At The Creative Independent, Amy Rose Spiegel talks with Wayne Koestenbaum—poet, critic, and visual artist—about how playing with forms helps him get started on a writing or painting project. Rather than agonizing over what he wants to write, Koestenbaum decides how he wants to write—in the form of a sestina, for example—in order get the ball rolling. Here's an excerpt from the interview:
Is fitting a form onto a work you’re otherwise not planning out beforehand often the way you free yourself up to have that fun? Like, “OK I’m going to do this math equation of writing a heroic couplet, or I’m going to write a sestina”.
Something like that. I’ve been writing little fiction-like parables in response to certain artworks. [The parables] were commissioned by various artists who’ve asked me to write pieces, and they’ve given me permission to do whatever I want. It’s a collaboration. I’m not commenting on their work. One, a wonderful, younger Brooklyn artist named Eric Hibit, does these charming, sophisticated, naïve acrylic paintings that are both abstract and figurative, and utterly playful and sexy. He’s going to do a little book with six of my little parables.
The parables are single-spaced, and always 500 words of prose—and I do look at the word count as I’m writing. I write on a laptop in a café for this project. It’s very important. It has to have a certain site-specificity.
I love the form in this case—that it needs to be 500 words, and at least one word of it to has do with the artwork. It’s very important to single-space these, so I can’t read them too carefully, so I don’t get too hung up on fine-tuning them.
Why do you need to be careful to avoid fine-tuning in that initial stage?
I’m a very painful self-reviser. I think any writer is, but I’m trying to make it more fun. For example, I write these parables, and I don’t double-space them until the end when I send them out, and maybe even not then. I use a fountain pen that I like, and I try to make my revision notes visually beautiful in some way, so that the act of making the revision is an act with its own beauty, and is not just correcting something.
I make a palimpsest of these corrections, and then I go to the computer and I input them. I used to do the corrections, input it, read it, hate it; put new corrections, input it, read it, hate it, instead of just going a little more slowly, invested loosely. I try not to make them horrid-looking.
Image of Wayne Koestenbaum via LA Review of Books.