Category: December 2013

Double Change: Pascal Poyet and Lisa Robertson

Pascal Poyne and Lisa Robertson
Pascal Poyet and Lisa Robertson

Double Change was founded in 2000 in order to juxtapose, unite and reunite French- and English-language poetries in a new bi-national, multi-faceted forum. Established as a nonprofit organization in Paris, and with editorial boards in both France and the U.S., Double Change looks to represent a diverse, eclectic spectrum of poetic activity in both countries. Starting next year, The Conversant will feature curated selections from the Double Change archive of live recordings. Here we would like to introduce that series with a recording of Lisa Robertson and Pascal Poyet reading from Cinema of the Present last December. Continue reading

Rusty Morrison with Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez
Craig Santos Perez

The subject of this interview is Craig Santos Perez’s forthcoming book from unincorporated territory [guma’] (Omnidawn).

Rusty Morrison: It’s very exciting for me to see the third installment of from unincorporated territory come to fruition. Each book is complete in itself, yet each certainly echoes the other two collections. Can you speak to the ways that [guma’] is unique, and the ways that it enlarges the project that these three books are a part of?

Craig Santos Perez: The first book of the series, from unincorporated territory [hacha] focused on my grandfather’s life and experience on our home island of Guåhan (Guam) when the island was occupied by Japan’s military during World War II. The second book, from unincorporated territory [saina], focused on my grandmother’s contrasting experience during that same period. This new book echoes and enlarges the earlier books through the themes of family, militarization, cultural identity, migration and colonialism. Furthermore, [guma’] focuses on my own return to my home island after living away (in California) for 15 years. I explore how the island has changed and how my idea of home has changed. I also meditate upon the memories that I have carried with me, as well as all that I have forgotten and left behind. Formally, I experiment with new forms and genres in [guma’], such as prose poetry, eco-poetics, conceptual poetry, indigenous oral poetry and mythological poetry. Continue reading

Rusty Morrison with Keith Waldrop

Keith Waldrop
Keith Waldrop

The subject of this interview is Waldrop’s book The Not Forever.

Rusty Morrison: It was such a delight for me, when you offered Omnidawn The Not Forever! I couldn’t believe our great good fortune. As I wrote in the book description that we are using for our press materials, “These poems take not only mortality, but also the impossibility of truly assessing mortality, as their endlessly inexplicable subject.” These poems “assess the quintessentially human inability to exact knowledge from the existence that we live, as well as from the inexistence that we each are veering toward.” The poems frightened me, and yet they “friend-ed” me too: they are ferociously generous in their candor. I want to ask about your relationship to these poems. Can you tell me a little about your intentions for the book?

Keith Waldrop: I think you have gotten the book right. I couldn’t express it better. Continue reading

Angela Buck on Leonard Schwartz with Linh Dinh

Linh Dinh
Linh Dinh

This monthly series features highlights from the Cross Cultural Poetics archive. Cross Cultural Poetics is one of the longest-running radio shows in America focused on contemporary poetry and poetics. Based at The Evergreen State College and hosted by Leonard Schwartz, the entire archive, running from 2003 to the present, can be accessed on PennSound.

This month, I’ve chosen an episode from the fall 2004 season—an interview with Saigon-born poet, fiction writer and translator, Linh Dinh. Dinh reads from his 2004 collection of stories, Blood and Soap, including the extraordinary story “Prisoner with a Dictionary,” which he calls a “story of conversion” that speaks to the experience of being caught between two languages. He also reads from the 2001 anthology, Three Vietnamese Poets, which he translated, as well as his 2003 poetry collection, All Around What Empties Out. Schwartz and Dinh discuss the relationship between power and imagination, and the play between the comic and the tragic that runs through Dinh’s poetry and stories—something Dinh attributes to the French tradition of black humor, running from Rabelais to Alfred Jarry, Henri Michaux and Antonin Artaud.—Angela Buck

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John D’Agata and Phillip Lopate

John D'Agata and Phillip Lopate
John D'Agata and Phillip Lopate

When I become interested in an idea, I want to know what I think about it—so I write essays. But I also, frequently, want to know what others think about the same idea. If I think enough people might be interested, I try to edit a collection of essays. Editors don’t talk to each other that often. There are organizations of writers, but editors are strewn about, having occasional conversations that are rarely recorded. For this series of dialogues, I’ve tried to gather some editors of nonfiction anthologies to talk together. I fed them a few questions, which they’ve responded to, or not. Their conversations are as interesting, as lively, as their anthologies. —David Lazar  Continue reading

Declan Gould with Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto

Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto
Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto

Here Declan Gould interviews Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto about documentary poetry and the poetics of disability.

Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto’s collaboratively-written chapbook, Waveform, was published by Kenning Editions in 2011, and was released as an ebook in October 2013. An excerpt was translated into Italian in 2012 for Sagarana. DiPietra has an autonomic form of childhood arthritis, and Leto has laryngeal dystonia, a neurological disorder that affects speech. The constraints that these conditions create are intimately tied to both the forms and the themes of Waveform, a profoundly evocative long poem whose implications for experimental and documentary poetry, disability and somatics, accumulate with each line. Waveform is a layered work of varying modes that synthesizes multiple discourses and raises productive questions about these modes’ ethics and complexities.

Note: I interviewed DiPietra via phone and Leto via e-mail, because this was best for each of their bodies. I have integrated their answers here for greater ease of reading. –Declan Gould

Declan Gould: Can you give me an idea of how the collaboration worked? How interwoven or separate is your authorship? Are there certain sections that each of you wrote, or have the two voices become indistinguishable? How did you collaboratively assemble the various pieces?

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Tony Trigilio with Leonard Schwartz

Leonard Schwartz
Leonard Schwartz

In his monthly poetry podcast, Radio Free Albion, Tony Trigilio interviews poets about their recently released or forthcoming books. Always informal, each interview is a conversation—two poets talking about the work and play of the creative process and showcasing some of the most innovative new work in contemporary poetry. This interview with Leonard Schwartz was transcribed by Cameron Decker.   

Tony Trigilio: Hi Leonard, how you doing?

Leonard Schwartz: I’m fine Tony, great to be with you here on Radio Free Albion. Continue reading

Feliz Lucia Molina with Avital Ronell

Avital Ronnell. Photo courtesy of the European Graduate School
Avital Ronnell. Photo courtesy of the European Graduate School.

Founded in 1994, the European Graduate School is a program led by philosophers, film makers, writers, poets and artists, located in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. A fun camp of critical theory and continental philosophy, its teachers and students gather from around the world in a secluded Swiss Alp town for three-week-long intensive study and lectures that continue late into the night at Metro Bar, Happy Bar, Popcorn, or wherever else. Fortunately, all of the official lectures are videotaped and archived.

Task turns against itself, a giving up, a losing momentum of the assignment. What might it mean to have a dissertation rejected or received by an institution? What is our work? When do we sign for a text’s arrival? A catastrophe. A trip to Marseille. The destructive character. The “tr/opium” other who speaks through us while we are high. “We have to lose Nietzche in order to find him,” said Heidegger. We can only ever be underprepared. We are inheritors of Benjaminian motifs; Benjamin returns as a sequence for which we are somehow syntactically linked as though by rumor. Autonomously together, we can only endure the struggle task and mission. According to Cixous, one must adopt the unsayable. Let us overcome the Hallmark holiday card, for we must always have melancholy. —Feliz Lucia Molina


Avital Ronell studied at the Hermeneutics Institute in Berlin with Jacob Taubes, ultimately earned her doctorate at Princeton University and then worked with Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous in Paris. She currently is chair of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literature at New York University and is a professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School, where she teaches an Intensive Summer Seminar. Her books include Loser Sons: Politics and Authority, Fighting Theory: In Conversation with Anne Dufourmantelle, The Test Drive, Stupidity, Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania, The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech and Dictations: On Haunted Writing.

Jonathan Stalling with Afaa Michael Weaver

Afaa Michael Weaver. Photograph courtesy of Catherine Laine.
Afaa Michael Weaver. Photograph courtesy of Catherine Laine.

In 2007, I founded the Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series. This series curates between 10 to 15 readings a year in Norman, Oklahoma and features poets spanning a broad spectrum of poetry communities and styles. Past poets who have read include Tom Raworth, Hank Lazer, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Arthur Sze, Natasha Tretheway, Myung Mi Kim, Charles Alexander, Joe Harrington, Afaa Weaver, Shin Yu Pai, Leonard Schwartz, Hugh Tribby, Gerald Stern, Sy Hoawhwah, Alexandra Teague, Kate Greenstreet, Dean Rader, Zhang Er, Julie Carr, Tim Roberts, Grant Jenkins, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Duo Duo, Wang Jiaxin, Glenn Mott, among many more.

In this conversation, Afaa Weaver and I discuss the intersection of Chinese martial arts and Weaver’s poetics. Weaver discusses how his background in Yang style Taiji Chuan and, later, Xingyi Chuan and Daoist meditation (inner alchemy), have enriched his poetics with an understanding of mind-body quite distinct from the varied Western cosmologies that more commonly inform English-language poetics. In fact, even within the context of transpacific poetics, which has been far more influenced by Buddhist philosophy/practice, Weaver’s poetics remain quite distinct, since his relationship to Daoism has arrived by way of psychophysiological forms of cultivation, rather than the more common intertextual ones (Daodejing, Zhuangzi, Yijing, etc).

—Jonathan Stalling


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1951, Afaa Michael Weaver (Michael S. Weaver) has been awarded an NEA fellowship in poetry, a Pew Fellowship and an appointment as a Fulbright scholar at National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan. He has had plays produced professionally and worked as an editor and freelance journalist. His eleventh collection of poems is Kama i’reeh (Like the Wind), a translation of his work into Arabic by Wissal Al-Allaq. His 12th collection of poetry, The Government of Nature, was published by University of Pittsburgh Press (March 2013). It is the second book in a trilogy that began with The Plum Flower Dance. The trilogy is Weaver’s attempt to integrate his lifelong interest in Chinese culture with his ongoing project of exploring working-class interiority. Weaver lives in Somerville, Massachusetts and teaches at Simmons College, where he holds an endowed chair as the Alumnae Professor of English. As a translator working in contemporary Chinese poetry, he maintains this website for cultural bridge building.

Jeffrey Williams with Rita Felski

Rita Felski
Rita Felski

Feminism is sometimes portrayed as focusing on politics at the expense of aesthetics. Rita Felski’s Literature After Feminism (University of Chicago Press, 2003) shows how, on the contrary, feminism has enriched the reading of literature. Much of Felski’s work has looked at feminism and modernism, notably in her first three books, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change (Harvard University Press, 1989), The Gender of Modernity (Harvard University Press, 1995) and Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture (New York University Press, 2000), a collection of her essays.

This interview took place soon after the publication of Literature After Feminism. Since then, Felski has developed a neo-phenomenological approach to literature, which she explains in “Everyday Aesthetics,” her contribution to “The Credo Issue” of minnesota review (2009); she defends the study of literature in Uses of Literature (Blackwell, 2008) and Rethinking Tragedy (edited; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). In addition to her writing, she took over the editorship of New Literary History in 2009, where she has sponsored a number of special issues on new directions in literary studies, such as “New Sociologies of Literature” (2010) and “Context?” (2011).

Born in 1956, Felski received her BA in French and German literature at Cambridge University and her PhD in German at Monash University in Australia. She taught at Perth and Murdoch Universities in Australia, moving in 1994 to the University of Virginia, where she is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English.

This interview took place on 28 December 2004, in the midst of the MLA Convention in Philadelphia. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams, and transcribed by Srila Nayak.

Jeffrey Williams: Your new book, Literature After Feminism, takes stock of contemporary feminism—as I take it, in the wake of the culture wars. Can you talk about that book and the situation it responds to?

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Jon Curley with Rachel Hadas

Rachel Hadas
Rachel Hadas

Jon Curley: Can you envision what kinds of poems, whether structurally or thematically, you might consider writing beyond the realm of your past practice? Are there elements of poems outside your usual patterns and activities you might try to integrate into your work?

Rachel Hadas: I find myself in close, ongoing collaboration with a video artist, Shalom Gorewitz. His “Yemaya,” (made under the pseudonym of Solace Salentino) a video rendering of a new poem of mine, can be found here. Due to my illness this summer, I became interested in making an offering to the ocean mother divinity, Yemaya, and this video depicts that. We plan more videos going forward.

Other than this kind of collaboration, which is new to me, I am interested in all kinds of poetic forms, free verse and translation. None of this is new, but maybe I have a new sense of eclecticism in how I use collage or bricolage to put texts in dialogue with each other. For example, each semester I write a cento using lines from my MFA students’ work, but increasingly I use what I think of as an aleatory cento form for my own work, i.e. using quotes I’ve liked from a wide range of poetry and prose (some in translation) to incorporate into my own work.

JC: What inspired what you call your new eclecticism?

RH: In terms of my own work’s trajectory, a kind of restlessness, yes, and also an enhanced sense of intertextuality—of the fact that all poems speak to and through one another. In terms of my life’s arc, a new and consuming relationship with a video artist. The medium of video was one I hadn’t thought much about. It proved to have an electric effect on my imagination even before the fact, as in a prophetic line I wrote in January 2013: “The flickering of what there are no words for.” Except that there are words, of course. Words are still my medium, but sometimes they are someone else’s words.

In two new poems, one from January 2013 and one from late summer 2013, there are some examples of my appropriations, or folding lines from someone else’s poem (or prose) into my own lyric structure or mix. From my aleatory canto “The White Door,” here’s a stanza:

I don’t know how to speak.
Armloads of wild flowers cover something dead.
We two struggle uphill.
What are you afraid of?
Everyone sees visions.
You must go away and then come back.
My skin was wrinkled and my hair was white

The first line is an adaptation of the wife’s accusation to the husband in Robert Frost’s “Home Burial,” when she angrily says, “You don’t know how to speak.” “Everyone sees visions” (a thought continued in the next stanza) is a line by Greek poet George Seferis, who was himself, I believe, channeling Heraclitus—these borrowings are not new!

And from “But It’s True” (late summer 2013), two nonadjacent stanzas:
Through the hourglass. Down the rabbit hole.
Eros shook my mind like a mountain wind.
Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn.
Hypothesis improbable but true:
My soul bled out of me and into you.

Something has been postponed.
I burned in the river of not having you.
Low and straight I flew toward snowy mountains.
A paradox improbable but true:
My soul swooped out of me and into you.

First stanza here: “rabbit hole” is, of course, from Alice. “Eros shook my mind…”: Sappho. “Thus is his cheek…”: Shakespeare, “Sonnet 68.” Second stanza: “Something has been postponed”: from the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos’ prison poems, Diaries of Exile. “I burned in the river of not having you”: a poem by Robert Pinsky, “Antique.”

You get the idea, I hope!

JC: How do you link the practice of poetry to coping with or confronting illness? Should poetry be regarded as therapeutic? Thaumaturgic? Shamanic?

RH: Let me reply by quoting the Prologue to my 2011 memoir about my husband’s illness, Strange Relation. I’m referring to some of the works of literature that helped me through George’s long illness: “Though many of them are certainly beautiful, these works of literature [both poetry and novels] didn’t soothe or console or lull me with their beauty. On the contrary, they made me sit up and pay attention. Each in its own way, they helped me by telling me the truth, or rather a truth, about the almost overwhelming situation in which I found myself.”

Therapy. Truth telling. Companionship. Discovery. Transformation. Literature, in my experience, can fulfill all these functions, though perhaps not all at one time. Two further thoughts: If I were a carpenter or musician or dancer or painter (or video artist!), I suspect I might find that my craft or art fulfilled these functions in the same way poetry does for me. And secondly, the burgeoning field of Narrative Medicine speaks to the many ways literature (and indeed all the arts) relates to human suffering. The tremendous power of narrative, of listening and speaking, of being able to tell a story and hear a story, is something our younger doctors have almost lost. At least in certain institutions, they are now beginning to recover it.


Rachel Hadas, Board of Governors Professor of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, essays and translations, most recently The Golden Road and Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry.

Virginia Konchan with Janice Lee

Janice Lee
Janice Lee

Psychoanalytic discourse (Winnicott’s “good enough” mother, the devouring mother, etc.) haunt the Western imaginary, wherein parodies of our socio-cultural schism (virgin/whore) are attenuated by iconic representations of gender (Madonna, Gaga). Here I explore with writer Janice Lee the fine line between these mythic representations, the work of mourning and lived generational narratives. We also consider contemporary memes, such as the “feral feminism” of The Hunger Games, eating disorders, infertility and other symptoms of cultural malaise, and the damaging myth of a woman who has (or does, as an extenuation of capitalist production values) it all. Rage on.

—Virginia Konchan

My Mother Would Be a Falconress

My mother would be a falconress,
And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
would fly to bring back
from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize…

I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood,
and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying…

Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me,
always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
at her wrist, and her riding
to the great falcon hunt, and me
flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart…

—Robert Duncan

Virginia Konchan: In your book, Daughter, rendering a judgment on the world, or even seeing what we are and experience, boils down to the problem of language, representation and reification; a symptom of being “unmothered” or losing the mother (how do we know we exist if the mother, in language acquisition and in the mirror stage, doesn’t speak to us, or act as a stable determinant or image from which we derive our own speech, self-image and, later, identity?).

The wonderful synesthesia of Daughter (as one reviewer put it: in Daughter, “splayed” is a color; “competence” is interchangeable with “space”) attenuates the tension—rather than attempting to resolve it—of the stigmatized, iconicized “mother,” both historical and real.

Mother and child become interchangeable and the narrator (mother/master signifier) is as malleable as the created subjects themselves. In Daughter, the choice to forget seems a more survivable fate than the pain of remembrance and lived trauma—of the mother’s abandonment, death, or our own societal scapegoating and sacrificial murder of the mother in order to have a voice, and survive.

I think, laughingly, of Freud and Kristeva, who saw repression and subject-formation as a process, and whose best metaphor was that of work. But for Freud, the work of mourning had less to with transcendence through language than finding adequate substitutes for the primary love-object, the mother, who is gone forever. The subject’s ego, decathected from the primary love-object, has two choices according to Freud: wait in a state of Proustian dread, anticipating the mother’s return, or reattach to another object/subject, repressing the memory of the love-object completely or fetishizing its material (photography), or immaterial (the voice) remains…

Can you speak to the trope of loss, and the choice (conscious or not) to forget or remember, repress or live out the mourning for what the mother (before necromantic capitalism and eco-devastation) signifies: comfort, security, unconditional love for/by the other?

Janice Lee: For me, it is loss that colors everything, even pervades and intensifies the cloud hovering over any illusion of choice at all. Forgetting and remembering become compulsive; repression becomes desire; dreaming becomes routine.

Perhaps there is an inherent cannibalism that, inevitably, like a cycle of eternal return, dictates the process of grief. The following, from Elissa Marder’s book, The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, resonates with me:

In “Mourning and Melancholia,” Freud argues that normal mourning is a form of psychic work in which the self detaches from the world and retreats into itself so that it can, slowly and painfully, disengage the energy it has invested in a love object that no longer exists in order to be able to reclaim that lost energy for itself. In melancholia, however, the psyche refuses to accept the reality of the loss and takes the lost object into the psyche instead. In another text entitled “Mourning or Melancholia: Introjection versus Incorporation,” Abraham and Török modify Freud’s description by suggesting that mourning always entails taking the lost object into the self in one way or another. For them, however, in successful mourning, the process they call “introjection,” the departed object is successfully consumed: it is fully “ingested,” “digested” and “metabolized” until it ultimately becomes assimilated into the self. The lost object is successfully mourned when it becomes an integral part of the “me” who mourns.

Whatever residue remains (photos, trinkets, ashes), these only speak to the pastness of the person (the mother in the past); a strange testimony that calls to attention the complications of what no longer exists, but now strangely dictates a new sort of future. I hold on to objects, not necessarily because I miss my mother, which is also true, but to continue to feel relevant as a daughter.

VK: Do you feel our grief for the mother to be laced with both our own mourning and loss, as well as our helplessness in global, cosmic and very local, in our own narratives and cities—watching women of all genders, races and classes struggle for human rights, dignity and survival—suffering?

JL: For me, the grief is innately personal. And, as the maternal function is so often seen as resisting codification and containment, so is the daughter’s. If there is another version of the mother that is her past, is there not also another version of the daughter, floating in the ether and haunting both physical mother and daughter, waiting for some imminent version of a release/arrival—not unlike her first entry into the world?

It is perhaps a much more existential crisis. As a daughter, I remain tethered to an excavatory trauma of being born as someone already with and without a past, already anticipating the trauma of my mother’s death. That is, the umbilical cord is more than just a metaphor, and the past is more than just history.

The Korean poet, Kim Hyesoon, writes:

Yes, poems are ways of saying you clearly remember the day of your death and your tomb. When I am writing poetry, I relive my days when a woman inside me dies many times. My body is full of graves. A sepulcher is dug up, and a young girl comes out of it with her dusty hands in tears. A lady who is a young girl and an old girl at the same time feels the presence of the young girl. I feel that the 15-year-old me and the 50-year-old me come out of the sepulcher through an illegal excavation. Time is not a straight line, but just a flat hell, like a desert. I am a tomb robber who is robbing my own tomb. Things from my tomb are exhibited under the radiant sun. Every time it happens I feel crude.

The crisis is one of narrative, too. How to proceed outwards from one center, one relationship, one vortex that also sucks inwards, which erases as it simultaneously creates.

VK: I’m struck by how discussions of the mother are, perhaps, the only psychoanalytic or narrative trope wherein sense can only be made in reference to the personal and personal grief; from Barthes’ Camera Lucida to Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye and other writers’ grief memoirs; our relationship to our own mothers, ourselves, socially: in terms of biological determinism, limited opportunities to enter political representation and positions of power and influence, despite rhetoric to the contrary, as discussed recently in The Atlantic and documentaries such as Miss Representation and forums such as VIDA’s The Count) and, more intimately, identity. How do we differentiate from the mother while acknowledging our need for nurturing and love?

The metaphor of genealogical and personal excavation is so apt (and the effort to see the body—ours or our mothers’—as serving more than a reproductive function or a sexual commodity; to inhabit the body, ours and that of the other). Without trying to sound retrograde, I often wonder whether the architecture of our buildings, landscapes, stories and poems (the serially experienced lyric line, the Aristotelian arc, the epiphanic finale, and the modernist skyscraper and other phallic monstrosities) aren’t the key to the “bigger better faster” disease of capitalist, post-Fordist production; an inability to be satiated or entertain the legitimacy of an Eastern (occupying the present moment) or traditionally feminine (interpolated by, and sensitive to, one’s co-constitution with the other) perspective. I wonder if our inability to know what is “enough”—that is, the illimitable disease of the free market, or the corporate state whose government is in the pocket of corporations, producing skirted environmental protocols, tax shelters, Wall-Street bail-outs—is related to our experience of rejection by the mother, or lack of satiation in our formative years (the root of our sense of security, and ability to acquire what we need and sense of deservingness to survive).

What do you think of the “meet your meat” trope that informs Carol Adams’ work about feminism and Western meat production, and/or the reduction of the female (and male!) subject to body parts rather than a syncretic whole, or person? I’m thinking of Ariana Reines’ sublime The Cow, in which the mother is both the lost signifier and a murdered lump of meat—here from the book jacket: “The cow is a body in the way that texts are bodied—’Are you so intelligent your body doesn’t have you in it’—but not in the way that allows the text to become desensitized, depersonalized, sterilized. Instead this text is filthy and fertilized, filling and emptying, atrocious and politic with meaning. The Cow is a mother, a lover, and a murdered lump of meat.”

JL: A memory: When my mother was disconnected and officially pronounced dead, my dad had a psychogenic non-epileptic seizure, collapsed on the ground and started kicking and smashing his head on the floor. I was sent down with my dad to the emergency room. When I was able to return upstairs, what I remember is that one of my mom’s friends handed me a bag. “Your mother’s purse.” As everyone slowly shuffled out through the double doors, I lingered behind. I had been sent down to ER so quickly, I hadn’t had a chance to really say goodbye. I wanted to see her face again. But in those moments I had been downstairs, everything had changed. Her face had already turned a light shade of yellow, darkness starting to permeate around her eyes. She looked dead, and that was a strange realization, to see that on a face.

VK: The Athenian state instituted a “ban on memory” after civil war had concluded, taking a collective oath “not to recall misfortunes of the past.” The form of forgetting practiced by the Athenian citizens in author Nicole Loraux’s account had a name: Alaston penthos—a mourning that refuses to be carried out, a memory devoted to not forgetting. In the Odyssey eklesis, the “call to forget,” scores Greek drama and Greek tragedy, whose purpose was to set a memorial (textual) boundary between the enemies of Greek polis and the Greek citizens.

When the coryphaeus implores Electra to forget her anger against her mother and stepfather for the murder of her father, Agamemnon, she refuses, responding “ou lathe m’orga” (“I do not forget my anger,” and “my anger does not forget me”). “Tragedy borrows the notion from the most ancient poetic tradition, and particularly from epic, which from the first word of the Iliad names this active affect [anger as mourning] menis,” says Loraux. “If it were not for Achilles…I would say that we have here a female figure of memory, which the cities try to confine within anti- (or ante-) politics.” I am driven to (re)member (recall, praise, piece together and invent) the mother, such as in this poem, while also knowing the drive to Lethe-ean oblivion is not just personal but aesthetic; the call to waken signaling self-consciousness, technological futurity, culture.

Of Thee I Sing

Take your musicality. I knew nothing of your musicality.
Take your mutilation, which came before your mutilation
of yourself. You were dragged to the underworld, Dantean,

Miltonesque, to remember who I really was—brutish,
degenerate. How you did not flinch. How you were,
in all your ways, from waking to sleeping, like a man.

Trapeze artist, Crazy Jane: did you even exist outside
of my metaphoric definition of you? A separate identity—
treason. I called you killer. If you lay down with Father,

I did not want to know. How your body was found face
down in the snow, or in the lake, face up, glowering,
a wasted corpse. White Goddess. Queen Bee.

You were born to serve, to die a sparrow’s death.
Take your place, mother, in the martyr’s order
of things. Do not ask me to remember your name.

The importance placed on mastery of loss (and our culture’s trend of refusing mastery, and the mother) has roots deep in psychoanalytic theory, specifically in the work of Freud, Melanie Klein and Lacan. It is at the site and through the event of this primary loss that the subject is constituted, for Freud, who describes the loss of the object as a two-step process: First, the breast is lost, followed by the primary love object, the mother herself. In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud explains that the breast becomes a lost object just at the time when the child is able to form a total idea of the person to whom the organ giving him satisfaction belongs.

Modernism rejects the illusion of mastery. For the Greeks, locating the golden ratio between form and appearance (pure objectivity, in logic, or pure objecthood, in art) was key.

How can we remember the mother and the feminine (in Eastern religion in the image of time, as circular and labyrinthine) while recognizing the desire to master ourselves, our bodies and our chosen fields, as the opposing tide to being without striving (creating, with intentionality)?

JL: “The novel started out as a kernel of an idea. I knew I wanted to do something about the lack of an archetype for the ‘daughter’ figure.”

This was my response to an interview question that asked me about my initial intentions for writing Daughter. Daughter was released shortly after the death of my mother, and I was asked often about the connection. In reality, the entire book was composed before my mother’s death, during a period of good health. But it’s also a lie to say that the book had nothing to do with my mother’s death.

Jacques Derrida writes:

The trauma remains traumatizing and incurable because it comes from the future. For the virtual can also traumatize. Trauma takes place when one is wounded by a wound that has not yet taken place, in an effective fashion, in a way other than by the sign of its announcement. Its temporalization proceeds from the to-come.

This might allude to an actual traumatic event that is yet to come, a cord that connects one’s birth to another’s death, or rather, to a series of to-come realizations that instead cohere an ongoing and simultaneous process.

How do we reconcile and understand a relationship that is erected at the moment at which we rip and spill out of her body, the violence behind the arrival, manifested in the screams of pain and then the cries of joy and relief, the violence that dictates a new sort of identity for the mother? She is no longer the person she used to be, but is something utterly out of the reach of memory and articulation for the daughter who has entered the world for the first time, and comes to know her mother only as this person, with no recollection of any other version.

[I]f I’m a ghost, but believe I’m speaking with my own voice, it’s precisely because I believe it’s my own voice that I allow it to be taken over by another’s voice. Not just any other voice, but that of my own ghosts. So ghosts do exist. And it’s the ghosts who will answer you. Perhaps they already have. 

Jacques Derrida (Ghost Dance, Film dir. by Ken McMullen, 1983)

Is this a strange way of repeating the process of parasitism that begins before birth in the womb? Derrida goes further:

I speak of mourning as the attempt, always doomed to fail…to incorporate, interiorize, introject, subjectivize the other in me. Even before the death of the other, the inscription in me of her…mortality constitutes me. I mourn, therefore, I am, I am—dead with the death of the other, my relation to myself is first of all plunged into mourning, a mourning that is moreover impossible.

It is my insistence that keeps the relationship intact in any form at all. In a dream, she protests to my family: We never eat together anymore. I think of this as her own denial that she is dead—an insistence on being in our lives the way that she used to. But these are my dreams and not hers. This then becomes a languid conversation, a merging of that space and this one, an atmosphere that is all at once too familiar and impossible to make out. Freud’s vision of the unheimlich is most relevant in that space between birth and death. As certain memories are destabilized, the way I recall an identity changes—like looking through a hole in the wall from a particular angle, moving away and coming back, looking through the opening again and seeing something else, something different, but all too familiar as it has already seeped into my brain.


Janice Lee is the author of Kerotakis, Daughter and Damnation (a book-length meditation on the films of Béla Tarr). She currently teaches at CalArts and can be found online here.

Jim Goar with Marcus Slease

Marcus Slease
Marcus Slease

This transatlantic interview series, “The Slow Boat,” provides a setting for poets to engage in occasional conversation over the course of two months. It strives to be an invitation to further inquiry into the methods and complexities of a particular composition. The aim is not to be conclusive, but, in tandem, to further explore what it is to make a poem. 

Jim Goar: The opening lines of The House of Zabka (“Carrie was born in the best of times and the worst of / times”) weave A Tale of Two Cities into its tapestry. When her father dumps pig blood on her head, Carrie is incorporated into Carrie. On the following page, Toto appears at the entrance of a forbidden zone amongst “ancient symbols and a mobile phone number.” The reader, at the border, is forced to grind pop and canonical material just as Carrie’s father rolls “up that pig meat into all kinds of kielbasa.” And, like the consumer of these mysterious meat products, I am not certain that I know what I am eating. After all, this is a land in which: “You could swap the dog for your boyfriend or girlfriend.” I am pulled to these trades. If we could swap the dog for your boyfriend or girlfriend, could we also swap a Dickens novel for another Dickens novel or a newspaper for a fish? Does it all taste the same or are the specifics of the trades important? Do you choose the transactional material or does it choose you? Did you have the source books open and the movies playing while you were writing The House of Zabka? Maybe we could start somewhere in the vicinity of these concerns.

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H.L. Hix with Jan Conn

Jan Conn
Jan Conn

In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Jan Conn’s Edge Effects.

H.L. Hix: Though the poems in Edge Effects occupy “this intermediate realm,” they enter others frequently, and suddenly; they “superimpose / one horizon onto another.” I’m no mathematician and no scientist, but I think I “get” the concept of self-similarity at all scales, as it gets emphasized in popular accounts of fractals, and I wonder if some version of “self-similarity at all scales” is at work in the movement from one realm to another in these poems (from the music of the spheres, to my being “dog-eared and decadent”; from “a train / racing overhead” to “ground level / among the centipedes and beetles”; etc.).

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