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 found here.
HER KIND: Deborah A. Miranda ends her poem “Old Territory. New Maps,” with this entreaty to a former lover: “Help me / translate loss the way this land does— / flood, earthquake, landslide— / terrible, and alive.” What are the natural worlds of Wendy Babiak and Metta Sáma? In what ways do you and your work connect to the natural world?
Wendy Babiak: Wow. First, I have to thank you for introducing me to this powerful poem. And then say that the natural world reflected in it manifests one way I see it: the landscape in which we love. But it’s also the world that feeds us, the very stuff from which we grow. As I’ve heard it said, the earth peoples like an apple tree apples. To imagine that we’re separate from the natural world is one of man’s most ridiculous fallacies. And it’s why we’re killing ourselves, by poisoning the air and water, by killing the micro-herds of the soil and the bees that pollinate our food, by dismantling (with our carbon in the atmosphere) the life-supporting systems of the planet: because we imagine that we are not of this world, but just living in it.
In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Warren Heiti’s Hydrologos (Pedlar Press, 2011).
H. L. Hix: The subject made explicit by the book’s title, water, is present throughout, from the title/first word of the first poem, “Rain,” to the last image of the last poem, the sound of “tap water striking teakettle.” But the sentence “Time is a symptom of music and light,” in the poem “Hourglass,” names three other pervasive presences in the book. Is there any sense in which, for the poems in your book, time, music and light function as “the first three dimensions” from which one “abstract[s] the fourth,” water?
Warren Heiti: Thanks for your terrific and difficult question. I’d intended Hydrologos to be the first entry in a quartet of manuscripts, each dedicated to one of the four elemental dimensions (originally formalized, I believe, by the preSocratic philosopher Empedokles), but that project was hijacked by others. Anyway, my untutored hunch is that water is more fundamental than, and thus not abstractable from, time. But it will take some time (!) to unpack that hunch. The sentence that you mention, “Time is a symptom of music and light,” is a perplexing one. While working on this manuscript, I found the device of the mask indispensable for thinking around the edges of the internal critical voice (the homuncular, premature editor who tends to yell through a little battery-powered bull-horn). This particular sentence was smuggled out of the underworld of primary process by its speaker (a character called “Ofelia”) while I was trying to distract the cantankerous secondary-process censor.
In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Jan Zwicky’s Forge (Gaspereau Press, 2011).
H. L. Hix: I keep returning to this sentence from “Night Music” (20): “You are only trying to say / what you see in the world.” The “only” there seems crucial. If “see” can be taken to stand for all the senses—what you perceive in the world—then this sentence seems as though it could describe an ambition common to your three primary modes of inquiry/expression, music, philosophy and poetry. But that “only”: Is it a form of acquiescence? of humility? of resignation?
Melanie Hubbard: So, your book I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say seems to owe a direct debt to Agha Shahid Ali’s various statements that “a free-verse ghazal is a contradiction in terms.” It’s as if you took up the gauntlet he threw down. Your poems dispense with the ghazal’s traditional end words (radif) and anticipatory penultimate internal rhyme (qafia), thus ungrounding the ghazal’s dissociative leaps from couplet to couplet; in effect you’ve written highly disjunctive free-verse couplets. But I suspect you went for Ali’s “tease,” “How does it not hold together?” (See his essay in An Exaltation of Forms.) Check yes or no. I mean, have you destroyed the ghazal in order to save it? (I’m pretty happy not to be bludgeoned with repetends.)
It gives me great pleasure to present the second conversation between CantoMundo poets in a 3-part series: Marcelo Hernandez Castillo and Darrel Alejandro Holnes. Let’s begin with a note from Marcelo on conversing in a pecha kucha. —Rosebud Ben-Oni
Darrel Alejandro Holnes and I set out to participate in a discourse that outlines some of our aesthetic interests and similarities and, perhaps, to bridge some of the points of variation through which Latin@ poetry seems to intersect. Eventually, I proposed to reconsider the connotations around the terms “discourse” and “conversation.” I wanted to experiment with the limits of what we can call a conversation, so I proposed to Darrel that we enter into a type of discourse that offers both a lyrical associative gesture and an exercise in collaboration. Terrance Hayes has translated a formal structure of presentation called a Pecha Kucha (from the re-appropriated Japanese word for “picture”) into a poetic form in his book, Lighthead. The form derives from architecture students fed up with having to sit through PowerPoint presentations for hours. In effect, they devised a new form: 20 x 20. The presentation consists of 20 images that all must contribute to the advancement of the overarching theme, and you have 20 seconds to talk about each one. Pecha Kuchas became a worldwide phenomenon, with people from different disciplines coming together to speak for 20 seconds about their specialty. “Pecha Kucha Nights,” as Terrance explained to me, were a chance to construct interdisciplinary conversations through the medium of association.
The Conversant is happy to announce its merger with Essay Press. Andy Fitch will be Essay’s new editor. Cristiana Baik will be its managing editor. Christopher Schmidt will serve as editor at large. We look forward to working with Essay’s founding editors Catherine Taylor, Stephen Cope and Eula Biss. Here we offer Fitch’s 2011 interview with Taylor concerning Essay Press. This interview first appeared in Cream City Review 36.1.
Andy Fitch: You’ve founded respected publications before, the Harwood Review and New Ohio Review. Could we start by discussing if, initially, you’d thought of Essay Press as an extension of those projects, if you envisioned the press making a pointed intervention into contemporary publishing (specifically into creative nonfiction or poetry, or as critique of any clear demarcation between those fields)?
Catherine Taylor: It’s true I’ve done many publishing projects. I think they’re all just symptoms of the way I live and work. But in terms of intervention: It might be too programmatic, or ascribe too much intention to say I meant to make an intervention. I just responded to a perceived lack. I was teaching creative nonfiction but struggling to find the kind of work I wanted to teach. I’d wanted to teach more innovative pieces, pieces that challenged students in terms of form or politics or were just a bit less mainstream than the essays that tend to get featured in anthologies. That was my first motivation. I was looking for pieces. And realizing they were in literary journals, some already defunct, and that there really wasn’t a place in the publishing world where my students and I could access this work. I thought, Well, I could start a press that gave essayists and creative nonfiction writers a home in the way poets had. And that became the model, that you can return to your favorite poetry book year after year, but it’s hard to return to a great essay you saw in an obscure journal six years ago if you’re not schlepping around your old journal copies. Sometimes I do that and sometimes I don’t.