INTERVIEW: PETER WORTSMAN
You've written a number of your surreal pieces from what some might consider strange points of view. Can you tell us a little about them, and talk a bit about the why of your choices?
Why do I write the way I write? If only I could do otherwise! If only I could please predictable taste. The problem is, the only stories/texts/poems I am able to tell tell themselves (with a little prodding, pricking, pruning, after the fact). My writing is "sentence-driven," for lack of a better term. The sentences know which way they want to grow—the way branches and roots know. Nathalie Sarraute speaks of tropisms. Mine are more like "trap-isms"—I follow like some dumb beast and always fall. In the writing which I consider my best, I am an it. To be a pliant it, that is my only real aesthetic.
On a completely different topic, what 's the more fulfilling part of being a writer and why? What about the least fulfilling and why?
A writer's greatest delight is when it flows. Then time stops and nothing else matters—not even love. The greatest grief is the perpetual hunt for publishers. You lose 'em almost as fast as you find 'em. Long unpublished periods suffocate the sentence-making urge, which turns inwards, constipating, constricting, stifling. But the engine survives.
If you knew at seventeen what you know now about the writer's life, would you have still reached for the pen?
At five, I wore a rubber Bowie knife in my belt and two six-shooters for psychic protection. Then in fifth grade, I learned the power of the pen to hoodwink, tease and tantalize. At seventeen, I wrote mostly letters, largely because I didn't know how else to fill up the emptiness. If I could have better filled it with something else I would have. Still, the pen's the most potent intoxicant I've ever tried. I can't see how I would have made it to 45 without it.
PETER WORTSMAN is the author of A Modern Way to Die, as well as countless other texts of various lengths in journals and anthologies in the U.S. and Europe. This interview first appeared in Rebel Yell (1998).