This interview between Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang is being published in conjunction with an Essay Press chapbook focused on dialogues with Cleveland State University Poetry Center authors, to be released on December 15th.
Caryl Pagel:A Bestiary is brimming with moments of memory, panic, humor, sarcasm, and joy but at its heart is an elegy (for your sister, for a kind of idealized love, and for the “other” Lily). Could you speak to the ways in which this grief accumulated and how nonfiction can work as a site of tribute or mourning?
Lily Hoang: My grief accumulated because—as I say in the book—I compartmentalize all my problems. I just focus on work. And then there must be a breaking point, and maybe that’s what this book was for me: all my avoidances from the past three years, coming forward in all their hurtful splendor. I think nonfiction is a natural space for tribute and mourning: both require an honest reckoning of another and of self.
Essay Press’s EP series showcases authors currently developing new book-length projects. EP 24, Notes from a Missing Person,by Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, is part of this digital series.
Maria Anderson: In the introduction to Notes from a Missing Person, you talk about this chapbook as a “tentative doorway” you’ve “cut from all the fissures and fractures” you accumulated, a way of putting new life into these family connections you’ve been investigating. You write, “whether one reunites or not, one transgresses by way of the dream.” Can you talk about this dream, and about how you access it?
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs: The dream is for a language that can summon intimacies blocked by power structures—namely, U.S. militarism, forced family separation, and gendered and class violence against single mothers—which configured my imagination to see my Korean relatives as dead. I suppose this is the dream of anyone who, unlike the immigrant pursuing a better life in another country, did not choose to remove herself or himself from home and who recognizes retrieving an intact past is impossible. Instead, there’s the possibility of injecting fresh language to enliven and so challenge fictions of death and distance. This language begins in the body to re-animate areas of feeling in order to create. For example, for me, learning Korean has meant dismantling a silence built by decades of assimilation where I did not know myself as a Korean diasporic woman, and understanding how that silence was made while my mouth tingled and ached, trying to wrap around Korean words I never knew in the first place.
In collaboration with Essay Press, Anne Waldman and I have invited four guest faculty from this year’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodies Poetics’ Summer Writing Program (June 14-July 11, 2015) to discuss our theme, The Braided River: Activist Rhizome. We are starting the conversation off with an interview with Margaret Randall. The remaining three conversations, with Omar Berrada, Rachel Levitsky, and Fred Moten, will be published in an online chapbook by Essay Press in the fall of 2015. – Andrea Rexilius
The Braided River: Activist Rhizome
We take our imago “braided river” as an alternative to the traditional “tree of life.” Here, we have the image that symbiosis teaches, that life is a braided river. Things come apart—like algae or fungus—and then come back together again. We want to look at the complexities of our own lives, our gnosis, our natural environment, the urgent issues around—just one example—water scarcity and its opposite: flooding—the way we stop and start and are interrupted by the exigencies of unnatural weather, of illness, of death, of endless war, strife, genocide, apartheid, just as we stop and start in our artistic lives and work through creative crises. How many strands go on simultaneously in our documentary poetics, in our fictions, our librettos, in our collaborations? We want to invoke a contemplative awareness of how to tread on our increasingly endangered planet with grace and intelligence and mindfulness and keep the weave and ambulation going, inside and outside, as we make our work and incorporate ideas of radical investigatory form: third mind (Burroughs & Gysin), the long poem, the cine-poem, the appropriated conceptual poem, the shamanic trip to the other side, meta-fiction, memoir, and dharma and somatic poetics.
Artistic Director: Anne Waldman
SWP Faculty Director: Andrea Rexilius
Later this year, The Conversant and Essay Press will publish a chapbook, curated by Brian Kim Stefans, devoted to exploring the diversity of communities and historical trajectories shaping Los Angeles-based poetics. Here we offer, as an excerpt from that chapbook, a conversation between Wanda Coleman and Paul Vangelisti, conducted in the months preceding Coleman’s recent death.