Ampersand Interview Series: Wes Civilz interviewed by Kelsie Doran

Ampersand Interviews, Arts & Letters

Checkout our latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Wes Civilz.

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with Wes Civilz about his writing life behind the scenes, his upcoming projects, and his three poems: “First Thing,” “The Walk,” and “Interrupter” which were published in Arts & Letters Issue 40.

Kelsie DoranWe published three of your poems, “First Thing,” “The Walk,” and “Interrupter” in our 40th issue. Were all these poems written around the same time frame during your writing process?

Wes Civilz: “The Walk” and “Interrupter” were written in the same time frame, two or three years ago, when I was writing poems in six-line stanzas only. The idea was to give myself some limiting restraints for a bunch of short poems that were spilling out pretty spontaneously. For me these poems have a feeling of trying to be GIFs made of words. Like a short, quick video that is interesting to watch on a loop.  

“First Thing” was written more recently, I think in the month before I submitted it to Arts & Letters. I like to write about the moon, because it has been written to death, and it is fun to see if you can wring anything out of it. In the past year or so I have been writing about the moon as a somewhat oppressive, animated thing that keeps tabs on me and judges me. This watchful, judgmental moon cropped up in “First Thing,” and also in a few other pieces of writing. 

KD: The musicality within your poem, “The Walk,” is very soothing.  Do you have any favorite songs or albums you turn to when needing inspiration to write? 

WC: If you mean listening to music while writing, I’m one of those people who can’t have music playing while I write. It feels like trying to make a sand castle in a rainstorm. I do know a fair number of people who can’t write without music, however. 

In terms of music being inspiring in a more general sense, I’ve been listening lately to John Coltrane’s amazing, insane album Ascension, and it has been inspiring my writing to become wilder, to jump the tracks, to unabashedly use commas wrong, to be abrasive and even “ugly.” I’m really inspired by how that album has a surface ugliness beneath which lies a great beauty. 

KD: You mention Haruki Murakami in your poem, “Interrupter.” Do you read a lot of Japanese writers? Are there other cultures you draw inspiration from?  If so, what are they?

WC: I wish I could say I’ve read a lot of Japanese writers! I’ve read a few of the usual suspects (and only in translation): Haruki Murakami, Bashō, Sei Shōnagon. There seems to be some sense of dignified orderliness, of spatial elegance, of what might be called the spiritual life of objects in Japanese writing. And in the visual art too. Whatever that vibe is, it fascinates me.  

I am actively stressed by not being able to read a second language. I’ve always meant to learn to read Spanish and dive into all the Latin-American literature that is waiting out there. I haven’t done it yet. I feel sad about this.

KD: Where do you write most often? Do you like to have a specific writing space?  

WC: Always my living room couch. Desks cause a creative paralysis in me, they seem to be looking at me and waiting for me to write. So I sit on my couch, with my laptop perched on a pillow in my lap. A mess of stuff accretes on the rest of the couch, books, pens, cell phone, charging cords, snail mail, hats, shirts. This mess can stay on the couch for quite a while, unless someone else wants to sit on it.  

KD: A lot of your poems discuss everyday life, yet you make it exotic.  Do you realize in the moment that it will become a poem or does the poem come to you later?

WC: I don’t have moments of “Aha, what’s happening right now will become a poem!” I like that idea, but it doesn’t seem to happen that way for me. That said, my poems do seem to be made mostly of concrete details from real life… but recollected later, sometimes years or decades later. Maybe the process is a little like how our dreams do their world-building from our memories. We can’t predict what will show up in a dream, but we can spot familiar places and props, if we pay attention. 

KD: What/who inspires you most as a poet?

WC: The enigma of why the universe exists at all. The enigma cannot be solved, I am compelled to try to solve it with my tired brain and sleepy eyes, the enigma persists, it sustains me, it allows a life to be made around art. So for me writing is an obsession with wondering why the universe happened. And why we happen to be embedded in it.

KD: When did you first consider yourself a poet?

WC: Frank O’Hara’s writing made me into a poet in high school. I had a phase of reading some of his poems over and over, especially “The Day Lady Died,” and I felt uncomfortably and intoxicatingly emotional about them… then I found myself needing to write poems, and I wrote some, and that was that.

KD: What is next for your writing? Is there anything you can share about forthcoming projects or poems?

WC: The three poems that Arts & Letters kindly published are part of a manuscript I’m currently shopping around, titled Soap & Misunderstanding. I’m always fiddling with the current version, but hopefully a publisher will decide at some point that it has a “finishedness” to it, and hold me to that. Right now, most of my writing time is being spent on a book of nonfiction, a memoir about intoxication. Unlike a lot of writing about this subject, the book will explicitly not be about addiction; it is instead about the role that intoxication plays in the average functioning (or semi-functioning) person’s life.

Wes Civilz’s poetry has recently appeared in The Antioch Review, The Threepenny Review, New Ohio Review, and Quarterly West among others.