This interview borrows its questions from William Fifield interviewing Jean Cocteau for The Paris Review in 1964. That interview is “The Art of Fiction No. 34,” from Issue No. 32. Krystal Languell was an editor of R. Erica Doyle’s first book, proxy, published by the Belladonna* Collaborative in April 2013.
Krystal Languell: It takes us rather far to think you are victimized by intelligence, especially since for a half century you have been thought of as one of the keenest critical and critical-poetical intelligences in France; but doesn’t this bear on something you told me about yourself and Proust—that you both got started wrong?
Erica Doyle: [laughs] I don’t think there’s such a thing as starting wrong, there’s only progression. It’s kind of like Yoda.
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.
This spring, my Jack Kerouac School undergraduate Introduction to Critical Theory class read Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights through various critical approaches, including that of J. Hillis Miller’s “Wuthering Heights: Repetition and the ‘Uncanny,'” which I supplemented with selections from On Literature. On February 28, 2013, the class conducted an interview with him. Miller happens to be the first critic who I saw speak in person. This was 2004 at Colorado College. I admit that I was offended when the audience, including the friend who invited me to the talk, deigned to ask him questions. I don’t know what that was about—probably church memories. I was even more stunned by Miller’s open and genial responses. Of course, when I contacted Miller out of the blue this spring, he agreed to address our questions, some of which, frankly, could be answered by simply reading his very cogent writing. This warmth and graciousness is really the ethos of his critical method: As a critic, he forestalls neat conclusions, in part to sustain the pleasure of reading (or performing) the “strange” text but also to decenter the definitive reading, that is, his own authority. We are incredibly grateful to have engaged with one of this period’s most important critics.
The students in the Introduction to Critical Theory class who conducted this interview are Alexandria Bull, David Chrem, Jacob Cohen, Lauren DeGaine, Charlie Epstein, David Hall, Elizabeth Kolenda, Anna Meiners, Jade Cruz Quinn, Chey Watson, Indigo Weller and Matt Robertson.
The Class: In your book, On Literature, you speak about the relationship between technology and literature. In a world where the printed word is dying out, do you believe physical books still play an important role to literature?
J. Hillis Miller: Printed books, including printed books of literature, will be around a long time yet and will play an important role in the cultural diffusion of literature. I still read most of the literature I do read in printed books. Nevertheless, we are in the midst of an extremely rapid and world-wide change in media technology. This means that literature will more and more be available in electronic form for those who want to read it that way.
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 Paul Hoover’s book,desolation : souvenir.
Rusty Morrison: What aspects of your history and/or what particular obsessions of yours do you see apparent in?
Paul Hoover: desolation : souvenir began as a “filling in” of the blank spaces in A Tomb for Anatole, Paul Auster’s translation of Mallarmé’s grief-stricken notes for a poem that he never completed on the death of his ten-year-old son. However, my writing soon turned to my own consideration of life, death, the breaking of family relations and loss of love as experienced by all of us:
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 Cyrus Console’s book,The Odicy.
Rusty Morrison: You have described the title of The Odicy as a pun on Odyssey (Homer) and Théodicée (Leibniz). Would you say more about this choice, about your relationship with these two texts, and/or your choice to use a pun as a title?
Cyrus Console: I have never managed to feel entirely comfortable with this title—it’s a stupid pun—but it sticks because of something the wordplay does with regard to the religious experience, or the idea of religious experience, realized or unrealized, that drives much of the writing. It really affected me when, early in the project, I noticed that you could break the theo-prefix, common in English and derived from Greek θεό-ς, “god,” in order to yield the definite article, “the.” It seemed to me that the definite article was the point of contact between form and content or between language and the world—it seemed literally to articulate “the chair” I was sitting in from “chair,” as a position in a vocabulary or as a category in the mind. Part of what I wanted the book to do was narrate a variety of religious experience that was more or less atheistic, and I liked the way the introduction of a single en space turned “theodicy” (from the OED: “The, or a, vindication of the divine attributes, especially justice and holiness, in respect to the existence of evil; a writing, doctrine, or theory intended to ‘justify the ways of God to men.'” Cf. optimism n. 1.) into “The Odicy,” which refers both to the epic and to a more general idea of wandering.
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 Kristi Maxwell’s Re- (Ahsahta Press).
H. L. Hix: At some point during my reading of your book, the phrase “stream-of-sonority,” came into my head, by contrast with “stream-of-consciousness.” It seemed to me that the poems listen to language, adapting consciousness to it instead of adapting language to consciousness. (Or something like that—surely I’m not saying this well.) So, with that in mind, when I get to the sentence on page 45, “Logic a device that keeps wonder at bay,” I wonder if for you that listening, letting sound determine the course of the poem, is a way of letting wonder overwhelm.
Kristi Maxwell: Harvey, first of all, let me say thank you for such an attentive reading of Re-. When I was writing these poems, I often thought about a poetics of listening. In many ways, these poems are an attempt to respond to language through listening and being faithful (and unfaithful) to listening while transcribing.
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 Juliana Spahr’s Well Then There Now (Black Sparrow Books).
H. L. Hix: Early in the book, these two lines appear: “Things should be said more largely than the personal way. / Things are larger than the personal way of telling” (23). For me, these lines resonated throughout the book. They echoed back over the first section by way of reminding me of Leslie Scalapino’s assertion that “individuals in writing or speaking may create a different syntax to articulate experience, as that is the only way experience occurs.” They made me see the “swirl of connection” (47) as centripetal rather than centrifugal, and the infusion of this work with fulfillment of the demand that “poets need to know the names of things” (70) as enlarging. My question has to with its relation to the last section, “The Incinerator,” which seems to me the most “personal” part of the book in the way “personal” is often used when describing poetry: How does the attempt to say things “more largely than the personal way” inflect or temper or inform that section?
Juliana Spahr: Yes. “The Incinerator” is more personal. And yes, it is also not.
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.
The subject of this interview is Jill Magi’s SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011). This is the first of two interviews Thomas Fink conducted with Magi; the second interview will appear in our September issue.
Thomas Fink: Would it go against your intentions—and I suspect it would—to say that SLOT is exclusively critical of contemporary museum culture and sees no positive role for it?
Jill Magi: I’m interested in our poetry community’s perhaps limited trainings in how to critique something without discarding it altogether. In other words, is it possible to critique institutions of modernity while not falling prey to the argument, “they [historical museums] are bad; they should not exist”? I want to say that poetry is especially good at capturing this state of “seeing” while not discarding. Poets don’t need to decide either/or—our possibility is one of simultaneous acceptance and criticality.