Oliver de la Paz

Do you categorize your work? If so, how?

Not at first. I generally write from topic or dialogue—I find it to be easier to generate new work if I'm in "conversation" with something. And sometimes how I respond to that conversation determines which approach is best. It's sort of like code-switching in language—assessing the audience and determining which mode of interaction would best serve the situation.

For Post Subject: A Fable, I was responding to postcards sent out by fellows from Kundiman, the arts organization I've been a part of for several years. In the case of the pieces that are in that book, I was responding to three different conversations—the immediate conversation between myself and Kundiman fellows, my conversation with the art on the postcard, and a conversation with myself. As I got deeper and deeper into the writing, I noticed patterns in my writing, so I then made decisions to fortify the pattern-making. Namely, I declared I was writing a hybrid work full of epistolary poems centered around a subject. I then revised the previous work so that it would cohere to my new vision.

Do you find genre constraints limiting? (in general / in concept / in publishing)

Not really. I was trained in my MFA to be versatile. I can write formally, academically, or loosely. I read omnivorously, so my writing decision-making in terms of my own process is based on knowing what's out there and who has done what. Really, my teaching has granted me the opportunity to read widely and avoid worrying about genre constraints.

Discussions about genre are actually one of the conversations we have in my prose poem course which I interchange with "short prose" for the title. I talk, in that course, about how the capabilities of publishing technology and what was published often went hand-in-hand historically—from serialized stories in newsprint to what we're seeing today with online zines. Anyway, I think we're in a golden age of writing. Smart writers and editors are re-thinking how to publish work that challenges convention. I tell my students that somewhere out there you'll find a forum for your work.

Can you identify hybrid forms?

This is a trickier question because sometimes writers will cling fiercely to a particular title or label. There's a great interview with Claudia Rankine on KCRW's Bookworm where she insists on calling herself a "poet" even though her book Citizen was nominated for awards in criticism and poetry. So sometimes what a writer calls themselves may have baring on how their work is marketed. I would call Citizen a hybrid book because of how it plays with interview, observation, anecdote, and found footage. It actually might be apt to call it collage. Because there are a multiplicity of approaches to the work in terms of modes of discourse, I would call that a book with hybrid forms.

I'd call Matthea Harvey's new book If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? a hybrid book for similar reasons I call Citizen a hybrid—the multiple modes of approaching content work in tandem. You can't talk about the poems in Matthea's new book without having a conversation about the images.

I would struggle to call my own book, Post Subject: A Fable, a hybrid though, because I utilize one dominant mode—the prose poem. What I do within the prose poem and the expectations of the form are not radical, though it does borrow from the epistolary form. Still, I don't do anything that strides beyond the expectations of a manuscript of prose poetry unless repetition and obsession push the book into that hybrid territory.

What is the “post-genre approach?”

This is the first I've heard of this term, so I'm going to fumble around with it—I'm imagining that it's an approach to writing that is borne out of this golden age of writing (the internet age) where all sorts of modes have relevance and a platform. In other words, the work, no matter how difficult to place into the traditional notions of genre—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, playwriting—will find an audience and a venue where it can be performed.

How do you see your work fitting into hybrid or post-genre approaches?

I mentioned this earlier. I'm not sure I would call my recent work "hybrid," though I wouldn't shy away from the label either. And perhaps my approach to the writing can fall under the category of post-genre. I was publishing poems in the early 90's. Simic had just won the Pulitzer for The World Doesn't End. After that happened, I imagine it opened doors for prose poems. And that was mostly what I was writing for my first book Names Above Houses. But that first book was actually a departure from what I had been writing while I was getting my MFA—namely lineated poems with a highly serious and slightly romantic tone. So when the first book was being marketed it was called a "novella in verse." I thought it was a cool label, but it didn't stick to the concept I had of myself as a poet. I kept churning out work that was clearly in the school of a more traditional poetry.

Hybridity is not new: how do you see your work in terms of its lineage?

I see my work as also a work in progress. I think it's wonderful to see the daring and challenging ways writers are taking on modes of reading and writing. I view these approaches as content- dependent. In my own case, it was simpler to talk about post-colonial subjectivity, power, and the insidiousness of empire by having a series of prose poems that were formatted to look like memos which catalogued all the things that were governed by empire, even long after the empire has faded. In the case of Names Above Houses, it was simpler to reveal the narrative of my immigrant character through small parables that would be similar to what that character would hear while sitting around in his barrio in the Philippines.

All in all, I really don't worry about the classifications of my work. There are venues and opportunities to celebrate what I and other writers do.

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