Nick Ripatrazone, the author of Oblations, an excellent collection of prose poems coming out soon, interviewed me recently for The Fine Delight, his brand new website. Here's a portion of the interview, along with a link to the complete exchange. Nick's previous post contains a thoughtful analysis of "The Didache" from Unbuilt Projects.
4. Could you discuss your appreciation for the writing (and ideas about writing) of Flannery O'Connor?
I've always been stirred by the relationship between disruption and growth in her work. Grace doesn't often happen without confrontation, especially confrontation between strangers. I'm also interested in the relationship between irreverence and reverence in her stories. You can't have reverence without the other, you know? The Grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" doesn't reach out to touch the Misfit's face until after she mumbles, "Maybe he didn't raise the dead." That's the first point in the piece where she actively doubts, the first time she asks a question. The religion of complacency and denial and reward for social achievement--gone up in a flare. I don't think that she would have come to that radical connection with the Misfit unless she'd opened herself up to doubt.
I also love what O'Connor does with tone--the almost slapstick, vaguely sitcom-y opening of "A Good Man" morphing into something so grave and pressurized that it's almost unbearable. Try reading that whole story aloud in a group setting: It's on fire. I'm always relieved by any piece of art that escapes its original terms, that's given permission to leap and stretch and go to strange, anarchic places. Of course there's still humor, dark humor, in the gravest parts of the story, but the story's become another animal in its final pages. There's such a lesson in that, not only in terms of content but form, too.
5. Any Catholic literary influences (besides O'Connor)?
Ah, definitely Denis Johnson. JESUS' SON is about as important to me as anything, not just its thinking, its accommodation of heightened perception, but its economy, its disjunctions, its room for inference. A beautiful, wounded mind that's always struggling toward clarity, grace--and what it means to recognize other human beings. It's music in language.