Category: May 2014

Caleb Beckwith with Jena Osman

Jena Osman
Jena Osman

Over the summer, Caleb Beckwith and Ching-In Chen will be joining The Conversant’s editorial team. Here Beckwith interviews Jena Osman about her new book Corporate Relations.

Caleb Beckwith: Hey Jena, I was wondering if you could start by speaking to the book’s origins. Clearly Citizens United plays a pivotal role, but was the book a direct response? And if so, what sort of response is it?

Jena Osman: Yes, the 2010 Citizens United case was definitely the starting point for the work. I’ve had a longstanding fascination with objects being granted humanity (see my poem “Dead Text” in The Character), as well as an equally longstanding obsession with Supreme Court argument transcripts (“A Real Life Drama” in The Character, “The Astounding Complex” in An Essay In Asterisks), and that case spoke to both of those interests. The perceptual swing between subject and object (seeing a subject as object, seeing an object as subject) has always struck me as a source of violence and political wrongdoing, but can also be a source of critical thinking and empathy. Continue reading

Rachelle Cruz with Ching-In Chen

Ching-In Chen

Over the summer, Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith will be joining The Conversant’s editorial team. Here, in a 2009 interview with Rachelle Cruz, Chen discusses their work.

This interview is part of Cruz’s Blood-Jet Writing Hour program. In fall, The Conversant will begin offering regular installments from the Blood-Jet archive. Continue reading

Cristiana Baik with Peter Streckfus

Peter Streckfus
Peter Streckfus

This interview with Peter Streckfus, conducted by Cristiana Baik, focuses on Streckfus’ The Cuckoo and his most recent collection, Errings.

Cristiana Baik: A decade separates the publication of your two collections, The Cuckoo (Yale University Press, 2004) and Errings (Fordham University Press, 2014). Have your thoughts about poetry and poetics shifted, changed during this time?

Peter Streckfus: The Cuckoo’s faulty heroes are largely alone on their quests. I think of its lyric utterance happening in solitude, the unaccompanied traveler whistling half-remembered songs, the cuckoo itself singing from the densest of trees, close to the trunk, almost always out of view. Continue reading

Jonathan Stalling with Zheng Xiaoqiong

Zheng Xiaoqiong
Zheng Xiaoqiong

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.

One of the most exciting poets to emerge in China over the last decade, Zheng Xiaoqiong was born in 1980 in rural Nanchong, Sichuan, China, and spent eight years as a migrant worker in Dongguan City in southern Guangdong Province. Zheng’s poems are wrought from the materials of globalization rendered on an intimate scale. Zheng’s poetry draws upon the working lives of women caught in the tidal pull of China’s massive migrant labor force—with an unprecedented care and attention. She has won numerous awards including the Lu Xun Literary Award of Guangdong Province and the Liqun Literature Award from People’s Literature in 2007. In 2007 she was chosen by the popular magazine Chinese Women as one of the ten most influential figures of the times at home and abroad. Zheng’s poetry has appeared in English (with my translations of it in Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today and in New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry, 1990-2012. In this interview, joined by Zhang Jie (Assistant Professor of Chinese at Oklahoma University), we discuss Zheng’s poetics in relation to issues of migrant-workers’ rights and gender. Jonathan Stalling

Zheng Xiaoqiong Interview:

Zheng Xiaoqiong Reading:

Andy Fitch with Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison

The Conversant happily has published Rusty Morrison’s recent interviews with Omnidawn authors. Here Andy Fitch interviews Morrison about her own new book, Beyond the Chainlink.

Andy Fitch: I’ll hold off on a couple basic questions that Beyond the Chainlink raises for me concerning the communal, choral, coupled “We.” But could we move toward more concrete questions of relationality by considering a favorite concept of yours from past statements—that of “adherence”? I’ve never fully grasped this concept, and I doubt that the dictionary can help much. Could we instead start with how adherence gets embodied in a few of your preceding books? I’ve vaguely thought of the percussive, right-justified repetitions on “please,” “advise” and “stop” in The True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story as somehow tattooing the reader, mobilizing receptivity to that book’s particular tonal variations, and perhaps prompting adherence this way. Or Book of the Given seems to parse the distinction (or ask readers to parse the distinction) between vocational adherence and intertextual adjacency. But already I’m adrift in my own abstracted speculations. So how about your personal sense of adherence, your encounter with Michel Serres’ work, your ongoing engagement with this concept across multiple collections?

Rusty Morrison: In The Birth of Physics Serres proposes that “every form is draped in an infinity of adherences.” One of its myriad connotations is a powerful reminder to me: as I write each sentence, I should stay alert to what is occluded under the accumulating adherences of familiar ideation or style. I want to write with the intention to undrape, infinitely, those more typical, more initial adherences that are the outer layers, which appear most obviously to me as meaning. Beneath those, there exists a more volatile fomenting, which is forming the work, and which must be expressed by the formal construct of the work, as it is shaped on the page. When working in a new series, the first challenge is always to find the formal construct that will best enable it, and to appreciate the useful problems that this form provokes; this is an insight-liberating practice for me. Continue reading

Laura Swearingen-Steadwell with Tyehimba Jess

Tyehimba Jess
Tyehimba Jess

This is the first installment of “Composing the World,” an ongoing series of conversations with authors whose work has broken significant ground in literary communities, opening doors for their peers and the writers who’ve followed them.—Laura Swearingen-Steadwell

Laura Swearingen-Steadwell: What is it about persona that pulls you in so much? Most of your body of work is from other people’s perspectives.

Tyehimba Jess: The first-person narrative is a really effective way to engage a reader. And I think for me it’s a challenge to understand where a person is coming from. It’s a challenge in that you don’t see the character from the outside, you only see the character from the inside. There are a lot of limitations about that. You’re in that person’s head, so to speak. Continue reading

Stephen Burt with Catherine Imbriglio

Catherine Imbriglio
Catherine Imbriglio

Catherine Imbriglio’s book Intimacy won the 2013 Colorado Prize in Poetry. Here Stephen Burt, that year’s contest judge, discusses the book with her.

Stephen Burt: “Birds of a feather not always good at social-mirroring, turn taking” (“Blue in Green Intimacy”). Is there a story about the genesis of this book, or a story about its unity, or a story about where you found its models, that you want readers to know going in?

Catherine Imbriglio: Yes, there are stories for all these things. I knew I wanted to attempt a unified book, but one that had a different kind of “glue” than my first. The earlier one used the Roman Catholic Mass as a unifying structural device; in the new book the titles of the poems all contain the word “intimacy” with different modifiers. “Intimacy” as a recurring word does some of the work of connecting the poems to one another. There are internal connections too: one of the main ones is the frequent appearance of an iconoclastic clown figure (though not necessarily the same figure) in many of the poems. Continue reading

Anna Elena Eyre with Afton Wilky

Afton Wilky
Afton Wilky

This interview focuses on Wilky’s new book, Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea.

Anna Elena Eyre: Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea is an immersive book. There is no title page, copyright page or other material most often encountered at the beginning of a book. Instead, the reader is dropped into text on the cover, which leads to overlapping text on the inside cover facing a page of text printed on top of photographed pieces of text. This rests on strips of paper, which resist the two-dimensionality of paper, as the strips are folded to reach away from the surface and display shadow.

Several pages in, the reader encounters a photographed page of two strips of text. These strips reveal bits of text that have been cut off or are folded, and as such cannot be fully read. What one can read (“His din ers”; “The ear is one of these bodies. Every hum being”) speaks further to this tension between the edges of dimension when immersed. In these lines, I read every human being as a hum being—as a being who hears (is vibrational), but the din often errs (as a word’s semantic meaning is never static). Words and humans cannot be stripped of vibration (as even sign-language/brail conjure energy) and yet, when we read two-dimensional pages, we might be prone to forget this. Can you speak/write more to how you envision these tensions informing your work?

Continue reading

Caleb Beckwith with Jen Hofer

Jen Hofer
Jen Hofer (Photo by Rob Ray)

Over the summer, Caleb Beckwith and Ching-In Chen will be joining The Conversant’s editorial team. Here Beckwith and Jen Hofer discuss the “Antena@Blaffer” exhibition, on display through May 10th at the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum, as well as two of Hofer’s recent chapbooks: Front Page News (LRL Textile Series) and The Missing Link (Insert Blanc Press). For more information about Antena check out an extensive interview in arts+culturetx and the download page for our manifestos & how-to guides. The video is a full documentation of their Skype chat, so viewers might notice minor glitches in audio syncing as well as a small dialing pad on the screen’s left side.  Continue reading

Jonathan Weinert with H.L. Hix

H.L. Hix
H.L. Hix

Jonathan Weinert sat down to talk with H. L. Hix during the AWP Conference in Seattle, Washington, on March 1, 2014. They discussed Hix’s latest book of poems, As Much As, If Not More Than, just released by Etruscan Press, as well as his online project IN QUIRE and his critical project Alter Nation, forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse, from which some of his recent poetic material derives.

Jonathan Weinert: These lines, from the poem “A Falling Thing on Fire from Its Fall,” seem to me to address in a rather explicit way the strategies that you use in your new book, As Much As, If Not More Than:

To transform my spills into progress, I try to rhyme
observational studies, developed over time,

with spontaneous, dispersed experiments
meant to surprise laws whose operations we can’t see.
That something is colossal does not make it permanent.
Give me entanglement, and you can keep grandeur.
The built loses to the improvisational.
Its being impossible does not make vain
an attempt to redefine the dominant powers.

As the introductory material states, the notion of this book derives in part from artist statements. As I was reading the book, especially its second section, “As Much As,” I began to feel that you were making something like artist statements in almost every poem, and I started looking at each poem as kind of a statement about its own strategy. I’m interested in what the poems say about your strategy, but I’m also interested in the idea of the artist statement as a strategy. Could you talk about that a little bit? Continue reading

Cristiana Baik with Sawako Nakayasu

Sawako Nakayasu
Photo of Sawako Nakayasu courtesy of Mitsuo Okamoto

Along with Andy Fitch, Cristiana Baik is assembling the Letter Machine Editions Book of Interviews, which also includes interviews conducted by Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. This talk will be published in that collection, due for late 2014 release.

Cristiana Baik: In Hurry Home Honey and Texture Notes, objects, situations, circumstances are always changing directions, shifting, in transit, “ru[ning] off and towards…” Do the poems’ constant movements reflect ways you experience place and time?

Sawako Nakayasu: It’s possible that I move around a lot in my life. In general there’s been a lot of changes in terms of geography, from Japan to New York to Cupertino (California) to San Diego to France/Europe to Providence to Tokyo, back to various parts of the U.S., then to China and Japan. Continue reading

Andy Fitch with Travis Nichols

Travis Nichols
Travis Nichols

Along with Cristiana Baik, Andy Fitch is assembling the Letter Machine Editions Book of Interviews, which also includes interviews conducted by Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. This talk will be published in that collection, due for late 2014 release.

Andy Fitch: Somewhere you’ve suggested that Iowa explores the art of memory, using the sentence for its elemental stitchery—as happens in Joe Brainard’s I Remember and Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. Yet while many readers may expect prose syntax to prompt further elucidation and narrative cohesion than poetic lines do, the opposite seems to occur here. So perhaps we could start to explore related rhetorical tensions by tracking the place and progress of time throughout the book. Readers encounter statements such as “I, swirling and flowing past us into every artery and every thing, was the time.” Elsewhere, Iowa’s “I” ponders whether “My Time Hand” has gone pink from gazes. Later, this same passage closes off its episode by declaring “That was the first time I tried it.” Could you put into relation Iowa’s sentence-based thrust, its prose-block framing and its fluid/static conceptions of time?

Travis Nichols: Narrative in its most basic received form is: Born, Lived, Died. This depresses me. I don’t think it’s “true,” or no more “true” than any other form so clichéd as to become invisible. I feel different experiences of my life recurring at different times—my childhood experiences aren’t isolated to the time when they first occurred, because I’m re-coding and re-traumatizing and re-living them through memory, dreams, storytelling and also through my senses, every day. When I hear a song I used to listen to all the time as a kid, but not often since (pick any of the 8-Track of Funny Bone Favorites for examples!), it sends me back through my earlier experiences in ways often so striking and vivid that I’m incapacitated. If I didn’t know better I’d probably crash my car or get picked up by the police for vagrancy. The second, third, fourth or fifth time is just as real as the first, and in some ways is more so, because it’s re-enforcing the cognitive grooves that had been laid by the first experience. Is my first memory of curling up inside my green plastic frog toybox as the sunlight streamed in “real” or just something I’ve been told happened to me and so it has become real in the telling? Yes, which is what makes it so rich and real to me. Continue reading

Virginia Konchan with Kristina Marie Darling and Lightsey Darst

Darling and Darst
Kristina Marie Darling and Lightsey Darst

This interview focuses on Kristina Darling’s X Marks the Dress: a Registry, co-authored with Carol Guess and Lightsey Darst’s DANCE.

Virginia Konchan: In both of your recent books you explore the semiotics of fashion in different ways. In 1967, Barthes made the connection, in Elements of Semiology, between text and textiles, describing the text as an interwoven fabric of quotations drawn from culture, rather than from any single reading experience. Referring to textual production as a “garment system,” Barthes describes the act of speech as comprised by “all the phenomena of anomic fabrication” or of individual style—tracing the very origin of the word “text” to the Latin past participle texere, to weave or fabricate. The author’s successor, the scriptor, exists simultaneously with the text, not in a subject/predicate relationship, dislocating the text’s meaning to “language itself” and the effect on the reader.

From the punk band Glamour Kills to the relationship between fascism and fashion (a symbolic code too often replacing signification through speech or writing for women with a codified language—literalized through semaphores such as sex bracelets worn by middle-schoolers indicating what sex acts they perform, or a diamond ring signifying a woman’s unavailability as well as cultural “worth”), the idea that “clothes make the man” takes us to the metonymic conflation, in “polite society” between a well-dressed or spoken individual and his or her character.

Can you speak to the semiotics of fashion (as a signifying system) in your two books, which present female speakers with various degrees of agency, as well as to silencing? I’m especially curious how you relate the semiotics of DANCE, Lightsey (la geste rather than logos, as signifier) to female agency. Continue reading

Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell

Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell
Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell

The Conversant recently has published conversations featuring Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell. Here these two friends and fellow poets talk to each other.

Andrew Maxwell: I’m stumbling toward a definition, or that’s how I’m going to start. In reading your book, I want to call these collected items remarks, or “remarks on problems.” And what’s astounding (and I’ll say this from experience too) is how very many problems there are.

We can eventually steer toward a discussion of the epigrammatic, although I don’t need a definition of that. I’m immediately interested in the character of these remarks—how many of them describe for me a sense of impedance. As if you’ve said, wait, slow up, something may be going wrong here and perhaps this is correctable. We should take notice of it.

There’s a sense of counsel and instruction, but also a sense of task-making and taking-to-task. The reader (and perhaps this is first you) is being given a problem set and being taken to task. Continue reading

Jeffrey Williams with Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis
Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis offers a thinking person’s guide to sexual politics in contemporary America, combining the analysis of an academic critic with the verve of a trade writer. In Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (Grove, 1996; Duke University Press, 1999), she turns customary thinking about pornography around to look at the class politics running through judgments about it. And in Against Love: A Polemic (Pantheon, 2003), she examines marriage, adultery and other cornerstones of our culture, and how they entwine with work.

Kipnis began as an avant-garde videographer, producing Your Money or Your Life (1982), Ecstasy Unlimited: The Interpenetration of Sex and Capital (1985), A Man’s Woman (1988) and Marx: The Video (1990). Through the 1990s, she turned more to nonfiction, publishing in mainstream magazines, including Harper’s, the Village Voice and The New York Times Magazine, as well as in academic journals such as Critical Inquiry. Her first book, Ecstasy Unlimited: On Sex, Capital, Gender, and Aesthetics (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), includes essays on feminism and postmodernism as well as three videoscripts. Bound and Gagged continues Kipnis’s examination of gender and sexuality, as does Against Love, which draws on a 1998 essay, “Adultery,” from Critical Inquiry. Since the time of this interview, she has gone on to publish The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability (Pantheon, 2006), How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior (Metropolitan, 2010) and Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation (Metropolitan, 2014).

Kipnis attended the San Francisco Art Institute (BFA, 1978) and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (MFA, 1982). Since 1991 she has taught in the Radio, Television and Film Department at Northwestern University.

This interview took place on May 9th, 2003 in New York City. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams and transcribed by Laura Rotunno.

Jeffrey Williams: I just read the proofs of Against Love last week and it’s a tour de force. You write with a lot of brio. I can see how it’s consistent with your earlier work, like Ecstasy Unlimited and Bound and Gagged, in that it takes up sexuality, domesticity and politics, but it’s a departure in its style. Bound and Gagged is a trade book and certainly written in a more compelling way than most academic books, but Against Love is a kind of rollercoaster, almost like an extended stand-up performance. How does it connect with your earlier work? Continue reading

Flying Object Presents Andrew Beccone

Andrew Beconne
Andrew Beccone

Flying Object is a nonprofit art and publishing organization located in an old fire station in Hadley, Massachusetts. This Flying Object interview series will serve to document some of the writers, artists and performers that pass through—as well as activity in our own community.

One person’s rat brain is another’s treasure. At the Reanimation Library’s temporary branch at Flying Object, I flip through glossy x-rays of rat brains, charts of electrocardiogram wavelengths, of bird houses, of sea canyons. In the right hands, an image is never antiquated, though the mode of appreciation changes. I don’t pick up Differential Diagnosis of the Electrocardiogram to learn. The author’s original intent has come and gone. Instead, I watch a thought morph across time, suspended between the false poles of aesthetics and information, in a fluid of anthropological disconnect.

Some could view Andrew Beccone’s Reanimation Library as a collection of mid-20th century failure, post-war America slipping on a banana peel for the 21st century’s amusement, utopian ambition reduced to point-and-laugh novelty. In their time, these books mounted earnest attempts to solve the problems of the modern world: to catalog and understand experience from the clouds to the bedroom to the sea floor, to teach us who we are. And they failed, or were dismissed as quackery, or disproved. Science writes over itself.

So what to do with this discarded material? Beccone’s collection emerges from this dust, this atomic fallout. Over the course of 12 years, he has assembled an island of misfit toys, books from these post-war years to be appreciated for their images, their ambitious titles. He does not base selection on assigning cultural worth, some arbitrary canon based on “importance” or “relevance.” His library champions a contrary definition of timelessness.

And from the collection’s middle finger to “relevance” comes its charm and vitality. Edward Tufte, hero to Beccone and pioneer of data visualization, says, “The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?” Beccone collects these flat attempts, an undertaking arguably as preposterous as the utopian dreams of modernism. His books are as valiant as they are absurd, profound as they are crude, foolish and fascinating. —Patrick Gaughan

Patrick Gaughan: You say you chose the books mostly for their visual content: photographs, illustrations, diagrams. From my brief experience, the collection seems to lean towards the sciences, instructional material, outmoded theory. What genres do you find yourself including in the Library?

Continue reading