Brian Ang with Caleb Beckwith

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.

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.”

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.

Brian Teare with Christy Davids

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.

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?

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.

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.

Rob Halpern with Andy Fitch

Rob Halpern
Rob Halpern

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!

Andy Fitch: As I work through these interviews I’ve found myself tracking a resurgent interest in New Narrative—a sense that New Narrative poetics have not received their fair share of critical attention, have not been thought through sufficiently by a broad enough range of contemporary poets. You of course have helped to encourage this interest. Can you place Music for Porn in relation to several exemplary New Narrative poets, texts and/or concepts? Does it make sense to speak of a second-generation self-consciously consolidating inherited insights, experiments, practices? Or do New Narrative’s deft evasions of conventional literary categorization preclude such distinctions in the first place?

Rob Halpern: Where to begin with my relation to New Narrative? I’d been out of school seven years before I found myself in Dodie Bellamy’s writing workshop in 1996. One crucial forum for nourishing young Bay Area writers is this network of writing workshops that take place in writers’ homes. Finding myself in Dodie’s workshop (with Kevin Killian participating) allowed me to realize that my writing actually might be legible. After the death of my first love, James, in 1995, I’d lived in a state of terrible doubt and uncertainty—not only about the readability of my work but whether a writing community existed for me. Yet by then, forces of attraction already had taken over. In the late ’80s, when I arrived in San Francisco, I’d looked up three writers who I knew lived here and with whom I felt a sense of affinity and desire for apprenticeship. I actually looked up, in the phone book, Robert Glück, Aaron Shurin and Kathy Acker, and just by way of a cold call I sent them each a naive fan letter, together with what must have been a crappy piece of writing. I dropped these cold calls into the void of the U.S. postbox. After several months, I received generous, encouraging responses from both Aaron and Bob. Never heard from Kathy. Perhaps she’d already left San Francisco. But the fact that I received positive responses from Bob and Aaron was incredibly important. It offered a departure point of sorts, a permission-giver, though it would take five more years before I’d actually meet Bob through Dodie’s workshop (I met Aaron sooner). Bob also ran a workshop out of his home, and I began to attend that in 1997. He became a crucial mentor, a teacher and now he’s a dear friend, as is Bruce Boone, who makes a cameo early in Music for Porn, in the first sentences of “Envoi,” which serves as a kind of introduction to the book. Bruce’s Century of Clouds and My Walk with Bob remain classic New Narrative works, and my “Envoi” invokes Bruce’s writing, in part because I fear Music for Porn betrays New Narrative values. So “Envoi” rehearses a moment from a walk I took with Bruce, when he asked about my book’s obsessively recurrent figure of the male soldier. For Music for Porn to pass as New Narrative, that soldier would need to be a person in my life with a nameable name. Instead, the soldier feels more like a negative imprint of all my social relations—a feeling I announce by citing this conversation with my friend Bruce. Of course the soldier, sadly, will never become my friend, which helps suggest the stakes in this book, and why friendship remains so crucial to its structure. In “Envoi” I write, “This would be the place in the story where Bruce asks me about the figure of the soldier in my book, and whether it has some bearing on my intimate life, or whether the soldier is merely an abstraction is the flesh real? and I’m struck by his manner of asking.” Bruce’s question contains serious implications for my writing, and I want to foreground this while simultaneously introducing the soldier as a cornerstone in the architecture of a fantasy. This departs from early New Narrative works such as My Walk with Bob or Robert Glück’s Elements of a Coffee Service, both of which were formative for me. I can’t imagine myself as a writer without that work. At the same time, I feel as though I’ve departed from both texts’ writerly values, insofar as Music for Porn privileges a critical fantasy over the narration of living relationships. That said, Music for Porn’s soldier fantasy seems inseparable from my lived social relations. And here I could point to a tension I feel I’ve inherited between New Narrative practice (developed among primarily gay writers in the early ’80s) and a politics of form that one might say characterizes Bay Area Language writing, if not Language writing in general, whose rigorous critique of conventional narrative values also has shaped my poetics. I don’t want to reproduce familiar generalizations, though. New Narrative shares an equal investment in form yet proceeds from a different political stance and probes distinct formal problems. In my own talks and essays such as “The Restoration of [Bob Perelman’s] ‘China,’” I’ve attempted to rethink this relationship between New Narrative and Language, for example, by way of Soup magazine’s second issue, edited by Steve Abbott, who christened the phrase “New Narrative.” That prescient journal issue articulates and illustrates what this “New Narrative” project might look like. Most impressive about that issue of Soup is Steve’s decision to include a wide range of writers representing divergent literary practices—creating conditions for what Jacques Rancière calls “dissensus,” or the perceptible presence of two worlds in one. Steve’s expansive editorial vision provides new possibilities for presenting tensions among various poetic approaches within a complicated early ’80s Bay Area writing ecology. Similarly, in early issues of Poetics Journal, Barrett Watten and Lyn Hejinian adopt practices of inclusion, again to make legible productive tensions and differences. Only in the afterlife of such projects, amid what often go by the name of the “poetry wars,” do we think of these dynamic, syncretic, symbiotic writing communities as discrete, segregated, sectarian schools. So here I’ve offered a circuitous response to your question. I too find those historical tensions outlined above quite productive. I’d like to think that my work engages and complicates the relationship between both projects—through its movement toward narrative, certainly, but a narrative as indebted to Lyn Hejinian’s and Carla Harryman’s mode of distributive narrative (or non/narrative) as to forms of storytelling that I learned through my apprenticeship to Bruce’s and Bob’s work.

Caleb Beckwith with Suzanne Stein and Steve Benson

Steve Benson and Suzanne Stein
Steve Benson and Suzanne Stein

Caleb Beckwith: I’m tempted to jump right in with questions regarding the media used in your collaborative chat performances, conducted from 2011–2012 and archived on Suzanne’s blogspot site. But I’m wondering if you could first describe the project, either individually or together, for readers not already familiar. Personally, I didn’t discover your archive until last year, when I very quickly read its entirety without what now seems like the very necessary dimension of duration, both in the individual pieces and across the arc of your extended project. We’ll get to duration later, especially as it informs collaboration, but I’d be remiss if we didn’t properly set the scene for readers at the outset of the drama that is this interview.

Suzanne Stein and Steve Benson: The performances were collaborative improvisations undertaken live, online, without any kind of rehearsal or premeditation as to subject, theme, composition, or execution. The chats, or dialogues, or shows, or plays, or performances, whatever we think we might want call them, were the rehearsal. In our introduction to the book, tentatively titled DO YOUR OWN DAMN LAUNDRY, which collates all thirty-six of the resulting texts, precisely as they unfolded live, we offer this about our regularly scheduled, not-so-planned performing: We realized the resulting works might be understood by turns as confrontational, avoidant, competitive, provocative, philosophical, intimate, meaningless, narcissistically challenged, ethically inquiring, epistemologically conflictual, and ridiculous. They are an exercise in presence, attention, friendship, improvisation, poetry, craft, and speech.

Michael Martin Shea with Darcie Dennigan and Joyelle McSweeney

Darcie Dennigan and Joyelle McSweeney
Darcie Dennigan and Joyelle McSweeney

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 by poets and playwrights Joyelle McSweeney and Darcie Dennigan. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss Coke bottles, multiple hearts, flowers of extermination, and blowing up the Cartesian grid.

Michael Martin Shea: Hi Joyelle! Hi Darcie! Let’s start off with your BAX work. Both of your pieces in BAX 2015 invoke the judicial world, creating or projecting an imaginary courtroom in which the action of the writing takes place, so-to-speak (replete with inscrutable judges and their whims). What does this atmosphere of the legal—its trappings and forms of speech—provide for your writing, in terms of either craft or politics (or both)?

Darcie Dennigan: I think authority is funny, author-ity even funnier. The idea that any piece of writing or any writer could settle an argument . . . I like Dead Youth a lot and especially the excerpt in BAX for this reason. Its set-up enacts the absurdity of authority (political and poetic) and its language does too—its wordplay just keeps enlarging (and diminishing) its arguments.

Thomas Fink with Sean Singer

Thomas Fink (painting by Maya D. Mason, 30" x 40", oil on canvas, 2015) and Sean Singer
Thomas Fink (painting by Maya D. Mason, 30″ x 40″, oil on canvas, 2015) and Sean Singer

Thomas Fink: Honey and Smoke contains several long poems. In the 40 sections of the prose-poem, “Black Swan,” at least 2/3 of the sections pertain to the political history of Newark, New Jersey. Later, we’ll address how these parts relate to others that seem to be about very different topics, but for now, let’s focus on the interplay of the accumulation of knowledge and questioning (doubt) in these sections. In the fifth section, you point to the cause of the Newark riots of 1967 by saying that “the history of Newark,” though “central to understanding the political narrative of race and Civil Rights,” had been “largely ignored,” and that “Jim Crow… had a red beak and leathery acne-red wattle in the social fabric of Northern cities like Newark” (53). The fourth part consists of 17 questions and one final, highly metaphorical declarative sentence. These are the first five questions:

How to explore the effect of the Newark riots? How do the city police escalate violence? How do the state police escalate violence? How does the National Guard escalate violence? How do female looters strip mannequins? (53).