This Woodland Pattern interview series will document conversations between some of the writers, artists and performers who pass through Woodland Pattern and Milwaukee. Danez Smith read at Woodland Pattern on February 28, 2015 as part of Shift: Guest Curators from the LGBTQ Community. Below are excerpts from the reading as well as a conversation conducted in person with guest curator Freesia McKee before the reading.
Danez Smith, “Obey,” “my father gives a lecture on the power of good pussy,” “all spring we’d watch grandpa rub his knee and complain about rain,” and “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015
Freesia McKee:Okay, so before we talk about your book, I’m wondering if we could talk about the Hands Up Don’t Shoot edition of Winter Tangerine Review that you guest edited. I’d like to talk to you about the involvement of poets in the Black Lives Matter movement and how many people have pointed out that this isn’t a new movement; it’s a movement of hundreds of years. I’m wondering about your thoughts on how the role of poets and poetry is evolving in this current era of the movement where we’re at now.
This interview concerns Christopher Vandegrift’s new book Policy Pete’s Dream Book out from Make Now later this year.
Caleb Beckwith: I’d like to begin with a talk that I saw you give at the University of Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. Could speak to this performance, how it informs the premise of the book?
Christopher Vandegrift: Sure. I think a good way to frame things is to say that the overall project is one of two related, yet independent parts. First, there’s the book and, second, there’s the performance that you saw, which contextualizes the book but also functions as its own thing. The book is a really good entry point though, so maybe I should start with that. So, the book – Policy Pete’s Dream Book – is an appropriation and reworking of a cheap paperback by the same title, which was originally published in Harlem in 1933 and sold as an aid for gamblers who played the numbers—that is, for individuals who engaged in numbers gambling. The way that numbers gambling worked was very much akin to a daily lottery. Players could bet on any three-digit number between 000 – 999 and the winning numbers were chosen by methods that, although they varied depending on the particular locale and racket, were usually wholly random. Dream books, of which Policy Pete’s was just one title out of many, catered to individuals seeking an easy means to beat the randomness of this system: “mystical” means by which they could win it big.
The poems in Gina Abelkop’s second collection I Eat Cannibals are spectral, femme, and glittering with anachronism. Stretched across time, they assert their own kind of critical feminist manifest destiny via the temporal wormhole. Here, the present leaks into the past and vice versa: a dinosaur lives; an 1880s dance hall girl remembers song lyrics a century too early. This is poetry of affinity through time travel—affinity with the magnificent cassowary, with the old west, with the land that bears witness to all. From “Wagons West”: “I made that long journey I// executed it entirely in my language// I came/ west// I mean to survive.”
MM: Many of your poems seem vintage, if not ghostly, possessing a multilayered temporality that arrives via voice and diction as well as scenario and character. How would you describe your own relationship to history, and/or to time more generally?
GA: I have so many dreams about time travel, usually traveling back in time and finding myself shopping and being boggled by how everything I’d usually (in my waking life) identify as “old” is now just a regular brand new thing, marveling at the fact that I get to see/buy all these things cheaply, and they’re everywhere, they’re the norm, they’re not decaying and torn, just new & probably boring to everyone else; these are day-clothes, not glamour gowns. Fashion as a representation of availability/consuming matter. It’s gonna say something, maybe several somethings, about me and my relationship to ideas of ownership and desire for all the Things of the World. But it’s incredible, an incredible feeling, even though it’s just a dream—to find myself moving through space and time in this effortless way. My dreams never take into account of the very non-romantic things that would accompany any real time travel: racism/segregation, misogyny, limited opportunities, wars or homophobia. Fear. Loneliness.
This interview between Krystal Languell and Rachel Levitsky took place June 2014. It references an interview with Nelson Algren, conducted by Alston Anderson and Terry Southern, first published in The Art of Fiction, No. 11. Winter 1955.
KL: Did you have any trouble getting your novel published?
RL: (Laughing) Yes, in that it was very hard to finish. No. But I should say it was (it would have been) very hard to get anyone who publishes fiction to publish my novel. Every single person that was a fiction editor who solicited parts rejected me (other than Evan Lavender-Smith at Puerto del Sol) and every single time I applied to residencies in prose I was rejected.
Sweetly, it’s published by Futurepoem, who never had any doubts about it and solicited it from me. They wanted it much sooner than it was done, so my problem in publishing the novel was finishing the novel.
On the publisher’s website, the poems in Dagmara Kraus’s collection kummerang (kookbooks, 2012) are described to: “sparkle and dash, oscillate between modes of speech, stagger and scatter meaning; they are existential, playful, polyglot, and full of matter-of-fact obstinacy. Kummerang will entice the adventurous poetry reader with anagrams, lists, incantations, the more “classical” beside the experimental, and visual poetic forms.” With such texture and dexterity of language, it’s plain to see that translating such texts would be a challenge for even the most experienced of translators. Being friends and both translators of German, Joshua Daniel Edwin and I are essentially in constant conversation about the ins and outs of the translation process. Recently, we took up his experience translating Dagmara’s work and its namesake poem, Gloomerang, which has been published as a chapbook by Argos Books. – Sharmila Lisa Cohen
For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. On January 5th, 2015, Emji Spero and Joel Gregory, editors of Timeless, Infinite Light, sat down with Ivy Johnson at Pretty Lady, a diner in West Oakland, to discuss their small press art cult. This was their conversation.
During her artist residency in eastern fjords of Iceland, Anaïs Duplan led a modified version of ManifeStation, a temporary manifesto-writing service, at the LungA School, an alternative arts school in Seyðisfjörður. In a four-hour intensive, the LungA students held in-depth interviews with each other, crafted short manifestos, and held a reading in the school’s auditorium.
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 episodes 20, 21 and 23, featuring: Stacey Allan & Sarah Williams, Carol Cheh & Ariel Evans, and Tomory Dodge & Nicolas Shake
The People: Tomory Dodge & Nicolas Shake Ep. 23
Featuring Notes from The People with J.S. Makkos & Bernard Pearce
Plus Allison Carter reading from her newly released poetry collection, Here Versus Elsewhere on Insert Blanc Press at Commonwealth and Council this past November… and we close out the show with a song by the band New Weather
In this interview from February 13, 2015, Jane Satterfield and Adrianne Kalfopoulou discuss interfaces of genre, biculturalism, motherhood, the plasticities of writing, eros, Sylvia Plath, and appetite.
Jane Satterfield: Let me first say that I adore the vertiginous ride that is Ruin. All those border-crossings—literal and literary—through rough terrain.
There’s a life that’s ruined by a country’s shuttered economy and the life that’s ruined and remade after a marriage has collapsed. But what seems to capture your interest most is the everyday collision of private and public life. Your title immediately brings to mind images of fractured antiquity; it also brought to mind Don DeLillo’s extended essay, “In the Ruins of the Future,” which first appeared in Harper’s in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Would it be impertinent to see some kinship there in your questioning of narratives and your understanding of time as represented in history and art? Time as it’s fractured by travel and technology? Your book radiates through themes—evading, or gracefully side-stepping—the predictable, epiphanic narrative structure that seems to be the unavoidable hallmark of popular memoir. I’d love to hear a bit about the book’s backstory and birth pangs, how it found its final shape.