The idea of poetry as capable of crafting relationships isn’t unheard of, but the notion of a poet as always being in relation to others certainly challenges popular tropes that place writers in physical and intellectual isolation. In this conversation, Julie Carr and Christy Davids discuss how a self is constructed through relationships to others and the ways that writing actively facilitates interconnection. Writers have readers, confessors have witnesses, selves have others. Carr’s new book, Objects from a Borrowed Confession (Ahsahta 2017), and this interview investigate the ethics of these relationships, the matter of subjectivity, the way we tell stories and to whom.
Christy Davids:Objects from a Borrowed Confession begins with the epistolary in “What do we want to know and how far are we willing to go to get it? A novella.” The letters to “J” that make up the opening section reveal a life—an “I” whose existence is at once grounded by the letters and unmoored by the contexts that shape the letters in the first place. You write, “The facts are such that at times I bow to them like a princess to an abusive king. I’m hoping, as I tell of these facts, that you will hear me as a priest hears his confessor—in the dark.” Very early on in the book, you establish the interplay of power and empowerment the act of confessing bears: the risk and the duty of telling. Objects, narrates the stories of a subjectivity through many formal modes, why does the work begin with the letter? How do you see form and confession working together over the course of the text?
Julie Carr: The letter is the primary confessional from. If you’re thinking about literary confession, there’s nothing more confessional than a letter. Autobiography can be confessional too, but it’s also concerned with creating a narrative, whereas letters—so fleeting and momentary—are more concerned with the details of a relationship, with the need to confess to one other person. I started with letters because they were so obviously about the thing that I was circling around and because they involve the erotic, which is one of the things we think about when we consider the confessional. These letters in particular engage the taboo of writing to someone who probably doesn’t want to hear from you and who isn’t writing back.
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.
In this conversation we explore the way capitalism crafts the forms we write through, how capital shapes embodiment and the matter of who we love / how we love them. Zaher’s sixth book, The Consequences of My Body (Nightboat Books), lyrically examines the postmodern condition and lays its flaws bare, open.
Christy Davids: You write: “I am a descendant of ‘Udhri:’ Arab love poets; these are the ones I read as a teenager. More problematic than their poems are their stories, their myth about love without consummation. This idea entrenches the body – soul duality beyond repair.” I’d love it if you could speak to the relationship you are establishing between yourself and the Udhri love poem tradition, specifically what declaring and practicing that linkage means for The Consequences of My Body.
Audio Chronicles is a series of audio-only features that endeavors to keep The Conversant conversational. Part interview, part project, part talk, part inquiry. Audio Chronicles is a place to listen and talk outside the control + f model of online reading. In this installment, Philadelphia based poets Christy Davids and Crossley Simmons chat about the intersection of text and image, the possibility of poems as art objects, the page itself an image.
Christy Davids is a poet who often listens to the Beach Boys and thinks about great big trees. She recently completed her MFA at Temple University where she also teaches. Christy is an assistant editor at The Conversant, curates the Philadelphia-based reading series Charmed Instruments, and collects recordings at poetry//SOUNDS. Her chapbook Alphabet, Ontology was a finalist In Ahsahta’s 2015 chapbook contest; she has been published in VOLT, Open House, and A Few Lines magazine among others.
Crossley Simmons has a M.F.A. in Poetry from Temple University, and squats over 300 pounds. Her essay “be//headed” was awarded the Joseph Beam Prize for an essay or literary work “whose subject matter would be of interest and importance to sexual minorities.” Crossley is the last name of her Great Grandmother, Baba, who turned 97 this year in Memphis.
Pattie McCarthy is the author of six books and over a dozen chapbooks. Her newest book, Quiet Book (Apogee), explores intersectionality as a state of being. In this interview, McCarthy speaks on poetry and motherhood, the public and the private self, the realities of her writing practice, and on the feminist politics at play in teaching, thinking, and composing. Quiet Book is due out in January.
Christy Davids: With such concision and frustrating—yet non-judgmental—honesty, you say “no subject offers / a greater opportunity for terrible / writing than motherhood.” Here is the embodied experience you were biologically built for, don’t write about it. Here is that which is life altering / body altering, don’t write about it. Here is the life of other lives and you, don’t write about it – and, in fact, be prepared to bear the consequences of being labeled a woman who writes about motherhood because there will be consequences. I wonder if this is a direct address to the readers, to the field; I wonder if it is a personal reminder and if that reminder comes with sadness or fury or triumph. Quiet Book (Apogee, January 2016) explores so beautifully the domestic: domestic labor, domestic lives fixed in paint, the day to day domesticities that are always occurring with so many other things so as never to be singular or definitive that I can’t help but wonder if this is a refusal—is it?
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.