In this interview series we ask questions to people who are making a difference in our society, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.
Erik Fuhrer (@Erikfuhrer) is a poet, artist, collaborator, and educator. With his wife, the painter Kimberly Androlowicz, he is co-collaborator of not human enough for the census (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2019) and in which I take myself hostage (Spuyten Duyvil Press, forthcoming 2020). Erik is the author of 3 additional poetry collections, all of which leverage poetic erasure: every time you die (Alien Buddha Press, 2019), which includes art by Marcel Herms,VOS (Yavanika Press, 2019), which includes redacted digital collages by the author, and At Root (Alien Buddha Press, 2020), which includes digital art by the author.
Following are his responses to our questions.
- Tell us something about you?
I nearly went to art school but chose a college with a strong writing focus instead, thereby starting my journey as a poet. Recently I have returned to art and started dabbling in collage. I’ve also tried my hand at experimental video, the most successful iteration of which (I think) is my trailer for not human enough for the census. I am very interested in intersections of different art forms, which is why all of my books include visual art as an interlocutor. My partner, Kim, is my most consistent collaborator, and has provided the images for not human enough for the census and my forthcoming book, in which I take myself hostage.
I also identify very strongly as a teacher, and have worked in higher education as a teacher of first year writing, across multiple institutions, including Suffolk Community College, St. John’s University, and The University of Notre Dame. I have also worked as a faculty developer at The University of Notre Dame and The University of Iowa, where part of my job was to run workshops for faculty and graduate students. In my teaching and workshop facilitation, I highly value and practice the normalization of failure. I feel that there is so much pressure on students to do things well, or even perfectly, which are both such a subjective measures anyway, and the truth is, to create something truly great, we often have to take risks, and we will not always succeed on the first try, which is ok, and human, and will lead to new discoveries, challenges, and wonders. Embracing and learning from failure has been productive and humbling for me personally in both my teaching and writing.
- What motivated you to write? What are your favorite books?
I have produced at least three poems this week while listening to the original soundtrack for HBO’s The Leftovers. Though I have never seen the series, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what it might feel like to watch it. Film and television scores privilege atmosphere over narrative, allowing me to synch alongside and inside the notes without a clear pathway— a meandering that is almost oceanic in its fluctuating rhythms. Virginia Woolf’s The Waves was the first book I read during which I felt like I was experiencing a musical composition rather than the limited idea of what I was told a book, especially a novel, was meant to be and do in high school. It was my senior year, and I would read ever page slowly, more than once, as if to let it into my pores, rather than feeling I had to turn the page to continue the plot.
My poetry reading interests veer into the experimental, though I am inspired my many types of writing. I love Douglas Kearney’s performative typography and Nathaniel Mackey’s musical epics, as well as Jean Valentines quiet verse sketches, and Patricia Smith’s earth-shattering lyrics, especially her book Blood Dazzler, a powerful evocation of a plurality of voices from before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, which, despite its historical specificity, I find myself returning to time and time again to help me think through the silences this world all too often creates.
I also love to read theoretical texts that read like creative writing, such as Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet and Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway is tentacular in her reach and scope, sweeping email correspondence, theory, personal history, multispecies ethnography, and even fiction, into beautifully crowded worlds of text. I am very interested in the way humans relate and emote alongside animals, and Haraway offers me ways to think through these encounters with others more deeply. Other cool anthropology, theory, creative mashups include Hugh Raffles Insectopedia, Eben Kirksey’s edited collection, The Multispecies Salon, and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman.
- What are some of the themes you often write about and why?
The concept of erasure underscores much of my work, both figuratively and literally. VOS and At Root are full-length erasures of modernist texts, Virginia Woolf’s A Voyage Out and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, respectively. I am interested in how the process of erasure, which is the process of selecting words and phrases from a published text and creating a unique work from these fragments, can act as academic discourse, distilling and laying bare already existing arguments I perceive from the original texts. I hope that my erasures as a tangible artifact of my intimate relationship with these texts that mean a great deal to me.
In not human enough for the census, I focus on environmental crisis, but not through the lens of activism or positive countermeasures, though these things are certainly important to me as a person, but through the inhabitation of the instability and fracture that climate change and anthropocentric infiltration of the earth has wrecked upon bodies, particularly those bodies, both human and nonhuman, who are already marginalized and erased by society.
- What are your thoughts on ongoing protests in US, as a writer how does these social unrest against systemic injustice affect you?
I think they affect me foremost as a teacher. I have always strove to make my classroom an inclusive and social justice driven spaces. I often have students build the structure of the class with me, but I am sure that in doing so I have inadvertently left voices out. I think it’s wonderful that people are turning toward books and other media by black authors. I hope that those people reading these books to build a better and more inclusive pedagogy, to have more complicated and direct conversations about race in and out of the classroom, and to be better citizens, do in fact carry these intentions through. And I hope that this striving continues beyond these current protests, because this is an ongoing conversation. I know I have failed at creating an equitable classroom in the past, and I, as Samuel Beckett said, continue to try and “fail better.” I put emphasis on the phrase “fail better” because the moment we think that we have gotten it right, that we have succeeded, is the moment we might stop trying.
- How does your life and work has changed during these Covid times and how are you coping with it?
It’s been very strange because I am someone who tends to write in between other activities: I’d scribble down the first few lines of a poem during my 15-minute break at lunch, or stop abruptly as I was walking home to scribble some more lines on an old receipt I had in my pocket, then type up these lines on my computer as I was waiting for dinner to cook. So, it’s been slightly disorienting to lose the stability that I normally depended on to produce work. At first I struggled and wasn’t able to produce any writing at all. But then I started creating structure for myself (including low-key structure like watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes for the 20th time) that I could write around, and that was, and continues to be, a slow but helpful process. I think I also had to learn how to be kinder to myself about my writing production changing, which is not easy for me. When I look at what I have written, I am actually quite happy, having finished a draft for half a new book of poetry over these last few months. It’s just that time and space have appeared so unfamiliar these last few months, and that affects the way I, and we all, move through the world these days, which can drastically affect our, at the very least my, perception of productivity, mattering, and belonging.
- What would you suggest those emerging writers who want to get published?
For writing: don’t ever let anyone tell you how to write. So that might sound odd given that I frequently teach writing, but let’s face it, a lot of the way writing is taught is based upon a narrow version of what constitutes “good writing” (whatever that means). Try following the rules. Try breaking the rules. Nothing is perfect (whatever that means). When you stumble upon the type of writing that feels right to you, you’ll know it (and this style might change and evolve to— let it, follow it).
For publishing: find a publisher that fits your aesthetic and publishes work you like. This will take a little digging at first, as there are a lot of journals and publishers out there. You might want to start with Entropy’s “where to Submit” list, which collects all of the journals, book publishers, contests, and anthologies, in one easy to navigate webpage. If you are looking to submit to journals (which you should do a good deal of before looking to publish a full work), then make sure to go to each journals’ website to look at what they have previously published to see if they are a good fit for you and your work. If you are looking to submit a book to publishers, I recommend that you read one of their books beforehand to check if they are a good fit (including in your cover letter—which you should always write and address to the appropriate editor—that you have read on of their books and explaining why you are a good fit for the press is helpful, but not necessary). Send poems out everywhere that you think is a good fit, even if it is a journal that has a reputation for being very hard to get into (you’ll never know if you don’t try). Most journals allow you to submit simultaneously (i.e. to many journals at once) but there are some rare journals that don’t allow this, so always read the submissions guidelines super carefully. Good luck!
- Your message for our readers?
Find writing rules that work best for you. Some people write during a block of time during the morning (say, 6-10), I write poems on crumpled recipes in my pocket as I’m waiting to do something else, some others may write best outside, or at midnight. There are myriads of different ways to be a writer— find your own path, and never stop exploring.