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 episode 33 with Diana Arterian and Robin Coste Lewis.
We close out the show with a song from Minneapolis based musician Jesse Whitney from his new album Impossible Buildings. You can find out more about his music at www.jsswhtny.com. The name of the track is “Immense Rooms Collapsing Inwards.”
Diana Arterian is a poetry editor at Noemi Press and a managing editor and founding editor at the small press Ricochet. Her chapbook Death Centos came out from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2013. She’ll be talking to us about some of her new work, a collection centered around the historical figure of Agripina the Younger.
Robin Coste Lewis is a Provost’s Fellow in the Creative Writing & Literature PhD Program at USC. A Cave Canem Fellow, she received her MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program where she was a Goldwater Fellow in poetry. Her first book, Voyage of the Sable Venus from Knopf won the 2015 National Book Award in poetry.
Christy Davids: One might describe the poems in The Empty Form Goes All the Way Up to Heaven (Ahsahta 2015) as airy. The poems on the page task and reward the reader with multiple readings; they encourage and practice non-binary thinking, which is consistent throughout the book. Can you speak a bit to your philosophy of the page?
Brian Teare: That’s a good question for this book because I think this is a pretty full articulation of a shift in my thinking about the page. In both Sight Map (University of California 2009) and Companion Grasses (Omnidawn 2013), I was working off of my own kind of personal reading of Olson’s “Projective Verse”—I think that’s not surprising for anyone who knows my work—and in Companion Grasses that was particularly true in terms of thinking about prosody, and also thinking about poems on the page as being a scoring of an encounter with a place or a species. Because so many of those poems—all of them, really—were written on foot, were written in the field, I was really trying to use prosody and typography as a musical registration of an encounter, and combining Olson’s belief in the page as a kind of musical score with the ways in which breath and ear change in relation to whatever you’re in relation to. I was interested in the phenomenology of prosody—that it could, theoretically, capture or register relation differently between each encounter with place, with species, with a particular day or meteorology or whatever.
I first came across the work of Matthew Salesses in his essay “Psy the Clown Vs. Psy the Anti-American” over at The Rumpus in which he examined racial and historical power dynamics between Korea and the West (particularly the U.S.), and the importance of understanding context outside of one’s own culture. His newest book, The Hundred-Year Flood, dropped this September, and I caught up with Matthew on its conception, the influence of Twitter (follow him @salesses) and talking those “different differences.” –Rosebud Ben-Oni
Rosebud Ben-Oni: In “Different Racisms,” you tackled race and self-contextualization both in personal history and popular culture. Are there any new “different differences” you are facing today?
For the past several years, Stacy Szymaszek has been at work on a number of poetic journals that are now being published. The first, hart island (Nightboat Books), arrived in May 2015, followed by the chapbook Journal Started in August (Projective Industries). Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals (Fence Books) is forthcoming in January 2016, and A Year from Today (Nightboat Books) in 2017. All different in scope and attention, this remarkable series is underpinned by Szymaszek’s seemingly boundless wit and attunement—she is that writer on whom nothing is lost. We corresponded via email while texting enough asides to make a whole other interview.
Matt Longabucco: Lately a few sources pointed me towards the lecture series by Roland Barthes published as The Neutral, and it’s been fitting to read it alongside your journals. This concept of “the neutral” has many resonances for Barthes, one of which, as I understand it, is that pleasure is often to be found neither in the site nor the form where we’ve been led to believe we should seek it. For Barthes, rather, pleasure is nuance, the small but thrilling variation, an unexpected ripple in the text of the world—“blue appetite and smoky/quartz the combo who knows/is just pleasing to clack/in my fist.” And true pleasure is the thing that by its nature defies the categories we’ve erected in order to capture and tame it. I’m mesmerized by this idea, and think my sense of what’s worthwhile as a reader and as a writer involves leaping again and again into this gap between the ostensibly recognized pleasure and the actual, almost always unarticulated one. If I said I thought a similar investigation was part of the project of your journals, would that claim give you pleasure?
The different strata of the small press ecosystem are bound and wound in collaborative action and influence. Within the world of small press publishing, everything, everyone, and every place (physical and digital) is interconnected, but often in ways that are not apparent. As publishers of Small Po[r]tions, a limited-edition Risograph-printed journal that focuses on experiment and innovation, we were interested in examining the practices of small press publishers who are also poets to see how they apportion their energies and how they situate themselves within this ecosystem. In these interviews we map small press connections through the discussion of collaboration among presses, editors, writers, book artists and readers. That is, collaboration in an expanded sense: influence, inspiration, community. Ecologies require study to sustain them. These interviews look to be a part of a broader and continuing conversation on the ways presses and poets sustain themselves and enrich one another.
This interview was conducted following the publication of Bill Berkson’s book, Expect Delays (Coffee House Press, 2014).
Jane Joritz-Nakagawa: Expect Delays is divided into four sections, the first of which is titled “Lady Air.” I’m intensely curious as to what “Lady Air” refers to or how this title came about or was chosen. When preparing a speech about Catherine Walsh’s book Optic Verve for a local (in Japan) Irish literature conference I came across a quote by D. H. Lawrence, which worked its way into my speech:
A woman is not . . . even a distinct and definite personality . . . A woman is a living fountain whose spray falls delicately around her . . . A woman is a strange soft vibration on the air, going forth unknown and unconscious . .
Although very likely your title has nothing to do with this!
Bill Berkson: “Lady Air” is the name of the section and, as you know, also of one of the poems in that section, poems that were included in a chapbook that preceded Expect Delays. There’s another poem in the final section of Expect Delays called “Sister Cadence.” If you think of those two titles in tandem you’re in the neighborhood of “Mother Russia,” “Father Time,” and perhaps the Rolling Stones’ song “Sister Morphine.” But I had in mind the gentle sustenance that air is, the godliness of it. “Fair” air, so to speak. The gender specificity feels accurate. Then again, I had “air” as in “song,” in the old sense. One is calling upon air as Dante might call upon the lady Beatrice, or Auden upon Dame Kind, which is a medieval epithet for the natural world.
This conversation with Maria Miranda Maloney of Mouthfeel Press is part of Intersecting Lineages, a series focusing on conversations with poets of color following a series of cross-community solidarity readings and panels among poets involved with organizations such as Kundiman, Cave Canem, Canto Mundo, RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers), Institute of American Indian Arts and VONA (Voices at Our Nations Arts Foundation).
Ching-In Chen: You founded Mouthfeel Press, an indie press which publishes poetry from the borderlands. What inspired you to found the press and what do you think characterizes poetry from the borderlands?
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 episode 32 with Kristin Cammermeyer and Claire Rifelj.
Kristin Cammermeyer is a multi-media artist in Los Angeles focusing on site specific projects.
Claire Rifelj is a writer, curator and art historian in Los Angeles, currently finishing up her dissertation through NYU.
After publishing my Sixty Morning Talksinterview collection, I have begun work on a more focused, single-press interview series, offering a comprehensive oral history (a cinéma vérité, in prose) of Nightboat Books’ diverse and ambitious output over its first decade of publication. For this newer project, it particularly interests me to track interpersonal and intertextual constellations that have helped to shape the work done by Nightboat’s authors, publishers and designers. Nightboat will publish this interview collection late next year. This interview focuses onAndrew Durbin’s book Mature Themes and was recorded March 23, 2015 and transcribed by Nicole Monforton.– Andy Fitch