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.
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 on this book at UPenn a few weeks ago. Could you say a bit on 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. Continue reading →
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.”
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 dream—to 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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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 Continue reading →
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.
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.
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 Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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
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 Listto 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? Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
In his book Toward Reality, John Berger says the ideal critic would have “the historical perspective necessary” and “the imaginative appreciation necessary” to see outside one’s moment, the power to stand on the corner of the present and look both ways, assess one’s position in relation to traffic. “But in fact it is impossible.” All the critic can do is look, with painfully inadequate and subjective eyes, at the present. To see the opposite corner, look into it, understand it, and walk towards it without being flattened. And art is a busy street.
Trinie Dalton writes criticism, interviews artists, writes books of fiction, and spearheads artist books, including You Who Read Me with Passion Must Forever Be My Friends by visual and textual artist Dorothy Iannone, out recently from Siglio Press. Dalton exercises a malleable approach to her critical writing, working from ‘the inside,’ articulating the work of artists she knows. She sidesteps the need for speculation by transforming conversations with friends into critical work. But the worries of time, of faithfulness, of the need to be ‘critical,’ don’t abate. For her, criticism is a question of who gets to speak, and the ethical dilemma of having a voice.
Ianonne coined the term ‘ecstatic unity’ to define her artistic practice, and in her essay on Iannone, Dalton elucidates the concept, defining it as an “inversion (& merging) of male and female, muse and maker, sacred and profane, celestial and carnal, submission and dominance, compliment and insult, humor and earnestness,” which could just as easily apply to the chameleon work of the critic. To look at something and keep looking is an endurance test, a cross examination, sensual act, a merging of identities, a hilarious way to spend an afternoon, a leap of faith.
Despite his relative youth, 26-year-old Ocean Vuong has been on the poetry scene for some time. The Saigon-born poet examines heartache, loss, and a type of metamorphosis in his work. He uses enjambment and space on the page cleverly and in a way that only makes his work that much stronger. In “Aubade with Burning City,” Vuong expertly incorporates lines from Irving Berlin’s seasonal classic, “White Christmas” as part of a way to talk about a 1975 evacuation of South Vietnam: “…When the dust rises, a black dog/ lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs/ crushed into the shine/ of a white Christmas.” I spoke with Vuong about the intricacies of craft and process, and why he doesn’t feel fit to offer advice to new poets.
Danielle Susi: Beside the very important content of your poems, one of the things that stand out most about your work is the way you use form and the way you use the page. Could you talk a little about how content and form play together for you and when you feel a particular form or enjambment is critical to the work? Continue reading →
In the second part of this series, artists Kione Kochi and Anaïs Duplan discuss the role of biography and autobiography in the writing of manifestos and how their own biographies influence them during ManifeStation, a temporary manifesto-writing service held at Flux Factory. Read the first part in this series in the February issue.
Choose one of the people we interviewed. In your own words, tell his/her/their life-story. Then read an excerpt from his/her/their manifesto that you think correlates particularly well to that person’s biography.
Anaïs Duplan: Jack Grange had, perhaps, the most enthralling biography – and of course, Jack Grange isn’t his real name; he asked us not to mention him by name, because he used to be a practicing physician. One of the first things he said was, “There’s no use talking about the future because it doesn’t exist.” It was at that moment that I leaned forward in my chair and everything else in the room disappeared for me. Continue reading →
Poet Josh Kalscheur interviews Seth Abramson, Co-Editor of the Best American Experimental Writing (“BAX”) anthology series, the first volume of which was published by Omnidawn in January 2015.
Josh Kalscheur: What initially led you to this project?
Seth Abramson: As it turns out, it was more a “who” than a “what”—Jesse Damiani, my Series Co-Editor, developed the idea and asked if I wanted to help him with it. My first thought was to be surprised that no one had proposed this sort of anthology before, as while Jesse and I have seen and read many remarkable anthologies of innovative writing, none were annual or open (even in part) to unsolicited submissions. My second thought was to realize how desperate I was to immerse myself in new modes of writing, and how this project would be a perfect opportunity to do just that. It was a selfish thought, but after spending 2012 and 2013 reviewing over a hundred books for online venues—and having been exposed to several thousand more poetry collections in the quest to find a hundred or so to review—I’d become pretty jaded with respect to contemporary poetry. I saw much well-deserved celebration of competent craft, but too little acknowledgment of courageous acts of authorship that fall outside conventional notions of good taste. I wanted to do my part to expose innovative writing to new audiences, and to encourage conversations about risk that were already happening locally to move to the forefront of our larger literary dialogues. Continue reading →
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 episode 18 with Jennifer Moon and Lindsay Tunkl. —Mathew Timmons and Ben White
The People: Jennifer Moon & Lindsay Tunkl
Artists Jennifer Moon and Lindsay Tunkl talk to us about the emotional component of art making, having super powers, and the revolution. Melissa Guerrero discusses the past, present, and future of the L.A. river. Featured music by Malik Gaines and Jennifer Moon. As always our interstitial music is the song “Ocfif” by Lewis Keller.