James D. Autio with Heid E. Erdrich

James D. Autio and Heid E. Erdrich
James D. Autio and Heid E. Erdrich

This conversation between James D. Autio and Heid E. Erdrich took place from February to November, 2016.

James D. Autio: Boozhoo, Heid. Tell me a bit about your current projects. New writing, art, shows, readings, etc.?

Heid E. Erdrich: Daunting. It scares me to list out everything I do because then my life splays out before me. But, here it is and I must own it: I have final edits on a book of poems due out in 2017, I am editing an anthology, I have poem films screening as part of exhibits and festivals, I have some essays due in a month or so, and I am working with an MFA cohort in the low-res program at Augsburg. All of that is eclipsed by my stint as Interim Director of All My Relations Arts. Whew! Oh, and family, dog, cookbook stuff, too.

Michael Martin Shea with elena minor and Sophia Le Fraga

elana minor and Sophia Le Fraga
elana minor and Sophia Le Fraga

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 includes work from poets Sophia Le Fraga and elena minor. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss Xanga blogs, “legitimate” literature, digital spotlights, and saving your soul.

Michael Martin Shea: Sophia, your piece in BAX begins with the all-caps, full-page declaration, “I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET”—but of course, as we read on, we find that that statement is not entirely true, as the work incorporates hashtags and emojis. And elena, your piece gives a similar nod with the title, “rrs feed.” So maybe an interesting question to start off with would be: what role does the internet (or internet-based modes of speech) play in your poetics?

Nicholas Wong with Jee Leong Koh

Nicholas Wong and Jee Leong Koh
Nicholas Wong and Jee Leong Koh

Nicholas Wong: Let’s start by discussing the title of your latest poetry collection Steep Tea (Carcanet, 2015). How did you arrive at the title? In an interview published in Lantern Review, you mentioned how distance was necessary for you to write about Singapore, your country of birth. What about time? After having moved to the States for more than a decade, how has your view on poetry changed?

Jee Leong Koh: I named the book after an autumn kasen renga in the collection. The renga (Japanese linked verse) was written with R.A. Briggs, an American poet living in Brisbane then. That was in part what drew me to Ray, the fact that we were both living away from home, both writing to discover and inhabit our new environments. Ray wrote the hokku that started the renga:

Mel Bentley with Jay Besemer

2up_bentley_besemer
Mel Bentley and Jay Besemer

This interview between Mel Bentley and Jay Besemer is part of the Housework at Chapterhouse series, a conversation between friends and with the history of this space. Housework is work undervalued, invisible, unpaid. It is classed, raced and gendered. It is also the work that allows life, it is “reproductive.” It is intimate. It’s necessary. It’s weird. It has been precarious. This is the kind of work we want to recognize.

Chapter and Verse was a series by Ryan Eckes and Stan Mir that ran for nine years at Chapterhouse and supported young writers and established voices. It supported us. There was something expansive and generous about this room that operated outside funding and institutions. We want to keep and expand that spirit.

Rusty Morrison with Elena Karina Byrne

Elena Karina
Elena Karina Byrne

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 Elena Karina Byrne’s book, Squander. –Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison: I felt such delight when I first read your manuscript and experienced your deft, surprising control of image as it reflects and refracts ideation. In your poems, new understanding comes to us through both mimetic and metaphoric surface tension, achieved with choices of diction, lexicon, sonic techniques, and more. A rich tension of excitement of surface elements is in fluid continuity with the deeper meanings of the work. Can you discuss your use of image and trope? Your approach to image and how it informs your craft as a poet?

Andy Fitch with Nathanaël on Hervé Guibert’s The Mausoleum of Lovers

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Andy Fitch with Nathanaël
Andy Fitch and Nathanaël

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 The Mausoleum of Lovers, by Hervé Guibert. —Andy Fitch

Rosebud Ben-Oni with Jen Fitzgerald

Rosebud Ben-Oni and Jen Fitzgerald
Rosebud Ben-Oni and Jen Fitzgerald

On her website, native New Yorker Jen Fitzgerald describes herself as a poet and essayist who “comes from a place that is lawless. Her family has been there for 200 years and refuses to integrate into normal society… Vivaldi gives her goosebumps as do some Jay-Z songs. She is proud to be a poet of witness and class activist.” Her first full collection The Art of Work is now out from Noemi Press. Here, we discuss the influences of her family, the rights of the worker and why she believes “[l]ife is the greatest art project.”

Rosebud Ben-Oni: In your long poem Last Totem of Tradesmanship, you explore the art of butchery as a trade that propel[s] the human engine/ forward and the rigorous labor involved with pulling a “knife body down/ the hung body,// ridging along ribs/ to remove flank steak. You also explore the relationship between worker and customer whom are no constant;/ a slideshow of flipped/ faces on repeat as well as the economics of salary cuts,/ store managers, about the bullshit //folks eat to stay fed. You explore similar images in The Killing Floor is Slick. I can taste the blood in the collection as a whole— it pulses on the page, carrying purple veins/scarlet muscle and “the history of necessity;/ hunt, fire, communion. Can you discuss the peculiar communion in more detail?

Aaron Shurin with Brian Teare: The Skin of Meaning

shurin-teare
Aaron Shurin and Brian Teare

Brian Teare: Here on my writing table I have a beautifully produced little magazine, Convivio: A Journal of Poetics, published at New College of California in 1983. A document of the minds then at work in the Poetics Program, it collects a wonderful array of poetics writing – interviews, talks, essays, journal fragments, etc. – from Bay Area poets like Robert Grenier, Susan Thackrey, David Meltzer, Joanne Kyger, and Robert Duncan himself. It also includes a still uncollected essay of yours, “Emily Dickinson and Stop Time.” So I’d like to begin with your initiation into the practice of writing poetics, which came, it seems, some time after your initiation into writing poetry. In this little invented narrative of mine, I’m imagining that Duncan and the community in and around the Poetics Program had a lot to do not only with the shift in your poetic practice between Giving up the Ghost (1980) and The Graces (1983), but also with your first forays into poetics. Is that at all accurate? It doesn’t seem incidental that the earliest essays collected in The Skin of Meaning all date from 1983.

Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel with Rebecca Gaydos

Rebecca Gaydos
Rebecca Gaydos

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. This interview features a conversation between Omnidawn managing editor Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel and Rebecca Gaydos on Güera.–Rusty Morrison

Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel: I was thrilled to see this manuscript come to Omnidawn. I’d never read anything that was so enigmatically direct—your line has a distinctive way of stating things so plainly that words and phrases seem to have an obvious meaning masking something more subversive, showing the veil of ideation and pulling it off at the same time. I wonder if you could talk about this in terms of the way translation and meaning are at work in this book—and not only translation but mistranslation, misrepresentation, misapprehension—the title, for example, is never fully explained but given some askance interpretations/etymologies. How does language’s ability and simultaneous inadequacy to reveal inform your work?

Brian Ang with Caleb Beckwith

brian-ang
Brian Ang

Caleb Beckwith: “desire for a poetics adequate to the present, the world since the 2008 economic crisis . . . construction of a network of practices adequate to writing the present, the post-crisis period in progress.” These are the opening and closing statements from your recent essay on Post-Crisis Poetics, written for the University at Buffalo’s Poetics: (The Next) 25 Years conference and your magazine ARMED CELL. In that essay, you define these broader strokes in contrast with brief close readings from ARMED CELL, defining post-crisis poetics by way of a family resemblance. Before discussing that family, could you tell me more about ARMED CELL, its history/founding, and how you see the magazine as helping to define what exactly you mean by the term “post-crisis poetics.”

Brian Ang: I launched ARMED CELL in 2011 at the Durruti Free Skool, convened by Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr in Berkeley. Our projects shared a desire for a social poetics, a poetics resonant with social struggles. The magazine’s first poem, David Lau’s “Communism Today,” takes as its context the California anti-austerity university struggles that began in 2009, the first significant resistance to the 2008 economic crisis in the United States, as Jasper Bernes has argued. Joshua, David, Jasper, and I were participants in those struggles; responding to the crisis was central to participants’ practical understanding, that the crisis crystallized the secular stagnation of systemic capital accumulation projecting an absent future of exacerbated dispossession, exploitation, and unemployment, and we extended our investigations through poetry. My editing has emphasized a multiplicity of writing attuned to senses since the crisis; I first named “post-crisis poetics” in my analysis of “Communism Today” and extended the term in my essay analyzing writing from every issue to date. My essay closed with an invitation to readers for further views for a series that I’m editing in order to continue developing this historical perspective’s suggestiveness for writing.

Caroline Picard with Lara Schoorl

Caroline Picard and Lara Schoorl
Caroline Picard (photo credit: Timothy Morton) and Lara Schoorl (photo credit: Bryan Whalen)

This interview is part of an ongoing conversation between two writers, Caroline Picard and Lara Schoorl, centering on their web-based curatorial project, Institutional Garbage. The online exhibition collects the trash and administrative residue from an idealized institution—whether a museum, asylum, or academy—featuring imaginary syllabi, fabricated archival recordings that document marginalized histories, check out girl manifestoes, scanned book excerpts, and posters from exhibitions that never took place, all produced by various artists, writers, and curators. The resulting conversation reflects upon that project and some of the works it contains, while refracting through what the future of museums might be, or how shifting geographic locations affect one’s thinking. Institutional Garbage was an imaginary space Schoorl and Picard set out to create; it developed from there, growing into itself through the array of others’ contributions. Like many conversations between friends, the transcribed discussion is another repository for ephemeral thinking. Another kind of trash, Frankensteined together via email correspondences, with whole passages forgotten and lost to flooded inboxes. Despite those many absences, relationships between work space and private space, curator and artist, friend and colleague, a city and rats unfold in discussion.

Michael Martin Shea with Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi

Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi

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 includes work from writers Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi that involves technicolor palates and Python programming. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss critical intimacy, display technologies, online corporate prisons, and the Burger King font.

Michael Martin Shea: Let’s start with a basic question–can each of you talk a little bit about where your pieces in BAX come from and what their compositional process was like? Or, perhaps more interestingly, where or how do these pieces fit in with your larger writing projects?

Nick Montfort: I often write computer programs that generate texts. Actually, I have three books, and two others coming this year, and another coming in 2017, that consist of computer programs and their output. That first page is often the program I wrote, which happens to be in Python in this case, and the pages that follow are the output of the program. This practice goes back almost to the beginning of general-purpose digital computers; it was being done in the 50s and 60s. I’m very interested in exploring language and computation, and writing text-generating programs can be a very good way to do that.

Joseph Mosconi: The most straightforward answer is that Demon Miso/Fashion In Child is a list poem. However, there is some crucial context missing from the poems excerpted in BAX. At the end of my book I write: “These are all the names of things I’ve eaten” and “The text is set in 46-point Insaniburger font. Insaniburger is based on the old Burger King logo that can still be seen on some signs in smaller cities.” So the compositional method was as simple as taking note of the names of dishes I ordered off of menus from various restaurants in America, Europe, and Asia. It is autobiographical and documentary in the most basic sense. The more complex answer is that some of the language is entirely made up, and the cover of the book (a manipulated photo of unidentifiable food waste), combined with the types of dishes I chose to eat, the choice of typography, and the fact that the book is printed in full color, situates the book in a global consumer context. It’s not just about food or eating. It’s also, at least in part, about language as commodity fetishism and the production of waste—the way that food distribution, and the way we talk about food, betrays a technique of control. It tracks a desire to normalize language, which is related to the struggle to communicate. As Andrew Maxwell, my accomplice at the Poetic Research Bureau, puts it: “Poetry is a commitment to food access.” Or as the inhabitants of Sweethaven would sing: “Everything is food food food.”

Lauren DeGaine with a long-distance best friend

Lauren DeGaine
Lauren DeGaine

The following interview is part of a series of interviews which were conducted as part of a project that was concerned with the subject of failure in relation to Alice Jardine’s concept of ‘gynesis’ (putting into the discourse of “woman”). I wanted to write about the spaces that failure creates, what happens just after the moment of failure, and how that sensation can be a horizon or a void (a generative space); I was also interested in the relationship between failure and rites of passage. Four specific conceptual inquiries were posed to a diverse group of people, who are anonymous here, and phrases from their answers were spliced together to create part of the rhetorical language in a lyric essay that is forthcoming from the online poetics journal, Something on Paper. – Lauren DeGaine

Lauren DeGaine: Please describe the feeling of stepping down when you think there’s a stair and there isn’t.

Confessions: A Conversation About I Love Dick with Christy Davids and Sebastian Castillo

In this podcast, Christy Davids and Sebastian Castillo piece together a conversation they have been having in regular fragments about Chris Kraus’ 1997 novel, I Love Dick. The always-sensationalized treatment the text has received in the nearly twenty years since its release reveals the myopic ways the novel is widely read. And then there is the matter of Kevin Bacon. Discussions of what happens when form meets desire, the book’s reception, and the confessional mode culminate with talk about Jill Soloway’s recent adaptation of the book for Amazon.


Christy Davids is a poet who often listens to the Beach Boys in a way that can only be described as aspirational. She recently completed her MFA at Temple University where she also teaches. Christy is an assistant editor at The Conversant, co-curates the Philadelphia-based reading series Charmed Instruments, and collects recordings at poetry//SOUNDS. Some of her work can be found in VOLT, Open House, Boog City, and Bedfellows amongst others.

Sebastian Castillo was born in Caracas, Venezuela, grew up in New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, where he teaches writing. His latest work can be found at Electric Literature and shabby doll house. He’s editing 49 novels.

Woodland Pattern presents: Oliver Bendorf & Trish Salah

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. This conversation was originally part of our March 2015 issue. Enjoy!

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


Cristiana Baik with Farid Matuk

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. This conversation was originally part of our April 2014 issue. Enjoy!

Farid Matuk
Farid Matuk

Along with Andy Fitch, Cristiana Baik is assembling the Letter Machine Editions Book of Interviews, which also includes interviews conducted by Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. This talk will be published in that collection, due for late 2014 release.

Cristiana Baik: When introducing your work, Noah Eli Gordon evoked Keats’s negative capability, the idea that “man is capable of being in uncertainties.” Would you describe your work and poetics as reflective of and shaped by negative capability?

Farid Matuk: I would, yes, to the extent that I try to court a space in the poem where contradictory impulses, perspectives, discourses and images can play together.

That Which Quickens the Pulse: Neelanjana Banerjee, Lisa Chen, and Sunyoung Lee on Kaya Press

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. This conversation was originally part of our March 2015 issue. Enjoy!

three-up_kaya-01
Sunyoung Lee, Lisa Chen’s Mouth, Neelanjana Banerjee

In 2014, Kaya Press celebrated 20 years of publishing innovative Asian Pacific American and Asian diasporic literature, including books like R. Zamora Linmark’s seminal Rolling the Rs and Sesshu Foster’s City Terrace Field Manual. Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2011, Kaya continues its mission to publish “challenging, thoughtful, and provocative” work including American Book Award winning Water Chasing Water by poet Koon Woon, and Shoshon Nagahara’s Lament in the Night (translated by Andrew Leong)—a historical rediscovery of a writer originally writing and publishing in Japanese out of LA’s Little Tokyo in the 1920s. Managing Editor Neelanjana Banerjee, Publisher Sunyoung Lee, and Lisa Chen—Kaya Press author (Mouth, 2007) and Editorial Board member—discuss creativity in the editorial process and whether ethnic-specific publishing will continue to be relevant in the 21st century. This is the first of a series of conversations which will highlight the work of Kaya Press.