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Interview With Declan Wiffen

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

Tell me a bit about your creative writing practice?

It took me a long time to give myself permission to develop a writing practice, to begin what can sometimes feel like ‘wasted time’—writing without any goal or purpose other than I wanted to. I made lots of excuses and wasn’t one of those

people who just has to write to feel alive; almost the opposite. But slowly, over time, I’ve begun writing most days. Early morning works best for me, but I also make notes on my phone, scraps of paper, google docs throughout the day. I find having various projects on the go at the same time quite helpful, even as it means they don’t always get finished.

What inspired you to run this course?

As my writing practice developed, I knew I had to keep a space for writing that wasn’t for anything or anyone. Out of this a few ideas began to emerge that tied into other projects I was working on related to queer ecologies and alternative forms of nature writing that don’t fit the traditional narrative arcs or themes found in many of these books. I wondered if there was a way that the commitment to a purposeless activity of writing could be coupled with a form of nature writing. The practice of cruising seemed to have an affiliation with what I was trying to think about.

What does "cruising nature" mean to you?

Mark Turner writes that "Cruising is a process of walking, gazing, and engaging another (or others) has its own rewards: pleasure, excitement, affirmation". Cruising nature then seeks to shift what has been traditionally a gay male practice and attempts to value alternative experiences of all genders and sexualities with/in ‘nature’ and the non-human world; to take the focus away from the human and see where desire might take us when we allow our attention, imagination and writing to loiter and wander without specific destination or focus. What encounters with plants, animals, landscapes, and nonhuman objects might open up to us through this practice of curiosity and how might they change our relationship to the environments we inhabit? One of my favourite examples is Elizabeth Bishop’s flirty encounter with a seal in her poem At The Fishhouses :

. . . One seal particularly

I have seen here evening after evening.

He was curious about me. He was interested in music;

like me a believer in total immersion,

so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.

I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

He stood up in the water and regarded me

steadily, moving his head a little.

Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge

almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug

as if it were against his better judgment.

You can read the whole poem here.

Can you describe yourself as an educator?

No :)

But the following descriptions of pedagogy from Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts makes me laugh:

“It’s like she’s pulling Post-it notes out of her hair and lecturing from them” one of my peers once complained about the teaching style of my beloved teacher Mary Ann Caws. I had to agree, this was an apt description of Caws’s style (and hair). But not only did I love this style, I also loved it that no one could tell Caws to teach otherwise. You could abide her or drop her class: the choice was yours. Ditto Eileen Myles, who tells a great story about a student at UC San Diego once complaining that her lecturing style was like “throwing a pizza at us.” My feeling is, you should be so lucky to get a pizza in the face from Eileen Myles, or a Post-it note plucked from the nest of Mary Ann Caws’s hair.

If you could offer one piece of advice to writers, what would it be?

Something I’m trying to learn: trust your gut and continue.

What are you currently reading?

Current & recent reading:

The Coming Bad Days—Sarah Bernstein

All The Devils Are Here—David Seabrook

H(A)PPY—Nicola Barker

Soft Friction—Maria Sledmere and Kirsty Dunlop

Yes, I Am A Destroyer—Mira Mattar

Now I know Daylight—ed. Rich Porter

Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing—Hélène Cixous

Lolly Willowes—Sylvia Townsend Warner

Margery Kempe—Robert Glück

You can find out more information and register for Declan's course here.

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