Lori Anderson Moseman
Writer Lori Anderson Moseman connects to this conversation through the comparative sedimentary and turbid landscape of difference. Our discussions amass around DOUBLE | VIGIL, a collaborative book with poet Belle Gironda who was in Cairo for the first year of the Egyptian Revolution. The project begins, she measures, as a way for her to calm the distress of Belle’s environment. But the mirroring of creative gesture here opens the self to a communicative nurturing breadth. One that safely encounters the unease of a politically unsettling time handled with coalescing congruity.
We are able to articulate violence, distress, and cultural gaps, unified and displaced in a similar and foreign rhetoric. She acknowledges, “Belle and I exchanged poems because the role of the military in Egypt’s future remained/remains uncertain.” Moseman, “seeks to close the gap created by difference.” And furthermore, as a diction of the experience as writer and reader, “This is what we do together: exchange writing, images, then write more, and offer more images. It is a space we build.” At the age of four, Moseman reflects an, “imperative for life—stay afloat, breath. I turn to this memory because it speaks to an awareness of text as an ancient, sacred, human activity and because writing in the margins is where I have found space as woman.”
Publisher LORI ANDERSON MOSEMAN founded Stockport Flats in the wake of Federal Disaster #1649, a flood along the Upper Delaware River. Anderson Moseman’s poetry collections are All Steel (Flim Forum Press 2012),Temporary Bunk (Swank Books 2009), Persona (Swank Books 2003), Cultivating Excess (The Eighth Mountain Press 1991) and Walking the Dead (Heaven Bone Press 1990). Anderson Moseman has two Masters of Fine Art: one from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and one from iEAR Studios at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her Doctor of Arts in Writing, Teaching and Criticism is from the University at Albany. She’s been a forester tech, a farm reporter and an educator.
1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
The first place I ever remember writing was in the margins of a bible my grandmother gave me. I was four-years-old, and I wrote “bob.” Bob could be my godmother Lena’s oldest son, or it could an imperative for life—stay afloat, breath. I turn to this memory because it speaks to an awareness of text as an ancient, sacred, human activity and because writing in the margins is where I have found space as woman. Mark-making is a tool for building relationships with living beings as well as for participating in some pre-existing tradition. Writers I return to time and time again are Flannery O’Connor, T. S. Eliot, Marguerite Duras, Denis Johnson, Anne Michaels, Czeslaw Milosz, Michael Ondaatje, Bruno Schulz, and Jane Miller. Other writers haunt me for intense periods: Ai, Frank Bidart, Ema Saikō, Tarjei Vesaas, Jorie Graham, Anne Waldman, C.D. Wright. Anne Carson, Carolyn Forché, Joy Harjo, Franny Howe, Pierre Joris, Pentti Saarikoski, Goran Sonnevi, Cole Swensen, and Cecilia Vicuña. There are always new obsessions: Charles Olson, Paul Celan, Meredith Stricker, Melanie Noel, Marzanna Kielar, Michele Glazer, Arthur Sze and Per Petersen. What I need from a text varies: a conversation, a cadence, a vocabulary, a particular landscape, a structure, a scold, a lesson; I always read to generate more energy. This list is lopsided in that I might learn more from texts I dislike. Also, for every poetry book open on my desk, there are four non-fiction books I am reading at the same time.
2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?
First, you must know that from age 9 to 19, I trained as a runner; nightly, in hordes, we took to California hills as if we were a herd of zebras. Each girl had her own markings, but we read each other’s ear-twitches and muscle-ripples to know where the mass will move next. Consequently, all my answers to your questions feature multitudes. My mentors/inspirations have been legions. Here goes. Those who trained me: Deborah Digges, Jane Miller, Jorie Graham, Dee Morris, Shelly Berc, Judith Johnson, Judith Barlow. Those I trained with: Sujata Bhatt, Suzette Bishop, Mary Ellen Kirkconnell Ionas, Sheila O’Connor, Sheila Griffin Llamas, Jane Ann Devol Fuller, Cynie Cory, Robin Reagler, Michele Glazer, Meredith Stricker, Callie Cardamon, Hilary Sideris, Stephanie Brown, Laura Mullen, Myung Mi Kim, Jill Hanifan, Tess Lecuyer, Amy Schoch, Roz Lee, Druis Beasely, Esperanza Cintrón, Lillien Waller, Jan Ramjerdi, Belle Gironda, Katie Yates, Cindy Parrish, Lale Davidson, Carla Steinberg, Nicole Peyrafitte, Sally Rhoades, Miriam Herrera, Nancy Klepsch, Karin Maag-Tancik. The women I publish: Mary Olmsted Greene, Cass Collins, Victoria Boynton, Pramila Venkateswaran, Nancy Dymond, Sheila Dugan, Tracy Gass Ranze, Lisa Wujnovich, Liz Huntington, Dorothy Hartz, Deborah Poe, Katie Yates, Belle Gironda, Belinda Kremer, Melanie Noel, Deborah Woodard, Kate Schapira, Laura E. J. Moran. The women I exchange work with: Sharon Jefferis, Carolyn Manring, Talia Bloch and Ingrid Arnesen. Good thing you did not ask me about the visual artists who inspire me. Here’s a few I cross paths with often: Sheila Goloborotko, Rebecca Szeto, Diane Schaefer, Sylvia Taylor, Kathleen Hayek.
3.) How has your own work changed over time?
At the core of my writing is my mother’s syntax (blunt Badland blurting with lots of leaps) plus my father’s rhetorical savvy and whimsy (he’s good for a tall tale or an acerbic retort) and my brother’s encyclopedic curiosity and mathematical exactitude (genius inventor with wicked humor). My writing, no matter how much I train, doesn’t seem to stray too far from dinner table discourse of my Wonderbread years. I like to juggle a lot when writing: a memory, an intellectual puzzle, an historical fact, a contemporary political conundrum, a musical project and a formal structure. The more I write, the more I try to juggle. Although, I do hope that as I age I will seek “utmost brevity.” I am answering these questions in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and I am contemplating trading in writing for gardening. Although I began my press, Stockport Flats, in the wake three 100-year floods (Federal Disaster #1649) to help a community of writers and artists (not all healing is physical), I do wonder if words will become less important in our future survival.
4.) How you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
I have degrees in Forestry and Technical Journalism. My first editorial jobs were at a Forestry Research Station and at Oregon State University’s computer department. I was immersed in scientific writing, field reports and computer manuals. Then, working as an agricultural reporter for a farm weekly, Agri News, I discovered the joy of writing feature stories. I have written poetry since I was a child, but my professional writing was heavily informed by the structures and concerns of natural resource management. This can be seen most in my first book, Cultivating Excess and my recent collection All Steel. See Trickhouse.org for an interactive Variable Plot Cruise I did at H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. I have also studied playwriting and integrated electronic arts; some of the work in my collection Persona first had a life on stage or in video or flash animation. Currently, Clear Hawse, a collaborative project with artists explores the journal of a German sailor during California’s gold rush; this is featured in the online Drunken Boat. Basically, I am hungry for information, for writing technologies, and for physical play. If I can find a community engaged in exploration (be it scientific, artistic, political or spiritual), I will engage with the language and technologies at hand. The word “genres” can hardly contain it all.
5.) What are my plans for the future?
My immediate future involves ushering three new Stockport Flats titles through the printing process: Deborah Woodard’s Borrowed Tales, Melanie Noel’s The Monarchs, and Belinda Kremer’s Decoherence. We have a full slate of books lined up for next year. Lisa Wujnovich and Brandi Herrera are editing an anthology on human relationship to water, The Lake Rise. Tomorrow I meet with writer Sarah Jefferis. The day after that, I get our river house furniture out of flood-formation. I have a novel in progress and three other hybrid books (part poem, part image). My future I will be creating and helping other writers and artists make books amid the messy aftermath of extreme weather events. Creation is a collection of intaglio prints by Sheila Goloborotko and Stockport Flats poets (Katie Yates, Deborah Poe, Lisa Wunjovich, Laura E. J. Moran, Belle Gironda and myself). Once Goloborotko’s studio in Brooklyn is mopped up, we will have a book launch. Mop and make, mop and make.
6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?
There is so much to celebrate, where would one begin? This question could be several dissertations. Let’s just pay tribute to how woman have taken control of the means of literary production. When I went to the Associated Writing Program’s annual conference in Minneapolis back in 1992 to work at the book table for The Little Magazine and 13th Moon, there were at most 30 publishers. We only needed a single room. Last year in Chicago, 600 independent presses were featured at AWP Bookfair in 2012. I’d love to know how many were women owned—hundreds, I am sure. Back in 1992, I was living down the street from Rachel Levitsky in Albany, NY; she was not yet a poet. An activist and educator, she knew what to do after she became one under her tutelage with Judith Johnson and Ann Waldman. Belladonna Press and Reading Series is a fine example of how women writers have worked together to create venues for each other and to intensify each other’s poetics of engagement. This online interview forum is another. Anne Gorrick’s Cadmium Text Reading Series is another. Gorrick teams up with Lynn Behrendt for PEEP/SHOW: A Taxonomic Exercise in Textual and Visual Seriality. Mary Olmsted Greene hosts the Upper Delaware Writing Collective. I could spend all day listing spaces (page and stage) women writers have opened for each other.
7.) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?
All women who ever wrote/write/will write are the best of our future. Poetry is not horseracing: we do not need to bet on the young to win; we do not need to retire any texts or oral traditions because of their age or some perceived limp. Readers can keep the fullest range of poetry alive and pulsing. For example, poet Laura E. J. Moran has just written a choreopoem using the last words uttered women executed on this continent during the 1600 and 1700s. Her words and their words are the past and the future. Translators are teaming with technology to allow women’s poetry—new and old—to cross the globe. My goddaughter, the poet Léna Cintrón, knows Spanish, Quechua, English (and she plays the harp). Her work is in my future. Cora Louise Larsen, three months old now, might become a poet: her father—a white artist from Tennessee who is fluent in Chinese—is already reading her bilingual poetry. Cora will no doubt find promise in Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein as well as Zhang Er and Deborah Poe. I wish the fullest writing life for all the women I publish and the women who inspire them and the women who inspire them and so on. As Melanie Noel, author of The Monarchs, said to me: “you like to gather a democracy about you.” Indeed. Riffing off of Stein’s “Useful Knowledge” in Making of Americans (“one and one and one and one and one and one…), my poem for the future is called “Prayer Diet” and it goes: “dear dear dear dear dear dear dear….” On in to infinity. Collaboration is key. No need to single any one of us out.
8.) If you were to asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?
Until this year, I wanted my tombstone to read “EEK!” which could stand for “energetic, eclectic kook” as well as “OMG, there is afterlife!” But now, I would be pleased if my grave marker read: “well fed.” Serious, if I ever get around to making a will, I will request to be cremated and scattered on water. I do not need a label. If I were asked to make one, I would resist. There was a time when it seemed important to be a Resistant Post-Modernist Feminist, but I was too ludic to qualify. You could call me contrary, but I am too normative for that. I think I would love to be called a “generous, generative wind.” My mantra these days is “gather and give.”
9.) The first image in your collaborative piece DOUBLE | VIGIL with poet Belle Gironda who was in Cairo for the first year of the Egyptian Revolution, tenuously unfolds as if tucked in an envelope, a photograph of a soldier asleep with a rifle tucked in the fold of his shoulder. His face is slouched against the sleeping prop of his left arm. The humanity of the image is juxtaposed to the intrinsic tension his attire brings to the argument of the presentation. At once we become the traditional male gaze witnessing his unintentional vulnerability. But the position of militia is employed to interact on these same terms when at attention and awake. The first poem of your collection reads, “I sort photos/ study glyphs/ how light is cast/ in the workers’ temple.” We mix employment with religion and a gaze turned upon itself. Can you discuss the intention behind this image as an opening statement? How do you believe photographer and writer interact in this space and furthermore, how does the male gaze affect and also challenge the perceptivity of this space?
I took this photo at Deir el-Medina a workers’ temple outside Luxor, Egypt, two weeks before the January 25 gathering in Tahrir Square initiated a revolution. My companion, Belle Gironda, then teaching at the American University in Cairo, knew of the planned uprising, but who could guess at what all would unfold. I inserted this image in an InDesign file stateside during the first week of that revolution; I was awaiting word from Belle Gironda. Writing and sorting images was a way to calm my concerns: was she safe? what exactly was she witnessing now? and now? and now? I was left with images I had gathered back then. When one is on vigil for another, should one inhabit a shared, lived past or imagine a new future? Or, can one—in the act of writing/imaging—create a new space to occupy, to be occupied by? For us, the sleeping soldier image became as much about the postures of vigil or vigilance as it did signify a relaxed male gaze.
I kept the image as an opening for DOUBLE/VIGIL during the whole year Belle and I exchanged poems because the role of the military in Egypt’s future remained/remains uncertain. The “militia”—no matter how active—could “wake up” and intensify its presence. Before I took this picture (man using his rifle as pillow), I had asked Belle (in the Valley of Kings) what the Pharaonic past means to most Egyptians? How important are hieroglyphs, as a writing technology, to the average Egyptian? Her answer focused on the present: the Egyptians she knew—colleagues, students, monks, souk-owners—were intent of the living conditions of the present. As the year unfolded, the lives of women protesters seemed more and more imperiled.
While I have your ear, let me tell you about the images that are under this sleeping man. Deir el-Medina was the temple for the artisans (labors, painters, carvers, craftsmen) who worked on the tombs for kings. One striking difference in how images were used in these two sacred spaces was this: the cobra showcased in vaults of royalty is stylized and repeated until it, en masse, forms a border. In the workers’ tomb, paint was more vibrant, and the scene was realistic: amid a field of grain, a single snake stretches across the wall to strike at a farmer, but the serpent is beheaded, cut to the quick. By a machete? By a fanged rabbit? I cannot remember (no photos allowed). I remember the realism, the active resistance, and the engagement.
As the photomontage of Double | Vigil unfolds, images still come from my pre-revolution visit to Cairo, but the text is taken from sources I access on the internet, from newspapers, from emails with Belle. My vigil becomes increasingly focused the plight of activists in Tahrir, particularly, female activists and the violence against them. Why? Because I had feared for Belle’s safety. I had seen how she had to steel herself just to walk through the streets even before the uprising. I had seen the Saudi army across the street, Mubarak’s thugs at the corner, and Egyptian military at the tombs. Where were they positioned now? How do I wrestle my fear from afar?
Belle did not see the full montage that opens Double | Vigil until she was stateside a year after the revolution; therefore, her “perceptivity” of this space was no doubt different for her that it was for me. You’ll have to ask her how if functioned exactly. She said she cried. I do know it invited her to write more poems, to offer her images from Tahrir Square. This is what we do together: exchange writing, images, then write more, and offer more images. It is a space we build. You’ll have to tell me how you enter it.
10.) Included is a passage copied from Susan Brind Morrow The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert, 1997: “I walked downhill to where the ferry was … if this was where we waited to board the boats. ‘Yes, but you are a foreigner,’ he said. / ‘There is no need for you … he lifted me up over his head and passed me on to the next person. / I was passed like a sack of grain over the heads of the.” Amidst every culture we encounter gaps. Generational, environmental, religious, political, sexual; difference. These traits are exemplified when we travel further outside of our comfort zones, particularly when we become “other” as foreigner. The fascinating ability of poetry is its ability to cohere difference. The personal encounter becomes a translating exchange. Your project complicates this further in the ways in which the creative prowess between you and Belle mirror the mirror; translate an alienating experience into an intimate one. Can you describe the process of this creative teamwork, the ways in which the stories developed, and how this affects cross-cultural communication?
Susan Brind Morrow can read hieroglyphs, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and probably a host of other languages she doesn’t use in The Names of Things : A Passage in the Egyptian Desert. She can also read the landscapes from which words are formed. Next to her, I am illiterate—not only of the languages but of the tools and technologies used to write in stone, on papyrus, in metal. She says, “The word carries the living thing concealed across millennia…. the Nile, was once clotted with papyrus, thriving, gigantic, mobile, filled with animal and bird life, as it is today only in the Sudd, the great marsh in South Sudan. In Egypt, the plant no longer exits. It survives only in the hieroglyph for green.” Can that be true? What extinction does any word on papyrus mark? For example, the words on Oxyrhynchus Papyri? A text + a question + another question + more text + a lived experience fuel my exchanges with Belle Gironda. This is not just the process for this DOUBLE | VIGIL; this is how we talk to each other.
I encountered The Names of Things in New Orleans post-Katrina. The store was dank, and I ended up throwing away the book after I read it because of mold. But I gave a new copy to Belle Gironda. Susan Brind Morrow grew up in the same neighborhood that Belle did in Geneva, NY. Susan and Belle lived in the same Cairo neighborhood in different decades. They don’t know each other nor do they know much about each other’s writing, but their bodies have lived in the same landscapes. Can I use words to make a mirror between them? I doubt it. But each of their texts helped me enter the other’s work—and, perhaps, the work of the Other. Can we use difference to forge bridges? Belle and I hope so. But most often we think of ourselves as two writers sending poems back and forth within a friendship.
In the Brind Morrow scene cited in DOUBLE | VIGIL, I am captivated by how Susan surrenders to the swarm. Is that like Belle’s yielding to the masses when she smuggles medical supplies into Tahrir? In the early days of my vigil for Belle, I turned to Susan Brind Morrow to understand throngs, to watch a single body within a mass movement. Brind Morrow’s words were a safe passage to contemplate. As news poured out of the streets of Cairo, there were the sources to consult, say, the ones we cited in the opening montage of DOUBLE | VIGIL. Now, thanks to the videos of director Leil-Zahra Mortada, we can watch/hear/read Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution on You-Tube. We can hear perilous first-hand accounts from Rasha Azab, Sabah Ibrahim, Evelyn Ashamallah, Nada Zatouna, Hanan Sadek & Mona El-Sabbahy, Mariam Kirollos, Madeeha Anwar, Om Ahmad Gaber,Maryam Alkhawaja, Mahienour El-Massry, and Aya Tarek. We can hear how then navigated the throngs, what they believe they accomplished, how the conquered their fears. The Facebook portal for Leil-Zahra Mortada’s is http://www.facebook.com/HerstoryEgypt.
Another fine example of cross cultural collaboration is Belle Gironda’s videopoem “You make a better door than a window.” In the video, she works with Egyptian poet/journalist John Ehab (camera work by Aras Ozgun). This “translating exchange” is an elaboration of a poem featured in Gironda’s book Building Codes (Stockport Flats 2008) and in her collaboration with Shelia Goloborotko in High Watermark Salo[o]n v.1 n.4 (Stockport Flats 2006). The relationships Gironda built in Cairo allowed her to give the poem a larger cultural resonance than it had in her previous stateside printings. Gironda’s piece was part of a collaborative multi-channel video installation called Windows, on the roof of a gallery in Cairo, involving mostly Cairene artists and organized by New York based Turkish artist Aras Ozgun and Armenian curator Angela Harutyunyan. PYROMEDIA, the website featuring this poem speaks to the ability of poetry and new media to try and close the gaps created by difference. See http://www.pyromedia.org/windows_project/belle.html. The exciting work done by Aras Ozgun and his experimental media arts collective is worth exploring.