Tom Trudgeon with Lucas de Lima

Lucas de Lima
Lucas de Lima

Tom Trudgeon: I want to start by asking you about the title for your book. Rather than the compound word “Wetland”, which carries with it a kind of mythology and slew of cultural signifiers that often relay notions of “pure” nature, treacherous terrain, land that is manipulated and destroyed, depleted, etc, you chose to call the book “Wet Land.” This for me was significant in that the title you chose seems to literalize that space. It becomes “land that is wet,” which divests or diverts a more conventional way of thinking of those areas of land. So I was wondering what play you had in mind for the book between literalizing things, and having things be symbolic of a mythological epistemology. Where does Myth become something literal?

Lucas de Lima: The title comes from a line in the first poem: A POEM WE WRITE LIKE A WET LAND.” You’re right, I must’ve kept it for its literal, singular, and dislocated ring. Wet Land is an incarnation in which the wetness signals a conflation of blood and water, our violence against the earth as violence against ourselves. I think mythology has access to a primordial, cosmological language. As symbolic as myth may be, the fact that it’s foundational to a people and culture puts linguistic abstraction into relief. Myth enacts narrative integration in our lives, forbidding the separation of stories and images from whatever else we would cordon off as reality. And the book’s subject matter—the death of someone I love by alligator attack—was already unfathomable and beyond everyday language. The event violated all kinds of boundaries to begin with. Although I was never a big reader of mythology, it made sense when the mythification took over. It became a way of making sense.

WL was also shaped by a rejection of certain tendencies in US poetry. One would be the idea of language as always sabotaging itself because it aims to represent the world and is doomed by its failure to do so effectively. For me, poetry blows up consciousness. Its bullet is a baby; it rips into a new world. This capacity for world-making is the argument of WL. The book is a construction—what writers usually point to in a self-reflexive poetics—though I never saw my authorship as a limitation. Instead, my ethical imperative was to make selfhood the occasion for the book to embody a life of its own and cross boundarieslife/death, human/animal, different temporalities.

TT: You mention the idea of self-reflexive poetics, but also how you are interested in subverting traditional conventions of poetry…

LD: … even non-traditional…

Jeffrey Williams with Rita Felski

Rita Felski
Rita Felski

Feminism is sometimes portrayed as focusing on politics at the expense of aesthetics. Rita Felski’s Literature After Feminism (University of Chicago Press, 2003) shows how, on the contrary, feminism has enriched the reading of literature. Much of Felski’s work has looked at feminism and modernism, notably in her first three books, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change (Harvard University Press, 1989), The Gender of Modernity (Harvard University Press, 1995) and Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture (New York University Press, 2000), a collection of her essays.

This interview took place soon after the publication of Literature After Feminism. Since then, Felski has developed a neo-phenomenological approach to literature, which she explains in “Everyday Aesthetics,” her contribution to “The Credo Issue” of minnesota review (2009); she defends the study of literature in Uses of Literature (Blackwell, 2008) and Rethinking Tragedy (edited; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). In addition to her writing, she took over the editorship of New Literary History in 2009, where she has sponsored a number of special issues on new directions in literary studies, such as “New Sociologies of Literature” (2010) and “Context?” (2011).

Born in 1956, Felski received her BA in French and German literature at Cambridge University and her PhD in German at Monash University in Australia. She taught at Perth and Murdoch Universities in Australia, moving in 1994 to the University of Virginia, where she is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English.

This interview took place on 28 December 2004, in the midst of the MLA Convention in Philadelphia. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams and transcribed by Srila Nayak.

Jeffrey Williams: Your new book, Literature After Feminism, takes stock of contemporary feminism—as I take it, in the wake of the culture wars. Can you talk about that book and the situation it responds to?

Julie Carr with Andy Fitch

Julie Carr
Julie Carr

Over the summer, Andy Fitch has interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Carr’s book Surface Tension: Ruptured Time and the Poetics of Desire in Late Victorian Poetry (Dalkey Archive Press). Recorded June 20th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.

Andy Fitch: Could we start with the concept of surface tension, as borrowed from physics and applied to Victorian-era poetry—specifically in terms of how a purported aesthetic of surface can be read for its participation in broader political discourses?

Julie Carr: Surface tension explains why molecules at a liquid’s surface bond with stronger energy. They do so because, with no molecules on top, fewer molecules surround them. This creates a horizontal surface density, which became a useful metaphor for describing what can happen in a poem when you read for (let’s say, just using familiar terms) content. You’ll try to understand a sonnet’s argument, but various sound associations play out among the words as do visual patterns. Surfaces also can become dense with invented languages, or borrowed languages, or pastiche, or collaged language. This density at the textual surface complicates our absorption of narrative or message. And of course these issue arise often in contemporary poetry or in modernist poetry, but most readers of Victorian poetry don’t understand the work that way. Specialists do. But for the average, semi-informed reader, if you ask about Victorian poetry they’ll think of somebody like Robert Browning or Tennyson. They’ll recall some long narrative poem or poem of deep feeling—one which doesn’t seem to engage language’s materiality. So reconsidering the Victorian-era interest in surface, especially amid a poetics engaged with ideals of transformation or sudden ruptural change, drives this book. Here I focus on three poets invested in the aesthetic surface as a redemptive space but for different ends. They are not, all three of them, Marxist or revolutionary poets. William Morris does engage a Marxist discourse. But Gerard Manley Hopkins remains focused on some kind of conversion or Christian ontological . . .

The Geography of Accumulation: David Harvey with Jeffrey J. Williams

photo of David Harvey
David Harvey

Since 1993, Jeffrey J. Williams has conducted over 50 interviews with contemporary critics, philosophers and writers. The Conversant is pleased to republish a selection of these interviews. This interview with David Harvey took place September 20, 2007 and originally appeared in minnesota review Fall/Winter 2007 (69). Transcribed by Heather Steffen.

Jeffrey Williams: I want to cover the arc of your work and how you went from Explanation in Geography to A Brief History of Neoliberalism. But first, because the readers of minnesota review are largely a cultural studies audience and the book we probably know the best is The Condition of Postmodernity, I want to ask about that. It’s become a canonical theory book explaining the shift in production from Fordism to post-Fordism during the 1970s. How did you come to outline this change to post-Fordism?

David Harvey: I think there were a number of things going on around that time. I was getting irritated by the material coming out in the name of postmodernism, whatever that was. I was finding more and more people talking about it, and I think that, for people like myself who were coming out of a more straight Marxist tradition, you had to face up to either ignoring it or confronting it. At some point or other, I decided I’d confront it and try to reinterpret it. Since it seemed to me nobody really knew what postmodernism was, there was an opening there. But also it seemed to me I was fairly well-equipped because I had written this lengthy study on Second Empire Paris, where I had used people like Baudelaire and Zola and Balzac to help me interpret some of the shift into modernity during that period. So I felt that I had a good grasp on, if you like, the cultural transformations that occurred in Second Empire Paris alongside of the political economy, and I could redeploy it to the contemporary period.

Shanna Compton with Andy Fitch

Shanna Compton

Over the summer, Andy Fitch has interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Compton’s books Brink and The Seam (Bloof). Recorded July 7th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.

Andy Fitch: I try to save potentially stupid questions for later, but have you seen Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia? Did that shape this project in any way?

Shanna Compton: I’ve seen some Lars von Trier. No, we haven’t watched that one yet.

Cynthia Arrieu-King and Sophia Kartsonis with Andy Fitch

photo of Cynthia Arrieu-King and Sophia Kartsonis

Over the summer, Andy Fitch has interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Kartsonis and King’s chapbook By Some Miracle A Year Lousy with Meteors (Dream Horse). The interview was recorded on June 14, 2012 and was transcribed by Maia Spotts.

Andy Fitch: Collaborative books make me obsessed with process. We could start with the poem “Shoe-Tree,” even just that phrase “shoe tree.” I’ll sense two different voices: one mimetic-tending, one more opaque. Of course both could come from a single author, but here I picture two people contributing, amid some primal scene, almost sexual. So where do these poems start for you?

Sophia Kartsonis: Cindy, can you remember? I think that was your line.

Cynthia Arrieu-King: What’s our first poem? The shoe tree poem?

Cynthia Arrieu-King and Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis

photo of Arrieu-King and Kartsonis
Cynthia Arrieu-King and Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis. Cover photograph (center) by Stacy Elaine Dacheux.

Over the next year, Andy Fitch will be asking participants from his Ugly Duckling Presse interview project to pair up and interview each other. By placing parallel interviews alongside his own, Fitch hopes to demonstrate that no one talk is definitive, that there are an infinitude of possible trajectories for such a discussion to take. In this interview, Cynthia Arrieu-King and Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis discuss their collaborative chapbook, By Some Miracle A Year Lousy with Meteors (Dream Horse).

Since 2006, Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis and Cynthia Arrieu-King have been getting their collaborative poems written via e-mail, usually between phone calls about holiday cookie eating tallies. They are not sure if it is the sugar or the holidays that bring into being their third mind extra yogic poetry brain. Upon returning to these poems, it is hard for either of these poets to recall who wrote what unless it has a hyphen in it/sounds like a kenning, in which case it was Sophia or there is a bunch of hard consonants smashed together in which case it was Cindy. On this audio recording, they type out a poem (based on this article) in almost real time, ask each other questions like “What is on our coat of arms?” and dial up the compatibility of their astrological charts.

[mp3j track=”Kartsonis and King@http://theconversant.org/staging/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Kartsonis-and-King-audio.mp3″ caption=”Listen to the conversation”]


The poem:

Michael Adams Terrorized 1964 with Pastel Sweaters & YMCA Sex

Scrub Interview by Justin Yockel

Scrub magazine and interview subject Michael Adams.

Scrub was my contribution to a downtown gay zine scene that I found seductive and sexy, but was also conflicted about. So much of it seemed self-promotional and insular. I wanted my version to tell the stories of an underrepresented New York, whose stories are just as fabulous if one takes the time to listen. Scrub ended up being a one-off response. There was only one issue printed, mostly because I didn’t have a business plan. Printing is costly but I wanted the satisfaction of having a tangible artifact. Now, seven years later, I’m happy The Conversant has resurrected these interviews in an online format. It’s interesting so see how they hold up in a new context.—Justin Yockel

Interview with Michael Adams was conducted on August 14, 2005.

Michael Adams: I feel like I’m Dick Cheney or someone who won’t ever grant you another interview again.

Justin Yockel: I know. Getting face time with you is so rare.

MA: Right. Never.

JY: Well, where do you want to start?

MA: Well, the time when I was almost taken out of high school? Is that the one you have in mind?

JY: Yeah. I like that one and then there was a time where you and your friend came to New York, right?

Drew Swenhaugen with Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Drew Scott Swenhaugen, a news contributor to The Volta, interviews poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson. The subject of this interview is The Volta, a multimedia poetry and poetics project that Wilkinson co-founded in 2012. 

Walking through the poetry aisle at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne a few years ago, I instantly got the feeling that Joshua Marie Wilkinson was a poetry encyclopedia. His interest in other writers and ambition in his own work make him the perfect ambassador for small press, and poetry in general. The Volta, born on January 1, 2012, has already become a juggernaut website, packed with an array of new poetry, reviews and interviews from both established contemporary poets and the up-and-comers as well. Once you explore the site, you will find a number of embedded sites with their own editors. As a whole, The Volta has a complete feel, but the parts that comprise it work extremely well on their own: it works as a document of contemporary poetry, a promise to make poetry extremely present and relevant.

Drew Swenhaugen: So, what made you create The Volta? What’s the story of its creation? The poetic term “volta” is the turn in a sonnet, correct? Is there a personal reason why you chose it for the title?

Joshua Marie Wilkinson: I had been editing the poetics journal Evening Will Come for about a year, and I was getting a steady stream of essays and interviews for it, starting with a terrific piece of prose that C.D. Wright trusted me with. Secretly, I began editing a poetry journal called They Will Sew The Blue Sail, and I’d been writing occasional reviews, conducting interviews for the Denver Quarterly and other journals, and was losing a bit of steam to keep Rabbit Light Movies going—a journal of video and poem-films I’d started in 2007. Anyways, I decided to combine all these poetry-related interests. I thought it would be very cool to have a journal where poems took a back seat to all the other poetry-related things I was interested in. I figured, there are lots of terrific poetry journals; I wasn’t super excited about just doing another one of those. I wanted to add a space for prose on poetry by poets, for video, for roundtables about poetry-related stuff (race, politics, feminism), interviews, questionnaires, etc. When Sara [Marshall] and I were talking about it, somehow it seemed doable. I had no idea what a time suck it would become, but I’m glad we went forward with it. I loved The Volta as a title—the volta of the sonnet, yeah, and also as a turn. It was simple. It was a word I liked and a url was available.

Richard Foreman with Nature Theater of Oklahoma

photo of Richard Foreman
Richard Foreman

Nature Theater of Oklahoma talks to New York avant-garde writer and director Richard Foreman about film, television, theater, radio and—above all—resistance.

[Flash 9 is required to listen to audio.]

To download this podcast or subscribe to OK Radio podcasts on iTunes, click here.

Philip Metres with H.L. Hix

Philip Metres

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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.