In this conversation, we discuss New England frugality, ghosts, and how dance can inform poetics. Kate Colby’s Fruitlands won the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2007. Since then, she has written five books of poetry, including I Mean, her most recent, which was published in 2015 by Ugly Duckling Presse. Kate’s poems are taut, their movements agile. At display throughout her work is intelligence, wit, and formal inventiveness. Very little escapes Kate’s attention; she is a poet of wide-ranging curiosity and rigorous inquiry. We “spoke” over email and then in person, too.
Mary-Kim Arnold: Earlier this year, you hosted a “poet’s walk” through the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. How did the idea for this come about?
Kate Colby: It wasn’t an idea so much as the end of a trajectory. I had been reading and writing about Gardner for a long time and really wanted to engage with the physical museum.
A couple of years ago Brooklyn-based artist Todd Shalom, who is my best friend and foil, was invited to create an experiential artist walk at the deCordova Museum outside Boston, and he asked me to do it with him, since I grew up in and write so much about the region. The public programs director at the Gardner Museum attended one of the walks and she later asked me to do the same sort of thing at the Gardner.
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 Erín Moure’s translation of Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan. –Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison: I could not believe our luck, and your faith in us, when you offered Omnidawn your translation of Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan. I imagine that many readers will be very familiar with Chus Pato’s history and writings, but some may not be. I think it would be wonderful if you’d share what will be most engaging, most relevant to a new reader regarding this text, its importance, its position in Chus Pato’s trajectory.
“I think collaborations are an especially important reminder that all authors are really co-authors, co-conspirators in an ongoing series of thefts.” —Kristina Marie Darling
Ghost/Landscape, a poetry collection co-authored by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher, was published in 2016 by BlazeVox. We took this opportunity to discuss the book and its inception/creation, hauntings, exorcisms, hybrid forms, lyric trespassing, the multiverse, and the ghost line.
Virginia Konchan: How did you conceive of the idea for this collection? Can you speak a little bit about the compositional process, and how it unfolded over time? I’m particularly curious about the titling, and the arrangement of the poems.
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.
We could say our conversation starts on the page: the pages of our new books Ford Over and Stereo. Island. Mosaic. We could say we started our conversation on the phone. Or we started off our conversation some years ago at Macondo where we worked together conducting a writing workshop for young people on the Westside of San Antonio at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Or the conversation started somewhere between South Texas and New Jersey on the phone lines, or somewhere between Puerto Rico and Coahuila y Tejas. Like true digital denizens, we continued our conversation in a shared document online.
John Pluecker: So we just got off the phone and I thought I would go ahead and write a bit into this document so that we can get things started. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stakes. I just looked up the word “stake” or “stakes” in a dictionary and I’m struck by the double meaning of the word. On the one hand, it is a pointed stick or post embedded in the ground to mark a place or to support something. It is also what might be lost in a wager or an undertaking. You have a new book out that I’ve been reading and enjoying getting lost in: Stereo. Island. Mosaic. So I’m thinking of a double question: What is your book staking out (as in the place it might be marking or what it might be supporting)? And what is at stake in your book (as in what might be lost in that wager)? (4/4/16, 2:45pm C.T.)
Vincent Toro: I love that we’re starting with discussing an ambiguous term, as ambiguity is the modus operandi for poets. I suppose I’ll cop terminology from your book, Ford Over, to answer this one: I think I see the book as an “un-staking.” My collection is unabashedly anti-colonial in that, if anything, the work seeks to rip out and dismantle the flags and forts that have been staked by invaders for the last 500 plus years. I have what might be considered an obsession with attempting to expand the fields (of access, of territory, or thought) that I inhabit. There’s a track on one of Bill Laswell’s “Material” records that is titled, “My Style is I Ain’t Got No Style.” I think that is what the book, and my work in general, is reaching for. You know how at the bank or at the DMV or the airport, there are those poles with expandable ribbons they use to mark the path of the queue for customers? I live with a colossal urge to pull up those ribbons and undo the lines that have been predetermined by officials who won’t reveal themselves. Throughout your book, there is use of another ambiguous term: ford. You use it readily as the commonly underutilized verb form, which means to cross over a river or stream. But where rivers and streams are natural geographical dividers, colonization creates artificial ones. The book (to personify it) wants to ford the artificial dividers of the colonizers in an attempt to expand and unify until there are no more stakes plunged into the ground with flags on them.
Of his work, critic Julie Marie Wade describes, “It would be redundant to ask if Simmonds plays an instrument when his voice is an instrument, a conduit of incomparable depth and range.” This embrace of the semantic musical phrase and the traumas that call them forth is what seems to bind Kevin and I as confidants. Although our friendship began as a cyber introduction turned to workshops and readings, it solidified through the online correspondence we’ve continued for six years, a compassionate but often thorny banter in which we discuss everything from poetics and publishing, family and death, to race and sexuality. I’ve sought to mirror the raw urgency of our cyber encounters in this interview, revealing what motivates Kevin’s mercuriality in both his poetry and his life.
Alexandra Mattraw: Every critic who’s ever written about your work has said something about your careful concision. One called it “condensed linguistic play.” Sean Singer says of the poems in Bend to It, “he does not favor pyrotechnics, but prefers simplicity and clarity.” Others might compare your lines to the sharp but playful image condensation of Lorine Niedecker. Do you see your work as condensed in any of these ways, and if so, what draws you to such?
Kevin Simmonds: Words are not equal. Choose them carefully and poems will be, more or less, concise. That’s what I’m after because I often compose poems at the word or phrase level. That’s how I build. It has to do with sound. I’m drawn to this as a practice amid the too noisy, too busy, too sprawling world around me. And all the verbose writing, even among poets, regrettably.
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 Poetic Intention, by Édouard Glissant.–Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: Since Poetic Intention offers quite little introductory context, would you like to provide some by outlining the historical trajectory of this book’s international reception (perhaps alongside Poetics of Relation), or the personal impetus behind this particular translation project (which your brief concluding note perhaps suggests that Glissant himself entrusted to you), or this book’s place alongside pressing concerns prevalent across the Nightboat catalog? Or, if it still seems more appropriate not to provide such context, could you begin to address why such an approach fits best for this collection? I could, for instance, envision approaching Poetic Intention as, in Glissant’s terms, a milestone project, ultimately teaching me something about myself amid the particularities of my own present moment. I could approach it as a relay project, as an excursion towards Glissant’s embodied moment of writing (amid a mid-century Caribbean cyclone by this book’s close, let’s say), and encounter such historical/cultural otherness (from my own present vantage) as an experience unto itself. I could glimpse Glissant’s enduring appeal to an Antilles that do not yet speak, do not yet live, and speculate upon post-colonial possibilities past and present. But if I most wish to engage in some sort of mutually enhancing reciprocity with this text, can you help point me in that direction, and/or can no contextual pointing help me to get there?
Thomas Fink: At least five poems in Shorthand and Electric Language Stars (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2015) traffic in insistent linguistic repetition. For example, in “You know anything can happen.” The reiteration of “happen”/“happened”/“happening,” along with slightly less repetition of some other key words, indicates, I believe, the range of possibilities between certainty about the assessment of significance and/or insignificance of an event or scene, such as in the opening sentence, “I’ll tell you what really happened—you tell me what didn’t,” and admission of thorough bafflement: “I can’t even begin to tell you what happened.”
I’ve known Dawn Tefft for about a decade, first as my student in the doctoral Creative Writing Program at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. After she graduated, she returned for a while to UWM as a professional organizer with the American Federation of Teachers. We did organizing visits on campus to discuss labor issues and unionization during one of the most difficult periods in the history of the University of Wisconsin System. Under the banner of austerity and reform, Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-led legislature were dismantling a century of progressive gains for public and private sector workers. The assault continues. Funny thing happened, however: my former student became my sister and good friend in the long struggle for equity and social justice. Our conversation focuses on Dawn’s new chapbook, FIST (dancing girl press). There are five questions or prompts. They represent the digits of the human hand, curling in on itself, in resistance and solidarity. —Mauricio Kilwein Guevara
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 John Keene’s translation of Letters from a Seducer, by Hilda Hilst.–Andy Fitch
Regarding Adam Clay’s newest collection Stranger (Milkweed Editions, 2016), Ada Limón notes the collection is “dedicated to the unsung suspension of time that occurs when life suddenly goes awry.” Stranger is a collection that is also ever-approaching “a new and sudden way of being,” particularly concerning the ideas of family, home and forgiveness. Clay is also co-editor of TYPO Magazine, a Book Review Editor for Kenyon Review, and teaches at the University of Illinois Springfield. In this conversation, Adam Clay and I talk about all things poetry, the “space between remembering and forgetting, between presence and absence,” his influences and the many excavations of that picturesque house in a bottle which not only graces the cover but also serves as equal points of departure and arrival.—Rosebud Ben-Oni