Blog / News
- Fjords: Interview with Caitlin McGuire
- Sidney Thompson’s Interview with Kirk Nesset
- Essays on Craft at NANO Fiction
- Upcoming Readings
- Nesset Wins Perry 200 Poetry Prize
- Saint X — Kirk Nesset meets The Campus
- 10 Questions: Saint X
- Pampered Pet Tours with Professor
- Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge
24 Apr 2015
Interview with Kirk Nesset (Fjords Review, July 24, 2014)
by Caitlin McGuire
(Kirk Nesset’s translations of Edmundo Paz Soldán’s poems, “Disappearances,” “Man of Fictions,” “In the Library,” “Pilar,” and “After the Breakup,” appeared in Fjords Review, Volume I, Issue 3.)
Nesset is author of two books of short stories, Paradise Road (University of Pittsburgh Press) and Mr. Agreeable (Mammoth Books), two books of translations, Alphabet of the World: Selected Work of Eugenio Montejo (University of Oklahoma Press) and Disappearances: Stories by Edmundo Paz Soldan (Calypso Editions), and a nonfiction study, The Stories of Raymond Carver (Ohio University Press); his book of poems, Saint X (Stephen F. Austin State University Press), appeared in 2012. His stories, poems and translations have appeared in The Paris Review, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere, including four of Norton’s anthologies — Flash Fiction Forward, Flash Fiction International, New Sudden Fiction and Sudden Fiction Latino. He was awarded the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, a Pushcart Prize and the Perry Poetry Prize, as well as grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He teaches creative writing and literature at Allegheny College, and serves as fiction writer-in-residence at Black Forest Writing Seminars (Freiburg, Germany).
CM: How did you come across Edmundo Paz Soldán’s writing?
KN: I heard him read at Allegheny College, where I teach, and I found his fiction compelling. This might have been eight or nine years ago. We talked that evening at a party at a colleague’s house. What a charismatic, generous, deep-thinking person, I thought. I began reading his work, the short stories especially. A year later, an editor at W. W. Norton wrote to ask if I had any translated flash to submit for an upcoming anthology. I didn’t, but soon afterwards did: pieces by Luisa Valenzuela, Juan Jose Saer, Eduardo Galeano and others. One of the others was a younger, less known but very talented Bolivian writer, Edmundo Paz Soldán. His story “Counterfeit,” as it is titled in English, was chosen for Sudden Fiction Latino.
(Edmundo Paz Soldán)
CM: Name a place you’ve written about but never been.
KN: I wrote a poem this summer about the final days of Oliver Hazard Perry, the American naval commander who defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. He sailed up the Orinoco River on a diplomatic mission into what is now called Venezuela, and caught yellow fever and died coming home. I spent six weeks reading and researching before I wrote those twenty-four lines. Biographies, journals, letters, newspapers, history, geology, geography, scientific data about period flora and fauna, and so on.
KN: I’m working on a story now set in Tallinn, Estonia’s capitol city. A different matter altogether, this is. I’ll need to visit the country to finish the story, I’m thinking.
CM: What do you consider the biggest struggle in translation?
KN: Making the thing float in English. Making the poem a poem or the story a story. A translator needs to be both a translator and an experienced writer. A fully bilingual, highly learned mind does not a poem or story make, necessarily. The most accurate, painstakingly faithful transcriptions are just that — transcriptions, not translations. They’re not stories or poems. They’re servile. We’ve all seen them. Some of our most cherished epics, even, have been crucified thus. Exquisitely precise, true to a fault to the material, intricately footnoted. They don’t breathe or shimmer or risk volatility, that ambiguous dance that makes poetry poetry. In the worst cases, they’re colorless or clunky or both.
KN: The translated piece in the end should be as correct as it can possibly be, even if correctness means compromising slightly or more than slightly. Even if it means moving away from the original for the sake of musical and compositional unity and of emotional resonance. The ideal translator should combine, as Donald Frame says, the learned humility of the good scholar with the imagination and daring of a gifted verbal artist working in poetry as well as in prose. Which is to say translating isn’t solving a puzzle. It’s not just transplanting and refiguring grammar. It’s about release and reentry. The fiber of thinking constituting the piece isn’t fiber you were born or grew into, usually. The rhythms aren’t rhythms you had thought possible, given your home base in language. So you move into the piece, the story or poem, tantalized, letting its thinking think thoughts your mind really can’t think, or couldn’t before, and now does somehow, and you feel its strange rhythms and try on its tones — and returning, hope to transmit it and make it your own. By transporting the goods from one world to another you transport yourself. There’s almost no better way of emptying yourself, of letting something or someone get into your skin.
CM: Name the greatest lesson you learned in school.
KN: The lesson of not giving up. Of sticking with something. Of getting the words down, the work done. I had a teacher in eighth grade who’d beat our butts in front of the class if we came to school without homework, or with homework unfinished. This created strong incentive to finish. I only got paddled once. Once was enough.
CM: What is your favorite word in Spanish? In English?
KN: That’s a difficult question. As writers we tend to be in love with and enchanted by language. Words are the be-all and end-all. Words are uncanny, at times strange and surreal. They’re the building blocks of this thing we often blithely and mistakenly call “reality.” Ideas and understanding count for something, yes, but words matter more, along with the music of their arrangement. New favorite words bubble up every hour. How to narrow it down?
CM: What was the last so-good thing that made you glad to be an artist?
KN: In May my sixth book was accepted by Calypso Editions (NYC). A book titled Disappearances, a gathering of translated microficciones by Edmundo Paz Soldán. We’re hoping the book will appear late spring or summer.
CM: What are you currently working on?
KN: At the moment I am finishing a manuscript of flash fiction, a bizarre, inspired book-to-be I’m calling Burn. I am also banging together what seems to be a novella, an eighty or ninety page something-or-other that may join a small constellation of old and new stories, all of which I hope to call the next book-to-be.
23 Apr 2015
Sitting Radar: Sidney Thompson’s Interview with Kirk Nesset
(American Literary Review) See original article
On November 21, 2013, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kirk Nesset and his well-behaved Pomeranian at Oak Street Drafthouse in Denton, Texas. My interest in meeting him stemmed primarily from my interest in his flash fiction. I frankly declare that “I Want You to Kill Me,” from Mr. Agreeable, is one of the best short stories ever written, short-short or not. Like many of the other stories in the collection, it’s as provocative and visceral in its abstract expressionism as any painting by Chaïm Soutine, with unsettling intimacy, absurd joy and heartbreak. After a couple of IPAs, we proceeded around the corner to Andaman Thai Restaurant, with Ryan the Pomeranian quiet as a mouse at Kirk’s feet in his portable carrier (with the exception of one brief escape).
The first thing about Kirk that struck me was his precision. With great deliberation, he minces his words, and I don’t mean he “weakens” or “softens” them, and neither is there an over-wrought pause between. There’s a vigorous delicacy to his manner and an exactness, a cleaving, to his word choice — a sheerness. A navigation. He’s one who will tell on himself wryly but not for the cheapness of a laugh, though I laughed plenty. He’s simply an honest poet. I found the jazz of him somewhat reminiscent of Barry Hannah, my mentor and friend, so it came as little surprise to learn that Barry was his friend, his hero, for many years, too. We discussed, among other things, Barry’s “Even Greenland,” one of the classics in the genre of sudden fiction. Here is my account, albeit polished, of those other things.
Sidney Thompson (ST): What were your sources of inspiration as an aspiring fiction writer, and what are they now?
Kirk Nesset (KN): I read a great deal as a child, so I was inspired early. Aesop and Grimm and the Nancy Drew books had the most impact, I think, early on. Then Louis Carroll and Poe, Zane Grey and Jack London. London’s autobiographical portrait of an artist, Martin Eden, pretty much knocked me to pieces. By the time I hit high school I’d read all of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mansfield, O’Connor, Thomas Wolf, Lawrence Durrell and Hesse, and had dipped into many others. Mainly this was because of a wonderful thing my parents had done. In 1969, relocating to California from Seattle, they “killed the television,” as the phrase went then. After that all I did at home was read and sing and play guitar, stack wood and play board games. As an English major later at college and grad school, I was still a voracious reader, most voracious during the summer. The books I loved then made me the writer I am, I believe. They not only taught me craft but taught me how to perceive. Don Quixote. Tom Jones. Middlemarch. The Brothers Karamazov. Lolita. Beckett’s Malone Dies. Atwood’s Surfacing. DeLillo’s White Noise. I’m still completely TV-illiterate, and not nearly as informed as some about film. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Bookish is good.
(ST): Are there more recent writers?
(KN): Most inspiring to me have been Barry Hannah, Jeanette Winterson, Alice Munro, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders and of course Carver, along with DeLillo and Atwood. I used to read around a lot more. These last years I’ve read less widely and comprehensively. I was relieved years ago when Barry Hannah told me how he had been reading. He was presenting that evening at Allegheny College and I’d gone to the hotel to pick him up. He was sitting reading in the lobby and tucked the book in his bag when he saw me. In the car I asked who he favored these days, expecting to hear names and titles one heard on the breeze then. I may have mentioned those titles and names. Barry said he had heard of those authors but hadn’t read them. Rather than reading around, he told me, he was rereading the books he loved. Some of them he’d read, he said, twenty or twenty-five times. The book he’d slid in his bag, by the way, was Beckett’s Molloy.
I didn’t study writing in a writing program, I should say. I’m truly “old school.” I studied literature. I didn’t know I was aspiring to write until I was well into grad school. I’d never presumed to think that writing was a thing people did. I began at UCSB as a Renaissance scholar and wound up writing on Carver. Lit crit and theory drove me to creative writing, it seems. But the books I had read and was reading were key. Aside from a pair of writer’s conferences, and aside from the help of some generous mentors — Barry Spacks, Steven Allaback, Christopher Buckley — the literary models were crucial. The books I had read were my teachers.
(ST): In hindsight, as author of The Stories of Raymond Carver: A Critical Study, what about Carver’s writing (or Gordon Lish’s editing) do you believe is possibly the least understood or appreciated?
(KN): The inexplicable thing about Ray, what we don’t talk about when we talk about Carver, is atmosphere and tone. The eerie moods he creates. For sure, Gordon Lish helped to cultivate this. Mainly it comes from compression, constriction, verbal omission, a ruthless bareness, not to mention the awkward, almost extraterrestrial voices Carver finds. It’s a poetics of silence in prose, you could say. Everywhere in Carver are hints about what can’t be represented, or written, or said. People tend to see social drama — the catastrophe of the plight of the lower middle class, poor prospects, alcoholism, et cetera — and don’t notice the nuances. Carver’s work is richer and stranger than that. The prose is sometimes so blank, so terribly “real,” it borders on expressionism. He hyperextends realism, such that an oppressive, inhospitable world seems that much less full, less hospitable. The stories make you “feel the force of the paradox,” as Claude Richard writes, “that ensures that the deepest anxiety is, precisely, that which does not let itself speak.”
(ST): While primarily a fiction writer, you also publish poetry and translation. Are there discernible differences in style, subject matter, or mood when you approach one genre or another?
(KN): Actually, when you weigh the numbers of pieces appearing over the years, you’ll see I publish more poems and translations than fictions. They’re shorter, easier to place and more manageable, given space considerations. But you’re right, I do consider myself a fiction writer first and foremost. Lately I have also been publishing essays—on Carver, and on writing, fiction pedagogy especially. Issues related to genre do arise, yes, each time I sit down to write. Above all when I begin something new. “Approach” is the key word here. When I’m working from a prompt, or a solicitation from an editor, I tend to move fairly straightforwardly into the genre in question. It’s always a challenge, of course, starting a piece. With nonfiction I tend to outline and plan ahead, even if I wind up discarding those plans. The writing is intuitive, certainly, but it’s nice to line up your ducks, even if you don’t shoot them all down. With fiction, I locate a character and setting and try to discover what’s lurking. What’s intriguing, disturbing. And then sniff out motivation, causality, tap into the mystery, hoping the story will grow or unfold, revealing its secrets. With poetry, typically, it’s the exhilaration of language itself that draws me in, that incites the poem. Some of my verse is narrative, and much of it makes sense. But it doesn’t have to — which is incredibly freeing, since nonfiction and fiction only rarely allow for such freedom. Margaret Atwood believes different parts of the brain are at work in what she calls ambidextrous writers, depending on genre. When you write fiction you’re methodical, organized. And poetry is “a state of free float.”
What’s complicated, though, I find, is that sometimes you write and look what you have and don’t know what you’ve written. I’ll write what I think is a poem, and take out the line breaks and see it’s a story, a compact micro tale. Or vise versa. I have pieces in the mail now, I hesitate to admit, that are submitted in both genres. As stories and poems. Which genre will win?
Translation on the other hand is something else altogether. I like it and do it a lot, maybe because as a way of writing it feels less intimidating. It’s like sitting down to work out a puzzle. It’s not my soul or vertiginous inner abyss on the line, seemingly, but somebody else’s. The matter is already there on the page. There’s more to it, though, as we know. A translation isn’t a puzzle, finally. It isn’t just transposition, substitution, clever maneuvers with dactyls and dictionaries. It’s its own creature. It’s an enacted, unfolding thing, an experience in a new tongue that approximates the original. It may be easy to start, but the piece in English must live and breathe as a poem or story. It needs a beating heart. It needs musical and emotional coherence, as well as semantic finesse.
(ST): Of your short-short story collection Mr. Agreeable, Barry Hannah declared, “Nesset is attuned to the fine-edged songs of the mundane,” while Bret Lott said that you have “given us a beautiful bouquet of crystal shards, each one of which, when held to the light, refracts and amplifies and makes new the entire notion of light.” How conscious are you of technique — of discovering and refining that fine edge, that crystal shard—when inside the writing process of your first draft?
(KN): I’d like to say that I just draft when I draft — write like an ape, go to town, let the gate down. But that’s very rarely the case. Which is why the process of drafting is often so awful to me. I write slowly. Excruciatingly. I’m lucky to get a page a day, if that. And while I’m aware of the fact that polish comes later –attention to the fine edges and shards — I can’t just madly excrete, idiot savant that I am, that we all are, or should be, initially. For me, voice must click from the very first sentence and keep clicking from there, or come close to clicking. Otherwise, I won’t believe the voice, or the piece, enough to go on. So yes, there is attention to technique from the start, but not the intense attention that comes later. The early sensitivity is about getting voice right. Which necessarily includes sentence rhythm, diction, cadence and sound.
Other writers work or worked this way, too, obviously. Flannery O’Connor, Richard Ford, DeLillo and Hannah, among others. I worked with Ford, in fact, late in the 80s, at the Squaw Valley Writers Center in California. I remember asking him what he did in a draft when he got stuck. He backtracked, he told me. He returned to where the voice of the prose sounded true, and looked to see where it diverged, or derailed. He’d work to fix that, he said, and proceed from there.
I love revision, as a lot of us do. There’s very little suffering there, unlike with drafting. And I’m a ruthless reviser. If I’m lucky I’m done after sixty or seventy drafts. Usually it’s more like a hundred, one hundred fifty. Two hundred drafts isn’t unusual, depending.
(ST): Depending on what?
(KN): Depending on how the story complies, unfolds, aligns energetically. On the way voice, rhythm, urgency, tension and pace comply or fail to comply. Fail to arrive. Or arrive. Become manifest on the page.
(ST): About your collection Paradise Road, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Ann Beattie said, “These stories are melodious when they need to be, jangle when we need to hear what’s discordant.” I understand that you have a background in music. How coincidental are Beattie’s instincts?
(KN): I’m less conscious than some, I think, about what sings or clacks in my work. Crafting sound is an intuitive process, at least for me. Even a sharp listener, a musically-illiterate writer at some point senses the orchestral nature of narrative, the melody and harmony and rests and refrains in every story or poem, the rise to crescendo. Still, my writing wouldn’t sound the way it does, I suppose, if music hadn’t preceded. I was a musician long before I was a writer. Musicians think in sounds, express and emote in nonverbal ways. Language is rhythmic and sonic, obviously. And if your ear is trained, writing is music as well. I’m as interested in the way something sounds on the page when I write, or revise, as I am in what the thing says, or conveys. It’s hard to say, though, how exactly I know what I know, or how influence works. I’d like to say that the way I manage and measure my stories or poems arises from song. That my modulations in voice, rhythm, or awareness of such, arise likewise. But no. It’s a thing you can’t nail down, since what we absorb is internal. Is internalized. And what’s internal is mysterious, finally.
What’s not mysterious is the fact that music is fun. Much of it for me, all of this singing and playing on stage, is about not writing. I’m in two bands now, with three rehearsals a week, 5 or 6 shows per month and daily music homework. That’s a lot of time away from writing, or from preparing to write. Nabokov had his butterflies, so I can have this, I guess. For me, we could say, music is creativity minus the agony, unease and worry, the incinerating self-conscious flames. It’s not lonely or solitary. And there’s free beer.
(ST): What do you love or hate most about writing or publishing, and what do you intend to do about it?
(KN): I love hearing that something I wrote mattered to someone. Especially when whatever it was mattered to someone for reasons I could never have imagined beforehand, much less intended. I got a letter years ago from a high school teacher saying he liked my book on Carver so much he wanted to apply to grad school in English. And he did. And got in. I still get fan mail for Mr. Agreeable and Paradise Road, some of it strange, some vaguely frightening, but most of it very uplifting.
I love, too, the rare affirmation that comes in the form of acceptances. Stories, poems, essays, translations, pieces slated for press. Book manuscripts, especially, which can be exhausting to the point of nightmarish to peddle. There’s a glow, you know, that remains, after the news comes, which can last days. Wow, look, you think, I’m not only not getting kicked or beaten today, but somebody likes what I wrote. And wants to promote it.
Best of all I love the feeling of completing a draft. The glow of that lasts quite a bit longer.
(ST): What do you hate?
(KN): That nothing’s consistent. The process and progress of writing, I mean. I thought early on that there were lessons you learned that eventually made it all easier. On one level that’s true, maybe. Mostly it’s not the case. Each project is like building Rome again from the ground up. The process is laborious, tedious, fraught with doubt and misgiving.
I also don’t like the fact, speaking of which, that writing turns you so inward at times you think you’re moving completely over the edge, which isn’t pleasant. But even more I despise the alternative — not writing. Sometimes you need to lay off awhile to refill. A day or two is okay, but after that things get tricky. How did Kafka put it? “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
More and more these days, though, I don’t hate much. I try to be grateful for what I’ve accomplished or earned and resent less and less. Because if you’re in this for good you can’t expect much. You write and write and take what you get and feel thankful. The rewards usually aren’t very visible. When I was fresh out of grad school, rejection was a palpable, personal thing. An agent would respond with cutting remarks — less than charitable, cruel, but also helpful and true — and I’d feel disemboweled for weeks. Which doesn’t help. You eventually stop taking things personally. Your skin thickens. It has to, or you won’t last in this business. I read a review weeks ago of Saint X, for example, my new book of poems. The reviewer destroyed it. Did I hate her? Yes, momentarily. Then I reread the review and thought, how sad. Here is a woman who seems to take the craft seriously and has a degree but hasn’t yet learned to read, can’t tune in to the way poetic language evokes. How sad, when journals give reviews to reviewers unprepared to review.
What to do, you ask, about the diminishing hating, and loving? Keep writing. If we’re here for the long haul there’s not much else to do. The best meditation practice, we know, comes in part from not attaching to notions of outcome. The same goes for writing. “The point of sitting is to sit,” my teacher Sasaki Roshi told me, once upon a time at the L.A. Zen Center. The point of writing, likewise, I think, is to write.
(ST): What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
(KN): My sixth book, a book of translations, is due out next summer at Calypso Editions, a fine arts press in New York. Disappearances, the new book will be called. A selected anthology of micro fictions by a wonderful, highly visible Bolivian writer, Edmundo Paz Soldán. His enigmatic, mellifluous fictions, translated pour moi, have gotten some attention in this country already. They’ve appeared in the Boston Review, Chicago Review, Literary Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, PANK and Arroyo, among others, including two of Norton’s anthologies — Flash Fiction International and Sudden Fiction Latino.
At the moment I am finishing a manuscript of flash fiction, a bizarre, inspired book-to-be I’m calling Burn. I am also at work on a historical novel, set in northern California in the 1880s. And a travel book involving the Philippines and Filipino cuisine. And I am banging together what seems to be a novella, an eighty or ninety page something-or-other that may join a small constellation of old and new stories, all of which I hope to call the next book-to-be.
Kirk Nesset is the author of two books of short stories, Paradise Road and Mr. Agreeable, as well as a book of translations, Alphabet of the World, a nonfiction study, The Stories of Raymond Carver, and, his latest, a book of poems,Saint X. His stories, poems, translations, and essays have appeared in such journals as The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, Witness and Prairie Schooner. His flash fiction has been widely anthologized: most recently in Flash Fiction Funny, but also The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXIII, Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, Sudden Stories, and New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond, among others.
Sidney Thompson is the author of the short story collection Sideshow, recipient of Foreword Magazine’s Silver Award for the Best Short Story Collection of 2006. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such literary journals as The Southern Review, Carolina Quarterly, Prick of the Spindle, Danse Macabre, Ostrich Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Clapboard House, Ragazine.CC, NANO Fiction, TheNewerYork’s Electric Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature, The Story Shack, Beetroot Journal and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, while his poetry and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in RHINO Poetry, A capella Zoo, IthacaLit, The Fertile Source, The Fat City Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Paste Magazine, The Human, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas and is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas.
03 Sep 2013
Three essays by Kirk Nesset have appeared in “The State of Flash” series at NANO Fiction, which includes work by Sean Lovelace, Matt Sallor, Kathy Fish and others. Nesset’s essays investigate micro tales by Pamela Painter, Marco Denevi and Natalia Rachel Singer, among others. Check out each at the following links:
02 Sep 2013
Friday, Oct 4 — 7:30 pm
Mellon Board Room/ Erie, PA
Tuesday, Nov 19
Midwestern State University
3410 Taft Blvd/Wichita Falls, TX
Thursday, Nov 21 — 2:30 pm
Texas Woman’s University
304 Administration Dr/Denton, TX
Friday, Jan 10 — 7 pm
1229 Grand Ave/Phoenix AZ
Monday, Feb 17
Stephen F. Austin State University
1936 North St/Nacogdoches, TX
Tuesday, Feb 18
Texas A & M University – Central TX
1001 Leadership Place/Killeen, TX
Wednesday, Feb 19
900 North Grand Avenue/Sherman, TX
Thursday, Feb 20
University of North Texas – Dallas
7300 University Hills Blvd/Dallas, TX
Monday, Feb 24
West Texas College
6200 College Avenue/Snyder, TX
Wednesday, Feb 26
Festival of Language (AWP)
Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery
1333 5th Ave/Seattle, WA
Friday, Feb 28
Flash Reading – AWP
Sheraton Hotel Seattle
1400 6th Ave/Seattle, WA
12 Jul 2013
Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in the War of 1812, the Erie County Poet Laureate Initiative, The Summer Festival of the Arts, and the Perry 200 committee have chosen Kirk Nesset’s poem “Orinoco, Upriver” to honor Commodore Perry’s contribution to American military history as well as the history of American letters at Erie’s Summer Festival of the Arts.
For more information, see the official announcement.
07 May 2013
The Campus — April 26, 2013 (See original article)
Professor, Author Discusses First Book of Poetry
by Molly Duerig
Professor of English and Creative Writing Kirk Nesset’s newest publication, the book of poetry titled Saint X, has been “a long time coming,” says the author. The poems in the book were written over a span of 20 years, the earliest written in 1991 and the most recent written last semester.
“It’s a bouquet or a kind of cellular grouping of literary entities that make up a certain time,” Nesset said.
The book is described as a chronicle of a “millennial age.”
“Particularly when I began working on this book, not knowing that I was working on this book, the end of the century seemed a ways off,” Nesset said. “It’s tricky because what we were suffering then, before the turn of the century, is probably less pronounced than what we’re seeing now […] where things seems to have escalated in terms of aggression in the world.”
The poems were written at different times, in relation to different circumstances, and most importantly, in different locations.
“Over the years [the poems] will begin in cafes,” Nesset said. “That’s often a provocative, good place for me to begin something, at least begin coagulating, in terms of ideas and impressions and impulses.”
He added that drafting also happens at his desk, whether his current desk happens to be in Los Angeles, where he used to work, or Meadville, Pennsylvania; Nesset said he’s lived in various environments even here in Meadville.
“Even a little solarium, a ‘writer-torium,’ I had once,” he said. “I also like sitting out on the deck […] having the breeze and the creek going.”
Nesset said he now seeks out a variety of “soothing, soft” locations in which to write. But when he first began writing poetry, he tended to stay in his bed in Los Angeles. He said he was anxious about writing poems partly because he started out writing fiction.
“I think that I figured, since I was writing poems, I’d better be very quiet,” Nesset said. “So I would get up in the morning and fix my coffee […] and come back to bed with my notepad and my pen and write in bed.”
Despite his initial anxiety about writing poetry, Nesset’s poems have been received positively.
Saint X is divided into three sections: I Will, I Will Not; The Collapse of the Heart is a Myth; and Erasing the Shadow.
“The title of each section indicates something about the emotional state of each of the poems [in that section],” said Nesset.
One of the earlier poems is the eponymous “Saint X,” from the final section of the book. “Saint X” alludes to Nesset’s experiences hitchhiking and coming of age during the Vietnam War.
“We thumbed it / to Sunrise, to Meadville and Wheeler, without / and within the machine; we slept among / tombstones in churchyards in Spain,” the poem reads.
“In some way that’s a reference to me finding my way from California to Pennsylvania, by way of interesting communes,” Nesset explained.
Writing also happens in a nomadic fashion sometimes.
“Half the time we write in airports, and on planes, on trains, wherever we happen to be,” Nesset said. He said a few of these poems were started or finished in Europe, more than anything lately, in Freiburg in southwest Germany where he teaches in the summer.
Nesset elaborated on his experience growing up during the time of the Vietnam War draft.
“It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I wasn’t kind of half suspecting that I’d be drafted and sent to a war, where I’d be killed, perhaps,” Nesset said. The draft ended during his sophomore year.
“That’s a time that no one since then has really known. If we’re going to go to war [now], we enlist, we don’t get taken and hauled away,” Nesset said.
The allusions to war are not lost on other reviewers, including Eric Ellis from Ringside Reviews.He gestured toward the book he was holding, saying, “Some of that’s here.”
“Reading the words, you feel at war yourself,” said Ellis in his review that published in January. “At war with? Put your finger on it, I dare you. Saint X lurks behind each page […] But Saint X is always one step ahead.”
Previously, Nesset authored two books of short stories – Mr. Agreeable and Paradise Road – as well as a book of translations, Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo. He has also published a nonfiction study, The Stories of Raymond Carver.
31 Mar 2013
TEN QUESTIONS FOR KIRK NESSET’S SAINT X
(These ten questions were posed as part of Lois Marie Harrod’s blog interview series. See below for the other interview links.)
What is the title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’m not sure that the book began with an idea, and don’t recall where or when the title arose, or the ideas associated with the title. The book was accepted eight years ago, and just appeared in December. Some of the poems that make up the collection I wrote 20 or more years ago in Los Angeles, one of the more apocalyptic cities I know.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I wouldn’t call the haunted entities inhabiting my pages “characters”– but if pressed to the wall, I’d say maybe Grace Zabriskie, Vincent Shiavelli, Crispin Glover, Tilda Swinton, Klaus Kinski.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Saint X chronicles the joy and despair of a millennial age, charting love’s ills and the grind of mortality; its human figures are honored if not saved by nuanced reflection, measured perception and the pleasures of song.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The book was published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press (Nacogdoches, TX). They did a great job on Saint X, it’s a beautiful, carefully-made book, and I’m pleased and proud to be part of their catalogue.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I think I had an early version of the manuscript together after nine or ten years of writing poems. But six more years passed before I had anything that looked like the book Saint X became.
What other books would you compare this one to within your genre?
That’s a tough question. Ideally, a new book of poems is nothing like anything else that’s been written, but informed by everything I’ve ever read or experienced. Neruda has always had great impact on me. As has Rumi. Rilke, Levertov, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, Marvin Bell and Gerald Stern figure here, too. Especially Gerald Stern.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Though it doesn’t look or sound or feel much like Saint X, Stern’s staggeringly lovely Lucky Life is behind everything I do, I think, in my own book, and in the book I’m finishing now. I wouldn’t say, though, that Saint X rose out of an act of inspiration. The poems seemed to arrive on their own, almost unbidden, and at some point a pattern emerged, a gravitational energy.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Its intensity and oddness, I’d say. It’s not a casual or typical read — whatever that means. Its figures are bizarre but familiar. People born under punches, shaken by rattles and flares, latter-day pilgrims who stare at the statue that stares at America; people for whom disobedience is still a first duty, and death but a question of style. People wearing bandages rather than smiles, perversely on foot while the saddled horse follows. People who seem to survive and still seem to be laughing. “[T]hese poems,” as Li-Young Lee notes of Saint X, “will make you think twice, think again, and feel glad that such an unsettling imagination is at work in poetry.”
If the book unsettles Li-Young, well, I guess I’ve done all I can.
For more info on Saint X, click HERE
(By Sunday, April 6, 2013, another writer will be added to the list of those interviewed. Please check back here.)
Previous Interviews include:
Vassiliki Katsarou http://raggedsky.com/blog
Adrianne Kalfopoulou http://www.adriannekalfopoulou.com/articles/round_robin.htm
For further reading: http://loismarieharrodblogger.blogspot.com
05 Jan 2013
Pampered pet tours with professor
The Campus — Chelsea Fleishman (see original article )
Their friendship knows no bounds.
From work, to the gym and even at the bar, their complementary sets of luscious locks and pearly whites are iconic.
English Professor Kirk Nesset and his black Pomeranian, Ryan, are celebrities at Allegheny College.
“[They] stroll the Oddfellows hallway like a pair of gangsters,” said Kiley Fisher, ’13.
At last Thursday’s Single Voice Reading, Ryan listened attentively in the first row as Nesset read his flash fiction and poems he had translated.
“If Ryan’s not paying attention, I know I’m doing something wrong,” Nesset said.
Senior Michael Babeji recalled the time he and a few fellow students watched Ryan while Nesset’s band, Uncle John’s Band, played at Grounds for Change.
“All the while Ryan would intermittently bark, as if cheering for his owner,” Babeji said.
Nesset isn’t the only one performing for the public eye.
“Once, in the English department hallway, Kirk brought out a hula hoop and Ryan performed show tricks,” said William Brewer, ’11. ”In that moment he was the star, or, at least a part of the same star team.”
Ryan’s been jumping through hula hoops, wiping his feet on the carpet and even playing dead since his first summer with Nesset.
Just over four years ago, those big brown eyes gleamed at him through a pet store display case, melting Nesset’s heart and breaking his wallet.
Nesset admits that he was always more of a cat person, but his love for Ryan has slowly transformed him into a dog-lover.
It also helps that Ryan, who was raised with Nesset’s three cats, has developed catlike qualities.
“He’ll sit on the back of the couch and lick his paws or he’ll groom other people,” Nesset said.
Nesset feels that Ryan serves as an ice-breaker, particularly when he interacts with students from other schools.
“These are visiting writer-student-interactions that might not have happened without the dog intercession because, first, people want to see the dog, and then they talk about writing,” he said.
Kiley Fisher, ’13, attested to Ryan’s calming energy.
“He makes me feel a lot less nervous about proposing dumb story ideas and asking Kirk to help me with my life decisions,” she said. “Mostly because it’s easier to make eye contact with Ryan [than Kirk].”
Ryan is a registered service dog, having passed entry screening for physical soundness and temperament.
He has also been dubbed Oddfellows’ unofficial therapy dog.
According to Nesset, at least one student walks into his office every day with the sole intent of seeing Ryan. Students and faculty often drop by to play with the dog, sit on the couch with him or even take him for a walk.
Although Ryan’s company is what guests most often crave, it’s Nesset’s own personality traits that reveal why the dog is so adored.
Students describe their professor’s character as nurturing, engaging, attentive and calming, words that could easily be used to describe Ryan.
Brewer referred to the man-dog relationship as a team of sidekicks, portraying them as one entity rather than individual performers.
“It’s always that way, it seems, between man and dog,” Brewer said. “That’s why we love them.”
Regardless of the pressures of celebrity status, Nesset finds that Ryan has completely embraced his public role here at Allegheny.
“I think part of the psychology is that Ryan thinks he has a huge family here,” Nesset said.
Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge
See original article
Potomac Review’s Morgan Moyer virtually sits down with Kirk Nesset.
M: Do you start out, usually, intending to write a flash fiction piece? When and how do you know that what you’re working on will be flash?
KN: Lately, actually, it seems like I’m always starting out thinking I’m writing flash fiction. It’s less ponderous, less daunting, in terms of build-up, or planning. How awful can writing two or three pages be? Thirty or forty pages later, I’ll finally finish, pleased but bemused to see all it gained on its own, almost in spite of me and what I hoped to achieve. The flash format in cases like these is a spur, or a trigger. A trick to get the writer writing, thinking it won’t be such a big deal. Which isn’t to say the tiny tales aren’t big deals, and often hard to deliver. I spent three weeks working on “I’m Not Camille,” the title piece in my new manuscript of stories—a story barely four pages long. It fought me every step of the way.
M: What elements make up a good flash fiction piece, in your opinion?
KN: Brevity is essential, naturally. Which involves concision, compression, compactness, accelerated pacing, economy in delivery on all levels. Beyond and above and because of all this, we wind up with impact, and depth, especially in closing; we find the kind of universality one expects in a poem.
M: Do you have any advice for flash fiction writers?
KN: Write less, I would say, and read more. Read all the great works you can get your hands on, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf — and after, and before. Read Norton’s collections of flash and sudden fictions over and over. Study the pieces you like best, or find useful as models, with the attention of a jeweler examining texture and color in gems, and placement and setting. When you do write, revise your piece mercilessly. Seventy or eighty drafts are just the beginning.
M: Where do you see flash fiction going in the near and far future?
KN: That’s a tough question. In the near future, the profusion of mediocre micro tales will keep crowding the net. Farther down the road, flash fiction will help to save literature, I think. It’ll keep people reading—on their phones, on their pads, and in their heads, where much of what we know, or can know, or experience, will finally be downloadable, and downloaded.
Kirk Nesset is author of Paradise Road, Mr. Agreeable, and Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, others, and most recently The Potomac Review issue 48.