Ugly Duckling Presse has just released Andy Fitch’s interview collection Sixty Morning Talks. Here Fitch interviews Cole Swensen about her book Gravesend. Recorded June 25th and July 20th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: Could we first contextualize Gravesend amid a sequence of your research-based collections? Ours, for example, comes to mind. What draws you to book-length projects, and do you consider them serialized installments of some broader, intertextual inquiry? Does the significance of each text change when placed beside the others? Or do they seem discrete and self-contained?
Angela Hume: Brian, I want to ask you about lyric, as you’re thinking about it in Companion Grasses. “What is ‘lyric,'” you ask several times in your long poem “Quakinggrass.” The poem offers this response to its own question:
Little grammar of attraction
(What is “lyric”)—
The book fell open on its broken spine
(florere, “to flower”)—
“It’s quakinggrass,” I said—
Your dashes register the percolation of time through thought, or thought through time, pressing toward concept. To a certain extent, the lines are rendered fragmentary, even discrete, by their dashes, little caesuras. But they also aggregate, ideate, via their materials, from one line to the next. It’s not (necessarily) a linear logic. That is to say, the declarative “It’s quakinggrass” may or may not come as response to the preceding interrogative, “What is ‘lyric.'” In this way, the poem wrestles with the activity, or process, of its own thinking. This was, of course, the project of transcendental philosophy.
Importantly, the poem offers a particular figure here: that of inflorescence. This is a term that appears repeatedly in your book. Inflorescence: the arrangement of flowers on a plant—a flowering system. The collective blossom. Or, the process of flowering. The image, emplaced in Big Sur, California, is: the fragile flower cluster trembling on its slight stalk (briza maxima).
My question about lyric is also a question about your inheritance of both the Romantic tradition and the mid-century tradition of composition by field—the way you yoke one to its (seeming) other in Companion Grasses to discover lyric for yourself.
That said, I’m interested in the figure of inflorescence, very specifically, as a figuration of lyric. How does it work, in your mind?
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 Touch to Affliction, by Nathalie Stephens, now known as Nathanaël.
H. L. Hix: Very near the end of the book appears this sentence: “What is city is vociferous and batters the body, your body and mine” (75). This seems to me to be a kind of culmination of the book’s pervasive concerns with the body and the city. Though the text itself names other writers, composers and cultural figures, this sentence made my mind run to Hobbes, and to this question: does it seem to you at all consonant with Touch to Affliction to construe it as (among its many other aspects) a counterposition to Hobbes’s Leviathan, his ultimately utopian metaphor of human society as a unity-in-multiplicity?
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.
The Poetic Research Bureau, a California-based publishing collective, hosts one of the longest active reading series in Los Angeles, based in Chinatown’s Arts District. Its publishing emphasis is on ephemeral and short-run books and folios, and its directors seek to cultivate composition, publication and distribution strategies that enlarge the public domain. The Conversant has invited the Bureau’s co-directors Joseph Mosconi, Andrew Maxwell and Ara Shirinyan to engage in an ongoing discussion concerning the Bureau’s various activities.
Joseph Mosconi: People may know the Poetic Research Bureau as a reading series in Los Angeles. But we are also a fledgling publishing collective and have tried to forge an identity through various essays and shared statements. So I’d like to start off by addressing the tangled topic of our poetics, shared and unshared, the different assumptions each of us hold about poetry and aesthetic practice and perhaps loop back to how coterie may or may not play a part in this.
Ara, you identify strongly as a conceptual writer. Your imprint Make Now Press has published what many consider to be landmark books in conceptual poetry by Kenneth Goldsmith, Yedda Morrison, Rob Fitterman and others. You were even included in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing.
Andrew, in your poem “The Conceptual Poet and the Hiring Committee,” you seem to criticize the figure of the conceptual poet as a careerist “open to traveling for panel appearances” and “envious of painting’s egress.” Elsewhere you write: “Against Expression. Really?” and describe it as “A hold-back project, as nostalgic as self-loathing, even where the self is accidentally yours.” And yet you are no enemy of proceduralism and “historical thefts and pastiche.”
In March 2013, Jack Kerouac School MFA students in my Documentary Poetry course read Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder.They then discussed the book with her via email. In addition to describing how she dealt with primary source materials in the writing of Jane, such as her aunt’s adolescent diaries, Nelson also discussed somatic writing, the brutality of fact, and aporia.
Participants: Jaclyn Hawkins, Caitlan Mitchell, JH Phrydas, June Lucarotti, Ashley Waterman, Shitu Rajbhandari, Katherine Kauffman and Janelle Fine.
The Class: It seems like Jane became a haunting experience for you—Jane’s presence in your life, her presence in your dreams, etc. Did you feel closure upon your project’s completion? Have you returned to her (her murder) post-publication?
Along with Cristiana Baik, Andy Fitch is assembling the Letter Machine Editions Book of Interviews, which also includes interviews conducted by Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. This talk will be published in that collection, due for late 2014 release.
Andy Fitch: Can we start with the Free Cell acknowledgments page? Here this 2009 City Lights collection goes out of its way to present Edge Books as your “primary publisher,” and even offers a brief timeline of Rod Smith’s founding of the press. What type of gesture did you wish to make with this acknowledgement? Why align oneself as a writer in this way? Did you want to demonstrate ongoing loyalty to a hardworking small-press publisher who gave you crucial early support? Do you appreciate the art-world model of a gallery cultivating/representing its selected “stable”? Can the symbiotic models of family-hood, of civic citizenship (both of which I hope we’ll discuss in detail later) extend to the relation between poet and publisher?
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.
“On Beauty,” is a series of Lemon Hound interviews in which I ask poets about their relationship to beauty. Here I talk to Sachiko Murakami, poet and editor, whose online interactive projects are fascinating experiments in collective authorship. I hope you enjoy her curious mind, dynamic style and unpretentious attitude.—Sue Sinclair
Sue Sinclair: Can you point me toward a poem you find beautiful? In what way do you think of or experience this poem as beautiful?
Sachiko Murakami: From a. rawlings’ wide slumber for lepidopterists (Coach House 2006), one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read:
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 Bogue Hartigan’s forthcoming Omnidawn book Pool [5 choruses].
Rusty Morrison: Can you speak to the title and how it resonates through the poems in this collection?
Jasmine Dreame Wagner: Tell me a little bit about “Wyoming”—both state and verb—in your poem “State Report.” I love how I feel both the pleasure of play and of conceptual shift when the state’s proper noun is used as gerund. A proper noun of a state names both a region of land and an organized political entity, as a gerund names an action of a verb. Can you talk a little about this kind of naming and how you came to title your collection “Wyoming”?
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.