Michael Martin Shea with Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi

Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi

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 from writers Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi that involves technicolor palates and Python programming. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss critical intimacy, display technologies, online corporate prisons, and the Burger King font.

Michael Martin Shea: Let’s start with a basic question–can each of you talk a little bit about where your pieces in BAX come from and what their compositional process was like? Or, perhaps more interestingly, where or how do these pieces fit in with your larger writing projects?

Nick Montfort: I often write computer programs that generate texts. Actually, I have three books, and two others coming this year, and another coming in 2017, that consist of computer programs and their output. That first page is often the program I wrote, which happens to be in Python in this case, and the pages that follow are the output of the program. This practice goes back almost to the beginning of general-purpose digital computers; it was being done in the 50s and 60s. I’m very interested in exploring language and computation, and writing text-generating programs can be a very good way to do that.

Joseph Mosconi: The most straightforward answer is that Demon Miso/Fashion In Child is a list poem. However, there is some crucial context missing from the poems excerpted in BAX. At the end of my book I write: “These are all the names of things I’ve eaten” and “The text is set in 46-point Insaniburger font. Insaniburger is based on the old Burger King logo that can still be seen on some signs in smaller cities.” So the compositional method was as simple as taking note of the names of dishes I ordered off of menus from various restaurants in America, Europe, and Asia. It is autobiographical and documentary in the most basic sense. The more complex answer is that some of the language is entirely made up, and the cover of the book (a manipulated photo of unidentifiable food waste), combined with the types of dishes I chose to eat, the choice of typography, and the fact that the book is printed in full color, situates the book in a global consumer context. It’s not just about food or eating. It’s also, at least in part, about language as commodity fetishism and the production of waste—the way that food distribution, and the way we talk about food, betrays a technique of control. It tracks a desire to normalize language, which is related to the struggle to communicate. As Andrew Maxwell, my accomplice at the Poetic Research Bureau, puts it: “Poetry is a commitment to food access.” Or as the inhabitants of Sweethaven would sing: “Everything is food food food.”

Lauren DeGaine with a long-distance best friend

Lauren DeGaine
Lauren DeGaine

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.

Confessions: A Conversation About I Love Dick with Christy Davids and Sebastian Castillo

In this podcast, Christy Davids and Sebastian Castillo piece together a conversation they have been having in regular fragments about Chris Kraus’ 1997 novel, I Love Dick. The always-sensationalized treatment the text has received in the nearly twenty years since its release reveals the myopic ways the novel is widely read. And then there is the matter of Kevin Bacon. Discussions of what happens when form meets desire, the book’s reception, and the confessional mode culminate with talk about Jill Soloway’s recent adaptation of the book for Amazon.


Christy Davids is a poet who often listens to the Beach Boys in a way that can only be described as aspirational. She recently completed her MFA at Temple University where she also teaches. Christy is an assistant editor at The Conversant, co-curates the Philadelphia-based reading series Charmed Instruments, and collects recordings at poetry//SOUNDS. Some of her work can be found in VOLT, Open House, Boog City, and Bedfellows amongst others.

Sebastian Castillo was born in Caracas, Venezuela, grew up in New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, where he teaches writing. His latest work can be found at Electric Literature and shabby doll house. He’s editing 49 novels.

Woodland Pattern presents: Oliver Bendorf & Trish Salah

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. This conversation was originally part of our March 2015 issue. Enjoy!

Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah
Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah

This Woodland Pattern interview series will document conversations between some of the writers, artists and performers who pass through Woodland Pattern and Milwaukee. Oliver Bendorf and Trish Salah read at Woodland Pattern on January 17, 2015 as part of Shift: Guest Curators from the LGBTQ Community. Below are excerpts from their reading as well as a conversation conducted via e-mail after the reading.

Oliver Bendorf, “I Promised Her My Hands Wouldn’t Get Any Larger,” “Split it Open Just to Count the Pieces,” “The Manliest Mattress,” and “Patrón,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015

 

Trish Salah, “Notes Toward Dropping out,” “Phoenicia ≠ Lebanon,” and “Reading the Book of Suicides,” recorded by Michael Wendt, Woodland Pattern, January 17, 2015


Cristiana Baik with Farid Matuk

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. This conversation was originally part of our April 2014 issue. Enjoy!

Farid Matuk
Farid Matuk

Along with Andy Fitch, Cristiana Baik is assembling the Letter Machine Editions Book of Interviews, which also includes interviews conducted by Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. This talk will be published in that collection, due for late 2014 release.

Cristiana Baik: When introducing your work, Noah Eli Gordon evoked Keats’s negative capability, the idea that “man is capable of being in uncertainties.” Would you describe your work and poetics as reflective of and shaped by negative capability?

Farid Matuk: I would, yes, to the extent that I try to court a space in the poem where contradictory impulses, perspectives, discourses and images can play together.

That Which Quickens the Pulse: Neelanjana Banerjee, Lisa Chen, and Sunyoung Lee on Kaya Press

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. This conversation was originally part of our March 2015 issue. Enjoy!

three-up_kaya-01
Sunyoung Lee, Lisa Chen’s Mouth, Neelanjana Banerjee

In 2014, Kaya Press celebrated 20 years of publishing innovative Asian Pacific American and Asian diasporic literature, including books like R. Zamora Linmark’s seminal Rolling the Rs and Sesshu Foster’s City Terrace Field Manual. Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2011, Kaya continues its mission to publish “challenging, thoughtful, and provocative” work including American Book Award winning Water Chasing Water by poet Koon Woon, and Shoshon Nagahara’s Lament in the Night (translated by Andrew Leong)—a historical rediscovery of a writer originally writing and publishing in Japanese out of LA’s Little Tokyo in the 1920s. Managing Editor Neelanjana Banerjee, Publisher Sunyoung Lee, and Lisa Chen—Kaya Press author (Mouth, 2007) and Editorial Board member—discuss creativity in the editorial process and whether ethnic-specific publishing will continue to be relevant in the 21st century. This is the first of a series of conversations which will highlight the work of Kaya Press.

Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy with Giles Benaway

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. This conversation was originally part of our February 2014 issue. Enjoy!

Giles Benaway and Lemon Hound
Giles Benaway and Lemon Hound

The Conversant long has admired Lemon Hound’s lively, multifarious engagement with contemporary literature. In partnership with Lemon Hound, and in the hopes of encouraging further dialog between Canadian- and U.S.-based poetics, we have decided to re-publish a monthly excerpt from the Lemon Hound archive. The subject of this particular interview is Giles Benaway’s Ceremonies for the Dead.

Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy: I want to share my thanks and appreciation Giles, for you allowing your first published collection of poems to be a dwelling place for the Dead. How did the Dead manage to get such space, and why is this space ceremonial?

Brian Teare with Christy Davids

TeareDavis
Brian Teare and Christy Davids

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. Enjoy!

Christy Davids: One might describe the poems in The Empty Form Goes All the Way Up to Heaven (Ahsahta 2015) as airy. The poems on the page task and reward the reader with multiple readings; they encourage and practice non-binary thinking, which is consistent throughout the book. Can you speak a bit to your philosophy of the page?

Brian Teare: That’s a good question for this book because I think this is a pretty full articulation of a shift in my thinking about the page. In both Sight Map (University of California 2009) and Companion Grasses (Omnidawn 2013), I was working off of my own kind of personal reading of Olson’s “Projective Verse”—I think that’s not surprising for anyone who knows my work—and in Companion Grasses that was particularly true in terms of thinking about prosody, and also thinking about poems on the page as being a scoring of an encounter with a place or a species. Because so many of those poems—all of them, really—were written on foot, were written in the field, I was really trying to use prosody and typography as a musical registration of an encounter, and combining Olson’s belief in the page as a kind of musical score with the ways in which breath and ear change in relation to whatever you’re in relation to. I was interested in the phenomenology of prosody—that it could, theoretically, capture or register relation differently between each encounter with place, with species, with a particular day or meteorology or whatever.

Rosebud Ben-Oni with Christopher Soto (Loma)

Rosebud Ben-Oni and Loma
Rosebud Ben-Oni and Loma

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. Enjoy!

This conversation between Rosebud Ben-Oni and Christopher Soto (Loma) is part of Variant Dreams, a Conversant series celebrating artists of color who identify as trans, intersex, genderqueer, and gender-non-conforming.

Rosebud Ben-Oni: You begin Sad Girl Poems with a Preface:

I always wanted to be a sad white girl. I wanted to be sad like Lana Del Rey… Lately, I’ve been thinking about the contextualization of POC sadness… Most people do not know how to interact with my sadness. My sadness is so multifaceted, it speaks twenty languages… Everyone was talking about Citizen and micro-agressions and feelings. But I didn’t see any of the white people in my MFA program marching next to me when Mike Brown was killed by the police in Ferguson, when Erica Garner was killed by NYPD. I didn’t see any of them working to dismantle the systems of oppression which created my sadness, my community’s sadness… I want people to act, I want people to mobilize around POC sadness.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the act of writing itself and how does one enact change without the use of force. In “Ars Poetica,” I see this struggle play out: “I grind his wings into glitter/& throw him into the air // like a child.// I grind his wings into ash/ & throw him into the earth // like a casket.” You testify both existence and erasure here, just as the sole photo of you at the end of the collection “my father deleted all photos of me from our computer.” Do you think language and/or poetry alone can change the violence within culture, particularly in the U.S.? (I’m particularly thinking of the line “Language is where the tongue fails itself over & over again” in “Aluminum & Dusk.” ) Can we transform violence into something else—something even transcendent—through the act of writing?

Philip Metres with H.L. Hix

Philip Metres

To celebrate The Conversant’s evolving relationship with The Volta website collective over its five year run, Senior Editors Ching-In Chen and Caleb Beckwith have selected pieces from our archives which exemplify that relationship for our October issue. Enjoy!

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which were collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in America, from Ugly Duckling Presse (fall 2012). Hix loves the interview form as a way of thinking together (itself a condition of democracy, justice, philosophy, and other ideals and practices he values), and as one element in a community poetics. The subject of this interview is Philip Metres’s Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941 (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2007).

H. L. Hix: Your book starts with the observation that “exclusion of dissenting voices . . . has continued throughout our history” (4), but implies near the end that the exclusion may be more complete now than ever, since “war’s televisual representation . . .  nullified the kinds of lyric responses upon which war resister poets traditionally relied” (197). If the exclusion is more intense than ever, what justifies the sorts of hope you express in your coda?

Philip Metres: There are at least two ways to address this question—via the personal (i.e. my own story vis-à-vis poetry and the peace movement) and intellectually. My own journey through Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 had many stages. It was borne out of an intellectual and poetic attempt to understand the failure and despair of peace activists (myself included) during and after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when I was a junior in college. I was stunned by what seemed to me a mass psychosis, in which everyone huddled around the television (myself included) as if it were an intense sporting match—but which was a war not unlike any other, though the corpses themselves were disappeared in the official media coverage. Journalists—particularly the television media—seemed more interested in making amends for its purported liberal bias during the Vietnam War, to heal the wounds of the Vietnam defeat; I can see it now as a classic example of what Richard Slotkin called “redemption through violence,” in his pivotal work of American history, Gunfighter Nation.