10 Questions for David Freeman
- By Christin Howard
“The swan is known for her singing, records
herself and gives the record to the boy
she has raped. In this way, she tapes over
the notes as they happened…”
—From "Third Swan," Summer 2019 (Vol. 60, Issue 2)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
It’s hard to say because a lot of my earliest writing was writing comic books and fantasy stories based on the Lord of the Rings VHS tapes my parents kept in our house. Like many writers, I didn’t get into poetry until later on, and much of the work I produced in the first few years I felt pretty unsure about. However, I think one of the first poems I wrote that I remember strongly was a poem from the perspective of a cockroach who was about to be stepped on. He was afraid, but calm, and his entire little cockroach-life was flashing before his eyes. It was a simple, short poem, but I always think on it fondly, as it really helped teach me the value of using a voice or a “disguise” to talk about something larger. A few years later in college, my professor, Robyn Schiff, would tell us that in Greek theatre “a mask was used as an amplification device,” which is something I still think about. I think in that case I was trying my hand at wearing a cockroach-mask and seeing what, exactly, it was amplifying in me.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
When I was eighteen, my friend Max lent me a copy of The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert. This was a really significant collection for me and one I repeatedly come back to as a strong example of the importance of elegy. After that the most influential works have been Four Reincarnations by Max Ritvo, Winter Stars by Larry Levis, and Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle. I like how these works are surprising and disruptive, yet also are incredibly sincere. It’s something I try my best to emulate in my work.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve worked a lot in the corporate world lately, but prior to that I was an elevator operator at the Chicago Opera House. I got to walk around the basement during the operas and look at all of the discarded costumes, which was kind of thrilling, and something I probably wasn’t supposed to do. Before that I worked in the coffee world, alongside a series of internships.
What did you want to be when you were young?
When I was young I wanted to be a cartoonist. Growing up, I didn’t like to read novels that much -- although I came from a family that read a lot. However, as a child, I much preferred reading and drawing comic books. So, for a long time I wanted to be a cartoonist and, for a short while, thought about being a painter. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I moved from writing comic books into writing fiction and poetry, though I have continued to be an avid reader of comics and graphic novels today. I love how language and visual art work together in comics, and I find I read them almost as often as I read poetry and fiction.
What inspired you to write this piece?
This piece began as being part of a sequence of sonnets about repressed sexual trauma. I chose the sonnet form because I felt it was a very obvious formal style with a firm body of limits, and also because the sonnet has a very public history of being reused and repurposed. Unfortunately, I think a lot of young people, when they’re abused, are encouraged by their abusers to not speak about their attacks, or to think of their attack as consensual. In my case, it was only later in college, through writing, that I was able to confront what had happened to me and how I had been manipulated. I found that rewriting the story in a formal scheme, with the awareness of the manipulation taking place was a way to reclaim those memories for myself and to turn it into something precise.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I grew up in central Minnesota, which I think has served as an inspiration for a lot of my writing, albeit maybe one I don’t consider consciously. Minnesota is wonderful because there are a lot of lush, vegetated, forested areas, as well as a lot of sparse, open plains. I think the combination of the two, alongside the cold weather and drastic transformations that the landscape undergoes, really inspire me. It’s something I aim to capture when I’m working on a piece.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
It’s tough. I’ve always found I don’t need any specific setup to write. I mainly just try to make sure the writing itself never feels a chore. Right now, I have a corporate job, so I get a lot of my best writing done on my lunch break. However, in college, I would always get my best work done in the mornings before class. I think the best thing I do for myself is to figure out the schedule I have for a given period of time and carve out a way to make writing feel like a break from my regular responsibilities. The only thing I’ll add is that I think it’s just as important to take a break from writing for things that don’t seem to be immediately useful. I think things like watching old movies, playing video games, or even taking time to fall down a Wikipedia research hole into something completely useless are just as useful as taking time out to work.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I’m very fortunate in that some of my favorite poets are also my colleagues, so I send a lot of work to my friend, Max Seifert, who is currently studying at the University of Austin-Texas. Otherwise, I tend to share it with my partner, Nina, who is a great visual artist, and my brother, Jeff, who is a wonderful writer. A lot of my work tends to be about sexual trauma and so I end up usually handling it privately for a long time before I show it to anyone.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
As much as I love poetry, I also have a short history of working with theatre as a playwright. It’s something I put a lot of energy into in college and that I’d like to revisit in future years. Poems and plays have different advantages and disadvantages and one thing I miss about theatre is the ability to give a physical embodiment and presence to the words on the page. It’s something I miss a lot from college and would love to experiment more with in the future.
What are you working on currently?
For a while now, I’ve been working on a chapbook focusing almost exclusively on sexual trauma and emotional recovery. However, in terms of new work, I’m currently working on some translations of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s stage directions as well as some prose poems about the Apollo 11 moon landing.
David Freeman is a poet, playwright, and essayist from Long Lake, MN. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review Onine, Prairie Schooner, Sinking City Literary Magazine, and Honey Bee Reivew.