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?
The first book of Gerard Malanga’s I ever owned was 100 Years Have Passed (Little Caesar, 1978). What initially drew me to it was the stark cover image, a photograph that reminded me of Man Ray’s disquieting photographs of mannequins. Whatever this had to do with poetry, I felt it was my job to find out because even though I didn’t know the first thing about Gerard, the small press life, or Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar Press, I recognized that this enigmatic little book was authored by someone I needed to know. When Gerard and I finally met a month later, our encounter proved to be just as strange as my finding his book because even though I knew next-to-nothing about him, his days at The Factory, or the fact that he had been born in the Bronx (like me), it was as if I already knew him, he was that familiar to me. The following is a conversation between Gerard and I that follows up on some of the things we’d discussed the weekend we first met in February, 2012: the Bronx, Gerard’s life in the New York poetry scene, Marie Menken. This conversation took place via e-mail over the week of January 7th, 2016 to January 14th, 2016.
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 Brandon Som’s The Tribute Horse and was recorded August 21, 2015 and transcribed by Nicole Monforton.– Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: In college, I read Houston Baker, Jr.’s claim that the sound of train wheels running across train tracks remains the dominant trope or onomatopoeic device of all blues music, of any blues idiom (musical or otherwise) still rippling outwards in ever-more diversified cultural profusion. I loved the breath of Baker’s sweeping structuralist claim, regardless of its accuracies. I had forgotten about it until reading The Tribute Horse. So I wonder if you could begin to describe what prompted, or how you went about, sounding the sea here. And of course, we could ask whether one ever can sound the Pacific’s depths. But could you address sounding that sea, the passage across that sea (or singing beyond the genius of the sea, if we want to consider points of literary reference) by bringing in, as this book does, whatever personal, social, historical, literary/aesthetic impulses seem to fit best?
In Fall 2014, I was Wayne Koestenbaum’s student in the MFA program at Columbia University, where he taught a seminar focusing on notebooks by writers such as Susan Sontag, Clarice Lispector, and Hervé Guibert. My reading of his new book, The Pink Trance Notebooks, spread many of the freedoms I enjoyed as his student further into excitable and mysterious space, as I worked to combine and accompany my poetic practice with the energies of newer literatures. It was exactly Wayne’s inclusiveness and submersion in the solar system of pleasurable syntaxes—such an element of his weekly inspiration as a teacher—that drove me to ask for some of his time to talk. We met in September at his Chelsea studio, an uptown-facing, sun-flooded room more than a dozen stories high. When he’s not writing or teaching, he goes there to paint.
Michael Juliani: There’s something almost cinematic about an in-between form where everything can collapse. The cinematic shadow is what’s interesting to me. I find myself speaking a lot in abstractions when it comes to my own practice. Do you find yourself having to do a lot of explaining when it comes to the form of The Pink Trance Notebooks?
This conversation between James D. Autio and b: william bearhart touches on topics of being Native American poets, the role of self-identity in creative work, childhood experiences with racism, and the importance of getting the work done. Autio suggested various topics as the potential starting point for a conversation, most of which were on somewhat stereotypical “Native” themes. bearhart mentioned that one day he feels one way and then feels something different at another time.
James D. Autio: It’s funny you mention your changing feelings. Right after I wrote my last message, I had some second thoughts about the topics I mentioned. I wondered if I came up with the ideas because they’re the sorts of things one might expect from a conversation between Native American poets. They are things I think about at times, but only as small pieces of a much larger picture: my interests in poetry and art, my drive to create, my political and social beliefs, my questions about spirituality, my desire to give my life more meaning.
In this episode of Bay Area Poet?, Alana Siegel and Zoe Tuck join Kate Robinson and Caleb Beckwith to discuss their separate histories as Bay Area Poets, the question of regional aesthetics, and the legacy of Occupy in the poetry community.
Alana Siegel is the author of Archipelago, Station Hill Press, 2013. Other chapbooks include Semata, words from Ra Ra Junction, and Territory Retina. Poetry reviews have been featured in Open House, Open Space, and the Journal of Poetics Research. She is also a director, presently working on a production of Antigone, and most recently directed Anne’s White Glove, written by Alice Notley, and performed within the Alette in Oakland Symposium, 2014.
After the publication of her tract Terror Matrix (2014) by Timeless, Infinite Light, Zoe Tuck joined the press’s editorial staff. She also works for Small Press Distribution and is an editor of Hold: a journal, whose second issue is currently open for submissions (holdajournal.com). She is also a tarot reader, so if you are in need of guidance, drop her a line.
This interview, conducted in Australia at the 2014 Sydney Writers Festival and supported by a research fund from the Japanese Ministry of Education, is organized around three themes (the persistence of history; memory and trauma; and identification and heteronyms) which reveal Mateer’s work as a counter-narrative that relentlessly questions established concepts and overturns certainties. The reader always feels a slight décalage, a shift in perception that opens up to the diversity of experience and dismisses the quest for objectivity as futile and vain. This capacity to circumscribe the reassuring discourse of a unified, monolithic world is also what allows Mateer to identify with other cultures and reach—as he does with Portugal and its imperial past—the deeper recesses of their soul. But Mateer does not appropriate; he explores, and he shares.—Raphaël Lambert
In the first installation of Pop & Poetics, Christy Davids and Crossley Simmons delight in the unexpected intersectionality of Lisa Robertson’s writing and Claire Boucher’s (also known as Grimes) music, specifically examining the affect of genre conventions and the choice to ghost-out of genre altogether.
Christy Davids is a poet who often listens to the Beach Boys and thinks about great big trees. She recently completed her MFA at Temple University where she also teaches. Christy is an assistant editor at The Conversant, curates the Philadelphia-based reading series Charmed Instruments, and collects recordings at poetry//SOUNDS. Her chapbook Alphabet, Ontology was a finalist In Ahsahta’s 2015 chapbook contest; she has been published in VOLT, Open House, and A Few Lines magazine among others.
Crossley Simmons has a M.F.A. in Poetry from Temple University, and squats over 300 pounds. Her essay “be//headed” was awarded the Joseph Beam Prize for an essay or literary work “whose subject matter would be of interest and importance to sexual minorities.” Crossley is the last name of her Great Grandmother, Baba, who turned 97 this year in Memphis.
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! –Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison: I first read your poetry when you were a winner of the Boston Review/Discovery Prize. That piqued my interest and so I was glad to see your first collection, Incivilities, published by Counterpath Press, receive such impressive endorsements: Judith Butler and Timothy Donnelly. Impossible to convey substantively their claims for the book, but I’ll just highlight two of the issues raised that especially engaged me: Judith Butler’s astute perception that in your “extraordinary collection .… the syllables somehow stand [as] insistent scraps of language pushed beyond the possibility of narrative sequence by forms of destruction”; and Timothy Donnelly’s insight that “Freeman’s poetry carries with it the hope that we might restore to sense what experience’s avalanche undoes .… yet … [the poems] entertain, half-tragically, the possibility of such restoration only as long as the sentence proposes it.” Though the reader of Every Day But Tuesday will experience similarly searing insight into the injustices of economic, interpersonal, ecological crises, the constellating force of the form of this new work speaks to a reader in ways few, if any, other books of poetry achieve. I sense the work proposing syntactically, tonally, perhaps even etymologically in its diction choices, that while truth is transient, contextual, shifting, and not to be referenced or uncovered in the interrogations of event, it is, as Derrida suggests, contained in movement, only in movement. And the poems are indeed in constant movement even as they both alert me to, and alter continually, my expectations of arrival. It is the movement from word to word, line to line, sentence to sentence, the formal rigor and what it evokes, which stuns me, and illuminates so much more of the irresolvable in our natures than words themselves can articulate. Still, I want to ask you to talk about it! Can you speak to the crafting of these sentences and the evolution of this groundbreaking text, which mesmerizes as its music brings us to the brink of our lives’ implacable mayhem?
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 35 with Nikki Darling and Sam Cohen.
On this episode our guests are Nikki Darling and Sam Cohen. Nikki Darling is a writer and critic in Los Angeles, and she describes her work as investigating notions of power, identity, lust and drive. Joining our conversation is Los Angeles writer Sam Cohen whose chapbook Gossip is available from Birds of Lace Press.
Later in the show we also hear Anne Boyer read a poem from a recent performance here in Los Angeles.
And we close out the show with a recent Godley and Creme flip from friend of the show DJ Sí Sí Sí Gracias, alter ego of SUN ARAW. You can hear more of his music at www.sunaraw.com – and the name of the track is SAM CREME.