Corey Zeller: First of all, you are a poetic institution in Massachusetts. You work at University of Massachusetts Amherst, run the Juniper Workshops, and edit at the awesome Factory Hollow Press. How did you end up at Amherst? Do you still like it there? How does it feel to see many of your students go on to acclaim and success? Is there a student you feel most proud of? Was there a student you ever feel you failed? Also, you are married to the poet James Tate. I am really interested in hearing how you two met. What was that courtship like?
Dara Wier: How did I end up here: when I was in college in Baton Rouge I picked up a 600 Summer Jobs paperback off a drugstore shelf, got a job with a traveling camp headquartered in Thetford Center, Vermont and Orford, New Hampshire, had Hawthorne and Dickinson and Melville and the Alcotts and Emerson and Thoreau and Fuller, and that history on my mind, and decided I wanted to live here. The powers of time and place eat me up, my life began at the mouth of the Mississippi River, day in and day out, the river itself and the traffic on it drilled into me hemispheric and continental and riverine consciousness I know made my brain what it is. I felt okay about going to another location that would do something else to me. High up in various parts of the Rockies, across Spain’s interior, up in the Pyrennes, southern Utah’s time-haunted erosions, but it doesn’t have to be a huge landscape, a ditchbank cutting across a field can be haunted, the corner of an alley, the fine dust under a house on stilts, the differences between night and day over long roadways.
I like it where I live. It’s fine. Too cold for too long every year. I don’t do any outdoor winter sports. Ice fishing is maybe something I should take up. Factory Hollow (named after our North Amherst neighborhood) is run by Emily Pettit and Guy Pettit more so than by me; they’ve done the most work with books and chapbooks there; I’m more involved with the chapbooks.
Someone I’ve known through my teaching jobs, who’s my favorite or someone I’ve failed?——come on, you know I can’t start to answer that…….first of all, if I started to name names, I’d be stupid and leave someone really important out and I’d hate to be neglectful, on both the loving and the failing counts!
Jim and I met by the San Antonio River in San Antonio, Texas, coincidentally over a table of books, we looked across the books at one another, recognized each other, our souls locked onto one another right then and there. Though we were both married to other people at the time, and being faithful types and true to our vows, we bided our time until we both were free. He’d stand out in front of my house and yell to the skies, Look at me, look at me, I’m throwing chicken bones at this woman’s house and she won’t come out here to me. He followed me everywhere so much so I think it might be called stalking, my kids said later, how come Jim always shows up everywhere we go? Once we were driving across the country from Amherst on our way to spend the summer up in the mountains, and he caught up with us in Emporia, Kansas where we’d stopped for the night. Once he flew for about 18 hours on 22 flights to find me in Missoula but by then he was so angry when he got there he didn’t speak to me for 3 days and then he had to turn around and go back east. He is a single-minded man. During the early years of our romance he’d arrive at my house every day with a new poem to show me, to show me what he was worth.
CZ: I was researching all your books and noticed an almost ten year gap between Blue For the Plough and Our Master Plan. There are really only a few years between your other books so I wondered why there was a larger gap between these two? What was going on in your life then? Additionally, I see you were on Verse before it became Wave. Was there any difference between Wave and Verse as a press and how it was run? How did you get hooked up with Verse and why did you decide to leave CMU? And while we are talking of presses do you have any favorite presses now? Are there any presses you really wish were still around?
DW: You’re talking about between Blue for the Plough and Our Master Plan…….hmmmm…7 years maybe…let me try to remember…..raising two little children I worshipped; job at the university hard and lonesome and, as anyone can imagine, taking up a lot of time, it’s not as if it’s a job one can, or at least I can’t, leave at the office; coming around, or rather back to, some of the original feelings for poetry that brought me to it in the first place, shedding a lot of fear and timidity, reading as if my life depended on it (it did) (at least my sanity did). It wasn’t as if I weren’t writing, I pretty much write something, most days, but, I didn’t see a book I wanted to publish coming together, and it wasn’t until about halfway through Voyages in English (that comes right after Our Master Plan) did I see where I wanted to be going.
While I see the value of how so-called exercises create the illusion that one is writing something, the value’s all in the illusion, a fine thing sure, but, not the inevitable fateful crucial terrifying life-force that’s rarely but sometimes there, and feels as if you have no idea how it came to be or what it is or what it might do (to ascribe to it some kind of awful realism, just like us, just like our lives).
You know, sometimes because your inclination is to protect people, you don’t write or say everything that’s on your mind. Unless autobiography transforms into metaphor it’s not all that available to anyone who’s (shy) (timid) (introspectively cautious). Probably I ought to have been more reckless, less careful. Why not turn what’s available into the distilled fuels (nope, I wouldn’t to have needed to go fracking or pillaging) powerful writing contains. (I know that transformation happened in You Good Thing, and I’m not sorry it did).
Why did I move from Carnegie Mellon University Press to Verse, then Wave?
I didn’t feel that CMU cared all that much if I was there or not; Verse editors made it clear they wanted to publish my book, and then when Verse transformed into Wave, Wave took me along, I was happy to see Wave grow and become what it’s become. I have so much respect for so many of the poets Wave publishes, maybe I’m more appropriately situated in Wave’s world than in CMU’s, as much as I appreciated CMU bringing out 4 of my previous books and recognize what significant work CMU’s done for poetry for what, going on over 30 years, I respect their poets and presence.
Verse Press grew from Verse (the literary journal) by way of Brian Henry and Matthew Zapruder, it was small; yesterday I passed the Industrial Arts Building where Verse shared its office with its designer J. Johnson of Design Farm, in Easthampton, Massachusetts, and saluted that place and time. Verse turned into Wave in 2005 following Matthew Zapruder’s collaboration with Joshua Beckman and Charlie Wright of Seattle; Wave’s bigger with clear intentions that develop in much the way any art performance or production develops.
Some presses I admire, a lot, always want to see what they’re up to: Ugly Duckling Presse, Publishing Genius, Tin House, Omnidawn, Tiny Hardcore Press, New Directions, Melville House, Octopus, Magic Helicopter, Rescue Press, Black Ocean, Fence Books, Bateau Press, Birds LLC, Canarium Press, H_ngM_n, Monk, Asahta, slope, Natural History, Horseless, Song Cave, Graywolf, these are a few among many many. We are definitely experiencing an incredibly lively time for publishing. I’m very happy that Liveright as a name and a tradition is making a come back. And then, there are poets and fiction writers, writers of any kind I’m always on the look out for, no matter who publishes them.
We’re pretty lucky here in western Massachusetts, as rural and sparsely populated as it is, to have such great bookstores and sellers, independent publishers, book-makers, printers, collectors, venues for readings and a broadly active readership, spaces beyond campuses wanting art to be visible and actively available in anyone’s life. A campus is good, important; in some locations a campus functions as the central source of new arts and ideas; but art needs to be elsewhere as well, in your house, your car, on buses, boats, trains, in cafes, churches, galleries, bars, outdoors, in the wilderness, on the ocean, by rivers…..one recent development I like a lot are “house readings”—-it is so cool to be in someone’s house with their friends gathered for their social purposes, yes, but also because part of what they want includes art of some kind. And, of course, lately, we’ve had Flying Object (in Hadley, Massachusetts, founded by Guy Pettit) and all it brings to western Massachusetts and New England.
CZ: You went to Bowling Green University. What was going on there at the time?
DW: It was a young program, but I was so young I didn’t know that! Just being paid enough to live on, to take seminars and workshops in exchange for some teaching was plenty enough for me. I was trying to write my first book, I met a few others who were doing the same, for the most part, except for that one incident when someone burned my poems and put their ashes in my department’s mailbox , it was all good.
Most of my time was spent with fiction writers there, coincidentally, especially one de-frocked monk who picked me up on Sundays for a trip to the supermarket where we’d buy Sunday dinners to cook for anyone we could gather. Robert Early. Phillip O’Connor. William Gass, Stanley Elkin, Donald Barthelme, Grace Paley, Barry Hannah, George Steiner, John Hawkes, Gertrude Stein, John Barth, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Cyril Connolly, Djuana Barnes, William Faulkner, John Clellon Holmes, Jean Rhys, Nathanael West……that’s a few of people I was reading and talking about; I was just there for two years.
CZ: Did you like your teachers? Who were the poets people were talking about then?
DW: The poets the faculty showed an interest in included Gary Snyder, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, David Meltzer, Ed Dorn, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, Tom Clark, a tiny bit Robert Creeley, barely John Ashbery, no Elizabeth Bishop, no mention of Schuyler or Weiners that I remember, Gregory Corso, LeRoi Jones, (I am seeing no women appearing on this page!), oh here’s one, Siv Cedering Fox, Anselm Hollo, Tom Raworth; I’m impressed I can materialize these names associated with that time, many of them, still.
CZ: Who were you into? Do you ever wish you’d have done something else or went somewhere else?
DW: I think I got a pretty good introduction to a vast pool of writers and poets I could spend the rest of my life reading. Some of this came straight from conversations, the library, curiosity, passion to keep discovering, being urged to read someone by someone else, what was in the air. This happens anywhere one wants it to happen. So no, no regrets. Like any couple of years in any MFA program, the people you meet who are there, like you, for the most part, being amazed there is a place one can go for a few years to write and, in effect, be supported by that writing……that’s the significant part.
CZ: You’ve lived many places and taught at many places. Where would you recommend a young poet without an MFA go and why?
DW: Not something I can generalize about with any confidence. Go where you’re curious to go, where history or landscape or proximity to something seems to suit your interests or needs, go to a different region or location than one you know, go where you’re paid to go not where you pay to go, go where it will be strange to you and you will be uncomfortable and you won’t fit in, and you’ll be homesick, and you’ll only be glad you’re there when you’re writing, and you’ll be treated as if you’re a stranger, and your one consolation will be found only in your writing, unless all that is extraneous and there’s someplace you have an intuition about and you want to go see what that is, and you’ll feel as if you belong there but you won’t know why……. Why? Your time alive is so short and goes by so fast you might as well make good use of it, and there’s no better use of it than writing something that isn’t as mortal as you are, or as timebound, and that brings you as close to the mystery of eternity as you can ever be.
CZ: Do you remember the moment you held your first book? Where were you? What was going through your head? What does having a book of yours published mean to you now after all of your success?
DW: I do. I was in a parking lot in Roanoke, Virginia. Disbelief. Extreme wordlessness. Thrill, since you can’t believe you wrote it to begin with. Having what you write turned into a book takes it far away from you and by that distancing and theft it’s given back to you as if it were written by someone else, and that’s a pretty great gift, that exchange is almost sacramental.