LeAnne Howe invented the Tribalography or at least revealed it in her tremendous new book, Choctalking on Other Realties. She has long been one of my favorite writers and human beings. Her fearlessness with her choices in terms of genre really liberated my thinking about my own work some years back. On a personal note, I once went into a hotel lounge with LeAnne and came out convinced my great grandfather was a crypto-Choctaw. That’s how powerful LeAnne Howe can be.
Author LeAnne Howe invited me, via poet-critic Dean Rader, to post as part of the “My Writing Process” international blog tour. All I had to do was get Mr. Wizard to rev up my blog, then answer these questions:
1. What are you working on?
#TMMPOETRY– a little curatorial clicking for NPR for National Poetry Month. Join us by Tweeting a poem in 140 characters or less, including the hashtag. Other than that, I am trying to complete a new book of poems, it’s about two years old, maybe the oldest poems are four years old. Part of it, the poems on the hell hole energy developers are making of North Dakota, now wants to be its own book, so a recent schism has given me some trouble. These new poems are odd for me, the forms vary, some are didactics—the main influence in those poems is my work with Native American visual artists.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
This is a question I’ve never answered but have always been aware of, this question of genre and how to make it new. I have always been trying to push poetics into and through to other genres as well. I’ve written fiction, essays, plays, performances, but poems end up in each genre. My recent work with poem films comes out of my curiosity about genre and my deeply visual sense of my poems. When they exist in the spark soup of my skull, my poems have dimension, music, visual movement, action and even a kind of dramatic arc, whether they have narrative or not. Taking them to filmmakers and collaborating with them to make my poems into films has come very close to showing how the poem on the page seems when it is born in my brain.
3. Why do you write what you do?
Obsessive need to work out an intellectual argument, response, conversation–these things drive me to write. When I was younger it was about the feels, the emotional crux of the poem. Or maybe not. Even then I wanted to tie the heart to the head and make it all behave like a painting or better yet, a collage, a collage box. These poems are little collage boxes, deeply velvet constructions that we can enter though words. The title knocks. Then, as if through animation, we can flyover in all degrees, we can inhabit their little stick rooms and stare up through the marbles the tiny figures use as gazing globes. What we see through the globes is what the poet sees, but now it is turned back.
4. How does your writing process work?
Coffee is key, but everyone knows that. I have intense relationships with my chairs and I often have to abandon a chair after I have written a book in it. I get all my chairs secondhand. Some are returned to the curb. It’s a cycle.
No habit has ever stuck with me, but I write inside my head a long time before I get it on paper. Once I have a larger idea, poems collect moving toward it. Like in the cartoon Iron Giant when the robot’s parts that have been scattered all over the frozen field drag themselves toward the beacon of his helmet and coalesce into a whole. Some kind of magnetism is involved. Each poem is a part of the body of a larger idea or problem. Slowly they pull together to make a whole. In between parts arriving, I read a lot. I research. I have an academic bent. But I look at everything in popular culture, in odd trade magazines and science journals, as well as in the living world and in my interactions with those I love, in my life as an American and an Ojibwe women working with other indigenous artists. I look at it all with an eye towards solving, answering, coalescing into the whole.
WHAT IS READ AND BLUE?
I asked emerging writer and accomplished artist R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. to create a stop on the blog tour and he went above and beyond. That’s why we call him Mister Wizard, even though he looks like Ndn Spiderman.
Vincent has been a part of the Twin Cities artistic community for over two decades as an actor. However, he has only shared his poetry a handful of times which includes 3 performances at The Loft Literary Center’s highly acclaimed, Equilibrium series. The work of this Southside firestarter has been published in the Yellow Medicine Review and online as part of Native Literatures: Generations. Moniz was selected as a 2012 Jerome Fellow and most recently Vincent was selected as a 2013 Intermedia Arts Fellow. At the E. Donald Two-Rivers Memorial Poetry Slam Vincent was crowned and is now the current and reigning Indigenous Poetry Slam Champion.
Tiffany Midge is Professional Sioux Indian and psychic medium poet extraordinaire. She authored the award winning “Outlaws, Renegades and Saints: Diary of Mixed-up Halfbreed,” the chapbook, “Guiding the Stars to Their Campfire, Driving the Salmon to Their Beds” and a Scholastic picture book “Animal Legend and Lore: Buffalo.” Her newest book ‘The Woman Who Married a Bear” won the Kenyon Review Earthworks Indigenous Poetry Prize.