This is a series of ongoing interviews with women actively engaged with small-press publishing between the 1950s and 1980s. It comes from a desire not only to preserve their accounts but also to draw wider attention to the vital role of women editors and publishers in the mimeograph revolution and beyond. In these decades “poems were bouncing off the sidewalk” (Maureen Owen), and this series traces some of those madcap trajectories.
This interview took place via email between February and March of 2010, and, at Alice Notley’s request, has not been edited. It focuses on Notley’s role as the editor and publisher of the mimeograph magazine CHICAGO, six issues of which were published in Chicago between 1972-3; three “European Editions” were published from England in 1973-74.
Stephanie Anderson: How long had you been living in Chicago before you started the journal CHICAGO? Did you decide to publish it immediately?
Alice Notley: I started the magazine immediately, as soon as Ted and I moved to Chicago. I was 26 years old and pregnant. I hadn’t written very much poetry and was in danger—I saw it that way—of not becoming a poet. The magazine was a way of really joining the poetry community, of getting to read a lot of poems. You actually typed the poems in those days, so you studied the work you published quite closely.
When I become interested in an idea, I want to know what I think about it—so I write essays. But I also, frequently, want to know what others think about the same idea. If I think enough people might be interested, I try to edit a collection of essays. Editors don’t talk to each other that often. There are organizations of writers, but editors are strewn about, having occasional conversations that are rarely recorded. For this series of dialogues, I’ve tried to gather some editors of nonfiction anthologies to talk together. I fed them a few questions, which they’ve responded to or not. Their conversations are as interesting, as lively, as their anthologies. —David Lazar
David Lazar: To what extent do you think anthologizing is a radical act, or can be? To what extent might it be conservative, or the impulse to preserve? Can you speak to these impulses or tensions?
Do you see your role as anthologist as transparent or abundant; when someone picks up your anthologized volume, is your presence generous or minimal?
To what extent has the volume you have edited stayed close to the idea you originally envisioned for the anthology? Did it evolve?
Most anthologies have somewhat limited shelf lives—some rather short, some longer. The influence they have is not necessarily commensurate with the length of time the anthology stays in print. What did you most want from your anthology? To keep work in print, or to influence a discussion, or the literary zeitgeist, or some balance therein?
We all have favorites that we seek to supplement, or even competitively, to replace. In addition to your own work, two of my favorite essay anthologies are Lydia Fakunkiny’s The Art of the Essay (1990)(she just died this year after a long career at Cornell) and Christopher Morley’s Modern Essays (1921). Both have very sympathetic introductions. What are some of your favorites? And speak to your anterior and ulterior anthological motivations.
In making your choices, especially with contemporary writers, there are going to be cuts and inclusions that have consequences amongst one’s writer friends, since one is forming a canon of the included, a personal charmed circle of those who deserve to be in the book. Could you talk about your considerations and some of the responses you’ve received?
In 2007, I founded the Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series. This series curates between 10 to 15 readings a year in Norman, Oklahoma and features poets spanning a broad spectrum of poetry communities and styles. Past poets who have read include Tom Raworth, Hank Lazer, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Arthur Sze, Natasha Tretheway, Myung Mi Kim, Charles Alexander, Joe Harrington, Afaa Weaver, Shin Yu Pai, Leonard Schwartz, Hugh Tribby, Gerald Stern, Sy Hoawhwah, Alexandra Teague, Kate Greenstreet, Dean Rader, Zhang Er, Julie Carr, Tim Roberts, Grant Jenkins, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Duo Duo, Wang Jiaxin, Glenn Mott, among many more.
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! The subject of this interview is Karla Kelsey’s forthcoming A Conjoined Book.
Rusty Morrison: Here, in this text, are two books that are so inextricably intertwined. There are so many ways in which each one complicates, compliments, interrogates, intervenes in the other! Can you speak to how this project came about? And then some of the ways the subjects engage each other?
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! The subject of this interview is Ronk’s book Transfer of Qualities.
Rusty Morrison: I have been an ardent reader of your books since I happened upon Eyetrouble. I recall when you read at Cody’s Books in Berkeley. I think you were reading from Why/Why Not. I introduced myself and had the audacity to ask you if you’d let Omnidawn publish a book of yours. You were so gracious! And even more marvelous is the fact that you gave us In a landscape of having to repeat, which remains one of my most beloved books. I still keep it at my writing table. It won Omnidawn our first major award, the PEN USA Poetry Prize. It’s a privilege to bring out this new book, Transfer of Qualities. I saw poems (prose poems) from it, I think in Colorado Review? And I recall feeling that I absolutely had to read more of the work, and I lusted to publish it! The work in it has your unique sensibility, and yet it is unlike much of your past work. Could you say a bit about how you see the collection?
Founded in 1994, the European Graduate School is a program led by philosophers, film makers, writers, poets and artists, located in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. A fun camp of critical theory and continental philosophy, its teachers and students gather from around the world in a secluded Swiss Alp town for three-week-long intensive study and lectures that continue late into the night at Metro Bar, Happy Bar, Popcorn, or wherever else. Fortunately, all of the official lectures are videotaped and archived.
In his monthly poetry podcast, Radio Free Albion, Tony Trigilio interviews poets about their recently released or forthcoming books. Always informal, each interview is a conversation—two poets talking about the work and play of the creative process and showcasing some of the most innovative new work in contemporary poetry.
In September, Michelle Naka Pierce visited my MFA “Text and Image” writing workshop (at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School) to discuss her book Continuous Frieze Bordering Red—a lyrical work that performs its hybridity by literally circuiting through ekphrastic engagements with Mark Rothko’s “Seagram Murals,” somatic responses to visual art and meditations on migration and identity.
Participants: Peggy Alaniz, Melissa Barrett-Traister, Matt Bovard, Genelle Chaconas, Kat Fossell, Hannah Kezema, Joseph Navarro, Sarah Richards-Graba, Betty Sparenberg and BZ Zionic.
In 1981 Stephen J. Greenblatt coined the phrase “the new historicism” to describe the practice of a rising group of critics with whom he was affiliated. Against the narrow focus on language of both the New Criticism and deconstruction, they emphasized “the embeddedness of cultural objects in the contingencies of history.” And against conventional history, they stressed that history was a discourse rather than simply a recounting of objective facts. Using anecdotes and other sources to animate old texts, Greenblatt himself has become the leading commentator on Shakespeare of our day, with books such as Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (University of California Press, 1988), The Norton Shakespeare (1997), for which he serves as founding editor, and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (Norton, 2004), which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
Born in the Boston area in 1943, Greenblatt is the son of a lawyer and grandson of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, as he recounts in some of his essays. He attended Yale, where his undergraduate thesis won a Yale College Award and was published as Three Modern Satirists: Waugh, Orwell, and Huxley (Yale University Press, 1965). After spending two years in England at Cambridge University, where he studied with Raymond Williams and George Steiner, he returned to Yale to finish his PhD in 1969. His book, Sir Walter Ralegh: The Renaissance Man and His Roles (Yale University Press, 1973), expanded on his dissertation and discussed how authors fashion their personas—but it was with his next book, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (University of Chicago Press, 1980; new ed. 2005), that he captured wide attention in literary studies. Beginning in 1969, he taught at the University of California-Berkeley, and while there he co-founded the journal Representations, from which he edited two collections: Representing the English Renaissance (University of California Press, 1988) and New World Encounters (University of California Press, 1993). He has also edited Allegory and Representation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), with a lead essay by Paul de Man, mentioned below; The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance (University of Oklahoma Press, 1982), which introduced “the new historicism”; and Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies (with Giles Gunn; MLA, 1992).
After visiting intermittently, in 1997 he moved permanently to Harvard University, where he holds a vaunted University Professorship. In the meantime, he has continued his survey of Renaissance culture, with Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (Routledge, 1990; new ed. 2007); Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (University of Chicago Press, 1991); Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton University Press, 2001); and the more programmatic exposition, with Berkeley colleague Catherine Gallagher, Practicing New Historicism (University of Chicago Press, 2000). In 2006, he replaced M.H. Abrams to become general editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature (8th ed. 2006; 9th ed. 2012). Since the time of this interview, he has published the co-written play, Cardenio (2007), The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Norton, 2011) and Shakespeare’s Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 2012).
Greenblatt has received a good deal of critical attention, including a selection of his writing in The Greenblatt Reader, ed. Michael Payne (Blackwell, 2005); a volume in Routledge Critical Thinkers, Stephen Greenblatt by Mark Robson (2008); and a New York Times Magazine profile, “The Tempest around Stephen Greenblatt,” by Adam Begley (28 Mar. 1993). For interesting accounts of his position and method, see also James J. Paxson, “The Green(blatt)ing of America,” minnesota review 41-42 (1994) and Ivo Kamps, “New Historicizing the New Historicism; or, Did Stephen Greenblatt Watch the Evening News in Early 1968?” in Historicizing Theory, ed. Peter C. Herman (SUNY Press, 2004). On Greenblatt’s roots at Yale addressed in the second question, see Jeffrey J. Williams, “Prodigal Critics,” Chronicle of Higher Education 11 Dec. 2009.
This interview took place on 8 December 2008 in Stephen Greenblatt’s office in Widener Library at Harvard University. It was conducted by Jeffrey J. Williams and transcribed by Gavin Jensen.
Jeffrey Williams: You’re known especially for the new historicism, which by my surmise is the dominant mode, even if in a dispersed way, of contemporary literary criticism. Many of the younger people I see coming up do new historicist projects, like “The Eighteenth-Century Novel and English Gardens” or “The Eighteenth-Century Novel and Vacation Culture at Bath.” Can you give a capsule definition of what you think the new historicism is?
This monthly series features highlights from the Cross Cultural Poetics archive. Cross Cultural Poetics is one of the longest-running radio shows in America focused on contemporary poetry and poetics. Based at The Evergreen State College and hosted by Leonard Schwartz, the entire archive, running from 2003 to the present, can be accessed on PennSound.
This month, I’ve chosen an episode that originally aired on November 3, 2003 and features poet, fiction writer and essayist, Fanny Howe. Howe discusses the profound influence of Irish literature and culture on her writing as a whole—specifically the influence of her mother, Mary Manning Howe, an actress and playwright from Dublin, who founded the Poets’ Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early ’50s. Howe also reads from her major prose poem, “Doubt,” a meditation on the lives and writings of Simone Weil, Edith Stein and Virginia Woolf, as well as on doubt itself as the “physical double to belief.” She presents this poem as one that examines the act of conversion at the level of language and childhood, and describes her struggle with the word “God” as a “monster within the text.”
In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Julie Bruck’s bookMonkey Ranch.
H. L. Hix: “The Change” ends (and ends the book’s first section) with a question in italics: “What does it mean to love / the life we’ve been given?” The book is filled with animals—from “normal” dogs and cats to horses—but also, in several poems, the monkeys that give the book its title. In this book, are these animals guides to answering that question?