Nina Corwin – “The Next Big Thing” Interview
The Uncertainty of Maps
Where did the idea come from for the book?
When I started working on this collection, I wanted to create a catalog-in-verse of imperfections and common pitfalls of living in the world. Characters consumed with anxiety, caught up in infidelity, paranoia, loneliness, overdose: all that good stuff. There’s even a derailed PhD student turned cabdriver.
The working title, Irregulars (as in clothing), is the name of what is now the first poem. It’s all about what I see and appreciate in the people who come to me for help, at once unique and archetypal, exceptional and ordinary, valiant in wrestling demons within and without. Representatives of our universally flawed humanness. And not as different as some would like to think.
Somewhere along the line, though, I found myself writing about other things. In 2003,
I was doing a string of readings on the east coast when I heard Richard Hoffman read. One line jumped out at me, something about “the certainty of maps.” My oppositional nature responded: there IS no certainty in maps. Heck, I grew up in this town (Boston), where a street has one name and 3 blocks down, it has another. Two days later, I was in NYC, switching trains at the World Trade Center station, and thought about the sad irony and eerieness of seeing the name on the wall while the buildings, beacons to New Yorkers and the world, were gone. That’s when the title poem started writing itself.
We are up to our ears in the fragments of shattered beliefs, even as arrogance and dogma casts ever longer shadows over our lives. How to live amongst them becomes the question confronted by the poems and the characters (including myself) that populate the book.
Apparently, I misheard Richard; he denies any such line. But no matter, I was off and running. Perhaps I was just hearing the voice of my own poems announcing where they were taking me.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a
Poetry made into movie? Who would go to see it besides other poets? I’d have to go low-budget. Which is fine as it would be a movie made mostly of bit parts and extras. I’d do a round up of the outsiders and unknowns. Maybe what social researchers would call a random sample, maybe a dragnet.
If there were a lead, it would be some nobody playing the dual role of the hapless shepherd and lost traveller.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Beginning with what Cyrus Cassells calls “a hard won hymn to imperfection”, …Maps threads through the foibles, longings and limitations of humankind in its struggles to navigate life’s uncertain and changing terrain.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Oh, about 10 years. I’m a slow writer. I mean: slooooooowww. To those of you who are prolific, I am unabashedly envious. I offer by way of poor excuse, a “day job” that is vastly absorbing and doesn’t leave a lot of head space for writing.
Not surprisingly, my writing style has evolved over the course of that time. The later work is more fractured and disjunctive, but I wasn’t finished exploring the thematic landscape. Uncertain of whether such differences could coexist within the same collection, I decided it made total sense to have a conversation among poems speaking different languages.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I could talk on and on about whose writing influenced and inspired me along the way. Most of all, though, I was and continue to be inspired by my clients who allow me to accompany them on their messy and heroic journeys.
As for what inspired the book: my long-time fascination with the concept of “ambiguity tolerance,” the psychological analog to Keats’ Negative Capability; how people turn to religion, political dogma, addictions etc to flee the pain of uncertainty and impermanence OR learn to live with it.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You might find a poem about yourself inside.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. Is poetry ever represented by an agency (unless you’re Billy Collins or Maya Angelou)? The book is published by CW Press.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
Andrea Witzke-Slot, Terry Lucas, Larry Sawyer