Paul Guest, Fall 2009
Paul Guest is the author of three collections of poetry, including Notes for My Body Double, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, and most recently My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge. A 2007 Whiting Writer’s Prize-winner, Guest’s work has been included in Poetry, Slate, Crazyhorse, the Iowa Review, Mid-American Review, and various other publications.
At the age of 12 Guest was involved in a biking accident which permanently paralyzed him. He is now working on a memoir titled One More Theory of Happiness, which he plans to publish in 2010. Guest currently teaches at the University of West Georgia and lives in Atlanta.
In Capital Letters: What authors/poets/books/poems/stories/writing do you return to again and again?
Paul Guest: John Ashbery. John Berryman. Whitman.
ICL: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the writing process? The most surprising? The most challenging?
PG: I love all of it, really. Initial composition is wonderful, if it’s going well, and revision, too, can be fantastic. It’s all essential.
ICL: What was the first piece of writing you ever wrote, and when?
PG: There could be several answers to this question. Was it the really terrible “poems,” I wrote in the sixth grade, before I even knew what poems are? Was it the only slightly less terrible poems I started writing when I was 17? That’d be closer to the truth. Out of the blue, an idea for a poem came to me then, when I hadn’t written anything in years, and after it was written, I never stopped.
ICL: Are certain techniques central to your writing?
PG: I often begin with an idea for a title. I then invent the poem that would fit that title. A little backwards, maybe, but it can be fun, and works for me.
ICL: Are certain themes central to your work?
PG: I’m the least qualified person to answer this, I think. Sometimes I feel like my own poems feel like strangers: I wrote that? Really? But, I tend to write about love and loss, the body, the world. Nature, in a weird way.
ICL: How have those themes changed over the years?
PG: Sure. I used to say I would never write love poems. Then I decided a rule like that was dumb. Most rules are dumb. So I try not to get in my own way when writing and I feel like my poems usually, good or bad, feel like me. There’s a kind of poetic DNA that keeps replicating. It’s interesting to look back.
ICL: How do your poems come to you? For example, is it by an image, character, line, phrase, idea?
PG: Often, a title. Then a first line. And so on. Every word you write is like an answer to a question. Except you don’t really know what the question is.
ICL: Do you have a set writing schedule/any writing rituals?
PG: Not especially, though I try to write most days out of the week.
ICL: If your life had a theme song right now, what would it be?
PG” “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders. Right now, I’m working on revisions to my memoir and the process is daunting.
ICL: Tell ussomething about yourself that most people don't know.
PG: I’m related to a President and a train-robber.
ICL: What projects are you working on right now?
PG: A memoir, new poems, and another non-fiction book.
ICL: If you weren't focused on writing, what would you be doing?
PG: Teaching, I think. I love conversation: with people, words, ideas.