This conversation with Koomah is part of Variant Dreams, a Conversant series celebrating artists who identify as trans, intersex, genderqueer, and gender-non-conforming artists of color. The interview was conducted in person on October 21, 2015 and recorded and transcribed by Cassie Nicholson.
Ching-In Chen: Last month, Cassie Nicholson and I saw part of your show, “History of a Happy Hermaphrodite: part 1” at Super Happy Fun Land as part of the Houston Fringe Festival. Could you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about the show?
Koomah: Sure, so I’m Koomah and, goodness, it’s always fun to be like “who are you?” I am an intersex-bodied, trans-identified, queer artist and performer. I’m also a filmmaker, clothing and costume designer. I do spoken word, performance art, visual art, sculpture, a little bit everything. I also do burlesque and other forms of adult entertainment and sex work.
Bay Area Poet? asks what it means to be a Bay Area Poet. In the first episode of this series, Kate Robinson and Caleb Beckwith introduce the topic with the help of questions from an unnamed Bay Area Poet.
The Dollers in real-time Gmail Chat discuss their recent books,Fauxhawk (Wesleyan) andLeave Your Body Behind(Les Figues), as well as their forthcoming collaborative book from Sidebrow, The Yesterday Project, in which the writers each composed a document recording the previous day, every day, for 32 days, without sharing or discussing their work. The collaboration took place in the shadow of a diagnosis of life-threatening illness: melanoma cancer, stage 3. The resulting work is a declaration of dependence—a relentlessly honest chronicle of shared identity and the risks inherent in deep connection. In archiving this daily struggle, The Yesterday Projectprojects an imagined future as a radical act.
Audio Chronicles is a series of audio-only features that endeavors to keep The Conversant conversational. Part interview, part project, part talk, part inquiry. Audio Chronicles is a place to listen and talk outside the control + f model of online reading. In this installment, Philadelphia based poets Christy Davids and Crossley Simmons chat about the intersection of text and image, the possibility of poems as art objects, the page itself an image.
Christy Davids is a poet who often listens to the Beach Boys and thinks about great big trees. She recently completed her MFA at Temple University where she also teaches. Christy is an assistant editor at The Conversant, curates the Philadelphia-based reading series Charmed Instruments, and collects recordings at poetry//SOUNDS. Her chapbook Alphabet, Ontology was a finalist In Ahsahta’s 2015 chapbook contest; she has been published in VOLT, Open House, and A Few Lines magazine among others.
Crossley Simmons has a M.F.A. in Poetry from Temple University, and squats over 300 pounds. Her essay “be//headed” was awarded the Joseph Beam Prize for an essay or literary work “whose subject matter would be of interest and importance to sexual minorities.” Crossley is the last name of her Great Grandmother, Baba, who turned 97 this year in Memphis.
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.
Laura Burgher: One of the defining features of Fact-Simile Editions is the emphasis on book arts, and using reclaimed and recycled materials in unique ways to capture an involvement with the materiality of the text. You have created book as pill bottles, book as scrolls, book as painted canvases. I’m interested in how you define a book.
Audio Chronicles is a series of audio-only features that endeavors to keep The Conversant conversational. Part interview, part project, part talk, part inquiry. Audio Chronicles is a place to listen and talk outside the control + f model of online reading. In this installment, Housten Donham and Sally McCallum of The Volta Blog discuss genre, horror, poetry, and multiple permutations thereof.
We like horror movies, but neither of us had read much horror fiction, so last summer we planned a horror fiction reading series for ourselves. This led us to discover some horror poetry, which is a thing we didn’t even really know existed. In this conversation, we try (and more or less fail) to define horror as a genre and think about why genre classifications (as in horror, fantasy, sf) aren’t applied more to poetry more often. We revive the largely forgotten work of HP Lovecraft’s young contemporary Clark Ashton Smith, and talk about contemporary cult horror writer Thomas Ligotti and the French novelist and critic Michel Houellebecq. Then we spend some time nudging around the internet and the current print poetry scene to find out what horror poetry is today. —Sally McCallum
Links to the poetry websites referred to in the episode:
After publishing my Sixty Morning Talks interview 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 on Gracie Leavitt’s book Monkeys, Minor Planet, Average Star and was recorded August 10, 2015 and transcribed by Nicole Monforton.– Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: I’m wondering if we could start with the Jean-Luc Godard quote that opens but also closes your book. Here Godard refers to tomorrow’s shoot, “filming a scene in the subway, where it goes above ground.” He describes that as a scene still to write—tomorrow perhaps. And Monkeys, Minor Planet, Average Star seems to present setting or the still life (which I would associate, in cinematic terms, with the set piece, the B-roll, stock footage) as source and site of spontaneity, not as backgrounded scene to take for granted. So could you discuss the importance in this book of that desire, as the opening poem puts it, “to make the going predicate”? We could tie in “Ode of the stirrer-up of” here, which closes on your box of paints. We could discuss various forms of stirring up that this book provides. But what does it mean for you to start with something seemingly static or subdued, and to have that provide the source of animation?
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 34 with Amanda Ross-Ho & Erik Frydenborg.
We close out the show with a song from Erik Frydenborg’s band Net Shaker from their 2013 LP I’m So Cold on Kill Shaman Records. You can find them on Bandcamp at netshaker.bandcamp.com and the name of the track is “Car Is Over.”
Amanda Ross-Ho is an artist based in Los Angeles. She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received her MFA from the University of Southern California. Her piece, THE CHARACTER AND SHAPE OF ILLUMINATED THINGS (FACIAL RECOGNITION) was part of the show Image Objects organized by Public Art Fund in New York City.
Erik Frydenborg is also an artist based in Los Angeles. He received his BFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and an MFA from the University of Southern California. Frydenborg’s most recent show An Erik Frydenborg Omnibus is currently up at The Pit II in Glendale, CA.
Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process which 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
Rusty Morrison: The poetry editors here at Omnidawn (myself included) are the blind readers who screen for our poetry contests, and then send our selected manuscripts to the judge. We were delighted that A Timeshare was the manuscript selected by Timothy Donnelly for our First/Second Book Contest. The manuscript demonstrated fluency in current conventions of craft, yet showed, too, an infectious freshness, an alertness, a willingness to break through what is normative in poetry culture, which is one of the qualities that most excite when reading first and second books. But rarely do we find that freshness to be so fully integrated in a manuscript. Can you discuss your relationship to craft: have you been writing poems like those in A Timeshare for some time? Where did the book begin?
Margaret Ross: The poems were written between 2009 and 2014 but the way they’re written started with a feeling I first got in 1996 from a movie calledPowers of Ten. The opening shot is two actors by a lake and the camera zooms out by a power of ten every ten seconds. A meter, ten meters, a hundred, etc., the ground becomes the planet, the solar system, galaxy, until the screen’s at the scale of the observable universe. Then it zooms in and moves by a power of negative ten into one actor’s hand, recognizable tissue down to quarks in an atom’s proton. The whole thing takes less than ten minutes. I was ten and watching, I felt something like what Bishop describes in the waiting room, realizing for the first time “how ‘unlikely’” it is to be simultaneously floating and stuck, that every second of life is as vertiginous as it is claustrophobic. Of course it’s something you keep realizing as your relationship to space keeps changing. Not only outer but inner space too, and places, rooms, durations. The movie moved along a vertical axis but the way it construed a person as participant in multiple scales is as true along the horizontal, the temporal. This shifting sense of what scale you’re living at—you’re deep inside yourself one moment, then close to somebody else, then to multiple others, to a memory, a history, an object, objects, an economy, a different person, a system, a power structure, an environment. And the question of what feels proportionate—emotionally, ethically, actually—gets constantly recalibrated.
Kiki Petrosino teaches at the University of Louisville, where I received my undergraduate degree. Though I wasn’t lucky enough to take a class of hers, I remember discovering her work in the library and thinking, “The person who wrote these poems is on this campus?” I keep her books within arm’s reach; one thing I continue to appreciate about her work is her insistence on writing into or from whatever spaces she feels are hers. In this interview conducted via email, we discuss how place and lineages (familial and poetic) inform her work, particularly in her latest collection, Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013, Sarabande Books)—Jeremy Michael Clark
Jeremy Michael Clark: During a recent conversation between the writer Claudia Rankine and the artist Carrie Mae Weems, Rankine said that where some people see her as a poet who writes about race, she sees herself as someone who writes about how people negotiate space, in which race necessarily plays a role. Like Rankine, I see your work as concerned with negotiating space. In your last book, Hymn for the Black Terrific, it seems to be negotiated, implicitly & explicitly, on different registers (personal space, familial lineage, historical narrative, space in the racial imagination of America, etc.). When I read that book, I get a sense that the boundaries are not set in stone. Can you talk about moving between these various spaces?
Caleb Beckwith: I’d like to talk about Epic Lyric Poem as well as some related practices in so-called conceptual writing. This may sound heterodox, but I read ELP as a narrative in which the lyric plays the central character. The book opens with an incantatory proem, which it follows with an invocation of the muses and a rising sense of conflict that ultimately resolves. I may be reading too closely here, but I want to ask about the role of narrative in this book. The first word in the title is “Epic,” a highly established form—maybe we can begin there.