Over the summer, Caleb Beckwith and Ching-In Chen will be joining The Conversant’s editorial team. Here Beckwith interviews Jena Osman about her new book Corporate Relations.
Caleb Beckwith: Hey Jena, I was wondering if you could start by speaking to the book’s origins. Clearly Citizens United plays a pivotal role, but was the book a direct response? And if so, what sort of response is it?
Jena Osman: Yes, the 2010 Citizens United case was definitely the starting point for the work. I’ve had a longstanding fascination with objects being granted humanity (see my poem “Dead Text” in The Character), as well as an equally longstanding obsession with Supreme Court argument transcripts (“A Real Life Drama” in The Character, “The Astounding Complex” in An Essay In Asterisks), and that case spoke to both of those interests. The perceptual swing between subject and object (seeing a subject as object, seeing an object as subject) has always struck me as a source of violence and political wrongdoing, but can also be a source of critical thinking and empathy.
This interview with Peter Streckfus, conducted by Cristiana Baik, focuses on Streckfus’ The Cuckooand his most recent collection, Errings.
Cristiana Baik: A decade separates the publication of your two collections, The Cuckoo (Yale University Press, 2004) and Errings (Fordham University Press, 2014). Have your thoughts about poetry and poetics shifted, changed during this time?
Peter Streckfus:The Cuckoo’s faulty heroes are largely alone on their quests. I think of its lyric utterance happening in solitude, the unaccompanied traveler whistling half-remembered songs, the cuckoo itself singing from the densest of trees, close to the trunk, almost always out of view.
In 2007, I founded the Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series. This series curates between 10 to 15 readings a year in Norman, Oklahoma and features poets spanning a broad spectrum of poetry communities and styles. Past poets who have read include Tom Raworth, Hank Lazer, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Arthur Sze, Natasha Tretheway, Myung Mi Kim, Charles Alexander, Joe Harrington, Afaa Weaver, Shin Yu Pai, Leonard Schwartz, Hugh Tribby, Gerald Stern, Sy Hoawhwah, Alexandra Teague, Kate Greenstreet, Dean Rader, Zhang Er, Julie Carr, Tim Roberts, Grant Jenkins, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Duo Duo, Wang Jiaxin, Glenn Mott, among many more.
One of the most exciting poets to emerge in China over the last decade, Zheng Xiaoqiong was born in 1980 in rural Nanchong, Sichuan, China, and spent eight years as a migrant worker in Dongguan City in southern Guangdong Province. Zheng’s poems are wrought from the materials of globalization rendered on an intimate scale. Zheng’s poetry draws upon the working lives of women caught in the tidal pull of China’s massive migrant labor force—with an unprecedented care and attention. She has won numerous awards including the Lu Xun Literary Award of Guangdong Province and the Liqun Literature Award from People’s Literature in 2007. In 2007 she was chosen by the popular magazine Chinese Women as one of the ten most influential figures of the times at home and abroad. Zheng’s poetry has appeared in English (with my translations of it in Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today and inNew Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry, 1990-2012.In this interview, joined by Zhang Jie (Assistant Professor of Chinese at Oklahoma University), we discuss Zheng’s poetics in relation to issues of migrant-workers’ rights and gender. —Jonathan Stalling
The Conversant happily has published Rusty Morrison’s recent interviews with Omnidawn authors. Here Andy Fitch interviews Morrison about her own new book, Beyond the Chainlink.
Andy Fitch: I’ll hold off on a couple basic questions that Beyond the Chainlink raises for me concerning the communal, choral, coupled “We.” But could we move toward more concrete questions of relationality by considering a favorite concept of yours from past statements—that of “adherence”? I’ve never fully grasped this concept, and I doubt that the dictionary can help much. Could we instead start with how adherence gets embodied in a few of your preceding books? I’ve vaguely thought of the percussive, right-justified repetitions on “please,” “advise” and “stop” in The True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story as somehow tattooing the reader, mobilizing receptivity to that book’s particular tonal variations, and perhaps prompting adherence this way. Or Book of the Given seems to parse the distinction (or ask readers to parse the distinction) between vocational adherence and intertextual adjacency. But already I’m adrift in my own abstracted speculations. So how about your personal sense of adherence, your encounter with Michel Serres’ work, your ongoing engagement with this concept across multiple collections?
Rusty Morrison: In The Birth of Physics Serres proposes that “every form is draped in an infinity of adherences.” One of its myriad connotations is a powerful reminder to me: as I write each sentence, I should stay alert to what is occluded under the accumulating adherences of familiar ideation or style. I want to write with the intention to undrape, infinitely, those more typical, more initial adherences that are the outer layers, which appear most obviously to me as meaning. Beneath those, there exists a more volatile fomenting, which is forming the work, and which must be expressed by the formal construct of the work, as it is shaped on the page. When working in a new series, the first challenge is always to find the formal construct that will best enable it, and to appreciate the useful problems that this form provokes; this is an insight-liberating practice for me.
This is the first installment of “Composing the World,” an ongoing series of conversations with authors whose work has broken significant ground in literary communities, opening doors for their peers and the writers who’ve followed them.—Laura Swearingen-Steadwell
Laura Swearingen-Steadwell: What is it about persona that pulls you in so much? Most of your body of work is from other people’s perspectives.
Tyehimba Jess: The first-person narrative is a really effective way to engage a reader. And I think for me it’s a challenge to understand where a person is coming from. It’s a challenge in that you don’t see the character from the outside, you only see the character from the inside. There are a lot of limitations about that. You’re in that person’s head, so to speak.
Catherine Imbriglio’s bookIntimacy won the 2013 Colorado Prize in Poetry. Here Stephen Burt, that year’s contest judge, discusses the book with her.
Stephen Burt: “Birds of a feather not always good at social-mirroring, turn taking” (“Blue in Green Intimacy”). Is there a story about the genesis of this book, or a story about its unity, or a story about where you found its models, that you want readers to know going in?
Catherine Imbriglio: Yes, there are stories for all these things. I knew I wanted to attempt a unified book, but one that had a different kind of “glue” than my first. The earlier one used the Roman Catholic Mass as a unifying structural device; in the new book the titles of the poems all contain the word “intimacy” with different modifiers. “Intimacy” as a recurring word does some of the work of connecting the poems to one another. There are internal connections too: one of the main ones is the frequent appearance of an iconoclastic clown figure (though not necessarily the same figure) in many of the poems.
This March, The Conversant asked some of its favorite interviewers to record conversations with poets that they admire—either at, or in the spirit of, AWP. The first part of this conversation appeared in our April issue.
Anna Elena Eyre: Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea is an immersive book. There is no title page, copyright page or other material most often encountered at the beginning of a book. Instead, the reader is dropped into text on the cover, which leads to overlapping text on the inside cover facing a page of text printed on top of photographed pieces of text. This rests on strips of paper, which resist the two-dimensionality of paper, as the strips are folded to reach away from the surface and display shadow.
Several pages in, the reader encounters a photographed page of two strips of text. These strips reveal bits of text that have been cut off or are folded, and as such cannot be fully read. What one can read (“His din ers”; “The ear is one of these bodies. Every hum being”) speaks further to this tension between the edges of dimension when immersed. In these lines, I read every human being as a hum being—as a being who hears (is vibrational), but the din often errs (as a word’s semantic meaning is never static). Words and humans cannot be stripped of vibration (as even sign-language/brail conjure energy) and yet, when we read two-dimensional pages, we might be prone to forget this. Can you speak/write more to how you envision these tensions informing your work?
Over the summer, Caleb Beckwith and Ching-In Chen will be joining The Conversant’s editorial team. Here Beckwith and Jen Hofer discuss the “Antena@Blaffer” exhibition, on display through May 10th at the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum, as well as two of Hofer’s recent chapbooks: Front Page News (LRL Textile Series) and The Missing Link (Insert Blanc Press). For more information about Antena check out an extensive interview in arts+culturetx and the download page for our manifestos & how-to guides. The video is a full documentation of their Skype chat, so viewers might notice minor glitches in audio syncing as well as a small dialing pad on the screen’s left side.
Jonathan Weinert sat down to talk with H. L. Hix during the AWP Conference in Seattle, Washington, on March 1, 2014. They discussed Hix’s latest book of poems,As Much As, If Not More Than, just released by Etruscan Press, as well as his online project IN QUIRE and his critical project Alter Nation, forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse, from which some of his recent poetic material derives.
Jonathan Weinert: These lines, from the poem “A Falling Thing on Fire from Its Fall,” seem to me to address in a rather explicit way the strategies that you use in your new book, As Much As, If Not More Than:
To transform my spills into progress, I try to rhyme
observational studies, developed over time,
with spontaneous, dispersed experiments
meant to surprise laws whose operations we can’t see.
That something is colossal does not make it permanent.
Give me entanglement, and you can keep grandeur.
The built loses to the improvisational.
Its being impossible does not make vain
an attempt to redefine the dominant powers.
As the introductory material states, the notion of this book derives in part from artist statements. As I was reading the book, especially its second section, “As Much As,” I began to feel that you were making something like artist statements in almost every poem, and I started looking at each poem as kind of a statement about its own strategy. I’m interested in what the poems say about your strategy, but I’m also interested in the idea of the artist statement as a strategy. Could you talk about that a little bit?