I was invited to talk with Daniel Owen for The Conversant upon the occasion of his recently published book of poems, Toot Sweet (United Artists Books, 2015). I love talking with Daniel Owen. We met on January 15th at an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen where we talked for an hour and thirty-nine minutes. Following are excerpts from that conversation, which took place on a couch, in an elevator, and on the street. Dan and I had both recently seen Mac Wellman’s new play, The Offending Gesture, as well as the Findlay//Sandsmark piece o’death, which was visiting New York from Norway. We started our conversation by talking about language and nonlanguage in both those pieces.
DO: Because it was so bright and big and the way the space kept changing as newer things entered into it, and your vision, your sightlines were totally obscured and then other things became more noticeable and then other light, ’cause the light was so significant all the time that other shadows would all of a sudden develop, and everything kept changing and the way the leaves were moving would be different, and the sound, and it was pretty loud most of the time, I don’t know if it got much louder at the end because it was so loud throughout, but there’s the sense of it being louder, even if it wasn’t actually, just because it was denser.
This interview took place on a road trip from Woodstock, CT to Hartford, CT to visit activist and Holy Cross graduate, Chris Doucot, at the Catholic Worker house on Clark Street. The night before, Metres had given a poetry reading with poet William Wenthe in honor of poet Robert Cording, who was our mentor when we were students at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. The topic of the conversation was focused on Metres’s 2015 book Sand Opera from Alice James Books.
E. J. McAdams: Last night, you were giving a reading at Holy Cross where you went to college and got started as a poet. When did you feel like you wrote your first poem and that you were a poet? Can you remember a poem or a verse that you felt like was the beginning?
Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. Selections come from work published in journals the previous year, unpublished solicitations, and a blind submission pool, and the anthology is collaboratively edited by the series editors (Seth Abramson and Jesse Damiani) and a yearly guest editor. This year, the guest editor of Best American Experimental Writing was the poet, performer, and librettist Douglas Kearney, who spoke with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea about the selection process and what experimental art can mean today.
Michael Martin Shea: Hi Douglas! Thanks for taking the time to chat about BAX. I want to start off talking about the editing experience itself. Did the process of curating this anthology lead you to question or expand your own notion of “experimental writing?”
Douglas Kearney: One of the submission guidelines stated—I’ll paraphrase it—that “experimental” could simply mean experimental for the writer in question. Of course, to solicit and then select writing of this character requires some knowledge of the writer’s more tried approaches. Even so, I find the idea of experimentation as a potentially idiosyncratic act to be consonant with the idea that experimental is, first, a process and not an aesthetic—a notion I found resonant before Seth invited me to serve as guest editor. On the other hand, working on BAX 2015 led me to consider how what might not seem legibly experimental to some readers might be clearly experimental in the context of the tradition from which the writer works. I’d love to explore that more now as a reader than selector.
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 Fanny Howe’s Radical Love and other works and took place on January 8.– Andy Fitch
Andy Fitch: Just now, when we tried to talk, and kept getting kicked off Skype, you had begun the conversation by describing Kazim Ali’s “unexpected arrival” in your life. Could we please start there, with you describing that arrival, and the first couple of decisions you and Kazim made together?
Wendy Trevino lives & works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her chapbook 128-131 was published by Perfect Lovers Press in 2013. Her chapbooks BRAZILIAN IS NOT A RACE & Cruel Work will be published by Commune Editions & Krupskaya Books respectively sometime in 2016.
Virginia Konchan converses with Lina ramona Vitkauskas on her new poetry collection White Stockings and identity politics and United States/global politics, particularly in the Ukraine.
Virginia Konchan: As a first-generation American of Lithuanian descent, you describe feeling a degree of alienation from your relatives who were born in Lithuania or Ukraine—or who had been through the war. Can you speak a little bit more about your generational perspective, particularly in regard to the difference between what your relatives endured?
Robertson and Grimes, it seems, are just two pastoral phantoms singing to each other across a manufactured landscape. In the second installation of Pop & Poetics, Christy Davids and Crossley Simmons continue to delight in the unexpected intersectionality of Lisa Robertson’s writing and Claire Boucher’s (Grimes) music.
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.
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: Cassie! How to begin an interview with you!? I’ve known you so many years, and I have such enormous respect for your canny insight into the art of writing and trajectories of poetic practice in our current era. And Omnidawn has been so lucky to have the great benefit of your prowess as an editor and book designer for us. It is a deep pleasure to be talking with you, now, not just about poetry, but about your poetry. I’m very excited that you have a manuscript coming out soon with Called Back Books, and we are thrilled to be publishing u&i, which does share with your previous poetry, in tone and tensions, some of the irreverence your work reflects in relation to the“lyric I.” But this text, u&i, seems be using a very different lens of technique or techniques, as it delves into that territory or territories. Can you speak to the ways that this work disarms, diverts, destabilizes a reader, as well as the agent of voice, which is nearly but never entirely disarmed of its agency, even as the sentences read with such luminous clarity?