Bianca Stone is a multimedia artist tackling a number of intriguing mediums. She’s released two books of poetry: Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (2014, Octopus Books) and The Möbius Strip Club of Grief (2018, Tin House). While those two collections alone are worthy of attention [and this interview (and this list)], Stone also combines her words with her comics to create an abstract and original hybrid style known as poetry comics. In 2016, she released Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours, a comprehensive collection distributed through LSU Press. Along with time-lapse videos, folk songs, a collaborative project with a filmmaker, wood cuts, and a two-year-old daughter, Bianca Stone’s work ethic is dizzying. I asked the ambitious and prolific artist about her craft, her future projects, and why it’s important to step away from Netflix.
How has 2018 been treating you?
Since it’s been my daughter’s second year, it’s a whole new experience for me. Also, my new book came out this past spring, and it’s been wonderful. These two things combined, new motherhood, and moving on from the poems from that book, I’ve found myself writing and drawing again with a different mindset, and that is good.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a lot of poems about human nature, and some of them are becoming poetry comics as well. But my focus is also on some collaborative projects, one with the filmmaker Nora Jacobson, and I’m doing some experimental animation for a documentary about my mom. A lot of my time is also spent on the letterpress Vandercook SP15 at the Ruth Stone House, making poetry broadsides and chapbook covers for Factory Hollow Press, and the Ruth Stone House Press.
A book of poetry comics, an illustrated chapbook, and a collection of poems, all in the last few years. Do you create every day or does it come in waves?
Yes, there are waves of consistent creativity in certain areas, but there are also long periods of time I am neither writing nor drawing. I think these times are necessary, although one can’t help but feel guilty and worried during those times. I have been reading some about “daily discipline,” and I’m always trying to figure out the best way to balance my time, to be creative and productive, but also not to keep busy for the sake of keeping busy.
Given your hybrid style, is it difficult to write a poem and leave it without an added illustration? Did you find yourself drawing on the margins of pieces within The Möbius Strip Club of Grief, for example?
I do love to doodle in books, but no, I think for me the biggest challenge is actually putting poetry and image together successfully. I believe firmly in the power of words alone, but I’m also very interested in how to expand our ideas of the poem, and how to retain the power of a poem with imagery. I’ve always wanted to keep my poetry books separate from my poetry comics. One day I will make a book combining them perhaps.
In regards to your poetry comics, I imagine that the poem arrives before the comic, but is it ever the other way around for you?
In general, yes. I have poems I’ve written that I use. But lately that is also changing, as I am experimenting with different methods of inspiration from image. I allow myself to be spontaneous in my drawing, and while I’m drawing I write the poem. I think that both mediums have much to offer the other, in terms of generativeness. When you’re painting or drawing with your hands, it does allow for a certain blank state of mind that can bring forth some powerful words. You have to let yourself into a certain state of mind, and trust it, let it come.
Folk songs, time lapse videos, poems, illustrations. Are there any mediums you'd like to try out that you haven't experimented with yet?
I’ve just started doing some linoleum and wood cuts, which I can use for the letterpress printing. However, it’s not that different from what I’ve already been doing, although the tools are different, and of course I’m not very good at it yet.
Upholstery? If I could put fabric on furniture, what a gift that would be!
And sculpture, with marble or some very smooth large medium; or some sense of how to manipulate metals.
Outside of your own writing, what have you been reading as of late?
One book of poetry I’ve found really phenomenal this year is Terrance Hayes’ “American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin,” and I continue to go back to that again and again lately. I’ve also become very interested in the Indian philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, and been reading many of his teachings with relish. I find his wisdom refreshing and critical for living.
Do you require noise or silence while you write/paint? What artists/albums have you been enjoying this year?
When I write I need to have silence. But painting and drawing I enjoy listening to music and podcasts. One album I’ve been listening this year is The Magnolia Electric Co. by Songs: Ohia. Beginning to end, genius.
What's one literary magazine that was formative in your early poetry acceptances, and what's one literary magazine where you hope to one day be published?
I think when I really started to get excited about having a publication was getting into a magazine called Conduit which I still adore, and is going strong (and I hear has just started publishing books!) Crazyhorse, too. Also some small magazines started by young poets at the time, including Fou (online) which was so great, and Maggy.
Well, since I’ve just got into The New Yorker, that was previously my top choice, and I’m thrilled. I think next I will set my sights on The Paris Review.
If you can, provide a photo of your workspace. What are some essentials while you create?
I had to set up a little table for my daughter, Odette, because she’s always trying to paint and draw on my stuff with me! So here’s a picture of us working together. For painting I play music or listen to a podcast, and have nice lighting--not too strong, not too dim. I like to be able to look out the window and have my books around. Strong hot tea, yes. It’s great to have a beer but that always leads to distraction (getting up to get another beer, then getting up to seek adventure and snacks…it’s best if I stick with tea.)
For this ongoing author interview series, I'm asking for everyone to present a writing prompt. It can be one that you craft out of thin air, it can be one you created a while ago, or it can be one you adore from an outside source that was passed down to you.
One of my favorites is one my grandmother, Ruth Stone, came up with years and years ago. It’s called “The Poetry Game” and you do it with at least one other person (or yourself if you have some books or magazines to pluck words out of). Each person gives about four words (if there’s a lot of people obviously only one or two), and then once you have your list of random words each person has given, you go off and write a poem using those words somewhere in the poem. What I love about this is you get to have some fresh vocabulary you wouldn’t normally have; it can be challenging to use certain words! And it’s great to see how people tackle that differently. After writing on the spot and reading your fresh poems out loud to one another. It really relaxes you into writing and sharing.
Do you have any advice for poets and/or visual artists working on their craft?
Here’s some advice I need to give myself today: how much time are you putting into your craft? When you think about what you actually did yesterday, where your focus was--checking your phone? Cleaning? Responding to “urgent” emails? Reading news stories that popped up on your phone? Overeating? Drinking? Being hungover? Texting? (phone phone phone) Beating yourself up? Feeling guilt? Saying you’ll start tomorrow? It’s amazing how much time we waste on things we think are important. How much time we waste on getting ready to start, but never starting. How much we put other people’s needs first: things for work; domestic things. Sometimes it’s like: fuck that! How about you read a book of poetry for thirty minutes? When’s the last time you did that? And if you can spend 30-40 minutes on some Netflix episode, then why not spend that time on something that is getting you closer to who you really want to be? Our biggest threat in our culture right now is entertainment. It’s frightening how much of a waste of time it actually is, especially when you’re an artist. My greatest advice is put as much stock into your creativity as you do to Netflix. Put as much value into reading other people’s poetry as you do to reading HuffPost. Put as much time into editing your work and sending it out as you do to Instagram posts. You’d be crushing it!
Any final thoughts / words of wisdom?
Drink more water! Read more poetry!