The conversation below is the first in a series of interviews with the three members of the editorial collective information as material: Nick Thurston, Craig Dworkin, and Simon Morris. The series will explore the work of each of these three men both inside and outside of that particular collaborative framework. It is meant in part as a an exploration on the nature of collaboration itself, and as a meditation on the relationship between the individual artist and the artist acting collectively.
I first met Nick Thurston this February in Rochester, New York, where he was giving a talk to a classroom of undergraduate students at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The students had just finished reading Thurston’s recently release book Of the Subcontract.
Sofi Thanhauser: When I heard you present at RIT I was struck in particular by your intonation, by the way you seemed to be stringing a complex argument together using a logic that was partly sung. Later, when I read your piece Status_Anxieties (Some notes on Of the Subcontract) in TheJournal of Conceptual Criticism, the little arrows threaded through the first part of the text reminded me of that musicality. It seems to me as though there is a consistent gesture in your work towards extralinguistic content; a harmonic playing under or through the expository prose that acts as an argument against taking meaning to be something hermetically sealed within words or sentences. Am I making too much of the way you talk? Continue reading →
This conversation between 1913 Press authors Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang began with their latest books. Unlikely Conditions (1913 Press) is Cynthia Arrieu-King’s collaboration with the late Hillary Gravendyk. Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary was published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center.
Cynthia Arrieu-King: Where did these essays begin for you? What does essay writing allow you to do that poetry might not? Or does it matter to you at all?
Lily Hoang: Form and genre are really important to me, actually. I am insistent when I call these essays—and it all goes back to etymology, right? To essai: to trial, to experiment—even though it’s already been classified as both poetry and fiction. The essay declares itself as a challenge, to self and to form, by definition. This isn’t fiction’s concern, at all, and I’m a fiction writer, first and foremost, and so the rhetorical qualities of the essay—its ethos, pathos, and logos—were also foreign concepts to me, things that I had to learn. I think the essay demands a self-rigor that isn’t necessary in fiction, which is not to say that fiction isn’t rigorous! (I’m not really qualified to talk about poetry in the least so I’ll leave that kind of thinking to the poets and scholars.) All of which is to say: the essays in A Bestiary are essays, intentionally so, I argue they adhere to form and follow the rules of the genre. But that wasn’t in question at all, sorry. Continue reading →
Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press, and the digital edition includes work from Matthew Burnside and Alejandro Miguel Justino Crawford that falls far outside the lines of what normally constitutes “the literary.” They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss praxis maneuvers, God Mode, emergent gameplay, and what it means to be real.
Michael Martin Shea: Hey y’all! I’m really excited for this conversation. Before we get started, though, since both of your works might seem a bit unusual to your average reader, I was wondering: could you each describe the logic of the piece—where it came from and what the creative process was like? Continue reading →
In this conversation, we discuss New England frugality, ghosts, and how dance can inform poetics. Kate Colby’s Fruitlands won the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2007. Since then, she has written five books of poetry, including I Mean, her most recent, which was published in 2015 by Ugly Duckling Presse. Kate’s poems are taut, their movements agile. At display throughout her work is intelligence, wit, and formal inventiveness. Very little escapes Kate’s attention; she is a poet of wide-ranging curiosity and rigorous inquiry. We “spoke” over email and then in person, too.
Mary-Kim Arnold: Earlier this year, you hosted a “poet’s walk” through the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. How did the idea for this come about?
Kate Colby: It wasn’t an idea so much as the end of a trajectory. I had been reading and writing about Gardner for a long time and really wanted to engage with the physical museum.
A couple of years ago Brooklyn-based artist Todd Shalom, who is my best friend and foil, was invited to create an experiential artist walk at the deCordova Museum outside Boston, and he asked me to do it with him, since I grew up in and write so much about the region. The public programs director at the Gardner Museum attended one of the walks and she later asked me to do the same sort of thing at the Gardner. Continue reading →
This interview is part of a series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” which began as part of Philip Metres’s Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (1992-1993). It has been revived, some 20 years later, with new interviews of Russian and Russian-American poets. The complete archive will be published in book-form.
Philip Metres: If it’s not too boring, let’s begin at the beginning—when did you begin to write poems? Who was influential to you?
Polina Barskova: The question of when and how I started to write poetry still haunts me—like an improper mystery, and it is not clear if it has an answer, or even if it’s necessary. Even now, my publications biography reports that I am a child prodigy; on the eve of my fourth decade, it now sounds like an embarrassing joke. Here the special effect, I believe, is not that I began writing at age eight (since many children write poems, just as many children draw, and often the results of their activities are excellent), but the fact that my poems were published, that they continue to be published, and that I continue to write them. Continue reading →
Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process which brought them to the moment of completion that we call a book. As Omnidawn’s co-publisher and senior poetry editor, I’ve had that great good fortune. It finally occurred to me that the readers and reviewers of these books might enjoy hearing some of this talk, too. Of course, a book of poetry needs no introduction or liner notes. But I’m always interested in any stories about how and where authors’ intentions and the actual creative work tangle together. So I started asking each of our authors a few questions in writing, and then enclosing these “interviews” with our advance/review copies. When the book is published, I post the interview on the book’s web page. The Conversant’s editors have asked if they might select some of those interviews to publish. It is my pleasure to say yes! This conversation focuses on Erín Moure’s translation of Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan. –Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison: I could not believe our luck, and your faith in us, when you offered Omnidawn your translation of Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan. I imagine that many readers will be very familiar with Chus Pato’s history and writings, but some may not be. I think it would be wonderful if you’d share what will be most engaging, most relevant to a new reader regarding this text, its importance, its position in Chus Pato’s trajectory. Continue reading →
Trey Moody: I know you’ve framed your recent collections, Unwanted Invention / Vargtimmen, as a tête-bêche artifact, but I’m curious: you must have a preference, however slight, for where you’d like your ideal reader to begin, right? On the spine, for instance, you had to make some layout decisions. Plus, knowing this work personally, there’s a clear chronological gap between these two collections (i.e. they weren’t written simultaneously). Continue reading →
Francisco Bitar was born in 1981 in Santa Fe, the city where he currently lives. He’s published the poetry books Negativos [Negatives] (2007), El olimpo [The Olympus] (2009 and 2010), Ropa vieja: la muerte de una estrella [Old Clothes: The Death of a Star] (2011) and The Volturno Poems (2015). These works, along with some unpublished pieces, will appear in a collected volume in 2017. Bitar has also published the novel Tambor de arranque [Starting Drum] (2012), which won a literary prize from the city of Rosario. His collection of stories Luces de Navidad [Christmas Lights] (2014) will be reprinted this year by the publisher Nudista. Other books by Bitar include Acá había un río [Here There Was a River] (2015) and Historia oral de la cerveza [Oral History of Beer] (2015), which was published with the help of the Fondo Nacional de las Artes. Bitar has translated, among others, Jack Spicer (Quince proposiciones falsas contra Dios, 2009) and helped edit a volume of poems by Juan Manuel Inchauspe, called Trabajo nocturno [Night work] (2010). He is included in the anthology 30.30. Poesía argentina del siglo XXI (2013). He studied literature and coordinates a writing workshop at the bookstore Del Otro Lado Libros.
Jessica Sequeira has translated Bitar’s poems for Ventana Latina, where she is an editor, as well as for a 2014 issue of the UK-based publication Modern Poetry in Translation. As Bitar was in Santa Fe and Sequeira was in California at the time of the interview, they carried out the conversation over email. Originally in Spanish, it has been translated.
The People, with Insert Blanc Editor and Publisher Mathew Timmons and Insert Blanc Artist Ben White, features the voices and ideas of The People that make up the cultural landscape of Los Angeles, the west coast, and beyond on KCHUNG 1630AM every 3rd Sunday at 3pm and podcast on iTunes as The People Radio. The People is me, The People is you, The People is we, and You Can Too! … like a Broken Record magically repaired.
Margaret Wappler lives in Los Angeles and has written about the arts and pop culture for the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Elle, The Believer, The Village Voice and several other publications. Her work has appeared in Black Clock, Public Fiction and The Anthology Joyland Retro. Her first novel, Neon Green, is coming out from Unnamed Press in July 2016.
David P. Earle is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He also is a co-director of Elephant Art Space here in Glassell Park, Los Angeles. www.davidpearle.com
To close out the show, we have music from Chris Cohen, the title track from his new album As If Apart, released May 6, 2016 on the Captured Tracks label.
“I think collaborations are an especially important reminder that all authors are really co-authors, co-conspirators in an ongoing series of thefts.” —Kristina Marie Darling
Ghost/Landscape, a poetry collection co-authored by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher, was published in 2016 by BlazeVox. We took this opportunity to discuss the book and its inception/creation, hauntings, exorcisms, hybrid forms, lyric trespassing, the multiverse, and the ghost line.
Virginia Konchan: How did you conceive of the idea for this collection? Can you speak a little bit about the compositional process, and how it unfolded over time? I’m particularly curious about the titling, and the arrangement of the poems. Continue reading →
Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press and included work by Bhanu Kapil (“Monster Checklist”) and Ching-In Chen (“bhanu feeds soham a concession”). They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss dreams, threads, fungus, marigolds, soft-tissue sites, and writing as a form of pilgrimage. Michael Martin Shea: Hi Bhanu! Hi Ching-In! One of the things that’s striking about both of your texts–and part of the reason we wanted to interview the two of you together–is how they’re in conversation with other texts: Bhanu’s quasi-syllabus mentions a variety of other books and thinkers, while Ching-In’s is, in part, a response to Bhanu’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters. Do you see your work as a form of conversation?
Bhanu Kapil: I wrote the “handwritten preface” to Incubation in a cafe, with my friend, the poet Melissa Buzzeo. I put my head down on the table; in that time, she wrote or sketched her What Began Us (Leon Works.) I woke up, ordered some toast and coffee, and wrote the preface as she was completing her book. She took what I wrote back to Brooklyn and pinned it to her fridge; I had to get her to mail it back, a year later, when I realized what my own book could be. This, in fact, was not a conversation, but dreaming, what it is to feel so safe you can fall asleep while your friend is writing a book and to also dream your own book as they are writing their own.
Caleb Beckwith: First of all, congratulations. Your first full-length poetry collection, Oil and Candle (Timeless Infinite Light 2016), has gotten a significant amount of attention lately. I truthfully can’t remember the last time I was able to talk to a young writer about their first book with so much of the foundational critical apparatus already in place. Thanks to places like Entropy, Adroit Journal, and Apiary, we can cut right to the chase.
In another recent spotlight from Philly Mag, you describe writing Oil and Candle “during and after the climax of controversies around race in poetry in late 2014 and throughout 2015 . . . These debates were about white poets who were using the bodies of people of color, especially black people, for their art and poetry in violent and racist ways.” I think we all know to which controversies you’re referring, but could you unpack your involvement in a bit more detail? How did these controversies affected you as a QPOC attending a university in many ways at the epicenter of these controversies? And how do they continue to inform your creative practice?
Gabriel Ojeda-Sague: Well, let’s name them. We’ve got: Kenny Goldsmith’s performance and edit of the autopsy of Michael Brown, Vanessa Place’s Gone With the Wind twitter, Marjorie Perloff’s defense of KG, Ron Silliman’s defense of VP. More recently you’ve got those two poets making Mexican jokes and a Fence editor projecting the n-word at a reading. The list obviously goes on but that’s what I can remember right now. You are right that the University of Pennsylvania was sort of an unspoken hub for these controversies and debates. KG is a professor there, several of the Language poets (Ron included) are professors there. And a lot of those Language poets there were professors of mine. Some I’d even be willing to admit are the reasons I became committed to poetry. So yeah it was an awful time. Awful because what I saw then were people that I respected and even admired vehemently defending each other’s racist practices and performances. And then also many of my colleagues and current or former students of those teachers defending them by saying “Oh! But they’re such amazing teachers! I learned so much from them!” And I guess you could say the book starts from the realization that those things aren’t mutually exclusive, that the different mentor systems, support systems, and more generally poetic networks can also be toxic, discriminatory, racist, violent, elitist, etc. Continue reading →
We could say our conversation starts on the page: the pages of our new books Ford Over and Stereo. Island. Mosaic. We could say we started our conversation on the phone. Or we started off our conversation some years ago at Macondo where we worked together conducting a writing workshop for young people on the Westside of San Antonio at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Or the conversation started somewhere between South Texas and New Jersey on the phone lines, or somewhere between Puerto Rico and Coahuila y Tejas. Like true digital denizens, we continued our conversation in a shared document online.
John Pluecker: So we just got off the phone and I thought I would go ahead and write a bit into this document so that we can get things started. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stakes. I just looked up the word “stake” or “stakes” in a dictionary and I’m struck by the double meaning of the word. On the one hand, it is a pointed stick or post embedded in the ground to mark a place or to support something. It is also what might be lost in a wager or an undertaking. You have a new book out that I’ve been reading and enjoying getting lost in: Stereo. Island. Mosaic. So I’m thinking of a double question: What is your book staking out (as in the place it might be marking or what it might be supporting)? And what is at stake in your book (as in what might be lost in that wager)? (4/4/16, 2:45pm C.T.)
Vincent Toro: I love that we’re starting with discussing an ambiguous term, as ambiguity is the modus operandi for poets. I suppose I’ll cop terminology from your book, Ford Over, to answer this one: I think I see the book as an “un-staking.” My collection is unabashedly anti-colonial in that, if anything, the work seeks to rip out and dismantle the flags and forts that have been staked by invaders for the last 500 plus years. I have what might be considered an obsession with attempting to expand the fields (of access, of territory, or thought) that I inhabit. There’s a track on one of Bill Laswell’s “Material” records that is titled, “My Style is I Ain’t Got No Style.” I think that is what the book, and my work in general, is reaching for. You know how at the bank or at the DMV or the airport, there are those poles with expandable ribbons they use to mark the path of the queue for customers? I live with a colossal urge to pull up those ribbons and undo the lines that have been predetermined by officials who won’t reveal themselves. Throughout your book, there is use of another ambiguous term: ford. You use it readily as the commonly underutilized verb form, which means to cross over a river or stream. But where rivers and streams are natural geographical dividers, colonization creates artificial ones. The book (to personify it) wants to ford the artificial dividers of the colonizers in an attempt to expand and unify until there are no more stakes plunged into the ground with flags on them.
In this conversation we explore the way capitalism crafts the forms we write through, how capital shapes embodiment and the matter of who we love / how we love them. Zaher’s sixth book, The Consequences of My Body (Nightboat Books), lyrically examines the postmodern condition and lays its flaws bare, open.
Christy Davids: You write: “I am a descendant of ‘Udhri:’ Arab love poets; these are the ones I read as a teenager. More problematic than their poems are their stories, their myth about love without consummation. This idea entrenches the body – soul duality beyond repair.” I’d love it if you could speak to the relationship you are establishing between yourself and the Udhri love poem tradition, specifically what declaring and practicing that linkage means for The Consequences of My Body. Continue reading →
Of his work, critic Julie Marie Wade describes, “It would be redundant to ask if Simmonds plays an instrument when his voice is an instrument, a conduit of incomparable depth and range.” This embrace of the semantic musical phrase and the traumas that call them forth is what seems to bind Kevin and I as confidants. Although our friendship began as a cyber introduction turned to workshops and readings, it solidified through the online correspondence we’ve continued for six years, a compassionate but often thorny banter in which we discuss everything from poetics and publishing, family and death, to race and sexuality. I’ve sought to mirror the raw urgency of our cyber encounters in this interview, revealing what motivates Kevin’s mercuriality in both his poetry and his life.
Alexandra Mattraw: Every critic who’s ever written about your work has said something about your careful concision. One called it “condensed linguistic play.” Sean Singer says of the poems in Bend to It, “he does not favor pyrotechnics, but prefers simplicity and clarity.” Others might compare your lines to the sharp but playful image condensation of Lorine Niedecker. Do you see your work as condensed in any of these ways, and if so, what draws you to such?
Kevin Simmonds: Words are not equal. Choose them carefully and poems will be, more or less, concise. That’s what I’m after because I often compose poems at the word or phrase level. That’s how I build. It has to do with sound. I’m drawn to this as a practice amid the too noisy, too busy, too sprawling world around me. And all the verbose writing, even among poets, regrettably.
Brittany Billmeyer-Finn is a poet and playwright living in Oakland, CA. She is the author of the full length title, the meshes from Black Radish Books. During her 2015 residency at SAFEhouse Arts in SF she directed her first play, the meshes an iteration in 2 acts. Her work has been published locally in Where Eagles Dare, Elderly, in the anthology; It is Night in San Francisco but It’s Sunny in Oakland, 580 Split, Hold: A Journal & her chapbook geraniums is published by Mondo Bummer. She has a forthcoming chapbook, Slabs coming out with the Tract Series from Timeless Infinite Light. More of her work can be found online at The Poetic Labor Project & Dusie #15.
Born in Manapla, Philippines, Cheena Marie Lo is a genderqueer poet based in Oakland, CA. They coordinate a youth art program at California College of the Arts, and co-edit the literary journal HOLD. A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters is just out from Commune Editions.
Kate Robinson is a writer and book artist living in Oakland, CA.
After publishing my Sixty Morning Talks interview collection, I have begun work on a more focused, single-press interview series, offering a comprehensive oral history (a cinéma vérité, in prose) of Nightboat Books’ diverse and ambitious output over its first decade of publication. For this newer project, it particularly interests me to track interpersonal and intertextual constellations that have helped to shape the work done by Nightboat’s authors, publishers and designers. This interview focuses on Nathanaël’s translation of Poetic Intention, by Édouard Glissant.–Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: Since Poetic Intention offers quite little introductory context, would you like to provide some by outlining the historical trajectory of this book’s international reception (perhaps alongside Poetics of Relation), or the personal impetus behind this particular translation project (which your brief concluding note perhaps suggests that Glissant himself entrusted to you), or this book’s place alongside pressing concerns prevalent across the Nightboat catalog? Or, if it still seems more appropriate not to provide such context, could you begin to address why such an approach fits best for this collection? I could, for instance, envision approaching Poetic Intention as, in Glissant’s terms, a milestone project, ultimately teaching me something about myself amid the particularities of my own present moment. I could approach it as a relay project, as an excursion towards Glissant’s embodied moment of writing (amid a mid-century Caribbean cyclone by this book’s close, let’s say), and encounter such historical/cultural otherness (from my own present vantage) as an experience unto itself. I could glimpse Glissant’s enduring appeal to an Antilles that do not yet speak, do not yet live, and speculate upon post-colonial possibilities past and present. But if I most wish to engage in some sort of mutually enhancing reciprocity with this text, can you help point me in that direction, and/or can no contextual pointing help me to get there?