Cristiana Baik with Sawako Nakayasu

Sawako Nakayasu
Photo of Sawako Nakayasu courtesy of Mitsuo Okamoto

Along with Andy Fitch, Cristiana Baik 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.

Cristiana Baik: In Hurry Home Honey and Texture Notes, objects, situations, circumstances are always changing directions, shifting, in transit, “ru[ning] off and towards…” Do the poems’ constant movements reflect ways you experience place and time?

Sawako Nakayasu: It’s possible that I move around a lot in my life. In general there’s been a lot of changes in terms of geography, from Japan to New York to Cupertino (California) to San Diego to France/Europe to Providence to Tokyo, back to various parts of the U.S., then to China and Japan.

Andy Fitch with Travis Nichols

Travis Nichols
Travis Nichols

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: Somewhere you’ve suggested that Iowa explores the art of memory, using the sentence for its elemental stitchery—as happens in Joe Brainard’s I Remember and Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. Yet while many readers may expect prose syntax to prompt further elucidation and narrative cohesion than poetic lines do, the opposite seems to occur here. So perhaps we could start to explore related rhetorical tensions by tracking the place and progress of time throughout the book. Readers encounter statements such as “I, swirling and flowing past us into every artery and every thing, was the time.” Elsewhere, Iowa’s “I” ponders whether “My Time Hand” has gone pink from gazes. Later, this same passage closes off its episode by declaring “That was the first time I tried it.” Could you put into relation Iowa’s sentence-based thrust, its prose-block framing and its fluid/static conceptions of time?

Travis Nichols: Narrative in its most basic received form is: Born, Lived, Died. This depresses me. I don’t think it’s “true,” or no more “true” than any other form so clichéd as to become invisible. I feel different experiences of my life recurring at different times—my childhood experiences aren’t isolated to the time when they first occurred, because I’m re-coding and re-traumatizing and re-living them through memory, dreams, storytelling and also through my senses, every day. When I hear a song I used to listen to all the time as a kid, but not often since (pick any of the 8-Track of Funny Bone Favorites for examples!), it sends me back through my earlier experiences in ways often so striking and vivid that I’m incapacitated. If I didn’t know better I’d probably crash my car or get picked up by the police for vagrancy. The second, third, fourth or fifth time is just as real as the first, and in some ways is more so, because it’s re-enforcing the cognitive grooves that had been laid by the first experience. Is my first memory of curling up inside my green plastic frog toybox as the sunlight streamed in “real” or just something I’ve been told happened to me and so it has become real in the telling? Yes, which is what makes it so rich and real to me.

Virginia Konchan with Kristina Marie Darling and Lightsey Darst

Darling and Darst
Kristina Marie Darling and Lightsey Darst

This interview focuses on Kristina Darling’s X Marks the Dress: a Registry, co-authored with Carol Guess and Lightsey Darst’s DANCE.

Virginia Konchan: In both of your recent books you explore the semiotics of fashion in different ways. In 1967, Barthes made the connection, in Elements of Semiology, between text and textiles, describing the text as an interwoven fabric of quotations drawn from culture, rather than from any single reading experience. Referring to textual production as a “garment system,” Barthes describes the act of speech as comprised by “all the phenomena of anomic fabrication” or of individual style—tracing the very origin of the word “text” to the Latin past participle texere, to weave or fabricate. The author’s successor, the scriptor, exists simultaneously with the text, not in a subject/predicate relationship, dislocating the text’s meaning to “language itself” and the effect on the reader.

From the punk band Glamour Kills to the relationship between fascism and fashion (a symbolic code too often replacing signification through speech or writing for women with a codified language—literalized through semaphores such as sex bracelets worn by middle-schoolers indicating what sex acts they perform, or a diamond ring signifying a woman’s unavailability as well as cultural “worth”), the idea that “clothes make the man” takes us to the metonymic conflation, in “polite society” between a well-dressed or spoken individual and his or her character.

Can you speak to the semiotics of fashion (as a signifying system) in your two books, which present female speakers with various degrees of agency, as well as to silencing? I’m especially curious how you relate the semiotics of DANCE, Lightsey (la geste rather than logos, as signifier) to female agency.

Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell

Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell
Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell

The Conversant recently has published conversations featuring Aaron Kunin and Andrew Maxwell. Here these two friends and fellow poets talk to each other.

Andrew Maxwell: I’m stumbling toward a definition, or that’s how I’m going to start. In reading your book, I want to call these collected items remarks, or “remarks on problems.” And what’s astounding (and I’ll say this from experience too) is how very many problems there are.

We can eventually steer toward a discussion of the epigrammatic, although I don’t need a definition of that. I’m immediately interested in the character of these remarks—how many of them describe for me a sense of impedance. As if you’ve said, wait, slow up, something may be going wrong here and perhaps this is correctable. We should take notice of it.

There’s a sense of counsel and instruction, but also a sense of task-making and taking-to-task. The reader (and perhaps this is first you) is being given a problem set and being taken to task.

Jeffrey Williams with Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis
Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis offers a thinking person’s guide to sexual politics in contemporary America, combining the analysis of an academic critic with the verve of a trade writer. In Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (Grove, 1996; Duke University Press, 1999), she turns customary thinking about pornography around to look at the class politics running through judgments about it. And in Against Love: A Polemic (Pantheon, 2003), she examines marriage, adultery and other cornerstones of our culture, and how they entwine with work.

Kipnis began as an avant-garde videographer, producing Your Money or Your Life (1982), Ecstasy Unlimited: The Interpenetration of Sex and Capital (1985), A Man’s Woman (1988) and Marx: The Video (1990). Through the 1990s, she turned more to nonfiction, publishing in mainstream magazines, including Harper’s, the Village Voice and The New York Times Magazine, as well as in academic journals such as Critical Inquiry. Her first book, Ecstasy Unlimited: On Sex, Capital, Gender, and Aesthetics (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), includes essays on feminism and postmodernism as well as three videoscripts. Bound and Gagged continues Kipnis’s examination of gender and sexuality, as does Against Love, which draws on a 1998 essay, “Adultery,” from Critical Inquiry. Since the time of this interview, she has gone on to publish The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability (Pantheon, 2006), How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior (Metropolitan, 2010) and Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation (Metropolitan, 2014).

Kipnis attended the San Francisco Art Institute (BFA, 1978) and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (MFA, 1982). Since 1991 she has taught in the Radio, Television and Film Department at Northwestern University.

This interview took place on May 9th, 2003 in New York City. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams and transcribed by Laura Rotunno.

Jeffrey Williams: I just read the proofs of Against Love last week and it’s a tour de force. You write with a lot of brio. I can see how it’s consistent with your earlier work, like Ecstasy Unlimited and Bound and Gagged, in that it takes up sexuality, domesticity and politics, but it’s a departure in its style. Bound and Gagged is a trade book and certainly written in a more compelling way than most academic books, but Against Love is a kind of rollercoaster, almost like an extended stand-up performance. How does it connect with your earlier work?

Flying Object Presents Andrew Beccone

Andrew Beconne
Andrew Beccone

Flying Object is a nonprofit art and publishing organization located in an old fire station in Hadley, Massachusetts. This Flying Object interview series will serve to document some of the writers, artists and performers that pass through—as well as activity in our own community.

One person’s rat brain is another’s treasure. At the Reanimation Library’s temporary branch at Flying Object, I flip through glossy x-rays of rat brains, charts of electrocardiogram wavelengths, of bird houses, of sea canyons. In the right hands, an image is never antiquated, though the mode of appreciation changes. I don’t pick up Differential Diagnosis of the Electrocardiogram to learn. The author’s original intent has come and gone. Instead, I watch a thought morph across time, suspended between the false poles of aesthetics and information, in a fluid of anthropological disconnect.

Some could view Andrew Beccone’s Reanimation Library as a collection of mid-20th century failure, post-war America slipping on a banana peel for the 21st century’s amusement, utopian ambition reduced to point-and-laugh novelty. In their time, these books mounted earnest attempts to solve the problems of the modern world: to catalog and understand experience from the clouds to the bedroom to the sea floor, to teach us who we are. And they failed, or were dismissed as quackery, or disproved. Science writes over itself.

So what to do with this discarded material? Beccone’s collection emerges from this dust, this atomic fallout. Over the course of 12 years, he has assembled an island of misfit toys, books from these post-war years to be appreciated for their images, their ambitious titles. He does not base selection on assigning cultural worth, some arbitrary canon based on “importance” or “relevance.” His library champions a contrary definition of timelessness.

And from the collection’s middle finger to “relevance” comes its charm and vitality. Edward Tufte, hero to Beccone and pioneer of data visualization, says, “The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?” Beccone collects these flat attempts, an undertaking arguably as preposterous as the utopian dreams of modernism. His books are as valiant as they are absurd, profound as they are crude, foolish and fascinating. —Patrick Gaughan

Patrick Gaughan: You say you chose the books mostly for their visual content: photographs, illustrations, diagrams. From my brief experience, the collection seems to lean towards the sciences, instructional material, outmoded theory. What genres do you find yourself including in the Library?

Rusty Morrison with Julie Carr

Julie Carr
Julie Carr

Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process that 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 Carr’s RAG.

Rusty Morrison: The title RAG forcefully calls to my mind what is degraded, what is easily cast off. But this is only one of the many vectors that radiate from the word “rag.” Can you speak to your choice of this title and how it provoked, compelled, engaged you as you wrote these poems?

Sina Queyras with Adam Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson, Lemon Hound icon
Adam Dickinson, Lemon Hound icon

The Conversant long has admired Lemon Hounds 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.

Sina Queyras: I can’t think of a more extreme follow up to Kingdom, Phylum, but then looking at Kingdom, Phylum again, I thought, well, actually this kind of makes sense. Particularly given the work you did on the Regreen anthology in the interim. Can you tell me why polymers?

The People, Episodes 11-13 plus the L.A. Book Fair

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The People, with Insert Blanc editor and publisher Mathew Timmons and Insert Blanc artist Ben White, features the voices and ideas of The People that make up the cultural landscape of Los Angeles, the West Coast and beyond, on KCHUNG 1630AM every third Sunday at 3 p.m. and podcast on iTunes as The People Radio. The People is me, The People is you, The People is we and You Can Too!…like a broken record magically repaired. In this issue of The Conversant, we feature The People episodes 11-13, plus a Special Edition recorded and broadcast from Printed Matter’s 2014 L.A. Art Book Fair.—Mathew Timmons and Ben White

Andy Fitch with Edmund Berrigan

Edmund Berrigan
Edmund Berrigan

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: Could we start with somewhat abstract questions of autobiography? Can It!’s foreword, for instance, celebrates two types of reading experience: the processual encounter with an idiosyncratic, hybridized form “in which seemingly disparate elements unite into a wonderful, though not particularly intentional, whole”; and the fortuitous discovery of “found” texts that have “escaped their previous intentions and arrived elsewhere”—far from their purported purpose. Can we consider our own random life experiences similarly “found,” seemingly disparate, not particularly intentional, only potentially coherent or unified? Does Can It!’s fusion of nonfiction memoir, fictional story, poetic cut-up provide, in this regard, a logical means of constructing autobiography?

Edmund Berrigan: I prefer to think of Can It! as a book of poems. Maybe the question is what can you really relate about a person’s perception of life. A memoir, autobiography or whatever a person presents about their lives can only ever be an incredible reduction of the total experience. Can It! is an attempt to express multiple levels of experience. It made sense to use multiple forms and modes, all of which I think I had worked in previously. In my view of the book all of the forms blend together, poetry turning into prose, cut-up turning into biography, with a recasting of impulses in a couple of the cross-out pieces. I usually don’t predetermine content, but rather make an account of whatever is accumulating. So I could pick a form, pick a different form, let some time pass, and a set of experiences would develop.