This interview between Caryl Pagel and Lily Hoang is being published in conjunction with an Essay Press chapbook focused on dialogues with Cleveland State University Poetry Center authors, to be released on December 15th.
Caryl Pagel:A Bestiary is brimming with moments of memory, panic, humor, sarcasm, and joy but at its heart is an elegy (for your sister, for a kind of idealized love, and for the “other” Lily). Could you speak to the ways in which this grief accumulated and how nonfiction can work as a site of tribute or mourning?
Lily Hoang: My grief accumulated because—as I say in the book—I compartmentalize all my problems. I just focus on work. And then there must be a breaking point, and maybe that’s what this book was for me: all my avoidances from the past three years, coming forward in all their hurtful splendor. I think nonfiction is a natural space for tribute and mourning: both require an honest reckoning of another and of self.
Pattie McCarthy is the author of six books and over a dozen chapbooks. Her newest book, Quiet Book (Apogee), explores intersectionality as a state of being. In this interview, McCarthy speaks on poetry and motherhood, the public and the private self, the realities of her writing practice, and on the feminist politics at play in teaching, thinking, and composing. Quiet Book is due out in January.
Christy Davids: With such concision and frustrating—yet non-judgmental—honesty, you say “no subject offers / a greater opportunity for terrible / writing than motherhood.” Here is the embodied experience you were biologically built for, don’t write about it. Here is that which is life altering / body altering, don’t write about it. Here is the life of other lives and you, don’t write about it – and, in fact, be prepared to bear the consequences of being labeled a woman who writes about motherhood because there will be consequences. I wonder if this is a direct address to the readers, to the field; I wonder if it is a personal reminder and if that reminder comes with sadness or fury or triumph. Quiet Book (Apogee, January 2016) explores so beautifully the domestic: domestic labor, domestic lives fixed in paint, the day to day domesticities that are always occurring with so many other things so as never to be singular or definitive that I can’t help but wonder if this is a refusal—is it?
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 Jill Magi’s book LABOR and was recorded March 12, 2015 and transcribed by Nicole Monforton.– Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: Progressing through LABOR, I wondered what proportion of your audience might consist of professors, professional poets and/or professed Marxists potentially finding their own ethics, their own self-conception, quite often challenged. I know that I could read your book on a late Monday morning only because non-tenure-line instructors filled those teaching-intensive composition courses that get so crowded before noon. But I also remember, in your Conversant interview with Thomas Fink about SLOT, your statement that our poetry community has limited training in how to critique certain practices without discarding them all together. So could we start with this specific small world of poets and/or academics? Could you describethe types of discussions you hope for LABOR to prompt among readers who find their own lives immediately reflected in the book?
When M. got to Seattle, the first place she wanted to go was the bookstore: “There’s this new book I have to buy you,” she said. “Couldn’t I just buy it myself?” I asked. She shook her head: “No. I have to be the one to give it to you. You’ll see what I mean.” So it was M.’s $25.18 that put the book in my hands.
The book was The Argonauts (2015, Graywolf Press), poet and memoirist and critical theorist Maggie Nelson’s new work of “autotheory”: a reflection on queer family and sexuality, art-making and self-revelation, privilege and oppression, performance and identity, healing and the ghosts of old scars. The book opens with the twinned somatic, prickling pressures of sexual desire and the Santa Ana wind, and ends with the braided stories of the birth of Nelson’s child and the death of her partner Harry Dodge’s mother. In between, Nelson’s scrupulous candor and synthesizing intellectual energy takes in teachers (her “many-gendered mothers of my heart”) and loved ones, and offers back sparkling assertions as well as aching, unanswerable questions. I read The Argonauts, scribbling notes, in three days, and immediately gave my copy to my wife and—like M. before me—took another friend out for coffee and bought it for her.
What about The Argonauts demands such a personal response? A book I expected to examine and reflect on instead itself became a lens, through which I saw other things—art-making, queerness, oppression, parenting—in a completely new light. “There are things in The Argonauts I never knew I’d always thought,” M. told me, and after reading the book I agreed. I reached out to Nelson this fall and we conducted this interview over e-mail.
Jay Aquinas Thompson: Near the end of The Argonauts—after writing about fake totem animals, Barthes’s concept of the Neutral, and the limitations of evasiveness—you write of, and seem to defend,
the pleasure of abiding… of insistence, of persistence. The pleasure of obligation, of dependency. The pleasures of ordinary devotion. The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again—not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life.
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.
Sarah Baker: I know of Little Red Leaves the journal, and you have the e-editions, and the textile series—how did you become involved with these projects and how did they begin?
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