An Interview Series
1. What comes closest to meditation for you?
Javier Zamora: Running on the treadmill listening to Radiohead’s “There There.” It’s when I don’t think about anything else but breathing and taking the next step.
Stefanie Wortman: Napping. When I go to bed at night, I either fall asleep immediately or stay awake and worry. When I nap, I can let my mind wander without worrying. I like the weird daydreams I have when I’m not in a deep sleep. I also drool a lot more when I nap than when I really sleep, so I guess drooling also comes close to meditation.
Joseph Massey: Meditation comes closest to meditation for me. I've been practicing meditation for the last couple of years using the “Hong-Sau” (“I am spirit”) technique that was taught by Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian guru who came to the West in the '20s to teach the science of Kriya Yoga. But even after doing this technique hundreds and hundreds of times, I am only able to observe the surface of what a purely meditative state must be like: seamless communion with the silence within. It is so difficult to move beyond the internal and external noise of ordinary consciousness, but I have experienced a softening of it while meditating.
2. Describe a book you love, without naming it.
Javier: Five sections, each written by five different made-up personas that take part in a civil war. The characters come from different social classes and backgrounds, the poet himself was a leftist intellectual who eventually took up arms. It was the last complete book the poet wrote, but not before showing us that poetry is like bread.
Stefanie: It’s full of embarrassing marginalia from when I wrote an undergraduate senior thesis on it. My contention then was something about triangulation—the relationships between two people coming clearer when there’s a third person or presence on the scene. One of my favorite poems in the book is about angels looking down with pity on a couple having sex.
Joseph: A just-past-middle-age man who lives in a trailer, alone, in the middle of nowhere, turns to his word processor at night for company. He composes a page a day. He writes mostly about the roadkill he finds and when it's fresh enough to consume — well, he's a roadkill gourmet. He peppers the text with quotes from Wittgenstein and ruminates on them between musings about self-imposed isolation and found meat. Sometimes he'll throw in a short poem at the end of a prose block, almost a haibun. You can smell the loneliness. I love that.
3. How does your inner monologue compare with the poetry you write?
Javier: My inner monologue is my body, poetry, the shadow.
Stefanie: I hope my poetry is less self-absorbed and less dumb. I think at best what writing can do with boring obsessions is redeem them by pushing them out of a feedback loop, subjecting them to scrutiny, finding language for them, or whatever else it takes to blow them open.
Joseph: My inner monologue is a minefield of ear-worms. There are no ear-worms (shitty pop songs) in my poetry.
4. Do any rituals or habits surround your writing?
Javier: I don’t think so, though I like re-typing each draft when revising, but it’s not a requirement.
Stefanie: Not really, but I do best when I have a window to stare out of. It’s good if the window looks out on a scene that is neither totally static nor too interesting. Some passing car or foot traffic is about right.
Joseph: I have to work hard to not succumb to superstition. So far, so good (knock knock). Beyond that, I write exclusively in notebooks; I then take those hand-written drafts to the computer. Sometimes I meditate before I write, but only sometimes.
5. What does the world need right now?
Javier: It needs more love. Love in all aspects of life: in the workplace, school, food, leisure, government, etc. We need people that love what they do, we need a government and leaders that love what they do, not for monetary gains, but for real love. How do we begin speaking of love and with love? I think that’s the question we need to have inner dialogues about. Are you doing what you love? If not, how can you get there? And we have to know it’s hard work, perhaps it’s the hardest work, to love oneself and to love others.
Stefanie: Well, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t need is another poem from me. I guess it needs our most devoted attention, and for some of us writing cultivates that kind of attention.
Joseph: Poetry — I'm serious!
Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador in 1990. At the age of nine he migrated to the United States. Zamora is a Breadloaf scholarship recipient and holds fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Best New Poets, Narrative, Ploughshares, POETRY, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere.
Stefanie Wortman’s first book of poems, In the Permanent Collection, was selected for the Vassar Miller Prize and was published by the University of North Texas Press in 2014. Her poems and essays have appeared in the Boston Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Copper Nickel, Grist, and other publications. In 2014, she was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the Sewanee Writers Conference. She currently lives in Rhode Island.
Joseph Massey is the author of Areas of Fog (Shearsman Books, 2009), At the Point (Shearsman Books, 2011), To Keep Time (Omnidawn, 2014) and Illocality (Wave Books, 2015) as well as thirteen chapbooks and various limited-edition broadsides and folios. He lives in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.