Woodland Pattern Book Center is a non-profit cultural center which houses a bookstore with over 25,000 small press titles and an art gallery which hosts exhibitions, artist talks, poetry readings, experimental films, concerts and writing workshops in the Riverwest neighborhood in Milwaukee.
This Woodland Pattern interview series will document conversations between some of the writers, artists and performers who pass through Woodland Pattern and Milwaukee.
Meg Day and Nikki Wallschlaeger read at Woodland Pattern on October 15, 2014. Below are excerpts from their reading as well as a conversation conducted via e-mail after the reading.
Meg Day, “Aubade Today,” “There’s Snow in the West,” and “Hymn to a Landlocked God”
recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, October 15, 2014.
Nikki Wallschlaeger, “Sonnet 4,” “Sonnet 13,” and “Sonnet 15”
recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, October 15, 2014.
A Conversation with James Sherry about Oops! Environmental Poetics, published by BlazeVOX, 2013.
Evelyn Reilly: You say somewhere early in the book “this entire work may be characterized as a figure of speech taken too far.” I know you might have meant this half-jokingly, but I also felt that the humor in this book was very serious. Can you talk about this a bit?
James Sherry: Well, it’s complicated in that it is funny, but a lot of readers don’t take into account the ambiguities that any writer notices in writing things down. Certainly you can go and read Jane Austin, and she has a lot of important things to say, but it’s also almost all tongue-in-cheek. I don’t think there’s very much interesting writing out there that doesn’t move between that serious tone and some humor, because everybody has to see themselves in the process of writing as being in somewhat of an absurd position.
This conversation is part of Intersecting Lineages, a series focusing on conversations with poets of color following a series of cross-community solidarity readings and panels among poets involved with organizations such as Kundiman, Cave Canem, Canto Mundo, RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers), Institute of American Indian Arts and VONA (Voices at Our Nations Arts Foundation).
Juan Felipe Herrera was born in Fowler, California as the only child of migrant farmers in 1948. These childhood experiences as well as his continued community activism, including a stint as a director of an arts space in Balboa Park converted from an occupied water tank, has shaped his writing. For the past four decades, Herrera has been a lightning bolt, a master at channeling the energy of the moment and documenting the world around him in his poetry. Known for writing on the edge of possibility and for his high-energy riffs and improvisations, Herrera has been celebrated by critics for his innovative style and constant re-inventions. This conversation was conducted shortly after Herrera won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems.
Ching-In Chen: Is it part of your writing process to write against what you’re comfortable with or known for? I’m thinking about your story about listening to John Ashbery invent a poem and feeling that you’re “condemned” to write political poetry.
Juan Felipe Herrera: When you’re a writer from the margins (or more than one margin, as Gloria Anzaldúa says), then it’s almost like a preliminary, required, or organic project to write and reclaim ourselves and our community. In the mid-80’s at the Bisbee Poetry Festival in southern Arizona, Ashbery read a piece from his new book Wave where he reconstructed a Nordic myth. I said to myself: well, he appears to be just choosing at random something he likes, reconstructing it and writing about it. I feel like I’ve been condemned to write in the manner that I write—to reclaim our history, our language, our various identities, to re-align what’s been said regarding our experience—since I started to write. Can I write like Ashbery—not in terms of style or craft, but metaphysically? Can I get out of myself that way? Can I reposition myself that way or will I be condemned to write as my own other?
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 this interview, Trigilio interviews Lee Ann Roripaugh.
Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry, the most recent of which, , was released by Milkweed Editions in September 2014. Her second volume, Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press), was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and her first book, Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin Books), was a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review and directs the Creative Writing program at the University of South Dakota.
“Hotel California” plays at half speed as Cassandra Troyan and Rachel Ellison slow dance, one standing on the other’s feet. Classic Rock standard and childlike intimacy smash together, a song that emanates jukebox staleness slowed, almost unrecognizable, each guitar note seeping then dripping, as if from above, onto an embrace of feminine friendship. How would Don Henley interpret this? How do I?
Performance is an art of correspondences. Gesture with text. Image with song. Identity with conflicting identity, each new layer contorting the others, calling for reassessment. DADDY’S CAVE, the latest from performance duo TRAUMA DOG, attempts this non-hierarchical relationship between text, body, image, costume, sound. Honed while in residence this summer at Flying Object, Troyan and Ellison say the work starts with words, with each element then taking turns at center stage, overlapping contexts and superimposing signifiers. And as one moves through the chain of association, hopefully translation is lost, hopefully stereotypes seem nonsensical.
At one point, Ellison traces Troyan’s body on the wall, once with hands extended, once with hands behind her head, once with hands on hips. They step away, leaving the outline, an empty figure in three poses, a bevy of possible interpretations. In the hands extended, I see echoes of Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” a five hundred year old sketch that somehow still remains in the contemporary image bank. In the hands on hips, I see the power pose, also known as “The Wonder Woman.” Hands behind the head could read as someone under arrest, or as a pin-up, turning and winking. Each association gendered, all forming a cacophony of signifiers, every role at once.
This conversation focuses on Marthe Reed’s book, (em)bodied bliss, and Megan Burns’s book, Sound and Basin.
Megan Burns: As a starting point, I think of several things while sitting down with (em)bodied bliss this morning outside the coffee shop on what’s shaping up to be a hot New Orleans day: one, how we seem to have been at war or going to war all my children’s lives and, two, how over the weekend a one-year-old and an eleven-year-old died in shootings on the streets of New Orleans. I think a lot about how violence infects us, how its presence shapes our everyday even when we believe we escape it; and I wonder about our complicity and what it means. I think about how violence kills imagination.
The first poem in your book is titled “this doesn’t exist” and I think maybe we can start there. What is invisible? What do we know and not know or believe to know? And how does this reflect in our everyday lives and how is this part of our politics as a nation, as a society? “Resistance amid the rough chatter of definition.” How does the clear boundary of the poem shape our ability to define terror: “our tongues are tied”? And how do we reconcile two worlds, one where there is torture and unspeakable acts and one where we wake in the morning amid the blues and yellows of the day? “language translates into silence/babel (gate of god)/enters by means of/a language of flowers.” I see these motions in these poems. Can you talk a bit about how you got there? And how you feel these opening poems in the book begin to create a landscape for talking about these ideas?
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! –Rusty Morrison
This interview concerns Joseph Massey’s book, To Keep Time
Rusty Morrison: Can you speak to the title and how it resonates through the poems in this collection?
Joseph Massey: To Keep Time, to seize a moment or a series of moments in motion before they degrade into memory, is an impossible task for the poem — for any work of art. There is no such thing as time, anyway, in the linear sense of the word. Phenomenal experience has no margins; but the poem defies that condition by attempting to say anything at all. I like that tension, that reach — I think, I hope, it’s what holds the book together.
2013 Pulitzer Prize Winning Dramatist, Ayad Akhtar, and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction, Mary Cappello, discuss the formulation of turning points in the course of a life, the course of a career, and the course of a piece of writing; the spiritual (as distinct from religious) underpinnings of artistic practice; the place where a writing project begins and where it arrives; the literary traditions their work is in conversation with; the interplay of mastery and humility in the work of making art; and the pleasures and challenges involved in imagining audience. They also touch on teacher/student relationships: if, over twenty years ago, Akhtar was Cappello’s student, now she finds herself, his.
This conversation with Mary Cappello and Ayad Akhtar was recorded in the Hoffman Room at the University of Rhode Island’s 2014 Ocean State Summer Writing Conference (OSSWC).
Patrick Norris: A lot of your old band’s music carries a lot of poetic correlatives. The lyrical and melodic coloring of Drunken Boat’s Accidents and Balloon Song could fit perfectly into Splash State. Do you tend to look at all your work along these analogous lines?
Todd Colby: If you mean analogous to being lyrical and melodic, yes. That’s at the core of all good poetry. While I did write the lyrics to those songs a long time ago, and Splash State is current, there is a thread that runs through my work that could very well be traced to those songs, and before them the poems I wrote in my teens. An ex-girlfriend of mine gave me some old notebooks of mine from when I was 19, and while some of the poems were definitely written by a 19-year old, many of them had that DNA of my current poems, I just refined it over the years. That’s the pleasure of writing over a number of years and leaving a paper trail: you can see your progress, or things you were trying to work out as a younger writer. I feel very affectionate towards my 19-year old self. He was a good guy at heart, even when he was fucking shit up.
Stan Mir: What would you say some of the most formative experiences have been for you as a writer?
Mark Wallace: One thing that occurs to me to say is that I grew up not liking poetry, or thinking that I didn’t like it, like almost everybody in America is trained to think. Fiction was what I was mainly doing, and when I went for a graduate degree in creative writing, I did it in fiction, a collection of short stories. I think the thing that changed me about all of this was while I was at SUNY-Binghamton in the creative writing program; Jerome Rothenberg showed up and taught there for one year. And that one year that he was teaching there, Robert Creeley gave a reading. I didn’t really know Bob Creeley’s work. I didn’t really know anything about contemporary poetry at all, and I had one of those classic, cliché light bulb moments when Creeley was reading, “Oh, I get this, I love it. I want to do it.” Before that I had played around a little bit with poetry here and there, but not seriously. I think there was something about the contemporary nature of what Creeley did, the angular rhythm, which shook up my conventional idea of poetry. I had read the Romantics in college and just wasn’t interested. So I think that is the moment, and I started writing poems instantly after that. I walk into a reading and I walk out with a completely different perspective. And later on, I worked with Bob a bit, because he was at Buffalo.