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? Continue reading

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.
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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? Continue reading

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.
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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. Continue reading

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.”
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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. Continue reading

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


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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. Continue reading

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!

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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.
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Freesia McKee with Anja Notanja Sieger

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 September 2015 issue. Enjoy!

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Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy with Giles Benaway

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 February 2014 issue. Enjoy!

Giles Benaway and Lemon Hound
Giles Benaway and Lemon Hound

The Conversant long has admired Lemon Hound’s lively, multifarious engagement with contemporary literature. In partnership with Lemon Hound, and in the hopes of encouraging further dialog between Canadian- and U.S.-based poetics, we have decided to re-publish a monthly excerpt from the Lemon Hound archive. The subject of this particular interview is Giles Benaway’s Ceremonies for the Dead.

Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy: I want to share my thanks and appreciation Giles, for you allowing your first published collection of poems to be a dwelling place for the Dead. How did the Dead manage to get such space, and why is this space ceremonial?

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Brian Teare with Christy Davids

TeareDavis
Brian Teare and Christy Davids

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. Enjoy!

Christy Davids: One might describe the poems in The Empty Form Goes All the Way Up to Heaven (Ahsahta 2015) as airy. The poems on the page task and reward the reader with multiple readings; they encourage and practice non-binary thinking, which is consistent throughout the book. Can you speak a bit to your philosophy of the page?

Brian Teare: That’s a good question for this book because I think this is a pretty full articulation of a shift in my thinking about the page. In both Sight Map (University of California 2009) and Companion Grasses (Omnidawn 2013), I was working off of my own kind of personal reading of Olson’s “Projective Verse”—I think that’s not surprising for anyone who knows my work—and in Companion Grasses that was particularly true in terms of thinking about prosody, and also thinking about poems on the page as being a scoring of an encounter with a place or a species. Because so many of those poems—all of them, really—were written on foot, were written in the field, I was really trying to use prosody and typography as a musical registration of an encounter, and combining Olson’s belief in the page as a kind of musical score with the ways in which breath and ear change in relation to whatever you’re in relation to. I was interested in the phenomenology of prosody—that it could, theoretically, capture or register relation differently between each encounter with place, with species, with a particular day or meteorology or whatever.
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Rosebud Ben-Oni with Christopher Soto (Loma)

Rosebud Ben-Oni and Loma
Rosebud Ben-Oni and Loma

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. Enjoy!

This conversation between Rosebud Ben-Oni and Christopher Soto (Loma) is part of Variant Dreams, a Conversant series celebrating artists of color who identify as trans, intersex, genderqueer, and gender-non-conforming.

Rosebud Ben-Oni: You begin Sad Girl Poems with a Preface:

I always wanted to be a sad white girl. I wanted to be sad like Lana Del Rey… Lately, I’ve been thinking about the contextualization of POC sadness… Most people do not know how to interact with my sadness. My sadness is so multifaceted, it speaks twenty languages… Everyone was talking about Citizen and micro-agressions and feelings. But I didn’t see any of the white people in my MFA program marching next to me when Mike Brown was killed by the police in Ferguson, when Erica Garner was killed by NYPD. I didn’t see any of them working to dismantle the systems of oppression which created my sadness, my community’s sadness… I want people to act, I want people to mobilize around POC sadness.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the act of writing itself and how does one enact change without the use of force. In “Ars Poetica,” I see this struggle play out: “I grind his wings into glitter/& throw him into the air // like a child.// I grind his wings into ash/ & throw him into the earth // like a casket.” You testify both existence and erasure here, just as the sole photo of you at the end of the collection “my father deleted all photos of me from our computer.” Do you think language and/or poetry alone can change the violence within culture, particularly in the U.S.? (I’m particularly thinking of the line “Language is where the tongue fails itself over & over again” in “Aluminum & Dusk.” ) Can we transform violence into something else—something even transcendent—through the act of writing? Continue reading

Philip Metres with H.L. Hix

Philip Metres

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. Enjoy!

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which were collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in America, from Ugly Duckling Presse (fall 2012). Hix loves the interview form as a way of thinking together (itself a condition of democracy, justice, philosophy, and other ideals and practices he values), and as one element in a community poetics. The subject of this interview is Philip Metres’s Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941 (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2007).

H. L. Hix: Your book starts with the observation that “exclusion of dissenting voices . . . has continued throughout our history” (4), but implies near the end that the exclusion may be more complete now than ever, since “war’s televisual representation . . .  nullified the kinds of lyric responses upon which war resister poets traditionally relied” (197). If the exclusion is more intense than ever, what justifies the sorts of hope you express in your coda?

Philip Metres: There are at least two ways to address this question—via the personal (i.e. my own story vis-à-vis poetry and the peace movement) and intellectually. My own journey through Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 had many stages. It was borne out of an intellectual and poetic attempt to understand the failure and despair of peace activists (myself included) during and after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when I was a junior in college. I was stunned by what seemed to me a mass psychosis, in which everyone huddled around the television (myself included) as if it were an intense sporting match—but which was a war not unlike any other, though the corpses themselves were disappeared in the official media coverage. Journalists—particularly the television media—seemed more interested in making amends for its purported liberal bias during the Vietnam War, to heal the wounds of the Vietnam defeat; I can see it now as a classic example of what Richard Slotkin called “redemption through violence,” in his pivotal work of American history, Gunfighter Nation. Continue reading

David Lazar with Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, jacket cover of the The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation, Ann Snitow
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, jacket cover of the The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation, Ann Snitow

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. Enjoy!

This is a discussion with Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow on the anthology The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation, which they co-edited. This anthology was first published in 1998 by Three Rivers/ Crown Publishing Group. It was subsequently republished with a new preface by Rutgers University Press in 2007 and remains in print.

David Lazar: To what extent do you think anthologizing is a radical act, or can be, and to what extent might it be conservative, the impulse to preserve? Can you speak to these impulses or tensions?

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: This anthology had several serious goals. The goals were radical and conservatizing (preservation-oriented)—not conservative at all, except perhaps in an old definition (putting up preserves). The goals of The Feminist Memoir Project were historical, political and insistent. We wanted to collect original essays by women who had (often in their 20s and 30s) played serious roles in the burgeoning women’s movement: as instigators, partisans, activists, thinkers and doers. We wanted them to record their activist efforts and convictions, to discuss their activities with other women, and to reflect on their entrance into the women’s movement—including second-thoughts, problems and analyses. This was a movement that our contributors were (in various ways) creating suddenly and compellingly beginning around 1966. We thought some personal-history writing and presentation would help to counteract some of the erasure of this multifarious and serious achievement, an erasure that was already being experienced, and that has become quite extreme over the past decades (since about 2000). We wanted our contributors to reflect on what they had done, and to count some of the costs and the benefits of this enormous upsurge of social struggle. The goal was to document, in people’s own words, their grassroots activism. Continue reading