what would happen if the camera/ knocked against the table? what would happen if we/
became aware of a presence just behind the lens, manipulating?
became aware of a presence just behind the lens, manipulating?
So asks one poem in The Diegesis, co-authored by Joshua Young and Chas Hoppe. Likewise, the entire collection keeps exploring and stretching the concepts of storytelling, film-making, observer and observed. It’s a strange, intriguing, delightfully-disorienting book--I love how it plays with the idea of the written word as a film/performance for the reader.
I was eager to ask Young, who is also a filmmaker and musician, some questions after reading this book.
NOTE: (Be sure to watch the book trailer above, which appears with the permission of the authors.)
Q: While reading The Diegesis, all I could think about was the concept of space and place, as it figures into storytelling. You (and your co-author, Chas Hoppe) pull us, the reader, into “the diegetic space.” The pieces in this book feature settings marked for creating and narrating: the frame, the editing booth, Disneyland, an auditorium, footnotes beneath the main text, the interior of cars, trap doors.
I’m wondering about where these pieces take place, for you...what is the world that you envision this book, and your other writing, occurring in? Not the literal setting, of course---but what kinds of images/sounds/ideas do you associate with creating? What are your tricks for entering and inhabiting the space your writing creates?
A: While writing The Diegesis, Chas and I talked early on about this being a film of some sort. He claims that I said right away it would be a documentary. I don't remember that, but it sounds like something I would say. I guess it's got that feel to it. If the book had a setting it would be two places in Washington, blurred together: Seattle and Bellingham. Chas and I met in Bellingham, but we both grew up near Seattle. So there's this camera just moving around, capturing images, actions, scenes, dialogue, people, dogs, cars, etc, etc. But the camera is doing more than that---it's subjective because it chooses what it wants to see; it's subjective because we're aren't just capturing, we are digging into it. Right now, I'm reaching composition and I'm trying to talk to these young writers about how to "unpack" an idea. I like to think that Chas and I are constantly unpacking what our camera captures, commenting, questioning, revising, interrupting, and so on.
For my first book, When the Wolves Quit I had an actual setting--the small Northwest town (not unlike Twin Peaks) that was centered around a congregation and mysterious disappearances, small-town murder, and a place called the Ghost Woods, among other things. I mean, the book is a play. So, the small town functions as a stage--though A LOT happens offstage. My second book, To the Chapel of Light, has a series of locations---it begins in a basement apartment in a city, and ends somewhere on the west coast. The setting is the road. And because it is a film-in-verse, the camera is constantly moving, and we pass so much that we can only tell stories and make guesses about what those places are. In fact, many of my projects are centered around a location, even if that location is moving (the location could be the center of a group, in some cases or perhaps a whole city). The Diegesis is similar, except that we both have difference versions of the same places. So, in collaborating it wasn't about "getting it right," but about challenging and revising and interrupting other versions of these places for our own. A kind of myth-making. I want to make work that blurs and changes. I want to them to be myth-like in that, the truth is somewhere, but not necessarily what is reported.
Writing is about bringing modes together, for me. I have a few projects that are "just" poems. Everything else is tied to another art form: Cinema, Drama, Music, etc. Even my poems that are "just" poems have some sort of conceit that brings them together. So, I think creating is something that changes depending on the project. Sometimes, it's about writing into an obsession/project to get at its guts, and sometimes it's about telling the story, and sometimes it's about not telling something, and sometimes it's about the process (what I'm doing as I create). The Diegesis, unlike my previous books, was about a dialogue with another voice. I could argue that my other books are playing with voice, but with a collaboration it's not me playing with voice, but me literary-dialoguing with someone else. Personally, I think Chas and I write completely differently, but writing together meshed some of the work so that I don't know who wrote what many times in the book.
I have to say, I don't have tricks for entering a space to create. Right now, I have four jobs and I'm wrapping up my MFA (just turned in my thesis) and I'm applying for jobs, AND I got a 2 and a half year old (Elliot) who is wild AND I have a lovely, amazing wife who I would prefer to spend time with, so writing happens in spurts. I write on the train to and from school, in front of the TV, on my phone while out walking, in class when I should be listening, in class when my students are peer-reviewing, and wherever I can. I simply have to tap into the project. Sometimes, I can't get it out of my brain and writing is a necessity, whereas other times, I don't even know what I'm writing. I'm just writing. Sometimes I just make lists over and over of things that I've already made lists for. I think after years of college, work, parenting, and everything else, I've learned to find time to write wherever and to tap into whatever mode I need to be in simply by doing it. Sure, sometimes what I write sucks, but even when I "make time" to write on my days off, I'll write sucky things. I think the best things I write are in short 5 to 15 minute bursts.
My friends make fun of me because I write a lot. I do. Oliver de la Paz (who I studied with at Western Washington University) really pushed me as a poet and writer. In fact, he's the reason I'm writing poetry. But I has a few prose poems from his class (ended up being my thesis/To the Chapel of Light) and I was on the fiction track in my MA (I even was reading for my Fiction Comp exams), working on a novel, when Oliver urged me to keep writing these prose poems. Personally, I think he was just encouraging me to write, he wasn't saying, "Make this a book." But that summer, probably all of June and a little of July, I wrote like 100 prose poems. Then I called my thesis chair and said, "I'm not gonna finish this novel. I'm gonna write a book of poems." She suggested I ask Oliver to be my chair and she would be on my committee. Anyway, the point is, that started me writing like crazy. I was busy then too, so I learned to write those fast. That winter, I started what would become When the Wolves Quit. By the time I left Western, I had one finished book and one that was half way to a rough draft. And it didn't stop there. I kept writing and writing. I don't know what it was, but something about working with Oliver taught me how to write in insanely short burst of time, without having to work my way into a space to write. I just do it. I developed a process, and it doesn't matter where I am. I can write stuff. Though, now that I say this, I'll probably get blocked for weeks. The Diegesis was a completely different process. I had to respond to Chas's work and he had to respond to mine. That back and forth relied on other person to produce in order for you to produce. It was about reading and making notes, then writing, then revising, then cutting, then reading again, then sending it back, then waiting. I would wait and write stuff, and then Chas would blow my mind and I'd have nothing I could use and I'd have to start from scratch. It was amazing!