This interview by H.L. Hix continues a series that began as multi-question interviews but now has taken the form of one-question “mini-interviews.” To ask a series of questions about a book is to keep returning to the book and thus to emphasize its opacity, to regard it as one would regard, say, a painting. To ask a single question, Hix tells himself, is to emphasize the book’s transparency, to regard it as one would a window, as what offers a vista, what frames for us a world. The subject of this interview is Kristi Maxwell’s Re- (Ahsahta Press).
H. L. Hix: At some point during my reading of your book, the phrase “stream-of-sonority,” came into my head, by contrast with “stream-of-consciousness.” It seemed to me that the poems listen to language, adapting consciousness to it instead of adapting language to consciousness. (Or something like that—surely I’m not saying this well.) So, with that in mind, when I get to the sentence on page 45, “Logic a device that keeps wonder at bay,” I wonder if for you that listening, letting sound determine the course of the poem, is a way of letting wonder overwhelm.
Kristi Maxwell: Harvey, first of all, let me say thank you for such an attentive reading of Re-. When I was writing these poems, I often thought about a poetics of listening. In many ways, these poems are an attempt to respond to language through listening and being faithful (and unfaithful) to listening while transcribing.
By unfaithful, I mean: One ultimately makes choices about what one hears, so one denies at the same time one accepts. This denial makes absolute fidelity impossible—I heard more than I actually transcribed, and I collaborated. I brought desire in, and it infected/affected my hearing and seeing. Listening so often happens with the eyes rather than the ears when it comes to writing. Recently, I took part in a weekend of writing collaborations, and a Dragon program was used to translate speaking into writing in a Word document projected on a wall. The system tended to translate background noise as, “You and him you and him you and him.” A couple. A doubling. No one was saying “you and him,” until the technology brought it to the room, or we were all saying “you and him,” but didn’t hear it until the technology pointed it out to us, because it wasn’t what we had intended to be saying. I don’t know what we might have been saying in other languages. I imagine we could have asked the Dragon to tell us. Though a generic “he” and “she” live in the poems in Re-, the primary relationship being explored is that between the/a writer (both myself and not, I think) and language. Over the past few years, I’ve been more or less obsessed with feminist philosopher Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet, which thinks about bodies in relation to each other and an ethics of response—a response-ability (to use her term). I am a body, language is bodies, writing is bodies, I am bodies and we are all inside and outside of one another, intersecting and resisting intersecting or not yet in a space where we can enter each other’s spaces. One of Re-’s re-’s is responsiveness, which often entails “letting sound determine the course of the poem,” and “adapting consciousness to [language] instead of adapting language to consciousness,” all the time, as you so wonderfully suggested. Thank you for saying it that way. The line you’re referring to in the fourth section is: “Logic a device that keeps wonder at bay.” In my experience, logic can often quell proliferation, whereas wonder seems bound to proliferation, to possibility. “Both/and,” rather than “either/or.” I aim to be one who wonders—who experiences wonder. I like that poems seem to contain wonder in the form of questions. The writing that keeps me gives questions rather than answers. Gives and gives. Reading Nathalie Stephens’ Touch to Affliction gave me the words to articulate the question, “What can I do to prepare to receive language?” I’m glad it seems you put yourself in a position to receive something from Re-. Thank you for giving me this space for thinking about some of the things you received.
Kristi Maxwell is the author of Re-, Hush Sessions and Realm Sixty-four. Her fourth book, That Our Eyes Be Rigged, is forthcoming from Saturnalia in 2014. She lives and writes in Knoxville, Tennessee.