Catching Up With Elinor Nauen

Published June 1, 2023

Elinor Nauen’s books include Now That I Know Where I’m Going, Snowbound, My Marriage A to Z: A big-city romance, So Late into the Night, CARS & Other Poems, American Guys (published by Hanging Loose Press), and, as editor, Ladies, Start Your Engines: Women writers on cars & the road (Faber & Faber, 1997) and Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend: Women writers on baseball (Faber & Faber, 1994). Her work has appeared in New American Writing, FICTION, Exquisite Corpse, The World, KOFF, Elysian Fields Quarterly, Aethlon, Up Late: American Poetry Since 1970, National Endowment for the Humanities Magazine, American Book Review, Café Review and other magazines and anthologies. Nauen has been a teacher/guest lecturer in writing workshops and classes in colleges, secondary and primary schools, and adult workshops at the Pingry School, Martinsville, NJ, where she was the visiting poet for several years; Washington State University, University of South Dakota, Columbia University Graduate Journalism School, School of Visual Arts, and elsewhere. She is a member of PEN American Center and was on the board of directors of The Poetry Project for 22 years. She was born and raised in South Dakota and currently lives in New York City.

Hanging Loose Press: What are this past year’s accomplishments that you are most proud of?

Elinor Nauen: It was fun to be one of the “enablers” of a terrific new magazine called Julebord (a Norwegian word that means, literally, Christmas table, but in Norwegian culture basically means “anything goes”). It was a quick and ad hoc but nice-looking gathering of 20 or so poets that the editors like. A throwback to the days of mimeo magazines that came out in a hurry to showcase a little party of poets.

HLP: That sounds right up our alley here at Hanging Loose! Can you give us a sense of your process, if not how the enablers came together to create Julebord?

EN: When my long-time friend Maureen Owen was in town last fall, we had lunch in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens & found ourselves missing the spontaneity of the old mimeo magazines, the way you could decide to do a magazine or book & voila!, there it was. Hence Julebord. We asked poets we liked for one page, then copied & assembled them into an 8.5 x 11 magazine. All the work was excellent & the magazine contained poets both old & new to us. We kept our role quiet because we wanted people to enjoy the work without the distraction of, well, us. 

HLP: Were there particularly difficult experiences/challenges for you recently?  And how did you work through them? 

EN: If I lay out what’s been going on, it’ll sound melodramatic, and I’ll start to cry! Let’s just say it’s been a difficult stretch of deaths, worries, failures that kept me from focusing on what I actually care about, which added to the demoralizing confusion.

HLP: Sorry to hear about your losses and difficult times.

EN: However, to add to your first question, I’m proud that I’ve managed to keep going at all. And as always, at least for me, it’s hard to see what’s happening until it’s somewhat past, which suggests I’m moving out of this gloomy stretch and back to my usual Midwestern cheerfulness.

HLP: We are not surprised to hear that your bright spirit and sensational sense of humour is getting you through this gloomy stretch.

Now for a fun pivot: What are three books you’ve read this year that have made an impression on you?

“Me w/ antlers”

EN: One book, which I just finished, was the English poet Stephen Spender’s autobiography, World within World. I don’t think he’s much read these days but he says interesting things about poetry and being a poet. He said he’d thought about becoming a painter and had ideas for paintings, but what he couldn’t stand was spending time on the details of the paintings. Whereas he could work forever on a poem. He thought the right form for an artist is the one they’re willing to stay with the details of. I’ve been so scattered among my troubles and interests (learning to yodel! studying Norwegian! doing karate!) and it was clarifying to remind myself to whittle away the half-interests. To put my time where I’m willing to take pains (poetry). 

The poet Ruth Lepson and I invented the “short story book club” this year. We had the desire to talk about literature but didn’t want to commit to a book. It’s really a brilliant idea: low stress, manageable, fun, and it’s meant that I’ve read a lot of short fiction, which I never really had. We began with the Williamses (Tennessee, William Carlos, Joy) but now it’s whoever someone in our fluctuating circle suggests: Rachel Kushner, Chekhov, Lucia Berlin, Isak Dinesen, Henry James, Ottessa Moshfegh, and others. 

HLP: Oh, just read a story by Moshfegh in Harper’s and my head is still a-swirl from its strange raw beauty. Who else do you recommend?

EN: I’ve been reading up a storm! I’ve recently liked Ada Calhoun’s Also a Poet, Allison Benis White’s Please bury me in this, two biographies of Stephen Crane (my first favorite poet, when I was 15, but largely, I suspect, because he died young, which at the time seemed the correct thing for a poet to do) by Paul Auster and John Berryman, Silence in the age of noise by a Norwegian philosopher and explorer named Erlin Kagge, Strongmen, by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, about how dictators get, keep, and lose power, books about Spain including Spanish artists like Chillida and Dalí, and more! A year or 2 ago I started writing down all the titles I read (or didn’t finish) so it’s easy to answer this question. 

HLP: It is always fun to see who/what poets are reading.  What are your upcoming projects? 

EN: I have vast lists of things I intend to do this year. One is going through my papers to find and decide upon final versions of poems, and also to figure out whether they’ve been published. I want a tidier office. I have a wonderful assistant named Coco who’s been putting my notebooks chronologically in boxes, and in general making me face the mountains of paper I’ve managed to accumulate. Paper! I love paper! Every dang scrap of it! I also have a couple of manuscripts. As usual, sometimes I think every poem in them is terrific, then when I look again, I can only stand a handful. I wanted to do something I never have done, which is publish a book quickly, just get the work out there, maybe only a few copies for people who might be interested, sort of like Julebord. So far I haven’t quite managed to do that but I may I may I may. 

Elinor Nauen, age 6

Find out more about Elinor Nauen at