If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
I think I’d be embarrassed to cook for anyone, actually. I’m not a terrible cook, but my cooking isn’t usually Instagrammable. I guess, though, I’d make coffee and some sort of baked good for Walt Whitman. For some reason, I feel like Walt might like strong coffee and biscuits?
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
I write a lot of things that belong in the political realm that I am way too afraid to even move from my journal to Google Docs. I almost view these journal entries as just me venting… but I wonder if I’ll ever get serious about revising these fragments into something. For now, I’m a little afraid of that process.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Oh, 100% Carl Phillips. His poems got me into poetry.
What books are on your nightstand?
Poetry and the Anthropocene by Sam Solnick
Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Homie by Danez Smith
Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval
The Museum of Disappearing Sounds by Zoë Skoulding
Heaven’s Thieves by Sue Sinclair
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
Em dash is my favorite. I was often called out in Grad School for overusing it. I also fell for that rumor that the Em dash was named after Emily Dickenson… I think I even told my comp students that! Then my comp instructor told us that it’s simply the width of an “M.” Let’s see:
To my eyes, the Em Dash looks a bit wider than the M.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
I didn’t read much of anything in high school. I didn’t go to class much either… I dropped out.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
I would thank the serpentine stone I keep in my pocket, which is worn with worry. I found it on the beach near where I live.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
“Roll your cart and plow over the bones of the dead” — William Blake, from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
As an aspiring writer, I’m sure I don’t know… maybe worrying too much about acceptances? Or perhaps not reading enough? Probably not writing enough...
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes - and that’s when I know it’s time to switch to something else, or just take a break. My conception of what “reading” is, is not limited to traditional texts like books; I think we are always reading the world, and we get tired of it! Meditation helps.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes, I think plenty of people are.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have some poet friends… at lots of different levels. The best thing is sharing work and having the sort of relationship where you can be completely honest in the comments. My cousin Lucretia and I swap poems regularly (she is an undergrad at Columbia College in Chicago) and my friend Josh, who is in the MFA at Oregon State also work on each other's work. It’s very important to me to have some people I trust to work with; and I find working with them to be very generative as well.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I think the former.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
This is my first chapbook and I’m very happy that Unsolicited Press thought it was worthy of publication. It’s given me a bit of confidence, just like each acceptance has. One way my process is evolving is that I’m learning to trust my instincts more; sometimes the first idea is the best idea. Sometimes workshopping gets in the way.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
On books. Buy all the books. Subscribe to some journals. It’s never money wasted.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Some of the older poets… 19th century stuff (mostly) took a very good teacher in grad school to get me to appreciate. I love the British romantics now, and definitely wouldn’t have bothered if not for studying literature with a good teacher.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I understood from a young age that one way to get ahead was to read and write well. I grew up in a poor family who wasn’t very book-oriented, but I could see that the successful adults around me all had one thing in common: a love of books and writing.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I really love a novel called “Remainder” by Tom McCarthy. I never hear anyone talk about it.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My spirit animal is 100% my dog, Millie. She is my luck dragon.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Honesty— or a beautiful lie.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have a lot of poems. I have a lot of fragments of poems. Not sure how that translates in to books...
What does literary success look like to you?
Being read and understood.
What did you edit out of this book?”
The lunes in my chapbook are comprised of fragments from perhaps a dozen longer poems about the same subject. So, I suppose a lot got erased, but I think of each stanza as an excavated piece of the story.
Caleb Nichols is the author of 22 Lunes, a poetry chapbook.
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