Later this year, The Conversant and Essay Press will publish a chapbook, curated by Brian Kim Stefans, devoted to exploring the diversity of communities and historical trajectories shaping Los Angeles-based poetics. Here we offer, as an excerpt from that chapbook, a conversation between Wanda Coleman and Paul Vangelisti, conducted in the months preceding Coleman’s recent death.
In Brenda Hillman’s work, the smart and the heart coexist: a rigorous, often mystical intellectuality and language that sparks on the tongue, as in the title of her collection, Loose Sugar, ground-breaking for its innovative risks and resilient feminist voice. With Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire comes the blazing conclusion to her tetralogy on the elements. The first, Cascadia, mindfully traverses the earth, while in Pieces of Air in the Epic and Practical Water, Hillman suffuses us in air and water. Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, the final book in the series, blends a Romantic sensibility with her experimental forms. While these poems still draw from the tumult of our environmental and political crises, they flare with a visionary light. —Amy Pence
Amy Pence: At the time of Cascadia’s publication, you weren’t sure if you would continue writing about the classical elements, yet you did. What has sustained you?
Brenda Hillman: In Cascadia, I tried to bring exploratory forms and bio-regionalism into a relationship, to investigate language and earth and poetic form at the same time. Geology quickly became a metaphor for consciousness—fractured, evolutionary and not continuous. It illumined the ideas of the outer and the inner, of permanence and impermanence. The unconsciousness of the world and the mind of an artist commune in a poem, and the necessities of language meet you there.
The Conversant long has admired Lemon Hound’s lively, multifarious engagement with contemporary literature. In partnership with Lemon Hound, and in the hopes of encouraging further dialog between Canadian- and U.S.-based poetics, we have decided to re-publish a monthly excerpt from the Lemon Hound archive. The subject of this particular interview is Giles Benaway’s Ceremonies for the Dead.
Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy: I want to share my thanks and appreciation Giles, for you allowing your first published collection of poems to be a dwelling place for the Dead. How did the Dead manage to get such space, and why is this space ceremonial?
Jessica Baran won the first annual Besmilr Brigham Award for Women Writers for her book, Equivalents. As Editor at Lost Roads Press, I chose Baran’s book collaboratively with Danielle Pafunda and Prageeta Sharma, who generously donated their time as guest judges for this first contest.
Susan Scarlata: Over the past year we’ve gotten to know each other from coast to coast (Boston, San Francisco) and a few places in between (Denver, Laramie). It has been amazing to know you first through your book, Equivalents (which I love and chose to publish as the first new Lost Roads’ title in quite some time), and then to find equal compatibility in-person in these varied places. Throughout, I’ve picked up on various things in our conversations I’d love to ask you more about.
When I become interested in an idea, I want to know what I think about it—so I write essays. But I also, frequently, want to know what others think about the same idea. If I think enough people might be interested, I try to edit a collection of essays. Editors don’t talk to each other that often. There are organizations of writers, but editors are strewn about, having occasional conversations that are rarely recorded. For this series of dialogues, I’ve tried to gather some editors of nonfiction anthologies to talk together. I fed them a few questions, which they’ve responded to or not. Their conversations are as interesting, as lively, as their anthologies.
This is a discussion with Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow on the anthology The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation, which they co-edited. This anthology was first published in 1998 by Three Rivers/ Crown Publishing Group. It was subsequently republished with a new preface by Rutgers University Press in 2007 and remains in print.
David Lazar: To what extent do you think anthologizing is a radical act, or can be, and to what extent might it be conservative, the impulse to preserve? Can you speak to these impulses or tensions?
Rachel Blau DuPlessis: This anthology had several serious goals. The goals were radical and conservatizing (preservation-oriented)—not conservative at all, except perhaps in an old definition (putting up preserves). The goals of The Feminist Memoir Project were historical, political and insistent. We wanted to collect original essays by women who had (often in their 20s and 30s) played serious roles in the burgeoning women’s movement: as instigators, partisans, activists, thinkers and doers. We wanted them to record their activist efforts and convictions, to discuss their activities with other women, and to reflect on their entrance into the women’s movement—including second-thoughts, problems and analyses. This was a movement that our contributors were (in various ways) creating suddenly and compellingly beginning around 1966. We thought some personal-history writing and presentation would help to counteract some of the erasure of this multifarious and serious achievement, an erasure that was already being experienced, and that has become quite extreme over the past decades (since about 2000). We wanted our contributors to reflect on what they had done, and to count some of the costs and the benefits of this enormous upsurge of social struggle. The goal was to document, in people’s own words, their grassroots activism.
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. Transcription by Cameron Decker.
Tony Trigilio: Hi CM, how are you doing?
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.
The subject of this interview is Daniel Tiffany’s Neptune Park.
Rusty Morrison: The paragraph that you wrote for us about Neptune Park begins: “Some might call Neptune Park a graphic novel—minus the pictures: mumblecore, infidel pamphlet, lazy cento.” Your prose has a beguiling dazzle. A luster plays over this paragraph’s meaning, which both lures and taunts, tempts and briefly blinds with its brightness. I find this an excellent entry into poems that are “graphic” in all the ways one might read meaning into that word, including alluding to the intersection on the “graph” of language’s two axes (selection and combination), which, at the point of encounter, make a little emptiness, according to Roman Jakobson. Can you talk about how (or why, or when) you construct, in your poetry, predicaments that are never predictable as they move under a reader’s eye (little “action figures of speech,” I’d call them)?
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 focuses on Mumolo’s book Mortar.
Rusty Morrison: It is such a delight to be interviewing you because your first book is coming out with Omnidawn! You have been one of Omnidawn’s longest tenured and most important poetry editors. And it’s especially meaningful to me that I was an early reader for much of this work, since you were in my workshop at Saint Mary’s College when I was a visiting writer there. You were such a terrific student, I had to invite you to be an intern with us. What a thrill it is for me to see this book come to fruition! That it became a finalist, selected by Fanny Howe, for the 1913 Poetry Award, made it clear to us that we simply had to ask you to let us publish it. Can you say a bit about the work? What is at the core of this material for you?
This monthly series features highlights from the Cross Cultural Poetics archive. Cross Cultural Poetics is one of the longest-running radio shows in America focused on contemporary poetry and poetics. Based at The Evergreen State College and hosted by Leonard Schwartz, the entire archive, running from 2003 to the present, can be accessed on PennSound.
For February, I’ve chosen an episode that originally aired in 2004 and features poet, labor activist and founder of The Collapsible Poetics Theater, Rodrigo Toscano. Toscano reads from his fourth book, To Leveling Swerve, as well as two other poems, “Twelve Riddles in Spirit, Crook in Hand” and “Memories of Somewhere to Somewhere Else.” He and Schwartz discuss the intermixture of discourses in Toscano’s work, and the privileging of materiality over the spiritual dimensions of a word. Toscano, who grew up speaking both Spanish and English, talks about “code switching” as more of a survival mechanism than sheer poetic technique, and reads from his dynamic and quick-witted multi-vocal works—poems that bring to the fore the materiality and relational nature of language. As he put it, “I try to invite people through the course of a half-an-hour of reading not to be afraid of letting go of meaning.”
Rodrigo Toscano’s newest book of poetry is Deck of Deeds. His previous collection, Collapsible Poetics Theater, was a 2007 National Poetry Series Selection. He was the recipient of a 2005 New York State Fellowship in Poetry. His plays have been performed at the Disney Redcat Theater and the Ontological-Hysteric Poet’s Theater Festival. His poetry has been translated into French, Dutch, Italian, German, Portuguese, Norwegian and Catalan. Toscano works for the Labor Institute, in conjunction with the United Steelworkers and the National Institute for Environmental Health Science. He works out of a laptop, tethered to a Droid, residing in airports, occupying poetics in midflight.
Leonard Schwartz: Andrew, A Possible Bag is attentive to particulars (a wolf, a white raven and a white raven mask), as well as very particular and particularizing Arapaho words. Yet there is also a bag into which they all go—an ecosystem which embraces the particulars, let’s say. I certainly don’t think it is the particular in contrast to the universal for you. But could you talk about how a set of particulars is contained in a whole? Does the latter come from myth? From a scientific understanding of topos? From language?
Andrew Schelling: Let me say something first about place, topos, Leonard. A Possible Bag is the second book in a project I started as a way of getting closer to the Southern Rocky Mountain ecosystem. My work over the years with land use, ecology, place names, myth, economies, has originated close to home. I use them as a starting point for what my friend JB Bryan calls the postmodern archaic. I also like the phrase “archaic internationalism.” By “archaic” neither of us means old fashioned or obsolete. I also don’t use it quite as Jerome Rothenberg does, to refer to pre-literate peoples. Instead, it’s a way into bioregional concerns, a poetry grounded in deep time. What I tried in A Possible Bag and in the previous book, From the Arapaho Songbook, was to see how close my poetry could get to a kind of landscape. I did it with the particulars of two languages. First, of course, is the patois spoken by most people around here, anachronistically known as English—a language full of Spanish, Native and West African words and rhythms. Then there’s Arapaho, the language of the people who frequented this region before Euro-American settlers came. When I found this couplet in your book IF it jumped out at me:
Nature Theater of Oklahoma talks with performance artist and theater maker Daniel Alexander Jones, as well as with his alter-ego, the uber-glamorous “soulsonic superstar,” Jomama Jones. A conversation that touches on character, imagination, creativity, realness, possibility and growth–in all its marvelous and weedy aspects–and the everyday work we do to tend that garden.