Amy Gerstler on Writing: “Plunder and Take Notes”

What do you write and how to do you write it?

Most of what I write these days is poetry. Or that’s how I think of it. I take zillions of notes while tromping, stumbling and floating through life, scribbled in little notebooks whose outsides and insides tend to look something like this:

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Also, I collect items that have enticing bits of language on them and put them in the toppling pile of notebooks and notes that I keep on the corner of my desk:

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“Plunder and Take Notes” — Amy Gerstler

(the image above, for example, is the foil top from a brand of canned fruit soda a friend likes to drink, which got saved due to its possible useable-for-poem motto “TAKE THE MOST DELIGHTFUL WAY THERE.” I also borrow or otherwise acquire books, magazines, pamphlets, etc. to plunder and take notes from for ideas/language/diction/images etc. that might get woven into poems.

Can you tell us a little bit about your job(s)/role(s) and how you got there?

My current job is as a university professor. I got such a position through wild luck, and through the invaluable help and support, over time, of many generous teachers and fellow writers and others, too many to mention here. It’s an odd job for me to have for many reasons, but one of the huge perks is getting to have contact with writer- colleagues and with brilliant younger writers, and being given the opportunity to share resources, finds, obsessions, and discoveries with them…that fertile sharing is very much a two-way street, meaning that I learn a ton from my fellow teachers and students.

How do these job(s)/role(s) challenge/influence/inspire/intersect your writing life?

Unless money isn’t an issue in your life because you’re the favorite niece of a billionaire or something like that, I think that for any kind of artist in America, particularly an artist who wants to devote themselves to practicing one of the, shall we say less funded artforms, (such as poetry, in which you pretty much have to take as a given that supporting yourself and your work is not ever going to be via your writing) making a living while being productive making art also is a real challenge. How and where will you work to obtain sufficient money to live decently and still have time and energy to write? How will you essentially live at least two lives simultaneously: have a working life to support yourself financially, and a maintain a vital writing life, keeping writing and all you need to do to feed yourself as writer and artist central to your life? How will you balance these things and not drive yourself and others crazy? Can you find a writing-related job that you actually like and could be good at? Or do you want to find a job that isn’t writing related, because you want to keep a protective separation between what you do for money and what you do as an artist? Can you find a job where you feel you are doing important work, work that maybe helps others, does good in the world? How do you claim and guard your time to make art? How do you struggle with these issues across different phases of your life? I know very few writers and artists of any age, at any stage in their lives/careers, who aren’t perpetually wrestling with these questions in some form…

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“The mess of my desk at home. I also work a lot at various libraries.” — Amy Gerstler

Thanks for inviting me to participate in your blog, Alessandra!

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