I met Tracey Knapp in Kim Addonizio’s backyard Salon a couple years ago, and I knew immediately she would be a force to be reckoned with—both on the page, and in real life. I didn’t know we would become such great friends. I can count on Tracey for a great dance party, or great critique. Her poems are intoxicating; rich with images of juxtaposition and heart. She is the kind of writer whose poems feel like prescription for me. There is a depth, sincerity, and recklessness in her work that I both admire and aspire to.
She invited me to this Writer’s Blog Tour, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. So here goes:
1) What are you working on?
I’m working on statistics & economics. I am pretending I studied something lucrative, knowing damn well I couldn’t do anything but create. I am working on how to stay in the city where I was born, when the local industry has made it too damn expensive. These days I’m making clumsy bar graphs about home prices in the San Francisco Bay Area. About a sense of self-worth versus actual fiscal worth. Really, I’m making art that I’m calling data. In my professional life as a high school teacher the latter seems as relevant as the former.
This art is the book of poems I’m working on. I’m creating a world where authority is not merely asked for, but taken. Poetry is the one place where I can stumble into a puddle and celebrate the mud, or write what would be slander, but demonstrates truth. Lyric is a breathy empowerment. I’m not necessarily stringing together a political manifesto here. But I’m invoking the gods of transformation; growth.
Every time I cross the western span of the new Bay Bridge, I wish I could build a house on that span they’re tearing down. I have been known to shout out the window – STOP!—I’ll take it, broken, and build from there. In these poems, I’m trying to salvage what does exist in order to create what doesn’t yet.
My poems hover just north of nostalgia, with desire for affordable housing, creative community, and honest partnership. Amidst the narrative arc, there is a home for the reader to settle into. The book digs into the past, present and future of San Francisco & its sister cities. I want my readers to delve into abandoned urban landscapes and abandoned love affairs. The poems attempt to synthesize these voices of rebellion & acceptance in order to create a new self. It is my hope that this book has guts, but lives in humility. This is, ultimately, a book of call and (asking for) response.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
When I sit in my workshops, and read the books coming out through new presses, I see my poems as, well, acrobatic. There is little room to relax. Like the weather here, all seasons in one day, my poems are indecisive and ambitious—they all want to be their own manuscripts. I want to write like Nick Lantz, like Iris Cushing. I want to be the voice of my student Cookie on 16th and Mission. I want to be the lyric and logic of essays of Eula Biss. I want to be the videopoems of Jeff McDaniel.
When I teach, I see each student as individual, separate, and insanely capable. I think I see my poems like that. The connections aren’t always transparent. My wanderlust is (almost) sated by the diversity of voices around me. I need many doors in my poems. Greedy, aren’t I? I think the primary difference I’ve noted is pacing. Like the work of my peers, there is a deep sense of wonder at the small scenes of joy. There is intoxication with the line break, the athleticism of language, the vulnerability of the image. But these poems have ADD, they sparkle in associative explosions.
My voice is reckless, a bit crooked and, ultimately, healing. In these couplets and stanzas, I am trying to make sense of the world around me. Some poems reach out with the ease of sticking a pencil in my hair for a top bun. Some are loaded with complex image juxtaposition like Hannah Hoch’s artwork, or that classic music video, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” These are poems that listen, try to make sense, and then, at times, throw it up in the air.
You know, despite the consistency of getting up each morning for the same job, and going (or not going) to yoga afterwards, I still feel like I’m trying to figure out who the fuck I am. It’s in these poems that I do that. That’s probably just like a ton of my peers. For me, identity is a thing located in the body and in the land beneath the body. Am I my experiences? Do I have control over my experience? Either way, I feel certain every glimpse I have of this world is a part of who I am. My identity is roving and circular like these poems. It’s the crow on the telephone line outside my kitchen window. It’s my excitement at spontaneous listing of portmanteaus with a friend at Zeitgeist. It’s the long list of zip codes on my credit report. It’s the 6.1 that rumbled me awake a few weeks ago.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I write because I have a vision problem. Or a processing problem. I see the world in the length of the neuron, not the two things it’s attached to.
According to the job-finding test Strengthsfinders 2.0, I’m best suited to be a strategist and wooer. I notice (or invent) patterns in everything. The chair-imprints on the rug make a constellation for the 13th astrological sign. I’m sure we lost something in our commitments when we lost the curled cord of a land-line telephone. I feel like there is so much I don’t know, but when I write, I can pretend I do. In lyric, I merge the imagined and the real worlds.
Back in high school, I wrote songs and poems to critique and shift the system. I wrote to a person I imagined would one day listen. The same thing is still true. I have found that words are more powerful, in some ways, than actions. I write to excavate and disperse the emotions I’ve been trained to ignore. Writing is my Namaste and my smoking gun.
4) How does your writing process work?
I remember moving out of a storage unit back when I was 23, into a house after being homeless for 6 months. I looked at all those boxes, and felt unable to do anything. The challenge of rehousing myself felt as great as the challenge of moving into nowhere. I had no idea where to start. How can you be part of something if you can’t even lift a box? I am an indecisive perfectionist. It’s bunk. It’s why, 9 years after my MFA, I’m still working on this book. When I open up my MacBook I often feel this same terror. I often feel I’m plotting faulty escape routes for all my residual emotions.
And oddly enough, the one emotion I need to write out is often what prevents me from being able to write. I am disciplined enough to use April’s poem-a-day tricks, and write best when I do so often. I still have months where it’s easy, and months where it’s pulling teeth. But there are gems that come from consistent practice. I remember William Stafford’s remark that you should “lower your standards.” I’m working on this as an approach, not an end goal.
The How of my writing has changed a lot recently though. I have taken lately to using the voice record on my iphone. I destroy napkins from Wild Side West. Envelopes for bills become graffiti walls for my imagined home. I write all the time, usually best when I have a lesson plan to write, or an errand to run. Poetry is the best inventor of time I’ve ever encountered, because it demands attention more than I do. And although I’m fickle with my own words, they come when I want them or not.
5) Who would you like to nominate for this blog tour?