12/27/2007

Crawdad Nelson Interview

Crawdad Nelson is a journalist and writer based in Sacramento, CA. Recent publications include: New Hampshire Review, Susurrus, Poetry Now, Rattlesnake Review, and Kerf. He has received two Pushcart nominations, and is a frequent speaker at college creative writing classes.

SK: Do you hunt or fish? Any hunting stories for us?

Crawdad Nelson: I've been hunting and fishing since I was small. Actually now that I live in Sacramento it doesn't happen that often, but I've done quite a bit of both and I'm sure the pursuit of those objects has had quite a bit of influence on the way i perceive/record impressions and which details I pick out as important.

Good hunting story, although I'm not involved: My older brother and a younger one were hunting deer in the Nevada mountains about a year ago, when the younger one, who didn't have tags or a gun, went down the road to scout for the older one, who was actually hunting. The younger one saw some deer, but knew he couldn't do anything except scare them away, and they were strolling in his direction so he had to do something. So he lay down in the dirt and let them walk up to and past him. Once they were out of sight, he got up and made it back to the older brother to let him know. Together they worked it out so the one with the bow and arrows was able to sneak up on the bucks and get his shot. You need to be pretty close to take a shot with a bow, so all the sneaking around and hiding paid off. Most places in those mountains don't have much cover.

SK: Could you tell me about writing the history of the moment?

Crawdad Nelson: writing the history of the moment is about first of all being able to distinguish the moment from all other time. How one event differs from others, as well as how it was caused and possibly the effects it will bring about. Fundamentally it's about understanding all the details. The smell, the sight, the sound, the sticky feel of the moment. Paying attention, being mindful, being aware and at the same time being open to suggestion. Above all it's about not closing down your senses because you think you've seen the real show. It's never over.

It can be exhausting to be paying 100% attention all the time but I don't see how else you can hope to see the one detail that marks the present moment as different from all others.

SK: How have literary magazines changed since you first began submitting poetry?

Crawdad Nelson: Obviously the advent of internet magazines has influenced all of small press publishing. Whereas twenty years ago I always assumed that editors had some sort of background that made their opinion worth listening to and/or respecting, anyone can see that that is not the case now.

Any jackal can start a paper zine or an internet rag and call it publication. I suppose it is, but I think people still read the old-fashioned literary magazines expecting to find better work than they can get from any old self-published or half-assed vanity web zine. Hopefully they can but the same old complaint that they are (or tend to be) stuffy and irrelevant often holds true.

Once in a while one runs into the publisher who's really picking out gems and not just publishing whatever comes along, who has criteria and is able to use them to produce a magazine that feels vital and relevant. In some ways nothing has really changed but I think there are probably quite a few more writers who think literature offers them an entree into some world of ideas. Hopefully it does but o the whole there's a lack of discipline and polish to things that doesn't improve readability. After all it should be a pleasant experience. That's what a writer is trying to accomplish, whatever their style or subject matter. Give the reader a gift, even if it hurts a little.

SK: How has freelance journalism influenced your art?

Crawdad Nelson: Freelance journalism has been an interesting way to make a few dollars as a writer. I haven't really felt comfortable being a reporter. I don't believe my temperament is suited to it. On the whole I don't think it's influenced my art much except it has forced me to sharpen both my observational skills and my ability to distill experience into the fewest possible words. There is a parallel there--the skills are absolutely complementary.

SK: Do you live off of your journalistic work? Is it possible to live off writing?

Crawdad Nelson: I don't make a living off my journalism. At times it has been a needed supplement, at other times it has been slightly more important, but it's never been steady enough work, though at times I've tried harder to make it that.

It's definitely possible to make a living as a writer, but a lot of things have to fall into order for it to happen and you have to have a certain amount of luck. Whether you create that luck or wait for it is I suppose the main thing. But at the same time I've found it important, as a poet, to be able to forget completely about whether any money is involved. that never helps me produce art.

Sometimes hunger helps produce something I can sell, but it's not really art.

SK: Should I ‘feel sentimental about the Wobblies’ like Ginsberg says? Will this make me a commie and get my ass kicked?

Crawdad Nelson: Yes, you should feel sentimental about the Wobblies. they were our last great hope, and, though they survive in some sense, what they represented in the 20s and 30s was the hope for true representative (proportional) democracy in the U.S.. Although they did have larger goals, in this country what they wanted to do was give the working man and woman, as well as those without jobs, a voice in the way things are run. Their utter defeat and ruin during the depression era was really the last gasp of the working class; since then we have been so solidly right-wing that, for instance, Spanish civil war volunteers from the U.S. were officially branded as "premature anti-fascists." You could look it up. Ginsberg was what they caled a "Red-Diaper baby" meaning his parents were part of a vital communist movement in the U.S. which of course long ago ceased to mean anything. But you should be sentimental. We had a chance, though it was gone before we were born. If that's enough to get your ass kicked, well, we live in a sad, corrupted, world and you're probably better off finding that out sooner rather than later.

SK: Could you tell me about your poem ‘Seven’ in the New Hampshire Review? To record it, did you phone them and read it over a recording device?

Crawdad Nelson: The New Hampshire Review offered everyone in that first issue a chance to call them and record their poem on some sort of website. Apparently it was permanent. i don't know, I haven't visited them in some time, but it struck me as a modern innovation making good use of existing technology to give readers a chance to hear a poet read a poem the way he intended it to be heard.

SK: Would you consider landscape and nature a recurring theme and your work? Who are some of your early literary influences?

Crawdad Nelson: Landscape and nature are two vital influences on my work. I doubt I'd have any work without them. My earliest literary influences, that is, those writers I found on my own, were people like Steinbeck and Twain. Also Vonnegut. Poetically I owe a debt to Kenneth Patchen for many reasons, but I'd say I've incorporated influences from a great variety of poets, from some I can't name but know of only through anthologies read years ago, to more common names like William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and Laura Riding. A big part of my poetics comes out of being in a community of poets who acted like a community, in a quaint time and place about 20 years ago. No big names, but people dedicated to the craft who appreciated what I was doing at the time and offered to help. But landscape, yes. Important. Nature also, but not without thinking about how people fit into and alter it. From a rocketship they all blend into the same picture. So I've always been trying to get a meaningful perspective on how nature and people fit together.

SK: Who are you reading lately?

Crawdad Nelson: Lately I've been reading mostly science--anthropology, paleoanthropology and genetics--and history. Herodotus and Thucydides, Marcus Aurelius, Joesphus, the history of the Huns, the Mongols, etc. And Civil War stuff.

SK: As a facial hair enthusiast, I must ask about the current state of your beard, and how are you maintaining it?

Crawdad Nelson: When I met my wife she straightaway started making grooming suggestions. I had always been the sort who just let things grow wild on the face, but she thought I'd be better off clearing the cheeks at least. So therefore I shave a little circle under each eye and keep the rest trimmed. Working with the public, as I do now, this is probably a good idea. But I may go feral again at any time.

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