Jennifer Chang with H.L. Hix

Jennifer Chang
Jennifer Chang

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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 Jennifer Chang’s The History of Anonymity (Univ. of Georgia Press, 2008).

H. L. Hix: In the first few lines of the first poem, the word “unctuous” appears; the final section of the book is “A Move to Unction.” What about unction makes it important to these poems?

Jennifer Chang: I wrote the title poem, “The History of Anonymity” roughly three years after writing “A Move to Unction.” At first, I hadn’t intended to put the poems in the same manuscript, but as I revised “The History of Anonymity” I realized that both lyric sequences are preoccupied with the process of emotional and existential recovery and both express an almost spiritual fervor. I settled on the word “unction” because of its religious and sacred connotations, but I wanted a secularized “unction,” which I hope in my poems connotes a state of heightened attention that enables healing and restorative contemplation.

I also realized that to put two long lyric sequences in one book would be challenging, so when I was revising “The History of Anonymity” I decided that the language had to work harder for the poems to connect to each other. I used “unctuous” because it anticipates the “unction” of the book’s conclusion, but unlike “unction,” the word “unctuous,” as a descriptor is more tactile and sensual. If we think of the shift from the words “unctuous” to “unction” as a sort of miniscule drama or narrative arc within the book, it could suggest a shift from the bodied to the disembodied, the material to the spiritual.

Jed Rasula with H.L. Hix

Jed Rasula photo
Jed Rasula
This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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 Jed Rasula’s The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects, 1940-1990 (National Council of Teachers of English, 1996).

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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 Jed Rasula’s The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects, 1940-1990 (National Council of Teachers of English, 1996).

H. L. Hix: One important aspect of your book, insofar as I have grasped its project, is to record the shrinking of the dominant lyric mode in America for the past 50+ years from pursuit of “representational accountability” adequate to “mass reality” (407).  Can the outlines of representational accountability be made out now, or is such accountability the sort of thing that we will recognize when it happens?  In other words, is there a prescription for such accountability, of the sort that the critic can describe it to the poet, or is such accountability something that critics will note when a poet achieves, or some poets achieve, it?

Jed Rasula: My book was an unintended swan song for a then rapidly vanishing era of print literacy, documenting the way power struggles and reputations were stage managed in the venues specific to that cultural formation. In the fifteen years since I wrote it everything has changed, probably more dramatically than I’d have thought likely at the time.

Jericho Brown with H.L. Hix

photo of Jericho Brown
Jericho Brown

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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 Jericho Brown’s Please (New Issues, 2008).

H.L. Hix: When I reach the end of “Pause” I can’t help but hear the slang usage of “the man” resonating, which leads me to variant readings of the sentence that composes the last three and a half lines of the poem. For instance, reading the last clause as “if I hide [, then] inside the man I must be cold” is different from reading it as “if I hide / Inside the man [, then] I must be cold.” And so on. How important are such ambiguities (those created by echoes “external” to the poem, and those created “within” the poem itself) to the aims of your poetry?

Jericho Brown: Ambiguity seems to me the ultimate aim of any line of poetry.

Don Mee Choi with H.L. Hix

Don Mee Choi

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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 with Don Mee Choi is her translation of Kim Hyesoon’s Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers (Action Books, 2008).

H. L. Hix: The speaker in “Face” speculates that “Maybe I am the hostage of an absent being” (70). I suspect it’s always misleading to seize on one moment in a poem and seek in it some “message” about the whole poem or collection, but is there some meaningful sense in which one might take this as a characterization of the state all the poems resist, a figure for the “blackened space” your introduction identifies as the space in which all Koreans, but especially Korean women, live?  Given the neocolonial relationship you note, in what ways would you expect American readers to find in the poems similarities with their own experience, and in what ways would you expect them to find contrasts to their own experience?

Don Mee Choi: I think it might be best for me to begin by saying something about Kim Hyesoon’s hell.

Susan M. Schultz with H.L. Hix

Susan M. Schultz

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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 Susan M. Schultz’s Dementia Blog (Singing Horse Press, 2008). 

H. L. Hix: In the “Fore and After Word” to Dementia Blog, you explicitly relate dementia and politics. This is a book that was first a blog: would you also add new media to that set of correspondences (as, say, Neil Postman would), or does the work’s originating as a blog indicate that you would not take new media as corresponding to dementia and the political memory loss you address in the book?

Susan M. Schultz: It depends on what you do with the medium. In general, I agree with Postman and Todd Gitlin that television and computers (email, cell phones, and so on) shorten our attention spans.  This is dangerous for a poet who needs time away, space and time not to be bombarded with information, voices, demands.

Anna Moschovakis with H.L. Hix

Anna Moschovakis
Anna Moschovakis

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be 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 Anna Moschovakis’ I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone (Turtle Point Press, 2006).

H.L. Hix: Hart Crane talks in an essay about a “logic of metaphor,” and your untitled opening poem establishes a strange associative logic that will recur throughout the book.  I wonder if you have a way of naming or talking about this logic?

Anna Moschovakis: I have been thinking lately about the idea of the “slippery slope” as it applies to logical thought. I am the daughter of two (mathematical) logicians and in college I studied continental philosophy —  which is more associative than systematic — partly as an expression of my resistance to what I saw as the dogma of logic in my household growing up. But I aced Logic, despite myself. I’m very drawn to the forms of logical thinking — inclusion/exclusion, if/then, etc — but perhaps my attraction to them is more aesthetic than epistemological.

Craig Santos Perez with H.L. Hix

Image of Craig Santos Perez
Craig Santos Perez

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in Americafrom 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 Craig Santos Perez’s  from unincorporated territory [hacha] (TinFish Press, 2008).

H. L. Hix: In the book’s preface, you give a clear statement of your ambitions in/for the work.  The statement seems addressed to me most explicitly in my role as a citizen, but I take the creation of a strategic site for resisting the reductive tendencies of a deformed democracy also as a challenge to me as a poet, by activating poetry not primarily in relation to tradition and literary history but in relation to its (and my) contemporary responsibilities and effects.  Is that one appropriate way to begin absorbing the parenthetical “(and other voices)” on p. 11?

Craig Santos Perez: As I mention in the preface of my book, ‘Guam’ as geographic location and linguistic signifier has often been reduced to only mean a strategic site of the U.S. military (the ‘USS Guam’), which occupies about a third of my homeland and currently plans to transfer 8,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam. The hope for my work is that ‘Guam’ becomes a site of resistance for my own voice “(and other voices)” to resist the reductive and destructive tendencies of America’s colonial democracy. By “(other voices),” I hope that my work will inspire other native Chamorus (whether they live on Guam or in the diaspora) to express their own voices through poetry. In addition, I hope that my work makes Guam visible to American poet-citizens who speak out against the deformities of U.S. democracy.