In his expansive arm, Anis Shivani gathers you a great lament. The presence of no ftl drives. Let him take you to bed. (poem in the Jan. Issue) [Bonus Exclusive! Read the worst question he's ever been asked and his answer.]
1) How do you feel about your older writing? Do you ever go back to try to change those pieces or do they belong to a different, younger you?
No I never try to do that. Recently I was tempted to change my book The Fifth Lash and Other Stories, which i wrote almost a decade ago, though the book has only recently been published. I changed things stylistically a bit, but left the content alone. Once something is published, I want to forget I ever wrote it, let alone go back and obsess over it. I’m fine with accepting that older pieces belong to a younger, less sophisticated me.
2) Do you start with a voice, an idea, or do you just start?
In fiction I probably start with a character in a situation–usually a difficult situation. Then I have to build a story around that. It’s easy to visualize and create a whole world once I’ve got a grip on a single character in a concrete situation. I think the (philosophical) idea is what prompts imagining the initial character, but it’s best to forget the idea, whatever it is, as soon as the material circumstances of the story start to become apparent.
In poetry, I may have a feeling or a tone, often hard to capture precisely, which I start with and just run with, to see what happens. It’s not easy to decipher quite how things come together in poetry but the unified tone is probably the glue.
3) Name three terrible things.
Suburbia. Death. The lack of interplanetary travel.
4) When I read your poem I feel like I need a hug but won’t get one, why do I feel that way?
Of course there’s tremendous discord between the poetic persona and the person behind the poetry. You will get a hug every time you approach me. The ironic veneer may have put you off. It’s the price we pay for sophistication. But just come close to me and see what happens.
5) What’s the worst question you’ve ever been asked and what was your answer?
Possibly the question just above (see no. 4). And also my answer to it. But no, really, the persistent questions about who the real Anis Shivani is, instead of judging the work on its own terms. Why are people trying to figure out my “true” character? What does it matter anyway? The real Anis Shivani is the one on paper. The illusion of paper.
6) You walk into a room. You know everybody in there, though you’ve met none of them before. What do you do?
Actually, this exact experience, or something like it, happened constantly to me on the epic reading tour I just concluded. I would walk into a room, knowing many people even though I hadn’t met them before. It’s because I’m not an AWP habitue so even though I’m in contact with many people I often haven’t met them. Well I went a long way toward correcting that on this trip. This is what I would do. I would greet each and every one of the people in the room, and try to get them to have drinks with me once we were out of the bloody room, and possibly even take one or two of them to bed. I’m quite the schmoozer when I need to be. That’s not my natural instinct, but I can do it when I have to.