Michael Martin Shea with elena minor and Sophia Le Fraga

elana minor and Sophia Le Fraga
elana minor and Sophia Le Fraga

Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press, and includes work from poets Sophia Le Fraga and elena minor. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss Xanga blogs, “legitimate” literature, digital spotlights, and saving your soul.

Michael Martin Shea: Sophia, your piece in BAX begins with the all-caps, full-page declaration, “I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET”—but of course, as we read on, we find that that statement is not entirely true, as the work incorporates hashtags and emojis. And elena, your piece gives a similar nod with the title, “rrs feed.” So maybe an interesting question to start off with would be: what role does the internet (or internet-based modes of speech) play in your poetics?

Michael Martin Shea with Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi

Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi

Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press, and includes work from writers Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi that involves technicolor palates and Python programming. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss critical intimacy, display technologies, online corporate prisons, and the Burger King font.

Michael Martin Shea: Let’s start with a basic question–can each of you talk a little bit about where your pieces in BAX come from and what their compositional process was like? Or, perhaps more interestingly, where or how do these pieces fit in with your larger writing projects?

Nick Montfort: I often write computer programs that generate texts. Actually, I have three books, and two others coming this year, and another coming in 2017, that consist of computer programs and their output. That first page is often the program I wrote, which happens to be in Python in this case, and the pages that follow are the output of the program. This practice goes back almost to the beginning of general-purpose digital computers; it was being done in the 50s and 60s. I’m very interested in exploring language and computation, and writing text-generating programs can be a very good way to do that.

Joseph Mosconi: The most straightforward answer is that Demon Miso/Fashion In Child is a list poem. However, there is some crucial context missing from the poems excerpted in BAX. At the end of my book I write: “These are all the names of things I’ve eaten” and “The text is set in 46-point Insaniburger font. Insaniburger is based on the old Burger King logo that can still be seen on some signs in smaller cities.” So the compositional method was as simple as taking note of the names of dishes I ordered off of menus from various restaurants in America, Europe, and Asia. It is autobiographical and documentary in the most basic sense. The more complex answer is that some of the language is entirely made up, and the cover of the book (a manipulated photo of unidentifiable food waste), combined with the types of dishes I chose to eat, the choice of typography, and the fact that the book is printed in full color, situates the book in a global consumer context. It’s not just about food or eating. It’s also, at least in part, about language as commodity fetishism and the production of waste—the way that food distribution, and the way we talk about food, betrays a technique of control. It tracks a desire to normalize language, which is related to the struggle to communicate. As Andrew Maxwell, my accomplice at the Poetic Research Bureau, puts it: “Poetry is a commitment to food access.” Or as the inhabitants of Sweethaven would sing: “Everything is food food food.”

Michael Martin Shea with Darcie Dennigan and Joyelle McSweeney

Darcie Dennigan and Joyelle McSweeney
Darcie Dennigan and Joyelle McSweeney

Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press and includes work by poets and playwrights Joyelle McSweeney and Darcie Dennigan. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss Coke bottles, multiple hearts, flowers of extermination, and blowing up the Cartesian grid.

Michael Martin Shea: Hi Joyelle! Hi Darcie! Let’s start off with your BAX work. Both of your pieces in BAX 2015 invoke the judicial world, creating or projecting an imaginary courtroom in which the action of the writing takes place, so-to-speak (replete with inscrutable judges and their whims). What does this atmosphere of the legal—its trappings and forms of speech—provide for your writing, in terms of either craft or politics (or both)?

Darcie Dennigan: I think authority is funny, author-ity even funnier. The idea that any piece of writing or any writer could settle an argument . . . I like Dead Youth a lot and especially the excerpt in BAX for this reason. Its set-up enacts the absurdity of authority (political and poetic) and its language does too—its wordplay just keeps enlarging (and diminishing) its arguments.

Michael Martin Shea with Matthew Burnside and Alejandro Miguel Justino Crawford

Matthew Burnside and Alejandro Miguel Justino Crawford
Matthew Burnside and Alejandro Miguel Justino Crawford

Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press, and the digital edition includes work from Matthew Burnside and Alejandro Miguel Justino Crawford that falls far outside the lines of what normally constitutes “the literary.” They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss praxis maneuvers, God Mode, emergent gameplay, and what it means to be real.

Michael Martin Shea: Hey y’all! I’m really excited for this conversation. Before we get started, though, since both of your works might seem a bit unusual to your average reader, I was wondering: could you each describe the logic of the piece—where it came from and what the creative process was like?

Michael Martin Shea with Bhanu Kapil and Ching-In Chen

Ching-In Chen and Bhanu Kapil
Ching-In Chen and Bhanu Kapil

Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press and included work by Bhanu Kapil (“Monster Checklist”) and Ching-In Chen (“bhanu feeds soham a concession”). They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss dreams, threads, fungus, marigolds, soft-tissue sites, and writing as a form of pilgrimage.

Michael Martin Shea: Hi Bhanu! Hi Ching-In! One of the things that’s striking about both of your texts–and part of the reason we wanted to interview the two of you together–is how they’re in conversation with other texts: Bhanu’s quasi-syllabus mentions a variety of other books and thinkers, while Ching-In’s is, in part, a response to Bhanu’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters. Do you see your work as a form of conversation?

Bhanu Kapil: I wrote the “handwritten preface” to Incubation in a cafe, with my friend, the poet Melissa Buzzeo. I put my head down on the table; in that time, she wrote or sketched her What Began Us (Leon Works.) I woke up, ordered some toast and coffee, and wrote the preface as she was completing her book.  She took what I wrote back to Brooklyn and pinned it to her fridge; I had to get her to mail it back, a year later, when I realized what my own book could be. This, in fact, was not a conversation, but dreaming, what it is to feel so safe you can fall asleep while your friend is writing a book and to also dream your own book as they are writing their own.