Jeremy Michael Clark with Kiki Petrosino

Jeremy Clark and Kiki Petrosino
Jeremy Michael Clark and Kiki Petrosino

Kiki Petrosino teaches at the University of Louisville, where I received my undergraduate degree. Though I wasn’t lucky enough to take a class of hers, I remember discovering her work in the library and thinking, “The person who wrote these poems is on this campus?” I keep her books within arm’s reach; one thing I continue to appreciate about her work is her insistence on writing into or from whatever spaces she feels are hers. In this interview conducted via email, we discuss how place and lineages (familial and poetic) inform her work, particularly in her latest collection, Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013, Sarabande Books)—Jeremy Michael Clark


Jeremy Michael Clark: During a recent conversation between the writer Claudia Rankine and the artist Carrie Mae Weems, Rankine said that where some people see her as a poet who writes about race, she sees herself as someone who writes about how people negotiate space, in which race necessarily plays a role. Like Rankine, I see your work as concerned with negotiating space. In your last book, Hymn for the Black Terrific, it seems to be negotiated, implicitly & explicitly, on different registers (personal space, familial lineage, historical narrative, space in the racial imagination of America, etc.). When I read that book, I get a sense that the boundaries are not set in stone. Can you talk about moving between these various spaces?

Caleb Beckwith with Danny Snelson

Danny Snelson and Caleb Beckwith
Danny Snelson and Caleb Beckwith

This interview concerns Danny Snelson’s Epic Lyric Poem (Troll Thread 2015). It was conducted in person and transcribed by Christy Davids. It is part of the interview collection Reconfiliating: Conversations with Conceptual-Affiliated Writers (Essay Press 2015), which also includes interviews J Gordon Faylor and Divya Victor, as well as an afterword by Joseph Mosconi.

Caleb Beckwith: I’d like to talk about Epic Lyric Poem as well as some related practices in so-called conceptual writing. This may sound heterodox, but I read ELP as a narrative in which the lyric plays the central character. The book opens with an incantatory proem, which it follows with an invocation of the muses and a rising sense of conflict that ultimately resolves. I may be reading too closely here, but I want to ask about the role of narrative in this book. The first word in the title is “Epic,” a highly established form—maybe we can begin there.

Caryl Pagel with Lily Hoang

Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang
Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang

This interview between Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang is being published in conjunction with an Essay Press chapbook focused on dialogues with Cleveland State University Poetry Center authors, to be released on December 15th.

Caryl Pagel: A Bestiary is brimming with moments of memory, panic, humor, sarcasm, and joy but at its heart is an elegy (for your sister, for a kind of idealized love, and for the “other” Lily). Could you speak to the ways in which this grief accumulated and how nonfiction can work as a site of tribute or mourning?

Lily Hoang: My grief accumulated because—as I say in the book—I compartmentalize all my problems. I just focus on work. And then there must be a breaking point, and maybe that’s what this book was for me: all my avoidances from the past three years, coming forward in all their hurtful splendor. I think nonfiction is a natural space for tribute and mourning: both require an honest reckoning of another and of self.

Christy Davids with Pattie McCarthy

Pattie McCarthy and Christy Davids
Pattie McCarthy and Christy Davids

Pattie McCarthy is the author of six books and over a dozen chapbooks. Her newest book, Quiet Book (Apogee), explores intersectionality as a state of being. In this interview, McCarthy speaks on poetry and motherhood, the public and the private self, the realities of her writing practice, and on the feminist politics at play in teaching, thinking, and composing. Quiet Book is due out in January.

Christy Davids: With such concision and frustrating—yet non-judgmental—honesty, you say “no subject offers / a greater opportunity for terrible / writing than motherhood.” Here is the embodied experience you were biologically built for, don’t write about it. Here is that which is life altering / body altering, don’t write about it. Here is the life of other lives and you, don’t write about it – and, in fact, be prepared to bear the consequences of being labeled a woman who writes about motherhood because there will be consequences. I wonder if this is a direct address to the readers, to the field; I wonder if it is a personal reminder and if that reminder comes with sadness or fury or triumph. Quiet Book (Apogee, January 2016) explores so beautifully the domestic: domestic labor, domestic lives fixed in paint, the day to day domesticities that are always occurring with so many other things so as never to be singular or definitive that I can’t help but wonder if this is a refusal—is it?

Andy Fitch with Jill Magi

Jill Magi
Jill Magi

After publishing my Sixty Morning Talks interview collection, I have begun work on a more focused, single-press interview series, offering a comprehensive oral history (a cinéma vérité, in prose) of Nightboat Books’ diverse and ambitious output over its first decade of publication. For this newer project, it particularly interests me to track interpersonal and intertextual constellations that have helped to shape the work done by Nightboat’s authors, publishers and designers. Nightboat will publish this interview collection late next year. This interview focuses on Jill Magi’s book LABOR and was recorded March 12, 2015 and transcribed by Nicole Monforton.– Andy Fitch

Andy Fitch: Progressing through LABOR, I wondered what proportion of your audience might consist of professors, professional poets and/or professed Marxists potentially finding their own ethics, their own self-conception, quite often challenged. I know that I could read your book on a late Monday morning only because non-tenure-line instructors filled those teaching-intensive composition courses that get so crowded before noon. But I also remember, in your Conversant interview with Thomas Fink about SLOT, your statement that our poetry community has limited training in how to critique certain practices without discarding them all together. So could we start with this specific small world of poets and/or academics? Could you describethe types of discussions you hope for LABOR to prompt among readers who find their own lives immediately reflected in the book?

Relearning Everything: Jay Aquinas Thompson with Maggie Nelson on The Argonauts

Jay Aquinas Thompson and Maggie Nelson
Jay Aquinas Thompson and Maggie Nelson

When M. got to Seattle, the first place she wanted to go was the bookstore: “There’s this new book I have to buy you,” she said. “Couldn’t I just buy it myself?” I asked. She shook her head: “No. I have to be the one to give it to you. You’ll see what I mean.” So it was M.’s $25.18 that put the book in my hands.

The book was The Argonauts (2015, Graywolf Press), poet and memoirist and critical theorist Maggie Nelson’s new work of “autotheory”: a reflection on queer family and sexuality, art-making and self-revelation, privilege and oppression, performance and identity, healing and the ghosts of old scars. The book opens with the twinned somatic, prickling pressures of sexual desire and the Santa Ana wind, and ends with the braided stories of the birth of Nelson’s child and the death of her partner Harry Dodge’s mother. In between, Nelson’s scrupulous candor and synthesizing intellectual energy takes in teachers (her “many-gendered mothers of my heart”) and loved ones, and offers back sparkling assertions as well as aching, unanswerable questions. I read The Argonauts, scribbling notes, in three days, and immediately gave my copy to my wife and—like M. before me—took another friend out for coffee and bought it for her.

What about The Argonauts demands such a personal response? A book I expected to examine and reflect on instead itself became a lens, through which I saw other things—art-making, queerness, oppression, parenting—in a completely new light. “There are things in The Argonauts I never knew I’d always thought,” M. told me, and after reading the book I agreed. I reached out to Nelson this fall and we conducted this interview over e-mail.

Jay Aquinas Thompson: Near the end of The Argonauts—after writing about fake totem animals, Barthes’s concept of the Neutral, and the limitations of evasiveness—you write of, and seem to defend,

the pleasure of abiding… of insistence, of persistence. The pleasure of obligation, of dependency. The pleasures of ordinary devotion. The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again—not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life.

Sarah Baker with Dawn Pendergast

Dawn Pendergast and Sarah Baker
Dawn Pendergast and Sarah Baker

The different strata of the small press ecosystem are bound and wound in collaborative action and influence. Within the world of small press publishing, everything, everyone, and every place (physical and digital) is interconnected, but often in ways that are not apparent. As publishers of Small Po[r]tions, a limited-edition Risograph-printed journal that focuses on experiment and innovation, we were interested in examining the practices of small press publishers who are also poets to see how they apportion their energies and how they situate themselves within this ecosystem. In these interviews we map small press connections through the discussion of collaboration among presses, editors, writers, book artists and readers. That is, collaboration in an expanded sense: influence, inspiration, community. Ecologies require study to sustain them. These interviews look to be a part of a broader and continuing conversation on the ways presses and poets sustain themselves and enrich one another.

Sarah Baker: I know of Little Red Leaves the journal, and you have the e-editions, and the textile series—how did you become involved with these projects and how did they begin?

The People: Episode 33 (Diana Arterian and Robin Coste Lewis)

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 episode 33 with Diana Arterian and Robin Coste Lewis. 

We close out the show with a song from Minneapolis based musician Jesse Whitney from his new album Impossible Buildings. You can find out more about his music at www.jsswhtny.com. The name of the track is “Immense Rooms Collapsing Inwards.”


Diana Arterian is a poetry editor at Noemi Press and a managing editor and founding editor at the small press Ricochet. Her chapbook Death Centos came out from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2013. She’ll be talking to us about some of her new work, a collection centered around the historical figure of Agripina the Younger.

Robin Coste Lewis is a Provost’s Fellow in the Creative Writing & Literature PhD Program at USC. A Cave Canem Fellow, she received her MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program where she was a Goldwater Fellow in poetry. Her first book, Voyage of the Sable Venus from Knopf won the 2015 National Book Award in poetry.