This conversation between Haven Gomez and Michelle Lin focuses on Lin’s first book, A House Made of Water, and is part of Intersecting Lineages, a series focusing on conversations between poets of color.
Haven Gomez: In your book, A House Made of Water, you have two poems entitled, “In the House Made of Water,” which, in some aspects, speak of a struggle with identity, one of self and the other in the eyes of the grandmother. Would you say that these two are the heart of the book? Were these poems inspired by the name of your book, or was the name of your book a product of them?
Michelle Lin:I like the idea of these poems as being the heart of the book, because it implies that the book may in fact have two (or more) hearts, which seeks to complicate the book’s life (which is what I hope it has: a complicated life).
In this conversation, Michael Juliani and Bonnie Huie discuss Huie’s new translation of Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile, a coming-of- age novel about a group of queer friends in late 80’s, post-martial-law Taipei, recently released in May 2017 by NYRB Classics.
Michael Juliani: You said it took a long time to getNotes of a Crocodile into print. I’m wondering if you could describe how you arrived at translating it.
Bonnie Huie: I got into translation on a fluke. It was me not putting two things together in my mind. I studied Chinese in college. I used to do more of my own writing, and I showed it to someone from Taiwan who had her first poetry collection published by a very nice indie publisher and she said, “I would love to have an English translation of my book.” And I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” And as a gift, she gave me books by Qiu Miaojin.
I first met Tara Betts at poet Becca Klaver’s WHAT’S SO HOT: A Summer Salon Reading Series in 2012 in which we both shared new work in the very intimate and relaxed setting of Becca’s living room. Afterwards, Tara and I briefly chatted on the train home together, and we promised we’d keep in touch— and we did. I absolutely love teaching Tara Betts poems, especially the phenomenal poem “Switch“, in workshops (See Betts read her recent work “The Suits of Your Skins” at #BlackPoetsSpeakOutChicago.) Her newest collection, Break the Habit, is now out from Trio House Press (2016), and contains journeys in which, in Betts’s words, “we are always colliding with what we cannot control.” In the conversation, I speak to Betts on collisions, spiders, and what it means to “break the habit.”
ROSEBUD BEN-ONI: The first section seems to challenge the reader’s certainty of orientation in “Welcome to the Terrordome” (“I shook my head and silently/asked how much of the story is missing,/how I wouldn’t even know about the bullet/dropping Newton, if Chuck hadn’t told me”). We also witness the speaker discovering her own way in “Unsteady Directions” (“If parents are shields, hold nothing. If parents fail/ or blame, find a fortress to release whatever wounds.”) as well trying to find both cerebral and spiritual footing while “[u]nderneath, a house’s foundation/ gradually crumbles. The water may be poisoned/beyond redemption. It runs, wears away rock,/cuts down soil, carries wet in small measures,” as explored in “Prophetic Fragments.” Can you speak more about the idea of “collisions” in this section?
TARA BETTS:It may seem odd, but I think most poetry is about collisions and contradictions and how we find spaces between those parts of us that encounter different degrees of impact and moments of incongruity. “Unsteady Directions” is written to a you more so than the speaker finding her own way. I think it draws on some personal experiences, but unfortunately, I think it is a poem that I needed to write that addressed consent (and the lack thereof) that concerns women. In “Prophetic Fragments” — I think that poem is addressing that the old traditional ways of thinking generalizing about people of color and politically left people will eventually become increasingly obsolete because the absurdity of the politics. I do think that means that even people who describe themselves as radical, “woke,” “down,” conscious, or whatever left-leaning term of the moment strikes, will have to re-think those terms. A revolution is a circle, if we really think about the word, but does that mean we’re also in cycles of re-invention? I tend to think so. As far as “Welcome to the Terrordome,” I wanted the first poem to set an elegiac tone because Break the Habit really discusses different types of loss. When I look at black history, I find that some of the losses have been what I have not learned. How has something been kept from me? I have thought about that question a lot, and I think about when I was younger and how hip hop gave me an education. This Public Enemy song taught me an important lesson when they mentioned names like Joanne Chesimard and Huey Newton. We are always colliding with what we cannot control.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.