Rusty Morrison with Elena Karina Byrne

Elena Karina
Elena Karina Byrne

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?

Rosebud Ben-Oni with Jen Fitzgerald

Rosebud Ben-Oni and Jen Fitzgerald
Rosebud Ben-Oni and Jen Fitzgerald

On her website, native New Yorker Jen Fitzgerald describes herself as a poet and essayist who “comes from a place that is lawless. Her family has been there for 200 years and refuses to integrate into normal society… Vivaldi gives her goosebumps as do some Jay-Z songs. She is proud to be a poet of witness and class activist.” Her first full collection The Art of Work is now out from Noemi Press. Here, we discuss the influences of her family, the rights of the worker and why she believes “[l]ife is the greatest art project.”

Rosebud Ben-Oni: In your long poem Last Totem of Tradesmanship, you explore the art of butchery as a trade that propel[s] the human engine/ forward and the rigorous labor involved with pulling a “knife body down/ the hung body,// ridging along ribs/ to remove flank steak. You also explore the relationship between worker and customer whom are no constant;/ a slideshow of flipped/ faces on repeat as well as the economics of salary cuts,/ store managers, about the bullshit //folks eat to stay fed. You explore similar images in The Killing Floor is Slick. I can taste the blood in the collection as a whole— it pulses on the page, carrying purple veins/scarlet muscle and “the history of necessity;/ hunt, fire, communion. Can you discuss the peculiar communion in more detail?

Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel with Rebecca Gaydos

Rebecca Gaydos
Rebecca Gaydos

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. This interview features a conversation between Omnidawn managing editor Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel and Rebecca Gaydos on Güera.–Rusty Morrison

Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel: I was thrilled to see this manuscript come to Omnidawn. I’d never read anything that was so enigmatically direct—your line has a distinctive way of stating things so plainly that words and phrases seem to have an obvious meaning masking something more subversive, showing the veil of ideation and pulling it off at the same time. I wonder if you could talk about this in terms of the way translation and meaning are at work in this book—and not only translation but mistranslation, misrepresentation, misapprehension—the title, for example, is never fully explained but given some askance interpretations/etymologies. How does language’s ability and simultaneous inadequacy to reveal inform your work?

Caroline Picard with Lara Schoorl

Caroline Picard and Lara Schoorl
Caroline Picard (photo credit: Timothy Morton) and Lara Schoorl (photo credit: Bryan Whalen)

This interview is part of an ongoing conversation between two writers, Caroline Picard and Lara Schoorl, centering on their web-based curatorial project, Institutional Garbage. The online exhibition collects the trash and administrative residue from an idealized institution—whether a museum, asylum, or academy—featuring imaginary syllabi, fabricated archival recordings that document marginalized histories, check out girl manifestoes, scanned book excerpts, and posters from exhibitions that never took place, all produced by various artists, writers, and curators. The resulting conversation reflects upon that project and some of the works it contains, while refracting through what the future of museums might be, or how shifting geographic locations affect one’s thinking. Institutional Garbage was an imaginary space Schoorl and Picard set out to create; it developed from there, growing into itself through the array of others’ contributions. Like many conversations between friends, the transcribed discussion is another repository for ephemeral thinking. Another kind of trash, Frankensteined together via email correspondences, with whole passages forgotten and lost to flooded inboxes. Despite those many absences, relationships between work space and private space, curator and artist, friend and colleague, a city and rats unfold in discussion.

Lauren DeGaine with a long-distance best friend

Lauren DeGaine
Lauren DeGaine

The following interview is part of a series of interviews which were conducted as part of a project that was concerned with the subject of failure in relation to Alice Jardine’s concept of ‘gynesis’ (putting into the discourse of “woman”). I wanted to write about the spaces that failure creates, what happens just after the moment of failure, and how that sensation can be a horizon or a void (a generative space); I was also interested in the relationship between failure and rites of passage. Four specific conceptual inquiries were posed to a diverse group of people, who are anonymous here, and phrases from their answers were spliced together to create part of the rhetorical language in a lyric essay that is forthcoming from the online poetics journal, Something on Paper. – Lauren DeGaine

Lauren DeGaine: Please describe the feeling of stepping down when you think there’s a stair and there isn’t.

Cassie Mira Nicholson and N.I. Nicholson

N. I. Nicholson and Cassie Mira Nicholson
N. I. Nicholson and Cassie Mira Nicholson

Cassie Mira Nicholson: I hope this message finds you well and in good spirits. I am writing you in order to initiate a dialogue about a project I have been musing about that looks at the development of intentional family. When we first met on Facebook, I initially felt an odd relief to know someone with the same last name as I did was transitioning gender on a close timeline. Discovering that we were both disconnected from our Nicholson bloodline only made me more interested in getting to know you. Over the last few years, I have learned from a distance and the powers of Facebook that there are many similarities in our personal histories. For instance, while you work for the catholic church, I at one time lived in a catholic rectory. We both have fondness for poetry, etc. ….

Rusty Morrison with Jennifer S Cheng

Jennifer Cheng
Jennifer S Cheng

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 Jennifer S Cheng’s book, HOUSE A. –Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison: It is such a great pleasure for all of the poetry editors at Omnidawn that Claudia Rankine selected HOUSE A as the winner of our 1st/2nd Book Prize. As one of the blind readers who screens work for this and for all of our poetry contests, I recall my delight to see this manuscript in the blind submissions. I immediately recognized that this work had come to us before, in shorter form, through our chapbook contest. It had not won, yet I knew it to be an amazing work in chapbook form. Then reading it for this contest, I was stunned by the power of HOUSE A, and all that is included now in this text as a full book. Would you speak to the ways that the sections cohere, and how you made decisions to bring the text together in this form?

Jennifer S Cheng: Inside the book, there are: migratory birds, (un)tethered boats, water, sleep, the body in dislocation, shadows, mappings, weather systems, echolocation, nests, moons. Which is to say that all of our work as writers and artists are like maps of our obsessions, our preoccupations, our hauntings. I started writing “Letters to Mao” in summer months, and most of the prose poems in that series came quickly (which rarely happens for me; I am usually slow like a snail). I work mostly by intuition, and it made sense to me that other poems I subsequently wrote—those in the sequence “House A; Geometry B” and the series “How to Build an American Home”—were of a similar attunement and investigation. Maybe I can call it the poetics of an immigrant home: how the body is inscribed with a cosmology of home and vice versa. How, for example, are the subtleties of history, displacement, and migration woven into the shelter my parents made for me and my siblings? In all three sections, I am writing into a critical and personal silence, and I hope that by evoking the shadows and subterranean, I complicate the immigrant landscape, conjure the small layers it can carry.

Hamid Bouaicha with Natalia Treviño

Hamid Bouaicha and Natalia Treviño
Hamid Bouaicha and Natalia Treviño

This interview between Hamid Bouaicha and Natalia Treviño focuses on Treviño’s book of poems, Lavando La Dirty Laundry (Mongrel Empire Press).

Hamid Bouaicha: My first question is probably one you have been asked the most. How did you become a poet? And, what drove you to poetry?

Natalia Treviño: This is such an important question. I became a poet by playing with song lyrics by my favorite bands when I was a teenager. I began to re-write their titles to create sentences. I felt like I was unlocking language by seeing and hearing new word combinations. It was in the act of discovery that I became a poet. I think there are as many poets in the world as there are people who love rain. Taking it to a professional level has taken decades, even a decade of silence in my twenties. When I saw the words created whole internal experiences for me, something inside me woke up, and put me in touch with intangibles that make meaning. I am forever at the service of those intangibles, much the way a quantum physicist is certain that there is more out there than meets the limited scope of reference gauged by our feeble instrument.

Lauren DeGaine with a colleague/friend

Lauren DeGaine
Lauren DeGaine

The following interview is part of a series of interviews which were conducted as part of a project that was concerned with the subject of failure in relation to Alice Jardine’s concept of ‘gynesis’ (putting into the discourse of “woman”). I wanted to write about the spaces that failure creates, what happens just after the moment of failure, and how that sensation can be a horizon or a void (a generative space); I was also interested in the relationship between failure and rites of passage. Four specific conceptual inquiries were posed to a diverse group of people, who are anonymous here, and phrases from their answers were spliced together to create part of the rhetorical language in a lyric essay that is forthcoming from the online poetics journal, Something on Paper. – Lauren DeGaine

 

Lauren DeGaine: Please describe the feeling of stepping down when you think there’s a stair and there isn’t.

colleague/friend: The abruptness of gravity. I broke my foot that way, not looking down. Anticipating a non existent obstacle. Clumsily navigating domestic topography. Sometimes it’s a relief, not having to step down. An unexpected hello from the pavement.

Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang

Cindy Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang
Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang

This conversation between 1913 Press authors Cynthia Arrieu-King and Lily Hoang began with their latest books. Unlikely Conditions (1913 Press) is Cynthia Arrieu-King’s collaboration with the late Hillary Gravendyk. Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary was published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center.

Cynthia Arrieu-King: Where did these essays begin for you? What does essay writing allow you to do that poetry might not? Or does it matter to you at all?

Lily Hoang: Form and genre are really important to me, actually. I am insistent when I call these essays—and it all goes back to etymology, right? To essai: to trial, to experiment—even though it’s already been classified as both poetry and fiction. The essay declares itself as a challenge, to self and to form, by definition. This isn’t fiction’s concern, at all, and I’m a fiction writer, first and foremost, and so the rhetorical qualities of the essay—its ethos, pathos, and logos—were also foreign concepts to me, things that I had to learn. I think the essay demands a self-rigor that isn’t necessary in fiction, which is not to say that fiction isn’t rigorous! (I’m not really qualified to talk about poetry in the least so I’ll leave that kind of thinking to the poets and scholars.) All of which is to say: the essays in A Bestiary are essays, intentionally so, I argue they adhere to form and follow the rules of the genre. But that wasn’t in question at all, sorry.

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?