This Woodland Pattern interview series will document conversations between some of the writers, artists and performers who pass through Woodland Pattern and Milwaukee. Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah read at Woodland Pattern on January 17, 2015 as part of Shift: Guest Curators from the LGBTQ Community. Below are excerpts from their reading as well as a conversation conducted via e-mail after the reading.
Oliver Bendorf, “I Promised Her My Hands Wouldn’t Get Any Larger,” “Split it Open Just to Count the Pieces,” “The Manliest Mattress,” and “Patrón,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015
Trish Salah, “Notes Toward Dropping out,” “Phoenicia ≠ Lebanon,” and “Reading the Book of Suicides,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015
For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. This interview concerns Josef Kaplan’s Kill List (2013). Visit Open House for more interviews and contemporary poetry.
Housten Donham: I think that I’m just going to ask you some stupid questions, if that’s alright, because it seems to me that stupid questions might be the most important questions to answer, if questions are going to be answered, when it comes to engaging with the “around” of your work.
For example, usually when I explain Kill Listto people who aren’t poets, they almost always immediately ask, “How did he determine whether the poets were rich or comfortable?” Which may be a stupid question, and yet, when I asked you that a few months ago, I found the answer quite interesting: you based the qualifications solely on rumor, on what poets you had talked to had told you. Which is great because that seems to coincide with many of the larger concerns that I personally, at least, read in Kill List, around the social network of contemporary poetry. I see it as a kind of coterie poem, but one which breaks down or at least threatens the social fabric of the coterie. Do you think it is productive to read Kill List in this light, as a kind of social document of contemporary poetry, as something that records, reflects, and reduces the social network and the concerns and interests that make up much of the poetry community?
In 2014, Kaya Press celebrated 20 years of publishing innovative Asian Pacific American and Asian diasporic literature, including books like R. Zamora Linmark’s seminal Rolling the Rs and Sesshu Foster’s City Terrace Field Manual. Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2011, Kaya continues its mission to publish “challenging, thoughtful, and provocative” work including American Book Award winning Water Chasing Water by poet Koon Woon, and Shoshon Nagahara’s Lament in the Night (translated by Andrew Leong)—a historical rediscovery of a writer originally writing and publishing in Japanese out of LA’s Little Tokyo in the 1920s. Managing Editor Neelanjana Banerjee, Publisher Sunyoung Lee, and Lisa Chen—Kaya Press author (Mouth, 2007) and Editorial Board member—discuss creativity in the editorial process and whether ethnic-specific publishing will continue to be relevant in the 21st century. This is the first of a series of conversations which will highlight the work of Kaya Press.
In his book Toward Reality, John Berger says the ideal critic would have “the historical perspective necessary” and “the imaginative appreciation necessary” to see outside one’s moment, the power to stand on the corner of the present and look both ways, assess one’s position in relation to traffic. “But in fact it is impossible.” All the critic can do is look, with painfully inadequate and subjective eyes, at the present. To see the opposite corner, look into it, understand it, and walk towards it without being flattened. And art is a busy street.
Trinie Dalton writes criticism, interviews artists, writes books of fiction, and spearheads artist books, including You Who Read Me with Passion Must Forever Be My Friends by visual and textual artist Dorothy Iannone, out recently from Siglio Press. Dalton exercises a malleable approach to her critical writing, working from ‘the inside,’ articulating the work of artists she knows. She sidesteps the need for speculation by transforming conversations with friends into critical work. But the worries of time, of faithfulness, of the need to be ‘critical,’ don’t abate. For her, criticism is a question of who gets to speak, and the ethical dilemma of having a voice.
Ianonne coined the term ‘ecstatic unity’ to define her artistic practice, and in her essay on Iannone, Dalton elucidates the concept, defining it as an “inversion (& merging) of male and female, muse and maker, sacred and profane, celestial and carnal, submission and dominance, compliment and insult, humor and earnestness,” which could just as easily apply to the chameleon work of the critic. To look at something and keep looking is an endurance test, a cross examination, sensual act, a merging of identities, a hilarious way to spend an afternoon, a leap of faith.
Despite his relative youth, 26-year-old Ocean Vuong has been on the poetry scene for some time. The Saigon-born poet examines heartache, loss, and a type of metamorphosis in his work. He uses enjambment and space on the page cleverly and in a way that only makes his work that much stronger. In “Aubade with Burning City,” Vuong expertly incorporates lines from Irving Berlin’s seasonal classic, “White Christmas” as part of a way to talk about a 1975 evacuation of South Vietnam: “…When the dust rises, a black dog/ lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs/ crushed into the shine/ of a white Christmas.” I spoke with Vuong about the intricacies of craft and process, and why he doesn’t feel fit to offer advice to new poets.
Danielle Susi: Beside the very important content of your poems, one of the things that stand out most about your work is the way you use form and the way you use the page. Could you talk a little about how content and form play together for you and when you feel a particular form or enjambment is critical to the work?
In the second part of this series, artists Kione Kochi and Anaïs Duplan discuss the role of biography and autobiography in the writing of manifestos and how their own biographies influence them during ManifeStation, a temporary manifesto-writing service held at Flux Factory. Read the first part in this series in the February issue.
Choose one of the people we interviewed. In your own words, tell his/her/their life-story. Then read an excerpt from his/her/their manifesto that you think correlates particularly well to that person’s biography.
Anaïs Duplan: Jack Grange had, perhaps, the most enthralling biography – and of course, Jack Grange isn’t his real name; he asked us not to mention him by name, because he used to be a practicing physician. One of the first things he said was, “There’s no use talking about the future because it doesn’t exist.” It was at that moment that I leaned forward in my chair and everything else in the room disappeared for me.
Poet Josh Kalscheur interviews Seth Abramson, Co-Editor of the Best American Experimental Writing (“BAX”) anthology series, the first volume of which was published by Omnidawn in January 2015.
Josh Kalscheur: What initially led you to this project?
Seth Abramson: As it turns out, it was more a “who” than a “what”—Jesse Damiani, my Series Co-Editor, developed the idea and asked if I wanted to help him with it. My first thought was to be surprised that no one had proposed this sort of anthology before, as while Jesse and I have seen and read many remarkable anthologies of innovative writing, none were annual or open (even in part) to unsolicited submissions. My second thought was to realize how desperate I was to immerse myself in new modes of writing, and how this project would be a perfect opportunity to do just that. It was a selfish thought, but after spending 2012 and 2013 reviewing over a hundred books for online venues—and having been exposed to several thousand more poetry collections in the quest to find a hundred or so to review—I’d become pretty jaded with respect to contemporary poetry. I saw much well-deserved celebration of competent craft, but too little acknowledgment of courageous acts of authorship that fall outside conventional notions of good taste. I wanted to do my part to expose innovative writing to new audiences, and to encourage conversations about risk that were already happening locally to move to the forefront of our larger literary dialogues.
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 3rd Sunday at 3pm 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 episode 18 with Jennifer Moon and Lindsay Tunkl. —Mathew Timmons and Ben White
The People: Jennifer Moon & Lindsay Tunkl
Artists Jennifer Moon and Lindsay Tunkl talk to us about the emotional component of art making, having super powers, and the revolution. Melissa Guerrero discusses the past, present, and future of the L.A. river. Featured music by Malik Gaines and Jennifer Moon. As always our interstitial music is the song “Ocfif” by Lewis Keller.
Louis Bury: In an academic job interview, I was once asked, “I read your writing sample and I have to ask: ‘Why would anyone want to read this? What’s the point?’” The writing sample came from an earlier version of this book, but was ultimately cut. And in it, I catalogued what I could remember about all the books on my bookshelves whose contents I’d entirely forgotten: so the associations I had with each book, where I bought it or who gave it to me and why, things like that.
This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of Philip Metres’s Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (1992-1993), and has been revived, 20 years later, compiling new interviews with Russian and Russian-American poets. The complete archive will be published in book-form.
Philip Metres: When did you begin writing poetry, and who were your influences?
Dmitry Kuzmin: This is a complex and somewhat funny story. In theory, I am a third-generation writer. My grandfather, Boris Kuzmin, who died in the Second World War, was a literary critic, a specialist in English literature, particularly Byron and Goldsmith. My grandmother Nora Gal survived him for half a century, in 1941 defended a thesis on Arthur Rimbaud, and after the war became one of the most famous translators in the USSR. Here one should note that after the death of Stalin, the Iron Curtain around the USSR was not so strong as before, and the masterpieces of 20th century world literature (the ones that were allowed by the Soviet regime) were much more important events for the Russian reader than for foreign readers, and translators—the people that make acquaintance with these masterpieces happen—could be quite famous, as perhaps did not happen with translators in any other era in any other country). My grandmother translated many things, from The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery and The Stranger by Camus to three dozen short stories by Ray Bradbury (one of which, “The Best Part of Wisdom,” in which an old man on the verge of death suddenly decides to visit his beloved grandson in the capital—and discovers that his grandson lives with another young man—were not brought into publication in the Soviet Union. One could not publish anything on this subject, and this translation spent fifteen years in the desk [unpublished], and when I got it out after her death, I took it as a blessing of my union with my beloved man).