Create Until You Fall in Love: An Interview with Patrick Lawler

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The director Mike Nichols says, “I love to take actors to a place where they open a vein.” Here goes: Patrick Lawler has six books of poetry (University of Georgia Press, H_ANGM_N Press, The Bitter Oleander Press, Many Mountains Moving), a novel (FC2), and short stories (Four Way Books), plus a story in the latest great weather for MEDIA anthology, Suitcase of Chrysanthemums. Damn. He hopes he’s not bleeding too much.

I am one of the Shakespearean Monkeys—not Hey Hey or Barrel Of.
— Patrick Lawler, "Word Monkey"

Mary Slechta: Hi Patrick! Congratulations on the publication of your story “Word Monkey” in Suitcase of Chrysanthemums. It's both a challenging and a delightful read. I first knew you in the late 80s as an amazing poet and performer living in upstate New York. Over the ensuing years you've won awards, published poetry and short fiction collections, and your reality-bending novel, Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds received the Ronald Sukenick American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize. On top of which, you also write and produce films. Can you talk about the evolution in your interests?Your transformation as an artist?

Patrick Lawler: I’ve always loved the blurring of boundaries, the prismatic aspects of creativity. Fiction, film, poetry—all seem like the same thing. Ultimately everything exists simultaneously which is probably why we strive to change the world—because that change already exists. At least someplace in our heads. I have lived my creative life with the belief that, no matter what, we need more words. (A word should exist for the feeling that we need more words. See what I mean?)  So it is a journey full of evolution and transformation. I keep travelling with my suitcase full of magic tricks and my multiple unexpired passports into multiple inspired worlds. 

MS: You're obviously an extremely busy person and prolific artist, and with each project your imagination seems to push farther into new directions.What feeds your spirit?

PL: Because the Old Stories are killing us, our survival depends on us creating New Stories in order to recreate ourselves. I’m working on a poem right now called “Back in America Paradise is Burning.” My spirit is easily fed. I just look around at all the things that need to be said. Recently I spoke to a woman in Puerto Rico who was still telling her stories in order to survive the hurricane. One thing she said was that hurricanes used to be cleansing—but now they are devastatingly destructive. Back in America Paradise is burning.

MS: Your story in Suitcase of Chrysanthemums chronicles the failing, sad but somehow humorous relationship between a narrator and his girlfriend. The structure of the piece takes shape or defies shape (haven't quite decided) over the span of many short scenes. Could you tell us about the process of writing the story?

PL: The spark exists when two opposite things rub together. The story started with me writing a joke about monkeys and progressed into the deeper meanings suggested through the homeless person. The relationship between the characters contributes to the tension. The story seems to be about relationships and communication. And it felt essential to tell the stories through a series of fragments. Of course the homeless person in “Word Monkey” is each of us, searching for a home and trying to communicate in our own enigmatic manner. All we have is an empty sign we have to carry in front of us. And if we are lucky someone will understand.

Ultimately I thrive on creative chaos…loving the intersections between apparent opposites…finding the spark in darkness, combining humor and tragedy…putting on a pair of goofy glasses and a fake mustache in order to read Hamlet…

MS: As the long cold Syracuse, New York winter settles in, which projects will keep you indoors?

PL: I’m putting the finishing touches on a creative nonfiction manuscript Love Letter to Loon Lake. I discovered Edison, Ford, Firestone, and Burroughs had camped on the shores of Loon Lake—a place I had visited my whole life. Obviously I went a little crazy with the possibilities. So I’ve been writing a piece that combines poetry, story, history, science, creative nonfiction, and environmentalism in an effort to address the impact of these individuals that has altered our planet.

Also, I’m working on a weird novel. In the Eye of the Bee Holder. And finally I’ve been exploring a collection of poetry, Dance in the Dirthouse. (A poem that used to be a novel before it was a script before it was a poem). Things do keep spilling into each other…

MS: Thanks, Patrick, for sharing so much of your life and work and process. I'm sure, like me, our readers will be turning over many of your thoughts for inspiration—and hope. Is there anything you'd like to add, perhaps about your intense interest in...Mike Nichols?

PL: Mike Nichols once said, “There’s nothing better than discovering, to your own astonishment, what you’re meant to do. It’s like falling in love.” That’s the whole point. Create. Create until you fall in love.

Patrick Lawler’s story "Word Monkey" can be found in Suitcase of Chrysanthemums (great weather for MEDIA, 2018).

Poetry and prose submissions for our anthologies are open October 15th to January 15th each year.