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Interview with Paul Muldoon

A major figure in English-language poetry for decades, Paul Muldoon has enjoyed one of the most successful careers of his generation. His first collection was published when he was still an undergraduate at Queen’s University, Belfast. Famously, Muldoon’s schoolteacher sent on a batch of his poems to Seamus Heaney (allegedly asking him what was ‘wrong with them’, to which Heaney replied, ‘Nothing’) and Heaney later recommended Muldoon’s work to his editor at Faber & Faber, Charles Monteith.

 

The result was New Weather (1973), a collection of ballads, songs, and references to the apparently inconsequential artefacts of everyday life. Muldoon has since written eleven collections of verse, won a Pulitzer Prize for Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), and taught poetry at Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of East Anglia. He moved to the United States in 1987, and presently serves as poetry editor of The New Yorker and a Professor in the Humanities at Princeton, from where his latest book, The Word on the Street – a collection of rock lyrics written for his band the Wayside Shrines – takes its details of New Jersey life and lore.

 

Paul Muldoon doesn’t like to go over old ground. To read his poetry is to grow familiar with his presiding conviction that poetry comes in innumerable, changing forms. The ludic wit, the acute sensitivity to what and how words mean, the verbal agility, and the freewheeling juxtapositions of diction – from the intellectual arcane to the low and demotic – permeate his work. But its protean quality is most clearly manifest in the handful of books he’s published since moving to the United States. In the book-length poem ‘Madoc’, in Madoc: A Mystery (1990), Muldoon supposes that Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey take up their fancy of founding a Pantisocratic community in North America – perhaps dramatising his own geographic relocation – in short sections named after different philosophers, diagrams, and the odd snatching of coherent narrative. The Annals of Chile (1994) develops the form of pseudo-autobiography explored in Madoc, as it imagines the life Muldoon’s father, a one-time mushroom cultivator, might have led had he moved from Ireland to Argentina. More recently, Horse Latitudes (2006) combines elegies to a former lover and Muldoon’s late sister, with a sequence of nineteen sonnets during which America embarked on an invasion of Iraq. Maggot (2010) offers a more concentrated, myopic interrogation of the decay of all things – human, animal, verbal – where references to Japanese pop culture and Western mythology are intercut with jaw-dropping etymological play.

 

Muldoon’s latest book, The Word on the Street, is an extension of his interest in formal innovation, and the culmination of a life-long interest in pop and rock music. As well as playing in the Wayside Shrines, he has collaborated with the musician Warren Zevon on a song that was later covered by Bruce Springsteen, written libretti for opera, published Songs and Sonnets, in which he explicitly explores the relationship between verse and song, and in the last few years written several refrain-drive poems (the title poem in, for example, is a sequence of nine Petrarchan sonnets which each include a repeated refrain). Muldoon’s poetic voice uniquely unites a deep awareness of the academic canon with contemporary vernacular – filtered through idioms, song, and contemporary cliché.

 

We met at Peels restaurant on Bowery, New York, on Holy Thursday morning. His generous attentiveness was coupled with a playful obliqueness throughout. We discussed the lyric, intuition, prosody… and eggs.

 

Q

The White Review

— Let’s talk about your most recent book, The Word on the Street. When did you start making music and playing songs?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Strictly speaking, the first person I worked with who really got me started on it was Warren Zevon. He’s unfortunately nowhere near as well-known as he should be. But I think he was a truly amazing songwriter, really. He met Stravinsky when he was a kid, and then he played piano with the Everly Brothers on tour. And he was involved with Jackson Browne, and the Eagles, and all that crowd. He was a songwriter I admired for a long time, and as it happened I had the opportunity to write something for him. And that was really how it started.

Q

The White Review

— How did the opportunity come about?

A

Paul Muldoon

— It came about because I wrote him a fan letter. Out of the blue. He was writing an album with various other people, which is something he’d done right the way through. I learned a great deal from him, insofar as one learns anything about anything. Of course one does, one has to believe one learns. Particularly as a teacher, I have to believe that I can teach somebody something, otherwise I shouldn’t be doing it. On the other hand, it’s actually doubtful how much one learns oneself. I realise as I get older how little I know about anything. That’s a truism but it’s true. In all areas of life.

 

Even here on the breakfast menu: how much do I know about eggs? Not a hell of a lot. Apart from that they come from a couple of chickens. Do I know really how they work? I’m pretty sure roosters aren’t required – I know they’re not required – and yet I also have to think about that. How much really do I know about sausages? How much do I know about the avocado? When you get right down to it, even the most familiar elements in our lives, we know little about, like, say, coffee. There’s so much coffee in the world right now, and indeed we’re assailed by information. But does one really know much about it?

 

Anyway, what I’m saying is: how little one knows. Part of the knock-on effect of that I suppose – and that’s great actually, if one embraces it – is that when one is sitting down to write a poem, one realises that one has no idea. I don’t have any idea…

Q

The White Review

— Of where to start?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Of where to start. I haven’t written a poem for a while and I think – as many people do – that maybe I won’t be writing another one.

Q

The White Review

— I hope that’s not the case.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Well, you know, it’s just one of those things. It’s just part of the deal. Better to stop than to keep with it…

Q

The White Review

— You’ve written music for lyrics before…

A

Paul Muldoon

— Well, I’ve tried.

Q

The White Review

— For The Handsome Family?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes: you’re right. For The Handsome Family – who are absolutely brilliant. I wish what I’d done with them is better than it is. I love them. They’re wonderfully wacky, with skewed visions of the world, and that is something I’m interested in. The oblique way of thinking about things is almost inevitably more interesting, and that I suppose is what we talk about when we talk about being in touch with one’s own unconscious. One may cultivate that to some extent. One may keep an eye out for the odd expression, the odd image, the striking image, so in that sense one may educate oneself.

 

It is about being in the habit of ignorance. I love the descriptions – by some of the great poets – of this condition. Wordsworth calls it ‘wise passiveness’; you’re sort of lying there in a heap, but not a total heap, you know?

 

Great poems come from that area: ignorance. When I teach at Princeton, for example, I tell my students, ‘What we want to really work on now, is what you don’t know: the condition of not knowing.’ There are many people who write poems who’ve not got their heads around this idea, and who actually think that they know what they’re doing. I really believe that the minute one thinks one knows what one’s doing – actually, in any department of life – one’s probably making a terrible mistake. That’s the most difficult thing to teach and the most difficult thing to learn. It’s very tempting for us to think we know what we’re doing.

Q

The White Review

— That feeling of certainty?

A

Paul Muldoon

— This culture, or one’s age, does not honour uncertainty. Right? One of the things I like about Obama is that he says, ‘Well let me think about that…’ and, ‘I’m not sure of the answer to that yet.’ Which I think is a great thing for anyone to say. I encourage my students to say that kind of thing.

 

There is a suggestion that Einstein’s theory of relativity, which we’ve been sort of living by, may not be quite right. I would be hesitant about laying down the law on anything, be it relativity or…

Q

The White Review

— Eggs.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Eggs. Absolutely.

Q

The White Review

— To what extent do you think a lyric designed to accompany music can hold up to being read on the page? Should a lyric feel like it lacks something, almost, to be a truly effective lyric?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes, in some sense, absolutely. There are contradictions about the whole project because it’s only when one hears words and music together in a song that it’s perfectly itself. Now, one of the things we decided about The Word on the Street early on was that we were going to add a link or information on the book about how you can hear these songs. A few copies of it came with a CD. Other than that, I was brought up on the tradition of publishing lyrics. LPs. It’s a bit of a feature of CDs, when they can be bothered spending a bit more money. But in many cases, even with writers who are word-driven, it doesn’t happen.

 

I noticed that with the most recent Bob Dylan CD – which is a really great CD – it doesn’t have many of the words, whereas thirty years ago it might well have. What the reason for that is, I honestly don’t know, other than to say it may be an economic thing. But it’s certainly not because he, I think, wouldn’t want the lyrics to be scrutinised. I’m interested in the lyrics of songwriters where some scrutiny can be brought to bear on the lyrics, like Ian Dury and The Blockheads. Ian Dury’s lyrics have just come out, full of various bits and pieces, edited by his daughter, and it’s a wonderful thing to have, to be able to read them. Two of my big heroes, among others, are Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon.

Q

The White Review

— You dedicated your latest book to them…

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes. The poems of Leonard Cohen are, as it turns out, lyrics. If one thinks about it, they’re poem-lyrics. The lyrics may be thought of as poems. I think of the lyrics of Cole Porter as poems, and so do various other people, and they are now in the Library of America, along with Emerson and Whitman.

 

When I started thinking about this I asked my editors if they thought it was a good idea, because people don’t really know how to read these things on the page. That tradition has gone, it really has. But I thought, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

Q

The White Review

— Reading the book, I realised how little time I spend looking at lyrics on a page.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Is it Shakespeare? No. But having said that – and I’m certainly not comparing myself to Shakespeare – Shakespeare wrote all the time in lyrics and other sorts of crazy showman stuff. If one looks at the poems of W. B. Yeats, as I did the other day because I found myself having to speak about them, I read through them with an eye to one particular thing: how many of these are songs? I didn’t do an academic analysis but my sense is that 50 per cent of these, I suspect, are songs, or take some significant element of songdom. So many of them have a refrain: they’re set apart, they’re italicised. Many of them are called, ‘The Song of This’, or ‘The Song of That’.

Q

The White Review

— Now might be a good moment to talk about your use of the cliché…

A

Paul Muldoon

— Absolutely. These lyrics are riddled with clichés. They are. And one probably wouldn’t so shamefacedly present so many clichés in a more conventional poem. On the other hand, the revisiting of clichés is a favourite sport for many poets. In most newspaper headlines there’s a lot of clichés written. And most headlines are based in puns, punning and clichés.

Q

The White Review

— What makes you think clichés should be resuscitated? What potential do they have?

A

Paul Muldoon

— One of the reasons why they’ve been used to death is that there’s something accurate about them.

Q

The White Review

— There’s one that you use that I love: ‘You think you’re just hanging out, but I know you’re just hanging in.’

A

Paul Muldoon

— I’m somewhat interested in country music, and I love thinking up, almost as a parlour game, the titles of country music songs. That’s one of them. You almost don’t have to write the song. You just have to say, ‘You think you’re just hanging out but I know you’re just hanging in.’ You can say it with a cowboy hat and a cigar.

Q

The White Review

— That said, there’s a way in which the cliché works, structurally, to anchor the lyric, don’t you think? It becomes a centre around which the rest of the lyric moves.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes. Many of the titles are clichéd expressions. ‘Good Luck with That’, ‘It Won’t Ring True’, ‘Go-to Guy’. They’re clichéd phrases. And one of the things I think that draws me to those is that if one has a kind of anchor like that – refrains, choruses – one of the lovely things about using a clichéd phrase is that it actually grounds the things. And by using the cliché as a kind of anchor one may allow the balloon to blow up a bit, or the boat to rise a bit. And you can actually do all sorts of crazy things with the verse. Many of these songs are just one idea, which they sort of beat to death. That’s true of many poems. People jazz it up in different ways.

Q

The White Review

— Do you think there’s something potentially liberating about working in a form whose structures are to some extent formulaic? That is to say, structures which have patterns that can be followed?

A

Paul Muldoon

— That’s one of the most interesting things about this for me. I think that I, like many people, would have thought that writing a song would have been as easy as pie. To use another cliché. Basically, many fools do it, and can do it. And it turns out that that’s just not the case at all. The more I tried doing it – I had just assumed that it was easy – the more I realised how difficult it is. While these things aren’t absolutely rigid in their structures, they’re a lot more rigid than most of my poems. Some of my poems are quite rigid, built in these traditional shapes, but none of them, or few of them, are as strict as a song has to be.

Q

The White Review

— Do you think it’s easier to begin a lyric than it is to begin a poem?

A

Paul Muldoon

— That’s a very interesting question. That phrase I just used, ‘easy as pie’, I sort of lingered over it just as it went by there. Let’s put it like this: I’d say it’s inconceivable that I would title a poem, ‘Easy as Pie’, but it’s not inconceivable that it could be a song. It’s very difficult to explain why that is, but I think you know why that is. Anybody listening – hearing this – will know exactly what they think that I mean by it. And it’s not that one can get away with murder in a song, in a more conventional form.

 

How can one have an immediacy? I don’t know if this is a decent image, but it strikes me: when one’s building a palace, it has an extraordinary façade, in most cases, but the walls are probably packed with rubble. And where that metaphor breaks down is that you can see the rubble from the outside of things. But I think there’s room for rubble in the wall. I don’t know what that means.

Q

The White Review

— With lyrics, do you think of rhymes first, or do they fall out of your lines as you write?

A

Paul Muldoon

— They fall out. One of the things I do, mind you, is a little bit of plotting out. Because to go back to the building, I often describe myself as a construction worker. Last night I went to see one of my favourite theatre groups. They’re a comedy/musical improvisation group called Baby Wants Candy. They play once a week in New York. They’re absolutely fabulous.

 

There might be eight of them on stage, and they have a piano. They’re very adept musicians. They have an astounding start: they ask the audience for an idea for the title of a musical, and various suggestions are made, and they pick one of them. They might do ‘The Tragedy of Big Macbeth’, or something like that, some kind of weird compression. Then they just launch into the first song. One of them steps forth and sings the opening number. ‘Here we are at Macbeth’s Castle, I thought the castle was always white.’ And they’d always have another rhyme or two. ‘The colours here are far from pastel, and that’s because it’s always night’. I just made that up – they’re making it up as they go along, and what they make up they go back to, as the chorus of the song. Somebody steps forth to sing a verse, but then they know collectively to come back to that as the chorus.

 

My point, though I’m not really making it very clearly, is that there are patterns, which these structures follow. In this room at Peels, there are certain aspects that are common to most rooms: the floor, the ceiling, the wall. And these are things that are made for a reason. The main thing is, they work. If you’ve got a two-floor structure, one floor has to be directly below the other straight down the staircase. Otherwise you’re not going to be able to get up from one to the other. These are practical things.

Q

The White Review

— And within that it’s about moving around…

A

Paul Muldoon

— That’s right. Songs are very similar from one to the next in their structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse. The majority of them are built like that. Just as a car has two seats in the back and two in the front. That’s the basic idea, upon which there can be many variations.

Q

The White Review

— The main difference between a poem and a song being that the poem takes more complex structures, can improvise its own variations?

A

Paul Muldoon

— I’m sure that’s right. Most poets these days, as you know, are not interested in rhyme. It may once have interested them but they’re no longer interested in it. It’s virtually impossible to write a song without rhyme. It’s impossible. So immediately, one’s in a very different ball game: a set of constraints built into it immediately that you don’t find in a poem. You can happily be a poet without thinking about rhyme, or without thinking about prosody – what happens in a line. That would be a significant distinction between the two. I’m much more interested in the points in which they’re similar rather than dissimilar.

Q

The White Review

— The lyric is just one of the traditional forms you use throughout your work – the sonnet, very much, in Maggot, the ballad in New Weather – forms which you constantly subject to a good deal of stresses. You’re always doing unexpected things with traditional forms.

A

Paul Muldoon

— What’s the point in doing the unexpected thing? There are things that one will not be doing in this restaurant, for various reasons. It’s probably not a good idea to stand on the table and start singing.  But the unexpected – I often give this example to my students: ‘Alice came in through the door,’ is almost of no interest. ‘Alice came in through the window,’ is slightly more interesting. I just saw the new James Bond movie the other day. (Actually I was watching it on a plane. I suppose I elected to watch it.) Of course, it’s all about the unexpected. Have you seen it? You’re sitting there and the film starts, and there’s a chase, followed by a breathless series of unexpected events. It’s meant to be exhilarating, but it’s never at all clear why anything is happening – it’s just that it’s happening. What I’m getting round to saying is that there’s no intrinsic merit in the unexpected.

Q

The White Review

— Unless it’s unexpected. And not an onslaught of unexpectedness.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Exactly. An onslaught of unexpectedness. It needs to be contextualised. You need the expected before you get unexpected.

Q

The White Review

— What elements of the lyric work their way into your poems, do you think? In Maggot, in particular – in the nine sonnet poem of the title poem – there’s a refrain, ‘where I’m waiting for some lover/to kick me out of bed/for having acted on a whim’, that very much appeals to a pop sensibility, that feels out of place in that classic Petrarchan context.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes. It uses the same refrain right the way through. I’m interested in poems that do things – or attempt to do things – that the best, most well-brought up poems wouldn’t be doing. One’s not supposed to do things like that. One shouldn’t really be able to do it all and get away with it. The same is true of a dozen things that we shouldn’t get away with. It’s risk-taking. It’s saying: ‘I know that this shouldn’t really work, but let’s have a go.’ There are those that probably think, ‘Well, that’s dubious.’

Q

The White Review

— Irreverent.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yeah, a bit inappropriate. But why not? If it doesn’t work, there’s always something else. It’s not the end of the world if the world of the poem doesn’t work – it’s just a poem. The hope is that it might be interesting. Most of them, I suppose, don’t end up being just a poem.

Q

The White Review

— What else would they be?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Well, one hopes that it might be a really good poem, rather than just a poem. You can’t write a really good poem if you don’t try things that are likely to fail. I know people have said this, but I think it’s true.

Q

The White Review

— Are you inclined to resist full ownership of a poem?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes. I honestly don’t think of myself as the writer of the poems. I think about myself as having very little to do with the poems or the songs. Obviously, they reflect something of me…

Q

The White Review

— Who’s writing them then?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Well, with any luck, they are writing themselves. On a good day, they’d be writing themselves. I know it sounds a bit corny, but it goes back to that thing we were talking about with the unconscious. And it’s one of the things I try to teach my students actually. We were talking about how to get in touch with that. Almost every class I teach, we have one session where we begin with a line – I like to take it from the day’s news – and then there’s a line written in response to that. And then they pass it round. It’s like a parlour game, which you’ve probably played. They’re responding only to the line they’ve seen immediately beforehand. It’s a way of making sure they don’t know what they’re doing. Then a poem comes out the other end. One of the first questions is: ‘Who wrote this?’ And the answer is, ‘Everybody and nobody.’

Q

The White Review

— It reminds me of something you said at an event at McNally Jackson bookshop in New York: ‘The form of the poem becomes a solution to its own problem.’

A

Paul Muldoon

— I almost always quote Don Paterson’s line, and I will again: ‘The poem is a little mechanism for remembering itself.’ The question is, ‘Why has the poem come into being?’

Q

The White Review

— How do you know when it has?

A

Paul Muldoon

— That really is one of the great mysteries. And that’s where we started: with the reader, and the extent to which the reader is trying to figure out what this poem is truly capable of.

Q

The White Review

— When you say the reader do you mean the writer?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes, the reader as the writer. She is trying to figure out if the impact of these words in this order is actually interesting. Is it moderately interesting? Is it extremely interesting? Is it earth-shatteringly interesting? I’m really only inspired to write poems that are…

Q

The White Review

— Earth-shattering.

A

Paul Muldoon

— I’d be very lucky if I ever did, but that’s the condition. I just think, why would one even bother? What’s the point? You’d be much better reading a book, with someone who has actually done it.

Q

The White Review

— A daunting position to start from.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Well, it’s not on one’s own behalf. That’s the key to it – it’s not on one’s own behalf. It really depends on whether one is equipped to be at the surface of the poem, and to allow it to be in the world.

Q

The White Review

— The way you talk about a poem arriving, or coming to be, suggests an intuitive practice. But your poetry thrives on traditional shapes, intricate rhyme schemes, constant metrical play. What’s the relation between prosody and instinct, for you?

A

Paul Muldoon

— I never know what I’m doing.

Q

The White Review

— The forms just emerge?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Obviously. When three lines are repeated in a poem, there came a point that they wanted to do that. I never thought it was a great idea.

Q

The White Review

— But you kept them in. Do you revise a lot?

A

Paul Muldoon

— I revise as I go along. Often a poem does, as you imply, I suppose, take a complex structure. That really only emerges as it’s being written. One can’t explain it until one thinks about it. I start off the poem where it starts: with the opening phrase.

Q

The White Review

— What’s it like being the poetry editor of the New Yorker? Do you feel like you see or shape trends?

A

Paul Muldoon

— It’s wonderful. Of course the minute I say that, I think about the difficult aspects of it. I have a part-time appointment there, but it’s actually a full-time job. Or more than a full-time job. As is the case with most magazines, I’m not the only person involved. There are other, quite wonderful people who work on the project. I don’t have to carry all the work there is to do. The amount of material is phenomenal.

Q

The White Review

— You don’t solicit?

A

Paul Muldoon

— I don’t solicit. I may say to someone, for social purposes, it would be lovely to see a poem some time, but I tend not to do that because it can be too easily misconstrued. The lovely part of the job is being able to call someone up – which I don’t do as much as I used to – and say, ‘Thank you, we’d love to publish your poem.’ The, ‘I’m sorry but we can’t publish this,’ – nobody wants to do that. Particularly to people I know quite well. And often, to many, it’s to save them from themselves.

Q

The White Review

— A necessary intervention.

A

Paul Muldoon

— You don’t want people sitting around saying, ‘There was a pretty iffy poem in the New Yorker last week’. (Of course, there will always be people who think that.) We only publish 100 poems a year.

Q

The White Review

— Very few.

A

Paul Muldoon

— Yes, we get thousands of poems.

Q

The White Review

— What are you looking for?

A

Paul Muldoon

— I don’t know. I never know. It’s the same with writing poetry.

Q

The White Review

— But you know when you see it?

A

Paul Muldoon

— Absolutely. You know it when you see it. One of the things I say to myself and to other writers and poets – it’s the same question I’d ask myself about a poem I’d written – is, ‘As I come out the other end of this poem, is there anything even vaguely interesting to take away from it?’

 

I always say that a poem must be at least as interesting as a review by Anthony Lane, or a review by David Remnick. Right? Or a piece by Hilton Als. These pieces are not going to be in the magazine if they don’t observe certain laws. To put it very crudely: are there beginnings, middles, and ends, more or less in that order? Every piece, whoever’s piece it is, has to earn its keep. There’s a bit of a tendency for poets to – to be truthful I wouldn’t count myself out of this – not care if it doesn’t make sense, or if syntactically it’s complete gobbledygook.

 

One of the hilarious things about the New Yorker is that they fact-check the poems. One says it’s hilarious but it’s not so hilarious, in the end, because it’s much better to have somebody around, you know, to spot a howler in your poem, of which there are many, including in many famous poems, or a number of famous poems. Now, it’s not that one would be saying, ‘Ozymandias, did he really exist?’ That’s not the issue. The issue is, say, when Keats describes Hernan Cortés upon a peak in Darien, that Cortés was never in Darien. The big question is: does that matter? In some sense it doesn’t. But if Keats had had the info that Cortés was never in Darien, he might have revisited that line.

Q

The White Review

— What are your feelings about the kind and quality of contemporary poetry you’re seeing today, here in the US?

A

Paul Muldoon

— There’s a round up of American poetry each year called The Best of American Poetry, and I was very heartened – as well as what I read at the New Yorker – by the extraordinary range, the variety. American poetry is something I’m particularly immersed in. Which is not to say I don’t read UK poetry. Of course I do. But I think we’re in a time when there’s lots of interesting work being done here. Great work being done.

Q

The White Review

— Who are you reading at the moment?

A

Paul Muldoon

— I read virtually everything that comes out. Not everything – that’s a ridiculous thing to say, but I get sent lots of books. Poetry, though there’s a huge amount of it published, is relatively easy to stay abreast of. I would not want to be trying to stay abreast of prose fiction. It’s somewhat unmanageable.

 

Obviously I read all the major new books by American, UK, Irish poets, and indeed beyond. For leisure, I read non-fiction, mostly. Funnily enough, one book I ordered recently is called Outlaws, and it’s an illustrated history of the James and Younger gangs. There was a song in The Word on the Street called ‘The Youngers’.

Q

The White Review

— Do you have a particular interest in representing or ventriloquising the underdog and the outlaw? These lyrics are all about various kinds of underdogs and outsiders: the working class, the disenfranchised.
A

Paul Muldoon

— I would never sit down and think about how to go about writing a book of lyrics about outsiders, but I can see that that makes complete sense. It’s why it’s so important to have proper readers and editors, because that would never have occurred to me. One doesn’t read them oneself; it’s a little bit like what you were saying earlier about the unexpected. Underdogs are more interesting than overdogs, whatever that is. Unhappiness is more interesting than happiness. It just is.
 

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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Alice Whitwham is the events coordinator at McNally Jackson Books, New York.

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