Monday, July 31, 2006
My editor accuses me of being a terrible deadliner--to this I have to say guilty as charged. I've also been known to carry important documents around far too long, since about May 22, I think.
So, now, finally I want to say thank to everyone who contributed tothis Q&A. Some of you I've already met at the reading/signing at Housing Works, and some I know contribute to the online forums and fanblogs. I'm grateful for the interest and support you've given my family and me. I have to admit, as I watch all this interest unfold around me, though, particularly around my kids, I'm often driven to ask, what about each of you? Everyone of us deserves attention. Lots of attention. Each of us deserves our own Q&A. This is one of mine, I guess, though the concept that I really have any answers feels illusory.
Alaina (NY): You are best known for directing feature films. What was the motivation behind publishing a collection of poetry?
Stephen Gyllenhaal: I'd had some poems published in some good literary journals for about three years and I was already surprised and pleased that anyone would want any of my stuff in the first place. Then when a couple of editors in New York read some work I had submitted to a literary journal they worked for and asked if I had more poems to make into a book, I was flattered by their attention and I thought, Let's see where this goes. I'd also say that I never started writing with the intention of getting published. In fact, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was a bit embarassed about writing poetry, to be honest. It was one ofthe few places in my life where I wasn't trying to show off. For along time it was just an extension of journaling, keeping a diary, almost. But over the years (after friends and family suggested it) I began to circle the idea warily of sending some of my poems out. Then one day I just took a deep breath about three years ago and began sending them out to journals and periodicals.
Anneka (Wales UK): How long have you been accumulating your collection? Is there more to come?
SG: I've been writing poetry, on and off, for about thirty years, but really didn't take it seriously until about ten years ago. Then I actually started finishing poems and putting them in drawers, or when I felt good about them, giving them to friends as birthday or anniversary presents, like Emily Dickinson did. Then I would start to write poems specifically for certain people. Portraits. And sometimes I'd just write to let off some steam, I'm sure you can all relate to that. And yes, there's more to come.
Maxine (London UK): Considering the title of your collection and having read some passages, is it deliberately aimed as a knock at Hollywood life?
SG: I guess I'm inclined to be wary of almost everything in my life. And also curious. Hollywood is and has been a stimulating place to work. But it's also a place my editor calls a city of illusions. Those are the kind of illusions that can destroy your spirit and your will to do the best work you can. And Claptrap has a couple of meanings for me, I guess. It means of collection of junk, or stuff. And I guess I like that as a description of the poems here. It always seems dangerous to take yourself too seriously. And also, I guess the trap of wanting someone to clap for you. A pretty dangerous place to find yourself (I've been there)...you then lose track of who you are, what you are. You're using other people to help you define yourself. I guess that's what worries me about so much of Hollywood (so much of the culture of the US--the rest of the world too, actually)...the idea that when someone recognizes you, claps for you, you're OK. But you're only OK if that's taking place inside of you. With yourself. Not outside.
Sherry (USA): Are the poems in your collection mostly spoken by aversion of yourself or are they sometimes written through different personae?
SG: So far it's pretty much just my voice. But this process of writing is intriguing. I'm sure it's true for a lot of you out there too. It's a journey. I think I've often been too wrapped up in myself--looking out at other people is more and more interesting to me. Right now there are a couple of poems that look at other people. Maybe in the future, I'll take that a step further and use some other people's voices. We'll see.
Susie (Manchester, UK) and Amy (NY): I read in an article regarding your education that the Romantics were influential to you. What was it about them in particular and who are your other influences, literary or otherwise?
SG: The Romantics were anti-Rationalists. They believed that by really listening to your emotions you could find the common threads that bind all human beings together. My background having been formed in what you might call an over-rational environment, I guess you might say this was my kind of rebellion.
Adriana (Romania): What would you define as the American literary canon?
SG: The kind of literature that binds us together as citizens of the same country. This was certainly easier to define in the 19th century,when there where only a few places Americans emigrated from and which had more in common with each other than they do today. But all the writers they taught us in high school, certainly, they are part of the canon. Dickinson, who I mentioned earlier, and Whitman, and Poe, and of course Mark Twain, Emerson, Thoreau, novelists like Wharton and James, Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, playwrights like Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams... I think there is a literary canon forming today, but I think you're going to find it in other, new places, like in song lyrics and even screenplays. But as I've stumbled into poetry over the years I find there's something inexplicable about it, something inexplicable in all of us that it circles. And finally, I'd be wary of words like canon (the Romantics would've worried about that word). Also, I have a poem called Canon (which, come to think of it, is a bit of someone else's voice, sort of). In that case Canon, is joking around with "cannon." Jokes are good.
Anonymous: Do you feel poetry is becoming a lost art form? Why do you choose this particular form of expression?
SG: Poetry is anything but lost! As I said above, you're going to find it in new places like popular song lyrics. In rap. Rap is amazing.I'm often dazzled by rap. The origins of my poems are the same origins of my work in films--I'm pulled into a scene in my head (often foggy)and do my best to to somehow capture it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. I'm sure a lot of you can relate to that. The one thing I guess I've been growing aware of recently is that I've learned (as I've been kicked around by life) that some things are better thrown away and some things are really worth working on. Sometimes a poem (ora screenplay/or a movie) takes years to get right.
Daniella (New Jersey): Writers seem to have a certain location or time of day when ideas come easiest to them and work is most enjoyable. Doyou have any writing routines?
SG: Writing in the morning. Often very early. Coming out of dreams. I have come to believe that dreams are profoundly important. Profoundly. That Freud was starting to figure out some important things. The Greeks, etc, knew about dreams before, but Freud began to pull dreams into the modern world. The modern world could do with a lot more dreams. So for me the morning is best. Surroundings don't seem to influence me much. I've written and rewritten anywhere. I try to write stuff down when it comes. Like catching fish. If I don't hook them at the time they bite, they sometimes escape.
britpopbaby: I always have difficulty titling my work because it feels like I'm trying to summarise my work in a few words and also feels so final when I'm never completely satisfied. Do you have a similar problem?
What are your greatest obstacles when writing?
SG: To answer the first part of your first question, if you'll see each of my poems and how their titles relate to each of them, you'll notice that the title is actually part of the poem. Part of the story, the wholeness of the poem. Not a summation. I guess you could consider some of these titles ironic, kind of a twist on a meaning or perspective. Even a hidden meaning maybe. Think of Crescent Moon or The Enron in My Face. But honestly? They just sort of come to me. Why do they just come to me? Why has it gotten easier as I've gotten older (although I don't think age has anything to do with it--some of the greatest writers were very young)...but for me I think finding titles has gotten easier because I've been knocked around a lot. I don't really give a shit about a lot of things anymore. (I used to worry about so much when I was younger that it just paralyzed me a lot. I had to be perfect. That idea is long gone.) But who cares really anyway? Besides, we each have to wander through this process in our own way, (and not just writing, but living and you'd have to say you can't do one without the other; and I've also found it's the other way around for me too.) And each and everyone of us is miraculous. That's what bothers me so much about almost everything I see in this culture. For instance with my kids and even these questions (to some degree). Each of you is a miraculous creature. Everyone is. Dreaming and scheming and trying to sort out life? And then we go and kill each other for some stupid piece of dirt. Or for gold. Or for a religion (that's the weirdest of all to me). We should be celebrating ourselves (Whitman certainly was into that). And that goes for each of you--it might be intriguing that each of you tries to answer the questions you've given to me. You might find that your answers are far more insightful than what I'm coming up with. Nonetheless, let's keep going....
Lee: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
SG: I think I just gave it.
Prophecy Girl (Tennessee): I interpreted your poem "Land of the Free" as an expression of your disillusionment with the American cultural and political landscape. Is this an accurate understanding?
SG: I guess. I also liked the words. I find half the time poetry leads me. I don't really know where the poems are going half the time. I just have an ache, I guess. Or sort of growing pain, something is being demanded to grow. I try to stay out its way. One way to stay out of the way is not try to inerpret what ends up on the page I've confronted. I did the best I could with what's there. I don't mind if others try to figure out what it means, though.
Ally (iheartjake), Karen, and Ursula (Sri Lanka): Which special interest groups do you support? Will you get involved in the 2008 presidential election campaign?
SG: It's funny. I never would have thought this, but poetry seems to be pushing me towards politics. To be honest, I've never really been all that involved (some of what you may have read about me at least repolitics is hyped). My wife has been the political one in the family and I've kind of bumped along with her. But that seems to be changing. I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post because I was so enraged by the Bush Adminstration floating the idea that they might use nuclear weapons against Iran. It's insane. Many political leaders now (and through history) have been absolutely insane. I am not remotely comfortable with what's going on in this country right now. And then there's "An Inconvenient Truth"--I recommend you all go see it. Or get the DVD when it comes out. The planet you live on is the hands of crazy people. The poetry that exists inside each of us (the rhymes and rhythms in our bodies) tells us how crazy these people are as easily as we breathe. So, yes, I suspect I'll be involved in the presidential elections and in other political fights that will be coming down the pike as well. We'll see how much.
Gayle S. Stever, Ph.D. (Arizona State University) and James (LosAngeles): We have noted the invasion of the paparazzi into yourprivate family life in an escalating fashion of late. To what extent does living somewhat in the public eye affect you?
SG: It affects us. It's sad. People will discover much more interesting things when they turn their cameras (and thoughts) on the people in their own lives, the people they know. The people they personally love. The people they personally hate. The people in-between. The rest of this is just an excuse for avoiding that far more interesting world. The world of their own lives.
Anonymous: We've heard you play the viola and enjoy listening to Eminem. What else do you do to relax?
SG: What do you do?
Carina (Stockholm) and Katarina (Sweden): Since you have a very interesting Swedish heritage have you or have you ever considered travelling to Sweden to discover more about your ancestors?
SG: I've always wanted to go. I don't know why I haven't. But hopefully I will in the future. We'll see.
britpopbaby: Finally, are there any continuing themes or messages in your poetry? What do you want readers to take away from your collection?
SG: They should take away what ever they want, don't you think? When I really concentrate, a word like "theme" confuses me. Most of those important words confuse me. I can't even say I'm terribly clear when I'm writing. Slowly, though, something does seem to come into focus and that's quite miraculous. But even the confusion is miraculous, so go figure. It's just plain miraculous to be alive, isn't it?
Well, what do we think? I'm thinking we should answer these questions ourselves and send them back to Stephen? I'll just say now that I can't remember exactly which questions I attributed to whom and I think some of them may have been mixed up. I tried to get a global vibe when I submitted these and I also condensed some questions together.
ALSO: Please don't post this interview or even parts of it anywhere else on the net until August 4th. That is the agreement I have with Stephen and his publisher Cantara. On Aug 4th it will be posted at www.stephengyllenhaal.com but until then please respect that it is a JW exclusive. Unfortunately I can't stamp www.jakewatch.com across it.
Posted by britpopbaby at 8:49 AM