J’Lyn Chapman with Rachel Blau DuPlessis

"A," The Collage Poems of Drafts

In the fall 2013 semester, Jack Kerouac School graduate students in my Text & Image workshop read Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s The Collage Poems of Drafts. To prepare us for the book, we read DuPlessis’s conversation with Maria Damon, “Desiring Visual Texts: A Collage and Embroidery Dialogue” and attempted our own experiments, including knitting, cross-stitch, crochet, doodles, scribbles, and collage.

J’Lyn Chapman with Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson

In March 2013, Jack Kerouac School MFA students in my Documentary Poetry course read Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder. They then discussed the book with her via email. In addition to describing how she dealt with primary source materials in the writing of Jane, such as her aunt’s adolescent diaries, Nelson also discussed somatic writing, the brutality of fact, and aporia.

Participants: Jaclyn Hawkins, Caitlan Mitchell, JH Phrydas, June Lucarotti, Ashley Waterman, Shitu Rajbhandari, Katherine Kauffman and Janelle Fine.

The Class: It seems like Jane became a haunting experience for you—Jane’s presence in your life, her presence in your dreams, etc. Did you feel closure upon your project’s completion? Have you returned to her (her murder) post-publication?

J’Lyn Chapman with Michelle Naka Pierce

Michelle Naka Pierce
Michelle Naka Pierce

In September, Michelle Naka Pierce visited my MFA “Text and Image” writing workshop (at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School) to discuss her book Continuous Frieze Bordering Red—a lyrical work that performs its hybridity by literally circuiting through ekphrastic engagements with Mark Rothko’s “Seagram Murals,” somatic responses to visual art and meditations on migration and identity.

Participants: Peggy Alaniz, Melissa Barrett-Traister, Matt Bovard, Genelle Chaconas, Kat Fossell, Hannah Kezema, Joseph Navarro, Sarah Richards-Graba, Betty Sparenberg and BZ Zionic.

Kyle Pivarnik graciously edited the conversation.

J’Lyn Chapman with Brenda Coultas

Brenda Coultas
Brenda Coultas

In April, Jack Kerouac School MFA students in my “Documentary Poetry” course read Brenda Coultas’ A Handmade Museum. At this point in the semester, students were completing their own documentary poetry projects, so one will notice that the questions relate to craft as well as to the role of the poet as documentarian or archivist.

Interview with Jaclyn Hawkins, Janelle Fine, Shitu Rajbhandari, JH Phrydas, Angelica Maria Barraza, Caitlan Mitchell, Ashley Margaret and Katharine Kaufman.

The Class: In “The Bowery Project,” how did you make decisions about structure and organization? For instance, the dates reveal it was not a method of linearity but perhaps one of item associations or the opposite, a panoramic diorama.

Brenda Coultas: As the project developed and became clearer, I began to add the dates and to take a weekly roll of photos. Once I had enough data, I began to shape it, but I didn’t want to be wedded to a timeline, so the narrative is based on balance, of creating a portrait, and of beauty.

J’Lyn Chapman with J. Hillis Miller

J. Hillis Miller
J. Hillis Miller

This spring, my Jack Kerouac School undergraduate Introduction to Critical Theory class read Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights through various critical approaches, including that of J. Hillis Miller’s “Wuthering Heights: Repetition and the ‘Uncanny,'” which I supplemented with selections from On Literature. On February 28, 2013, the class conducted an interview with him. Miller happens to be the first critic who I saw speak in person. This was 2004 at Colorado College. I admit that I was offended when the audience, including the friend who invited me to the talk, deigned to ask him questions. I don’t know what that was about—probably church memories. I was even more stunned by Miller’s open and genial responses. Of course, when I contacted Miller out of the blue this spring, he agreed to address our questions, some of which, frankly, could be answered by simply reading his very cogent writing. This warmth and graciousness is really the ethos of his critical method: As a critic, he forestalls neat conclusions, in part to sustain the pleasure of reading (or performing) the “strange” text but also to decenter the definitive reading, that is, his own authority. We are incredibly grateful to have engaged with one of this period’s most important critics. 

The students in the Introduction to Critical Theory class who conducted this interview are Alexandria Bull, David Chrem, Jacob Cohen, Lauren DeGaine, Charlie Epstein, David Hall, Elizabeth Kolenda, Anna Meiners, Jade Cruz Quinn, Chey Watson, Indigo Weller and Matt Robertson.

The Class: In your book, On Literature, you speak about the relationship between technology and literature. In a world where the printed word is dying out, do you believe physical books still play an important role to literature?

J. Hillis Miller: Printed books, including printed books of literature, will be around a long time yet and will play an important role in the cultural diffusion of literature. I still read most of the literature I do read in printed books. Nevertheless, we are in the midst of an extremely rapid and world-wide change in media technology. This means that literature will more and more be available in electronic form for those who want to read it that way.

J’Lyn Chapman with Danielle Dutton

Danielle Dutton
Danielle Dutton

In late April 2012, students in my undergraduate Introduction to Feminist Theory class at Naropa University read Danielle Dutton’s SPRAWL. With literature written by women as our guide, we explored feminist thought in its historical and philosophical contexts as well as in its application. The course was organized around several books, including Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Dutton’s SPRAWL. We read these novels over an atypically long period so that we could do both close readings of the texts and apply multiple theories to produce multiple readings. Simultaneous with our reading of SPRAWL, students read Simone de Beauvoir, Lyn Hejinian and Sherry B. Ortner, but one will also recognize in their questions the influence of other courses they were taking at the time, such as Experimental Women Writers.

Jack Kerouac School BA students Emily Ashley, Anna Avery, Ali Baker, Kiwi Barnstein, Eric Cooley, Lauren DeGaine, Taylor Estape, Jackie Gardea, Yasamine Ghiasi, Caroline Jacobs, Erin Likins, Carolyn Ripple, Ella Schoefer-Wulf and Sofia Stephenson participated in the interview. It has been lightly edited for publication.

The Class: In Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity, Juliana Spahr writes that Gertrude Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas indicate that “her writing (her self) is not unreadable but rather hyper-readable.” Would you consider SPRAWL to be what Spahr calls “hyper-readable”?

Danielle Dutton: I haven’t read Spahr’s book, so I’m not entirely sure if I’m understanding the question, but here’s what it makes me think of: Werner Herzog. There’s an interview with him from GQ that I’m kind of obsessed with. In it he talks about how he makes films for the “secret mainstream.” I love this idea. Partly because it makes me laugh and partly because I believe him. And this idea of his seems to jive with my (mis?)understanding of Spahr’s notion there of “hyper-readability.” That something seemingly difficult could actually be enormously “readable,” if this latter term can be defined starting from a different set of assumptions about what reading is.

Chris Martin with J’Lyn Chapman’s “Mind Moving” Class

Chris Martin
Chris Martin

In this series, my writing students from Naropa University interview professional writers whose work we’ve read in class. Each student composes one or two questions, which I then send to the writer. While neither this pedagogy nor its publication is unique, the immediacy of online publishing as well as the interviews’ course-specific context is. Because students’ questions are anonymous and reflect their individual concerns as writers and scholars, rather than gauge the interests of an audience, these interviews are simultaneously communal and personal. For this reason, I call the series, simply, Questions for Answers.

In the Fall 2012, I assigned Chris Martin’s Becoming Weather to a creative writing course offered to low-residency MFA students in the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. The course, entitled, “Mind Moving,” explores contemplative practices in prose and poetry. After reading Stephani Nola’s review of Becoming Weather in the spring 2012 issue of Bombay Gin, I felt Martin’s book would offer an ideal juxtaposition with the spiritual texts we were also reading, including J. Krishnamurti’s Freedom from the Known.

Krishnamurti writes, “To divide anything into what should be and what is, is the most deceptive way of dealing with life.” I assigned Becoming Weather because, like Krishnamurti’s thought, its vision eschews the supernatural, which parses sacred and profane, for a sometimes staggering faith in the integrity of “being here.” Becoming Weather is as much spiritual as it is somatic and philosophical.

In November 2012, Martin generously responded to questions from the class that ranged from concern of craft to contemplative practice to the writer’s life. Jack Kerouac School MFA students Katelyn Rubenzer, Alicia Lewis, Denise Kinsley, Rachel Newlon, Virginia Teppner, Peggy Alaniz, Lara Beaulieu and Bobby Taylor participated in the interview, which took place on November 28, 2012.

Class: What weather pattern would you say best describes the writing process of Becoming Weather? The book itself? The aftermath of the book?

Chris Martin: I can identify six different weather patterns. The first (pre-writing) was a tremendous gusting wind where I had to huff and puff myself clear of staggered tercets. The second (section 1) was a controlled tornado, destroying a little city called “Fantastic Autopsies” only to reconstruct it as “Disequilibrium.” The third (section 2) was dancing weather, a firm and agile breeze leading everyone off the margin. The fourth (section 3) was a blanket of thick fog with gaping holes where we could see each other and confirm that things were nowhere near right. The fifth (coda) was the most pleasant weather imaginable. The sixth (prose sutures) held it all together, like light were a kind of glue.