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 Barbara Jane Reyes’s Poeta en San Francisco (TinFish Press, 2005).
H. L. Hix: The phrase “The opposite of Eden” (33) is applied in its immediate context to Vietnam, but I wonder if you would affirm my sense that it is much more broadly applicable in the book: that a strong current in the book is a depiction of the U.S. as the opposite of the Eden it presents itself as being?
Barbara Jane Reyes: I think of the opposite of Eden in biblical terms; if Eden is Genesis, creation, and paradise, a place of optimism about possibility, then its opposite would be Revelation, destruction, and apocalypse, a place of apprehension about possibility.
The Book of Revelation is interesting to me because of its coded, vivid, metaphorical language. It’s a language against empire, written under the conditions of division and collapse. As an American, this does sound like familiar, contemporary circumstances.
Apocalypse is interesting to me as well; it is not absolute end but the end of something. This is what revolution means: something ends and something else begins. I suppose those who dread apocalypse are those who benefit from the way things currently are.
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 Robyn Schiff’s Revolver (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2008).
H. L. Hix: “H5N1” clearly responds to “Ode to a Nightingale.” It seems a complex poem, not to be reduced to one theme, but would I be right to include among its complexities a lament for the loss of conditions that would allow a Keatsian romantic relationship to (capital n) Nature?
Robyn Schiff: Thank you for this question, and for offering this reading to me. The poems in Revolver, and “H5NI” in particular, definitely explore the relationship between Nature and Artifice (indeed with a capital N and A!), but I hadn’t myself considered it a lament—though I think you’re onto something I wasn’t aware of at the time. I guess I don’t read “Ode to a Nightingale” so much as a nature poem as a poem about the creative process and the imagination, and I can’t help but to read it through Stevens’ “Autumn Refrain.” I was definitely feeling “a tragic falling off,” as Robert Hass might put it, and in using “Ode to a Nightingale” and leaning on its armature, I suppose I was mourning that fall—which yes, is a fall from grace, an exile from Eden. But there is something very sci-fi about “H5N1”— and its almost hysterical ‘70s-era disaster movie pitch is quite earnest. But I’ve been sitting on your question for several months now (I’m so sorry!); winter turned to spring, and spring to summer. And here I am at this very moment looking into my garden—a garden I didn’t have in my life when I wrote “H5N1”—with such lament I can barely contain it in a poem. How will I ever express what I feel in that garden? That’s part of the poem too, yes, but I didn’t know it at the time of writing . . .
The following triptych, “Natural Battles,” provides the third of three monthly selections from a larger project, Off the Dome: Rants, Raps, and Meditations, for which I have been making live sound recordings as Solo-Dialogues since May 2010, entering into a streaming, internal conversation that vocalizes questions around race, representation, selfhood and place. Using my iPhone, I perform and document impromptu audio recordings in a variety of dynamic environments. The three separate monthly installments will get grouped by landscape, occasion, and experience. The selections from “Natural Battles” were recorded in three places, Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz, CA, the Berkshires in Stephentown, NY, and a desert suburb in Tucson, AZ, each capturing the interplay of voice and sound, activated in these distinct landscapes, while jogging, walking, and practicing yoga. —Ronaldo Wilson
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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 Baus’ book, Scared Text(Center for Literary Publishing).Recorded May 2nd. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: Can we discuss Scared Text’s cover, as a means of approaching less concrete concerns? You’ve called this cover image by Morin “appropriately gross,” which it is, though not for reasons I expected. Each separate bug (a diverse array) gets highly individuated, picks up autonomous identity. Everybody looks better off on his/her own, yet yoked together to construct a digestible tableau—like a Balthus painting. Scale seems perfectly drafted for the isolated, individual being, but bizarrely distorted when placed side-by-side, with the beetle as big as a mouse it eats, or fucks? The overall composition feels self-contained, square, if also potentially part of a more expansive, cathartic scene. Then on the book’s back, a blue beetle gets cloned in reverse, restructured. Does this help to describe what makes the cover “appropriately” gross? And, can I just add, the palate remains warm and earthy and cheerful.
Eric Baus: Your description resembles how I think about serial poems—focusing on relationships between different parts. As you spoke I stared at the cover and imagined each bug as its own paragraph. That makes a lot of sense. And the image’s tone does seem important, since each book I’ve done contains a kind of world-building, like in science fiction or film. So the cover design lets you walk into the book’s world. This includes discrete, unrelated beings placed beside each other so that you register strangeness, you know something strayed out of place but not so much that it looks random, or deliberate like a collage. The poems share this sensibility. I worked at the level of the word and sentence, looking at undertones, looking at implicit doubles. Still I didn’t have much agency picking this cover. I suggested something I love and the publisher vetoed it and picked the perfect thing.
Andy Fitch: I’ve got a couple design questions. The first came as soon as I glanced at your manuscript’s title fading into gray. By the time I’d reached its end, it reminded me of digitized verbal art by someone like Jenny Holzer. Does this idea of kinetic text cued for the fleeting event, rather than the fixed, final object appeal to you?
Andrea Rexilius: I do think about text in a kinetic way, as communication based in tactile experience. I actually didn’t design this book, but did make up the title, which suggests processes of erasure while keeping in place some sense of fixed, forward movement. This text’s accumulation provides an active experience, an unstable act of pinning down language.