The other night, Willie Watt and I sat down (figuratively of course) for a fun and enlightening chat about all kinds of stuff, but mostly writing. Here it is.
So, first question and perhaps the most obvious one, what inspired you to start writing?
Jealousy. Plain and simple. My sister Sarah wrote little short stories and my parents gave her attention for it, so writing was, and kind of still is, a ‘fuck you’ kind of exercise.
What writers are your biggest influences and why?
I find less influence in writers lately. I’ll read something totally badass – like Cloud Atlas by David Mitchel – and think ‘wow, that was amazing, but I would never write like that.’ I find that music and films actually inspire me aesthetically more than books, although I do read enough to learn from the masters.
If I had to pinpoint influences, though, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t mention F. Scott Fitgerald, George Orwell, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Bukowski, Tolkien, and Dostoevsky.
How has music and film shaped your style?
The film thing needs a little back-story. When I first moved to Austin Texas a little over a year ago I didn’t know a single soul in the city other than my roommate.
I just kind of went to work in an unfamiliar place, and came back to a cheap apartment with virtually no furniture. In that kind of crushing loneliness I would sit on a pile of blankets on the floor (I didn’t have a bed yet) and watch weird art movies. I don’t really know why I was drawn to these eccentric kinds of auteur-driven movies, but I just gorged myself on them for months until I made friends and had a social life.
I found that there were certain directors whose visual style was as unmistakably singular as any author, and I learned to siphon that into my own creativity.
The music thing is easy. I still listen to Eminem or Tech N9ne or some shit while I write.
Care to describe your writing process?
My writing process is completely unsexy. It doesn’t matter what you read on fucking tumblr, being a writer is not setting up your typewriter next to a window with a panoramic view, sipping on an espresso.
I usually write in my car on lunch break,or hiding in a public restroom on my phone, or at 3 in the morning with bags under my eyes and a lungful of shisha smoke.
Usually I fixate on a general idea, or a concept, or sometimes even a single word and I just free-associate my way through a poem – then go back and make it readable.
Prose is different. I’m a ruthless perfectionist with short stories, which is why I don’t write them that often.
As a writer, what would you say your role in society is?
I don’t think the writer has a specific role other than to be brutally, sometimes horrifically, true to his/her vision. I always thought being an artist -a real artist- was in and of itself an act of rebellion against societal pigeon-holing, and obligations. So I guess the short, unsophisticated answer is “fuck-all.”
Digging a little deeper, I think there are good arguments for the writer being a sort of cultural historian, acting as a sponge capturing micro-details that the large-brush portrait of a time period will inevitably miss.
But that’s secondary. First, an author must exist for his/her self. If that is missing, the art will fail, and the reader will intuitively sense it.
So would I be correct in assuming that for you, authenticity is more important than accessibility?
Absolutely. Moby Dick is inaccessible (and overrated, but that’s another subject), Ulysses is inaccessible, Don Quixote is inaccessible; but those books have stood the test of time because even when the formal complexity of the language/structure flies over your head, there is still a sort of unshakable feeling that the author is doing something very pure and true and honest. As cliche as it is the best authors are true to themselves, authentic as you put it, and the rest of the chips will fall one way or another but cannot be manipulated.
With that said, I don’t think I happen to be a particularly inaccessible writer, although I’m often told otherwise.
Is there anything else in your mind that separates great poetry from merely okay poetry?
I’ve read a lot of okay poetry, most of it my own, and I’ve read a lot of good poetry, most of it not my own, but I honestly can’t say I’ve read much great poetry.
I should admit at this point, that I haven’t read a lot of the “great” poets extensively, like Frost, or Woolf, or Emerson.
What I find that really strikes a nerve with me are poems that reflect a certain urban experience that is simultaneously high and low minded. The kind of shit that’ll reference Wittgenstein in one stanza and then vividly describe sex or violence or drugs in the next.
If it’s not too lower class of me to say, I think that Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino are two of the most important poets of my generation.
So my next question is a tad vague, but in a lot of more literary minded writing, the author expresses a certain worldview, a philosophy if you will, that informs the poem or novel or story. What is your philosophy about life, society, and the human experience in general?
If I had the answer to that I’d be writing about it, but here it goes anyway, and I apologize in advance, because this is the part of the story where I lower my “hopeful writer” facade and show how utterly pretentious I really am.
My view of the world is obsessed mainly with the aesthetics of the infinitesimal. This is not a term you’ll find in a philosophy textbook. It’s something that haunts me when I’m trying to write, and it is directly derived with my relation to the world.
I don’t have enough page space to really write it all out right now, but the short version is that everything in life is inevitably composed of almost fulfilling something, almost attaining wholesomeness, almost being happy, almost being destroyed… but for one reason or another being perpetually returned to the center fully aware that the experience will re-occur but that you can’t really do anything about it.
What I’m interested in, as an artist, is the brief moment of intense mania, depression, euphoria, paranoia, horror that occurs before the room stops spinning and everything goes back to normal; in other words, the infinitesimal essence of an experience before it inevitably loops back on itself and the entire thing is brought into doubt.
So how did you come to find yourself among the ranks of the Paper Plane Pilots?
By being a kiss-ass. I was obsessively reading a brilliant poet, who is now a kind of long distance friend of mine, by the name of Nicholas Gagnier (AKA Retkon Poet), and he did some projects with our lovely commander-in-chief HoldenLyric, as well as writing for the Pilots. So the rabbit hole led me to the website, and Sara started reading my stuff, and eventually I was drunk and was just like ‘Yo, can I be one of you guys?’ And Sara was like, “Fuck ya,” or something similar, and that made me feel really good, so I tried to contribute as much and as often as possible.
What do you think distinguishes the Paper Plane Pilots from other writers?
Well not to shamelessly self-endorse, but I think there’s a raw, embittered, razor sharp intelligence that permeates the writing on the site. Some of the material is hard to read, either because of how avante-garde it gets sometimes, or how decadent the material is, but there’s a truthfulness to it that is undeniable.
It goes back to that purity of vision I mentioned earlier.
The collective talent doesn’t hurt either.
What do you hope to achieve with your writing?
To be self-sufficient from it, and to write well.
I think a lot about legacies and stuff like that, but it’s all so premature at this point I try not to indulge my fantasy too much.
I think if I find myself in 20 years sitting in a quiet room, debt-free, writing professionally then I’ll be relatively satisfied. There’s a hunger for more than that, but that’s the first thing.
And for the last question, it’s an easy one, aside from being a writer of profound talent and vision, what else do you like to do with your time?
You flatter me.
I’m currently a full time student who works forty hours a week so I don’t get to indulge myself that often. But I love watching movies, longboarding, free-running, stargazing, and smoking too much shisha.
Also naps. The world needs more naps. I think that’s what all my poems are really about
One thought on “An Interview with Willie Watt”
Fuck yeah! (Apparently that is my go-to thing to say.)
Also: “Also naps. The world needs more naps. I think that’s what all my poems are really about”