Later this year, The Conversant and Essay Press will publish a chapbook, curated by Brian Kim Stefans, devoted to exploring the diversity of communities and historical trajectories shaping Los Angeles-based poetics. Here we offer, as an excerpt from that chapbook, a conversation between Wanda Coleman and Paul Vangelisti, conducted in the months preceding Coleman’s recent death.
Los Angeles has, to my mind, something of a start-and-stop poetic culture, with brief surges of thriving communities (the circle of Thomas McGrath in the McCarthy era, the circle around Stuart Perkoff and Wallace Berman in Venice during the Beat era, the Watts Writers Workshop and Jayne Cortez’ Watts Repertory Theater Company in the ’60s/’70s, the poets published by Momentum and Invisible City in the ’70s and ’80s, and the circle around Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar around the time punk exploded), and then moments of relative cessation that create disconnects between these moments of activity. But of course, continuities exist, and much of that credit goes to Paul Vangelisti and the late Wanda Coleman who, as innovative, prolific and, not least important, engaged poets, have insisted on making the city of “Lost Angels” the unmistakable locus of their work—continuing to animate a sort of underground in contrast to the more official strands of poetry culture in the city (typified historically by my employer, UCLA) and the film industry (which we’ve all more or less had enough of). In addition, Paul has been a tireless publisher and, at times, historian and even conserver of Los Angeles poetry (the great poet Robert Crosson lived in Paul’s garage, gratis, for many years), while Wanda was, as anyone who has seen her read knows, an electrifying performer who turned poems “on the page” into verbal symphonies (she blew everyone away at her last reading, for the launch of the Norton Anthology of American Poetry, just weeks before she died). Characteristically, Wanda starts the interview with some frank opinions about the organizational activities that Paul pursued in the distant ’70s, but the interview continues to demonstrate how generous (even if angry) and hopeful (even if faced with what Wanda calls a “conspiracy”) both of these writers remained, and not incidentally shows how their friendship seemed to flourish even if they had not been closely in touch for many years.—Brian Kim Stefans Continue reading →
In Brenda Hillman’s work, the smart and the heart coexist: a rigorous, often mystical intellectuality and language that sparks on the tongue, as in the title of her collection, Loose Sugar, ground-breaking for its innovative risks and resilient feminist voice. With Seasonal Works with Letters on Firecomes the blazing conclusion to her tetralogy on the elements. The first, Cascadia, mindfully traverses the earth, while in Pieces of Air in the EpicandPractical Water, Hillman suffuses us in air and water. Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, the final book in the series, blends a Romantic sensibility with her experimental forms. While these poems still draw from the tumult of our environmental and political crises, they flare with a visionary light. —Amy Pence
Amy Pence: At the time of Cascadia’s publication, you weren’t sure if you would continue writing about the classical elements, yet you did. What has sustained you?
Brenda Hillman: In Cascadia, I tried to bring exploratory forms and bio-regionalism into a relationship, to investigate language and earth and poetic form at the same time. Geology quickly became a metaphor for consciousness—fractured, evolutionary and not continuous. It illumined the ideas of the outer and the inner, of permanence and impermanence. The unconsciousness of the world and the mind of an artist commune in a poem, and the necessities of language meet you there.
Working on the elements has been more of an invitation than a necessity. I thought: earth, okay, air, yes, water, then fire…it was sort of like falling love. If you turn your attention to something you’re in love with, you’ll see it everywhere. You’ll see air in a cup of coffee or in what birds fly through. If you turn your attention to water, you’ll see it in spit, semen, in lakes and wars. In some cultures there are five elements—I’m thinking seriously about that. Continue reading →
The Conversant long has admired Lemon Hound’s lively, multifarious engagement with contemporary literature. In partnership with Lemon Hound, and in the hopes of encouraging further dialog between Canadian- and U.S.-based poetics, we have decided to re-publish a monthly excerpt from the Lemon Hound archive. The subject of this particular interview is Giles Benaway’s Ceremonies for the Dead.
Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy: I want to share my thanks and appreciation Giles, for you allowing your first published collection of poems to be a dwelling place for the Dead. How did the Dead manage to get such space, and why is this space ceremonial?
Jessica Baran won the first annual Besmilr Brigham Award for Women Writers for her book, Equivalents. As Editor at Lost Roads Press, I chose Baran’s book collaboratively with Danielle Pafunda and Prageeta Sharma, who generously donated their time as guest judges for this first contest.
Susan Scarlata: Over the past year we’ve gotten to know each other from coast to coast (Boston, San Francisco) and a few places in between (Denver, Laramie). It has been amazing to know you first through your book, Equivalents (which I love and chose to publish as the first new Lost Roads’ title in quite some time), and then to find equal compatibility in-person in these varied places. Throughout, I’ve picked up on various things in our conversations I’d love to ask you more about.
Starting with Equivalents: We were sitting in my friend Brian’s loft, and you mentioned that you wrote over 300 poems for the book and that only fifty made it in. What was the process of culling it down to 50 like, and do you go back to the 250 others?
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.
This is a discussion with Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow on the anthology The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation, which they co-edited. This anthology was first published in 1998 by Three Rivers/ Crown Publishing Group. It was subsequently republished with a new preface by Rutgers University Press in 2007 and remains in print.
David Lazar: To what extent do you think anthologizing is a radical act, or can be, and to what extent might it be conservative, the impulse to preserve? Can you speak to these impulses or tensions?
Rachel Blau DuPlessis: This anthology had several serious goals. The goals were radical and conservatizing (preservation-oriented)—not conservative at all, except perhaps in an old definition (putting up preserves). The goals of The Feminist Memoir Project were historical, political and insistent. We wanted to collect original essays by women who had (often in their 20s and 30s) played serious roles in the burgeoning women’s movement: as instigators, partisans, activists, thinkers and doers. We wanted them to record their activist efforts and convictions, to discuss their activities with other women, and to reflect on their entrance into the women’s movement—including second-thoughts, problems and analyses. This was a movement that our contributors were (in various ways) creating suddenly and compellingly beginning around 1966. We thought some personal-history writing and presentation would help to counteract some of the erasure of this multifarious and serious achievement, an erasure that was already being experienced, and that has become quite extreme over the past decades (since about 2000). We wanted our contributors to reflect on what they had done, and to count some of the costs and the benefits of this enormous upsurge of social struggle. The goal was to document, in people’s own words, their grassroots activism. Continue reading →
Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process which brought them to the moment of completion that we call a book. As Omnidawn’s co-publisher and senior poetry editor, I’ve had that great good fortune. It finally occurred to me that the readers and reviewers of these books might enjoy hearing some of this talk, too. Of course, a book of poetry needs no introduction or liner notes. But I’m always interested in any stories about how and where authors’ intentions and the actual creative work tangle together. So I started asking each of our authors a few questions in writing, and then enclosing these “interviews” with our advance/review copies. When the book is published, I post the interview on the book’s web page. The Conversant’s editors have asked if they might select some of those interviews to publish. It is my pleasure to say yes! –Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison: It is such a delight to be interviewing you because your first book is coming out with Omnidawn! You have been one of Omnidawn’s longest tenured and most important poetry editors. And it’s especially meaningful to me that I was an early reader for much of this work, since you were in my workshop at Saint Mary’s College when I was a visiting writer there. You were such a terrific student, I had to invite you to be an intern with us. What a thrill it is for me to see this book come to fruition! That it became a finalist, selected by Fanny Howe, for the 1913 Poetry Award, made it clear to us that we simply had to ask you to let us publish it. Can you say a bit about the work? What is at the core of this material for you? Continue reading →
Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process which brought them to the moment of completion that we call a book. As Omnidawn’s co-publisher and senior poetry editor, I’ve had that great good fortune. It finally occurred to me that the readers and reviewers of these books might enjoy hearing some of this talk, too. Of course, a book of poetry needs no introduction or liner notes. But I’m always interested in any stories about how and where authors’ intentions and the actual creative work tangle together. So I started asking each of our authors a few questions in writing, and then enclosing these “interviews” with our advance/review copies. When the book is published, I post the interview on the book’s web page. The Conversant’s editors have asked if they might select some of those interviews to publish. It is my pleasure to say yes! –Rusty Morrison.
The subject of this interview is Daniel Tiffany’s Neptune Park.
Rusty Morrison: The paragraph that you wrote for us about Neptune Park begins: “Some might call Neptune Park a graphic novel—minus the pictures: mumblecore, infidel pamphlet, lazy cento.” Your prose has a beguiling dazzle. A luster plays over this paragraph’s meaning, which both lures and taunts, tempts and briefly blinds with its brightness. I find this an excellent entry into poems that are “graphic” in all the ways one might read meaning into that word, including alluding to the intersection on the “graph” of language’s two axes (selection and combination), which, at the point of encounter, make a little emptiness, according to Roman Jakobson. Can you talk about how (or why, or when) you construct, in your poetry, predicaments that are never predictable as they move under a reader’s eye (little “action figures of speech,” I’d call them)?
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.
For February, I’ve chosen an episode that originally aired in 2004 and features poet, labor activist and founder of The Collapsible Poetics Theater, Rodrigo Toscano. Toscano reads from his fourth book, To Leveling Swerve, as well as two other poems, “Twelve Riddles in Spirit, Crook in Hand” and “Memories of Somewhere to Somewhere Else.” He and Schwartz discuss the intermixture of discourses in Toscano’s work, and the privileging of materiality over the spiritual dimensions of a word. Toscano, who grew up speaking both Spanish and English, talks about “code switching” as more of a survival mechanism than sheer poetic technique, and reads from his dynamic and quick-witted multi-vocal works—poems that bring to the fore the materiality and relational nature of language. As he put it, “I try to invite people through the course of a half-an-hour of reading not to be afraid of letting go of meaning.”
Rodrigo Toscano’s newest book of poetry is Deck of Deeds.His previous collection, Collapsible Poetics Theater, was a 2007 National Poetry Series Selection. He was the recipient of a 2005 New York State Fellowship in Poetry. His plays have been performed at the Disney Redcat Theater and the Ontological-Hysteric Poet’s Theater Festival. His poetry has been translated into French, Dutch, Italian, German, Portuguese, Norwegian and Catalan. Toscano works for the Labor Institute, in conjunction with the United Steelworkers and the National Institute for Environmental Health Science. He works out of a laptop, tethered to a Droid, residing in airports, occupying poetics in midflight.
This interview focuses on Leonard Schwartz’s IF and Andrew Schelling’s A Possible Bag.
Leonard Schwartz: Andrew, A Possible Bag is attentive to particulars (a wolf, a white raven and a white raven mask), as well as very particular and particularizing Arapaho words. Yet there is also a bag into which they all go—an ecosystem which embraces the particulars, let’s say. I certainly don’t think it is the particular in contrast to the universal for you. But could you talk about how a set of particulars is contained in a whole? Does the latter come from myth? From a scientific understanding of topos? From language?
Andrew Schelling: Let me say something first about place, topos, Leonard. A Possible Bag is the second book in a project I started as a way of getting closer to the Southern Rocky Mountain ecosystem. My work over the years with land use, ecology, place names, myth, economies, has originated close to home. I use them as a starting point for what my friend JB Bryan calls the postmodern archaic. I also like the phrase “archaic internationalism.” By “archaic” neither of us means old fashioned or obsolete. I also don’t use it quite as Jerome Rothenberg does, to refer to pre-literate peoples. Instead, it’s a way into bioregional concerns, a poetry grounded in deep time. What I tried in A Possible Bag and in the previous book, From the Arapaho Songbook, was to see how close my poetry could get to a kind of landscape. I did it with the particulars of two languages. First, of course, is the patois spoken by most people around here, anachronistically known as English—a language full of Spanish, Native and West African words and rhythms. Then there’s Arapaho, the language of the people who frequented this region before Euro-American settlers came. When I found this couplet in your book IF it jumped out at me: Continue reading →
Nature Theater of Oklahoma talks with performance artist and theater maker Daniel Alexander Jones, as well as with his alter-ego, the uber-glamorous “soulsonic superstar,” Jomama Jones. A conversation that touches on character, imagination, creativity, realness, possibility and growth–in all its marvelous and weedy aspects–and the everyday work we do to tend that garden.
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.Continue reading →
This interview series poses one question over and over again to a slew of poets of various aesthetic modes. My intention is two-fold: to encourage these poets to examine and imagine whatever notions and natures they discern in their work, and to trace their thoughts about conceptual alternatives to the patterns and trajectories they perceive there. In thinking otherwise, against usual models or presiding instincts, they are free to delve into various realms of possibilities, creating fresh commentary on their current practice and procedures, and theoretical visions which might guide them ideally, provisionally, even counterintuitively. The prompt in some cases generates follow-up questions which the subject can agree to answer or just ignore, and keep silent (silence, too, is a kind of answer). After all, the free-play prospects my line of questioning wishes to pursue must also consider the poets’ freedom to take it on their terms, not my own.
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?
Norman Finkelstein: Jon, the timing of your invitation to do this interview couldn’t be better, since I recently completed assembling a volume of my new and selected poems. So I’ve been reflecting a good deal on my “past practice,” while at the same time thinking about the current series of poems I’ve been writing, some of which conclude the collection. I find the range of forms and procedures which constitute my practice over the last thirty-five years or so to be startlingly varied. There are overtly midrashic poems based explicitly on precursor texts, a mode which begins in Restless Messengers, if not earlier, and comes to a head, as it were, in the title poem of Passing Over. There is the full blown seriality of Track, generated through various numerological and recombinatory procedures and formulas. There is the overt engagement with projective verse and open-field composition in “An Assembly” (in the volume Scribe). There are collage poems of various types. There is the manic code-switching and use of ghost voices (à la Jack Spicer) in Inside the Ghost Factory. Code-switching of this sort continues in my current work, From the Files of the Immanent Foundation, in conjunction with an increasingly palpable narrative impulse, about which I will say more below. Continue reading →
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 Tim Bowling’s The Annotated Bee & Me.
H. L. Hix: Your “Propolis” describes both your great-aunt’s chapbook and your own book as both “whimsical” and sometimes “dark.” Which leads me to notice the frequency with which other oppositions occur: wild and intimate, calm and terror, angry and laboured, heat and cool, euphoria and sadness, and so on. I don’t want to make too much of something that we humans do frequently in any circumstances, but I wonder if for you that sense of contrast or opposition has particular importance to this work. Continue reading →
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 Susan Gillis’ The Rapids.
H. L. Hix: Two terms in the very first poem caught my eye, and I began to see them everywhere. Some version of “limitless music” seems to me present in “Sleep,” “Ars Poetica,” “Entry,” “River” and “Mid-Winter Dragon,” and some version of “troubled origins” seems to me present in “Sanguinaria canadensis,” “Spring Pries at Me,” “Habitat 67,” “Entry,” “A Good Plan,” “Birthday” and “Retreating Ice.” Which leads me to ask about the book as a whole: is it limitless music or a kit of troubled origins?