Richard Tayson’s essays “Language Sideways: The Poetry of Addiction” and ”the volcano sequence as Fragmentary, Postmodern (and Yes, Feminist) Text” appear this fall in TheFix.com and Everywoman Her Own Theology: On the Poetry of Alicia Suskin Ostriker, respectively. The author of two books of poems and a memoir, his work has received a Pushcart Prize, the Wick Poetry Prize and two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships. He teaches “Poetry and the Creative Process” and other poetry workshops at the New School.
1. Who is your favorite villain, and who is your favorite protagonist in literature?
So many juicy villains to choose from! Rochester in Jane Eyre, Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Dr. Benway in Naked Lunch, Urizen in Blake's illuminated books. Who can refrain from wanting to know how Heathcliff becomes the recalcitrant figure who does so much damage in Wuthering Heights? It's damage that calls us to villainous figures, isn't it? And, in the case of the Blake-inflected figure of the Tooth Fairy in Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, the vampire Lestat and too many others to name, mutilation, mayhem, and murder. Shylock? Browning's Duke of Ferrara? Ai's oeuvre of pedophile priests and abusive husbands? Miguel Ángel Asturias' El Señor Presidente? Shakespeare's Claudius or Richard III? But thinking long enough about this question leads me to the king of all villains: John Milton's Satan. The wily, deceitful, dissimulating progenitor of all evil deserves his place at the top of the heap.
As for protagonists--the sorrowful voice of Keats' odes, filled with pathos and mortality and love for the ephemeral world is my first thought. My second is Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouse, for the same reasons.
2. When did you know you were a writer?
Other than pop music, books and writing were all I really knew as a kid. Sure, I tried other career options (at one point I wanted to be the photographer for the "Performance" page of Rolling Stone -- seriously!), but I was hooked from the moment I wrote my first short story (and got it promptly rejected by Seventeen magazine when I was fifteen). Been at it ever since.
3. What are you currently working on?
I recently finished my third book of poems--The Lamentations Collector--and am up to my neck in a memoir about celebrity culture and addiction (Alternate Means of Transport: Chance Encounters with Seven Famous Women).
4. How has your writing process changed over the years?
I used to think that I had to wait for inspiration to strike me--snakebite, thunderbolt, a gift from the gods--but that turned out to be Sweet Fantasy. I've owned up to the fact that writing is hard work, and that if I don't get going first thing in the morning, I'll find other things to do. If I want to do something as challenging and extreme as spending days putting words on pages, I have to keep focused. The key to perseverance is discipline.
5. Describe your writing style in one sentence.
Lyrically-driven without losing sight of the grit and fractured wreckage that's our matrix.
Five Questions, by Nicole L. Drayton. Nicole is a writer, screenwriter and independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from The New School, and currently works for the university in the MFA Creative Writing office.