Kate Braverman Interview, with Meg Tuite
I am a HUGE FAN of your work! Your love of language and fearlessness on the page is incomparable. You have just finished a collection of short stories and a poetry collection. This is BIG NEWS for all of the Braverman fans out there. Can you tell us a bit about the collections? We are honored to be publishing the title story of your collection, Skinny Broads Wearing Wigs and a poem, Female Stigmata, in Connotation Press.
I can be inconspicuous.
I’ve encrypted my past.
Prom night on a porch swing
facing mountains so dead the rocks
wouldn’t kiss. I have hidden cities
of banned books, vast meridians
where rumors are bartered
under the bland atrocity of a Midwest March.
Between Taos and Boston is a wilderness.
It is desert I trust. Reno. Tucson. Tempe.
Dry skies over Las Cruces in July.
Absence is abuse or revelation.
It’s simply a pause like a comma or scalpel.
I practice the rituals of New Mexico.
Sagebrush, tumbleweeds, seeds from the north.
I keep tin boxes of milagros in my linens-------
They make lilies more vivid
and give me window boxes of strawberries
in November when winter resurfaces
like a bad dream. I am vigilant.
My perfume is creosote, pinion, cedar, ash.
I string necklaces from coyote teeth
like lamps around my neck.
I can fast for weeks.
I know the shock beyond erotic or flame.
It’s a perpetual covenant and exile.
It’s why we have mouths.
I am ruthless, lean, a solitary assassin.
I’m a serial killers purified by clarity.
It’s not for everyone.
I am lunar here, exposed, mutinous
without reason, nervous and erratic.
I rarely sleep. The sky is greasy with residues
the promiscuous moon left. That senseless glitter.
I crave landscapes so literal they’re both
acts of intimacy and reprimand.
To keep artifacts like needles and flints
Deserts graze my bare shoulders.
I am often silent.
There is love in every plaza
in the latitudes of saguaro and chance.
Holy the arroyo, coyote and cactus.
Holy the bandits, bitter citrus, the breeze
with salt like hollow point bullets.
Holy the tiny bruja rinsed by rain.
I have multiple versions of myself
like copper coins in jars,
so many hallways, so many lies.
I have the female stigmata.
Theft and anarchy are trivial.
Watch my mouth bleed when I say Thebes.
The new manuscript of poetry is titled Felony in Yellow. It has poems from the early 1970s to now. So it’s both an introduction and retrospective. The new short story collection is titled Skinny Broads With Wigs. The stories have recurring characters in a Salingeresque style. Everything resonates.
And more exciting news for writers is that Kate Braverman has a Boot camp Writing Workshop starting on Feb. 10th, 2015. Please share with us what a Braverman workshop entails, and what a student can expect. The Santa Fe Workshop: Tricks of the Trade.
This is an on going and intimate hands-on writing group that will practice and master specific strategies of engaging the page. All levels and genres, including fiction, fragments, memoir and poetry are welcome. As there are chemical formulas, and recipes for cooking a stew or baking a pie, there are methods, some simple and others delicate and complex, to improve and revolutionize one’s writing. Writing like all advanced skills necessitates learning and accommodating new information. Learning does not negatively impact creativity, rather it is a component of creativity.
Writers are expected to produce material (with copies) at each weekly meeting. The group will critique work and the writer will incorporate suggestions into their revision. The group will evolve a collective sensibility. Through critiquing, the fundamental skill of listening kinetically and editing will be developed.
Creative writing is always personal. The sensibility of the writer is exposed. Actual publication level writing, with invention and experimentation, is like learning another language. You cannot expect to be understood by those who have not embarked on a similar journey. The only people you can trust are members of your group and your instructor. Group size is limited to 15.
The workshop will consider the following:
No writer has a complete repertoire of creative writing skills. Identify your natural strengths avoid what you can’t do, reject clichés, poor word choices, repetition, modifiers and cartoon characters.
How to begin
Annie Dillard talks about using a piece of your flesh and Hemingway famously said, “You want to write, just sit here and bleed.” What does this mean practically?
It’s not poetry but bring it anyway
Gore Vidal said there is no poetry in America, only deformed prose. Taking a line and cutting it into small lines does not make a poem. Inflamed language, slant rhymes, leaps of faith, shocking confession and improvisational inventions are what fuels the poem.
There is no writer’s block
Writer’s block is a non-existent condition. When you can’t work on the central piece, write exercises. The writer is always writing. Exercises such as 3-5 page physical and psychological portraits, 3-5 page landscapes, 3-5 page self-portraits, 3-5 page pieces on texture, taste, and smell prepare the writer for synergistic writing. Exercises can often be incorporated into larger works at a further stage or draft.
Writing in blocks/scenes
Larger works are not born but rather assembled from fragments, one draft at a time. We will write in blocks and scenes, put them aside and revisit them later. Many scenes will naturally adhere and make their own narrative.
Using the real world
Writers carry notebooks and tape recorders. The real world can be selectively used, but it will always be both too much and not enough. We will learn how to adjust this.
Dialogue is one of the only methods the writer has to directly address the reader. We will examine examples of great dialogue. Great dialogue appears magical and clairvoyant. It has a psychological depth and the quality of surprise. Good dialogue is a learned skill. Good dialogue is not what people always say, but rather what they never say.
The writer recognizes that she is a laboratory for experiment. Emotions and intensities are measured. The writer takes her literary temperature. What am I thinking? Thought is a fundamental structural element in plot, in how we know a character and how the work is propelled further.
Writing for the ear
We say each word out loud, syllable by syllable, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. The silent writer is lead by ideas that already exist on the page and are therefore predictable. Writing for the ear allows the writer to also be led by the sounds of words. This opens an entire new subterranean palette ideal for experimentation. Writing out loud is the only way to create dialogue and sustain complex rhythms.
Color and geography
We will reject the over use of color and romantic sounding geography by finding a strata of words more dimensional and psychologically evocative. Exercises will be provided.
The most thrilling writing is improvisational. Here the writer is vulnerable and risk is a requirement. The writer doesn’t know where she is going but she is somehow assembling fragments, engaging in wild speculation, moving her narrative forward and surprising herself and the reader. Writing what you don’t yet know is at the core of the alchemy of creative work.
Moving your characters and plot in and out of time
The writer owns the page. One of the privileges of this is time travel. This is a deceptively simple device often accomplished by a few framing words or sentences.
Characters are not born but rather built from composites one inspired draft at a time. The more resonant and surprising characters are ambivalent anti-heroes. We live in the age of the unreliable narrator. Teenagers and neurotics are superb examples of fertile characters.
Set pieces are blocks or scenes often developed from exercises or abandoned work. Such scenes stand alone outside of the developing larger work. Set pieces are easily adapted into larger works and can both anchor and propel narrative.
Illusion of reality
Creative writing is not about reality. It’s about the illusion of reality. There is no set truth or real story that is naturally significant or deserving of publication. It is the writers’ job to fashion the story and force it to be interesting. It either plays on the page or it doesn’t. The page is the final arbitrator.
Workshop begins Tuesday February 10 1:00-4:00 at Flying Star Cafe in Santa Fe. To enroll or ask questions email katebraverman.com.
Who were the writers that inspired you to work the page with the ferocity that you do? And who are some of the writers that you are reading now?
I loved experimental writers and stylists and writers pushing the envelope of the possible. I’m an entirely 20th century person, from Hemingway to Robert Stone. TS Eliot. Blaise Cendrares Prose on the Transiberian to the Beats like Burroughs and Bowles, our writing has been about the journey, rather than the destination. Allen Ginsberg has a special place in my heart. He made literature the province of the people. He made the word “citizen” viable again. I love the Spanish-speaking writers from Garcia Lorca’s Duende to Pablo Neruda, and Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I learned internal monologue from Saul Bellow and dialogue from Phillip Roth. I learned ambition from Salinger. Then the first modern female voice: Sylvia Plath. What does the first contemporary woman say? “And I love and am a pathological liar.” Plath is a monumental experimental poet, her language is spectacular, her daring. Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion. My writers are fearless and passionate. They demolish genres and live forever.
What would you tell young writers that have the need to write; those who have ‘that rat in the head,’ as you so succinctly put it?
It’s not only what you know, but more importantly what you refuse to know. There’s never a reason to know details of pop culture. I have found that there are always two stories—the one the writer thinks she is telling, and the story that actually appears on the page. I’ve never been a good enough writer to tell my story. Rather, I have learned to accommodate what is on the page. You do some and the page does some. It’s like a dance.
Classic and current literary issues including the difficulties of being female in a patriarchal profession will inform our workshop. We will consider the problems associated with technology, writing in the age of the image and globalization. It is strongly suggested that workshop members enroll in Literary Conversations.
The writer must keep her consciousness pure of the banal and ordinary. Writing is about sacrifice. You need vast acres of solitude. You need to reinvent the universe and then own it. It’s about being permanently eccentric. You collect words. You listen kinetically. I like the analogy of the writer as an outlaw. The writer lives criminally, metaphorically, by breaking and entering, assuming false identities, engaging in fraud and confession. It’s a liberating attitude. It’s empowering to women who must overcome their placating of the male-dominated page. Writing is a patriarchal pursuit and for females entering the arena, it’s bloodier than you imagined. If you can live without it, live with out it. The solitude, difficulty and demands of writing cause derangement and impoverishment. But when you are writing well, when you’re improvising and discovering and writing what you do not know, you feel you are flying, you’re immune to all human things, you have total recall and are immortal.
I am blessed that you’re here with us in Santa Fe! Thank you so much, Kate, for sharing some of your explosive and immortal insight. We are honored to be featuring in you in the first issue of Connotation Press in 2015!
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.