“Always Dress for Mud”: James Braun Interviews Peter Markus, Author of WHEN OUR FATHERS RETURN TO US AS BIRDS

I first came to Peter Markus not knowing what I needed was Peter Markus.

That’s how most of us come to him—not knowing. Us being his students. Not knowing being something we had in us, before any of us ever came to Peter Markus.

That’s what Peter likes best, I like to think: when new students walk into his classroom, when these students come his way to learn.

Us being his students, of course.

We are all of us Peter’s students whether we know it or not (I like to think).

And yes, what I think Peter likes most, when new students come under his wing, and Peter, being able to teach in the way only Peter knows how to teach:

I want you to write the words you like the sound of.

I want you to write the words you like the taste of. The way they catch on your tongue.

I want you to write the words you like the look of, be it the image that forms in your mind of the word, or the look of the word on the page itself.

These words being Peter’s words.

Now erase all the words that aren’t nouns.

Tangibility, Peter teaches. To stray from the abstract and seek the tangible, our things, the words that belong to you, to us, and make them sing.

To find and write our obsessions.

Sing, Peter teaches. Sing with your heart’s eye, your mind’s tongue.

If you’ve read Peter Markus—which, if you are reading this, I am sure you have—you know he practices what he teaches.

River, fish, mud, brother.

Peter’s words.

And the way Peter uses these words. Call it repetition. Call it incantation. Call it song.

Peter’s song.

Me, I’m just glad Peter took the not-knowing from me. That I’ve been able to know him, and read him. To learn from him. And that I was, and am, able to be Peter’s student.

Let me tell you, let me say it here: I will always be Peter’s student.

I have asked Peter many questions. I have asked Peter so many questions it is amazing how many questions there were left to ask.

Over the past few weeks Peter and I have exchanged words over email, upon Peter giving me the opportunity to ask any questions I may have had over the years, but never had the chance to ask (although I have asked many, it is true). Here is what was said, as sayingly as possible, as Peter says.

James Braun: Maybe, to begin, we should first go to the river and what the river means to you. I believe you mentioned to me once about fishing as a hand-liner, as opposed to fishing with a rod and reel. What is it about this kind of fishing that appeals to you?

Peter Markus: Yes to your notion of “first go to the river.” It’s my go-to place, both on and off the page. The river as river. And everything else is anything else but the river. Which is to say that the river is not just a place or a landscape or setting, but is source. It’s both a place of solace and also a place of danger or fear. There’s nothing more beautiful in my eyes (in the outside world) other than the river, it calls to me constantly, and yet it’s also a place I fear. I’m a poor swimmer, James. I couldn’t swim ten yards to save my own life. I have a contradictory relationship with the river, in other words. It both pulls and pushes me away. There’s tension in it is what I’m saying. Which is also what gives the river its singular kind of hold or power over me. Every writer should be so lucky, should be so blessed. It’s essential to find that kind of place, or let’s call it what it is: a word. But yes, to fish with wire in my hand instead of rod and reel is a way to get closer to the river’s bottom. Which as everyone knows is where the big fish like to be. To get down to what we can’t see, at least not with our eyes. I fish not to catch fish but to get closer to what I think a fish is. I catch less fish the more I fish. I can tell you about fishermen who have pulled more fish out of the river here with wire than you can even begin to imagine. Master fishermen. Guys who know or knew this river better than any others. When I fish I am fishing for something more than fish. I guess you might say what I’m fishing for is the river itself. And the words at the bottom of the river.

JB: To speak to those words, words you’ve made your own in your saying of them, at the bottom of the river—mud, brother, fish, river—when I read your work with its repetition and, to use terms coined by Gordon Lish, its recursion and consecution, I feel as though I can feel what these words mean to you. Their importance. Like when Richard Hugo talks about writing out your obsessions and to claim words as your own. I guess what I’m trying to relate this to, strangely enough, is the insertion of self in fiction. In the past you’ve talked about your fiction as being just that—purely fictional, yet there also seems to be a kind of self, I think, in these words you’ve claimed as your own. To go outside of the words, maybe, the most direct instance of this possible self-insertion appears in your novel Bob, or Man on Boat, when you write, “Bob is a hand-liner,” to go back to hand-lining, that maybe Bob is also searching for something more than the fish he is fishing for. I guess I don’t really even have a question here, just this concept or idea, but it sort of brings to mind Ben Marcus’ The Age of Wire and String when Marcus writes, “I speak through my Ben Marcus,” which I’m sure or hope I’m sure you have thoughts on or about.

PM: It’s good to hear that you are made to feel as though you can feel what certain words might mean to me. Yes to their importance. Their heft. And yes to Hugo’s claim that we must lay claim to certain words as our own. And to Lish’s way of handling such words. Both Hugo and Lish being writers I turn to often when I’m making my own sounds on the page. Both of whom do much better what I might only come close to. As to the insertion of self in fiction, it’s difficult for me to say or to lay claim to knowing what that self might be, or might look at. As far as I can tell, I am only in my own fiction through the saying. I am its speaker. Its amplifier. Maybe some part of my body when I sit down to write becomes a kind of guitar. I don’t know. It’s true that in my book Bob, or Man on Boat, that Bob—or one of the Bob’s in that book—is a hand-liner. I might, on occasion, fish using such a method but I can’t with any honesty make the claim that “I am a hand-liner too.” That’s one difference, among many, between me and that particular Bob. Am I searching for something than the fish that I am fishing for? Always there is more than what we think we are after. That is most certainly true. To be fishing and to be able to say, “Hey, look, a bird, or better still, a horse!” Wouldn’t that be something to pull out of any river. And yes, I am thinking of that other “Marcus” that you mention, or at least of his first book that you cite, and the possibility that the speakers that I sometimes put on the page might speak through me. And again, we are speaking here specifically of the fiction that I might write.

JB: I’ve always been amazed at your ability to reduce language to its bare essentials, how you reject the use of flowery/complicated language and instead find music in monosyllables (in the case of The Fish and the Not Fish) and incantation. It’s a kind of writing, to me, that feels both stripped and full at the same time, like a gutted house or a filleted fish. Can you talk a little bit about this rejection and your choice of simplifying language, and how you came to be the writer that you are?

PM: I’m all in when it comes to reduction and rejection and it goes without saying that music and incantation is the ultimate thing I am after. I can’t sing and I can’t tell a story but I can—or am interested in—diddling around with words in ways that might steady my own gaze and please my own ear. I’m a selfish writer, James. I’m all in it for myself. I think never of the reader because in my book there is no reader. There is always just the blank at the beginning of every book and the blank that comes immediately after and I am just filling up the in-between space with speech. Just words. Which might add up to some kind of sustained sound, or song, or singing, but it’s a singing in a language that others might not speak, or hear, or understand, which I’m okay with, I’ve always been most interested in the language that is foreign to my ear. I used to love to sit around my grandmother’s kitchen and listen to my mother and my grandmother talk. In Hungarian. It was always so mysterious to me. Because I did not know what they were saying. They could have been saying anything. It was all language governed by possibility. I’m sure they were talking about ordinary things but to my ear this talking was extraordinary. It was enchanted. It was magical. Yes, to your word, incantation. Music of the highest power. A kind of prayer. This is what I’m hoping, on some level, that my fiction might begin to approach. I like the idea that a thing—language, or a house, as you say, or a body, even—can be both stripped and full at the same time. No one has ever said that my work, through its bareness, through its sparsity, actually arrives at its opposite in terms of its effect. But yes, that would be the hope for it, though I fear that most readers aren’t as taken by it as you might be, but maybe that speaks to your own patience as a reader, to your own generosity, it seems, that you bring to the reading of my work. So thank you. You are the one, James. Who is your ideal, imaginary reader. Maybe I’ve found him in you. As to how I’ve come to be this writer that I am? Two things have led to what and where I’m at: writing and reading. But the reading comes first. And reading and finding through the act of reading those books and those other writers whose books had the effect over me that maybe mine might claim to have had over you. So if it was Faulkner, it wasn’t the long-rivered rhythms of Absalom, Absalom as much as the strange syntax of the opening pages of The Sound and the Fury, or Vardaman in As I Lay Dying and his outside way or seeing and saying that is best captured in his sentence, “My mother is a fish.” Or after Faulkner it was in my reading of Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett and how in both cases it was the bearing down on language, on the bareness that is found there, that I found something most full, a kind of abundance that struck a chord with and in me, in that it was a language that felt recognizable but not quite. It was a kind of deformation of the tongue away from the common tongue and it tickled my ear and through my ear I was made to listen and through listening was made to feel in a new way, a different kind of sensation that was something more than how other stories had prior to this had a hold over me. There is, of course, more to that story but I think what I’ve said is sufficient enough and will stop there for fear of saying too much and giving too much away.

JB: I remember attending your fiction workshop not too long ago as an undergraduate at OU, where you asked me what long singular paragraphs—paragraphs that take up the page, that offer the reader little in the way of “white space”—such as the kind you tend to write in and are drawn to, do to the “eye.” When you first asked me that question, I thought you meant the “I” as in the first-person point of view (I believe we were reading a Robert Lopez story at the time), which might be another way of saying what happens to the “I” when the I’s eye sees paragraphs such as these. We’ve talked about their ability to not let the reader go and to keep the reader entranced (though of course there is no reader), but I was wondering if you could talk a bit about these single-paragraphed rhythms, and for what other reasons you enjoy writing in this form.

PM: I love the way my question, when asked, was misheard and how the first-person pronoun and the eye itself work both alone and in tandem. But let’s be clear here that I’m a fan of the long single-paragraph fiction in only some of the fictions that I’ve written, most notably in We Make Mud and in some of the shorter fictions in The Fish and the Not Fish. In Bob, or Man on Boat the paragraphs are often broken up into single-sentence paragraphs, so much so that sometimes people will confuse those paragraphs and call them stanzas, which of course pleases me when a fiction is spoken about in poetic terms. One of the more pleasing reactions to that book, in fact, before it became a book (thanks to Dzanc Books) was when a major New York commercial publisher (who I won’t name) rejected the manuscript because, in their words, it was “more like an epic poem than a conventional novel.” That’s the kind of novel I want to be the reader of, one that reads more like a poem than it does a novel in all its conventional ways of telling a story. As a reader I am most drawn to those writers who subvert convention and who break from reader expectation and who are willing to lose hold of the attentions of the reader (who isn’t even actually there, as you yourself point out) by not providing a space to escape, a place of reprieve to leave the paragraph, to take a breath and let the eye relax for even the briefest of moments. I look to be held by the books that I take up in my hand. I look to enter in and be wondrously lost and taken hostage by what is being offered up to me through the page. I am not looking for comfort. Am not looking to ease. I want to be in over my head. A writer like Lopez or Lish or Thomas Bernhard or Beckett or Stein, these are the writers who use language in ways that refuse to let go. I want to be strangled by a book in the way that Kafka might have meant when he talks about the axe and the frozen sea, or Dickinson’s notion of a poem taking off the top of our head. Yes to that and for me the quickest way to this taking place is not from a whopping good story, not by plot, but by virtue of the words and sentences and paragraphs (often long) that are arranged in such a way on the page that I lose my head, that I begin to hyperventilate, and when I do choose to leave I leave disoriented and unable to return to the actual world in a way that I am not shaken, in a way that I am not undone, unchanged, un-myself.

JB: It might be good here to talk a bit about those writers whose language refuses to let go, specifically writers who have been taught and brought up by Gordon Lish. I know I personally found Lish and his students through Chuck Palahniuk, whose teacher was Tom Spanbauer, whose teacher was Lish; basically, tracing the “timeline” of this writer family tree back to the source in order to learn from who I saw as the best. And, of course, this “writer family tree” is rather large, including writers like Barry Hannah, Victoria Redel, Mark Richard, Amy Hempel, Dawn Raffel, and several others. I’m pretty sure Anthony Bourdain even studied under Lish at one point. I always wondered though, how did you find your way to these writers? And was there ever an “other” literature that you were interested in?

PM: It was through the pages of The Quarterly that I found my way to the writers you’ve named, so this was likely in the late eighties, early nineties, when I was too young to fully see and appreciate what these writers were up to. It was likely before that when I first learned of Raymond Carver who was most notoriously edited by Gordon Lish. Not sure you’ve read Brian Evenson’s book on his own first encounter with Carver and Lish, but it’s one to seek out. Brian and I talk a bit about it here in the pages of the Brooklyn Rail: I also have written about my first encounter with a book I know we both revere, Mark Richard’s The Ice at the Bottom of the World. I wasn’t ready for Richard when I first found Richard, which I think is true of so many of the writers who have shaped me into the writer I might now claim to be. Stein, for instance. Or Beckett. Or even someone like Barry Hannah, also much aligned with Lish’s hand and vision for what makes for pages that will last. But in the pages of The Quarterly were names of writers before they had books: Redel and Raffel, you mention, and Sheila Kohler, I would add, and William Tester and Noy Holland and Yannick Murphy too. All writers I still return to often when I feel the need for other voices to help me get on track. Rudy Wilson would be yet another. His first novel, The Red Truck, is one of the books that I am constantly telling others to seek out. Gary Lutz (now known by Garielle). Christine Schutt. Ben Marcus in his first two books. The citing just now of Ben Marcus makes me think of David Markson who I also often turn to. There’s a whole lot of such fish, though not as many as we might like to believe. Peter Christopher. Pam Ryder. So many whose books I keep near at hand. And Lish’s work too which I go back to often. I re-read his novel Peru at least once a year. But were there others? Of course there were others. There are always others. Elie Wiesel’s book Night was placed in my hands by my eldest sister, early on, as was Rimbaud, Kerouac, Salinger, Charles Bukowski, Carver, the usual suspects. Jim Harrison. Jack Gilbert was another writer who came to me through Lish. And through Gilbert then Linda Gregg. Hugo who you’ve mentioned. And of course there was music as that other other that I was tuned in to and continue to turn to in order to help me to be a better listener.

JB: My next question involves what you’ve come to call “keepers,” a poem or story or piece of writing that is worth keeping around instead of “throwing back to the river” for it to mature and grow or maybe to just let go altogether. To you, what makes a keeper a keeper? This question might also be in relation to music. As a sort of personal anecdote, I remember my first year as an undergrad at WMU—a terrible, terrible year during which I often roamed around campus in the snow to numb a torn rotator cuff, and where I was, ironically, a physical therapy major—when I would wake each morning at 4 a.m. to go down to a room in my dorm that had a piano in it to teach myself how to play. I remember you once saying in another interview that you yourself had wanted to learn an instrument, and, in the act of learning, you felt as though the magic of the experience was gone, was lost in the knowledge of how the music was made. I never did learn how to play that piano. But there was a joy, yes, to the sounds I was making, awful as they were, and I felt this continual desire to keep on with wanting to make music. This might all be in relation to Denis Johnson once telling his students that he doesn’t know what makes a piece of fiction work, but knowing when it does, and when it does, how beautiful of a thing it is. How you might not know how to play an instrument but knowing when the notes sound right. Maybe I am talking in circles here. But yes, keepers, what makes a maybe-keeper worth keeping, to you?

PM: There is much here to unpack, beginning with you on those early morning winter walks and then you back inside and down in some dormitory room wanting to learn how to play the piano. Yes to being a failed musician and yes to that being one of my biggest regrets in life that I still to this day can’t go to the piano or pick up a guitar and make it sing. I can sit with both but the sounds that come out of these things when I am playing or trying to play them is less than pleasing. How I envy those who can. And so words are a kind of second fiddle, in terms of instruments that might also make music with. So yes, music, in the end, is what I am most after when I sit down to write as a form of not-music in the conventional sense. But how to know when the music finds its way to your pages? is the question you’re really after here. I second what Denis Johnson said. I would likely second most everything that a writer like Johnson ever said. When I read a page where the singing has been found, I know it when I read it out loud and when every syllable is a note in my throat and as I am reading I find myself out of breath as I read it, especially as it reaches its peak, its end—call it climax—and I am racing and my body is in a state of near panting and after much final fingering and tinkering the world, for that moment in time, has stopped and things seem to have fallen into place. It’s a feeling, a sensation, that the sound brings with it, though let’s be honest. Most of the time this sensation is never achieved, or it takes time going back through it to make it come close. Here I’d reach for a bit of Barry Hannah, here in this interview, which I go back to often, and his own words about failed pages, a genius like Hannah “sitting in this room with my dogs and my cigarettes surrounded by failure.” Hannah talks about that voice, that singing, that is going to carry him and us for the journey that a good book is: something that can “bust up space and time, take me out of this goddamned room, put me somewhere good.” I love how Hannah speaks about his own shortcomings as a musician, as a trumpet player, and how failing makes us better listeners. I hope that’s true. I know for sure that when I’m on the river, I am a better listener there.

JB: As the Senior Writer for InsideOut Literary Arts Program, you teach poetry to children in such a way that produces work of incredible imagination. When I read the words of your students in your nonfiction/teaching book, Inside My Pencil, I can’t help but think of the poet Frank Stanford. Both forms of poetry are surreal, are dreamlike, a kind of beauty produced by this fired-up imagination. I guess I was wondering here about your thoughts on Wallace Stevens’ notion that surrealism “invents without discovering.” I’ve been thinking for a while now, Why can’t it do both? Isn’t imagination a kind of discovery in itself? I feel as though that yes, there is invention in surrealism, but discovery as well, of something possibly “more than,” as you like to say, something that could likely never happen that is brought to life on the page, a kind of writing where anything is possible.

PM: I suppose Stevens’ complaint speaks to an absence of meaning, but I could give two shits for what something means. Which is also to say this: that there’s no such thing as something that is without meaning. I don’t care what it means if some kid writes that inside her pencil she sees a clam playing an accordion. There’s vision in that. Why can’t that be enough. And not just kids, but adult writers too. I just read a piece by one of my adult students where every sentence is a single, monosyllabic word, and it’s by far the best thing that she’s written because the language is stripped down and allowed to be what it is and even each period is as significant as any single word in this “story.” Is it a story? No, but it’s more than just a story. When was the last time you read a page and you looked down to see your foot tapping on the floor as you read it? When was the last time you could not leave such a piece? Or bear to even look up from it? That just happened with a piece that is devoid of both the surreal and what some might call the real. It’s devoid of everything but it somehow achieves its own own-ness. I’m looking at the page right now in fact and can’t take my eyes off it. The page as a kind of blackbird, maybe, to speak into being or compare Stevens’ own way of seeing and saying. Which is what Stanford most certainly is able to achieve in the best of his poems. And the sentences that you are speaking of when you speak of my Inside My Pencil book. And what does Hugo say, “It is impossible to write meaningless sequences,” the notion that “all things belong.” I’m all about this kind of inclusiveness made possible by language. Which goes back to your previous question, about how you know a thing is something to keep around. I might have said something about presence and made some sort of anecdotal reference to when you walk into a museum room where a Picasso is present, where Picasso is present, in the paint itself. The whole room has a kind of electricity to it, a kind of current running through it, not unlike the beloved river which got this conversation started, yes? Does Picasso mean? I know I feel in the presence of and have a hard time walking away from what I’m looking at. I know I don’t want it to end, that feeling. I know that some kind of altering is going on, a kind of severance, when I am forced, by the real world, by the pressures of the actual, to tear myself away. To connect it all back to the child, to the child in the act of imagining things, imagine a child in a sandbox who is immersed in the more serious acts of invention, of play, when that play is forced to end. How the child puts up a fight. How the child must be pulled or even ripped away from the pleasures of that act. That’s what I’m seeking. It’s like in Barry Hannah’s story “Even Greenland,” when the narrator there says “We weren’t seeking the earth at all.”

JB: From the experience of being your student and attending your workshops, I’ve witnessed not only your abilities as a writer but also as an editor. You have a very attentive eye, Peter. You never fail to make me think, upon looking at your edits, How the hell did I miss that? Your edits always seem to allow the work to breathe, to become more alive by stripping away all that is unnecessary (which, of course, is what good editing does). It reminds me of your own work and its way of feeling full while also being bare, as we’ve said here, though it also reminds me of Lish’s way of editing (though Lish was a bit more extreme, going so far as to cut entire pages and sections from a book), like when he trimmed Carver’s work, or when he edited that book you mentioned, The Red Truck by Rudy Wilson, a book I’ve also come to love through your recommendation of it and through reading its unique language. I believe I read somewhere that The Red Truck was initially many hundreds of pages long, and Lish ended up cutting over half of it. Wilson didn’t really understand the edits, but he went along with it anyway and decided to put his trust, his faith, in Lish’s editorial hand. This is all to say that I’m curious about your editing process and your thoughts on editing. When you sit down to edit another writer’s work, what is it that you are ultimately seeking, and what do you wish to accomplish?

PM: The editing that I do begins and ends as an act of listening. I listen. I pay attention. I look and listen to and for a voice. Then I listen some more. When I hear that a sentence or a sequence of several sentences begins to fail or fall away from the voice that I think I’m listening to, I make a note of that. Most of the time there are too many words. Or words in places where they need to be in other places, or where, in the very least, these other places should be considered as options. There is always more than one way to say a thing. There are always any number of ways to say the same thing and to still make it different. There are any number of ways to say a thing and to make a difference in and through the saying. So I do my best to point such options and possibilities out to other writers. I try to do the same with my own pages, always on the hunt for other ways of how to say what the language might be trying to say. I’ve always said that if you pay close attention to the ways of saying that the language will surprise you with what it says. I never know what I’m going to say until I say it, until the saying gets said. Then I listen. I look at the sentence and ask of it what else it might have to tell me. What I wish to accomplish with a sentence, with a sequence of sentences, is a kind of heightened attention. It goes back to what I’ve said about what makes for a fine piece of fiction. I want to be held. I want to be bewitched. I want to not be able to look away.

JB: This coming fall Wayne State University Press will be publishing your debut collection of poetry, When Our Fathers Return to Us as Birds, a heartfelt book depicting your father’s final months, times the two of you have shared, and the aftermath of his passing. And so much more. I remember you mentioning what a friend of yours said of the book: that it’s the book you were meant to write—that you were born to write—and I couldn’t agree more. It is a book I am beyond grateful that you have let my eyes see, and in these past months I have found myself returning to these poems of yours again and again, poems I have never failed to be moved by. As we near the end here, I was wondering if you might speak a bit about these poems. In the past, you’ve written primarily fiction and have identified mainly as a fiction writer. What was it like to turn to the real, to write with a sorrow so near? What was your experience writing these poems about your father? Or if there’s anything else you might like to speak to, or add or say here.

PM: Sometimes, when a writer is teaching, he’s really teaching to, talking to, himself. For years I’ve been telling students to pay attention, to make use of the world around them, to write about what they’d rather turn away from. I also urge students to find the thing that they are most haunted by. “I am haunted by water,” so write Norm Maclean. Yes, that’s true of me too, but so too was I haunted by the image of my father in his house on the river and him not being able to walk, his struggles with being able to talk at times. The sentence I woke up to each day when I sat down in the dark to write was, “My father is dying in a house across the river.” I could not move away, or get away, from that sentence, that sentiment, and the place or places that it took me to on the page itself. I’ve always loved that word “father,” I’ve always loved my father, and what was happening to him, I couldn’t turn away from that. It brought me closer to him. It made me more attentive to the world and to the wound that was opening up and taking shape around us. When I just wrote “wound” now I typed “sound” which also works for what was happening around me: the sound that was opening up and taking shape. The sound of not knowing what to say. The sound of not knowing what to do to help. The sound of doing what little that could be done to help. To write or project a fiction about what was taking shape around the sound of my father and his slow dying, I couldn’t do it. Long story short, the poems just started happening. The page was shaped by lines. I followed where they took me, and where they took me was back across the river, back into the real world. I started walking too, which is something my father loved to do (with my dog) and was something he could do no longer. Every step was an act of gratitude. Every step was with and for my father, as sentimental as that sounds. I’m not afraid to risk sentimentality. The poems are sentimental. Are heavy. They take themselves seriously. More seriously than the fiction that I’ve written, which even when heavy or dark or even violently sentimental, or brutal, always was mostly born in the act of play, of make-believe, or making it up. There was nothing here in the here and now with my father that I had to make up, though plenty gets left out, and as Jack Gilbert reminds us too, “Poetry is a kind of lying, necessarily./ To profit the poet/ or beauty. But also in/ that truth may be told only so.”

JB: On my desk are a number of sticky notes and index cards with quotations taken from a number of different writers, words that I look to when I feel I need guidance or when I must remind myself of who I wish to be as a writer. In particular, I have quite a few from you, things you’ve said that have stuck with me over the years. “All art issues from a sound/wound,” “You’ve got mud inside you. A river too. You just have to give it a name,” “Language as a playground,” “Be a shaman or don’t be at all,” “What you might rather look away from is what you might look at more clearly,” “Never hold back,” and, “In the end, it’s all music.” What might you say are some words of other writers that have spoken to you? Or, better yet, what else might you say to a writer who may be seeking advice? This might go against Barry Hannah’s dictum of, “Do not try to be wise,” which also happens to be written on a sticky note on my desk, but wisdom aside, what else might there be to say?

PM: Look, listen, pay attention, make use, put it all in, there is no reader, there is only make, language is a skin, be open. Unlearn the constellations to see the stars. Carver, Kent, Barthes, Lish, Gilbert. But yes to Hannah’s imperative against wisdom. Don’t think. Write. Be prepared to go. To be taken. And this one, in the end, which I do my best to live by: Always dress for mud.

James Braun’s work has appeared and is forthcoming in Fiction International, Minnesota Review, failbetter, Camas, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of the Herbert L. Hughes Award and is an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Summers, James resides in Port Huron, Michigan.

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