Judy Jordan is the author of Carolina Ghost Woods, which won the 1999 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award, the Utah Book of the Year Award, the OAY Award from the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. Her second book was Sixty-Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance. She has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and her poetry has appeared at the Academy of American Poets, and in Prime Mincer, and Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days.

1. What is your writing process?

Slow and labored and one of accretion. I have no self-esteem whatsoever and hate my own writing so much of writing for me is forcing myself to sit at my desk and then battling with the “shit committee” in my head which constantly tells me my writing sucks and I need to go back to delivering pizzas. So my writing is a few scrawled lines then those same lines rescrawled slightly changed then some criticisms from the ‘shit committee’ over and over so that by the time I have something like a first draft it’s a page, front and back, scrawled all over, upside down, in the margins, with lines and arrows pointing to scribbles off in the corners, plus various stabs at similes scattered here and there. I then rewrite that onto a clean page, scratch out lines, add lines, scrawl things in spare spaces with lines and arrows, until the page is nearly impossible to read then I start again on a fresh page. A few drafts in I type up the poem then edit the typed copy and continue to do that for a few drafts. This whole process usually takes one or two weeks by the end of which I’m exhausted and hate the poem passionately. At that point I put it away and come back weeks, even months later and look at it with fresh eyes and objectively and see that despite what the ‘shit committee’ has to say, it isn’t all that bad.

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

I can’t remember any writing advice I’ve been given but I do remember once when I was bad mouthing my long, sprawling poems, wishing I could write much shorter and cleaner poems, Gregg Orr quoted some Keats to me: I leaped headlong into the sea and there by have become better acquainted with soundings, the quicksand, and the rocks than if I had stayed upon the green shore and piped a silly pipe and took tea and comfortable advice.

And also this from Charles Wright from “Halflife”: All the well-made, passionless, wooden little poems one sees everywhere nowadays, panting like tongues in the books and magazines. But poetry is not a tongue. Poetry is the dark beast with its mouth open, and you’ve got to walk down that tongue and into the windy mouth. And you’ve got to sing while you walk.

3. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

For me, I think it is the former. I spent most of my childhood confused. It was a childhood in which I was witness to racism, sexism, classism, and great amounts of violence. And I understood none of it. It was also a childhood in which people were taken from me. Most importantly my mother who died when I was seven. But other people died also and other people just disappeared (perhaps because they no longer came to visit my mother.) It was a childhood of silences. The whole thing about southerners being storytellers is a great myth (at least in my family) so my entire childhood is a puzzle piece of silences and glances and cleared throats and people answering “I can’t speak bad of the dead.” when asked direct questions. So all my life I’ve tried to piece together this puzzle. Tried to find a narrative thread in a broken story, tried to find reasons for why this man committed suicide, why this child was beaten, and this other child died, this child shot, this man shot, this man jailed, this man destroyed by drugs and alcohol. So all of my writing is about trying to figure out the world, at least my small part of it.

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

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