Can you describe your process from first draft to the final version? How does your draft take shape? What’s your journey through revision?
I have published poetry collections and just recently published a nonfiction collection. I believe the two types of writing aren’t very dissimilar when it comes to putting a draft of a book together. At least in my case. I’ve had books that I’ve consciously set out to explore and expand upon particular themes and topics for, but I’ve also experienced the theme(s) or subject emerging once I’ve compiled a collection of writing over a period of time. In both cases, revision, and selection of pieces – either essays or poems—requires a certain kind of ruthlessness. The culling of or killing of one’s darlings done in the interest of the collection as a whole. And trimming the unnecessary fat.
Who are your favorite writers or writers who’ve influenced your work?
I’ve loved and been fascinated by Denise Duhamel’s poetry, for her rigorous tellings and personal narratives and for her humor and whimsey. I was very enamored by Joy Harjo’s repetitions and anaphora and how those forms modeled Native American songs and chants, which are medicine and wield power in manifesting intention. I’ve returned again and again to Keetje Kuipers, I didn’t fully grasp line breaks—even after graduating from an MFA program in poetry—until I picked up “Beautiful in the Mouth.” I adored Aimee Nezhukumatathil for her lush landscapes and attention to technical details. Claudia Rankine’s book “Citizen: An American Lyric” informed a lot of my most recent book – which I sent out as a poetry collection originally. I love that poetry has made space for a wide variety of forms. That a multiple-choice quiz or story problem can be a poem.
Why do you write?
To communicate artfully. To explore ideas and concepts. Because the use of language is powerful and very beautiful to me. I have this joke: “The Native American wordsmith uses every part of the sacred sentence.” That’s what creative writing is to me—a lifeway, necessary as the bison once was for the survival of my ancestors.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to your younger self just starting out writing?
Write about the things that bring you the most joy. Pay attention to subject matter that enthralls, fascinates, incenses, or perplexes you and research everything; mine for words, language.
What do you think of the adage “write what you know”?
It’s kind of a cliché, isn’t it?
How do you recommend supporting yourself as a writer?
There’s a hundred and one ways to support oneself and make a living, pick one that doesn’t drain the life out of you.
What’s a book you could read over and over again?
Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” I’m writing the Lakota version, a handbook of Indigenous writing instruction that I call “Bead by Bead.”
Are you interested in any other art forms, such as cinema, photography, music? If so, how do you think the different forms relate to each other, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
I’m fascinated by movies and television and most things popular culture. Denise Duhamel said that popular culture is her religion. And I would tend to agree with that. Popular culture relates in that mass media is constantly responding to popular culture and visa versa. The strengths of popular culture, movies and television is that it’s a reflection of society and where we/it stand(s). For me, as an indigenous person, my responses to popular culture and mass media is usually in the form of critique. Popular culture and mass media aren’t designed for someone like me. Usually it’s the very opposite. The critical thinking involved in deconstructing certain movies, TV shows, or other art forms, creates its own industry. My most recent collection of essays attests to that.
What was your first experience with publishing like?
Joyous. My first publications were for my college’s literary journal. But I really felt encouraged after my second poem was published some years later in the 20th anniversary issue of University of Montana’s lit journal Cutbank. The issue featured James Welch, and it felt like a sign. James Welch was such a pinnacle to me, that when I attended his Seattle reading of “Killing Custer” I brought along my father’s Northern Montana College yearbook from 1963 and had him sign it next to his student portrait because he was a student there when my father attended. That Cutbank issue, which I’ve just now pulled from my bookshelf, also has drafts of the later books by Mary Clearman Blew, Kim Barnes and Robert Wrigley. I would have been unfamiliar with them at the time, since I was such a sprout, but interestingly, I came to study writing and poetry with them at the University of Idaho over a decade later.
Friday, September 13, 2019
3:15 PM 4:30 PM
Residence Inn by Marriott
For beginning or practiced poets who want to take time out to think seriously about being funny, and who want to write new poems, this workshop is designed to introduce participants to the various nuts and bolts of humor writing that "punch up" against systems of oppression. Writing humor and satire is an effective tool for resistance and healing. We will study several poems that effectively convey different aspects of humor—satire, subverting expectations, language, narrative voice and character, and surprising syntax—and we will experiment with using these various methods and strategies for the writing of funny original poems.
Tiffany Midge is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and was raised in the Pacific Northwest. She is a former humor columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network and the author of the award-winning poetry collection The Woman Who Married a Bear (University of New Mexico Press). Her memoir Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s from University of Nebraska Press, Fall, 2019 (available now!), and her subversively comic book of poems Horns, is also forthcoming from Spokane's Scablands Books in Fall, 2019.