Black Lawrence Press
September 1, 2009

MGF: Flipping the Wallace Stevens-Riding-the-Buffalo Nickel, or, Deciding Between Genres

As someone who writes in multiple genres, the struggle, Which genre for which topic? occasionally asserts itself, but usually resolves itself quickly.  Writing prose is more of a labor for me than writing poetry—oftentimes certain lines around which I’ll build a poem leak from the celestial monochord, and I’m lucky enough to be there to catch the drips.  Writers say this kind of shit all the time, so to clarify: the trick is to be holding the right kind of bucket.  Mine is often plastic and red with a dagger drawn in black Sharpie on the side, wishing itself a flower.  But it’s fucked.  It’s a dagger.


This, of course, takes practice, observation, trust, etc.   Especially etc.  The poet Bruce Cohen inscribes his books, “Be alert—Art can be anywhere!” so it’s the same kind of thing.  The trick is down-tuning enough to notice what’s interesting about that trainyard storage container you pass while riding the Pere Marquette Amtrak through Hammond, Indiana.  The beasts who nest there, and the beasts who chase them away.  Anyhow: this is a long-winded way of saying, instinct.  Sometimes I simply feel like writing a poem, so the topic can be shaped accordingly.  Sometimes, prose.  When I’m writing about specific food and wine, oddly enough, I typically tip toward prose.  That’s not to say food doesn’t show up in my poetry—I think about food all the time, so of course it does—but the poems aren’t necessarily about food.  That said, it’s fun to take a single topic and shape it to fit either genre.  So it’s not really a decision-making process—weighing the pros and cons of each genre and then beginning.  Much has to do with mood over topic I think.  Eventually, the story or the topic will insist on its own genre, usually during the writing process, sometimes at the end of the process but, for me, rarely beforehand.

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