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. Continue reading
In the spring of 2013, poet Cathy Park Hong and video artist Mores McWreath collaborated on an e-book chapbook entitled “The Rub,” which was presented online by the New Museum. The Conversant is pleased to republish this collaborative project. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Miranda Mellis and Frances Richard each published two new books in 2012. Mellis’ novella The Spokes came out from Solid Objects, while Sidebrow Press published her collection of stories, None of This Is Real. Richard’s books of poems The Phonemes and Anarch. came out from Les Figues Press and Futurepoem, respectively. Fictioneer and poet—who are first cousins—conversed via email between January and April, 2013.
Miranda Mellis: In the short public conversation that followed our reading in Brooklyn last year, you described the endings of the stories in None of This Is Real as precipice-like: Abrupt fade-outs that left you hanging/falling, unresolved and—do I remember correctly?—devastated. For you, those endings weren’t endings but cuts. I responded by saying I don’t feel the muscle of closure. The endings feel true to me, because the stories exist in worlds where there are radical discontinuities. The ending of The Spokes was, as I recall, more satisfying for you because there is a rally with the final line: “Still, we should try.” Continue reading
This interview borrows its questions from William Fifield interviewing Jean Cocteau for The Paris Review in 1964. That interview is “The Art of Fiction No. 34,” from Issue No. 32. Krystal Languell was an editor of R. Erica Doyle’s first book, proxy, published by the Belladonna* Collaborative in April 2013.
Krystal Languell: It takes us rather far to think you are victimized by intelligence, especially since for a half century you have been thought of as one of the keenest critical and critical-poetical intelligences in France; but doesn’t this bear on something you told me about yourself and Proust—that you both got started wrong?
Erica Doyle: [laughs] I don’t think there’s such a thing as starting wrong, there’s only progression. It’s kind of like Yoda. Continue reading
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 Robertson’s book, Nilling (BookThug). Recorded July 3rd. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: Could we start with the acknowledgments, with the ongoing occasional nature of your prose projects? First, do these various professional alibis serve as a corrective prompt to some shyness on your part? Do they allow you to say things you otherwise wouldn’t? Do they deliberately demonstrate your active engagement with specific traditions, discourses, audiences, communities? What continues to compel you to foreground the institutionally constructed nature of these investigations?
Lisa Robertson: Much of my critical prose remains occasional simply because I don’t have much time. When I write a catalogue essay (as in the case of some Soft Architecture pieces) or give a lecture (as with most of the Nilling projects), I try to make that occasion work toward my own current interests. Here I had the idea to construct a book of linked essays, loosely exploring a conceptual field and used a series of lecture invitations to explore that concept. I never have the time to both fulfill my institutional invitations and to write an unrelated book. I work slowly and just can’t crank out six essays. Similarly, back when I started The Office for Soft Architecture’s occasional works, I supported myself as a freelance writer so had to find a means of bringing my economic life together with my research and creative interests. I suppose I foreground these contexts out of gratitude. Continue reading
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 Shaw’s book, Fieldworks: From Place to Site in Postwar Poetics (University of Alabama Press). Recorded June 11th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: Could you give a quick genealogical account of prominent concepts and practices at play in postwar site-specific art—as these relate to the history of late-20th-century poetic experiment? Perhaps we first can consider “field,” for example, as physical terrain, as social space, as point of interdisciplinary contact.
Lytle Shaw: The most obvious terms appear in this book’s title, which foregrounds a poetics of place in certain postwar literary projects and a turn toward site specificity in art. After publishing my 1999 book Cable Factory 20, which emulated site-specific work, I wanted to tell myself a history of site-specific art’s relation to the poetics of place. But most work coming out of a poetics-of-place tradition embarrassed me—whereas Smithson, particularly his version of site specificity, fascinated me. Of course Williams and Olson didn’t embarrass me, so much as how this poetic impulse got domesticated into a workshop mode by the late ’70s. You no longer had to proceed reflexively. You could just represent yet another place through lyric form. Continue reading
These remarks were exchanged between Michael Klein and Douglas A. Martin during a drive down U.S. Route 91, on June 29, 2012.
Michael Klein: I don’t think about audience at all.
Douglas A. Martin: No ideal reader, no. . .? I know you feel you have to reveal, you have to give something in your poetry. How do you define the status quo? Continue reading
This spring, my Jack Kerouac School undergraduate Introduction to Critical Theory class read Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights through various critical approaches, including that of J. Hillis Miller’s “Wuthering Heights: Repetition and the ‘Uncanny,'” which I supplemented with selections from On Literature. On February 28, 2013, the class conducted an interview with him. Miller happens to be the first critic who I saw speak in person. This was 2004 at Colorado College. I admit that I was offended when the audience, including the friend who invited me to the talk, deigned to ask him questions. I don’t know what that was about—probably church memories. I was even more stunned by Miller’s open and genial responses. Of course, when I contacted Miller out of the blue this spring, he agreed to address our questions, some of which, frankly, could be answered by simply reading his very cogent writing. This warmth and graciousness is really the ethos of his critical method: As a critic, he forestalls neat conclusions, in part to sustain the pleasure of reading (or performing) the “strange” text but also to decenter the definitive reading, that is, his own authority. We are incredibly grateful to have engaged with one of this period’s most important critics.
The students in the Introduction to Critical Theory class who conducted this interview are Alexandria Bull, David Chrem, Jacob Cohen, Lauren DeGaine, Charlie Epstein, David Hall, Elizabeth Kolenda, Anna Meiners, Jade Cruz Quinn, Chey Watson, Indigo Weller and Matt Robertson.
The Class: In your book, On Literature, you speak about the relationship between technology and literature. In a world where the printed word is dying out, do you believe physical books still play an important role to literature?
J. Hillis Miller: Printed books, including printed books of literature, will be around a long time yet and will play an important role in the cultural diffusion of literature. I still read most of the literature I do read in printed books. Nevertheless, we are in the midst of an extremely rapid and world-wide change in media technology. This means that literature will more and more be available in electronic form for those who want to read it that way. Continue reading