Kate Durbin with Virginia Konchan

Kate Durbin
Kate Durbin

“Pop matters,” declares Los Angeles-based writer, performer and transmedia artist Kate Durbin—“What we hear in the mall, in our cars, on YouTube, makes the world around us, which is to say that it makes us.” Author of The Ravenous Audience (Akashic Books, 2009), E! Entertainment (Blanc Press, diamond edition, forthcoming) and five chapbooks, Durbin is the founding editor of Gaga Stigmata, a blog whose curated contents are forthcoming as a book. Her projects have been anthologized and featured by Poets and Writers, Salon.com, Huffington Post, The New Yorker, Spex, NPR and many others.

Shattering the halo of iconicity surrounding the celebrity maudites of our era (Anna Nicole, Lindsay Lohan), Durbin examines the paradox of how reality stars are both commodified by celebrity culture as well as in control of their own market share. Resisting the complicit passivity of spectatorship, scopophilia, the fetish, and the gaze, Durbin’s art engages with the politics of consumption within a culture industry that minimizes the contributions of women effecting social change—treating them, according to Sheila Rowbotham, as an “amusing incongruity, titillating commodity, easily consumed.”Shot through with neologisms (“cinesexuality”), Durbin’s work posits a playful beyond to academic feminisms and postmodern memes (multiplicity, lack), wherein attempts to formulate a politico-ethical position (or narrate a representation of self or other informed by race, gender, or ethnicity) are seen as universalizing gestures, as if a neutered, class-based solidarity were the only social praxis left.

Unafraid of excess, sentiment, kitsch, and risk, Durbin offers a riposte to today’s countervailing aesthetic of disinterest, harnessing the plasticity of L.A. culture yet adamantly focused on the miasmic “real” (“I’ll take the grit of earth, facedown, any day”). Durbin’s recodings of the shifting signifiers of our time (music, fashion, femininity, labor) position her at the liberation front of a lived art born of reflection, subversive engagement with the “Big Other,” interconnectivity, and passion.

In an age when individual freedom is increasingly packaged as consumer choice, and endless opportunities are offered for aesthetic rather than political or ethical self-fashioning, Durbin’s work incites a return to conscience, as well as consciousness, and agency, for icons, and ourselves.

Virginia Konchan: Your work flaunts binary distinctions between queer/hetero, butch/femme: What relationship does “femme” play to other transgenre feminisms such as the gurlesque?

Kate Durbin: From my understanding, the gurlesque radicalizes femme as site of sinister threat to the patriarchy: A knife in the heel of a Chanel shoe. I love the idea of the femme and the sinister co-mingling and think that the gurlesque is a potent way of realizing the femme, but the gurlesque has its limitations, as all theories do. I am not sure I agree with the idea that all things we label femme possess an inherent special violence, as some gurlesque notions imply—other than the violence all things possess by nature of existing. I am interested in our anxiety around the femme. This anxiety seems a major aspect of the gurlesque, actually. It’s like we still have this second-wave feminism hangover. We can’t just be okay with glittery baubles, or, in the case of the gurlesque (at least in many of the primary gurlesque theoretical texts), it appears we can be okay with glitter as long as it’s fighting against patriarchy (even if it’s fighting abjectly, i.e. passive-aggressively). But what if the femme also has a life of it’s own on other terms?

Jasmine Dreame Wagner with Dan Chelotti

Dan Chelotti
Dan Chelotti

This interview focuses on Chelotti’s new book x.

Jasmine Dreame Wagner: Tell me about your choice of title: x. Is “x” a variable, a value that could and might change within the context of a system? Is a poem like a mathematical function where, in the act of writing, you can search for and define a feeling or a thing? Or is “x” a Roman numeral? Does it refer to a street address, something secret you are counting or counting down from?

Dan Chelotti: At first, x was a mistake. Before McSweeney’s ever saw the manuscript, I was unhappy with the title, so I took the title off and replaced it with an “x”—a variable—and asked my friend, one of my most trusted editors, for some suggestions. My editors at McSweeney’s asked this friend if he knew of any books worth looking at, and he sent them my book. Next thing I knew, my editors were in touch asking if they could publish x. I agreed, and it took me a couple days to tell them that “x” wasn’t the title. They went on to mount some serious arguments in favor of x, and it didn’t take them long to convince me. x is any and all of the things you mention, or it has the potential to be any of those things. When my editors started fighting for x, I reveled in the potential for questions like yours—that “x” would be pushed around by the reader and turned into a Roman numeral, or a variable, or a street address, or a million other things that I haven’t thought of yet! Actually, the process through which a reader will take on the title is not all that different from the process I used to write this book: I would be on a walk or a drive thinking drifting thoughts, and I would say, Hey, I can make a poem out of leftover sushi; I can make a poem out of anything. In the same way, the reader can attribute all sorts of poetic meanings to x. It’s easy to proliferate a list of things it could be (an old lover, a warning label, a treasure map) but at it’s heart it is a little glitch that appears in the system that can’t be accounted for—a mistake that, if you can accept it, will take on a life of its own.

Philip Metres with E.J. McAdams

E.J. McAdams
E.J. McAdams

The interview with E.J. McAdams took place between January and March of 2013. It  focuses on McAdams’ chapbook TRANSECTs.

Philip Metres: E.J., I read your chapbook, TRANSECTs! What I want to propose is a poetry dialogue over them. Are you game? If you are, let me begin with this question:

As an urban environmentalist (someone who lives in the city yet advocates for nature—who sees the permeable connections between what we call the human and the natural, between built space and the organic planet), can you talk about what drew you to the acrostic procedure, and how you went about the composition of these poems? In other words, was your process of selection entirely chance-bound, or were you picking particularly juicy juxtapositions along the way?

E.J. McAdams: Hi Phil,

Here it goes…

Andy Fitch with Vanessa Place

Vanessa Place
Vanessa Place

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.

Andy Fitch with Dan Beachy-Quick

Dan Beachy-Quick
Dan Beachy-Quick

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.

Nature Theater of Oklahoma with Sibyl Kempson


Nature Theater of Oklahoma talks to playwright and performer Sibyl Kempson about adjustments we have to make when real life gets more dramatic than theater. How do we weigh life and death against the old showbiz notion of “the show must go on”? Also, enjoy as we share a few choice words about ambient theater, New Jersey theater, theater for dogs, cats, cavemen and aliens – among others (We also try podcasting with our eyes closed to see what we look like inside ourselves).

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