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 Joel Craig’s book The White House (Green Lantern). Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: From talking to you in the past, I know music metaphors come easily, that we could call the progression from poem to poem an arrangement, could consider it a macrocosm of the meticulous mix within any individual piece. I hope we get to all that. But first, The White House seemed to offer several basic types of poems—the long sequences of indented prose blocks, the testimonial projects suggesting unauthorized biographies or autobiographies, and then shorter, more emotive and/or opaque lyric flourishes. Variety abounds in how you put these types together, with distinctive uses of lineation, speech-based idioms, elliptical juxtapositions. So here’s the question: did the different types appear over discrete spurts, during the many years that this book came together? Did you develop all three types simultaneously? Do you feel further drawn to working within or among those types?
Joel Craig: That makes sense to describe three rough styles. I think of the indented pieces as travelogue poems, sometimes mixed with real elements of travel. When traveling I tend to concentrate on physical spaces I visit and people I meet, and therefore voices I hear. Then other poems get born more out of my past—the dense little jewels that reflect my love for surrealism. They can seem, as you say, kind of opaque and dark-humored. And the diffuse, biographical-style poems share with these first two types the fact that multiple voices make up their lyric “voice.” Both the travelogue style and the biographical/monologue style I hope to keep expanding and exploring.
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 bookBetween 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.
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.
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.
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 Sikelianos’ book The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead (Coffee House). Recorded August 5th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: I’ve enjoyed reading this collection in manuscript form, with the relative lack of paratextual information, like a table of contents or section breaks. Yet given your history of producing book-length poems and expansive projects, I’ve projected a good deal of continuity here. Could you talk a bit about the book’s experiential contours—its spatial and temporal shapes, as you envision those coming together? For example, one-line pages will repeat or anticipate phrases found elsewhere. Do these serve to establish a multi-directional, refractive text, one that incorporates Aymara conceptions of time, situating both past and future before/behind us?
Eleni Sikelianos: I first tried to resist developing a project here, feeling somewhat exhausted from. . .almost every book of poetry now, by myself or others, seems some sort of project. For a while I’ve wondered what has happened to the discrete poem, especially in experimental poetics. I keep gesturing toward that though then can’t help stitching together some fabric, thinking of the book as a fabric, I guess. I’d also thought of this as an installation with those one-line pieces both puncturing the density of individual poems, and weaving a thread through so that all becomes connected at the same time. I pictured the one-line passages as breathing holes, where a seal might poke through ice, gasping for air, and so yes, in that sense, occurring more spatially then temporally. My last three books contained visual elements, whereas this one barely does, with those occasional moments that seem not non-languaged but less-languaged—like little pooling places, little eddies.
AF: That model of installation art seems to hold for your previous books as well.
ES: Right, I feel it strongly in The California Poem, where different parts function almost as different rooms you wander through—with visual data set alongside language data, echoing Olson’s conception of the page as a field but incorporating images as much as text. Robert Smithson’s ideas about sites and non-sites also play out here.
Over the summer, Andy Fitch has interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on de la Torre’s book, Four (Switchback Books). Recorded July 10th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: When FOUR came I tried to slip a booklet from the pack, but couldn’t do so without breaking the seal.
Over the summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Williams’ book Howell (Atelos). Recorded August 21st. Transcribed by Maia Spots.
Andy Fitch: Normally I’d start with more general questions, but I last interviewed Evie Shockley, and we discussed the complicated legacy of Black Arts Movement poetics—how BAM seems quite generative yet also quite constrictive in its impact upon subsequent writers. And I remember, in the past, you citing BAM’s personal importance. As a poet suspicious of stable identity formations, of instrumental language, your career could seem antithetical to what BAM advocates. But have you found space for your work under the BAM umbrella, and can you describe this space? Can you trace a perhaps convoluted trajectory in which BAM’s liberatory struggles help to produce your own liberatory aesthetic practice?
Tyrone Williams: Absolutely. I began taking myself seriously as a poet during high school, the early ‘70s, in the middle of BAM (depending how you cite the movement’s historical trajectory). Again, this is high school, so I thought of myself primarily as writing love poetry, occasionally some political poetry. I remember trying to address what seemed an absence in both fields. I admired what I saw from BAM, to the extent that I knew about it, but conceived of myself as trying to complete this other project, defined by traditional love poetry. Then as I went to college and beyond, reading and thinking more about BAM, I began to sense its contradictions, its gaps, how I could contribute in my own way. I didn’t have to restrict myself to one tiny sector of romantic poetry based on the faulty premise that BAM already took care of all social and political and economic issues. Some of these same problems needed to be addressed from a different angle. And I still see myself as operating (though you’re right that much of my work could seem antithetical to certain reductive formations around identity politics and so forth), as following in the wake of BAM and with BAM’s spirit—trying to create new spaces for African-American culture and people, not just in terms of a popularized embrace of African-American music or whatever, but every aspect of what it means to be black in this country.
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 Anis Shivani’s My Tranquil War and Other Poems (New York Quarterly Books, 2012).
H. L. Hix: I want to frame my question by juxtaposing two excerpts. In doing so, I know I’m taking them out of context, but I’m curious whether you see anything apt about the conjunction, or if it’s just a misreading, a kind of petty violence to the poems. Is there any sense in which this whole collection could be taken as a set of “angles of surmise” (96), points of view taken toward “panoramas” that are “refusing to unfold by script” (28)?
Anis Shivani: Thank you so much, Harvey, for this insightful question. Perhaps refusing to unfold by script is the way things unfold by script now? Your pairing of the two poems, “Twenty-Six Angles of Surmise” and “Perpetually Ascending GNP,” from which your two quotes come, is astute. In the first I am taking familiar terms—limited arbitrarily by the number of letters in the alphabet, but mocking by that act the perceived limitability of language—and redeploying them in the interest of a laxative poetry, a poetry that looks at things as they exist and perceives correspondences that complicate the meanings of both words and definitions. Words are useless without definitions, and official culture, which surrounds us like an embryo is surrounded by protective amniotic fluid, insists on precise definitions. Hence dictionaries. Hence the abuse of the dictionary form in this particular poem. Hence the abuse of abuse.
Over the summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Place’s book Boycott (Ugly Duckling). Recorded June 18th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: I have questions about the book’s origins. That might seem counter to conceptualist emphases upon reader reception, but could you give some background on your preceding engagements with (or provocations by, or responses to) these canonized feminist source texts? Do you see Boycott crystallizing tendencies latent within these texts? Did the decision to replace female-gendered terms with male-gendered terms simply start as an intuitive gesture that happened to work out well, or did you arrive at this plan over time? If I seem to be searching for an originary myth to a form of writing that precludes one: for me the pleasures of reading conceptual books often do involve this triangulated apprehension/projection of what a specific poet deliberately has done with a particular discourse or idiom or anterior project. So feel free to intervene in that triangulation however you see fit.
Vanessa Place: In terms of this specific manuscript, I don’t know if you could call it intuitive, as much as I had absorbed Lee Lozano’s fascinating Boycott Piece—executed at the same time as second-wave feminist texts were being promulgated right and left. Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone and Angela Davis published celebrated books around that time, even as Lacan delivered his Seminar XX, where he says la femme n’existe pas (the Woman doesn’t exist). To my mind, if you combine these contemporaneous claims, taking Lacan at his word while reading those iconic feminist texts, you can’t help but understand their main topic was men. They don’t address women. They address the male imaginary. So to literalize this operation. . . for her part, Lee Lozano literalized the operation by refusing to speak to women, refusing to recognize them, which produces its own revelations. Likewise, my first Boycott intervention, Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto, seemed to reveal both more and less than the original text. That became fully clear when I started working with de Beauvoir. I felt thrown into some kind of ontological abyss by the easy essentialism, the easy gender constructs. As an undergraduate I had minored in gender studies, so I had read these books over and over, yet suddenly they became unfamiliar. I couldn’t tell if I considered certain sentences true, even provisionally. When I would read, in de Beauvoir, for example, “it’s the dream of every young girl to become a mother,” I could accept some part of that sentence, at least historically. But when this sentence became “it’s the dream of every young boy to become a father,” suddenly the gendered aspect seemed thornier. Reading about puberty as a male trauma raised related questions. Of course, I still could default to the notion of pure constructivism you’ve described, throwing questions back onto the person encountering my Boycott text, such as: do I believe this assertion? Did it originally refer to a woman rather than a man? Why do I care about that? What part of ontology (everybody’s biography) is simply the failure of symbolism, the failure of the Woman as such? S.C.U.M. Manifesto has this great line: “Women don’t have penis envy, men have pussy envy.” Through my Boycott that became: “Men don’t have penis envy, men have dick envy,” which sounds much more accurate. Latent intimations and revelations kept bubbling up, but these don’t come from Solanas’ text. They completely derive from my reception. They remain, like gender, interior to me. An older male poet has called this project a feminist screed, yet I consider it quite the opposite—not because it’s anti-feminist, but because it reopens basic questions of gender.
Over the summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Beachy-Quick’s book Wonderful Investigations (Milkweed Editions). Recorded July 6th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: In your first essay’s first sentence you identify yourself as a “nature poet.” Could you give a condensed sense of what you mean by the term, both within Wonderful Investigations and within a broader ecopoetics context? In doing the reading for this interview project, I’ve been struck by the diverse range of contemporary poets who adopt that potentially fraught (because perpetually contested) self-definition.
Dan Beachy-Quick: That essay’s initial draft came out of a panel talk on ecopoetics, for which I’d been invited to participate. I still don’t feel particularly associated with ecopoetics, although I feel real sympathy toward it. The panel just provided an excuse to think about how my poetic concerns, and hopefully my poetic practice, address the world in a caring and protective manner. I had been reading much about initiation rights, early mythology, heroic cycles. I’d wondered how poetry might offer itself as an initiatory experience—not only to the poet, but to the reader, amid a kind of liminal space where assumed writer/reader relations get undermined. Initiatory processes move a person, from a profane relationship to the world, to one in which, through a symbolic death, they are reborn into a sense of the world as a sacred place. Similarly, to engage a poem risks a rewiring of one’s nervous system, one’s perceptive ability. This suggested to me a way of attending to the world on the world’s terms and undermining subjectivity in any normal sense.