Cassie Mira Nicholson: I hope this message finds you well and in good spirits. I am writing you in order to initiate a dialogue about a project I have been musing about that looks at the development of intentional family. When we first met on Facebook, I initially felt an odd relief to know someone with the same last name as I did was transitioning gender on a close timeline. Discovering that we were both disconnected from our Nicholson bloodline only made me more interested in getting to know you. Over the last few years, I have learned from a distance and the powers of Facebook that there are many similarities in our personal histories. For instance, while you work for the catholic church, I at one time lived in a catholic rectory. We both have fondness for poetry, etc. ….
Caleb Beckwith: I’m tempted to jump right in with questions regarding the media used in your collaborative chat performances, conducted from 2011–2012 and archived on Suzanne’s blogspot site. But I’m wondering if you could first describe the project, either individually or together, for readers not already familiar. Personally, I didn’t discover your archive until last year, when I very quickly read its entirety without what now seems like the very necessary dimension of duration, both in the individual pieces and across the arc of your extended project. We’ll get to duration later, especially as it informs collaboration, but I’d be remiss if we didn’t properly set the scene for readers at the outset of the drama that is this interview.
Suzanne Stein and Steve Benson: The performances were collaborative improvisations undertaken live, online, without any kind of rehearsal or premeditation as to subject, theme, composition, or execution. The chats, or dialogues, or shows, or plays, or performances, whatever we think we might want call them, were the rehearsal. In our introduction to the book, tentatively titled DO YOUR OWN DAMN LAUNDRY, which collates all thirty-six of the resulting texts, precisely as they unfolded live, we offer this about our regularly scheduled, not-so-planned performing: We realized the resulting works might be understood by turns as confrontational, avoidant, competitive, provocative, philosophical, intimate, meaningless, narcissistically challenged, ethically inquiring, epistemologically conflictual, and ridiculous. They are an exercise in presence, attention, friendship, improvisation, poetry, craft, and speech.
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! This conversation focuses on Jennifer S Cheng’s book, HOUSE A. –Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison: It is such a great pleasure for all of the poetry editors at Omnidawn that Claudia Rankine selected HOUSE A as the winner of our 1st/2nd Book Prize. As one of the blind readers who screens work for this and for all of our poetry contests, I recall my delight to see this manuscript in the blind submissions. I immediately recognized that this work had come to us before, in shorter form, through our chapbook contest. It had not won, yet I knew it to be an amazing work in chapbook form. Then reading it for this contest, I was stunned by the power of HOUSE A, and all that is included now in this text as a full book. Would you speak to the ways that the sections cohere, and how you made decisions to bring the text together in this form?
Jennifer S Cheng: Inside the book, there are: migratory birds, (un)tethered boats, water, sleep, the body in dislocation, shadows, mappings, weather systems, echolocation, nests, moons. Which is to say that all of our work as writers and artists are like maps of our obsessions, our preoccupations, our hauntings. I started writing “Letters to Mao” in summer months, and most of the prose poems in that series came quickly (which rarely happens for me; I am usually slow like a snail). I work mostly by intuition, and it made sense to me that other poems I subsequently wrote—those in the sequence “House A; Geometry B” and the series “How to Build an American Home”—were of a similar attunement and investigation. Maybe I can call it the poetics of an immigrant home: how the body is inscribed with a cosmology of home and vice versa. How, for example, are the subtleties of history, displacement, and migration woven into the shelter my parents made for me and my siblings? In all three sections, I am writing into a critical and personal silence, and I hope that by evoking the shadows and subterranean, I complicate the immigrant landscape, conjure the small layers it can carry.
Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press and includes work by poets and playwrights Joyelle McSweeney and Darcie Dennigan. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss Coke bottles, multiple hearts, flowers of extermination, and blowing up the Cartesian grid.
Michael Martin Shea: Hi Joyelle! Hi Darcie! Let’s start off with your BAX work. Both of your pieces in BAX 2015 invoke the judicial world, creating or projecting an imaginary courtroom in which the action of the writing takes place, so-to-speak (replete with inscrutable judges and their whims). What does this atmosphere of the legal—its trappings and forms of speech—provide for your writing, in terms of either craft or politics (or both)?
Darcie Dennigan: I think authority is funny, author-ity even funnier. The idea that any piece of writing or any writer could settle an argument . . . I like Dead Youth a lot and especially the excerpt in BAX for this reason. Its set-up enacts the absurdity of authority (political and poetic) and its language does too—its wordplay just keeps enlarging (and diminishing) its arguments.
This interview between Hamid Bouaicha and Natalia Treviño focuses on Treviño’s book of poems, Lavando La Dirty Laundry (Mongrel Empire Press).
Hamid Bouaicha: My first question is probably one you have been asked the most. How did you become a poet? And, what drove you to poetry?
Natalia Treviño: This is such an important question. I became a poet by playing with song lyrics by my favorite bands when I was a teenager. I began to re-write their titles to create sentences. I felt like I was unlocking language by seeing and hearing new word combinations. It was in the act of discovery that I became a poet. I think there are as many poets in the world as there are people who love rain. Taking it to a professional level has taken decades, even a decade of silence in my twenties. When I saw the words created whole internal experiences for me, something inside me woke up, and put me in touch with intangibles that make meaning. I am forever at the service of those intangibles, much the way a quantum physicist is certain that there is more out there than meets the limited scope of reference gauged by our feeble instrument.
Thomas Fink: Honey and Smoke contains several long poems. In the 40 sections of the prose-poem, “Black Swan,” at least 2/3 of the sections pertain to the political history of Newark, New Jersey. Later, we’ll address how these parts relate to others that seem to be about very different topics, but for now, let’s focus on the interplay of the accumulation of knowledge and questioning (doubt) in these sections. In the fifth section, you point to the cause of the Newark riots of 1967 by saying that “the history of Newark,” though “central to understanding the political narrative of race and Civil Rights,” had been “largely ignored,” and that “Jim Crow… had a red beak and leathery acne-red wattle in the social fabric of Northern cities like Newark” (53). The fourth part consists of 17 questions and one final, highly metaphorical declarative sentence. These are the first five questions:
How to explore the effect of the Newark riots? How do the city police escalate violence? How do the state police escalate violence? How does the National Guard escalate violence? How do female looters strip mannequins? (53).
The following interview is part of a series of interviews which were conducted as part of a project that was concerned with the subject of failure in relation to Alice Jardine’s concept of ‘gynesis’ (putting into the discourse of “woman”). I wanted to write about the spaces that failure creates, what happens just after the moment of failure, and how that sensation can be a horizon or a void (a generative space); I was also interested in the relationship between failure and rites of passage. Four specific conceptual inquiries were posed to a diverse group of people, who are anonymous here, and phrases from their answers were spliced together to create part of the rhetorical language in a lyric essay that is forthcoming from the online poetics journal, Something on Paper. – Lauren DeGaine
Lauren DeGaine: Please describe the feeling of stepping down when you think there’s a stair and there isn’t.
colleague/friend: The abruptness of gravity. I broke my foot that way, not looking down. Anticipating a non existent obstacle. Clumsily navigating domestic topography. Sometimes it’s a relief, not having to step down. An unexpected hello from the pavement.
Dikembe Press authors Julie Kantor and Jesse Nathan recently had a conversation. The contents of said conversation are below. Among other things, they discuss types of landscapes, the need to write, Google, and America. This conversation speaks to what drew us to their work, so we are excited to share it.
Jesse Nathan: How do you not get sad every day?
Julie Kantor: Oh, I’m sad every day. Sad is resting position. It’s probably not good to think that anyone who is happy is faking it. And I think that’s what I might think now that we’re getting down to it.
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.
Asher Hartman is a Los Angeles based interdisciplinary artist who primarily works in the context of theater.
Chelsea Rector is a Los Angeles based interdisciplinary poet.
Michael Nicoloff is the author of the chapbooks “Punks”, Mixed Grill (Monologue Version), and I Hope You Die, as well as the CD “Punkses” (After Ketjak). With Alli Warren, he wrote Bruised Dick and Eunoia. Formerly a curator of the (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand and Artifact, he presently serves on the board of Small Press Traffic and is an organizer with the Bay Area Public School.