Category: New interviews

Camille Dungy with Leonard Schwartz

Poet Camille Dungy. Photo © Ray Black.

In honor of Litmus Press’ forthcoming collection of Leonard Schwartz interviews with female poets, we will offer an ongoing series of transcribed talks from Schwartz’s “Cross-Cultural Poetics” archives

From CCP episode #221: Ecopoetics. October 19, 2010. Transcribed by Kelly Bergeron.

Leonard Schwartz: Today’s guest on the phone from the Bay area, I’m very happy to say, is Camille Dungy. She’s professor in the creative writing department at San Francisco State University, and is the author of What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. She’s helped to edit a number of poetry anthologies and most recently, she’s edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry published by the University of Georgia Press. Welcome Camille Dungy.

Camille Dungy: Thank you.

LS: Great to have you on the line and to have your anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, in hand. Can you say a little bit about this project and its ambitions?

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Interviews of Interviews: Charles Gute with Avi Davis

Artist Charles Gute

Charles Gute works with text as a primary material both as a conceptual artist and as a freelance editor of art books. These separate activities—studio practice and day job—unexpectedly overlapped when Gute hit upon the idea of taking corrected publisher’s proofs and stripping out all content except for his own corrections and proofreader’s notations. Re-framed as line drawings, these abstract constellations of words and symbols resonate with their original subject matter in unpredictable and sometimes humorous ways. Featuring more than fifty of these “automatic” drawings, Gute’s book Revisions and Queries, published by The Ice Plant, is a sort of “art book about art books” that provides an amusing glimpse behind the scenes of both the art and publishing worlds. Another of Gute’s projects, The HUO Drawings, was inspired by found misspellings of the curator/interviewer’s name—mistakes that he subsequently rendered as ink-on-paper drawings. Based in New York, Charles Gute works with Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, and Jason Rulnick, Inc., New York.

Avi Davis: This will be an interview about art generated (largely) by interviews. So we’re operating with the ghosts of a lot of interviews looking over our shoulders. Did you ever feel like this was a commentary on the interview form?

Charles Gute: Not specifically, because in addition to using interviews as source material, I also use essays, artist statements, bios—basically any text that might be part of an art publication. But I think I have a sense of what you’re getting at. When you read an interview in print, there’s this illusion that you, the reader, are a ghost listening to a seamless dialogue happening in real time. When in fact an interview like the one we are having now is something that is stitched together and mediated by yet another ghostly presence—an editor. It’s the invisible hand of the editor that I’m interested in exposing—this series of gestures that by their nature are supposed to remain unseen, since their whole purpose is to make the delivery of content to the reader as transparent and unencumbered as possible. In some ways it reminds me of a Joseph Beuys performance I once read about, where he organized a panel discussion, but clamped all the speaker’s hands to the tabletop. As the participants spoke, it was Beuys—mute throughout—who performed everyone’s hand gestures.

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Kristen Gallagher and Chris Alexander with Christopher Schmidt

Kristen Gallagher and Chris Alexander live in New York City, where they are writers, poetry curators, and co-editors of Truck Books ( In 2011, they published two new books. Alexanders Panda documents the fan culture and promotional apparatus surrounding the film Kung Fu Panda; Gallaghers We Are Here is a transcription-based project compiling indexical and deictic language recorded during hikes and other outings. Both are professors at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY, where they teach creative writing, English literature, and composition. This interview was conducted outdoors, in Long Island City, Queens and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on March 15, 2012 and was transcribed by Maia Spotts.

Christopher Schmidt: We’re looking at pictures of cats on Instagram and talking about cuteness. Let’s start the interview. I was going to interview Kristen first, but maybe we should start with Chris—

Kristen Gallagher: Cuteness is Chris’ project.

Chris Alexander: Yeah, very much so.

CS: Chris, let’s begin by discussing the cuteness of your subject—the panda—and how its cuteness fits in with conceptual writing. I’m thinking of Sianne Ngai’s article, “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde.”

CA: You know, this is really funny. I had only read her essay on Stuplimity [“Stuplimity: Shock and Boredom in Twentieth-Century Aesthetics”] when I was at Buffalo, and I had not been following her subsequent work. And then recently I started reading that cuteness essay, and it’s startlingly proximate. It’s kind of disturbingly proximate to what I’ve been doing.

CS: In this essay Ngai says that we’ve looked at the aesthetic categories of the sublime, the beautiful, the ugly—

CA: The grand, canonical categories.

CS: But she asks, what about the aesthetic categories more relevant to commodity culture? Like cuteness, zaniness—I can’t remember some of the other ones.

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Jon Bernson with Scott Pinkmountain

Jon Bernson of Exray's
Songwriter Jon Bernson of Exray's. Photo © Kata Rokkar/Shawn Robbins.

Jon Bernson formed the band Ray’s Vast Basement in 1997 as a one-man 4-track cassette project while living in Point Reyes, California. The early albums were an exploration of an imaginary town called Drakesville. Bernson’s “musical fiction” told stories of the history of this old California coastal town through richly arranged acoustic music with a strong Americana influence. Recently, Bernson formed Exray’s, a new band with a distinctly different sound, with Michael Falsetto-Mapp and Jason Kick. Exray’s released a cassette EP called Ammunition Teeth in October 2010 and a self-titled LP in February 2011, one of whose songs appeared in David Fincher’s film The Social Network. Exray’s third album, Trust a Robot, was released in June 2012. Bernson is also one half of Window Twins, a collaboration with Tim Cohen. This interview is part of an ongoing collection of interviews with Indie Rock songwriters focusing on lyric writing, creative process, and lyrics as literary genre and was conducted by telephone.

Scott Pinkmountain: Let’s start by talking about the Drakesville Project. What inspired those early Ray’s Vast Basement records?

Jon Bernson: It was an intuitive process of discovery. I knew I wanted to combine mediums to explore the past. For me, Drakesville ended up creating a sense of place and a past that had deeper roots than what I had access to growing up.

I think it’s a pretty typical experience for Americans to be disconnected from their roots, to be disconnected from a sense of place. By exploring the depth of one small place I gained an understanding of what it means to be connected to the past. That act carries through to now. It can’t replace actually coming from a culture that values the past and values their traditions, but it helps. I don’t feel like I need to do that very much anymore because it filled some void well enough that I can move on.

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