the co-founder/curator of the Electric Pumas, a reading series/revolution in New York City. Her chapbook, My Own Fires, was released by Brothel Books in 2011.