Name: Noah Cicero
Current publication: Noah Cicero's most recent books are: "Las Vegas Bootlegger: Empire of Self-Importance" on Trident Press. And "Wild Kingdom: An Autobiographical Poetry Adventure" on House of Vlad.
Recommendations: Book: Hilary Hahn's Sibelius Concerto; Yvette Young's Yearn.
If you enjoyed this Noah Cicero interview, visit his site on Neutral Spaces for a brief overview of his work and previous interviews.
When did you start writing- and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about literature and writing that drew you to it?
I felt a sensation that the world did not make sense. There are a lot of writers that feel that way as well. I remember liking Oscar Wilde. He was funny. I haven't read him in years. I really liked Rose and the Nightingale. Seemed perfect to me.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I imitated Hemingway, but not very well. Then I imitated Beckett. I found that I could write in short clipped sentences. I liked "Lifting Belly" by Gertrude Stein a lot. My early books look a lot like "Lifting Belly". The content was not derived from Beckett and Stein, just the structure of the sentences. The content was the life that surrounded me.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I am an awkward sad unimportant person. My characters are always awkward sad unimportant people.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I put too much of my emotional viewpoint in the books. Now, I can let things happen and be as themselves as possible. I thought I knew what things meant when I was young, now I know, there isn't really meaning to anything. There aren't any grand solutions.
How do you see the relationship between style, form, plot and storytelling – and how would you rate their importance for you, respectively?
I am a terrible story teller. I can't do it. It isn't in me. Random things happen and the book ends.
Observation and research are often quoted as important elements of the writing process. Can you tell us a bit about your perspective on them?
I really like books that use a lot of research, I am reading Mario Vargas Llosa's "The Feast of the Goat" right now. You can tell while reading it that Mr. Llosa did a lot of research on the Trujillista regime, and I love it. I am glad he did it. I know a writer that writers Buddhist book regarding Dogen and he travels around looking at different translations of Dogen. I think that is super cool.
Personally, I've never had the time to do that. If someone handed me money and said "go and write a researched novel" I would jump at the chance.
How do you see the relationship between conscious planning and tapping into the subconscious; between improvisation and composition? When dealing with the end of a story, for example, do you tend to minutely map it out or follow the logic of the narrative as it unfolds itself?
I have done novels and poetry books that were mapped out. The last two things I wrote, "Las Vegas Bootlegger" and "Wild Kingdom", were completely unmapped. I would write in the morning, go swimming, think about what I would do next in the pool, then write more. If I couldn't get the thought I want, I would take a long ride in my car out into the desert listening to music, then it would hit me. I like improvising though. When I wrote "Las Vegas Bootlegger", I was writing 15 pages a day.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do writing and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wake up at 6am, shower, go get a venti iced coffee at starbucks. Then drive home, turn on Chopin's Nocturnes, then write for two hours. Then go swimming in the pool. Then get another venti iced coffee and write for two more hours.
Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
The only book I ever felt super special about was "Bipolar Cowboy". To me, it was the only time I completely won. I had several crazy years in a row and it led to a total mental breakdown. I was mentally ill, I lost the ability to talk. They had to medicate me. As I recovered, I started to write poems. They came so naturally, so easily. I don't know how it happened. I am stunned by what happened those couple of months in 2014. The cover was perfect, the publisher did a great job, it was like, all my dreams came true. I am very lucky, I can always tell myself until the day I die, "I did it, I wasn't an asshole, I did it."
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Literature is funny, because the feeling of air and the sun is impossible to describe. There is no way to describe in words what the Las Vegas sun feels like in Summer. "When it hits your head it just burns." I just wrote a sentence with a metaphor of burning, and I'm sure a lot of great writers could write amazing metaphors about the Las Vegas summer sun, but it will not give it to you. What I mean, by give it to you, if I say, "A tangerine has a similar texture as an orange." You will get what I say. But saying, "The winter forest air of Oregon is not like the winter forest air of Pennsylvania." It doesn't do it. Or like, The smell of Seoul on a summer day, or the smell of the Grand Canyon after a rain. It means nothing, unless you've experienced it, besides the idea that it might disturb or make the character feel a certain way. But if I say, "This hot dog has the texture of chewed bubble gum left under an elementary school desk." For some reason, the impression is there.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My readers are unimportant people. I can't imagine them doing anything that would force them into situations with political types.
What can literature or poetry express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
It can't. The highest form of art to me is the violin. Literature can't compare and doesn't say 1/10th of what a violin can. Only the violin can reach death.