This conversation between James D. Autio and Heid E. Erdrich took place from February to November, 2016.
James D. Autio: Boozhoo, Heid. Tell me a bit about your current projects. New writing, art, shows, readings, etc.?
Heid E. Erdrich: Daunting. It scares me to list out everything I do because then my life splays out before me. But, here it is and I must own it: I have final edits on a book of poems due out in 2017, I am editing an anthology, I have poem films screening as part of exhibits and festivals, I have some essays due in a month or so, and I am working with an MFA cohort in the low-res program at Augsburg. All of that is eclipsed by my stint as Interim Director of All My Relations Arts. Whew! Oh, and family, dog, cookbook stuff, too.
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?
Nicholas Wong: Let’s start by discussing the title of your latest poetry collection Steep Tea (Carcanet, 2015). How did you arrive at the title? In an interview published in Lantern Review, you mentioned how distance was necessary for you to write about Singapore, your country of birth. What about time? After having moved to the States for more than a decade, how has your view on poetry changed?
Jee Leong Koh: I named the book after an autumn kasen renga in the collection. The renga (Japanese linked verse) was written with R.A. Briggs, an American poet living in Brisbane then. That was in part what drew me to Ray, the fact that we were both living away from home, both writing to discover and inhabit our new environments. Ray wrote the hokku that started the renga:
This interview between Mel Bentley and Jay Besemer is part of the Housework at Chapterhouse series, a conversation between friends and with the history of this space. Housework is work undervalued, invisible, unpaid. It is classed, raced and gendered. It is also the work that allows life, it is “reproductive.” It is intimate. It’s necessary. It’s weird. It has been precarious. This is the kind of work we want to recognize.
Chapter and Verse was a series by Ryan Eckes and Stan Mir that ran for nine years at Chapterhouse and supported young writers and established voices. It supported us. There was something expansive and generous about this room that operated outside funding and institutions. We want to keep and expand that spirit.
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! This conversation focuses on Elena Karina Byrne’s book, Squander. –Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison: I felt such delight when I first read your manuscript and experienced your deft, surprising control of image as it reflects and refracts ideation. In your poems, new understanding comes to us through both mimetic and metaphoric surface tension, achieved with choices of diction, lexicon, sonic techniques, and more. A rich tension of excitement of surface elements is in fluid continuity with the deeper meanings of the work. Can you discuss your use of image and trope? Your approach to image and how it informs your craft as a poet?
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. This interview focuses on Nathanaël’s translation of The Mausoleum of Lovers, by Hervé Guibert. —Andy Fitch