The Conversant recently has published conversations featuringAaron KuninandAndrew Maxwell. Here these two friends and fellow poets talk to each other.
Andrew Maxwell: I’m stumbling toward a definition, or that’s how I’m going to start. In reading your book, I want to call these collected items remarks, or “remarks on problems.” And what’s astounding (and I’ll say this from experience too) is how very many problems there are.
We can eventually steer toward a discussion of the epigrammatic, although I don’t need a definition of that. I’m immediately interested in the character of these remarks—how many of them describe for me a sense of impedance. As if you’ve said, wait, slow up, something may be going wrong here and perhaps this is correctable. We should take notice of it.
There’s a sense of counsel and instruction, but also a sense of task-making and taking-to-task. The reader (and perhaps this is first you) is being given a problem set and being taken to task.
The Poetic Research Bureau hosted a reading for Jackqueline Frost and Evan Kennedy on Saturday, February 15. Andrew Maxwell, one of the PRB’s directors, follows up with a few questions on practice and community in the Bay Area.
Andrew Maxwell: It was great to hear both of you read on Saturday night. For me, it was a first introduction to your work. I picked up a copy of Jack’s You Have the Eyes of a Martyr, and Evan’s Terra Firmament, and I noticed something almost immediately that was common to each: an almost total absence of periods.
It’s especially apparent in Evan’s work, and also in the performance of it, where there’s this pushing forward with very little pause, without impediment, and even the weight of his body is balanced on his toes, with an outstretched arm, as if for balance, driving on. And in Jack’s reading, an equally driven sense of urgency and exhortation. But no easy summation, or closure. Is this a deliberate move—this choice of open form, this sort of periodic sentence without terminus?
The Poetic Research Bureau, a California-based publishing collective, hosts one of the longest active reading series in Los Angeles, based in Chinatown’s Arts District. Its publishing emphasis is on ephemeral and short-run books and folios, and its directors seek to cultivate composition, publication and distribution strategies that enlarge the public domain. The Conversant has invited the Bureau’s co-directors Joseph Mosconi, Andrew Maxwell and Ara Shirinyan to engage in an ongoing discussion concerning the Bureau’s various activities.
Joseph Mosconi: People may know the Poetic Research Bureau as a reading series in Los Angeles. But we are also a fledgling publishing collective and have tried to forge an identity through various essays and shared statements. So I’d like to start off by addressing the tangled topic of our poetics, shared and unshared, the different assumptions each of us hold about poetry and aesthetic practice and perhaps loop back to how coterie may or may not play a part in this.
Ara, you identify strongly as a conceptual writer. Your imprint Make Now Press has published what many consider to be landmark books in conceptual poetry by Kenneth Goldsmith, Yedda Morrison, Rob Fitterman and others. You were even included in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing.
Andrew, in your poem “The Conceptual Poet and the Hiring Committee,” you seem to criticize the figure of the conceptual poet as a careerist “open to traveling for panel appearances” and “envious of painting’s egress.” Elsewhere you write: “Against Expression. Really?” and describe it as “A hold-back project, as nostalgic as self-loathing, even where the self is accidentally yours.” And yet you are no enemy of proceduralism and “historical thefts and pastiche.”