For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. In this piece, Open House co-editor Housten Donham interviews Fred Moten about his book The Feel Trio [Letter Machine Editions, 2014], which was nominated for a National Book Award.
Housten Donham: The visual appeal of The Feel Trio is one of the first things that struck me. Many of the poems stretch horizontally across the page, some in multiple columns. The visual field is utilized in a variety of ways. Did you work directly on the final arrangement of the poems on the page when they went to print? What was your practice for determining the right look to these poems?
This conversation began quite organically: at CantoMundo 2014, with J Michael’s Martinez’s sonic-powered laughter ringing through Opening Circle. Over the course of the next few days the six of us—Diego Báez, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, J. Michael Martinez, Juan Morales, Octavio Quintanilla, and yours truly ended up talking about hair metal, thrash metal, the marriage and funeral in “November Rain,” this funny take on “Sweet Child of Mine,” Keanu Reeves in that Paula Abdul video (more on that later), and the intergalactic strangeness of Gwar. (Remember Gwar? Remember the nightmares you had because of Gwar?) In one way or another, our poetry has been influenced by power ballads, and we decided to explore this relationship in more depth. We hope, by the end of this conversation, you’ll find your own inner power chord…—Rosebud “7TrainLove” Ben-Oni
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. Nightboat will publish this interview collection late next year. This interview focuses on John Sakkis’ book, The Islands, and was recorded March 8, 2015 and transcribed by Nicole Monforton.– Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: The Islands’ first lineated lines (“you can’t skip a rock through / the house without starting fires // you can’t set fire to the beach / in the afternoon without boats”) quickly invoke, maybe just for me, perhaps as pastiche, parody and/or sincere point of reference, a whole poetry or poetics of the island or the archipelago. I hear echoes of stone-skipping openings by Kamau Brathwaite or Derek Walcott, let’s say. On the most obvious, thematics-based level, does any real or imagined poetics of the island have significance for you?
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. In this issue of The Conversant, we feature episode 30 with TROLL THREAD.
Essay Press editor Randall James Tyrone interviews Dan Beachy-Quick on his new book, A Quiet Book.
Randall James Tyrone: Dan, I too am a student. And I do and don’t mean that in the “I’m constantly gathering information in the world” sense, but more so in the fact that I’m in an MFA program and I’m wondering about research through reading. This aspect of a writer’s process isn’t really taught in institutions, at least not in the way artists use it, but more so expected to almost be intuitive. It is very interesting to look at A Quiet Book and its many references and fields of study. Could you talk a bit about your research habits? How do you go about finding what applies to your work and what best supports what you’re going for? Also, what role did the internet play in the creation of your chapbook?
Elisa Gabbert and Chris Tonelli met in graduate school at Emerson College in 2002. This conversation took place over email between March and July of 2015. Topics discussed: The writing habit, notebooks, public transportation, clouds, Frank Gehry, being boring, the anxiety of influence, AWP, readings and performance, irony, failure, epiphany, and the “perfect poem.”
Chris Tonelli: I was recently thinking about what you said in your post a while back about our work since our first books: “We both used to be more verbose, more prolific, not just in language but in feeling. Now I think there’s evidence of writing as practice, versus writing as necessity. We’re older, more settled, more content … and the poetry now is more distilled, and more a form of philosophy than a series of bursts of emotion, masquerading as objective correlative.”
VERNACULAR VISIONS is a public monthly slideshow series of found 35mm photo slides, curated and presented by Justin Rhody since the spring of 2013. Each distinctive program is accompanied by a unique audio mix of related (and unrelated) sounds & musics. Every other month, half of the night’s program is dedicated to presenting the work of a guest photographer or filmmaker (who either incorporates found imagery into their work or is self-taught). This ongoing series is an exploration and celebration of the medium and its subjects, spoken and coded in the visual dialect of the amateur practitioner. Free to attend & open to the public, the show is presented in a relaxed tone which offers the opportunity for meditative contemplation, as well as casual and comfortable social interaction.
Brandon Freels: Where did you live before the Bay Area?
Justin Clifford Rhody: I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I grew up there, but then after high school I’ve just kind of lived in a lot of different places: Indiana, North Carolina, Maine, Seattle for two months.
Grace Shuyi Liew interviews Ginger Ko, author of Motherlover (Coconut Books, 2015) and the chapbook Inherit (Bloof Books, 2015). In this conversation, they discuss feminist poetics, the poetry community’s sexism, Coconut Book’s recent hiatus, and more.
Grace Shuyi Liew: You know, I was standing over my desk when I unwrapped the envelope that held Motherlover. I wound up reading most of the book on my feet without even realizing it. I think it was this restlessness within the book that kept me standing, moving, strolling around the house … But then, now and again an acute hush cuts through the breathlessness:
Instead: a metronome on the slowest setting
for a song that lasts the rest of your life.
This kind of movement: lull—then vigor—then lull again—just this constant push and pull, very much carried me through Motherlover.
Laynie Browne: You write: “To see into something that can’t be seen, to name something that has no name, to speak to someone who cannot respond (to, in Lyotard’s terms, “bear witness” to “unpresentability”)—this seems to me to be the other work of confession, the work that can never be finished, that keeps confession alive.”
This notion is so compelling. The unseen. In linking this seeing to confession the question that I keep arriving at is: to who is one confessing? How then not to begin to see everything as confession? Even withholding, turning away from the confessional feels like a form of confession. Once begun it permeates everything. Is confession a mode of address, a method of thinking and being in relation, or one way to look at all conversation? On the surface, even dialogue which appears to resist confession becomes another form of confession. The weight of the unsaid, pregnant.
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. In this issue of The Conversant, we feature episode 27 with Tom Comitta and Suzanne Stein.
The People: Tom Comitta & Suzanne Stein Ep. 27
Featuring Tom Comitta performing selections from WARMUP
… and we close out the show with a song from the Los Angeles band Suivalc from their album Aestas Pars and the track is called “Mare Cognitum”
Tom Comitta is a writer and performer living in Oakland, CA originally from West Chester, PA.
Suzanne Stein is also a writer and performer living in Oakland, CA, and a native of Los Angeles.
JP Howard (aka Juliet P. Howard)’s poetry collection/memoir SAY / MIRROR is both a self-excavation of her childhood and a testament to her beauty queen and professional model mother whom she frequently refers to as “Diva.” Her poetry salon Women Writers in Bloom has featured many emerging and established poets such as Keisha-Gaye Anderson, Xanath Caraza, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Venus Thrash, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, and Arisa White; it has recently been awarded a Brooklyn Arts Council Community Arts Fund Grant. I asked JP some questions about her debut book, her process, and what’s next. This conversation is part of Intersecting Lineages, a series focusing on conversations with poets of color.–Rosebud Ben-Oni
Rosebud Ben-Oni: SAY / MIRROR strikes me as both a collection of poems and a personal ethnography that sheds light on the worlds of beauty, performance, and maternal expectations. The photos and news clippings themselves help piece together the world you’ve (re)created as poet and daughter. Can you tell us about the conception of this work, and your process?
For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. In this piece, Madison Davis interviews Brittany Billmeyer-Finn about the meshes: an iteration in 2 acts, an experimental stage performance inspired by the work of filmmaker Maya Deren.
Madison Davis: I would love to hear from you about the premise of the performance. What do you consider the play to be about?
In 2014, Kaya Press celebrated 20 years of publishing innovative Asian Pacific American and Asian diasporic literature. Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2011, Kaya continues its mission to publish “challenging, thoughtful, and provocative” work. In this conversation, Brandon Som talks to Nicholas Wong about his book, Crevasse, published by Kaya Press.
Brandon Som: Crevasse begins with a quote from Maurice Merleau-Ponty: “… my body itself is a thing, which I do not observe: in order to be able to do so, I should need the use of a second body which itself would be unobservable.” Your poems seem to take up this conundrum of body and perception as a kind of challenge. In the poem “Trio with Hsia Yü,” you write, “Use a pen to write on the body, / then use the body to unbind // the heart. Roll the heart / over a few pages of grammar // and see whose rules are cruder.” Here, the speaker is both a writer of the body as well as a body that writes. Can you talk a little about the book’s project in regards to the body?
This transatlantic interview series, “The Slow Boat,” provides a setting for poets to engage in occasional conversation over the course of two months. It strives to be an invitation to further inquiry into the methods and complexities of a particular composition. The aim is not to be conclusive, but, in tandem, to further explore what it is to make a poem.
Jim Goar: Your most recent book opens with the title poem, “Burn”. This poem, you explain in the notes, “was written in response to Al Brathwaite’s The Limes Installation.” The Limes consists of 286 charred limes, one for each of the men and women burned as heretics during the English Reformation. A label with one of their names is affixed to every fruit. Braithwaite states that “The troubling and potentially heroic idea of self-sacrifice runs through The Limes Installation, and finds traction in the metaphor of the way that a fruit might give its flesh for the dispersal of a seed.” Your poem ‘Auden in Iceland IV’ begins:
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. Nightboat will publish this interview collection late next year. This interview focuses on Daniel Borzutzky’s books, The Book of Interfering Bodies and In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy. The interview was recorded March 24, 2015 and transcribed by Nicole Monforton.—Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: As I read In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy, immediately following The Book of Interfering Bodies, recurrent motifs or scenes struck me. Both projects seem haunted by specific familial and historical traumas. The oppressive Pinochet regime repeats, but so do certain nightmare scenarios, furtive perspectives, glimpses through a crack in the wall. Both books appear likewise haunted by contemporary journalistic anecdotes. In both, we encounter a 90-year-old woman who shoots herself as her house gets foreclosed. From Bhanu Kapil’s Schizophrene, I here would borrow the principle of mutation to describe how Carcass Economy emerges in relation to its predecessor. Perhaps we could say something similar about how your “solo” projects emerge amid translation projects. And we might want to address the intercultural grafting that takes place when you present tragedies of twentieth-century Chile to a contemporary U.S. audience. But could we start with how mutation plays out across your texts, from translations to texts, across historical moments?
This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of Philip Metres’s Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (1992-1993), and has been revived, 20 years later, with new interviews of Russian and Russian-American poets. The complete archive will be published in book-form.
Philip Metres: When did you begin writing, and who were your influences?
Stepan Brand: As soon as I learned how to write, I started to write kinds of fairy-tales: some fantastic characters (knights, queens, fabulous animals) found themselves in Moscow subway, or they went to the zoo, or they faced floods, earthquakes, trials and wars (it was inspired by TV), or they explained and showed to each other how to build a house or what is the Moon and why nobody lives there (such chapters appeared after conversations with my father or grandfather). Sometimes I felt like versifying these things, but I was not able to. Suddenly in 2005, I wrote a short poem about my recent trip to Ukraine: it was about an orchard with pears, walnuts, woodpeckers and people playing harmonica and tambourine. So then or a bit later I made the earliest attempts to make poems I am not ashamed to read aloud today. Around that time I started visiting some poetry-and-prose studios and got to know people who wrote interesting things. From an early age my favorite poets have been Boris Pasternak and Ovsey Driz (a Yiddish poet translated into Russian by Genrikh Sapgir)—my mother read them to me when I was 4 or 5, as well as Pushkin’s tales, Daniil Kharms’ verses for children etc. I wasn’t interested in poetry at school until coming across Baudelaire and Verhaeren (at about 14-15). The first Russian poets whom I read attentively by myself were Alexander Vvedenskiy, Vladislav Khodasevich and Joseph Brodsky. They have faded a little since then, but still they remain near the top. Later came Mandelstam, again Pushkin, again Pasternak, Boris Poplavskiy and many others, including a number of contemporary names. My immediate influences are Dmitry Vedenyapin (b. 1959), Alexei Kubrik (b. 1959), Denis Kryukov (b. 1984), Mikhail Aizenberg (b. 1948), Nikolay Baytov (b. 1951). As for the latter modern poets, it took some time to learn how to read them, but eventually it became easier. At least as important is the influence of music I listen to. In January 2008 I discovered “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by J.S. Bach, and my ear changed forever. His music is extremely poetic.