Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.
This week we feature poet Greg Wrenn. His first book of poems, Centaur, was awarded the 2013 Brittingham Prize and was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in Spring 2013. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in New England Review, The American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and a recipient of the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, he was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and received a BA from Harvard University and an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis.
How I Write: Greg Wrenn
Location: Oakland, California
Current project: An untitled essay on artistic vision
Currently reading: Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life and the Book of Revelation
- What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
I’ve been writing poetry for over twenty years, and my first book of poems, Centaur, came out in early 2013. But now I’m hungering to be more direct in my writing, to make arguments and bold statements that feel unsuited to the genre of poetry as I understand it. And to be much more autobiographical. I suppose, too, that writing an essay on artistic vision is a way for me to step back from my usual lineated lyrics and ask myself why I write at all.
- When/where/how do you write?
I write in a white leather chair that resembles Captain Picard’s on the Enterprise. I face a large statue of the Buddha in the corner; a wooden windowsill lined with plants and a ceramic snail, which reminds me to slow down; and a framed poster from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo of Hercules using his brute strength to create the Panama Canal, reminding me to exert effort. I usually write in the late morning to the late afternoon, though I have been known to compose poems in my head while tipsy at a bar.
- What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
I almost always begin by handwriting the draft with a mechanical pencil – I like that I can erase what I write, sharpening isn’t necessary, and the graphite marks are so thin and controllable. I write on a piece of blank computer paper placed on a large art book. I usually need to write in silence, at home.
- What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
To get started, write with your non-dominant hand. Have it dialogue with your dominant hand.
Revise in the bathtub. It works.
- What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.
—Adrienne Rich, from “For Memory”