Virginia Grise with Sharon Bridgforth: River See and Theatrical Jazz

Sharon Bridgeforth & Virginia Grice
Sharon Bridgforth & Virginia Grise. Photo credit: Vanessa Vargas; Emily Mendelsohn

This conversation between Virginia Grise and Sharon Bridgforth is part of a series focusing on genre-crossing performance and poetics and centers around the theatrical jazz aesthetic and Bridgforth’s latest work, The River See Theatrical Jazz Performance Installation. The full recorded conversation is below; the transcription of the conversation is below.

Grise/Bridgforth Conversation


Virginia Grise: My name is Virginia Grise and I’m here with Sharon Bridgforth. Sharon Bridgforth is an award winning artist, writer of the bull-jean stories, love conjure/blues, delta dandi and most recently is the creator of The River See Theatrical Jazz Performance Installation. I just wanted to start off—Sharon, if you could talk about your artistic lineage.
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“How the Whole World Crashes Into Silence”: Open House Interviews Joseph Massey

Joseph Massey’s To Keep Time (Omnidawn 2015)

Cosmo Spinosa: To me, there is a subtextual exploration of human effects on the environment that runs as a theme throughout your work. These seem like thoughtful and pointed juxtapositions, and not simply an arrangement of “things.” They seem like decisions informed by environmental issues, and in some sense, they seem political to me. As you were writing To Keep Time, was your process motivated by environmental issues, or were they more linguistically and aesthetically motivated, or both? Your work seems to reinforce and play with ideas that are commonly associated with eco-poetics, but your name isn’t usually brought up when people talk about the subject of eco-poetry. Do you think that your work fits under the category of eco-poetry?

Joseph Massey: No, because I’m not interested in formulating an ethical position prior to the composition of the poem — at least not consciously. If there are ethical concerns in the work, and I agree that there are, they’re an afterthought.
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Hip Hop Connection from Puerto Rico to Califaztlan: Black Rhythm and Chhoti Maa

Chhoti Maa & Black Rhythm
Chhoti Maa & Black Rhythm

This Intersecting Lineages conversation between Black Rhythm and Chhoti Maa is the first in a series centering global cross-community connections between artists of color.

Black Rhythm: I was conducting a beatbox workshop in Casa Cultura Ruth Hernandez, and my friend Sofia asked me about my work. Once she heard that I was a beatboxer, she immediately talked to me about you, Chhoti Maa. She told me you were a rapper from Mexico and that you planned on coming to Puerto Rico to do an artist residency.

Chhoti Maa: Yeah, Sofia was really excited for me to meet you. So I came to PR for the third time in September 2014 to Patio Taller. I talked to Sofia who invited me to UPR, the state university of Puerto Rico where you and I met. I remember we connected immediately and started freestyling.

BR:  Yeah! It was like “Hi” and in the next second we made a video together rapping, singing, and beatboxing.
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The People: Episode 24 (John Zane Zappas and Lindsay Preston Zappas)

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 25 of The People episodes, featuring: John Zane Zappas and Lindsay Preston Zappas

John Zane Zappas is a sculptor living in Los Angeles who currently has an exhibition called N U S T A C H U S at Outside Gallery a General Project of Insert Blanc Press which runs until April 5th 2015. We’ll be talking with John about his work and his role as co-director of Hammock Gallery.

Lindsay Preston Zappas an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. She’ll be discussing Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles the online and print quarterly that she founded and which launches in April of this year.

Mg Roberts and Timothy Yu: Nests and Strangers and the Asian American Avant-garde

In this conversation, Mg Roberts and Timothy Yu discuss the origins of Kelsey Street Press’s anthology, Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets and the Asian American avant-garde.

Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets (Kelsey Street Press, 2015)
Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets (Kelsey Street Press, 2015)

Mg Roberts: Your name has become synonymous with the Asian American avant-garde. How did this specialization happen?

Timothy Yu: My interest in the Asian American avant-garde really came through my discovery of the poetry of John Yau. I first read him just after college, at a time when I was beginning to think about Asian American identity but found myself dissatisfied with the typical narratives in which that identity was usually expressed. Yau’s work seemed to challenge and undermine those narratives while still actively exploring the way the “Asian” was represented in our culture. His work seemed to show me a way I could link my interests in experimental writing and my exploration of Asian American issues, which ultimately became the focus of my dissertation and my book, Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry.
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Andrea Rexilius & Anne Waldman with Margaret Randall

Anne Waldman, Margaret Randall, Andrea Rexilius

In collaboration with Essay Press, Anne Waldman and I have invited four guest faculty from this year’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodies Poetics’ Summer Writing Program (June 14-July 11, 2015) to discuss our theme, The Braided River: Activist Rhizome. We are starting the conversation off with an interview with Margaret Randall. The remaining three conversations, with Omar Berrada, Rachel Levitsky, and Fred Moten, will be published in an online chapbook by Essay Press in the fall of 2015. – Andrea Rexilius

The Braided River: Activist Rhizome
We take our imago “braided river” as an alternative to the traditional “tree of life.” Here, we have the image that symbiosis teaches, that life is a braided river. Things come apart—like algae or fungus—and then come back together again. We want to look at the complexities of our own lives, our gnosis, our natural environment, the urgent issues around—just one example—water scarcity and its opposite: flooding—the way we stop and start and are interrupted by the exigencies of unnatural weather, of illness, of death, of endless war, strife, genocide, apartheid, just as we stop and start in our artistic lives and work through creative crises. How many strands go on simultaneously in our documentary poetics, in our fictions, our librettos, in our collaborations? We want to invoke a contemplative awareness of how to tread on our increasingly endangered planet with grace and intelligence and mindfulness and keep the weave and ambulation going, inside and outside, as we make our work and incorporate ideas of radical investigatory form: third mind (Burroughs & Gysin), the long poem, the cine-poem, the appropriated conceptual poem, the shamanic trip to the other side, meta-fiction, memoir, and dharma and somatic poetics.

Artistic Director: Anne Waldman
SWP Faculty Director: Andrea Rexilius
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Woodland Pattern Presents: Freesia McKee with Danez Smith


Danez Smith & Freesia McKee
Danez Smith & Freesia McKee

This Woodland Pattern interview series will document conversations between some of the writers, artists and performers who pass through Woodland Pattern and Milwaukee. Danez Smith read at Woodland Pattern on February 28, 2015 as part of Shift: Guest Curators from the LGBTQ Community. Below are excerpts from the reading as well as a conversation conducted in person with guest curator Freesia McKee before the reading.

Danez Smith, “Obey,” “my father gives a lecture on the power of good pussy,” “all spring we’d watch grandpa rub his knee and complain about rain,” and “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015

Freesia McKee:
Okay, so before we talk about your book, I’m wondering if we could talk about the Hands Up Don’t Shoot edition of Winter Tangerine Review that you guest edited. I’d like to talk to you about the involvement of poets in the Black Lives Matter movement and how many people have pointed out that this isn’t a new movement; it’s a movement of hundreds of years. I’m wondering about your thoughts on how the role of poets and poetry is evolving in this current era of the movement where we’re at now.

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Christopher Vandegrift and Caleb Beckwith

Christopher Vandergrift
Christopher Vandegrift

This interview concerns Christopher Vandegrift’s new book Policy Pete’s Dream Book out from Make Now later this year.

Caleb Beckwith: I’d like to begin with a talk that I saw you give at the University of Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. Could speak to this performance, how it informs the premise of the book?

Christopher Vandegrift: Sure. I think a good way to frame things is to say that the overall project is one of two related, yet independent parts. First, there’s the book and, second, there’s the performance that you saw, which contextualizes the book but also functions as its own thing. The book is a really good entry point though, so maybe I should start with that. So, the book – Policy Pete’s Dream Book – is an appropriation and reworking of a cheap paperback by the same title, which was originally published in Harlem in 1933 and sold as an aid for gamblers who played the numbers—that is, for individuals who engaged in numbers gambling. The way that numbers gambling worked was very much akin to a daily lottery. Players could bet on any three-digit number between 000 – 999 and the winning numbers were chosen by methods that, although they varied depending on the particular locale and racket, were usually wholly random. Dream books, of which Policy Pete’s was just one title out of many, catered to individuals seeking an easy means to beat the randomness of this system: “mystical” means by which they could win it big.
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Megan Milks with Gina Abelkop

Gina Abelkop and Megan Milks
Gina Abelkop & Megan Milks

The poems in Gina Abelkop’s second collection I Eat Cannibals are spectral, femme, and glittering with anachronism. Stretched across time, they assert their own kind of critical feminist manifest destiny via the temporal wormhole. Here, the present leaks into the past and vice versa: a dinosaur lives; an 1880s dance hall girl remembers song lyrics a century too early. This is poetry of affinity through time travel—affinity with the magnificent cassowary, with the old west, with the land that bears witness to all. From “Wagons West”: “I made that long journey   I// executed it entirely    in my language// I came/ west// I mean to survive.”

–Megan Milks

MM: Many of your poems seem vintage, if not ghostly, possessing a multilayered temporality that arrives via voice and diction as well as scenario and character. How would you describe your own relationship to history, and/or to time more generally?

GA: I have so many dreams about time travel, usually traveling back in time and finding myself shopping and being boggled by how everything I’d usually (in my waking life) identify as “old” is now just a regular brand new thing, marveling at the fact that I get to see/buy all these things cheaply, and they’re everywhere, they’re the norm, they’re not decaying and torn, just new & probably boring to everyone else; these are day-clothes, not glamour gowns. Fashion as a representation of availability/consuming matter. It’s gonna say something, maybe several somethings, about me and my relationship to ideas of ownership and desire for all the Things of the World. But it’s incredible, an incredible feeling, even though it’s just a dreamto find myself moving through space and time in this effortless way. My dreams never take into account of the very non-romantic things that would accompany any real time travel: racism/segregation, misogyny, limited opportunities, wars or homophobia. Fear. Loneliness.
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Krystal Languell with Rachel Levitsky

Rachel Levitsky and Krystall Languell
Rachel Levitsky and Krystall Languell

This interview between Krystal Languell and Rachel Levitsky took place June 2014. It references an interview with Nelson Algren, conducted by Alston Anderson and Terry Southern, first published in The Art of Fiction, No. 11. Winter 1955.

KL: Did you have any trouble getting your novel published?

RL: (Laughing) Yes, in that it was very hard to finish. No. But I should say it was (it would have been) very hard to get anyone who publishes fiction to publish my novel. Every single person that was a fiction editor who solicited parts rejected me (other than Evan Lavender-Smith at Puerto del Sol) and every single time I applied to residencies in prose I was rejected.
Sweetly, it’s published by Futurepoem, who never had any doubts about it and solicited it from me. They wanted it much sooner than it was done, so my problem in publishing the novel was finishing the novel.
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Sharmila Lisa Cohen with Joshua Daniel Edwin

Joshua Edwin & Sharmila Cohen
Joshua Daniel Edwin & Sharmila Lisa Cohen

On the publisher’s website, the poems in Dagmara Kraus’s collection kummerang  (kookbooks, 2012) are described to: “sparkle and dash, oscillate between modes of speech, stagger and scatter meaning; they are existential, playful, polyglot, and full of matter-of-fact obstinacy. Kummerang will entice the adventurous poetry reader with anagrams, lists, incantations, the more “classical” beside the experimental, and visual poetic forms.” With such texture and dexterity of language, it’s plain to see that translating such texts would be a challenge for even the most experienced of translators. Being friends and both translators of German, Joshua Daniel Edwin and I are essentially in constant conversation about the ins and outs of the translation process.  Recently, we took up his experience translating Dagmara’s work and its namesake poem, Gloomerang, which has been published as a chapbook by Argos Books. – Sharmila Lisa Cohen
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Open House Presents: Ivy Johnson with Emji Spero and Joel Gregory of Timeless Infinite Light

Emji Spero and Joel Gregory of Timeless, Infinite Light

For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. On January 5th, 2015, Emji Spero and Joel Gregory, editors of Timeless, Infinite Light, sat down with Ivy Johnson at Pretty Lady, a diner in West Oakland, to discuss their small press art cult. This was their conversation.

Ivy Johnson: Hi, Timeless, Infinite Light.

Emji Spero:  Hi, Ivy.

Joel Gregory:  Hi, Ivy
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ManifeStation Goes to Iceland: Anaïs Duplan

During her artist residency in eastern fjords of Iceland, Anaïs Duplan led a modified version of ManifeStation, a temporary manifesto-writing service, at the LungA School, an alternative arts school in Seyðisfjörður. In a four-hour intensive, the LungA students held in-depth interviews with each other, crafted short manifestos, and held a reading in the school’s auditorium.

Gislis Manifesto read and written by Nanna

Sandra Manifesto 

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The People: Episodes 20, 21 and 23

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 The People episodes 20, 21 and 23, featuring: Stacey Allan & Sarah Williams, Carol Cheh & Ariel Evans, and Tomory Dodge & Nicolas Shake

The People: Tomory Dodge & Nicolas Shake Ep. 23

Featuring Notes from The People with J.S. Makkos & Bernard Pearce
Plus Allison Carter reading from her newly released poetry collection, Here Versus Elsewhere on Insert Blanc Press at Commonwealth and Council this past November… and we close out the show with a song by the band New Weather
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Jane Satterfield with Adrianne Kalfopoulou

Jane Satterfield and Adrianna Kalfopoulou
Jane Satterfield and Adrianne Kalfopoulou

In this interview from February 13, 2015, Jane Satterfield and Adrianne Kalfopoulou discuss interfaces of genre, biculturalism, motherhood, the plasticities of writing, eros, Sylvia Plath, and appetite.

Jane Satterfield: Let me first say that I adore the vertiginous ride that is Ruin. All those border-crossings—literal and literary—through rough terrain.

There’s a life that’s ruined by a country’s shuttered economy and the life that’s ruined and remade after a marriage has collapsed. But what seems to capture your interest most is the everyday collision of private and public life. Your title immediately brings to mind images of fractured antiquity; it also brought to mind Don DeLillo’s extended essay, “In the Ruins of the Future,” which first appeared in Harper’s in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Would it be impertinent to see some kinship there in your questioning of narratives and your understanding of time as represented in history and art? Time as it’s fractured by travel and technology? Your book radiates through themes—evading, or gracefully side-stepping—the predictable, epiphanic narrative structure that seems to be the unavoidable hallmark of popular memoir. I’d love to hear a bit about the book’s backstory and birth pangs, how it found its final shape.
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Woodland Pattern Presents: Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah

Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah
Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah

This Woodland Pattern interview series will document conversations between some of the writers, artists and performers who pass through Woodland Pattern and Milwaukee. Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah read at Woodland Pattern on January 17, 2015 as part of Shift: Guest Curators from the LGBTQ Community. Below are excerpts from their reading as well as a conversation conducted via e-mail after the reading.

Oliver Bendorf, “I Promised Her My Hands Wouldn’t Get Any Larger,” “Split it Open Just to Count the Pieces,” “The Manliest Mattress,” and “Patrón,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015


Trish Salah, “Notes Toward Dropping out,” “Phoenicia ≠ Lebanon,” and “Reading the Book of Suicides,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015

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Housten Donham with Josef Kaplan

For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. This interview concerns Josef Kaplan’s Kill List (2013). Visit Open House for more interviews and contemporary poetry.

Housten Donham: I think that I’m just going to ask you some stupid questions, if that’s alright, because it seems to me that stupid questions might be the most important questions to answer, if questions are going to be answered, when it comes to engaging with the “around” of your work.

For example, usually when I explain Kill List to people who aren’t poets, they almost always immediately ask, “How did he determine whether the poets were rich or comfortable?” Which may be a stupid question, and yet, when I asked you that a few months ago, I found the answer quite interesting: you based the qualifications solely on rumor, on what poets you had talked to had told you. Which is great because that seems to coincide with many of the larger concerns that I personally, at least, read in Kill List, around the social network of contemporary poetry. I see it as a kind of coterie poem, but one which breaks down or at least threatens the social fabric of the coterie. Do you think it is productive to read Kill List in this light, as a kind of social document of contemporary poetry, as something that records, reflects, and reduces the social network and the concerns and interests that make up much of the poetry community?
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