James: I usually have to sneak up on the zone or back my way into it. I'm a fidgety and distractable person and I find things work better if I don't try to militate against those traits. So I find my way in usually by doing something else like walking or taking a shower. I am pretty constitutionally opposed to strenuousness. I can't even really work at a desk it seems so fraught with intention and demands. Poems find me like happy accidents. I fantasize about being a machine kind of artist, like Rainer Werner Fassbinder constantly in that state of creativity. I think maybe artists always fantasize about another way of working. But it doesn't seem to be my fate, at least so far.
What is your favorite time of day? Why?
James: I love the hour between 6 and 7AM. I often sleep through it but when I manage to catch it I love the feeling that the day is wide open and that no one needs anything from you yet. I think it's the most spacious hour.
Do you have anyone that you love to collaborate with?
James: My husband Michael and I have been collaborating on decorating our Brooklyn apartment, Skylounge, for the last couple years. We are both aesthetically uncompromising and have very bold idiosyncratic tastes which makes it a highly contentious process, almost a kind of loving warfare, but it's so beautiful to see the outcome as a metaphor for the way our styles collide, the way the clashing and stridency form a deeper harmony. I love that.
I think that art and life are probably one thing. I think art just entails an intenser form of attention than a lot of daily life. Sometimes I think daily life is designed to destroy the attention that art springs from. In my fantasy life I am able to live all the time in that space of attention. And then I'd be art. Finally!
How do you conquer a creative block?
James: I like what they say about Kafka, that he had a sign over his desk that said WAIT. I think waiting and idling are generally undervalued as creative solutions. But if I really need to give myself a shove I'll set out to make something silly. I find this deflates the experience of being stuck which is often secretly some kind of weird bad ego trip. Last year for example inspired by my friend Claire DeVoogd who was collecting hand-drawn likenesses of Dante recalled from memory from our friends I drew Dante cartoons with little acrostics using his name to accompany them. A cartoon of Dante looking a little deranged and mischievous while eating biscotti is paired with a poem that reads:
Don't tell Anybody but I Nibble little Treats Even on Sundays
Once you write something like that you really have permission to do anything next.
Which do you believe to be true- Art imitates life, or life imitates art?
James: I think that art and life are probably one thing. I think art just entails an intenser form of attention than a lot of daily life. Sometimes I think daily life is designed to destroy the attention that art springs from. In my fantasy life I am able to live all the time in that space of attention. And then I'd be art. Finally!
If you could trade places with any person (alive or dead) who would it be?
James: Right now I'd like to be Beyoncé for a day, on a performance day for the Renaissance tour. I'd love to know what it feels like to be on top of the world in that way and to get to share your art and vision with millions of people and to bring it to them with your body and your voice. Poetry's rewards are so subtle and abstract, even sometimes (I hate to say it) really meagre. I certainly couldn't live that kind of spectacular life but I'd love to know what it feels like.
Share something that’s meaningful to you or offers a window into your life.
These photos were taken in Fire Island Pines as an homage to one of my favorite architects, Horace Gifford, who you can read about in a beautiful book called Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction by Christopher Rawlins. Gifford built 63 homes in Fire Island Pines, including the Roeder House, whose roof deck is where Claire DeVoogd took these pictures of me. I've always been so inspired by these gay houses, their beautifully transparent view lines, the way you can see right into them from the beach, houses designed to reveal and display rather than obscure their interiors. It never occurred to me before visiting the Pines that there could be such a thing as sexy or flirtatious architecture.
Somewhere in the book Christopher Rawlins writes that Horace Gifford was often to be found on the boardwalk on his way to or from a client meeting wearing only speedos and carrying his briefcase. I've always been so delighted by this image of queer creativity and industry, and I felt inspired to recreate it for these photos. The briefcase in the picture was given to me by a friend of my dad's named Jack Putnam, a writer who wanted to encourage me early on when I was in high school. He wrote me a letter which I keep in one of the inner pockets still which contains an invaluable piece of wisdom, something I'm still working on learning years later — "WRITERS WRITE!"
Last summer I had a beautiful dream. It followed a long spell of not writing which even I was beginning to find worrisome. I was in a very sparsely furnished apartment in Naples nursing a broken heart or losing my mind, I wasn't sure which yet, and I wrote a kind of lousy little poem right before falling asleep. I shouldn't be judgmental of it, but you know it wasn't a stunner. Very tenuous and fragile. And that night I dreamed I was in my childhood home at night surrounded by massive snow drifts outside and there was a knock on the door and I opened a door and a bluebird flew in and buzzed playfully around the kitchen and as it was leaving brushed up against my hand affectionately and left me with a small blue feather in my hand. My friend Courtnee Parr who knows about these things told me blue is the color of the throat chakra and that bluebirds symbolize song and singers. For me the bluebird was poetry coming home to me, leaving me this gift, and then of course taking off again as always.
Save 10% by subscribing to our newsletter.
Sign up to get exclusive access to new collections, member pre-sales, and events.