Coming Fall of 2015 from Sibling Rivalry Press -- The Collected & New Collaborative Work of Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton. Excitement!
And here are more 2015 titles from SRP, via cue cards & poet extraordinaire Ocean Vuong.
Coming Fall of 2015 from Sibling Rivalry Press -- The Collected & New Collaborative Work of Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton. Excitement!
And here are more 2015 titles from SRP, via cue cards & poet extraordinaire Ocean Vuong.
In the fall of 2014, the Mexican poets Dolores Dorantes (Córdoba, Veracruz, 1973) and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez (Mexico City, 1977) will be publishing a collaborative book of poems entitled, Intervene/Intervenir (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014, forthcoming). The English translation of the collection (which hasn't been published in Spanish yet) is by the North American poet and translator Jen Hofer (San Francisco, 1971). Jen Hofer is, by far, the most important North American translator working with Mexican poetry today. Her many publications include the groundbreaking Sin puertas visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women Writers (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and most recently she co-translated Heriberto Yépez's critical study of Charles Olson's travels and research in Mexico, The Empire of Neomemory (Oakland/Philadelphia: Chain Links, 2013).
I was introduced to the work of Dolores in 2003 via the network of Mexican poetry blogs, which emerged at the same time as many experimental North American poets took to the blogosphere. Dolores still maintains a blog today (Dolores Dorantes) and for over a decade her online writing and her books of poetry have been essential to me. North American readers can find her work in the volume sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre: A Bilingual Edition of Books Two and Three from Dolores Dorantes, translated by Jen Hofer (Denver: Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2007). Dolores lived for many years in Ciudad Juárez and today resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Through correspondence with Dolores I arrived at Rodrigo's poetry, via his second collection Estimado cliente (Toluca: Bonobos Editores, 2007). Rodrigo himself is a translator who has brought Jack Spicer and Muriel Rukeyser into Spanish. He lives in Mexico City and Intervene/Intervenir will be his first book to appear in English. I spoke with Dolores and Rodrigo via e-mail regarding their upcoming book with Ugly Duckling Presse. I have translated their responses into English. If anyone would like to read our conversation in Spanish, I've posted it at my blog Venepoetics.
I get the impression that Intervene emerges, partly, from the friendship between you two. How did you decide to collaborate on this book?
Dolores Dorantes: Intervene came about from an invitation to collaborate with the magazine Kaurab Online. The poet Aryanil Mukherjee wrote to me when he was editing an issue for the magazine with texts created in collaboration. Aryanil wanted three pages from each pair of collaborators and I invited Rodrigo to do something together. For me, the experience of collaborating was so new and getting to know Rodrigo's creative process made such an impact on me (this was my first time collaborating with someone): it was like discovering the mechanism that makes a flower open up, or something like that, so I didn't want to stop. I had already decided to abandon writing poetry in a formal manner, to give up writing verses, but working with Rodrigo made me see the formula for writing poetry in a different manner, I began to break many of my own rules, with great trepidation, I took up verses once again (something I haven't done since then). And likewise, with great trepidation I opened up my creative process to another writer in order to collaborate. That was fantastic.
Rodrigo Flores Sánchez: Lola and I have been friends for a while now. She proposed to me that we collaborate on something for a magazine; so we wrote two or three poems together, without any specific topic. Those poems came out in one or two days. In other words, Lola would send me a couple verses, I'd send her back a couple more, that's how the first texts were created. Then the strategy changed: each one of us wrote complete poems and we responded to each other with new texts. That small group of poems soon became a multitude.
Could you describe the process of composition for the book? Did you collaborate in person or via e-mail?
DD: For me it was a euphoric process of exchanging Word documents that we'd send back and forth via e-mail. A complete immersion. Afterwards, I can't remember specific dates, but Rodrigo might, I travelled to Mexico City and we met in the neighborhood of Coyoacán to decide what poems we'd keep for the book, and of those what other poems might survive the revision process. I think that's how it happened, but in these cases the process can always be seen differently by each person, it's like the same story told by different grandparents, there'll always be details that I carry with emotion and preference and that Rodrigo might see in a much more precise manner, he always looks at things in a more precise and organized manner than I do.
RFS: For me the process was very stimulating and disconcerting at the same time. In the case of Intervene, I hadn't ever participated in a collaborative writing project without the elements I mentioned above. You have to keep in mind that Lola was in Ciudad Juárez and I was in Chilango [Mexico City]. Lola and I have actually only met in person a few times, but I feel a great deal of affection, admiration and empathy for her. I think that without those elements I wouldn't be able to participate in a project like Intervene. I read everything Lola publishes and we've been writing to each other for years. In fact, after Intervene we began to write letters to each other for another project. For me the development of a gradual immersion in the other was quite dense. This process was a radical questioning of what identity means and of the "style" of a piece of writing. The process is the inverse of Ariadne's thread. The intention wasn't to leave the labyrinth but rather to go further in, to get lost in the questions, recurrences and stylistic marks of the other. In the end I think the writing, at least this writing, is a line, a glance toward signs that have been obstructed ahead of time, that belong to Nobody, that is, to a Cyclops, a blind man, a blindfolded man. What I mean is that you don't have any clues for deciphering a trajectory or definite a path. The only thing you can do is to thread the territory with questions.
At a reading you gave together in Mexico City in 2009 that can be seen on YouTube, the voice of the poet Jorge Solís Arenazas is heard reading a few fragments offstage from the audience. Is it safe to say that Intervene is a book that seeks out interventions from its readers?
DD: The reading that's up on YouTube was recorded during the presentation of a chapbook that we gave away for free where we printed a fragment from Intervene. The entire event was a total party. Without thinking about it or openly deciding to do it in that way, yes there were several interventions: the intervention of the poets Karen Plata and Inti García Santamaría, who made the chapbook. The intervention of the poet Laura Solórzano who read right before the two of us intervened that space: the house of the poet Jorge Solís Arenazas, who helped us out by presenting his voice for the performance, and the intervention of Producciones Autismo, who recorded the reading. Everything happened at the “Casa Vacía” [Empty House] (that's what Jorge would call his home each time he organized a reading) on Avenue Álvaro Obregón in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, and many of the things and situations that happened there were accidents. Decisions we made only minutes before reading.
RFS: The meaning of the title and the book for me has to do with two things. First, historically Mexico is a country that's been and is now intervened by different forces, armies, countries, police, etc. Before 1519, the constitution of Mesoamerica has to do with the intervention of different cultures and clans. The territory that's known as Mexico today and includes parts of the United States was intervened by the Spanish empire for three centuries. Afterwards, Mexico was intervened twice by France and twice by the United States. The Mexican territory was diminished due to North American annexations and the independence of Central American countries. In this sense, it really catches my attention that while the history and politics of Mexico can be read and tracked by following the history of its interventions, it's official policy has been the Estrada Doctrine: that is, non-intervention. In Freudian terms, it's a social projection that has been cured by a cliché and by an impossibility that isn't merely historical but also epistemic: to not intervene. In my case, I was interested in making that traumatic word visible, a word that today remains quite relevant. On the other hand, in the book, the intervention is represented by over-writing. Let's just say I believe that the social simile is subjectified in the map that is this book: a territory full of addendums, suppressions, typographical hierarchies, voices, questions, none of which belong to an authorship but instead merely make the authorial banishment evident. I really enjoyed the experience of that first public reading of the book (which so far has been the only one we've done together). Because we were able to do it in a “choral” manner, Jorge, Lola and I would read different typographical marks. It was a big inspiration to me, for instance, when I came across audio recordings of readings by Hannah Weiner, whose work, by the way, I got to know thanks to Lola. They're incredible.
What was the process of Jen Hofer's translation into English like? Did you collaborate with her in the translation?
DD: Well, I think Jen's processes are always very careful and creative. It's a process that hasn't finished yet and that I'd like to know more about, from Jen Hofer herself. Collaborations with Jen Hofer never take place merely on the plane of an interpretation and reinterpretation of a text. Jen always looks beyond, and she asks her questions. But, like I say, it's a process that isn't over yet because the bilingual edition of the book will be published at the end of 2014.
RFS: I enjoyed the translation process a great deal, Jen is an excellent conductor of texts. Besides being interested in the literality of the translation, she pays close attention to understanding the text in its context and to moving beyond that first level, I mean the literal one. In that sense, on her part there was always an open dialogue with Lola and myself, in which she contributed questions, uncertainties and observations. It was a very enriching experience for me.
It seems to me that the English translation of the book offers new possibilities for presenting the book in public, for creating a dialogue between the two languages. Do you plan on presenting the book in the United States when it's published here?
DD: Of course, we have to present the book in the United States. That's the way publishing houses promote their books and ensure the text will have a bigger impact on the reading public, especially when it's a case of poets who write in another language. How could the publishing house justify its reasons for publishing Mexican poetry if not through the authors themselves? Publishing poetry in itself is already a risk, and publishing poetry in another language, with authors from the closest country to the United States isn't precisely high on the list of priorities of white North American intellectuals, so we have to make ourselves visible, and have fun while we do it. Years ago, I read part of Intervene at a museum in Detroit, along with the poets Patrick Durgin, Laura Solórzano and Jen Hofer, who with their voices sustained a discourse that was different from the ones that appear in the upcoming Intervene (Intervene is a book in which more than three discourses are interwoven). That gave it an interesting theatrical dimension. I don't know how we'll have fun this time, and when exactly, but I'm sure it'll be something pretty crazy, because of Rodrigo's presence, (whew!) he's from another planet.
RFS: I'd love for Intervene to be presented in the United States.
One of the best poetry readings I’ve ever attended took place in a comfortable living room with a dozen people listening to the English poet Tom Raworth read at his signature breakneck speed. The night —which began with the raw and powerful folk music of Ben Collier and concluded with everyone chatting amiably throughout the house— was part of the Bonfire Reading Series here in Pittsburgh, PA. The readings always follow a simple but effective format: an invited musician, the featured poet, and an informal gathering afterwards with potluck snacks and drinks. The series has been running since 2012 and is curated by a collective of poets that includes Emily Carlson, Sten Carlson, Robin Clarke, R/B Mertz and Joshua Zelesnick.
The members of the collective met while they were poetry MFA students at the University of Pittsburgh several years ago. The idea for a reading series emerged as a natural extension of their friendship, as well as their belief in poetry as an essential part of their everyday lives. As Sten told me recently, when I interviewed him about the reading series: “We wanted to create poetic events that meant something to us.” The series is a reflection of their desire as poets to “create an eventful life together, as opposed to discrete, private acts of writing.”
All of the group members are educators and Sten also works as the Managing Director for the University of Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series. My wife Dayana and I moved to Pittsburgh in 2012 from Durham, NC, and befriending this group of poets is one of the reasons we love this city so much. Since we're neighbors, Sten and I tend to meet a couple times a month to talk about poetry at the nearby Kelly's Bar & Lounge in the East Liberty neighborhood. During one of those get-togethers recently (I half-jokingly call them our “poetry work meetings”), I took notes while Sten talked about the Bonfire Reading Series. I also e-mailed several questions to the group members. Between our conversation that night and various group e-mails, the following responses emerged.
You all met while studying at the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. When and how did the idea for the Bonfire Reading Series emerge? Were there any models that inspired you?
Joshua Zelesnick: I think one of the contributing factors to starting the Bonfire series came from the Occupy Movement—and the activism we’ve all been part of in some way. Yes, Pitt made it possible for all of us to meet, but the reading series was not as much informed by our Pitt experience (at least I would say). I remember R/B Mertz reading from her amazing book, Leaves of Money at the kick—off march towards People’s Park here in Pittsburgh (Mellon Green: the Occupy Pittsburgh camp site). Every week we would go to the campsite and read poems—anybody could read. It seemed to always boost morale, and so many people read. I remember meeting down in the T (subway) and gathering in a circle. Someone would just get up and read for a few minutes, then someone else. One time we read on the subway train. You can ride for free downtown for a few stops. I remember reading my poem, “Capitalism Poem #1.” A few strangers even clapped after I finished reading it. Of course, some people just seemed to be embarrassed for me.
In December of 2013, after a reading one night, I happened to be around when you had a discussion about possible future readings. I was so impressed by the informal yet thorough and democratic way that you made decisions. How do you all decide on what poets and musicians to invite?
R/B Mertz: I think the important thing is that everyone really respects each other and each others’ work and aesthetics, and we trust each others’ taste, I think, or are at least always open and genuinely interested about anyone someone else is interested in, or really anyone who is producing good art or interesting art, of whatever sort; so it’s been fairly haphazard—who is in town when, who knows a musician that someone might pair up with the poet; it’s very spontaneous and improvisational; but I think that’s why it’s great.
There's a magical atmosphere at your readings, whether they're held outside in the garden or indoors in your living room. What are some essential components of your reading series?
R/B Mertz: The fact that the readings take place in or around a home is really essential to me, maybe because when I think of the tradition of poetry I first encountered as a reader-- I first read about people reading poems or reciting them stiffly and formally, in British novels and stuff like that, where some ladies would read aloud or recite in drawing rooms to their families or suitors or whoever—reading these private lyrical things, Romantic poems, probably, in a private space, which was somehow made public by the communication across time and space between the poet and the reciter or reader, and the audience, and the author of the novel, and me...so to me, poetry was this thing that was created in absolute privacy, confessional, etc; and yet always accessed in this way that’s really removed from the author, and read aloud or performed (un-like a novel), which goes back to Homer reciting his stuff around the fire or wherever, or the village gathering in the theater or square…I find all the layers of this public/private stuff really fascinating, especially because we’re in this monumental phase of human communication, where publishing and authorship and all of these things are being re-defined, and of course viewing and audience-ship and reading and listening are all being re-defined, there’s something both ancient and radical about opening your home/private space to strangers, and to The Stranger that poetry is, or the poet is, and the strangeness of all that converging around live art vs. the recorded art of the television or the radio or the internet.
Is there a particular highlight from the readings that you'd like to tell us about?
Robin Clarke: During a particularly serious and important poetry reading (LOL I mean me! when I had the chance to read at our series) our fellow planners' 1-1/2 year-old, Jules, took a big dump in his portable potty training potty, which was discreetly located right there in the reading space! As I recall he must not have peed, because the toilet produces music when you pee. But generally the presence of children at these readings is amazing. When Tom Raworth read, he read a crazily fast poem about his kids in honor of this same potty-training child, who he'd been hanging out with the day of the reading. Poetry should not ever be a space for decorum, and the anarchic children just about clear us of that temptation. I'm told I was literally saying the word "embarrassed" when the dump was dropped. Lately I've been thinking poets have to be willing to risk humiliation at all times. Jules helped me learn that.
R/B Mertz: When Tom Raworth came, that was so special. Particularly because when we were in grad school, taking a class with Ben Lerner, who we admired a lot, Tom Raworth came to town for the first time. When Ben heard that Tom was going to be in town, he and Sten organized a reading for Tom in about a week. And I think Ben was kind of appalled that no one else was doing it, and he had just gotten to Pittsburgh and didn’t know the venues or anything yet, but they had the reading at a hookah bar, with people burbling the whole time. So, Ben at one point gave this speech about how we should go to every reading, everywhere, and if we heard a poet was going to be in town, we should host them; so when Tom Raworth was in town again, it was really special to be able to have him with us, and to know that we had put this thing in place that was ready to receive him, which was also a tribute to Ben, for me, in that moment, like we were completing the ultimate homework assignment from our teacher. Also, Tom Raworth is a fucking rockstar and can drink and smoke like one, and write and perform times better than one, which I found really inspiring.
Also, when gt rabbit read outside last summer, that was probably the most personally special for me; he had just returned from two years in South Korea, so it was like a reunion, and he did this really electronic sound art outside, which also messed with this public/private/house stuff I’m interested in, because gt rabbit read alongside his sound art, and sort of played the sound art “live” –like technology or electricity or the computer or the internet were exploding outside, right in the garden, and what they were exploding into was poetry for friends, for an audience, the poet, etc; gt rabbit used this great recording of a Robert Creeley reading (“The Plan is the Body” on Pennsound) where Creeley is really high or drunk or both, and he’s losing his place and debating a heckler, but also giving one of the best readings ever; so it was like all these electronic devices and recorded voices of history were emerging so clearly as a result of this one body, who collected and “read” them; this one lyric/poet moment which was happening outside, where you think all those electronic things aren’t really supposed to be.
Do you have any specific plans or goals for the reading series that you might share with us?
Sten Carlson: I think that as poets we need to invent a life outside the university. We'd like to keep building these collaborative elements, to invite horizontal —not hierarchical— collaboration. We'd also like to start our own press in the future. We see this reading series as a way of practicing a politics that we aspire to live on a daily basis.
“the plan is the body.
Who can read it.”
“Looming with the legends”
I've never met the San Francisco-based poets Micah Ballard (Baton Rouge, 1975) and Sunnylyn Thibodeaux (New Orleans, 1975) in person, but we’ve been corresponding via letters, e-mail and telephone since 2007. I was aware of their work before that through our friend in common, the poet Cedar Sigo. Aside from being writers whose work I deeply admire, Micah and Sunnylyn are also the editors of a small publishing venture that goes by the names Auguste Press and Lew Gallery Editions (depending on what type of project they’re working on at the time).
Auguste Press/Lew Gallery Editions are not sold anywhere, the only way to find them is to contact the editors directly. Each of their publications is made by hand and printed in limited editions that are sent out to their mailing list of friends and contacts across the country. While their operation is very much inspired by the long tradition of avant-garde poetry in the Bay Area throughout the 20th century, their publications have a loyal following all over the United States.
I recently interviewed Sunnylyn and Micah via e-mail, asking them to discuss their publishing venture that’s now in its 14th year. Finding August Press/Lew Gallery Editions books might be difficult but it’s worth the effort. So is their own poetry, which includes Micah’s collection Waifs and Strays (City Lights Books, 2011) and Sunnylyn’s Palm to Pine (Bootstrap Press, 2011), along with a slew of chapbooks, broadsides and limited edition pamphlets. What follows are their unedited responses to five questions I sent them.
Could you talk about when and how the idea of Auguste Press emerged? Are there any particular small presses that inspired you?
Sunnylyn Thibodeaux: We started in 2000. At New College of California there was a great small press bookstore, Blue Books. I was in awe of the hundreds of stapled selections by poets I’d never heard of and those I had. I wanted to do it too. We could make books and print our friends. Why not? Why not print my work and the work of our friends, come up with a cover, and hand it out to the people we respected. We called it Auguste Press because, well, my birthday’s in August and because I was so enthralled with the work of Lew Welch. We share the Leo status. He’s the 16th and I’m the 17th. It’s embarrassingly that simple.
Friends had little presses as well and we learned what we liked and didn’t like through the variety of chaps that Blue Books had. They had these rotary book displays that you could spend hours spinning and pulling out new voices in some new design from someone in New York or Santa Cruz or Boulder. Mike Price & Kevin Opstedal’s Blue Press was highly influential as well as Noel Black’s Angry Dog Press. The community on and off the page through Blue Books, not to mention New College’s Poetics Program, was a total game changer for me.
Micah Ballard: By the time we arrived in San Francisco our favorite poets had, in a sense, already led us to various printers. Dave Haselwood of Auerhahn Press always comes to mind first because of John Wieners’ The Hotel Wentley Poems. And naturally one follows the press and gets turned on to other writers. Philip Lamantia’s Narcotica and Philip Whalen’s Memoirs of an Interglacial Age among others. And Wallace Berman’s Semina and the circle of friends there, all interacting and living together.
I’ve still never held an issue of Semina so that’s just me romanticizing it. Like I do Bob Creeley’s Divers Press, Ted Berrigan’s C Press, or Joe Dunn and Graham Mackintosh’s White Rabbit press. Of course there are photocopies of certain rare books passed down which serve as great little pirate editions. By now I’ve convinced myself that our photocopies of books are really first editions.
There are so many others, especially journals and magazines that are influential. Lately we’ve found issues of Diane DiPrima’s and LeRoi Jones’ The Floating Bear, Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar, Bill Berkson’s Big Sky, and Duncan McNaughton’s Fathar. For my birthday years back Sunnylyn gave me a copy of Ed Sanders’ Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. It was issue number 5, volume 6, April/May 1964. I can’t think of anything more luxurious right now than holding it and reading Frank O’Hara’s “Un Chant d’amour” (after Jean Genet) on crumbling pink construction paper typed on an old typewriter.
The publications of Auguste Press and Lew Gallery Editions are beautiful, hand-made objects in and of themselves. Where did you learn how to make books and could you describe your process as bookmakers?
MB: Thanks. Our books are really simple, both in their design and production. Most of them are obvious throwbacks from the mimeograph books/zines of the 60’s and 70’s. So it’s not like we’re Holbrook Teter and Michael Myers setting type and making linoleum cuts all night. But it does take a long time to make them. One of the main reasons is because we type most manuscripts on an old Remington typewriter, which I like to refer to as the “ghetto letterpress.” If we’re going to print a book by the simplest means, we might as well spend a lot of time with it to make it as alluring and elegant as possible. We try to make books that look like art objects, or little talismans that want to be picked up and experienced. We often keep our favorite “small press” books out, or propped up on the bookshelf because they’re entrancing to look at and they can really charm a room as much as a painting on the wall. Especially if you really dig the poems. It’s like having the poet in the room with you. What better company is there?
ST: Funny, I’ve never thought about how we learned. I feel like we haven’t in some sense. People these days use programs for this stuff and we’re all about scissors and tape. But I remember in high school working on yearbook and having to eye copy and art and work with the layout to fit things always thinking for a balance of aesthetic. So maybe there are some lessons that lingered. But I always feel like the poems dictate this more than anything. As of late we’ve been sticking with 8 ½ x 11 but that’s not always the case. Some things want to be saddle-stapled, some trimmed. We learn something new every time we print a book. Nothing’s set in stone and there’re often things we toy with from spray painting staples (which wore off) to embossing the Auguste Press symbol (which curled the paper.) It’s a full-blown art project— trying to put the poetry we love and respect into a physical representation that follows through to be a thing of beauty. That’s our hope anyway.
MB: And however or whatever we do, there’s always a hiccup, especially since we’re just mainly using photocopy machines. We’ve always strayed away from bright white paper because it’s just not kind on the eyes and to me that effects the reading experience. I mean hell, if the poem’s magical it’s gonna stay magical, written in blood or printed on thousand count Egyptian cotton sheets. So we’re always looking for natural, or “off white” paper, mostly 60 or 70 lb., and a heavier card stock that’s not too thick. Then we try to find a good copy machine with a fresh toner that makes dark, clean copies.
If the poems allow it, we’ll oftentimes shrink the font down when photocopying so we can manipulate the size of the book. It’s lovely to see a smaller font, as if we used some rare typewriter. We’ll then ask a friend who’s a visual artist to make a piece for the cover. When Will Yackulic lived in SF I’d just show up to his house with a six-pack and he’d make the cover on the spot. Sunnylyn’s also made a few covers and I taught myself how to use an old proof press to letterpress the cover of our one-shot magazine, Morning Train.
What made you decide to transition from publishing larger books with Auguste Press to smaller ones with Lew Gallery Editions?
ST: I’ll let MB take this one.
MB: With Auguste Press we usually print one book a year because that’s all we can afford and it’s difficult to find the time what with having a full-time job, a 3-year old, etc. I’ve never thought of myself (or us) as publishers. Being a poet and writing poems is primary so that will always come first. We wind up printing books when the poems are slowing down for one of us. It’s a good way to keep the flame burning and also get one out of a lull.
Lew Gallery was an accident. Our good friend Charlie is a professional skateboarder and has travelled nonstop for quite some time. He’s not a writer per say, but like many, keeps a little notebook and jots things down while he’s on the road. He let me borrow his journal and I wound up making poems out of his entries. I then made a small book, 50 copies, and typed Lew Gallery on the back and sent him the books with a note that said, “welcome to the encrypted order.” Not that it matters, but the name Lew Gallery comes from the gallery I did out of my office at New College before they shut down. So, it’s just a way to extend that high-vaulted space into a book format. I hope one day we can put them all together and make an anthology, so that each book will serve like someone’s section in a zine.
As someone who has published with your press and who avidly reads every new publication of yours, I deeply appreciate the sense of community your project has created among poets spread out across the United States. Are there any particular highlights of your experience with Auguste Press/Lew Gallery editions that you’d care to mention?
ST: For me, the highlights are probably the books that challenged me in some form or another. The whole process of putting together a book is like an orchestration and some parts can take a wrestling but the breakthrough—oh boy! It isn’t done by me, but more so the muse and I am just a conduit. It’s a fantastic charge. With that said, Mascara, is my favorite book by experience. Will Skinker slipped a chunk of poems under Micah’s door at NCOC and MB brought it home months later. I started to read through them and was all over it. I spread that work all over the floor and kazam! It was as if they ordered themselves through sparks from the energy of the poems to my fingertips. I’ll never forget how that book formed itself.
The cover took the longest because I wanted the same magic to happen, but I couldn’t force it. Will would draw something, I’d collage something, but it’d just not feel right and then one night Micah said “here it is” and he showed me a collage that I had made a year earlier as a gift for Joanne Kyger but I never went to Bolinas to give it to her. I guess that piece knew it had another role.
MB: I totally forgot about that. I do remember typing “Mascara” and Will’s name and pasting it on the collage though. On another note, for me, the main pleasure is in typing a manuscript, because after a while you start feeling like you’re writing the poems. And there’s the nerve-racking feeling of trying not to make a mistake. Which is kind of a rush, like when you’re six poems deep and haven’t made a typo and it feels like light is coming out of your fingertips while you’re banging away on this heavy machine. It’s very corporeal and euphonic. You can learn a lot about writing by typing someone else’s poems.
I also enjoy watching the manuscript form. Some friends write towards a book, others already have one, and some want us to choose what poems will go in. Oh, and another highlight is of course the collating party. It’s a large collaboration and we’re all assisting in the alchemy.
What future plans do you have as editors/publishers/bookmakers?
MB: I think we’ll just keep doing the same thing, printing one or two Auguste Press books a year, making random Lew Gallery books, and continue giving them all out. We’re all part of this bi-coastal poetry community and everyone’s creating great work so we’ll definitely just keep printing little books to share. One aspect of Lew Gallery Editions that I really dig is that we’ve printed friends whose primary medium isn’t poetry; they’re interested in it of course but they’re usually busy painting or making music.
ST: I’m so excited to have another AP in the works. Everything has slowed down since we’ve had Lorca. We used to have multiple things brewing, now we’re even more selective and un-timely (sigh). The cost slows us down, but having a 3 yr old tear up the place and want to help is more so a distraction.
But, we are working on a collection from Duncan McNaughton. I am so over-the-top about this project as I admire his work tremendously. He is a dear friend and will forever be a teacher, an absolute master poet. We are just getting our feet wet with this manuscript so there’s not much more I can divulge. It’s set to be called Tiny Windows and it will be out this year. I’d love to get to another magazine as well. This has been on the back burner for a handful of years though. After McNaughton, my hope is to print a Bay Area poet that I admire but I haven’t approached her yet and I haven’t talked to Micah yet. Micah—did you know this?
MB: I never know.
Now in its second successful year, The Chicago School of Poetics (CSoP) is kicking off 2014 with truly unique online course offerings and amazing opportunities to work with leading international poets in an intimate and collaborative setting.
From the comfort of your home or a nearby café, you can participate in courses using our innovative and user-friendly program—choose face-to-face, real-time video or simply listen in. Join an international conversation—courses have included students from Morocco, Canada, and Australia, as well as from the United States. This is a friendly environment for anyone who is looking to refine their work and connect with others.
In order to give students more opportunities to work with our faculty, we have initiated a new 6-week shortened course format that costs less and requires less of a time commitment. We’ve also streamlined our website, so courses are easier to find and registration is only a click away. Click here to register now: Class sizes are limited to maximize face time with the instructors.
Also, check back at chicagoschoolofpoetics.com for registration information about our next master class with Pierre Joris on April 26.
The glowing space is ours. CSoP showed the way!
This is what a school truly should be – think of Black Mountain College – beyond all the boundaries & borders.
I am surprised at how much I have learned and how much my writing and editing process has evolved.
I felt lucky to receive such input from an established poet and the price was a bargain because I felt I gained a lot from the class.
Winter 2014 Course Offerings
Poetics Level I with Kristina Marie Darling
Saturdays, February 22 – March 29
Time: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. CST
Blending lecture, written exercises, and in-class feedback this course is designed to help you view your poetry with the cold eyes that are necessary to make instinctual edits based on the many tools at your disposal.
Poetics Level II with Larry Sawyer
Saturdays, February 22 – March 29
Time: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. CST
Poets use techniques such as automatic writing, random effect, shifts in writing method and even location, personal archeology, access to a wide variety of secondary source texts, found language, investigative poetry techniques, journal keeping, experiments with the basics of traditional forms, list poems, etc.
Pulse Poem Pulse with Barbara Barg
Mondays, February 24 – March 31
Time: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. CST
Language is a poet’s instrument. This class focuses on developing dexterity and creativity with the rhythm, texture, and tonal qualities of language. Students will break language down to its melodic and percussive elements and explore rhythms and sounds from diverse, sometimes unusual sources.
Red-Headed Stepchild: The Unholy Spawn of Poetry and Story with Sharon Mesmer
Tuesdays, February 25 – April 1
Time: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. CST
Students will examine some very early examples of what we now think of as “hybrid” writing, then blend the hallmarks of those early models (brevity, spontaneity, tightly-focused imagery) with contemporary ideas and techniques (collage, appropriation).
Shock the Monkey: Poetry and Mass Media with Larry Sawyer
Sundays, February 23 – March 30
Time: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. CST
Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “Art is anything you can get away with” will be a stepping off point for an examination of how current or popular music, movies, and the cult of celebrity influences one’s world and therefore also one’s writing. Students will study the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortunes of present-day celebrities and use appropriation, investigative methods, parody, the conceptual, replacement methods, hybrid narrative, and ekphrasis to push the limits of their poetry.
Erasure Poetry with Kristina Marie Darling
Thursdays, February 20 – March 27
Time: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. CST
This course will focus on erasure poetry, meaning poetry created by excising significant portions of a found text, which is then edited, shaped, and structured by the poet.
Chicago School of Poetics core faculty: Barbara Barg, Kristina Marie Darling, Steve Halle, Francesco Levato, Sharon Mesmer, Larry Sawyer
D.W. Winnicott’s marvelous book, Playing and Reality, published in the mid-20th century, describes the intermediate area between external and internal experience where we play. As children play, they define this arena, beginning their relationships with the world. Play is the source of creativity, and Winnicott doesn’t mean artistic product, but instead the creativity of everyday life, the shared playing that creates culture.
Though the talk about play is complex, actual playing feels simple and natural, provided you weren’t a child whose capacity for play was damaged. It is a very big job to teach someone how to play. Or to re-teach someone. But on all the downward slopes in my life—which I think of as many mountains, not just one mountain—I know that I felt rescued, pulled upward, through play. It’s the basis of art for me—and perhaps for you, too, reader, if you’ve stuck with this series of five blogs.
When the estimable photographer Claire Holt (check out her dreamy portraits of Emma Thompson, Paul Auster, Mark Norris, Suzan-Lori Parks, Quentin Tarantino and more) suggested that we just play around taking some photographs, I quickly said yes. Holt not only has the famous and the corporate as her clientele. She also does the darkly internal series, We Chase The Things We Flee, a remarkable group of photographic images with words superimposed: young girls turning their backs and fleeing situation after situation. Girls with the courage to run.
Really playing, after a certain age, takes courage, too. Holt’s new project is a series of portraits of women writers. Here’s how she describes it:
I am working on a series of portraits of women writers for an exhibition and a book. I am doing a non-traditional, more collaborative portrait process where both the photographer and subject are fully engaged in the creation of the image. The resulting portraits are as much about the play and interaction of the creative process as they are about the writers.
So far Holt has engaged some marvelous (and beautiful) writers in the portrait play: Kimiko Hahn, Marie Howe, Honor Moore, Sigrid Nunez, Dawn Raffel, Victoria Redel, Roxana Robinson, Christine Schutt, Kate Walbert, Diane Williams, and more.
When Holt and I sat down to play in front of a splendid painting by Morton Kaish, we were inspired by Mary Delany. Delany is the 18th-century collage artist who pasted spectacular cut paper flowers on dramatic black backgrounds. I wrote about her in The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Delany's Damask Rose, an image from the book, courtesy of the British Museum, is at the left.
Holt brought the black velvet drop cloth; I arranged the flowers. Holt dropped the roses on the black background; I bent the roses into the painting. Both of us are yoga and Alexander Technique practicers, so she got me a pillow to cushion my sacrum and lift me upright while sitting for a lonnnnng time on the floor. The end result photograph won’t look like this one with the fun red arrows pointing to all our props. This is a working photo that the superb Holt kindly prepared for this blog. The final photo will probably have no sense of this context. But product isn’t crucial here. What’s important is Winnicottian intermediate space, the method of the creative life that leads to free exchange.
Now in my seventh decade, what I desire most is the internal time to play. I, too, want the ground that Delany claimed when she invented a brand new art form in her eighth decade. Thinking of her roses brings me back to the rose-colored chair at the end of the mind—the image by Kara Kosaka in the first blog of this series. Time to turn my back, then run and curl up in that chair.
Thank you David and Stacey for indulging the Mutual Muse!
Caricature—beloved of 18th-century wits—still has its satirical seat in newspapers, news journals, and, of course, political blogs. But every time I look at a satirical cartoon, I feel sorry for the subject, even if it’s a centuries-dead Georgian-era moll. Another little hit on the vanity button…
Poetry catapults no one to caricaturability. But on the cover of every volume of Storyline Press’s Critical Introduction monograph series is a caricature of the subject by Herblock Award-winning political editorial cartoonist John Sherffius. You might know his work best if you are familiar with The Big Read sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Sherffius is responsible for the signature caricatures of John Steinbeck, Mark Twain and Carson McCullers, among many other fiction writers.
I have to confess that I grew queasy when I learned that I would have to suffer a black-and-white portrait-lampoon, even though I was terribly flattered that mine would be the next monograph in the series. Jason Guriel, an extremely astute younger critic, was going to give my poetry a going-over. And Sherffius was going to do that to my face…. That stuff is ok for big, famous dead fiction writers, but a small, living large-nosed poet like me?
Then the cartoonist wrote and asked for my poetry. Really? Yes, and several photographs of me as well. The man seemed to be trying to understand how to draw an image from inside my words. Of course, I softened. He wanted to draw lines from my lines. A collaboration was being born.
“I do enjoy the challenge of creating a caricature that captures the spirit and personality of a subject,” he wrote in an email. “Being able to mold the facial features of someone, but at the same time have them still be recognizable, is the goal for any caricature artist.”
We had gotten kind of friendly. Eased ourselves into a bit of an exchange. Finally I popped the question that was making me so anxious. “Where do you literally draw the line between essentializing someone, say, Marilyn Nelson, and daring more of a parody, say, David Mason in his hat? Oh, please, please don’t parody me, I silently begged. I want to be essentialized, instead!
My lampooner took me seriously. Just as seriously as he obviously took his art. For it was art we were exchanging opinions about, and it was the art of the satirical drawing that I was regarding as I examined his line-portraits.
“ Singling out one or two examples to be used in a poet's caricature is difficult, as writers can touch upon many disparate themes and subjects in their work,” Sherffius explained to me. “If there is one famous, standout poem, say for example Poe's 'The Raven,' this would not be an issue.”
If only I’d written “The Peacock,” I whined to myself. “In the case of the wonderful poet Dave Mason,” Sherffius wrote, “I thought it might be fun to focus on his unique position as the poet laureate of Colorado. So I placed him in an idyllic wilderness setting. A little silly? Probably. But I'd like to think it does capture something of Mason's observations on nature (e.g., a meaning made of trees) and highlight his goal of promoting poetry in Colorado.” Now Mason in a hat reassured me.
I had never thought that caricature could be collaborative. Sherffius has sent me two drafts so far, and even in the first sketch, he got me. It’s a privilege to watch this drawing take shape. It’s not a jape. It’s amusing. The cartoonist returned my sense of humor, and if THAT isn’t a side benefit of collaborating, I don’t know what is. Here's his virtuoso Carson McCullers, drawn by the man who once was a boy who naughtily doodled portraits of his teachers...
My guess is that the Missionary Position of most collaborations between poets and artists is the sequential one: poet finishes poem, then illustrator steps in. It may not be fancy, but it’s so reliable. Who cares about a Kama Sutra of collaboration as long as the basic sequence works? In a week’s worth of blogging about collaboration, surely the traditional way to connect deserves its moment, provided that moment has just a little bit of glamour. My chosen star of the regular way to do it is the intriguing and gutsy Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem by Kathleen Driskell & AJ Reinhart.
For Kathleen Driskell a graphic poem works first as a poem on a traditional page. Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem by Driskell & AJ Reinhart uses a poem originally published in Driskell’s volume of poetry, Seed Across Snow (Ren Hen Press). AJ Reinhart graphicizes Driskell’s poem in boxes, cartoon-style. Driskell is based in Louisville, KY. (She’s Associate Director of the Spalding University Brief Residency MFA Program.) But Reinhart, who studied illustration at schooled at the Ringling School of Art and Design and who collaborated with his son Kaleb to create the webcomic Kaleb Triceratops and the Paleo Pack, is based in San Jose, CA. Their collaborative process only requires virtual proximity because Driskell and Reinhart have worked sequentially. She wrote the lines; he did the lines of interpretation.
I asked Driskell about how her lines and the lines of the illustrator work together. “My lines tend to be fulsome and chocked full of imagery—I love a lavish line full of appositives,” Kathleen wrote. “I spend a lot of time thinking about where to turn the line to create surprise. AJ’s drawn lines are confident, strong, and feel more work-horse to me. I mean this is a good way.”
What good way? “I think his sensibility keeps Peck and Pock from sliding into the sentimental,” Driskell confesses. “In our collaborative iteration, Peck and Pock: A Graphic Poem is very different from the version of the poem first published in my collection Seed Across Snow. AJ’s art makes this version feel much darker to me, as if Peck and Pock is an adaptation of my poem, akin to the way a novel might be adapted for a film.”
And film was just where Driskell went after her graphic poem experience. (She still is very much a page poet however, and her next book, Blue Etiquette, is forthcoming from Red Hen.) “Since my collaboration with AJ, I’ve been making poetry videos that put language into motion in time and space. I’m amazed by all options that become available when a poet doesn’t have to work the language from the top of the page to the bottom. When deployed through time, a word or phrase or line that feels lighter in sound or emotion can literally float to the top of the page or screen.”
Collaborating with AJ Reinhart has done for Driskell just what it seems to have done for the various poets I’ve interviewed for this series. They are refreshed, renewed, revived—yes, just the language of an ad for beautifying the face… Is collaboration about shedding old skin? “Thinking about presenting poems [as videos] would probably have been unavailable to me if I hadn’t worked with AJ on Peck and Pock.” Driskell writes. Then she adds, “Poetry feels very new to me again.”
Though Driskell did not change the poem after Reinhart’s graphics began to emerge, it deeply affects the way she thinks about poems now. The process has made Driskell wonder if graphics could be used to teach poetry to high school students or undergraduates. “If students were to use computer graphics to illustrate, say, Steven’s “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock,” they’d not only get that poem, they’d never forget it.”
“The houses are haunted by white nightgowns,” Wallace Stevens reminds us in that poem, leaving me wondering if white nightgowns are preliminary prerequisites to the Missionary Collaboration. Though Driskell’s original poem has stayed the same, it’s also had a new incarnation in a graphic artist’s hands. Perhaps the nightgown slipped to the floor.
A Companionship of Lines:
Take two on poetry as a collaborative art...
How do you stay in touch with poetry when you’ve had such enormous success as a novelist that all the winds in your life blow you toward the sentence and not the line? Poet and novelist Anne Michaels, the author of Fugitive Pieces and The Winter Vault, has found an answer in a fascinating collaboration with visual artist Bernice Eisenstein, herself the author of a graphic memoir I recommend to all: I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors. The line is literally the source of their enterprise together.
Michaels and Eisenstein knew the form “right from the beginning,” Anne said to me in a telephone interview yesterday. The two, who always wanted to work together, came up with an accordion-style format and even went so far as to make a mockup of the book near the start of their collaboration. The form they devised determined that Michael’s poem would unfold from one side, and that Eistenstein’s portraits of 20th-century writers and thinkers (along with minimal quotations from their works) would unfold from the other. The drawn line, prominent in Eisenstein’s portraits of figures like Fernando Pessoa and Charlotte Salomon, works in conversation with the variable lines in Michaels’ poetry.
“Bernice always wanted to create something with me, and I wanted to work with her, too,” Anne said. (Both women live in Toronto.) “After my father died, I knew I wanted to write some kind of elegy,” but not a traditional one, certainly not a story. Instead, she was interested in her father’s “invisible life, the inner conversation he had with the ideas of writers and artists” he admired, and who were so much a part of the wrenching times he lived in. (Isaiah Michaels fled Poland and eventually settled in Canada.)
Once Bernice and Anne determined the format, “all the ways of interaction were there from the start.” The limitations of the object determined the length of individual sections. “I knew each page had to be a certain size.” Anne continued. Dimensions both created and became lines. “Physically, we wanted the book to contain the inexpressible.”
The attempt to find words for the ineffable—that’s a definition of the impulse to poetry.
“I had a long-standing conversation with myself about language and poetry,” Anne murmured. “I wanted to bring the language down to a rudimentary place. We have biological rhetoric and eulogizing language, but not the language for death.” As the poet searched for this language, her friend Bernice’s visual instincts offered another expressive alternative.
Inside the Old French root converser is the idea of “verser,” to occupy oneself. But in converser, two occupy themselves together. Verser also, of course, refers to the turning lines of verse. As the poem summons up conversations in the past (my favorite being the first meeting of Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs), the drawings limn the circumstances. Because North American publishers McClelland and Stewart/Random House Canada and Knopf USA have followed Michaels’ and Eisenstein’s initial mockup (helped by the deft hand of designer C.S.Richardson), the visual art attains an almost psychic sync with the poetry, and vice versa.
The end result is a majestic solemnity achieved by fluid interplay. Yet there also lingers a simple sense of two artists at play. Michaels’ lines range from two words to the long stretch across the page. Eisenstein’s lines define the angles of gazes in the multitude of portraits from Kafka to Akhmatova. As a material entity, I’d call it a 21st-century book, one in a new stream of cherished built-book-objects (think Anne Carson), branching off the river of books that soon will simply be e-. Poetry, with its limited but shining audience, as well as this audience’s insistence on a tactile, indeed, a kinesthetic reality, strikes me as the place where such 21st-century book innovations will flourish.
Correspondences is covered in a sleeve of a somber but velvety charcoal color that reflects the rich sobriety of the poem and portraits. One cover contains Eisenstein’s portrait of “Tereska” a refugee child photographed by Chim. The other is embossed with these thematic lines from Michaels’ stately elegy:not two to make one,
but two to make
just as a conversation can become
the third side of the page
“I think what this particular collaboration did,” Anne mused, “was to allow a conversation. It was company. Companionship.”
Each one can sense the vibrancy of the other’s imagination throbbing, stalling, racing, lolling, and napping. Intimate, yes. Sexual, no. But can untrusting and solitary souls like poets actually collaborate with other artists? Join forces, team up, cooperate, liase?
Here comes a week of answers to solo angst…
The Rose-Colored Chair at the End of the Mind
“Oh I want that chair!” my friend the poet Phillis Levin said to me when I emailed her Kara Kosaka’s collage of a dreamy pink wing-backed armchair. Phillis is on a quest for a chair for her study. Kara Kosaka, an illustrator located in British Columbia, seems to have created a virtual model of The Perfect Poet’s Chair.
Kosaka is now transforming a book project called Alphabetique: Tales of the Lives of the Letters for McClelland and Stewart, Random House Canada. I am the so-called author of this book. But in fact the book is a product of the Mutual Muse.
To say that Kosaka and I are “working” together underestimates the power of her visual intuition. In fact, she seems to be reviving that once-drab definition of poetry as “word painting.”
I’ve never met Kosaka in person and only visualize her from the photo, above. But I have walked the rooms of her imagination for five months now. Every Thursday she takes off from her day job and, with her little girl Mae at her feet, comes up with a visual response to one of 26 tales I’ve written. She emails it at midnight her time, and I open it as soon as I get up. It makes my Friday morning.
As a writer in my seventh decade, I’ve been shocked at the twists and turns my own creative life has taken. Alphabetique began as a book of poems, then transmogrified into twenty-six brief imaginary biographical tales of those shapes we call letters. Kosaka composed this uncannily internally accurate response of a rosy chair to a tale called “Portrait of the Artist as the Letter B.” Of course, the tale never mentions a chair at all.
Now back to Phillis, who is still searching for that ideal upholstered seat for her office. “I want that chair!” she repeats to me in one of our countless phone calls between Toronto, where I live and New York, her home. Is Kosaka’s chair the seat of the imagination? Both Phillis and I responded to it as just that: the mental place to curl up and write a small interior lyric—a 21st century poem composed in a chair so virtual it only exists in digital form.
Phillis and I are astounded to realize that we have exchanging poems for thirty eight years. Inside this exchange we occupy an imaginary playing space together. We couldn’t be more different as poets or as people. Yet we meet in a room in the Mansion of the Mutual Muse. The room has a windy airiness to it, and the curtains billow from the long windows that open to a natural, but entirely storied landscape. It is a literary landscape. Yet we feel we can touch it. And Kosaka somehow felt that mental vibe and transformed it into an image we instantly recognized.
For us there is a rose-colored chair at the end of the mind.
But for this blog during the rest of the week comes starkly different imagery. Caricaturist John Sherfius on the treachery of his art, and the knock-you-to-your knees new book of poems by poet and novelist Anne Michaels in collaboration with visual artist Bernice Eisenstein. Popup comments from poet Kathleen Driskell. Photographer Claire Holt imagines the lives of poets with constructed photographs.
And how about you, solitary souls? Have you ever turned your hermit’s life into a collaborative creative hermitage? I promise to respond to all comments, collaboratively, bien sûr.
In its inaugural exhibition, Dumbo Sky presents artist and poet Joseph A. W. Quintela’s sculptural series, Portrait of the Artist as the Cast of You in Eye. Molded from shredded dictionaries on Quintela’s own body, this collection of self-portraits engages questions of self-definition, blurred identity, multiple personas, and building an understanding of others via de-formation of self. The closing reading this Thursday will feature such poets as Best American Poetry series editor David Lehman, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Jackson Taylor, Maya Pindyck, Ronnie Norpel, and Joseph A.W. Quintela. The poets will read in pairs with short intermissions following a closing celebration.
Lehman received considerable attention for his daily poems in The Daily Mirror, which he characterized as “bulletins from within,” and he will be reading on this occasion from the forthcoming New & Selected Poems that collects his work to date, “a retrospective hall of mirrors.” Named an emerging poet to watch by O Magazine, Griffiths is known for her literary portraits and is at work on Poets on Poetry, an interview project on individual human experience and culture in poetry. Director of P.E.N.’s Prison Writing Program and a founder of the MFA program at The New School, Jackson Taylor is the author of The Blue Orchard, a novel that won acclaim for its portrayal of a scandal in the life of the author’s own grandmother. He is currently directing the writing program at St Joseph's College.
Dumbo Sky is a new literary and visual art space located at Dumbo’s waterfront, launching this fall with literary events, art exhibitions and theatrical performances. Thursday night October 17, 2013, the closing reception is at 7 PM, reading at 8 PM, open wine / beer bar, FREE. -- Nora Robertson
I asked some of my friends and periodic collaborators what to write about here, and one of them -- poet Dave Bonta -- suggested:
How about something focusing on the range of exciting collaborative projects going on these days, and how we really need to move beyond our obsessive focus on individual creators? Especially in the age of the remix.
Exciting collaborative projects: he's talking about things like the filmpoem festival, MovingPoems.com, nanopress poetry publishing, and surely other things about which I don't yet know. (But maybe y'all will tell me in comments.)
I can say this: I love the age of the remix. Remix, transformative work, videos which build on poetry, composers who borrow our lines for their music, poems inspired by other poems -- these are my idea of a good time. I've been talking with the publisher of my next collection about putting the manuscript online with the intent of making it easy for other writers and artists to find the poems -- not only so that the poems can be blogged, Facebooked, tweeted (though I hope that they will be), but also to explicitly welcome remix and transformative work. Of course I want to sell copies of the book; who wouldn't? I want to reward my publishers for spending the coin of their time on my work. But I also want the poems to be out there in the world, as part of the communal conversation -- and I think that the more we put our poetry out there for remix and transformation, the more interwoven we and our readers/co-creators become.
Also, I may be biased here, but I think multimedia amalgams of poetry, music and video, flash animations, etc. are becoming as important as poetry on the page, and even the latter is beginning to show the influence of digital media -- what does it mean for printed texts, for example, that their e-book counterparts have to flow and re-shape to fit a variety of screens?
From Scene II of Barbara Guest’s play, The Lady’s Choice
Christian: You like only myth,
And so you would go riding,
Greensleeves and all
To where love’s hiding.
Antoinette: I like you.
Christian: Lady in the heavy manner
Of kings, you do not please.
Antoinette: Am I not pretty?
Christian: Pretty a dash, but not
To my tasting.
Antoinette: And do I not please?
Christian: You please yourself.
Antoinette: You rock me.
Christian: You rock all foundations.
You are almost an earthquake.
Antoinette: Your name?
Antoinette: Than you’ve some charity.
Christian: Enough to lend.
Antoinette: Spend it on me.
I am obsessed with well-written dialog; I find it to be one of the most intriguing aspects of a story. Here Guest serves us her characters’ attributes with little explanation needed. Antoinette is some version of a privileged debutant, and Christian is some version of a shining nobility who Antoinette thinks she has fallen for without even knowing his name (so it’s also clear Antoinette is severely desperate). Remarkably, these are assumptions Guest leads us to without having to write much at all.
Today I am going to be featuring an interview with two fabulous fiction writers, Selah Saterstom and Elizabeth Frankie Rollins (who I will refer to as Frankie). They both speak about each other’s writing as operating not from what is explicitly written, but instead from what is implied within the writing. For example, from Selah’s 2007 book, The Meat and Spirit Plan (Coffee House Press):
For my response essay I begin with the sentence: There are worse things than enduring sadness. The teacher reads it out loud. I shoot this girl Bitch Lisa a look like: fuck you, I’m deep (pg. 67).
Implication: Narrator- 1, Bitch Lisa- 0.
And this is an excerpt from the beginning of Frankie’s Origin, a novel in installments, where a husband and his pregnant wife are venturing off to settle an island:
Paramon spoke saying, “You look pained. Are you alright?” He rested the oars against his chest, mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, which was soiled with two days’ rowing. His eyes, despite lack of sleep, surprised her with their shine.
“Darling,” she said smiling, pulling herself up a little in the boat, straightening her damp skirts at her feet. “I was only thinking of tea in china cups.”
He blinked and winced.
“No! No reproach, Paramon. I was only making fun of myself. Not complaining. Just trying to make light of my homesickness." (From Chapter One.)
Implication: the woman’s miserable.
We, as readers, are often drawn into characters and scenes by what we can assume about the person, or the situation. It's really psychological; this way other people's stories can become our own. Selah and Frankie know that. They also win the award for Most Creative Dialog this week. (See Frankie’s answer to: What about your career would be most drastically different if you two hadn’t met?) As you will read, these two clearly display a real, and rare bond, a bond that originated not only from encouragement and inspiration, but also from friendship.
Be careful, like Guest’s Christian, they’re easy to fall for.
Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other?
Frankie Rollins: We met in a barn. At grad school. Goddard College’s Haybarn. Selah walked in and I saw her across a room of full of people and folding chairs. She had this great big bright aura all around her. Our eyes met and I smiled and waved to her like I knew her, automatically, instinctively. She waved right back. After the readings, we found each other and introduced ourselves. The only thing strange about any of it was the moment when I realized that I did not, in fact, even know her name.
Saterstrom: I’ve known Frankie for 13 years. 13 has always been a lucky number for me.
We met in Vermont at Goddard College where we were both pursuing MFAs in fiction. Frankie was ahead of me in the program, but I had seen her around: she glowed. I mean that she changed the energy of any room she was in and in a visceral way – such a presence – this was a fact, and in my book she was 100% glorious in every way that ever has mattered.
From George Oppen’s poem, “Route” (1968):
Your elbow on a car-edge
Incognito as summer,
I wrote. Not you but a girl
Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful
thing in the world,
A limited, limiting clarity
I have not and never did have any motive of poetry
But to achieve clarity
Oppen is often included in the Objectivist poetry movement, a movement (reluctantly) defined by Louis Zukofski as poetry exhibiting “sincerity and objectivity.” I bring up Oppen in conjunction with today’s interview because “clarity” is often a notion that’s counter to the popular assumption of poetry. As a poet, I frequently find myself in conversations with people who are insistent that poetry is riddled with hidden metaphors and secret allusions, or that it’s a category of private, encoded language, intended to be truly comprehended by only a select group of individuals.
The collected bodies of work between Paul Vangelisti and Standard Schaefer defy the “encoded” assumption of poetry. This doesn’t necessarily make their books easy or accessible, it makes them clear. Standard’s 2005 book, Water and Power (Agincourt Press) is still one of my favorite books, and Paul’s recent release Wholly Falsetto with People Dancing (Seismicity Editions) is my latest greatest affinity. Wholly Falsetto speaks with certain straight-forwardness that, I’m assuming, most readers can find some sense of application within. For example:
Because a tall man is a fool, says Aristotle, and traffic is unbearable, the days much shorter, your eyes often kind to me as the music too is lost at sea. Along the coast lights are going on and off, even if it’s too early to fall asleep and catch the leggy young blond walking off down the street spinning your fedora on her finger (pg. 22).
And from Standard’s The Notebook of False Purgatories (Chax Press), I borrow my favorite line of all time:
“Progress is progress / and never the other way around.”
In their collaborative fiction effort, which follows this interview, Paul and Standard alternate chapters. They offer two different viewpoints on a small fishing community feuding over water rights. An avid reader of both Paul’s and Standard’s work, I can’t tell who wrote what chapter. I say that to instill this: the way these two approach creating— their intention— seems mighty similar. I think Paul says it best when he mentions that the best part of working with Standard is that they never have to explain much to each other. To me, this is a gift that is almost as difficult to come by as sincerity, objectivity and clarity. Anyway, read the goods. Then go catch that leggy blond walking off down the street spinning your fedora on their finger. In dreams, or otherwise.
Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other?
Paul Vangelisti: We met through my good friend and colleague Martha Ronk, who was one of Standard’s teachers at Occidental College. That would have been about 1994-95, almost twenty years now.
Standard Schaefer: I met Paul through my professor Martha Ronk. I was aware that she wrote poems and that she knew people in LA who wrote poems. She hadn’t really won any awards or published much poetry yet. I think maybe I one of those kids who drive their professors crazy because even though they might really appreciate a literary education, they really want to create. And I think Martha might have had it in mind that if I met Paul and saw how hard he worked, I’d either drop the subject or at least stop hounding her because Paul obviously loved to discuss poetry. That was probably 18 or 19 years ago.
SS: What about your writing career would be most drastically different if you two hadn’t met?
PV: I’d probably have to say that I wouldn’t have tried my hand at a novel, that is, committed myself to spending the time and determination it takes to work through chapter after chapter or a significant length of time. Also, I don’t think that in the last 10-15 years I would have paid as much attention to, or at least framed questions about my own practice and poetics necessarily in the same historical manner had I not talked about and read through certain problems with Standard. Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly make him think more critically about the ones he relies on.
Schaefer: Well, I’d be a fiction writer with a drawer full of poems that I never finished. I was always more attracted to the formal and aesthetic freedom possible in poetry, but I just thought to do it well you really had to work hard. Paul assured me that you did. It’s just that I noticed that setting the constraints for myself was way more fun than following the constraints of fiction because whether or not it’s mainstream it is full of conventions that I began to realize kept from doing the thinking-through-language that I always understood to be the point of writing. Paul I think showed me that you just think through writing and use poetic constraints of various types forces you to think differently than you did previously.
SS: Standard, what’s your favorite line or stanza of Paul’s work?
Schaefer: There’s a line of Paul’s in a poem called “Rime”: “who can deny the sincerity of hot dog stands envisioned as hot dogs.” I was partial to it for a long time because it seemed to capture the vapidity of LA at time when it was trying to cast itself as the creative center of the universe and where I could see a lot of good ideas were being milled and refined into hopelessly literal, one-note affairs.
SS: Paul, what’s your favorite line or stanza of Standard’s work?
PV: There are many but how about this one for starters, from Desert Notebook, 2004-2008: “Perhaps there was never a desert and we made it the first time we looked up to Mars.”
SS: What’s the most exciting project you two have collaborated on together?
Umberto Eco, from his collection of essays, On Literature (English translation published in 2004):
I have often asked myself: would I still write today if they told me that tomorrow a cosmic catastrophe would destroy the universe, so that no one could read tomorrow what I wrote today?
My first instinct is to reply no. Why write if no one will read me? My second instinct is to say yes, but only because I cherish the desperate hope that, amid the galactic catastrophe, some star might survive, and in the future someone might decipher my signs. In that case writing, even on the eve of the Apocalypse, would still make sense.
One writes only for a reader. Whoever says he writes only for himself is not necessarily lying. It is just that he is frighteningly atheistic. Even from a rigorously secular point of view.
Unhappy and desperate the writer who cannot address a future reader (334).
I didn’t use Eco's quote to debate or analyze its contents; I used it because I think it speaks to the tremendous importance of those who bring books to life: publishers.
Presses are one of the most essential part of the writing community. And because “small presses” typically strive to publish work “beyond mainstream literature,” small press publishing houses are vital to poets, translators and writers of experimental fiction. Today I am featuring an interview between Rusty Morrison, co-founder of Omnidawn Publishing, and Gillian Hamel, senior poetry editor for Omnidawn and managing editor for the press’ online imprint, OmniVerse. In 2001, Rusty founded Omnidawn Publishing with her husband, Ken Keegan. Today Omnidawn is one of the most well respected, highly regarded small presses in North America. Omnidawn, with tremendous help from Gillian Hamel, has also renovated the press’ old blog into the zine OmniVerse, which has become one of the best contemporary online resources for interviews, new creative work and essays. Omnidawn Publishing’s website lists approximately 50 full-length poetry titles (many of which have won prestigious awards and prizes), and OmniVerse now credits over 100 contributors; a stunning achievement, especially when one considers Omnidawn’s short 12 years of existence and its small masthead of staff members. Interestingly, both Rusty and Gillian combined two of my questions: 1.) What’s the most difficult part of working in this industry, and 2.) What’s the most rewarding part of working in this industry? Says something, doesn’t it?
Eco: “One writes only for a reader.”
Me: “One writes (or reads [or lives]) only to experience the thrill of fascination.”
In any case, these are two women who deserve a lot of praise.
Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other?
Rusty Morrison: Gillian is a friend of Sara Mumolo, who works for Omnidawn. Sara told us that she knew a poet who would be a perfect addition to our staff. Gillian has exceeded every expectation that I had; she’s become such an integral part of our team, I can’t imagine Omnidawn without her.
Gillian Hamel: I came to Rusty and Omnidawn through the wonderful, nebulous network of the MFA program at St. Mary’s College in the fall of 2009. My friend Sara Mumolo, who went through the MFA a year ahead of me, had been in Rusty’s workshop at SMC and was interning at Omnidawn. She got me some review copies of Omnidawn’s books for our MFA’s literary journal, MARY: A Journal of New Writing, and I was so impressed by their exquisite design, literary sophistication, and all-around excellence that I asked her about interning there as well. She was happy to set me up with Rusty, and I couldn’t be more grateful to her for being another pillar of influence in my involvement with poetry.
SS: What about your career would be most drastically different if you two hadn’t met?
GH: In a way, everything – Omnidawn opened up so many different avenues to me of exploration and innovation in understanding poetry, making books, and talking to other poets. I doubt I would have taken such initiative to design and manage an online journal, or to start my own chapbook imprint. There are so many other important people I would never have met. Most importantly, however, to the question of ‘career’ within this question, I might not have ever learned to take myself seriously as a poet and a functional participant in the project of poetry – which is to say, I would not have learned not only to trust my abilities in those areas, but also to understand when my limitations aren’t as serious as they seem.
RM: I did a second-take when I saw the word “career” in your question. I understand why you’ve used it, since you are asking about my work as Omnidawn’s co-publisher and poetry senior editor. And, certainly, in that context, I want to talk about the ways that Gillian Hamel’s presence continually renews and enlivens my approach to what Omnidawn can do and can become. I also sense that your question is broad enough to allow me to share the ways that my relationship to Gillian has enlivened my own writing, since I do see myself as being a poet as much as I see myself as a publisher. These two kinds of work fill the space that should mean “career” to me. The dictionary defines “career” as “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” Poetry and presswork certainly have taken over all “significant” time in my life, but I wonder if one can speak of “progress” when discussing a creative project—be it a press or the poems I write. How does an artist gauge “progress”?
One of the most valuable aspects of my relationship with Gillian is that her vitality—her continually fresh approach to aesthetics—opens me to my own beginner’s mind. I can trust that she shares my way of seeing “progress” as including regress and digress, and even a salting of anti-gress, which can lead to new ingress. These aren’t typical words for articulating “career” path success, but they are essential words for constantly re-envisioning what a press can do, and what a poem can do.
SS: Rusty, why did you start the online magazine, OmniVerse?
RM: There wouldn’t be an online magazine called OmniVerse, if it weren’t for Gillian. Ken and I had wanted to create a magazine that would be a place to foster conversations about literature and the arts (a place where we could publish work that had nothing to do with Omnidawn), but it wasn’t until Gillian envisioned the form that we actually ventured into this.
SS: Gillian, how did you get the position of Managing Editor for OmniVerse?
GH: We’d had a slowly dilapidating blog, in its heyday a lively hub of news and discussion of all things Omnidawn and the broad poetic community, curated expertly by the inimitable Craig Santos Perez. As he began to limit his involvement in this project and focus more on his teaching career, Rusty generously offered me the position of the blog’s senior editor. However, my inability to navigate the format so capably combined with our rising presence on other social media outlets eventually rendered the blog much less relevant than it had been. The space in social media to focus on Omnidawn was well-established, and so we wanted to cultivate something for the work beyond Omnidawn’s immediate reach of publication. With Rusty’s support, I decided the best thing to do was serve another facet of Omnidawn’s involvement in the poetic community and, somewhat selfishly, fulfill a longtime dream of mine of founding and editing a literary journal. In my opinion, there will never be enough places to showcase the diversity of new work, criticism, and engagement in our art form, and I’m glad that Rusty and Ken agreed there was a place at Omnidawn for me to indulge this passion with one more outlet.
SS: What’s the most difficult part of working in this industry? What’s the most rewarding part of working in this industry?
RM: My husband Ken Keegan and I began Omnidawn in 2001 because we believe that small, independent presses are essential: they disseminate fresh, lively, culturally pertinent and provocative literature. A society needs many small presses so that widely diverse ideas and points-of-view are easily accessible to everyone. As Italo Calvino tells us, “… the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of written language."
Ken had wanted to begin a press for years, but we never felt we were secure enough financially to do this, and we never felt that we had enough time. But, in 2001, we realized that there is never enough time or money to begin a project like this—we realized that if we waited any longer, then we’d never do it. So, we plunged in, aware of the precarious nature of publishing. We have no regrets; we are excited about every new book, every new project. But it is an excitement tinged by our awareness of the precariousness and challenges of small press life. I suppose that our awareness of the risk helps us to savor every moment, every pleasure.
I share this history because I think it’s the best answer for both parts of your question. I am constantly rewarded by the opportunity to be in conversation with writers whose voices are resonant and relevant to the changing moment in which I live. What’s most difficult is that the work of running a press doesn’t end at 5pm, and the week doesn’t end on Friday afternoon. We remain thrilled by the challenges, and always a bit overwhelmed by the possibilities.
GH: I decided to conflate these two questions because – and perhaps this is going to sound a little cheesy – the ways in which the work of poetry challenges, frustrates, and exhilarates me are pretty much inextricable. The limitations of things like money and physical space and time are obviously stifling and need no further examination, but the fact of their inevitability makes the result of your work a victory that is both indulgently contrarian and deeply valuable. It seems facile to make these kinds of statements, but I think it’s sort of pointless to argue against them, especially where poetry is concerned. We all know we’re working in such a fraught, marginalized space, and we carry on in spite of that and because of that and with the sort of forbidden knowledge that it’s actually what makes us thrive. In a way, I kind of love that things like e-readers are becoming so ubiquitous because it’s begun to validate the craft of what I do – as the imperative for the cheap and utilitarian in printed books disappears, we have more room to explore the medium, to discover the interplay between printed and digital materials, to return the art to the form and let the poetry breathe in the space that’s been created.
Jack Spicer, from his 1957 collection, After Lorca:
…Things do not connect; they correspond…. Even these letters. They correspond with something (I don’t know what) that you have written (perhaps as unapparently as that lemon corresponds to this piece of seaweed) and, in turn, some future poet will write something which corresponds to them. That is how we dead men write each other.
The irony here is this: in 1957 Spicer wasn’t dead and Lorca was. Now Spicer’s dead, and I’m not. So, either Spicer was psychic or this is the way things really do work: a ladder of correspondence.
A creative profession, perhaps more than any other profession, is one built, culled and cultivated from groundwork that has already been set, hence innovation via (some kind of) inspiration. I know no writer who isn’t a living, breathing representation of the influences they have encountered. The future gains new ideas and models of creativity this way; we’re constantly marching up a long ladder of either intrigue with, or rejection of something outside ourselves. These things which one chooses to correspond to, or move away from, construct the notion of a “history,” a history that inevitably makes a creative career larger than simply one’s personal contributions. Sounds important, right?
In many ways the story of Ezra Pound editing T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land makes the poem itself much more intriguing. In the annotated edition of The Waste Land we see the working relationship Pound and Eliot had refined. Indeed they were pals, but the friendship formalities go by the wayside when Pound stepped in as “editor,” leaving brash, “Bad- but [I] can’t attack until I get typescript” commentary all over Eliot’s written script, and cutting major sections and lines of the poem with the justification, “Too personal.” Some of Pound’s comments are extremely funny, especially when one imagines what Eliot– “The Old Possum,” as Pound called him– must have been thinking while looking them over. However, Eliot took many of Pound’s edits into consideration because he trusted his advice. And later in the annotated edition we see Pound return as Eliot’s ally by championing The Waste Land to other colleagues. This is a 1922 letter from Pound to John Quinn:
“Eliot came back from his Lausanne specialist looking OK; and with a damn good poem (19 pages) in his suitcase…. About enough, Eliot’s poem, to make the rest of us shut up shop.”
The rest is history. And that’s my point.
So, I’ve decided to infiltrate the Best American Poetry blog with contemporary examples of “working relationships.” Each day I will feature two writers in a conversation that highlights the aspects of their lives and careers that have been enhanced by writing together, learning from one another, or publishing with each other.
The most beautiful findings in each of the interviews are the descriptions of the lifelong friendships that have been created between these artists.
James Belflower mentions he wishes he could bridge the gap between New York and Arizona just to sit down for coffee with mentor, Cynthia Hogue.
Elizabeth Robinson looks forward to hearing about the new communities Travis Cebula encounters during his travels.
Rusty Morrison says she fully trusted Gillian Hamel to see Omnidawn’s online magazine OmniVerse come to fruition.
Standard Schaefer and Paul Vangelisti constantly alert each other to work that might pique each other’s interests.
And when asked about the best advice Frankie Rollins has imparted, Selah Saterstrom answers: “To risk everything for my biggest life and best work.”
To risk everything.
You picking up what I’m putting down?
Enjoy these conversations as they come down the pipeline. I have also asked the featured writers to collaborate on a new creative piece between the two of them. This is intended to honor each other’s talents and abilities, but most importantly, to put a new spin on their “relationship,” one that we, as audience (as the future), can correspond to and with.
I’m kicking off the week with an interview between James Belflower and Cynthia Hogue. James’ second full-length collection of poetry, A Posture of Contour, was just released from Spring Gun Press, and it is a beauty. He’s pursuing his PhD at Suny Albany, and he curates the Yes! reading series. Cynthia is the Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry in the English Department at ASU. She has published seven collections of poetry, most recently, Or Consequence and When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, interview-poems and photographs (with Rebecca Ross).
I’ll let them tell the rest of their story.
This evening I was reading this post on The Hairpin, all about "low-effort toddler games" like "Do You Like My Hat?" and "Hide Things in Your Clothes," and it reminded me of a passage from the children's book Pinky Pye, wherein a cat types up a list of suggested games:
The very clever cat then goes on to explain more complicated games, which you might enjoy reading (beginning on page 118).
And this led me to thinking of all the games I've played with poet friends, which now I will tell you how to play, in case you find yourself with guests or selves to entertain this weekend.
1. Game of First Lines
This is just like Balderdash, only instead of inventing definitions for obscure words, you invent first lines for titles. Pull a literary journal off the shelf, open to the first poem, read the title aloud, and then have your friends write down a convincing option for a first line, while you write down the actual one. Gather them all together, read them out loud, and have everyone guess which is real. Points to anyone who guesses right, or whose line manages to fool someone. Or don't keep track of points. Then pass the journal to the next person, so you get a chance to invent.
2. Game of Following the Rules of Vasko Popa's Game Poems
I just made this up, but I think it would end in tears. Here is how you play "Seducer"
One caresses the leg of a chair
Until the chair moves
And motions him coyly with her leg
Another kisses the keyhole
Keeps kissing it and how
Until the keyhole returns the kiss
A third one stands to the side
Watches the other two
And shakes and shakes his head
Until his head drops off
3. Game of Not Listening
When you are stuck in an audience listening to someone who is dull or going on for too long, write down words and phrases she says, in order, but very selectively, so that by the time she finishes you have a much better speech she could have made had she only known how to edit herself. Extra points if you arrange her own words into an entirely different subject.
4. Game of Constant Similes
Pretend that every time someone says "like" as filler (of the "um" variety) he is embarking on making a simile it is your job to understand.
5. Game of Stacking Books
This game I borrowed from Matthea Harvey, who borrowed it from the artist Nina Katchadourian. Go to a place full of books. Find titles you'd like to arrange into a poem. Stack them in an order that pleases you. Depending on whether or not you think the place is trying to keep the books in a different order, you might consider leaving them there for someone to discover. Or take a picture.
6. Game of "Life of Game"
Listen to Loren Goodman.
7. Game of Thinking of Something
Think of something. Tell your friends you are thinking of something. See if they can guess what it is. If you are not with friends, try just thinking of something.
Those are all of the games I know. I'm lying. Those are half of them, but I am trying to raise my level of mysteriousness, which is part of a game I'm not telling you about.
You now behold (in the photo above) a group of Beverly Hills High School alumni (parents, bankers, singers, and friends) returning to the alma mater as they do each December to sing "Still, Still, Still" with their old high school singing group, The Beverly Hills High School Madrigals.
I had been a parent for oh about a minute when I realized that I would never again stumble upon a group of carolers singing on floor 3 of the mall, children chiming off-key in a red velvet auditorium, middle school brass sections bugling themselves bug-eyed at Disneyland without instantly bursting into happy tears.
Every face, every trying-hard face is so shiny and focused. And then there are always a few faces, bored and daydreaming...the child in the navy satin poof skirt inaccurately mouthing the words. The boy with the monkey-face dramatics who couldn't quite pull the requisite colored outfit together, and would fit in better at the local Chuckie Cheese. And the social dynamics. Gee, they just slap one in the face until the stomach remembers the old flip-flops. Nodding to the parents with a "hip" Queen medley mostly from Bohemian Rhapsody, "mamma, I killed a man...my life had only just begun..now I've gone and thrown it all away" as we audience members howl with laughter, the joke on us for getting old, humming along. A high school diva in a black slinky dress, draped over a piano as if she were a lounge act, supported by four guys her own age in hats and bow ties, two of whom she'd never date, and one who would never date her (wrong gender), and the one who just maybe...and that isn't even storying up to the accompanist. The girl-on-girl duet, part love, part catfight. The sounds of the audience, the live net of high school affections and antagonisms, providing the soundtrack to the series of festive, frought events. I love them. I love every single one of them.
There we sit, we parents, grandparents, and other partisans, holding our tinier-each-year camcorders and recording our bigger-each-year children. I am purged over and over by the beautiful imperfection of the music, from the tiny beauty pageant kindersingers, to the high school minnesingers or maestros, tuning with purpose, and following the conductor with more verb and verse. Sometimes it seems as if you can feel layers under the singing or strumming--the hours of practice, all the different ears assaulted by scales, the "have you practiced enough" arguing behind every household door, and then later the "stop practicing till you have done your homework" or the "that dress is black but it's too short" "too fancy" "too casual". The parents, the children and their dreams. Like raising peacocks or grooming unicorns part of what's so touching is knowing that this is it, this is childhood, the most "adult" form this art will ever have for many of our children.
It seems so grown-up really, to believe in this effort and practice and excellence. To work hard. And then to come together to live it all out. What's wrong with us adults--so quickly bored and scattered, our energy dissipated by not wanting to disappoint our own hopes. How big we were, small like that!
Last week on NPR, Barbra Streisand (now in a new movie) was interviewed by Terry Gross. She talks about singing "People who need people," a song whose lyrics might be exactly opposite of what she believes, but they felt right. She talks about the moment when she was thirteen, and a bridge in the music, a bridge she swore was too long, suddenly got filled by a new idea for her, and when she came back in, the sound that came out of her--it was new. It was something she didn't know she had inside her.
And so this is what art is like. What life is like. Near as I can tell it.
We stop worrying about perfection. We pause for not knowing. We let effort happen, for its own mysterious reasons in its own mysterious state.
And sometimes, if we're very lucky, both Heaven and Nature sing!
Thanks, Joel Pressman. Happy Holidays to One and All...j.f.
Sam Amadon and I have known each other for over a decade. We have much in common, particularly Connecticut. I had a few questions for Sam about his second collection, The Hartford Book, published this spring by Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Sam is also the author of Like a Sea, which won the Iowa Poetry Prize in 2010. His poems have appeared recently in American Poetry Review, Better, The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Ploughshares. He teaches in the MFA Program at the University of South Carolina. We conducted this interview via email from our respective homes in Vermont and South Carolina.
What was the process of composition for The Hartford Book? How did it relate to your first book, Like a Sea?
I wrote the bulk of the poems that now make up The Hartford Book in 2004. It was my first semester at Columbia and I was working with Richard Howard. About once a week, I’d go to his apartment in the Village and I’d bring him three or four of these poems. He really showed me how to write them, but more than that he showed me that I could write them. I had thought of poetry as something careful and cool, and my poems didn’t sound anything like me (as in the “me” sitting in the diner opposite you). Richard changed all that. He was so excited by these poems; it was a motivation to write them. We’re obviously quite different people, Richard and I, and I think this was part of his fascination—it was like I was bringing him the news.
Anyway, I found a method for the poems: long, funny circles of talk that make shifts via association, and continually find their sad way back to where they started. That line also works as a fair description of most of my friends from Hartford. That’s part of what I was after: to bring out this way of being that feels local to the place, to the people, to me. After a long process of weeding out (I cut the book in half over seven years) and changing forms, I think I got some of that. In Like a Sea, I was trying to do everything but write The Hartford Book, not because “I wanted to get away from it,” but because I wanted to see how different I could be and still sound the same. Even the procedural poems in that book, like “Foghorns” which is drawn entirely from A Long Days Journey Into Night, feel to me as if they fit in a wide circle drawn around The Hartford Book.
Like almost everybody, I get really frustrated with the idea that half of poetry is off-limits. Or with the idea that you don’t have to read my poem, you just have to figure out which column it falls into on your aesthetic spreadsheet. So to some extent, I was happy to be publishing The Hartford Book after Like a Sea just to confuse matters. The best thing that came out of it, I think, is what it did to Andy Axel’s brain, evidenced here. With readers like him, I don’t think we have to be quite so afraid of the future.
How has Hartford/Connecticut as a landscape/place affect your development as a poet and the language in your work?
Well, Michael, as you might recall, it can be incredibly lonely. That’s partly what I think of when I think of Hartford. Driving in circles through empty streets and listening to the radio. Sitting by myself at the coffee place. Big empty parks. I didn’t do a lot of writing there, and I didn’t do a lot of reading. But for the part of being a poet that is about being alone, Hartford taught me how to do that. It’s not surprising that I grew up four or five blocks away from Stevens.
Tom and I had been searching for a way to do something collaborative together for a long time, but whatever we’d come up with seemed half as good as what we could’ve written on our own. In Controversy, we figured out the trick was coming up with a project that needed two authors, that couldn’t have been done by one person alone. Essentially what we did is a blind erasure. One of us would provide the other with sentences from a text that the other would erase, but we never told each other what they were erasing. And we added other constraints: if I took a sentence from the thirtieth page of the third book on my fifth bookshelf for Tom to erase, then Tom would take a sentence from the thirtieth page of the third book on his fifth bookshelf for me to erase. We picked the sentences ourselves, but chance had a role in choosing the pages. I really like how it turned out. It’s like a box of broadsides. Which is something I don’t think either one of us would’ve made on our own.
Does that process fall anywhere in what’s
been dubbed the Conceptual poetry spectrum?
I don’t know if I would call it conceptual exactly. I tend to think of conceptual writing as work that plays out a meaning that’s made off the page. Like Jackson Mac Low’s “Ridiculous in Piccadilly.” When you run through that poem, you “be poor always and unkempt”; you “be ridiculous in Piccadilly.” I don’t think that’s the case with what we did. I’d file Controversy under Procedural Epistolary. Because we were really erasing as a way to write to each other.
Do you consider the Hartford Whalers to be the 2006 Stanley Cup winner even though they won it as the “Carolina Hurricanes”?
No. But I did watch some footage of the end of the last Whalers game the other week, and wept a bit while looking for my dad and me in the crowd. Look I know that teams get moved, and the Whalers going to Durham is nothing like the Dodgers and Giants going to California or anything, but it has to be one of the stupidest and most wasteful thing’s that’s ever happened to a franchise. Rowland thought he’d move the Patriots to Hartford, so he let the Whalers go, and years later I drove by him walking his dogs on the street (when he was getting impeached) and shouted, “Governor, you’re an asshole.” If I saw Bob Kraft, I’d do the same thing.
We can both reconcile poets like John Berryman and Gertrude Stein in our own work, even though some consider them to represent disparate branches of poetry. Do you see these distinctions becoming more and more unnecessary for others?
Well it’s easy for me to do that with Berryman and Stein because we have so much in common—the three of us can’t shut up. Really, I think the idea of “disparate branches” is more to blame than the differences between any two poets. That’s the deception: all the long-drawn lineages. There’s no master plan that we’ll finally figure out, thank god. I don’t to mean to say that conflicts and influence, schools and rivalries don’t offer us anything, but that can’t keep us from reading these individual poems by these individual poets. We have to try to keep remembering that. Anyway I don’t think you reconcile Stein and Berryman—I think you put them in the same room and let the sparks fly.
What was it like to be published in The New Yorker for the first time?
Not to say that poetry hasn’t given me a lot, but it did feel pretty good to pay the last part of that month’s credit card bill with “the money from my poem.” It was unexpected. I sent into the slush for years. Turns out they actually read it.
Tell me a little bit about your current manuscript, Tourism.
With Tourism, I tried to play against myself section to section. Most immediately, this is visible in formal changes. There are poems in rigid syllabic patterns without punctuation. There are poems in received forms: Petrarchan sonnets and heroic couplets. But I also created difference by taking on subject matter that doesn’t quite fit with who I am. I never knew about the original Penn Station, the one they blew up to build MSG. And when I read about, I thought there’s a certain kind of poet who does research on something like this and then writes about it. Then I tried to do that myself, and by the end, I dropped the “there’s a certain kind of poet” part. The manuscript’s a departure from the first two—the word “Hartford” never appears—but inside, it’s full of these departures from itself.
You recently received your PhD from the University of Houston and are now teaching at the University of South Carolina. How have you found the experience?
I think if the MFA students I’m teaching weren’t generous and kind people who write interesting and daring poems that it would be a lot harder. For that I feel really lucky (beyond how lucky you have to feel just to have gotten a job.) I felt ready to make the move. I’m writing new poems now, after a bit of a drought, and I think teaching has a lot to do with that. Doing the PhD really gives you a chance to figure out what you think about workshop. You see how you think it should run, how you don’t think it should run. To my mind, it’s about being the best audience for the work. The idea that having someone waiting to read it—to really read it—has a lot to do with it getting written.
I’ve worked at The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts since at least last Wednesday.
If you get that joke, then you’ve probably been to The Bookstore where you’ve probably met owner Matthew Tannenbaum. Matt’s been in the book business for a little while now. He recounts the beginning of his career as a bookman in the chapbook-sized My Years at the Gotham Book Mart with Frances Steloff, Proprietor (on sale during business hours; come on in). He’s working on a longer memoir, so I won’t, nor for reasons of plausible deniability do I particularly want to, divulge the details—which are wild, heartbreaking, historic—suffice it to say that The Bookstore came into his care during the nation’s bicentennial year and, despite claims to the contrary, he’s been serving the people of Lenox and the greater community ever since.
The Bookstore is a New England City Lights: a thriving counterculture symbol not simply because of Matt’s connection to banned-book champion Steloff nor solely because of his own place in that continuum (e.g. the poster trumpeting Matt’s reading of Kerouac’s Dr. Sax with Michael Gizzi and Clark Coolidge, the photo of him shaking hands with Vaclav Havel) but precisely because it’s a shop stocked by a man who knows that reading a book, whether the pulpiest mass market, the most surreal love poetry, or the humblest picture book, can reveal in any person of any age limitless reservoirs of imagination, of wonder, of hope. In the E-Age, selling print books is about as countercultural an activity as you can engage in in these United States.
That’s one of the reasons, but not the only, that puts me in my car 2 ½ hours ’round-trip three days a week. On one of those three days, I usually get a compliment on the store’s selection, which has been cultivated by Matt through nearly four decades of his own literary love affairs—but is also the result of a bookman having a deep and ongoing conversation with his community. Because he loves to hear what people love to read, whether they’re old friends or new acquaintances, they in turn allow Matt to suggest books they might not otherwise consider, enlarging their own point of view. It’s buoying to observe and it happens all the time.
If you’ve read Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day, you might have seen Matt’s name before. This contemporary epic of motherhood and community was written on December 22, 1978 at 100 Main Street in Lenox, down the street and around the corner from The Bookstore. Almost everything in Lenox is down the street and around the corner. Matt appears a couple of times, but the most notable occurs near the end of Part III, on page 53 of the latest New Directions paperback (NDP876). On the preceding page, standing in the health food store, the question comes: “You think something like a book will change the world, don’t you?” The answer, in the next line: “I do, I take pleasure in taking the milk with the most cream”. A few lines later brings us to this wonderful decision:
Let’s go in to the bookstore to see Matthew Tannenbaum
The dream figure of the boy-father-mother who turns into
The recalcitrant bookseller as we do
I look over the shoulder
Of a girl flipping through the pages of a book of women’s faces
All beauties, bigger than life, black and white
Scavullo on Beauty
You study poetry and read magazines upstairs
Let me tell you
The titles of all the current books:
The Suicide Cult, The Ends of Power,
The Origin of the Brunists, Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
War and Remembrance, The Winds of War, The Dogs of War, Dog Soldiers,
Mommie Dearest, My Moby Dick, My Mother Myself, By Myself, Uncle,
Mortal Friends, Nappy Edges, Tender Miracles,
Song of Solomon, Delta of Venus, The Women’s Room,
Ladies Man, Six Men, The Water-Method Man, Watership Down,
The Night People, Shepherds of the Night, A Dream Journey,
Daniel Martin, Delmore Schwartz, Edith Wharton,
Time and Again, Better Times Than These, Centennial,
The Professor of Desire, The Honorable Schoolboy,
Heart Beat, The Third Mind, Jack’s Book,
Beasts, The Magus, The Flounder, The Fabricator,
Words of Advice, Secrets and Surprises, Dispatches,
Prelude to Terror, Full Disclosure, Final Payments,
The World of Damon Runyon, The Stories of John Cheever,
Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, Praxis,
The Annotated Shakespeare, The Last Best Hope
There are lots of beautiful things about this passage. There is no more “upstairs”—it’s now a slightly elevated section of the store with our children’s books. We don’t sell magazines; you can find a selection at Loeb’s Food Town next door, as well as newspapers. You can, however, still come and study poetry, as we’ve got an entire wall of it in the adjacent Get Lit Wine Bar, where I bartend on Friday nights, sometimes Thursday mornings.
It’s also a delightful snapshot of the publishing world in the late 1970s. One title in particular stands out: My Moby Dick by William Humphrey, a romp about a colossal trout and the fanatical angler out to hook him. It’s out of print, and we recently tracked down a used copy for someone. The Lenox connection is significant: Melville wrote Moby-Dick not but a few miles from The Bookstore at Arrowhead, on the Lenox-Pittsfield line. I pass by it every day on the way to work.
In my own decade-long career as a bookman, I’ve worked at various Borders and Barnes & Noble locations. I was the textbook manager at the Yale Bookstore. For a number of years, I was a manager at another great independent, the Northshire Bookstore, in Manchester Center, Vermont. I’ve worked for and with great people who have enriched my literary vocabulary, often in ways I never would’ve predicted. I’ve also worked for and with people who, in the end of the day, could’ve been selling hemorrhoid cream for all they cared, so long as you bought something from them.
The Bookstore is different.
Every once in a while, I’ll get a customer who, rather wistfully, goes on about how great it would be to own a bookstore. I try not to disabuse them. Those reveries of lounging around, talking literature the live-long are quickly erased when you have to deal with the day-to-day operations of unpacking, stocking, ordering, organizing the store. It never ends. But since we’re working with books, it’s a joy, and occasionally, moreso than any other bookstore I’ve worked at, we do get a chance to kick back and talk. About books, yes, but also about life. That is, after all, where the books comes from. It helps when Bookstore friends like Alice Brock, Bill Corbett, Harry Mathews, or Geoff Young stop in to say hello.
Anyone drawn to this blog is probably aware that the publishing industry is in—O clichéd phrase—a state of flux. We talk about this from time to time at The Bookstore. The conclusion we always come to is to keep doing what we’re doing, which is: to stock the best books, new and old, by the best writers from a variety of eras and styles and let great readers come find us. And they do. Every day.
Anyway, it’s too late to stop now. We don’t have every book ever printed available in the store for you to purchase. No one does, not even Amazon. But we do have a lot of great books, and there’s a good chance a few of those great books you’ve never heard of. So, like I said, come on in. I think of The Bookstore as like Ruthie in her honky-tonk lagoon.
We may not always have what you need, but we definitely have what you want.
* We always have lots of readings at The Bookstore, but one that Best American Poetry readers might be interested in is Peter Gizzi and Bernadette Mayer, Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Posted by Michael Schiavo on November 12, 2012 at 02:57 PM in Art, Book Stores, Collaborations, Dylan Watch, Food and Drink, Guest Bloggers, History, Music, Poetry Readings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Banned Books, Bernadette Mayer, Bookstores, Gotham Book Mart, Guest Blogger, Lenox, Matthew Tannenbaum, Michael Gizzi, Michael Schiavo, Peter Gizzi, Poetry, The Bookstore, The Bookstore in Lenox
7 Days, 7 Artists, 7 Rings, is a living, responsive work of art created by Rebecca Campbell and Nicole Walker. Each week the painter and poet, respectively, alternate kicking off the current week’s collaborative artist project. Painters and poets, photographers and essayists, musicians and story writers link their works. For example, a poet may be presented with a video and asked to write a poem in response; the poem in turn is shown to an artist, and the chain continues. The responses came daily, with artists having only twenty-four hours of rtesponse time. Begun in 2010 and reprised in 2011, the project is archived here (or at htttp://bekandnik.wordpress.com.) Ms Campbell and Ms Walker plan a new round of Telephone to start soon. -- DL.
Many times in years past we've sought respite from New York City's steamy summer heat by hopping the ferry to Staten Island. The trip takes roughly 25 minutes, there's a breeze off the water, a stunning view of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and, it's free!
Now there's added incentive to head to the ferry's Whitehall terminal: Telettrofono, a fascinating collaboration between award winning poet Matthea Harvey and sound artist Justin Bennett, is live on Staten Island. Visitors to Telettrofono will be guided to points along the SI waterfront while listening to a 90-minute tale about the real — and not so real — life of inventor Antonio Meucci. Here's how Matthea Harvey describes the project:
This year I worked on making a soundwalk with amazing sound artist Justin Bennett for the Guggenheim architecture program--it's going on for four weekends (starting this weekend) in Staten Island.. . The piece is called Telettrofono and it's about Antonio Meucci (who invented the telephone decades before Bell) and his mermaid wife, Esterre. Meucci was an amazing nineteenth century inventor who made a marine telephone for divers to speak with ship captains, flame-retardant paint (which he advised using on your underwear) and improved effervescent drinks, among other things. The Telettrofono tour will introduce you to his real and imagined inventions, a mermaid chorus, a preset verifiable fact mode, and the story of a mermaid who leaves the water because of her love of how things sound aboveground.
[i] “Album Zutique” Text: “The Album Zutique was a communal journal for the poets and artists with whom Rimbaud associated while living in Paris....They called themselves Zutistes, a word coined from the French exclamation “zut,” which, depending on context, can mean anything from “golly” to “damn....” Most of [Rimbaud's] poems here are parodies of the work of other poets, and many are ribald in nature.” (Wyatt Mason, from Rimbaud Complete); Image: Grace Jones, from Vamp (1986)
[ii] “Blood of a Young Girl Streaks the Altar” Text: Aeschylus, from Agamemnon; Image: Michael Spinks, from Spinks vs. Tyson, 27 June 1988
[iii] “Disorganized Rainbow” Text: Albert Ramsay, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine” (Saturday Evening Post, Vol. 207 Issue 13, September 1934); Image: Miners, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine”
[iv] “Merle in Switzerland” Text: R.F.; Image: Rivi’s eyes, from Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
[v] "Shelley" Text: R.F.; Image: Amelia Curran, from Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)
[vi] "Take Me Away" Text: "Take Me Away" (1992), Mix Factory; Image: from Tyson
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.