The Author Spotlight Series shines a light on writers creating heartfelt and original work across genres, giving them an opportunity to talk about their books and why they do what they do.


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“Geoff Bouvier’s third full-length volume of prose poetry, Us From Nothing, is a poetic history that stretches from the big bang to the near future, published in 2023 in Canada (from Wolsak and Wynn’s Buckrider imprint) and in 2024 in the United States (by Black Lawrence Press). His first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California-Berkeley, and he taught creative writing for three years at the University of Toronto-Mississauga. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.”


When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

My mom used to read picture books to me, and that was wonderful, but when I was 2 or 3 years old, my father came home from his job as a high school teacher one evening and he sat down with a pictureless book in his lap. Dad’s book only had little black marks on white pages, and when I climbed onto the sofa next to him, he explained how those marks were words, and the words coming out of his mouth corresponded to those black marks on the white page, and from that moment, I saw words as a kind of magic, and I was under their spell. For a long time, I thought writing was a secret code. By the time I was 8 or 9, I was convinced that writing’s “code” could solve death. I’m not sure that I’ve ever let go of that sense.


Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

I wrote comic books with my mother when I was 3, 4, 5. The earliest one I still have in a box somewhere is called The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs. There’s another called The Cup Without a Saucer, so I think I had a theme. My first epic was written by my own 8 year-old hand in pencil and had accompanying drawings. It was called Jiminy Cricket and the Beanstalk. It was mashup fan fiction. I started writing poetry when a poet visited my 4th grade class. That first poem was about an ice storm and it had the line “a carapace of frozen wetness / enclosing all in cold and careful shells.” I guess you can tell I liked alliteration and reading the thesaurus. After that first turn to poetry, I never really turned back.


How did you develop your skills? 

I imitated. And revised. And imitated. And revised. These two techniques – borrowing the primary vision from elsewhere, and then revising it until it was individuated – are the basis of my creative writing pedagogy. (I’m a college creative writing professor.) When I was young, I imitated a new poet every week or month – though some stayed with me longer, for sure – and I kept a strict regimen of revising old work until it became either wonderful or unintelligible. I have many old manuscripts that are all slash marks, scribbles, and redaction; they look like John Cage’s experimental music scores.


Who are some of your biggest literary influences? Do you have a favourite book/author?

My favorite book is probably Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, because it’s daring and risky and a wonderful work of literary criticism. It treats the human mind as a text, which it is. My desert island book is Shakespeare’s Complete Works, or maybe Finnegan’s Wake (since I’ve never been able to read it through, and presumably I’d be on the island a long time), or perhaps Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus, because that tome is inexhaustible. I think John Ashbery is the greatest poet who ever lived, and I kind of hate him for it. I think Franz Kafka is the greatest writer who ever lived, and I’m in awe of him for it. Wallace Stevens is essential to learn how to write poetry. Zone by Guillaume Apollinaire is a truly great poem that I keep learning from. Lately, I’ve loved and learned from Eduardo Galeano – who wholly shaped my latest writing project – Amos Tutuola, Anne Carson, Lydia Davis, and definitely Kamau Brathwaite, who is the most underrated great poet of all time.


How would you describe your work?

I approach a piece of writing the way a composer approaches a piece of music. My ideas are more structural and formal than content-based. With my new book, I wanted to explore human history (the content), but I never could think of how to explore that until Eduardo Galeano’s work suggested a structure and a form for that exploration. Even before I started writing history, back when I was writing about desire, it was the formal thinking that drove me; I’ve always wanted the piece of writing to be of-a-piece, sonorous, ordered, and beautiful, no matter what the piece was “about.” In other words, I’ve always wanted my writing to be something, instead of being about something. Even in my new book, where I’m writing about the most significant events in human history, I wanted each chapter, each epic canto, to memorably inscribe itself into a reader’s imagination. I don’t just want you to read the words, I want you to feel them. Writing is somatic – it is “of the body.” Reading, too, is a somatic exercise. I guess my work is athletic: it stretches, and works itself out. But my work also strives to communicate: it wants to be accessed, understood, and enjoyed.


What’s your writing process like?

I write at an alternating standup/sit-down desk right next to the standup/sit-down desk of my novelist partner, SJ Sindu. Sometimes, we collaborate. I like to write in the mornings, when my mind is fresh, clear, and recovering from sleep and the day before. And I like to revise at night, when my mind is full of the noise of that day. I like to work on multiple projects at once, sometimes in different mediums or even different genres, so that I always feel more or less inspired to be working on the thing I’m working on. The challenge is to finish the projects, to try to always be a finisher, even though I’m also an insufferable perfectionist.


Tell us about your most recent book. 

My book that came out from Wolsak and Wynn’s Buckrider imprint in the fall of 2023 is a serial epic prose poem about the most important events in human history. Us From Nothing: A Poetic History was born in my imagination because I wanted to understand who we are, where we came from, how we got here, and where we’re likely headed. And when I discovered Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, I saw a way that I might approach those questions in short bursts of poetic prose. It occurred to me many times, over the seven years that I researched and wrote the book, that everyone could benefit from asking those questions and then doing research to arrive at some answers. I do hope that readers enjoy my version of that epic tale, and I hope that my book begins to answer those big questions for the people who read it.


What are you working on now/next?

I’ve got lots of projects going, at various levels of completeness: a critical essay on John Ashbery where I read his poetry using techniques borrowed from music theory; a television script about a polyamorous couple that I’m cowriting with my partner Sindu and a friend of ours; a novel about space pirates that I’m cowriting with my partner; a new historical epic about the history of white people; the occasional lyric prose poem. I’m also trying to teach good creative writing classes and workshops. I feel privileged and very grateful to be able to live a life of the mind.