Propositions is a public forum that explores ideas in development. Each two-part seminar introduces a topic of current investigation in an invited speaker’s own artistic or intellectual practice. Over the course of a seminar session, these developing ideas are responded to, researched and discussed to propel them forward in unique ways.
Last summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Amaranth Borsuk’s and Brad Bouse’s book Between Page and Screen (Siglio Press). Recorded August 30th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: Since it probably requires a new form of physical effort from most readers, can you first describe our experience encountering this book?
Amaranth Borsuk: Sure. When you encounter the book, you find a square-shaped object with a patterned, red-white-and-black block printed at its center. When you open the book, you don’t find printed poems but more black-and-white symbols. The only text you can read provides author names, mine and Brad Bouse’s and instructions to go to betweenpageandscreen.com, where you can “hold the words in your hands.” When you arrive at the website and click on a link, you receive instructions to present one of these black-and-white markers to your webcam. When you do, a live image appears on the computer screen. You see your hands holding the open book, and once one of those printed markers becomes visible to the webcam, a poem pops vertically off the page. This part resembles a pop-up book but with text instead of shapes or images. This text stands vertically with respect to the plane of the page. As you turn the book’s pages, the projected digital text also turns, so that it seems to hover above a page like a hologram. As you flip the book’s pages, poems explode and their letters fly in all directions. And in between epistolary poems (consisting of love letters between P and S) you find concrete poems, anagrammatic or paragrammatic poems, each of which provides a different animation for how it disappears from view.
Last summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Kapil’s book, Schizophrene (Nightboat). Recorded November 1st. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: You’ve described this edition of Schizophrene as a mutation of its predecessor. Could you discuss what has changed, and the motivations or circumstances behind those changes? What only can be arrived at through mutation? How does mutation-based composition facilitate and/or complicate your ongoing efforts to develop a book or sentence or narrative that “never arrives”?
Bhanu Kapil: Before you called I tried to find a copy of Schizophrene. Fittingly, I found one that is neither the first nor second edition, but a literal mutation that Lucas de Lima sent to me with a letter. Hang on. I shall open it. It says: “Enclosed is an occult copy of Schizophrene. Hope you don’t mind me saying that I love both versions of the book. So did most students, who thought the repeated pages were intentional, as did I.” Around page 19 this version repeats. Following the line ” ‘Reverse migration. . . ‘ Is psychotic,” the book just starts again. But not only does it restart. It condenses and excludes some sections. Perhaps 100 similar copies have circulated. Lucas has written about it on the Montevidayo blog. Though my own emphasis upon mutation comes from the thinking of Elizabeth Grosz, as communicated to me by her protégé Andrea Spain. Andrea and I will teach a workshop on this topic next summer at Naropa. From Grosz I take the notion of non-reproductive productivity. The larger the number of generative acts that do not result in “progeny,” the faster a species’ outer boundaries evolve. Mating need not involve childbirth. The mutations always occur in another place, a place not visible as a boundary, but which precedes a boundary. This pre-space or activity vibrates with the limit of what that space will become. Schizophrene, in its notebook form, presents both an installation and a staging ground. In fact the bulk of this project does not reside in the finished book, but in many notebooks and documents that contain my research on psychosis, immigrant experience, touch.
The Conversant republishes excerpts from HER KIND, a digital literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. An earlier version of this present conversation can be found here.
Sheryl Luna asked three questions to three Latina writers—Cynthia Cruz, Christine Granados and Carmen Giménez Smith—on the state of literature and the literary publishing scene for women who happen to be Latina. Their diverse answers are a testament to the fact that Latina writers cannot be pigeonholed into one monolithic, simplistic category. Latinas are writing and interacting with each other all over the country, and it is exciting. Varying aesthetic approaches are also evident. Overall, Latina presence in larger literary circles has, in Luna’s opinion, often been minimal due to a tendency of the mainstream to look to men as representative of minority voices.
Another issue that catalyzed Luna to ask these three specific questions is that Latina writing has frequently been tokenized, with one or two writers in the contemporary American spotlight. The questions, albeit brief, were meant to be open questions that allowed writers to explore what it means to be writing as a Latina in contemporary American literature.
Sheryl Luna: How do you feel about the state of the contemporary literature scene regarding publishing opportunities for Latina poets and writers, particularly in major traditional venues such as Poetry, New Yorker, Harper’s and The Paris Review? What if anything should be done about this issue by individual Latinas writing and/or publishing? How might our voices be heard by the larger literary communities writing today?
Cynthia Cruz: I do think Latina poets can have their work published in some of the larger, traditional venues but it’s certainly hard. Deborah Paradez, Emmy Perez, Desiree Alvarez and Carmen Gimenez Smith have all had poems published in Poetry. Carmen has also had her work published in the Boston Review and Carolina Ebeid has had her work published in the Kenyon Review. Ada Limon had been published in The New Yorker. The fact of the matter is that it’s difficult for anyone to have their work published in these venues. The only thing I know to do is to continue writing and continue sending out.
In her interview program The Last Word, Cynthia Arrieu-King interviews amateur and professional poets and writers most often in the South Jersey and tri-state area. This program features Kate and Max Greenstreet.
Kate Greenstreet is currently on the road with her new book Young Tambling. Her previous books are case sensitive and The Last 4 Things, all from Ahsahta Press. Her poetry can be found in Colorado Review, Boston Review, Guernica, Fence, Chicago Review, and other journals. You can find more about Kate here, and more about Max here.
The mid-1990s saw a number of celebrations of the public intellectual, notably of black intellectuals like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Cornel West, bell hooks and Michael Eric Dyson. Adolph Reed poured some cold water on the parade. Just as he had criticized the 1984 Jesse Jackson presidential campaign for representing a self-appointed media elite rather than a bread-and-butter electorate, he criticized the new public intellectuals as an academic elite that didn’t have intellectual depth and didn’t do much political heavy lifting.
Reed himself, though, represents a certain kind of public intellectual. He has kept one foot firmly on academic ground in political science, writing analyses of the 1984 and 2004 elections and in intellectual history, notably of DuBois. At the same time, he has written regularly for magazines like The Village Voice and The Progressive. He was a founding delegate of the Labor Party in 1996, and he is co-chair of its Campaign for Free Higher Ed. Reed has consistently written on race, but he has tried to put the class politics back into race politics. For him, class “is the social relation through which other identities are constituted and experienced within political economy.”
Reed’s books include The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon: The Crisis of Purpose in Afro-American Politics (Yale UP, 1986); W. E. B. DuBois and American Political Thought: Fabianism and the Color Line (Oxford UP, 1997); Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-Segregation Era (U of Minnesota P, 1999); and Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene (New Press, 2000). He has also edited Race, Politics, and Culture: Critical Essays on the Radicalism of the 1960s (Greenwood, 1986); and Without Justice for All: The New Liberalism and the Retreat from Racial Equality (Westview, 1999). Related to this interview, see also “The 2004 Election in Perspective: The Myth of the ‘Cultural Divide’ and the Triumph of Neoliberal Ideology,” American Quarterly (2005); “A GI Bill for Everybody,” Dissent (Fall 2001); “Free Higher Ed” (with Mark Dudzic), The Nation (23 Feb. 2004); and “Majoring in Debt,” The Progressive (Jan. 2004), as well as the website www.freehighered.org.
Reed attended UNC-Chapel Hill (BA, 1971) and Atlanta University (MA, 1974; PhD, 1981). He has taught at Howard University (1976-78), Clark College (1979-80), Yale (1981-91), Northwestern (1991-97), University of Illinois-Chicago (1997-98) and The New School (1998-2004). He is currently a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also worked as a labor and community organizer in North Carolina, for Mayor Maynard Jackson of Atlanta and as an organizer for the Labor Party.
This interview took place in Adolph Reed’s office at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on August 26, 2005. It was conducted by Jeffrey Williams, editor of the minnesota review, and transcribed by Nilak Datta.
Jeffrey Williams: Your academic field is political science, although the people who read minnesota review are probably more familiar with your pieces in The Nation or The Progressive. They’re probably in literary and cultural studies, and people in literary and cultural studies are versed in a certain discourse of cultural politics, but they’re usually unfamiliar with political science. I think it’s a problem in cultural studies, that there’s a dearth of political theory.
Adolph Reed: Yeah, it almost seems like the more that people declaim piously in favor of multidisciplinarity, the less inclined they are to read or engage outside their own narrow sub-specialty. There are not many disciplines with which proponents of multidisciplinarity engage, right? I’ve been struck at how infrequently the work of historians or political scientists, or economists, or even sociologists, gets cited in the domain of cultural politics. I suppose you could say that the same is true on the other side of the ledger; most of what goes on in political science is pretty stupid anyway. It could be possible to be a competent theorist without immersing oneself in multiple disciplinary debates, but I think all too often people are drawn to what they imagine theory to be because they think it comes with no heavy lifting.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a transitional time in literary studies, as well as in American culture and history. Founded in 1970, the journal boundary 2 marked that transition, as its inaugural announcement explained:
. . .the essential subject matter of our journal will be what is now called “post-modern” literature. Though we are uncertain about the direction this literature is taking, we are inclined to see the age of Mallarmé, Eliot, Joyce, Yeats, Pound, etc. as having more or less run its course. We believe that since World War II a new imagination has been struggling to be born and that these last twenty years (like the thirty years or so before World War I) represent another period of transition. The function of boundary 2 will be to play midwife to this new, “postmodern” imagination by publishing poetry, fiction and drama that explore its possibilities and literary criticism and scholarship that attempt to clarify its direction.
William Spanos, co-founder and longtime editor of boundary 2, has worked over a long career to define the postmodern in both literature and in theory. In shepherding the journal as well as in his prolific writing, he has influenced the shape of contemporary criticism, investigating existentialism, poststructural theory, American studies and the politics of the American imperium.
This interview focuses on Heller’s book This Constellation Is A Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010.
Jon Curley: This Constellation Is a Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010 is a behemoth of a book, a chronicle of work that arcs and darts between thematic concerns, representational styles, and historical considerations across almost a half century. In your retrospective view, what consistencies do you perceive? What abrupt or gradual erosions, erasures, disavowals, or disruptions in content and form do you find?
Michael Heller: I date my serious commitment to writing poetry from the mid-nineteen-sixties when, after winning a prize at the New School, I decided, in the vernacular of those times, to “give poetry a shot.” My first wife and I accumulated some money, and we quit our jobs and went to live in Spain where I wrote and began to publish. After a year and a half abroad, we returned to New York, and it is there that disavowals and erosions began in earnest, most specifically, with nearly abandoning poetry and then realizing that my path back into writing poems was not to see myself as an avant-garde or “experimental” writer, a label I had already been tagged with by Richard Kostelanetz when he included me in his anthology The Young American Writers. I had suffered a tremendous disaffection with the work I had done in Spain—to put it bluntly, it had stopped speaking back to me, which is why I nearly quit despite the fact that I was, as they say, on my way to a real career as a poet. So my first disavowal was nearly total, an “erosion” of my belief in my own poetry.
This interview by H.L. Hix continues a series that began as multi-question interviews but now has taken the form of one-question “mini-interviews.” To ask a series of questions about a book is to keep returning to the book and thus to emphasize its opacity, to regard it as one would regard, say, a painting. To ask a single question, Hix tells himself, is to emphasize the book’s transparency, to regard it as one would a window, as what offers a vista, what frames for us a world. The subject of this interview is Lisa Fishman’s Flower Cart (Ahsahta Press).
H. L. Hix: I keep returning to this sentence on the next-to-last page of the book: “This could continue only by being a letter because what is most real is the person in the alcove or the object on the table or the shimmering idea.” I think I’m drawn to it because it gives me a way to talk about why your book so resonates with me: I take it as—whatever else it’s also doing—undertaking an intense inquiry into what is most real, on the tacit premise that typically we don’t recognize the most real as the most real. I’m not coming up with a good way to end this “question” with a question mark, but I will be interested in any way you have of responding to it.
Lisa Fishman: I like your question-comment a lot. It appeals to me, the possibility that flowercart could be an inquiry into what is most real. Intuitively, I would like that to be the case, among whatever else the book is or is doing or undertaking.
This interview by H.L. Hix continues a series that began as multi-question interviews but now has taken the form of one-question “mini-interviews.” To ask a series of questions about a book is to keep returning to the book and thus to emphasize its opacity, to regard it as one would regard, say, a painting. To ask a single question, Hix tells himself, is to emphasize the book’s transparency, to regard it as one would a window, as what offers a vista, what frames for us a world. The subject of this interview is Jones LaMon’s book Last Seen (University of Wisconsin Press).
H. L. Hix: Near the end of “Preface” (11), you speak of the children’s “collective voice” as what you strain to hear. Yet the poems themselves seem especially attentive to individual voices. What for you is the relationship between individual voices and collective voices, in these poems and in relation to the children?
Jacqueline Jones LaMon: First of all, thank you so very much for taking the time to read the collection with such attention and care. And thank you for your question. Last Seen was inspired by the hundreds of long-term missing African American children who have historically been overlooked by our national media. It is a collection that evolved in focus and definition, from being a collection about those missing children to being a broader exploration of what it means to be missing or lost in our society and how that void is experienced by all those who remain present and connected to each other.