Poet Mark Kraushaar Writing About Writing


What are you working on?

I’m always either revising poems that were abandoned in the middle of failing or, of course, working on new poems. I’ve been at work on a poem now based on a photo I once saw of a young man on a Triumph motorcycle polishing the tank while just inside his family’s house his father sits in what appears to be a Barca Lounger reading the paper and (so I imagine) discussing his view of history. Generally, if I can get to a spot in a piece of work that starts to jar me some I know I’m on to something. In this case the young man, maybe sixteen or seventeen, is listening in on his father reflecting on memory and, glimpsing his mother’s nodding acknowledgement, then dismounts and continues listening. Another poem I’ve been working on concerns someone pretending to be a soldier, that is, dressing up like one with Army Navy store purchases and then getting found out by some actual soldiers. I’m also at work arranging a chapbook and book, not satisfying in the same way writing itself is but kind of intriguing despite the many not so intriguing aspects like finding someone to publish it.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Many of my poems tend to begin with small scenes in daily life that somehow unfold and suggest something more. These might involve an interaction taking place in a restaurant or witnessed at work or simply overheard or even watched on youtube or in a movie. At the moment, I’m doing volunteer work for the VA hospital every week as interviewer in the MyStory project. This is an ongoing effort to provide a more personal history of patients to VA healthcare providers and I’ve been astounded at the courage and insight and general good will on the part of the veterans who agree to be interviewed. Most of them were not involved in actual combat either. In fact, just because the armed forces are so enormous and involve so many people doing such a wide variety of operations the vast majority of the people I’ve spoken with have worked in construction or transportation or food preparation, for instance, really almost everything, anything you can think and have stories that are intriguing and unique but very rarely have they participated in the kind of war heroics we think of when we think of veterans in need of hospitalization. I guess I’d call theirs a kind of heroism on a smaller scale in that sense but really very moving all of them. This is what I like and often write about.

Why do you write what you do?

I think like most writers I want to say what’s unsayable. This is really the draw, and to write about some particular thing and have it say more than it seems to at first. I guess with these pictures of situations and people I speak of the stories can or should almost speak for themselves except for needing, I don’t know, a kind of care and management to turn them into something that translates into something somewhat differently accented maybe. 

How does your writing process work?

I’m usually struck by one of the scenes I’ve described or sometimes I’m taken with a phrase in a conversation or something I’m reading and then I let whatever it is sort of marinate, and over the next few days I’ll begin to take notes and look through notebooks. Whatever the beginnings, though I have to feel a kind of subtly developing urgency about the subject and this fuels it, whereas without it, I mean, if I’m simply eager to write something because that’s how I prefer to spend my time, for instance, well, I can feel the poem kind of wandering and me growing a bit impatient and frustrated. I have many more stalled starts than successes. For the most part I like to write in the morning and have a much easier time of it if I’m completely alone without a chance I’ll be interrupted. I remember the poet Thomas Lux saying he had a hell of a time getting started with his writing day but once he’d begun it was all he could do to stop. That’s about the same for me, too: it’s that getting started that seems so inexplicably hard sometimes.


My So-Called Writing Process

writing-clip-art-5Thanks so much to Deborah Clearman for inviting me to participate in the writing process blog tour–and not to pour cold water over my head.

Here goes:

1) What I’m supposed to be working on

I am “working” very sporadically on a new young adult novel with an element of fantasy or magic or something. Just what the world needs. I’m not at all confident I will ever actually finish it—but I wanted to try something totally out of my comfort zone. I had a vague notion of a plot, and, once I started, two main characters who seemed to have some idea of where they were going.

2) Why my work is different

I think I have a conversational voice in poetry, and I’m able to write dialogue in my novels pretty easily. (Plot, not so much.) For After Isaac I tried for a voice that wasn’t overly arch and wearingly clever—the way many YA narrators speak. Because poetry is my main genre, the chapters of my books are short—it’s just the way my writing breathes.

3) What I write about

I write a lot about loss. I wasn’t even particularly conscious of it until I put together my poetry chapbook, Recurring Dream. One sad, nostalgic poem after another. It’s no surprise, then, that After Isaac is about a family that loses a child. Some years back I wrote an article for Adoptive Families magazine about families that had endured this, and their stories continued to haunt me. I’m not sure, though, why the narrator of the novel turned out to be 16-year-old boy. And now I find myself in a YA frame of mind. 

4) My so-called writing process

At the moment, I’m trying an experiment—a fancy way of saying I’m finding a way to get myself to write. I’m using prompts to move along the novel I’m noodling at. I lead a weekly writing workshop and for each session I bring in two prompts to stimulate the participants’ work. I try not to think too much ahead of time about the prompts I’ve prepared, and sometimes pick them on the spot from a long list one of my sons made for me. I take the same prompts as my workshop members and use them to write a scene. I’m not sure where this will lead, but it’s been fun, especially meeting the new characters who pop up every now and then. The real trick will be giving myself prompts outside of the workshop.

But Wait–There’s More

I am happy to say that three wonderful writers are coming up next on the Writing Process Tour: Jessica Lipnack, Lissa Kierman  and Mark Kraushaar. (Mark’s answers will be posted here.)

Jessica Lipnack keeps the the blog Endless KnotsBooks about networks and organizational innovation that she’s written with Jeffrey Stamps include Virtual Teams, The Age of the Network, and Networking. She is currently working on a novel and memoir.

Lissa Kiernan’s first book, Two Faint Lines in the Violet, explores poetry’s unique ability to document yet re-vision the nuclear age, how when singing somewhere between the personal and political—if we listen closely—we might hear the social. She blogs at The Rooster Moans, a provider of online workshops, where she serves as director.

Mark Kraushaar has work forthcoming in New Ohio ReviewAGNI, Antioch Review and Yale Review.  He is a recipient of Poetry Northwest’s Richard Hugo Award and has been included in Best American Poetry, the web site Poetry Daily as well as Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. A full length collection, Falling Brick Kills Local Man, was published by University of Wisconsin Press as winner of the 2009 Felix Pollak Prize. His most recent collection, The Uncertainty Principle, published by Waywiser Press, was chosen by James Fenton as winner of the Anthony Hecht Prize. He has  worked as a high school English teacher in Vermont, a pipe welder in Pascagoula, Mississippi, a motel clerk in Boston Massachusetts, a shoe factory worker in London, England, a wig salesman in Kentucky and most recently as an RN in Madison, Wisconsin.