In late April 2012, students in my undergraduate Introduction to Feminist Theory class at Naropa University read Danielle Dutton’s SPRAWL. With literature written by women as our guide, we explored feminist thought in its historical and philosophical contexts as well as in its application. The course was organized around several books, including Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Dutton’s SPRAWL. We read these novels over an atypically long period so that we could do both close readings of the texts and apply multiple theories to produce multiple readings. Simultaneous with our reading of SPRAWL, students read Simone de Beauvoir, Lyn Hejinian and Sherry B. Ortner, but one will also recognize in their questions the influence of other courses they were taking at the time, such as Experimental Women Writers.
Jack Kerouac School BA students Emily Ashley, Anna Avery, Ali Baker, Kiwi Barnstein, Eric Cooley, Lauren DeGaine, Taylor Estape, Jackie Gardea, Yasamine Ghiasi, Caroline Jacobs, Erin Likins, Carolyn Ripple, Ella Schoefer-Wulf and Sofia Stephenson participated in the interview. It has been lightly edited for publication.
The Class: In Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity, Juliana Spahr writes that Gertrude Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas indicate that “her writing (her self) is not unreadable but rather hyper-readable.” Would you consider SPRAWL to be what Spahr calls “hyper-readable”?
Danielle Dutton: I haven’t read Spahr’s book, so I’m not entirely sure if I’m understanding the question, but here’s what it makes me think of: Werner Herzog. There’s an interview with him from GQ that I’m kind of obsessed with. In it he talks about how he makes films for the “secret mainstream.” I love this idea. Partly because it makes me laugh and partly because I believe him. And this idea of his seems to jive with my (mis?)understanding of Spahr’s notion there of “hyper-readability.” That something seemingly difficult could actually be enormously “readable,” if this latter term can be defined starting from a different set of assumptions about what reading is.
Laynie Browne in conversation with Lisa Jarnot, on Jarnot’s biography Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus (University of California Press, 2012).
Laynie Browne: Do you recall when you first were introduced to Duncan’s work? Was your interest in his work immediate, or how did it evolve?
Lisa Jarnot: I didn’t like Duncan’s work when I first read it. I was very interested in the Beats, so Duncan seemed square. I thought maybe he was writing nature poetry. I was at the University of Buffalo and took a course with Robert Creeley where we read Duncan’s work. That was a turning point for me. Creeley’s enthusiasm intrigued me, so I started to read the poems more carefully.
Since 1993, Jeffrey J. Williams has conducted over 50 interviews with contemporary critics, philosophers and writers. The Conversant is pleased to republish a selection of these interviews. This interview with Toril Moi took place September 1, 2006 in Toril Moi’s office at Duke University. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams, and transcribed by Heather Steffen.
Jeffrey Williams:Sexual/Textual Politics burst onto the scene in the mid-80s and changed the representation of feminism in the U.S. You became a kind of European informant of French feminism, and to some you were perceived as attacking Anglo-American feminism for its essentialism and waving a banner for French feminism. How do you see the reception of that book when you look back?
Toril Moi: The argument in the book wasn’t actually “Anglo-American feminism is bad; French feminism is good”; the argument was that the great thing about the Americans was their strong and explicit political allegiances, and that the actual politics of the French were often incredibly vague. I also thought that the Anglo-American development, which had been exciting to me because it was thinking about women and writing in completely new ways, was almost theoretically unconscious in the late 1970s, just as the theory wave was happening. I thought the French feminists that I read had a much more solid theoretical formation, but that they were lacking in politics. I also found them on the whole ahistorical and idealist. The idea that I was setting up a binary where one was positive and the other was negative was based on fairly superficial reading. I think that there are other problems with the book, but in each chapter I tried to give as fair an account of what the theorists in question were saying as I could, and then I tried to show where the problems were. I was also astounded when I heard that people thought I was a great fan of Irigaray and Cixous, which I have never been.
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 interview focuses on Calvin Bedient’s book, The Multiple.
Rusty Morrison: When I first read this work in manuscript, I heard echoing in it Deleuze’s assertion, “A principle of the production of the diverse makes sense only if it does not assemble its own elements into a whole.” I felt stunned by the myriad ways that this collection of poems is, to use Deleuze again, “An addition of the indivisibles.” One could say that you marry contrasting dictions and categories, using their intimacy as interrogation and that you juxtapose the literary, the sacred, the lascivious. But that would not reflect the disarming coherences, the unexpected accord in which these poems accordion forth, unfurling such a lively, uncanny, daunting music. Yet music it is. I’ve not read poems like these before. Can you speak to your intentions for the book?
Calvin Bedient: That is an extraordinary description; what hopes I have for the book’s reach can be found somewhere along the generous way of it. Indeed and instinctively I cultivate diversity and divergence, on the one hand, and on the other a jump-cable linkage or lyrical coherence of opposites. My writing is alive to me only if it is strange and surprising at every point. “I’ve heard that before” or “I know that connection” are anathema. What good is a poor copy of what has already been done? I listen for the work’s difference even from itself. All on its own, as it were, the poetry wants to show that, loosed from its common discursive ruts, experience tumbles forth in a mixture of dismay and delight. Even so, the work’s unresolvable elements may join together in a vital motion that surpasses or at least contests its splintering. This motion, this drive to feel out the “indivisibles,” results, in part, from a need to keep the work dynamic, to reject the notion that history has squashed life. Despite their skepticism, the poems sometimes behave as if they want to attain to an uber stage of music and feeling that will bind the elements, bind them in flight. For it really does seem to me that in some (though not clearly not in all) the poems the elements are being assembled and united, not just serially paraded. But, again, the shattered and shattering constitution of being prevents totalization; it founders before the inappropriable and groundless sense of existence. You see how I go around and around in circles—dialectic as rotation.
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 enclosed 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: How/why did you begin Debts & Lessons? What initiated the work?
Lynn Xu: The first poem in the book is called “Say You Will Die For Me,” and it is a triptych for many reasons, but the main one is: How to think of love as an argument? In the wake of “twin heartbreaks,” let’s say, I wrote this poem, and my self-appointed recuperation involved a lot of French theorists: Levinas (on alterity), Nancy (on being-with), Barthes (on the lover) and Derrida (on envois). The second and third series were written a few years later, between Oaxaca and New York, when Josh and I were first falling in love. A lot of what now remain used to be sonnets. Like all things, sonnets will decay and tear open with time and listening.
The Conversant republishes excerpts from HER KIND, a digital literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. An earlier version of this present conversation can be foundhere.
HER KIND: Thank you Dara and Gillian for being a part of the Conversation! We love having your voices here, your metaphorical frames of mind. Let’s begin: Gloria Anzaldúa asks in the foreword to the second edition of This Bridge Called My Back: ¿Qué hacer de aquí y cómo? (What to do from here and how?). As a woman and writer, what are the bridges you’ve had to cross, burn, and forge? What came of those experiences?
Dara Wier: What to do from here and how it sounds like a good title for something. I’m really happy to be having this chance to converse in writing with Gillian, and I’m glad we’ve been given bridges as our jumping off place. A bridge is an awesome accomplishment—a verb, a noun, a conjunction, a preposition, a thing, a metaphor, a marvel of agency and desire (or necessity). There have been plank bridges across ditches in my life, highway bridges over canals, bridges over the Mississippi at New Orleans (the funny sign on one that says huba huba), draw bridges. I love bridges. The thrill of contemplating and then possibly crossing a bridge is galvanizing.
Gillian Conoley: Hi Dara, so nice to be talking. Portals to possibility are bridges, like the chance to talk to you in writing. I love that Gloria Anzaldúa puts the bridge in the body. She’s over on the other side, rest her soul, but she left the bridge. The spine: pliable, capable. A suspension bridge. I live 12 miles from the Golden Gate, 75 years old last month. The cables that sweep tower to tower on it literally stretched and stretching.
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 Lily Brown’s Rust or Go Missing (Cleveland State University Poetry Center).
H. L. Hix: Near the middle of your book, there is a poem called “Knower,” and near the middle of that poem is the sentence “Here, / my trick: accompaniment.” I don’t mean to make too much of one moment in the book, but I wonder about its importance—for you personally, for this poem, for your book, for the project of knowing, for our culture—of “accompaniment.” (Just as one for instance, do the quiet woman and loud man in the title poem accompany one another, or fail to accompany one another?) I think this is a question, but in any case I’ll be interested in any way you choose to respond.
Lily Brown: The issue of accompaniment is a loaded one for me, and I think you pick up on my ambivalence with your question about “the quiet woman and the loud man” in the title poem from my book. I observed those people in a coffee shop in Berkeley, and while I have no real way of knowing whether they did or did not accompany one another, the exchange got me thinking. I was actually touched by the conversation because the man seemed to want the woman to know she would still have her coffee to accompany her, even if he went to the restroom. Perhaps he was projecting his own worry about leaving her in his utterance. Or perhaps he himself was not a person who liked to be alone. Or maybe he liked to be alone but was concerned about what that meant with regard to his significant other. By transcribing that exchange and then giving it a sort of metaphorical equivalent in the poem (“He says, while you enjoy your coffee, / I’ll go to the bathroom. // He says, here’s the light. I place it in your glass. / Here’s how light stays when I’m gone.”), I wanted to raise questions about accompaniment and maybe highlight its complexity rather than provide answers. I see that as an issue with cultural significance, actually: to give space to questions, rather than answers and to complicate notions of identity and relationships.
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 Jena Osman’s The Network (Fence, 2010).
H. L. Hix: In Lyric Philosophy, Jan Zwicky proposes that “Few words are capsized on the surface of language, subject to every redefining breeze. Most, though they have drifted, are nonetheless anchored, their meanings holding out for centuries against the sweep of rationalist desire.” Her focus there seems to be the contrast with history, the way words hold their own in spite of history. But as I read your etymological inquiries in The Network, your focus there is on a parallel relationship between etymology and history: words as historical archives, reference not only as designation of a present object but also of a historical continuum. How far off base am I in that reading?
Jena Osman: I don’t think I’m trying to argue that words are completely flexible, bending entirely to the historical moment. As Zwicky says, meanings drift but are still anchored. But I don’t believe those meanings exist out of context—there isn’t some kind of platonic ideal of words lurking out there outside of their use. Words are the product of their usage, and I’m interested in trying to map out those uses. As I say in the book, if I could follow the history of the words I’m looking at, maybe I could understand the history of the times. But I’m not a linguist, so this is more of a fantasy than a reality. The word maps I trace in The Network are thoroughly amateur, the product of my trying to “translate” the entries I found in a book by Eric Partridge called Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English.
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.