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An Interview with Edward Mullany (2009)

++ This interview originally appeared on the Keyhole Magazine website, which sadly crashed and was rebuilt without all the old content. So I am posting it here in honor of the news that Edward’s first book of prose is forthcoming from Publishing Genius. Check out his first book here and  his art here. ++


I. Introduction

I lived in the same apartment building with Edward Mullany for about a year, and with his then-fiance/now-wife Anjali for double that. He and I once played pool against these two guys—a manic unfunny court jester type and a surly expatriate who, upon meeting, grew to hate each other throughout the course of the game. I’m pretty sure we won.

I got to know and love his work as I encountered it, first in readings, then in many of my favorite journals. His writing has appeared in Keyhole, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Ohio Review, Tampa Review, Beeswax, Johnny America, Invisible Ear, and other journals.

Edward now lives in New York, where he teaches at College of Staten Island.  He is an associate editor at matchbook, an online literary journal.


II. An Edward Mullany Reader

A Dozen Fictions:

–       A Lost Ashtray

–       Curtains

–       A Minnesota Divorce

–       Three Stories

–       Three Shorts

–       Three Flash Fictions

And a Poem:

–       The Harrowing of Hell


III. A Conversation with Edward Mullany

Gabe Durham: I was talking to my friend David the other day about how he hasn’t really begun sending out poems yet, even though he’s already written quite a few good ones, because he’d like to take his time, save up, and then send them out once he has a sizable body of work–we took to calling this the “hoard and blitz” method. There’s a quality control aspect to this method that really appeals to me, and it’s kind of the opposite strategy of those of us who began by sending out work that either wasn’t yet ready or never would be. You waited awhile to send out your stories and poems, too, didn’t you?

Edward Mullany: I’m not sure one way is preferable to the other. Maybe it’s more a matter of habit, and varies from writer to writer. I didn’t so much “wait” to send stuff out; it was more that I never got into a routine of sending stuff out until several years after I’d begun writing. Which was fortunate, because, in retrospect, it took me a long time to write anything that I can say I’m proud of. Not that everything I write now is good, but I’m a better critic of my own work now; I can see when the writing isn’t going the way it ought to be going. Of course, it’s another thing altogether to fix it.

GD: Your poems are often narrative and your stories are sometimes as short as a few sentences, so there is often some stylistic overlap between the two, but you mentioned to me once that your poems and stories come from different places. I’m interested in that idea, that classification maybe could come less from the rules a story/poem follows but from what ignites them. Could you elaborate on that and/or correct me if I’m misrepresenting you?

EM: That’s a really interesting question. Classification is more useful (as a tool) to critics than it is to artists, but every artist needs to be a good critic, whereas the opposite is not necessarily true. This is because art is the only human endeavor in which success cannot be entirely explained (or duplicated) by technical mastery. Think of the paintings of Jackson Pollock. People are often claiming that ‘a child’ could do what he did, but it isn’t true. A Pollock is a Pollock, and nothing imitative ever comes close.

What I’m saying is an artist must know what he’s doing; if he doesn’t know why he’s making the technical and imaginative choices he is making (and if he isn’t pulling them off), chances are the piece will have no order, and thus will not be art. That isn’t to say the process of artistic creation is an entirely conscious act (it isn’t), but rather that there must be a constant interaction between the artist’s conscious and unconscious mind.

It’s in this context that I think a discussion of genre – the difference between prose and poetry, for instance – should take place. As you alluded to, many fiction writers are experimenting with the length of the short story. The term “flash fiction” has become popular. One result of this trend is that long narrative poetry and short narrative fiction are beginning to resemble each other in a way that we may or may not have seen before. (This ignores, to a degree, the fact that form alone – verses, linebreaks, rhyme, etc. – can differentiate poetry from fiction, but the larger point remains).  The suggestion, then, that we conceive of the difference between poetry and prose in terms of impulse (or, as you mentioned, “what ignites them”) is a good one.

In my own work, poetry allows me to access a voice I cannot access in fiction. The conceit is different; for some reason, in poetry, I feel both able and compelled to give expression to feelings and ideas that are of the utmost personal significance. This is not to say that fiction is not equally an expression of a writer’s personality, but that, in fiction, the writer’s orientation to the audience is qualified by an act of dramatization that is absent (or less visible) in poetry. The result is that fiction often feels staged or artificial (I do not mean this pejoratively) in a way that poetry does not. In other words, the poet is the closest to the raw materials (psychic, spiritual, emotional, etc.) that it is the job of all literary artists to mine.

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