10 Questions for Bojan Louis
- By Edward Clifford
Mouth full of raven's bones, eyes black beaks, on our exhausted bellies
we umbilicus to Earth. .54 mm bullets light up our backs, exit our bellies
Pre-K: St. Michaels, AZ. Nuns, black scapular and white cowl, shunt
milk-blood prayers down constricted throats; gurgling cramped bellies.
—from "Ghazal VI," Volume 61, Issue 4
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
Something that initially comes to mind is a poem I wrote in high school about payphones changing from 25 cents to 35 five cents. I think I was trying to be funny or ironic, but the piece was sort of long with a rhymey and ecstatic cadence, unmetered lines. I have no idea what other themes or images it possessed. It’s probably on a three-inch floppy disk in a rotting box.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
James Baldwin. Tomas Tranströmer. Agha Shahid Ali. Joy Harjo. Elizabeth Woody. Ofelia Zepeda. H.D. Anthony Hecht. Catullus. Mikhail Aizenberg. Toni Morrison. Dante Alighieri. Simon Ortiz. Adrian C. Louis. Roberto Bolaño. Luisa Valenzula. Alan Dugan. Larry Levis. LeAnne Howe. Mark Turcotte. Stuart Dybek.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I think I wanted to a chemist or some sort of scientist, something to do with precise measurements, beakers, Bunsen burners, vials, and the periodic table. Really, just another variation of form and composition. Also, perhaps, a classical pianist who had mastered Bach, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff.
What inspired you to write this piece?
It was composed between February and March, my daughter’s first month in this realm. My wife and I slept in shifts. I stayed awake with the baby from 11pm to 4 or 5am. She would only sleep on my chest while I sat in the glider with a small book light and notebook, writing with one hand. I was delirious and freaked out in much of the ways new parents are. I was, and am, working on long sequence of ghazals. I wondered how I’d be a good father, worried how all my childhood trauma and PTSD might derail that. Historical traumas aside how does one navigate the all-consuming rage and darkness of their own pain and life experience. I couldn’t come up with any answers other than facing the abyss of it, and the form of the ghazal allowed me to capture it.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Definitely the varying climates and landscapes of Arizona, the Indigenous Nations stewarding the land. I’m enamored by Istanbul, Singapore, Hanoi, San Francisco, Seattle, Barcelona, Logroño, Bilbao, Iceland, and Lyon. Anywhere with good food. Prior to parenthood my wife and I were fortunate enough to be vagabonds of whimsy. We look forward to carrying on in the near future with child in tow.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Waking early is ideal, before sunrise, so that I can acknowledge or offer some tá’dídíín to the Diyiin, the Holy People. Otherwise, I read with coffee for a bit and get to work. Sometimes I go for a run. I always wash my hands.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My life partner and wife, the poet Sara Sams. Her eyes and mind are keen, sharp. She doesn’t bullshit and gets straight to the point whether line, stanza, sentence, paragraph, or page. My soul and ability to receive criticism is stronger because of her. My use of commas has become both a model of grammar and an all-out rebellion.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
At first, I wanted to say music, but I do that every day with my daughter as well as alone. I love sculpture, metal sculpture especially. I lived in Philadelphia for a minute, years ago, and would visit Rodin’s The Thinker, which is intended to represent Dante Alighieri pondering The Divine Comedy, one of my favorite pieces of literature. I was also able to visit a bronze of The Gates of Hell at Stanford University on the return leg of a random road trip to San Francisco. Having worked in the construction and electrical trades I miss the physical labor and tangibility and finality of that type of work. Writing can be so abstract and whimsical, a lot of time sitting on your ass.
What are you working on currently?
First and foremost, being an adequate to stellar parent to my ten-month-old daughter, which is life work, forever work. Then, I’m working through a round of edits and revisions for a fiction collection that will be published in 2022 with Graywolf Press. It’s been surreal to reinhabit the differing consciousnesses that each piece has, to find the new potentials and futures of being. I have a novel in process, grand and overly ambitious in scope. Working, when it occurs to me, on a second poetry collection, though there is no rush there. And, some music compositions, some of which I’m hoping to release next year, but again why hurry.
What are you reading right now?
Little Owl’s Night and Never Touch a Dinosaur, on crazy repeat. Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut story collection, Sabrina & Corina, which is marvelous. Making my way through Charles Baxter’s short story collections in chronological order. Both writers who are firmly grounded in a region and place, an energy and narrative pacing that inspires and motivates my own writing. Also, reading and skimming for my multi-genre literature course in the spring: novels, story and poetry collections, and theory. Louise Erdrich, Layli Long Soldier, Kelly Jo Ford, Beth Piatote, Esther G. Belin, Cherie Dimaline, Heid E. Erdrich, Mishuana Goeman, Jodi Byrd, Audra Simpson, and Dian Million, among others. I’m stoked and already
BOJAN LOUIS (Diné) is the author of the poetry collection Currents (BkMk Press 2017), which received a 2018 American Book Award, and the nonfiction chapbook Troubleshooting Silence in Arizona (The Guillotine Series 2012). He is an assistant professor in the Creative Writing and American Indian Studies programs at the University of Arizona.