profiles in poetics: Kristi Maxwell

Photo on 2013-01-14 at 12.04Kristi Maxwell

Website: www.writing.upenn.edu

Kristi Maxwell is a writer “very interested in the textual body as an analogue to other bodies in the world.” Our communication assembles the forward bend of our bones. She proliferates, “writing is saturated with one’s positionality, the forms our textual bodies take seem consciously or unconsciously meaningful and even performative.” This refraction “challenges the fiction of wholeness and the individual,” meaning why of course hell yes I am not a universal. We are integrated alternative bodies presented in whole “available” form.

The mind and body is expressive and accumulated in the tango of self; “we exist, we struggle, we manifest and play with this presentation.” If anything, she argues, “perhaps the scandal is that the body is the site of origination.” The binary of mind and body structure is bedeviled. Instead, “Intimacy has flexibility because it is porous rather than set … [and this] accounts for its relationship to vulnerability.” We receive, “spaces as testing grounds for each other,” we ask for reciprocation; the reciprocation of other.

Kristi Maxwell is the author of Re- (Ahsahta Press, 2011), Hush Sessions (Saturnalia Books, 2009), Realm Sixty-four (Ahsahta, 2008), and the chapbook Elswhere & Wise (Dancing Girl Press, 2008). Her fourth book, That Our Eyes Be Rigged, is forthcoming from Saturnalia in 2014. She lives and writes in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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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?

I have an amazing mom: she took me to the library; she read books to my sisters and me; she transcribed my first books, which I dictated to her before I could spell. I guess I didn’t become a writer: I’ve just always been one, and my mom recognized that in me and helped me cultivate it. I am a writer who has desired to become (also) other things: oceanographer, painter, archeologist, cartoonist, teacher, journalist.

In terms of poetry, in high school, e.e. cummings was my favorite—this was somewhat by default: his poems were among the few 20th century collections sold at my local bookstore, but I adored him (even his prose: my AOL screen name in the ‘90s was DelectableMTN, taken from The Enormous Room)—his playfulness, the energy behind his language, the sheer textual quality reinforcing the physical aspects of words, his ability to balance tenderness and irreverence. A lot of these same things describe the work of the poets I discovered later and who have meant so much to me: Harryette Mullen, Susan Howe, Gertrude Stein, Morgan Lucas Schuldt, Anne Carson, Tan Lin, C.D. Wright, Thalia Field, Tyrone Williams, Jack Spicer.

Even earlier was Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose section 8 from The Wreck of the Deutschland I have tattooed on my back. My speech therapist from when I was a little girl had me repeat his lines back to her to help me learn to form sounds. You really have to get your mouth around those dense word-clots of his so they make for good practice. Let’s see: Antoine Saint-Exupery, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Anaïs Nin also mattered a lot to me.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

The poet Wendy Cannella introduced me to the poems of Yehuda Amichai when we were in Slovenia together in the summer of 2001—that had a profound impact on me. Ashley VanDoorn, who was a year ahead of me in undergrad at the University of Tennessee and who invited me to the poetry circles she hosted in her apartment, has always been immensely important to my writing and my high valuation of community. My teachers—Art Smith, Marilyn Kallet, Richard Jackson, Jane Miller, Boyer Rickel, Tenney Nathanson, Beth Ash, Lisa Hogeland, Don Bogen—have all played significant parts in my creative life.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why? I think I’ve finally learned how to just relax into it. A lot of the early anxiety is gone.

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Yes: I’ve been expanded by all of them.

5.)      What are your plans for the future? I’ve got big plans! I just made a summer projects list that includes working on articles about the poems of Evie Shockley and Morgan Lucas Schuldt, drafting a sci-fi novel, brainstorming a television series with poet Drew Krewer, writing away on a weird thing I started in April, returning to some lyric essays I’ve been approaching (and reconfiguring my approach to) since last year, translating, returning to PLAN/K, my manuscript that had been picked up for publication by the now defunct Mud Luscious Press and that I can return to with some new ideas since it won’t be coming out with them after all. And those are only my writing plans! I also have plans that involve quarries and swimming and plants and loving and impromptu dance parties and patio-sitting.

6.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future? Many of the promising women writers I expect I’ll be looking to in the future, luckily, we have access to now, too. My Tucson cohort: Frankie Rollins, Kristen Nelson, Stephanie Balzer, Hannah Ensor, Meagan Lehr, Annie Guthrie, Renee Angle, Deborah Brandon, Julia Gordon Saterstrom, Dot Devota, Johanna Skibsrud, Lisa O’Neill. I’m consistently excited by the writing of Emily Kendel Frey, Lynn Xu, Laura Sims, and Megan Martin. I’m excited to see what my former student Lisa Summe does. I was floored by some pieces Liz Latty read to me last summer. Oh my! There are so many promising women writers whose words we should latch our eyes onto—I could go on and on.

7.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be? Hmm. I don’t really know—I feel like “writer” is pretty flexible.

8.)      The following passages are from a section of work titled: “TO INSIST ON THE ‘SOMENESS’ OF EVERY ASSEMBLAGE”. We enter into a dialogue as language enters cognition. We have an assumption of language as it is interpreted by the receiver. “The day invented your voice / someone heard … what is the lace verb / or the last verb instead? … your body is where?” The provocation is an invitation of one speaker to another. We read, “is the universal ever not not / flawed? is the flaw ever not / universal?” In this context do you believe we are ever able write the body on to the page, thus inflecting the hierarchy of the mind over the body? Or does this merely place us into universals that are the way in which we identify to others lacking specificity?  _____________ I am very interested in the textual body as an analogue to other bodies in the world. Because writing is saturated with one’s positionality, the forms our textual bodies take seem consciously or unconsciously meaningful and even performative. I remember the first time I read Jennifer Martenson’s xq28—a text whose words exist only in the space of footnotes—and thinking about how compellingly the textual body she puts forth comments on erased lesbian bodies and subjects. I’ve been thinking about this in the context of other writers, too—for instance, how the neologisms and portmanteaux in Morgan Lucas Schuldt’s work (poems most certainly bound to his very real experience of moving through the world with cystic fibrosis) seem to challenge the fiction of wholeness and the individual: I like the model of interdependency and proliferation his poems put forth. I’m wary of the notion of universalism because difference has a tendency to get quashed under its weight.

9.)      Continuing the discussion of mind over body, the following passage delineates: “I mistake stillness for death / I shake a little body / I nudge a bigger body / until I am satisfied / The spirit real and sexual realm collide / mentally bump and rub / A thought is always scandalous / as it steals from the body.” Body and mind here are in opposition. The mind conquers in every turn and steals from expression. How does language allow us to communicate if we cannot speak with our bodies? The “sexual realm,” is that what you see as body? How can we unite these terms in language, or do you see them as disparate entities?  ­­­­_____________ I do not see the mind and body as “in opposition;” here, the thought steals away (in the sense of slinks) from its originary site (the body)—perhaps the scandal is that the body is the site of origination. The body can of course include the sexual realm, but it is not limited to it. For me, thinking (and “the mind”) is an extension of the body; I remember first encountering the so-called French feminist theorists and feeling liberated by their rejection of the mind-body binary. It helps me to think about my relationship with language as an interspecies one: I am a body, language is bodies—we are in collaboration; my challenge to myself is to make myself available, to enact (to borrow from Donna Haraway) a response-ability. I am piercing through language—also absorbing it; it is piercing me, also absorbing the structures of my body and mind. This is perhaps why play exists, but also struggle: one of the things we manage as writers, I think, is the tension between our desire to master language and our inability to ultimately do so. We always say more than we mean to say.

10.)   Intimacy and vulnerability assume a position as the poem develops: “we may be always threatened / I regret making myself vulnerable / yet I do it again / I gape, I gap, gab and gab / I fail to gap gab instead / You are asked to figure out / a definition of intimacy.” And later,  “clothes make us out as what we are / one possibility / an intersection of forms / Each turtle holds a partial truth.” Wherein we knot in relationship, “What a scene! / Later we wee     ded / the poem / by which logic it holds / to memorize is to wed.” Memorization internalizes the processing of logic into the body; the brain. Do you believe intimacy to be clothed or unclothed?  “Wed,” as you say, is the body in language our ability to remember? And if this is so, can we ever define intimacy? Does our attempt to define intimacy tether us further from the close we wish to accept?  ­­­­_____________ I do not know if we can define intimacy, but I trust that we can experience it.

11.)   In the section titled: “EVERY TIME I WANT TO WRITE YOU, / I’M GOING TO WRITE A LINE INSTEAD:” the poem reads, “Name three empty things / A person can’t really be empty / so a person doesn’t count / Of course I do not believe that / people don’t count.” This is juxtaposed to, “What’s worth a fight / The struggle to feel one’s worth.” And the ending, “There is a point at which a person allows another person / to see her in a way she doesn’t like to be seen / This is how I explain trust / How a person gauges something he might otherwise misread / I have brushed my hair and my teeth.” In intimacy we form our own language. We understand each other in ways that if addressed in public discourse, would slip under the radar of the norms of communication. In trust we are able to open to intimacy. How do you see social media as supporting this unequivocal happening or transforming it? Intimacy is displayed over a larger scope as acquaintances are able to chime in, regard, or comment. Do you perceive this to be different than a normal house gathering or do you think the system is flawed? Does the action of listening to someone’s body and voice change the way our bodies are a part of the conversation?  ­­­­_____________ Making ourselves available to connect (and to connection) regardless the outlet seems to foster intimacy—putting oneself in a position to note (which always implies engagement): to pay attention, to listen, and to respond. I do think we are expanded by listening—by paying attention—we hold something of another person inside us and by responding, we give something of ourselves: intimacy perhaps depends on reciprocal alterity, which Joan Retallack so wonderfully discusses in Poethical Wager: the recognition of self in other and other in self. Thinking on this question, I recall phrases that are specific to my exchanges with particular friends—I recall gestures that are specific, semi-private movements that signify: we develop textual and physical languages to honor our intimacies. It is marvelous: the mutual recognition that sustains connection. I’m thinking of phrases and gestures that attach me to certain communities despite distance and time: I’m thinking of creating shared meanings—this seems different from knowing, which can become rather inflexible. Intimacy has flexibility because it is porous rather than set. One can of course know in intimacy (and know intimately), but intimacy makes room for uncertainty, too, and for change: this accounts for its relationship to vulnerability. In intimacy, we offer our spaces as testing grounds for each other. There’s a lot to pilfer there! But we will not pilfer, we will ask for…

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profiles in poetics: Kristy Bowen

authorphotoKristy Bowen

Website: www.dancinggirlpress.com

www.kristybowen.net

From onset, poet Kristy Bowen has had, “an attraction to language combined with a mind prone to fantasy and imagination.” The fervor of one to, “[string] together … things, words, images, ideas, found text to create something entirely new.” In doing so, “The edges and structure are a little looser and more fractured, but I like it that way.” As editor of Dancing Girl Press, Kristy “[seeks] to get more women and their work into the conversation of American literature, it’s both frustrating and motivating…unfair and ridiculous in this day and age … [and] inspiring.”

Bowen’s work in this conversation alludes to the domestic settled in the everyday contemporaneous corporality of landscape and conversation. Domestic dust, she illuminates is, “a very closed, confined space, and one that belongs wholely to women .” This, “ordered system, or a system of systems … is subject to chaos and misfirings … desire, in the physicality of the poem, in the body that exists that is almost always in peril.” But herein, we are able to transform voice: “The layering of multiple voices and consciousnesses over each other.” Unification of subject and object intersect: “what seems to be true … is actually true.”

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of a number of book, chapbook, and zine projects.   She lives in Chicago where she runs dancing girl press & studio, devoted to paper-oriented arts and publishing work by women writers/artists.
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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?

I think it was always a certain temperament I had even as a kid, an attraction to language combined with a mind prone to fantasy and imagination.  This is what had me buried in books and stories from the time I could read and what made me eventually want to write them. I remember being 13 and enamored of Stephen King and Christopher Pike and deciding I needed to write a horror novel.  I had about a hundred handwritten pages before I gave up, but the need didn’t go away.  Consequently, as far as poetry goes, it was Poe that captured my attention and for years I could have recited “Annabelle Lee” from memory.   Though there were a number of things I considered and/or planned doing with my life, it eventually always came back to that.  By the time I was in college and had decided to major in English, I had discovered Sylvia Plath ( though then it was more her journals that I was interested, her life (and death) as a writer than the actual poems I would devour later).  At the time, it was mostly fiction writers that held my focus– William Faulkner, the Brontes, Margaret Atwood, Marilynne Robinson.  While I’d read and loved classics like Millay and Dickinson, for someone who would become a poet, I was pretty out of the loop on more contemporary poets until I got to grad school and started reading Plath again, and then Sexton.  Later, Louise Gluck and Jorie Graham and Anne Carson.  This was when I was really starting to write more and deciding to spend my life doing this. I had always focused most of my study and interests in the direction of female writers, but it was actually TS Eliot that sort of broke things wide open for me, the possibilities that The Wasteland offered in terms of what poetry could be.  By the time I landed back in grad school for my MFA, it was mostly current and emerging writers that excited me, people like Olena Kalytiak Davis, Larissa Szporluk, Daphne Gottlieb, Mary Anne Samyn, Sabrinah Orah Mark, and CD Wright.

2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

I’ve  never really had anyone I would consider a mentor, but there are people I’ve encountered, both in terms of their work and friendship, who have influenced shaped my work (either consciously or subconsciously), people like Simone Muench, Lauren Levato, and Daniela Olszewska ) And, of course, there is a lot of inspiration to be found by immersing myself in writing as an editor/curator, so many dgp authors and their work adding to the virtual soup from which my own work generates.

3.) How has your own work changed over time and why?

I think my approach to crafting a piece of writing (I say writing and not poem since most of what I write lately is actually more prose-like) has changed very much from when I was starting out.  I used to sit down with a subject in mind and hammer out a poem.  In the last 10 years or so, and this may have to do with my forays into the visual arts (collage and book arts), it’s become much more of a fragmentary process.  A stringing together of things, words, images, ideas, found text to create something entirely new. It is much more fun and interesting and much less dogged this way, and it often leads me in directions I’d never even imagined.   The edges and structure are a little looser and more fractured, but I like it that way.

4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

I mentioned collage and book arts, and many of my writing projects these days are entwined with and/or have a visual component. I think, with pretty much anything I write, story and narrative are the important part, the goal, what I’m reaching for.  It might be fragmented and messy and associative and tangential, but it’s there if you look for it.  I’m also interested in non-creative forms of language and text (instruction manuals, word problems, letters, ephemera, indexes, glossaries.)

5.) What are your plans for the future?

I pretty much plan to just keep doing what I’m doing, writing things, making things. I have a list of projects I want to get to at some point, titles for unwritten manuscripts, sketches and description of art projects, books projects, things I want to do with the press.  I just plan to keep moving forward.

6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I think there has been a lot of progress, but also that there is still so much left to do (as things like VIDA statistics reveal.)  As someone who is seeking to get more women and their work into the conversation of American literature, it’s both frustrating and motivating.  On one hand, as a female writer and reader of women’s work, it feels limiting and unfair and ridiculous in this day and age.. But as a publisher, it feels inspiring to know that we’re fighting the good fight.

7.) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

I just read and fell in love with Poisonhorse by Brandi Wells.  dancing girl press has also recently issued  a handful of first chaps by writers that are just staring to make their way into journals and the literary world (Caylin Capra Thomas, Laura Mei Roghaar, Meghan Brinson, Sarah Cook, Sacha Siskonen.) This is, of course, in addition to a number of more established poets we publish, all of whom you should keep an eye out for..

8.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I guess I initially used to consider myself a “poet”.  Especially since my attempts at writing fiction were lacked a certain amount of endurance.  I guess now, if I were to describe it, it would be more geared toward just “writer/artist” be that related to words or images or whathaveyou.

9.) “intertia,” is a poem of domesticity that revolves around cultural staples. “rabbits,” “milk,” “ribbon,” “lanternlight.” These are words that have origin. The poem reads, “The trick is distance. / The trick is diminishment.” If we change the materialism of the language, does the pathos attached to the object change the definition of domesticity?

The entirety of the first section does deal with the domestic, everyday space (as opposed to the strange, tranformative space in the other two sections.) It’s also a very closed, confined space, and one that belongs wholely to women.  I think everything in that section is moving toward something, or exists in those moments BEFORE one is moving towards something and away from that everydayness

10.)  In the poem, “a little fever,” “the glass factory, the space behind the body is warm, chambered // like heart. All wires and threaded light. / My mind a railcar sideways on a track”. We are confronted by a heavy nostalgic beauty. Take the following, “Times like these, / if sliced open, you’d find a lake, a length // of copper inside us. A litany of weathered / saints sitting in the bathtub. Our legs listless, // petal heavy.” This is a linguistic tradition of intimacy. As we attempt to evolve and change in language we cannot forget these damp, “sliced openings,” of self from our parents, our minds, and our tradition. How then do you suppose we blend and acculturate these differences, while at the same time change the dissonance of a violent past? How does this happen in language?

I think the setting, or even the concept of, a glass factory makes the world of the poems prone to danger, to sharpness, to fragility and destruction.  The body, and you could even say like language, is this very ordered system, or a system of systems, but also one that subject to chaos and misfirings.  But there is also desire, and in desire, in the physicality of the poem, in the body that exists that is almost always in peril.

11.) The active character in your poem “double tongue,” becomes divided. We read, “She’s prettier, but I’m the quick one. / There’s no telling what we can do / with our throats, this frail pipe // that joins us.  Rough lungs, / cloven heart. Each night, / I practice scales. Her.” And at the end of the poem, we are left with archetype: “We prefer to be addressed as Alice.” The duplicity is at once active and passive. The split character is one of force. Can please allude to the departure from the passive towards Alice who is a transitory dynamic duplicitous female voice?

I think this poem best illustrates what I was reaching for with the entire book in terms of voice.  The layering of multiple voices and consciousnesses over each other. Like the siamese twins, every voice in the book speaks both separately and yet also in unison.  The twins become both subject and object, which is a thread in the book, the idea of women as spectacle, as something to be viewed, to be watched, to perform.  And yet, they are also subjects with their own volition and narrative voice. In general, there is also a lot of duplicity going on.  Twins, sisters, hybrids (mermaids, bird girls). The intersection of what seems to be true and what is actually true.

12.)   In contrast to “intertia,” “la grande ploungeuse,” is a poem with no “milk”. The opening lines begin, “It’s the drama turns me / inside out, all black // velvet and the flare / of doves. Small things // placed inside the larger / like nesting dolls.” We can still attach ourselves to the domestic through “dolls,” and “doves,” but here, the “arc of women / [fling] themselves into // the taught air.” We have action, we have dissonance; we have movement. We do not have redemption, but we have voice. How does the language change specifically in regards to logos based definition of culture? And how does this affect our ingestion as readers of the characters within this undertaking of language?

This is, again, largely about the object/subject division.  The woman at the top of a diving board is both performance and performer. This was one of the last poems that was written for the book, and I do feel like the language becomes cleaner and meaner at this point, so I’m not as much sure that it’s the subject matter that changes the language or just happenstance. But I suppose if we look more at language itself as performance, at this point in the book, the concept of voice, becomes more layered and even muddy, even while the poems become more spare at times.

profiles in poetics: Annie Guthrie

annie_guthrie_photo_savannah guthrie

Annie Guthrie

Website: annieguthrie.net

thevolta.org

Annie Guthrie poetically transfixtures emphatic and empathetic states of semiosis. Jewelry, she explains, is about “noise, rhythm, placement, shape and tools and I think about tension and action in terms of poetry.” A drawing produces intervals of “mark-making and how the gesture is made in language outside of chronology or narrative.” The elements of “poetry [happen] across investigation and encounter and it isn’t separate from life.” Rather, “It’s the score of a call and response of the interior.” This compelling play enunciates how we encounter life and self.

In this interview, we consider Guthrie’s book the good dark forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2014. The tangled economical positions cue “gossip,” “ontological and existential suffering,” “visibility,” and the constitution of this space. The main character tumbles towards desire; intimations of saturated intimacy. “Threat” occurs when “visible” dissolves the speaker’s ability to merge with her beloved. Guthrie shares, “The identity of this beloved is often confused, for her, and for the reader. This is an enactment of spiritual grappling.” It is only when she is able to accept self-difference that conscious calculation is surrendered. This, as Guthrie inspires, “[makes] room for…a spirit-ditch.” Ultimately, “The speaker is seeking self/meaning/god in everything, which includes ‘a boy,’ ‘the visible,’ ‘the body,’ etc. In short, everything is considered. All approaches, conceptual, physical, perceptual, biological, intuitive, spiritual, are considered.”

Annie Guthrie is a writer and jeweler from Tucson. She is the Marketing Director at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she recently curated a national symposium, Poetry off the Page, featuring poets who work in hybrid, multi-media forms and in other art forms such as film, theater, book arts and dance.

Annie has a metalsmithing shop at the Splinter Brothers warehhouse in Tucson where she designs custom pieces in platinum, gold and silver. Her how-to jewelry book, Instant Gratification, was published with Chronicle Books. Her jewels can be seen at http://www.annieguthrie.net and on Etsy.

Annie received an MFA from Warren Wilson and has been teaching Oracular Writing at the Poetry Center since 2009. Annie has poems published in Tarpaulin Sky, Ploughshares, Fairy Tale Review, Many Mountains Moving, HNGMAN, The Destroyer, RealPoetik, Everyday Genius, Omniverse, The Volta, Spiral Orb, The Dictionary Project, 1913, A Journal of Forms, Drunken Boat, and more. Her book “the good dark” will be published with Tupelo Press in 2014.

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1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer?

In fourth grade, I wrote a “collection” of my “creative writing stories.” The best one was called “fortunately, unfortunately.” It amuses me that my thought default mechanism was already in place. In sixth grade, I won a prize for reading the most books in the school. I think I wrote a hundred book reports. I was trained as a reader. My family was book-centered. In junior high I always hid in the library at lunch time to avoid the other kids. I think writing is just what young readers begin to do. There was never a decision. My Mom always made us keep diaries. I was really into journalism class in seventh grade. Writing was the way I worked out my being. It still is. I grew up identifying as a writer but I really wanted to be a painter.

2.) Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

I like difficult writing. I think I always have. I like to be made to think harder or differently. When I was a kid I loved mystery novels. That has translated in adulthood to a love of mystic/shaman writer-thinkers like Helene Cixous, William Bronk, Bhanu Kapil, Gaston Bachelard, Sofie Calle, Michael Palmer, Virginia Woolf, Paul Celan, J.M. Coetzee, Jesse Ball, Fanny Howe, Fyoder Doestoyevsky, Hiromi Ito, W.G. Sebald, Fred Moten, Susan Howe. When I love a writer I read them for life. Additions are made, but my loves don’t change. I’m very loyal. I’m slinking around the thought-archives of Dalkey and Naropa and the Sorbonne.

3.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

I worked with Claudia Rankine early on at Warren Wilson and she remains a powerful influence and friend. She’s got this ferociously lightning mind on top of this thick, established stratum of calm. An incredible human. Another great thinker that has shaped and re-shaped really my entire approach to writing, teaching, and to life is Kim Young, a painter, and a dream and IChing scholar. My husband Tommaso Cioni is my greatest teacher. He is a great manifester; he writes poetry with his lifestyle.

4.) How has your own work changed over time and why?

I don’t know. The subject of inquiry changes, so the writing changes. I like to think of the writing as what’s left behind of my inductions and transductions. It’s crafted evidence of thought. So whatever I am inspiriting gets its traces all over the pages.

5.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Absolutely everything has a chance to emphatically and empathically influence me. If I am making jewelry I think about noise, rhythm, placement, shape and tools and I think about tension and action in terms of poetry. If I am drawing I think about mark-making and how the gesture is made in language outside of chronology or narrative. I read a lot of fiction, because I am interested in building and accumulation. I often get a little lost in research when I explore other fields. I am teaching a class called “Oracular Mapping,” and so I am reading a lot of material related to urban planning. Right now I am reading “The Wayfinding Handbook,” “The Image of the City,” and “Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information,” for instance. The poetry happens across investigation and encounter and it isn’t separate from life.
It’s the score of a call and response of the interior.

6.) What are your plans for the future?

I’m going to continue teaching “Oracular Writing” at the Poetry Center in Tucson – it keeps me on my toes. Hopefully I can manage a tiny book tour when the book comes out. I have friends in big cities and I will probably just design it around where my loved ones live: Paris, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Asheville…hmm I am forgetting somebody.

7.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

Artist.

8.) In the section: “chorus,” the voice of, “*the priest” orchestrates a scenario in which the “Lord performs a test”. The priest has set up “one mirror, in an empty room, the entrance to his home. / And the call to his guests: ‘Come, I’m in the back’.” The visitors are invited to walk through a “secret” opening admitting, “I don’t care for submission. As much as coincidence. / I’m not good at being very happy, / when not spoken to directly.” The request is one to look at themselves in a petri dish of sorts where the priest assumes an omniscient hierarchical presence. If this was a coincidental happening they may succumb in a discourse that places both respective intentions across from one another. However defining his position within his own home is alienating and their participation is black and white. They defensively acknowledge the test. The structure of the test dissolves the intimacy of the interaction. Does the test lack intimacy because of the structure of the environment, or does it lack intimacy because of the structure of the pathos? Which do you believe to be more hierarchical?

The priest is telling a story (an unlikely one for the priest to tell) about the Lord. It’s the Lord’s home, and the Lord’s test that the priest illustrates. However, the priest’s own sermon undoes his intentions, because his characters lose their identity in the syntax: the reader doesn’t know if it is the Lord whispering, or his guests. This is serving to abolish hierarchy. The syntactical arrangement itself is a gesture toward intimacy. Which is what the speaker is seeking throughout all her investigation.

How can the spiritual component of this piece be altered so that the priest is an open presence not lost in a looming controlling based spectrum that is based on fear? Well I wouldn’t want to do that, because it isn’t a tract, it isn’t redemptive. These poems are evidence left by a speaker, a seeker who leaves a trail of ontological and existential suffering.

Is this a critique of monotheism?
No, this is a poem- it contains our loneliness – god’s, and ours.

9.) The voice “*the gossip,” in the same section, is a tavern “damp, dark, filled with enough / to feel invisible.” We learn, “The Visible [is] a violent character here.” We read on, “She’s tethered to a game. The man will play the ground. / ‘What are you doing, protecting your rook?’ he’ll say, taking the queen. / ‘Trying to find a good place to hide,’ she’ll say, letting him down.” This societal reflection juxtoposes girl in her visibility as both victim and passivity. The “game” of social underpinnings is everywhere. “He” is the player. Here “She” lets him down. If she plays him does this admonish both visibility as violent and she as passive? Where in your mind do you see the flexible underpinnings of being both visible and non-violent, active, and cooperative? And why is this gossip?

The gossip tells of an encounter between a man and our main character (“she.”) The “visible” is a spiritual threat to her, she who is trying to mystically dissolve, or merge with her beloved. The identity of this beloved is often confused, for her, and for the reader. This is an enactment of spiritual grappling, but not a sociopolitical commentary. The gesture to want to hide inside of the inanimate and too-small rook reveals the crisis and confusion of the character, she missing entirely he man’s grounding gesture to keep her in the game (in the present.) Gossip is not real, it’s gossip. A poem is a kind of gossip, that is, it can only touch some part of the truth about this kind of crisis.

10.) The character/theme “*gossip” at one point in the “chorus,” shares, “In alongside intuition a certain new loneliness creeps / when she found out she might be the inventor of herself / the light the words her eyes spill.” This is juxtaposed to the transition in the last section is titled, “body,” in which an asterisk is unaccompanied, and “I” is used instead. We listen, “what if wish & love open at the same time? / I ask the glass with a kind of dare // (the difference between fantasy and prayer is innocence).” If the fantasy is towards self it is both love and open. This assumes a type of “innocence”. Does this ask us to reassess our patriarchal lens of competition?

It’s meant to reveal a move the character has made, into perhaps a place without reference. Her investigations are leading her into a reassessment of the lenses she has been using.

11.) The work ends as follows: “I counted truth for my life, recanted – / finding a sameness in things. // The body took the blame / for the deeds of the mind. // It was this kind of human.” “Human” becomes “body”. In sameness we depart from gossip, but how do you see this partaking in language? How does our difference assemble our visibility outside of fantasy and where does the body reunite with the mind?

When awareness achieves “lightspice,” fantasy and difference are momentarily dissolved (the robes fall; dark). This kind of character doesn’t end, and can’t, inside language, do anything but pick up difference again (to spell, to read, is to differentiate.) Perhaps the reunification will happen next: when difference itself is acknowledged, reunification as a goal, might be dropped. Which could make room for.. .

How do you see genders re-equating to each other outside of this pathos in visibility?

This book takes us through a spirit-ditch. I don’t see it as a gender-differentiated place.
The inequality suffered is not happening between genders here in this place. The speaker is seeking self/meaning/god in everything, which includes “a boy,” “the visible,” “the body,” etc. In short, everything is considered. All approaches, conceptual, physical, perceptual, biological, intuitive, spiritual, are considered.

profiles in poetics: Maureen Alsop

maureen 2013 032Maureen Alsop

Website:

www.maureenalsop.com

www.alchemicalflamingo.blogspot.com

Constellatory impressions of self, need “[agents] for energy [shifts]” in relationships. Maureen Alsop is a poet who sifts through the “imprints, subtle accumulations of a personal, yet collective landscape.” She expresses, “The YOU I refer to is always multilayered. You, the stranger. You, my father. You, deceased. You, who go on living. I know you; you know me/ not. You are whispered of. You am I and I am you.” And here, the “fractal patterns in nature suggest,” interpersonal relationships “theoretically [as] institution [are] easily a miscarriage. Relationships are powerful”. We manifest self-reflections of choice motivated in life. This energy is an “act which, in consequence, forces a form of ‘self as installation.’  I am a walking, breathing relic of my departed tribe.” We are subtle accumulations; relics of our past, present, and transformative future tribes.

Maureen Alsop, Ph.D. is the author of, Mantic (Augury Books)Apparition Wren (Main Street Rag), and several chapbooks, most recently a blade of grass made bare by its own anatomy (Blue Hour Press)Luminal Equation in the collection Narwhal (Cannibal Press), the dream and the dream you spoke (Spire Press), and 12 Greatest Hits (Pudding House, pending). Additional chapbooks include Nightingale Habit (Finishing Line Press) and Origin of Stone. Maureen is an associate poetry editor for the online journal Poemeleon and Inlandia: A Literary Journal. She presently leads a creative writing workshop for the Inlandia Institute, the Riverside Art Museum, and The Rooster Moans.

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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? 

I don’t think I desired to be a writer; I sort of couldn’t help it.  Favorite writers have not changed for me. I still love and return to D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Porter, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemmingway, T.S. Eliot, Larry Levis, and many other writers. I also like reading random sources for ideas, books on symbolism; the Bible (though I’m hardly religious) is a great source text. There are some beautiful poems and language in those testaments.

2.)    Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?  Too many to name…

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?  I used to obsess on narrative aspects of poetry. I think this was because I was keenly aware that I was a “closet anti-narrative anarchist.” I still believe that poetry is often sacrificed to fiction. Eventually I figured out how to wed my antithesis.  I worked at that to some satisfaction (narration).  It’s like learning a technique. Not that I’ve mastered narration, but I understand it’s mechanics well enough, respect the human tendency for story, and appreciate my own way of thinking. Now I can allow the structure of my poems to fall away just enough to see where my poem’s scaffolding supports it’s own rawness.

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4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how? I’m highly visual. So visual imagery whether it’s a physical landscape I am standing in, a film, a painting, these effect my psyche and shift my approach to language by inexplicable means.  I remember experiencing some “writer’s block” (which I don’t really believe in) a few summers ago so I decided to watch every Ingmar Bergman film I could lay my hands on as a source to write from.  Very little writing trickled out, but recently I shared a poem with a friend and she felt that the poem was a reflection of Bergman’s Persona.  The association shocked me.  I believe in the power of the subconscious.  Let your subconscious do the work and shut the thinking brain off.   Be ready to write, always.   I also have a steady awe for physicality. Getting into myself physically and also ‘getting out of the way of myself’ is a revelatory prowess.  Physical practices: breath-work, bodywork, meditation are increasingly as important to me as my writing.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?  I’ve heard the phrase, “if you want fear, create a future.”  In this transitional era, I’ve started to create a few projections—mostly finger-puppet shadows on a blank tableau.  My intimations rework themselves without reference.  Hawk’s flight-patterns frequently crowd my evenings.

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

The New Yorker article indicating that women writers are less likely to be published than their male counterparts was extremely discouraging.  Yet in our country, probably more than any other, we have more writers than we’ve ever had.    I’m not sure really what to make of technological changes and trends. Movements are vast and rapid. Opportunities create optimism—our culture seems to promote both of these qualities in equal balance.  Poetry circles have small drains in which to swirl/channel.  I guess my view would be “do what you want to do, work at it, expect nothing, try to enjoy the process.”  I don’t see any other choice or barrier beyond one’s own determination to grow.  Maybe I’ll adapt a masculine pseudonym and watch my readership multiple (joke).

7.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?  Hillary Gravendyk, Sarah Maclay, Amy Schroder, Elena Karina Byrne, Farrah Field, Bethany Ides (performer/artist), Louise Mathias, Carolyn Guinzio, Nicelle Davis, Lily Brown, Bronwyn Tate, Julia Cohen… there are many

8.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be? Anyone who writes poetry probably lives in an atypical reality; one’s imagination, self-possession, the requiescat ability to filter environmental influences, these are potent manifest allies. Call me crazy; call me Ishmael.

9.)      The poem “Thumomancy” is titled and speaks to the divination to be inspired, not by God, but of soul. In corporeal form we are asked how the body is an immortal essence of self, foreseeing future events.  We reevaluate the connection of body and passing, not from love, but humanity. A squirrel is majestic “constructing snow angels, turning your palms/ skyward, but the gesture/ of your hands were not holy. Tonight the oncoming/ boxcar whistles your unfolding.” Instead of an ideal future utopia the speaker gravitate to a past “you” in the form of a squirrel. Not the most flattering of flittering animals. Here “night has given me an addiction,” an “accident without origin.” An “unfolding” occurs within the soul as it collides with the collapse and ultimate death of the squirrel. Please extend these notions of the unfolding as they occur both in the death of the body of “you” and of the soul. Is the connection to the “other” through death? And if so, why is this poem in the middle of the book?

Well, as much as I have empathy for a squirrel, the little critter was an incidental sideline for the poem, not meant as the sole focal point.  Though I am intrigued that the poem may be interpreted that way, and honor that interpretation so let me consider the squirrel… where s/he came from and what s/he means.  I do remember one summer in Canada (we had a cottage on Lake Huron we visited annually) that a squirrel shimmed down the chimney, where he became trapped and died.  Not a joyous occasion for my parents for sure. I felt that critter’s desperation, imagined myself trapped in the cottage, starving.  There were tons of squirrels where I grew up. I could spend hours observing. I remember a painting I created of a squirrel that I was very proud of as a kid. When I moved to Australia, then California, there were no to very few such creatures. They are not my favorite animals necessarily, I’m not a big rodent fan, but I do love animals, so see them as a cousin.

Absence’s force unfolds, as you say, by multitudes. In relation to the poem, based on a divination by the means of one’s own soul, obviously there are some childhood references lurking.  The beginning of life on the planet, the understanding of the means for being alive, the illumination of joy and it’s undercarriage/partner, sorrow.  Creating snow angels.  The sound of a distant train.  A dead squirrel.  These are all imprints, subtle accumulations of a personal, yet collective landscape. Soul, transgression’s agent for energy’s shift, seems a central preoccupation, thus a centerpiece poem.

The YOU I refer to is always multilayered. You, the stranger. You, my father. You, deceased. You, who go on living. I know you; you know me/ not. You are whispered of. You am I and I am you.

10.)   “Epithalamium” is a poem where God is a coughing song embedded into the logos of a young girl. She awaits passively her confinement as she digests the language of His omission. The Epithalamium is a traditional Greek song in praise of a bride and groom on the way to their marital chamber.  But the poem has a conflicting sentiment. “The small girl never looks up” as she wants to “kiss someone familiar,” instead “[staring] at a diagonal / scar down the wall,” staring just long enough to see Him. God is a hierarchical king in this ideology overpowering the girl without redemption. Traditional marriage here has no redemption. Does this reflect in your opinion our current marital conversations and how do you believe this logos and song needs to change to empower the partnership?

I love being married, but theoretically marriage as institution is easily a miscarriage. Relationships are powerful.  However all these relationships and structures we develop are self-reflections.  I do think marriage can be redeeming. In this poem, the speaker comes to terms with her marriage to life, which is also her marriage to death.  It’s not exactly a poem one would hear at a traditional wedding, though I like to imagine that (a wedding in which everyone wears black, funerary right?…).   The postulate is the question of death rather than marriage. People have a natural fear of death, which in itself is quite natural. The poem is an understanding, a marriage to death; this partnership is not exclusive. Intimate, yes.  A profound, awakening? No. Probably equivalent to any other event (even as simple as flossing one’s teeth) signifying we are alive, small epiphanies; the light we cannot hide from is the same.

11.)   Death and memory essence in “The Arrival of Memory”. The “soul inside soul wants to talk,” “later this fall will know you were not alive,” and a “voice that won’t drift keeps naming the water a blue afternoon.” In “Necromancy,” (a divination of one speaking to the dead) we read, “what finds you again is you,” “who find love in secret will not know the tremble of the body,” and “your hair will be filled with kisses, larkspur, birdseed. A crown of bees fill the mirror.” Can you please discuss this interlocution with the past, how the soul connects to memory, and where presence and clarity enrich the conversation?

If the soul exists it is transcendent.  If we consider soul as life force, what transcends is our ancestral lineage through the mechanism of the body.  Our DNA is as delicately positioned for survival, as it is destruction/ completion. Fractal patterns in nature suggest an end to any continuum.  The imprint of this poem, as with many of the poems in the collection, Mantic, involved a repositioning of awareness into my father’s psyche. He passed away when I was seventeen, but his life (and unexpected death) resonates in my every fiber.  Many of the poems were also written as my mom began to decline.  She too has recently passed away.  What remains is my animalistic longing to embody their energy; an act which, in consequence, forces a form of “self as installation.”  I am a walking, breathing relic of my departed tribe.

profiles in poetics: Layli Long Soldier

LLS - winter 2012Layli Long Soldier

Website:

www.drunkenboat.com/db15/

native-american-women-poets

Layli Long Soldier’s kind articulate dance of linear dimensions and tonal inflections enfold and expound difference. As a child, Long Soldier delivers, “sound was a conduit for emotion, the purest.” Her parallel passion discovered writing. She says, “There was an articulation in writing that I couldn’t achieve through music, so for me, the two disciplines were almost like left and right hands. My right hand was music, what I reached out with the most. But writing, on the left, was the silent do-er; picking up little words and phrases, tinkering, twirling, investigating.” The playful curiosity of language could be summarized in a favorite poem by Saroyan. She explains, “It’s just two black words in the middle of a white page: “I crazy” I read that and I was like, Yes, man, you crazy. And I love it.” Transcendence from this delightful infraction of left and right presents an intelligibly complex simplicity that breathes the stillness, dresses the poem as body on the page, and delicately brews each moment with an explicatory amount of energy.

The richness of Long Soldier’s poetic measures concern her many selves including, in this interview, mother and Native American woman. She admits, “in simple, reductive terms, I fear I could fail. Art will not save me from failure as a parent. Poetry will not save me, nor will thinking. The only thing that keeps me together, moving down the road safely, is the ‘you’ of this poem – my child – and the clear assignment of my title as ‘Mommy’.” This relationship is similar to the fortitude in difference that she encapsulates as an Oglala Lakota person. She states, “I hope for a time when more of mainstream America embraces Indigenous communities, cultures and perspectives as part of their own national heritage, their home and sense of belonging.” A time of “connection to this place and time we’re in, collectively.” Here we move away from the abstract to detail. Away from invisibility to individual and community. Movement thereby, “acknowledging our differences [as] a gesture of respect. Between us, there’s a refusal to accept the generality; we ask for and expect the specific. Immediately, this particular way of relating to one another, engenders a degree of intimacy.”

Layli Long Soldier holds a BFA in creative writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts and is currently pursuing her MFA at Bard College. She resides in Tsaile, AZ on the Navajo Nation with her husband and daughter and is an adjunct faculty member at Diné College. Her first chapbook of poetry is titled, Chromosomory (Q Ave Press, 2010).

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1.)      What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? The oddest thing is, even as I studied creative writing in college, I didn’t have my sights set on being a writer as a professional title or as an identity. It didn’t appeal to me as something to strive for, for whatever reason. And I’m not being coy. When I was younger, I wanted to be a musician. More specifically, a singer. I think Georgia O’Keefe once declared the violin as the highestform of expression. After that, she said, comes singing. But since she couldn’t sing, she painted… or something along those lines. In my youth, there was nothing more powerful or magnificent than the human voice, what can be done with it; the act of singing, itself. It was perhaps the one thing I really aspired to. I also played electric guitar and bass—and when I was a girl, I played the violin and piano. My mom was trained as a pianist so picking up a musical instrument felt natural to me. Sound was a conduit for emotion, the purest. And it was in this vein that I felt most alive. However, I never really got anywhere with music. My singing was less than amazing and I’m not so sure I was all that talented, though the desire to play was there. Whatever the case, doors never really opened with music except for the occasional jam session or garage band experience. But on the side, in a very quiet way, I would write. Bad poems. Although my poems were magnificently bad, the practice of writing was necessary for me too.  There was an articulation in writing that I couldn’t achieve through music, so for me, the two disciplines were almost like left and right hands. My right hand was music, what I reached out with the most. But writing, on the left, was the silent do-er; picking up little words and phrases, tinkering, twirling, investigating. Yes, so I entered creative writing studies with an interest in what could be done with my interest. Ha! But I never expected that this on-the-side interest would flourish as it has. It’s an endeavor I grew into and now, I must admit, provides a solid, deep joy. Perhaps this joy from writing is seated comfortably in my core because of the life lesson it’s provided—writing has shown me what happens with patience. Taking my time with a poem, I am always surprised by what can tip itself into existence through language (the most immaterial of art materials). The surprises I have experienced in my writing practice have dislodged me from curiosity into love.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career? To a large degree, peers, alumni and former professors from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Some have graduated before me but I’ve had a supportive community of artists and writers who touch base every now and then… we often share/discuss certain artistic, literary or cultural concerns, we read each other’s work, sometimes offering critique, other times just solid encouragement. Somehow, and this may sound strange, but it feels like their voices are my voice. Meaning, I deeply care about what they are doing. And for the most part, it seems as if the feeling is mutual. For example, a few months ago I emailed my former IAIA professor, Jon Davis, some recent work. I asked him if he could look at my use of punctuation. I was working by intuition but unable to consciously deliberate. So we met one afternoon and when I arrived, his table was covered with poetry books and examples of non-traditional punctuation. We spent two hours discussing the comma. Who does that in ordinary life? It’s funny to me, and this is why I love poetry. There are also more established Native American writers who’ve been supportive, who message or drop a Facebook comment here and there—Joy Harjo, Luci Tapahanso, Laura Tohee, Susan Power. I devoured their works in undergrad, they were my first exposure to literature, really. They’re trailblazers. So I get fuzzy whenever they glance in my direction and their little nudges of support carry me a long way.  But my circle of writing mentors and inspirations is always expanding. The Bard community of artists/writers also inspires me—my faculty and peers have helped me view the page differently, conceptually; sometimes as a soundscape, a canvas, sometimes a film.  Outside of IAIA and Bard, I have made some really special contacts through workshops, readings and even Facebook. Email conversations or letters with poets, my friends, are some of the most treasured conversations of my life.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why? When I first began writing poetry, I labored over small poems and cautious line breaks. Then I found prose blocks, which is still a form I really care for—the simultaneous constraint and freedom. Some years ago, I took a course at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program with Akila Oliver and I discovered the long poem. I learned I could write one single poem and extend to its furthest outer limits, I could take it as far as I wanted and exhaust myself. How beautiful. Long poems allowed me to really explore and grow into a subject, to write in sections and experiment with form. Now, I am less concerned with a single poem but am working on a series of 29 poems in response to one single document (the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans). Every few years my work seems to coalesce into some other working entity and functions differently.  I like that, it keeps me interested. At the same time there are threads that remain the same, I can look back at my earliest attempts at writing—before undergrad, even—and I recognize small glimmers that eventually exploded into full-blown obsessions. My dictionary poems, for example.  When I first began writing, I’d record definitions, phrases or odd uses of a word. This includes both English and Lakota language. I’d break the word down then particularize it into something else. These were not poems to me, at the time, but were tinkerings for amusement. Eventually, as I was exposed to more poetry, I realized this word play in my notebook was a lot funner to read and more enjoyable to write, so I allowed myself to loosen up. I put aside ideas of what a poem should be and focused more on the enjoyment, I wanted this to come through on the page. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t work at the poem, but I needed to love what I was writing first, even if at first it didn’t seem so intelligently poetic. What I experienced through this process makes me consider Robert Frost’s “The Figure a Poem Makes,” in which he explains, “It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” A small disclaimer: I do not actually enjoy poems that make a direct point, wherein I sense that the writer crafted a poem to teach me a lesson. But I like to interpret Frost’s “wisdom” as an inward clarity felt by the writer, not so much an outward product.

4.)      Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time? Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how? Early on, I was influenced by short fiction. Most especially, the work of Akutagawa which was introduced to me by IAIA poetry professor, Arthur Sze. In his course, we discussed A Fool’s Life as poems. Indeed, those pages can be read as poems, but they’re something more porous as well. When I first read Akutagawa’s work, I felt like he was my brother. I heard him. His poems said to me, The world is not always round, sometimes it’s the steely razor of a prose block.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been influenced by the likes of Aram Saroyan and bpNichol. They said to me, You can do what you want with your words, just be bright about it. Each word in their poems, individually, is a statue on the page, you know? Shapely. 3-D. One of my favorite poems of the moment is by Saroyan. It’s just two black words in the middle of a white page: “I crazy” I read that and I was like, Yes, man, you crazy. And I love it.

I always mention Gertrude Stein as a pivotal influence, absolutely. Her writing said to me, Yes and yes and yes and yes and yes.

I have also recently been introduced to Russian Conceptualists by Bard professor, Matvei Yankelevich. Last month, I submitted a piece to the Heritage Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota—21 buffalos made out of silver window screen (metal mesh) with accompanying text in each of their bodies. It’s titled, “Buffalo Book” and I consider it more of a publication than a sculptural work. The first buffalo reads, “This is the book I’ve been meaning to write.” The exact connection to Russian Conceptualists may not be apparent, but they were bubbling in my head as I worked.

5.)      What are your plans for the future? I really, really hope to continue teaching and working with Native students. It makes me happy. At the same time, of course, I want to make more art, more poems. Push myself. And one day, secret of secrets, I still want to play guitar and sing something—see if I can really create what I imagine possible with the voice—then make a video and post it on Youtube. I won’t tell anyone, I’ll just upload. Like a message in a bottle of sorts. This is pretty cheezy, but since you asked.

6.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future? When the opportunity presents itself, I encourage readers to seek out works written by Indigenous women—in the Americas or beyond. Last year, I edited a folio of poetry by Native American women for Drunken Boat [http://www.drunkenboat.com/db15/native-american-women-poets]. Readers might look there or in other recent collections, such as Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas (University of Arizona Press, 2011) or the Winter 2012 issue of Prairie Schooner.

When I worked with Drunken Boat, I began to think about ideas of the exotic versus the familiar. With all that’s happening politically, environmentally, and culturally (e.g. the public discourse about what and who is “American”) I believe a time is erupting when the relationship between Native peoples of this country and the dominant society will not be so rocky, silent or abstract. What I mean is, and I risk sounding idealistic, but I hope for a time when more of mainstream America embraces Indigenous communities, cultures and perspectives as part of their own national heritage, their home and sense of belonging. By this, I don’t mean that I hope for non-Native people to begin holding “ceremonies” in their backyards, appropriating cultural practices or laying false claims to Indigenous heritage; these are the toxic goings-on we see when the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. Yet I think of a story I heard about the Maori in New Zealand. In the 1980s a national telephone operator was demoted for answering phone calls with “Kia ora,” a greeting in the Maori language. This case sparked national headlines and debate. Because of public outcry, the operator was returned her job and eventually promoted.  And as a result of this public dialogue, “Kia ora” entered everyday use by many New Zealanders, Maori and non-Maori alike. It’s a greeting spoken by airline crews with passengers; it’s the brand name of a national calling card. In the last two decades, the Maori language has surged in growth and revitalization. Canadian linguist Chris Harvey noted that this is an example of how a language of a particular People can become, once again, a language of the land. Not to oversimplify New Zealand’s political/cultural climate, but this story is profound to me because the national perspective changed.

I recognize that I’ve strayed into a discussion of Indigenous language which is connected to, yet separate from the conversation about poetry written by Indigenous women—which I recommend as important to the now. But all of this is to make the point that writers of Indigenous heritage come from families who were here before America was called America. I don’t propose this with ego, but in consideration of their perspectives. Thus, literature by Indigenous writers, for the interested reader, may enrich an understanding and connection to this place and time we’re in, collectively. I should note here, as well, that contemporary works by Native writers are not always easy reads, nor wide windows for cultural voyeurism, nor overly fraught with iconic Native American imagery. These days, readers will encounter diverse approaches—poems that are spare or supple or modern or surreal or narrative or fragmented. And so on. Kazim Ali wrote in a Q & A for the Poetry Society of America, “What we really need, every American poet, are forms and approaches and languages […] that hold within them the voices of alterity, the parallels of experience, are lyric and narrative forms that embrace and present new possibilities of understanding America and American experiences.”  So one might turn to Inupiaq poet Joan Kane in her poem “Mother Tongues,” as language of the land constructs her understanding of mother, woman, timing, relationships:  “By fix / Of milk in saltwater, / Blood in milk.  Our / Division of phrase / From fact.  Mother, / Aakaa; Woman, / Agnaq. Already / In naming my sons, / You foresee the last time / We will be able to talk / Together—I, daughterless, / And you, who knew?”   Or watch Muscogee poet Jennifer Foerster hold her foot on the gas pedal through this “American Coma,” with “the musk of blood on my t-shirt as I drive away, /all smoke and sooty desert in my rearview. / That it’s not the fantasy of a land / that survives / but its rocks, redwoods, ghosts, / armadillos crushed in roadside gutters through Texas.” For me, it would be ideal if literature written by Native women were not a touchstone for the exotic or unusual or nostalgic pleasure—but if their voices became part of the familiar, everyday literary conversation.

7.)      In your poem “Burial Flight,” form, explosive sound, and proximity become aggressively domestic. We hear passages such as “father to mother    one to un-other/” “this man his chest sways and rocks”   “it’s in him            it’s what does not happen.” Passages such as “buck shot”       “kick jab” mirror the smallness of space between the toes of bird resting on a branch. Our experience is scattered in decimation and delicacy; the slow of a glance, ripped and wrapped in connective tissue. Can you please describe how you use form to reflect motion in the stillness of an image? How does this open the logopoeia of the poem as it confers with domesticity and violence?

It’s interesting that you’d ask me about the form for this poem. This was one of the first poems I wrote in which the form came first. Before any words were set to page, I knew what I wanted it to look like. So to a certain degree, the form determined the content (in contrast to Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse,” proposing that content determines form).

I wrote “Burial Flight” as a response to a poem by Mark Turcotte titled, “A Blur of Echoes.” Mark’s reading of this poem deeply affected me. It was about the loss of his baby during childbirth. After the reading, we talked about the impact on the mother and on him, as a father. Back then, I’d written like a million poems about motherhood and the female experience of childbirth and his poem made me consider the father, the male connection to children. In Mark’s case, I couldn’t imagine losing a child at full-term… the terrible “buckshot blow.” The repeated imagery of birds in “A Blur of Echoes” shook me for weeks—so when I sat down to respond, I knew I wanted my poem to look like a flock of birds in flight across the page. In the end, I don’t know if the form easily translates as birds (ha ha) but that was my intention. Thus, the spacing and phrasing. To my delight, the small phrases enacted the delicacy of pregnancy, a baby, and that small bird’s flight beyond to join “a speck flock.” Yet it’s the caesura between phrases, I believe, that lends a stillness to the imagery, as you mentioned. After reading this poem out loud, I also experienced a violence in the silence of the caesura that almost transcended any imagery in the language. In addition, each phrase needed to be small/brief, so this determined word choice: many one or two-syllable words; language that harnessed specifics of a child(hood), the home, birds, loss; language that opened, not defined, the space for difficult emotional and spiritual territory. This shaped the logopoeia and, I believe, the melopoeia of the poem as well.

8.)      How we are able to identify the melodic tone of our bodies converses and dislodges interpretation. In “Edge,” the pronoun “you,” is a simplicity at once rich and bare. We move from “I am called mommy,” to “you in the rear view mirror back center my love.” And finally “the word for you is little … And I see it I Mommy the edge, but do not point.” How is the pronoun “you” used to address simplicity and complexity and how does this interact with the slim imagery of this piece?

The pronoun “you” in this piece refers to my daughter or a child. We are together, driving in a car at the end of winter. She’s in the back center, buckled into her car seat. On our drives together: I think. I am a poet, so I think. I’m a mother, so I think and think. The “you” of a child is simple and complex at once. There’s not too much that we can load onto a child, with their tender emotional build. At age 3, let’s say, she’s not prepared to see everything that I see. eg. I see dry, yellow grasses on our drive, I see hungry horses eating these grasses after the winter melt. Metaphorically, I see men who eat these same grasses in desperation and hunger. The only thing separating us from this hunger is a car window. The “you” is at the center of every thought and this is the complexity. I fear for her safety, comfort, nourishment. But in simple, reductive terms, I fear I could fail. Art will not save me from failure as a parent. Poetry will not save me, nor will thinking. The only thing that keeps me together, moving down the road safely, is the “you” of this poem – my child – and the clear assignment of my title as “Mommy.”

9.)      Your thesis manuscript is a “29-poem response to the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans (S.J. Res. 14. IS), signed by President Obama in late 2009… President Obama delivered the resolution on a weekend; no tribal leaders or representatives were invited to receive the apology; President Obama never read it out loud and many Native people still haven’t heard about the apology, three years later.” My question is based on the opening passage:

“In a note following the entry for Indian the Oxford dictionary warns: Do not use Indian or Red Indian to talk about American native peoples, as these terms are now outdated; use American Indian instead. So I explain perhaps the same could be said for my work some burden of American Indian emptiness in my poems how I concretely feel it American Indian emptiness not just in writing but often on drives, in conversations, or when I lie down to sleep.”

Here “Indian or Red Indian” becomes “outdated” and whiteness remains a fortress impenetrated. White opposes “other”. Our ideologically world conversations are built into our linguistic systems. The “American Dream,” is deliberately hidden in a passive desire to apologize for virulence. In your opinion what does this say about the American persona, our linguistic structure and how power structures affect intimacy in our understanding of difference?

Well, first I’d like mention that my approach to this poetic response has been deliberately personal and, so far, I’ve maintained a first person I point-of-view in the narrative prose blocks. I am not a spokesperson for all Native American Peoples and their experiences. Even within my own family, my cousins or sisters or aunties have had vastly different experiences from mine. Nonetheless, they are mine, and I have opened myself up to sharing. Likewise, I feel strongly that the only way to respond to this National Apology, with its generalities and abstract language, is to personalize it. My experiences are not in the distant past, they aren’t abstract; they’re real and within living memory. And because of this personal approach, I’ve been able to avoid speaking about America or Americans in generalizations. I have focused on specific moments, particular events and people—showing, not telling, what has shaped my living. Hopefully, readers may take from these pieces whatever resonates for them; that they may witness but not leave the poems feeling condemned.

But the other thing I want to mention is that I have avoided the term “White” and working directly with the subject of White America. This is for several reasons, but maybe the most important is that mainstream American society (as in non-Indigenous) is not all White. America is diverse, many peoples of different colors and heritages. Yet, whatever background Americans come from, many stumble over the fix or conundrum of what language/terms to use to refer to the Native Peoples of this country. Indian? Red Indian? American Indian? Even I, as you may have noticed, interchange Native with Native American with Indigenous. It’s a mess. But in all fairness, as you point out, the heart of the problem lies in the language we are working with: English. And yes, therein, is the power structure. Because, in my opinion, if we were really fair and just, Americans would refer to Native Peoples with the terms we use for ourselves, in our own languages.

Let me backtrack, and say that I understand there are conversations which require a collective term for all Indigenous people here in America. For example, a statement such as, “President Obama issued an apology to Native Americans in 2009.” However, it would be a giant, positive leap forward if the particulars of our heritage(s) were more widely acknowledged. This gap is the “languageness” I refer to in the poem. Here’s another way to explain it—concerning relationships and “otherness.” In my experience, when I am with Native Americans, the terms Native, Native American, Indian, Indigenous, in many cases, become obsolete. If I were to meet a Hopi woman, for example, we’d introduce ourselves with who we are, where we come from. If I were to say to her, in general terms, “I’m a Native American,” without a specific tribal affiliation, she’d likely think, “But who are you?”  If I say, “I am Oglala Lakota,” this establishes geography, history, community and family for both of us. My inner compass shifts, I feel centered, I feel acknowledged. She and I are not the same; we remain an “other” to each other in some manner; but acknowledging our differences is a gesture of respect. Between us, there’s a refusal to accept the generality; we ask for and expect the specific. Immediately, this particular way of relating to one another, engenders a degree of intimacy.

profiles in poetics: Elizabeth Colen

colen_watercolorElizabeth Colen

Website:

elizabethjcolen.blogspot.com

jadedibisproductions.com/WAITING

Elizabeth Colen is a witness of absence entangled in the chemistry of writer as engineer, immediacy, and intimacy. Intimacy in this interview is exposed to the tentacles of emergency, control, and vulnerability presented in interpersonal familial and romantic relationships. Colen speaks to how the writer, and intrinsically poet, is a manipulator of language domains. She acknowledges that poetry writers have “control in calling the shots. It’s hard to get another body in a room and understand that you’re not in control. And writers sometimes try to control, which goes badly.” Here surrendering control fluidly fleshes intimacy. Colen expresses, “I think intimacy is a double-edged sword: difficult, but necessary. As writers we are so inside ourselves, intimate with ourselves, knowing ourselves, even knowing when we are lying to ourselves, etc. in a way I think most people aren’t.” Because of this heightened awareness, we also acknowledge the inedibility of direct communication.

Miscommunication is inevitable. And so Colen relates this dissonance to disaster, how “emergency is the world miscommunicating with us. The way a lover will get things wrong no matter how we sculpt our words.” Intimacy swims in the same lap pool as the disassembled mold of writer as creator and “an accretion of meaning through negation … fills the psychic space”. Miscommunication, intimacy, and emergency interact in the ways in which father is archetypically “the ‘no’ of language”. This uncomfortability is a negation of control in each alternating perspective. And so we have to ask ourselves how we find trust in language, the yes in language and intimacy. For Colen she says, “We’re made to be watching; we’re making ourselves in the process of being observed. What does this mean for intimacy and romantic love? What does this mean for anything? That terrifies me. That threat of disappearance.”

Elizabeth J. Colen earned a BA from Georgia State University, an MA in Fiction from Western Washington University, and is currently completing an MFA in Poetry from the University of Washington, where she is the recipient of the Nelson Bentley and Frederick Ingham Fellowships. She is the author of poetry collectionsMoney for Sunsets (finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 2011) and Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies, as well as flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake

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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?

From a very young age I sought to change my environment any way possible. As a child you can’t get up and move, switch towns, you can’t sever ties when relationships aren’t working. As soon as I could write, I did. And this changed my world. I rewrote moments from my life and altered the endings, made them come out the way I wanted them to. Anything from some girl or boy I liked returning my affections, to the dog not running away, or my mom being nicer to my father. But then I got away from it and later turned to photography and visual collage. The return to writing in my late 20s was not something I planned on. I have always read a lot and at some point the books just started forming themselves inside my head.

Gosh, favorite writers… I am tempted to make some comprehensive list, but recent favorites include Richard Siken, Rachel Loden, Liz Waldner, Mary Ruefle, all time favorites include Kenzaburo Oe, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Carson. The biggest change would be that the focus of my affections used to lie in excellence in narrative / escapism, and the past six or seven years (how long I’ve been writing poetry), I’ve been more in love with sound.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

Should I admit that I have had a crush on every almost every English teacher I’ve ever had from grade school on? This is inspiration. And I can say that every time I read a good book, I take on that writer as mentor in that moment—what can I learn? where do I geek out about the language or structure of the piece?—and how can I figure out how to use what the writer is teaching me. That pat statement made—that the world is my mentor—I have had a couple of very influential writer-to-writer / mentoring relationships. Most notably Suzanne Paola, Carol Guess, and currently Linda Bierds, who I am working with at UW in the MFA program. I have learned an inestimable amount of things about being a writer from each of them.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?

In form: I started out writing fiction, went to grad school the first time around for that, wrote stories, wrote a few novels (that I’m still slowly revising with a poet’s ear, so slowly). My writing process for the last ten years has involved reading other peoples’ poetry out loud until the voices start. And then, I am not entirely sure how it happened, but somewhere around six years ago poetry stopped being just a catalyst for me and became blood. So that’s form. Oh, and lineation. I started poetry with prose poems. I am trying to teach myself how to break lines; that’s not natural, and is in part why I went back to school. I don’t know how I’m doing. I own the confusion though. It’s not a bad place to be.

Content-wise, the shift has gone from a local, often personal focus to more global  / historical considerations. Most of my current projects involve some amount of detailed research (as Waiting Up for the End of the World did).

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Absolutely. I read everything and I read constantly. At all times I am reading (and carrying with me) at least one collection of poetry, one book of fiction, and one of nonfiction. I also have a large collection of old textbooks on every subject, and am always picking up more. I read them, cut out snippets of information and carry them around, and cut up whole books to make visual collage, or erasures, or both. Oddly, the editing work I do professionally, which is really dry stuff, has been incredibly helpful in getting me to quickly reimagine my work on the sentence level, and become really adept at concision. I can drop articles and rearrange syntax and slash a word count like nobody’s business.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?

Right now getting through the academic details of school (my “critical thesis”) so I can get back to writing poems! I finished a third book of poems last year (actually a novel in prose poems called What Weaponry). Almost all of the individual poems have been published, but I haven’t yet been sending it out as a whole. So I need to get on that. I am fairly prolific when it comes to writing, but I am not so good at sending work out regularly. I’m currently working on a new manuscript of poems tentatively titled: Feral. I’m also looking for jobs.

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I am of a few minds about the question itself. I’m not sure I can separate writing by women in the last twenty years with writing in the last twenty years. Most of my favorite writers are women, though this hasn’t always been the case. I have paid a lot of attention to all the talk lately about how women aren’t given a fair shake in literature, their voices not heard as loudly or as often as mens’. That all the top ten lists and top 100 lists and whatever always include such a dramatic ratio of men to women. The pie charts about literary journals and what they’re doing. I can’t speak in general terms and say that right now women are writing more interesting, innovative, honest work, only to say that what I am reading of contemporary female writers, the good stuff anyway, is overwhelmingly interesting, innovative, brutally (in many ways) honest work. We’re constantly catching up. The male side of things is out there, it’s been done. It’s still being done in new ways, sometimes brilliantly. But I think male writers have their work cut out for them if they want to make it new. We know your bildungsromans, gentlemen. We’re familiar with your misogyny. And the ways you love. It takes a lot to surprise.

But the inequity is real, and that’s a problem. And maybe it’s unpopular to say, but I think most female readers are indiscriminate; they will read a female writer or they will read a male writer and get the universal, and see themselves in it. All reading is this: we must be able to cross that bridge. I think a lot of men—and this is the problem—just can’t see a woman writer or a woman’s story as universal, as applying to their life. Unless they are trying to figure out how to get a woman in bed. I’m generalizing, yes. And in poetry, the gendered divide does not seem so important. Because it is more dependent on sound than sense, more on language at very close range than on narrative. And that’s universal, or more so. Arguments can be made both ways.

7.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Just a few off the top of my head that I am constantly surprised by Emily Kendal Frey, Tarfia Faizullah, Mary Biddinger, Kristy Bowen, Soham Patel, Anna Journey, Jane Wong, Daniela Olszewska, Janice Lee, Sarah McCarry (aka The Rejectionist), Mary Miller, Roxane Gay.

8.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

Naming is hard; I like “writer.”

9.)      Your poem, “JUST AFTER TAKE OFF,” presents a disaster. The opener reads, “In losing the landing gear we give up the rhythm a little. / there is a thump, the lights dim and go out.” I am predominately interested in the casual tone of this piece and how it reacts with the subject matter. If language is historically the mode in which we interact in relationships what does this say in times of disaster when we are unable to say the unsayable or write the disaster? In other words, the poem reads, “The triple-proof of our love: I didn’t say anything to you.” Does disaster alter intimacy and how do our linguistics express the vitality of this silence and or movement? How does the body fit into this discussion? –

I think intimacy is a double-edged sword: difficult, but necessary. As writers we are so inside ourselves, intimate with ourselves, knowing ourselves, even knowing when we are lying to ourselves, etc. in a way I think most people aren’t. We have a first loyalty to ourselves, and to books, to writing, language. Maybe it is just me in that it is “first,” but it is a complicated and sincere, sometimes desperate, sometimes uplifting intimacy / relationship. It is hard to let other people in. At least I find that it is. We control our worlds through language. Fiction-writers manipulate and create whole worlds they move people around in; but poetry writers no less, even sometimes have more control in calling the shots. It’s hard to get another body in a room and understand that you’re not in control. And writers sometimes try to control, which goes badly.

Maybe I am speaking from personal experience. I have dated a lot of writers. and while we can’t actually control the external world sometimes we believe we can. Our lives get tightly wound. In moments of emergency we are reminded how little we control. And it’s shocking. It invalidates us as kings, I think.

We may say we want the unexpected that’s part of life, of interest, of things to write about. But I think that’s usually not true. Even the risks we take, we calculate. And so emergency puts us on a level of intimacy in the world where we understand we are totally out of control. The way with another body in the room, a point of intimacy, we are totally out of control. And that closeness, there is no language for that. Nothing proper, nothing adequately “sayable,” and so we miscommunicate, even under the best of terms. And it all goes awry. Emergency is the world miscommunicating with us. The way a lover will get things wrong no matter how we sculpt our words.

10.)   A concentrated focus on the past is seen in your poem “MEN WHO RUN BACKWARDS”. Denial here is learned, reading, “We want water, wind. There are men who run backwards. There’s nothing to worry about; my father learned this in the army.” In this denial, there is a lack of exchange, a speech that permits an invisibility and authoritative hierarchical presence. Here, “if father didn’t watch, it never happened.” Can you please comment on the social tradition of the army, masculinity, and how the poem addresses cultural violence? Furthermore, the ways in which the linguistic codex of denial maneuvers in this space.

I’ve always been interested in an accretion of meaning through negation. How things mean when they are taken away, and what fills the psychic space. My brother has been missing for nearly a decade and so I talk to him a lot in my head. “11 Bang-Bang” is the poem that starts my first book (Money for Sunsets) and deals not only with absence, but the absence of absence (caskets returning from war not being seen on TV). I have no relationship with my mother and that impacts me. Part of what fills that space is a hyper-awareness of familial relationships (mine and others’) in general. The other parts I probably don’t want to talk about. To some degree every bit of writing I do has to do with danger, a lack of control, and absence.

I mean the whole book (Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies) is about what feels like an impending apocalypse. That’s absence on a big scale. I don’t know if I can comment articulately about the social tradition of the army, or even masculinity. Maybe power structures, which both of those things are… my father was never in the army, he was in the navy, and I don’t know, but I would probably call him a pacifist. I can’t ever imagine him physically violent, though I’ve seen him cry many times.

I am interested in the ways in which children are defined by what their parents are and aren’t, when they learn these things, how that effects a parent’s say. When my parents separated my father cried and cried and my brother cried and I just thought that was weak; everyone thought it was awful that I didn’t cry. But I was tired of the fighting, and I knew my mother was destroying my father. I was five or six at the time. I remember thinking maybe he could be happy elsewhere. I didn’t know what it would mean not to have him around, but somehow I could imagine other worlds for him. And he was never domineering, but I guess like language, like Freudian whatever; I guess I think I was thinking Lacan there in the poem. The father is the “no” of language. I’m paraphrasing horribly.

I have a sister poem in my next ms that basically says the same thing of the mother; the mark of existence is questioned when she’s not around. I mean watch a child fall, he won’t scream unless someone’s watching. What does that mean? We’re made to be watching; we’re making ourselves in the process of being observed. What does this mean for intimacy and romantic love? What does this mean for anything? That terrifies me. That threat of disappearance. Maybe that seems hyperbolic. But think about the devastation of a break-up. What is that about really? You the person haven’t changed; your molecular structure hasn’t been altered. Life is going to be different, sure. But is that all the strife is? Or how much of it is about identity? How you will be seen / not seen?

11.)   “SOCIOLOGY OF MYTHMAKING,” is a poem that floods the western cultural attraction to escapism, how this affects the prosody of our livings including how technology participates in this dance. There are several illustrations of this in the text: “this is what our lives are like. This is where we come from. You don’t believe in expectations; I don’t believe in paper trails … the T.V. sizzles … I take a forty-five minute shower in water / I don’t have to pay for.” How is the domestic sphere contracted, coded, and entangled in this temporality, and how do you believe this disguises the presence of, disrupts, alters, or gives access to intimacy?

I think a culture of distraction is fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. And I am interested in the ways in which interpersonal relationships expand and contract based on situation, based on technology, yes, but as I’ve said before absence is key for me. With technology we create own distances, our own presences and absences, by this I mean how close and how far apart we want to be from someone. You know who you’ll put your phone away for and who you won’t, for example. Gosh, that sounds awful, but it is what it is.

“We keep looking up for someone else,” yes. YOLO, FOMO, and all of that.

Sometimes I think about human interactions in terms of electromagnetic repulsion. How the atoms that make up matter never actually touch. How when we sit on a chair we are actually hovering just above it. As we hover before the people around us, close, but never meeting. How there is always a distance. And for me there is a conservation of space, as though there must be the same amount at all times. If something (or someone) is close, a gap must open elsewhere. How a poem means is like this as well. In poetry, the space conserved is where the reader fits in.

profiles in poetics: Amy Newlove Schroeder

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Amy Newlove Schroeder

Website:

www.oberlin.edu

lafovea.org

bostonreview.net

http://witness.blackmountaininstitute.org/http://www.chaparralpoetry.net/author/amy-newlove-schroeder/

Amy Schroeder is a poet whose sensuality molecularly blankets communication of the senses as they translate experience and cognition to the page. In this equinox we invite into the conversation “the woman’s subject position, sexuality and sensuality, grief in its many forms [and] juxtapositions between the high and the low, between the sublime and the quotidian.” As a writer she is motivated by the accent of sound and image telling us, “it is as though I am a blind woman feeling her way through unfamiliar terrain.  I try to find what feels accurate and move toward that, rather than making formal decisions about what seems appropriate or correct.” So chance balances the juxtaposition, the poem as planet, the piece as whole.

Schroeder expands and contracts the fricative movements of the “alienation that is a part of human life”. In our humanity we symbiotically repel intimacy as it envelopes us. She continues, “We are almost always alienated in some way, whether it be from our own selves, or our family, or a lover, or from the larger world that surrounds us. I feel that most of life takes place in the spaces in between—when we are moving away or towards the things that matter most.” It is in the dreamscape that we are able to personify this delicacy, this paradoxical stasis that brings us towards love; a translation. As to which she says, “Love is also about a similar kind of action, a chronic, and not always successful, effort to make ourselves understood to another person … You cannot engage with someone intimately without being scarred.”

Amy Newlove Schroeder’s first book, The Sleep Hotel, was published by Oberlin in 2010. Work has recently appeared or will be forthcoming in Field, Witness and Boston Review. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Southern California, where she currently teaches writing. She lives in Los Angeles.

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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?

I was that kid who walked around with a book all the time (and I do mean all the time—I have been known to cross the street without lifting my nose). Like many escape artists, I think that I transformed one mode of escape (reading) into another (writing.) I made my first attempt at age seven—a short story about a missing diamond necklace. (The thrilling conclusion: Stolen by a greedy blue jay and had hidden in her nest.)

Like many writers, I found poetry as an adolescent. It was a balm to my whipsawing emotions. I read the usual cast of characters: Whitman, Ginsberg, Plath.  While these writers remain important to me, as I got older I learned that there were actual living poets whose work I could read. I have been chiefly influenced by contemporary female poets: Jean Valentine, Louise Gluck, Brenda Hillman, Sharon Olds, Jorie Graham. While I still read these poets, they were very important to me when I was in my twenties, when I was trying to find voices I could connect to both pyschically and poetically.

2.)    Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

I have been very fortunate in finding mentors, and I have had many.  My earliest mentors were my high school English teachers. I attended Berkeley as an undergrad, and I was lucky enough to be accepted into an upper division poetry workshop taught by Yusef Komunyakaa. When I was pursuing my MFA, I worked closely with Carl Phillips. Most recently, when I was completing my PhD, I was mentored by Carol Muske-Dukes and Susan McCabe. The various ways that these teachers have helped me are too many to recount here, but one element of the teacher-student relationship has remained consistent—it was not so much that these poets taught me how to write, but that they provided support and connection. It is possible to learn a lot from a mentor, but I think what is more important and more sustaining is the confidence gained from having someone you respect believe in you.  Writing is a lonely practice, so having mentors is both crucial and nurturing. Now that I am beyond my studies, I find myself being inspired by friends who are poets—Gretchen Mattox, L.B. Thompson, Elena Karina Byrne, Joy Katz, to name a few.

3.)    How has your own work changed over time and why?

The writer’s journey is necessarily one of discovery—discovering one’s subjects, discovering a voice, finding a comfortable form. I think the key element that has changed in my poems is that they have grown less accessible—not intentionally so. My earliest work was fairly uncomplicated, even simple. Paradoxically, I now feel much clearer about what I want to talk about—the woman’s subject position, sexuality and sensuality, grief in its many forms. I am also very interested in juxtapositions between the high and the low, between the sublime and the quotidian—the experience of listening to Bach in the car while giving panhandler money, for example.

4.)    Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

My taste is catholic—I will read pretty much anything, from bestsellers to obscure texts on ancient mystery religion. I’m not sure how my reading has affected me formally, but I think the content of my poetry reflects that variety. The Sleep Hotel contains a wide range of references, from a Led Zeppelin song to the medieval text A Cloud of Unknowing.  I like to mix different things together and see if they spark—perhaps that is a result of my varied reading practice. Mostly I read like an addict—when I am reading, I am already thinking about the next book that I will want to read. One of the defining qualities of the addict is a sense of insatiability—I suspect that this feeling or yearning can be identified in my work.

5.)    What are your plans for the future?

I am currently working on my second manuscript, which is tentatively titled Lamia. I am also working on prose in various forms—an essay about the year I lived in Istanbul, some short stories, some book reviews. I also have plans for a novel.

6.)    What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

This is a difficult question to answer, I think. Perhaps the most significant change is the great expansion in the number of female writers, particularly female poets. Women have always written, but historically their work was often marginalized—one must always remember Woolf’s attempt to picture Shakespeare’s sister, and then being reminded by a certain text on the history of England that women at that time, were more likely to be “locked up, beaten and flung around the room,” than to be writing poetry. In today’s literary world, women are taken seriously—while sexism still certainly exists in the literary world, I think it is less of a factor than in say, the days of Bishop and Moore. Certainly we do not have to contend with the resistance that Dickinson faced. At the same time, some have suggested that within the broad landscape of American poetry, there is a tendency to celebrate beautiful boys—attractive young male poets. If this is true, I doubt it is a symptom of illness in the world of poetry—rather it is a reflection of a kind of sexism that is deeply ingrained in our culture.

7.)    Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Katie Ford, Hilary Gravendyk, Susan Stewart, Rachel Zucker, Noelle Kocot, Saskia Hamilton, Dana Levin, Carrie Fountain, Julie Doxsee

8.)    If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

Reluctantly compulsive post-confessional confessional

9.)    Your book Sleep Hotel, out from Oberlin College Press embodies an intimate lyric that is at once encompassing and foreign at the same time. Thematically this is shown in poems like the “The Sleep Hotel,” that displaces a familial relationship to a hospital room and ice chips. But also in your poem “Pacific,” where we read, “the water is so impersonal, / a stranger to everyone”. The music in these transitions is effortless. Can you describe how sleep interacts in this discussion? I am also interested in your choice of phanopoeia and melopoeia to facilitate these seamless tensions?

In writing about Dante, Pound suggests that we should first read him only for the images—the leopard should act only as a leopard, rather than as something for which the leopard stands. I tend to hew to this philosophy in my own work—I try very hard to get out of my own way. I try not to think when I’m writing—instead, I feel as though I am trying to find something that satisfies me, both sonically and verbally. As Stevens writes, “The poem of the mind in the act of finding / what will suffice.” I am trying to find what will suffice.  When I am writing, I am led by sound and image—it is as though I am a blind woman feeling her way through unfamiliar terrain.  I try to find what feels accurate and move toward that, rather than making formal decisions about what seems appropriate or correct.

Your reading of my work seems accurate—I do tend to write from a place that is extremely intimate. At the same time, I try to contend with the alienation that is a part of human life—we are almost always alienated in some way, whether it be from our own selves, or our family, or a lover, or from the larger world that surrounds us. I feel that most of life takes place in the spaces in between—when we are moving away or towards the things that matter most. My poems come from those interstices, those betweenpie mountains, as Hopkins described them.

The image of sleep was crucial to me as a vehicle for describing this sensation of being both connected and disconnected—when we sleep, we are apart from everyone, but at the same time we may be dreaming about the people in our lives. Sleep also echoes the creative process for me—a kind of lucid dreaming, that is transitory and not completely under our control.

10.)    In your poem, “After Reading Lao Tzu,” we are presented with a sentiment from Lao Tzu, who states, “The one who speaks does not know, The one who knows does not speak.” The lyric proceeds, “Meaning we were all sad // Meaning that when you were seized by desire, it was nothing more than flesh, bared above the collarbone.” In regards to mind body dualism, and the act of writing the body back on to the page, is all writing then a bare collarbone? In your opinion how do you believe that poetry addresses this sentiment, knowing and unknowing, and how does this interact with the body?

Well, if you read the line carefully, it is defining desire, rather than writing. Of course, all poems are in some way about poetry, so in that way it could be construed that all writing is desire, and thus metonymically, it can be asserted that the poem is saying that writing is only about the fleshly, only about the momentary act of brushing someone’s bare shoulder with your fingers.  Your question is complicated, because for me the body is central to my work—at the same time, I am invested in the creation of a personal metaphysics, that is to say a way of understanding the world through a kind of emotional, sensory and spiritual philosophy. We understand the world first through the body, through the five senses. Then we attempt to process that understanding in the mind. Sometimes the two cannot be reconciled. And sometimes the bodily supplies us with insufficient information, or information that we do not want to accept. It is difficult to accept that desire may be only desire, that there is nothing beyond the body.  At the same time, this is something that must be accepted, because even if we have a spiritual faith, our bodies are finite in this world.

11.)    Communication, from the speaker to the received, even how it is presented internally and externally is a translation. This is further complicated with speech versus writing, a predominately right brained activity and writing which is more linear and left brained. In your poem, “The World is Transformed by Rain,” the poem reads, “in translation, brown rewritten in green. Possibly all love is translation”. The poem continues, “I never understand what you say when you’re speaking. You change me, / and I let you.” Love is translation never completely understood yet transformative. Could you please elaborate your interest in juxtaposing rain as opposed to sun in this idea of transformation and how you believe love interacts in translation and communication?

For me, poetry is about translating what is only in the mind, only understood privately, into something that can be comprehended in the  known world. To some degree, love is also about a similar kind of action, a chronic, and not always successful, effort to make ourselves understood to another person. Sometimes that effort is fruitless, but it always leaves its trace upon us. You cannot engage with someone intimately without being scarred. And I don’t use the word scarred in a pejorative sense, rather to suggest that we are constantly trying to make ourselves understood to other people. And quite often what they say back to us reveals that understanding is not possible, at least not in the way that we might have wanted.  The constancy of this translation—one might even say transaction—leaves a mark that cannot be erased. The final line of that poem attempts to render the truth of this: “I don’t love you, but I bloom under your hands / green as limes.” Not all relationships last, and few succeed in a kind of full-fledged knowing and understanding between two people. But anyone we brush up against in that intimate way affects us. Bodies leave traces in the mind.

profiles in poetics and linguistics: Tantra Bensko

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Tantra Bensko

Websites:

www.lucidmembrane.weebly.com

www.experimentalwriting.weebly.com

In our ever increasingly technological trance how do we conflate or extrapolate public and private spheres of intimacy? Tantra Bensko is a writer and artist who strains the persona, our perspective, the presentation of our lives to each other, and the miscommunication of our communication. Questioning, “Multiple perspectives might involve openness to miracles yet also being aware of trickery, to see how proceeding in life through intuition can be freeing, and also create vulnerability to being used for someone’s agenda.” Where does information and disinformation allude and persuade our cognition? How do “we form interpretations based on varying patterns, anomalous experiences, scientific theory about the nature of reality, hidden potentials of our military, proof of psychotronics successes?” And how does this inform our own perceptions of self and identity? There is “fruition,” to as Bensko references Rimbaud, “systematically disorder our senses.” At times we must step into the role of the fool as she admits “the zero-play, improvisation, miracles, laughter pouring out of the simple beingness, like dreams arising from deep sleep. The Fool is BEINGNESS playing. He’s dreaming himself into the other characters, and he uses humor to dream himself back out into the ZERO. He doesn’t get glued into the personae of the roles he plays in this production of life.” How much of the fool participates in our being?

In this interview we “unglue,” these bound definitions and “[shuffle] the Cubist tectonic plates and living in the eternity in the gaps in between”. The fragments presented in Bensko’s work are most predominately identified in the conversation we have with her father as he experiences dementia. We question love, temporal time, and how identity fluctuates in this “abyss”. More so, how this affects the receiver, the communication shift depending on the environment of the intimacy, and the ways in which experimentation is perhaps always at hand. She shares, “He isn’t stuck on one meaning, but can pick up any of them, learn from them, not take them too seriously as the only reality.” How does technology function similarly or dissimilarly? We are forced as readers to ask what is the difference as body fits into the dialogue, how does the body of traditional domesticity function.

Tantra Bensko teaches Fiction Writing and Experimental Fiction Writing through UCLA Extension, and other venues. She provided many websites to bring understanding to Innovative Literature: Exclusive Magazine, Experimental Writing, FlameFlower Contest, and LucidPlay Publishing. She has had 180 stories and poems in magazines and has written at length about a genre she created, Lucid Fiction, as well as other literary criticism, reviewing many Alt Lit fiction books. The poem “Embed,” quoted in this interview was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by A Minor Magazine in 2012. Her chapbooks were published by ISMs, Naissance, 10 Pages Press, and Night Publishing has put out her full length fiction collection, Lucid Membrane, her companion book due out very soon. Make-Do Press plans to release her collection Yard Man in 2013. As well as her writing, her photography and art have also won many awards. She  lives in Berkeley.

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?

I wanted to add to the dialogue of innovative literature since I was young. I was tuned into authors and movements suggesting concepts indirectly through the ways their narratives held together; I wanted to provide a voice in the conversation of concepts that had social and philosophical implications.

Growing up, I resonated with William Faulkner’s unusual use of structure, and experimentation with form, as well as his depiction of a world similar to my rural Alabama heritage. I had a “shrine” to him in my room, next to Tchaichowsky’s. His profundity spoke to me. If anything in my heritage though speaks through my writing, it’s the the Melungeon, the mixed race from escaped slaves and Native Americans in Tennessee, feeling the need to live free from restraints by the system. I can feel a little caged by straightforward linear narrative that doesn’t change focus or stand back and take a look at itself. I feel we exist in a reality combined of more than one perspective and I like exploring that juncture. There are so many mysteries. I wanted to write not for the masses, but for a more obscure readership looking for what I offer.

Multiple perspectives might involve openeness to miracles yet also being aware of trickery, to see how proceding in life through intuition can be freeing, and also create vulnerability to being used for someone’s agenda. I look at social engineering and disinformation programs, how we form interpretations based on varying patterns, anomalous experiences, scientific theory about the nature of reality, hidden potentials of our military, proof of psychotronics successes. I don’t dismiss perspectives from times of dominance of different hormones and neurotransmitters and try to make them meld into one. Authors who play in those spaces excite me.

Fiction that moves the way mine does allows for the changing points of view to exchange with each other. I have never wanted to perpetuate the official illusions leaders create to maintain power. Most fiction for the masses generally does so, even by how it’s structured, with the obligatory rise and fall of dualistic problems creating tension, the flooding of adrenalin to create addiction, everything answered neatly in the end. I don’t care for the mainstream stereotypes of women or politics or priorities. I also explore the counterculture’s false stories which were created by Intelligence assest to throw people off who have seen through the mainstream illusions and False Flags. I live out, question, or play with some theories out there, and I also present fiction that goes in its own way to form an alternative to the “Matrix.”

In high school, seeing the film of Merce Cunningham’s dance troupe moving out of sync around Duchamp’s The Big Glass, to the music of John Cage was a defining moment. I liked how going out of sync challenged the mind to get off the default linearity of this worldview based on never looking away from the propaganda and the steps laid out for us.

Maya Deren and Isadora Duncan were also heroes for the way my mind wanted to escape from out of the conventional walls and play in the mysterious forest. I got to do that literally for much of my life, spending time unsupervised in the wilderness where it’s dark when it’s dark, and light when it’s light. Feeling the natural rhythms, as an animal should, takes me easily into the life force that moves through the sap of plants, that enlivens the cells.

But bringing that vision to fruition requires bringing that out into a more technological world, creating the kind of sophistication of nuances and subtleties that I enjoy. My writing probably changes depending on my level of interaction with extreme nature, or if I’m landlocked in urbania where I tend to find more kindred spirits of the avant-garde literature.

I pulsate like a strobe light between the blank space of beingness, and the collaged dramas manifesting into that field, and try to capture that in my writing. I feel it’s impossible to balance out the effect of being a human on the earth, but I still try to come up with something beautiful enough to make up for my interuption of the earth’s native way of life. A group of internalized perspectives about a piece of land in Alabama with different interpretations, levels of the self, assumptions, dreamlike subconscious interweavings tells me more truthfully about it than one long pan of the landcape, one mainstream narrative with a predictable plot arc holding together the complete story. I like parts of the story to have cracks to escape from, to float out and remain in question, waiting to be nabbed to intersect with a different version of reality.

I read Rimbaud saying we should systematically disorder our senses. I did as he suggested by using a literary meditative will power, when I was a lone teenager living in the country in Indiana, in order to access the what happened when my sensing of the world became unglued from the usual order, for writing fiction and poetry. I remember reading Rimbaud’s work and feeling temporary, living on a cot in the storage room, while my Grandmother was finishing out the end of her life, in my bed-room. I reached into the tangential planes along with her with my active meditations, and my writing.

I was drawn to the sense of the white space between stories, and poems, which allowed them to be shuffled but which remain related to varying degrees: the nothingness electric with the silent interactions – the levels of interaction, as the self becomes less and less coherently focused on the 9 – 5 job persona. I like stories to escape from masters saying they must march along in single file. Collage and avant garde film liberated the material from being stuck. Tristram Shandy, Dada, Cubism, Phenomenology, my own painting and photographic art – moved me towards New Age Fabulusim, and Lucid Fiction.

That phrase means a lot of things to me, but part of it is that the fantastical can be used to great effect, particularly if there is some real meaning it serves, though not a paraphrasable “message,” necessarily: reaching to capture something true about the nature of reality through fiction. I don’t just write silly things for silly sake; when they come together with the whole, the interactions between the silly stories, and the ambitiously conceptual ones, might suggest notions of physics or metaphysics. The urge to understand and work with the nature of reality drives me.

I flash my consciousness into the spaces between drama. If you imagine a brainwave charted horizontally: I follow the downward curve of the sine wave of consciousness below the center line as well as the curve that exists above the ine. I learned to be conscious when asleep all the way through each night. I cultivated creating Delta brain wave patterns using bio-feedback equipment starting at the age of 12. It’s rare to do this, and I bring back news of where the stories arise out of the anti-story.

Critical works about French New Novelists, Robbe Grillet and Claude Simon, really got me going. Salvador Jimenez-Fajardo’s critical book on Simon is lovely.

A simple linear narrative about characters who end at the edges of their skin doesn’t reflect my life. Books that look at a subject from many sides compel me, being relatively a relativist. I guess you’d say I like anti-collage fiction, because instead of gluing pieces down, I like to unglue. I like shuffling the Cubist tectonic plates and living in the eternity in the gaps in between.

When young, I had fewer women literary fiction writers I bonded with, but I adored Virginia Woolf, the style of The Waves coinciding with mine. Now, it’s impossible to keep up with them all that I’d like to. I find Patricia Catto’s Aunt Pig of Puglia adorable, for example, and Daughter, by Janice Lee is cerebrally shining. Allissa Nutting’s Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, Joanna Ruocco’s Man’s Companions, Kate Bernheimer’s Horse, Flower, Bird delight me.

Calvino became a favorite when I read If on a winter’s night a traveler. I love House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe, In Watermelon Suger, John Crowley, Matt Bell, Dreams of Molley by Jonathan Baumbach, Tim Horvath, Reader’s Block by David Markson, Paul Auster. Ultimately, Kyle Muntz, Edward Caldwell, and Stephen-Paul Martin became my most inspiring writers that keep me going. What they do at the sentence level thrills me continually.

2.)  Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

My teachers all throughout school were inspiring, including the universities I went to, such as University of Alabama and Old Dominion, where I studied with Bruce Weigl, before finishing out at FSU, getting a BA, and an MA. There, Hunt Hawkins was very helpful, who took me through a manuscript of poetry, Scissors of Arrested Motion, which was imbued with artists such as George Braque, and referenced the boys cutting up the film strip in the Claude Simon’s Tripych. I was honored to obtain my MFA at Iowa, with James Galvin. It allowed my heart to write big when big hearted people believed in me, like Van Brock, and Shiela Ortitz Taylor.

My ex-husband was influential on my life. We used to revise each other’s work all the time, read poetry to each other, by people like Norman Dubie, James Tate, and Richard Hugo. I wrote my M.A. Thesis about his use of sound. We’d get to know the visiting writers. I’m grateful for that experience. While I’ve published a lot of poetry, my main focus in on fiction, but some have called what I write poetry instead.

I taught in 3 Universities, and teach fiction through UCLA Extension Writing Program now, as well as independent students, but most of my adult life since obtaining my MFA from Iowa hasn’t been within the walls of academia, but adventurous living. I write from a feral, mystical, activist life that includes handicaps such as varying degrees of physical paralysis.

3.)  How has your own work changed over time and why?

Yes, it changes every time I write a piece, as the process takes me to a different perspective than I was when I started it. I’ve always felt that was important in order to help the reader transform in some way too. I approached every poem and visual artist bio that way. Sentences would move me along to the next. Being completely alive within that sentence, giving so much tension to the sound, the movement, the buzz between the words, each line break would open up ambiguities, multiple meanings, suggestions. It would carry me as if on an ocean, to the ending. If I could have embodied the ending from the moment when I started it, I didn’t make the journey correctly. Life has to create each moment of the piece from within, the language holding the charge, a conduit for some sort of progression. I like to also include levels floating above it from a higher perspective outside chronology.

For me, that life force blasts out strongly in the comedic, and absurd, tribally intense surprising work that involves improvisation. That comes out in movies and music with Paul C Wilm, for example. I danced and drummed and lived a vigorous life outside, and that created the circulation of blood running through my poetry. You could say I’ve lived a life full of miracles, as a force of nature, living in canyons and mountain wilderness.

I like my fiction best when the poetry of the sentences moves it along moment to moment, shattering possibilities off. The context of “fiction” gives it something to contend against, some limitations to trick their way out of, to help the reader peak out of and look around. I enjoy breaking the readers out, springing them. I have always gotten a kind of thrill out of “going meta.”

4.)  Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

I’m influenced by artistic films by Paradjanov, Jodorowsky, The Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmeyer, Guy Madden, Maya Deren. I’m visually oriented. I’m not very interested in –what comes next. I like to be kept in ecstasy instead by continually being on the edge of being able to bear the beauty. People see their influences often in my visual art, and point to writers such as Borges and Cortezar as well in my fiction.

As far as genres of fiction, no, I only like literary. I read more non-fiction than anything else as I try to understand the world and say suggest those conclusions responsibly in my fiction. I’m read about the history of social engineering through counterespionage, creating movements, illusions, disinformation, hoaxes, false flags, deceptive heroes.

4.) What are your plans for the future?

Harvey Thomlinson has my book Yard Man listed on his publishing schedule at Make-Do Publishing. He’s branching from his focus on Asian literature in translation. I have two novel manuscripts. One is called Unside, and speculates on a certain method of time travel, and a way of using a person as a portal for ghosts to move through. It’s a book of closed time-like curves, appropriately looping perspective on reality around and disrupting its own integrity in shocking ways again and again as it coils up. The other is called Equinox Mirror,  which is also based on physics, and like Unside, the conclusions the readers come to about what is going on are continually thrown into question. Figuring out the nature of the characters drives the plot; it considers what happens to potential events when their potentiality falls through.

5.)  What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I think literary fiction now is in a promising place for women because of the style being published in some great small presses, which lends itself well to sensibilities apparently found often in the female gender. And literary fiction has lately become less heavy with realism, less abstractly cerebral, more whimsical, spontaneous, visceral, playful and I find a lot of women writers do fabulously with this.

However, though it’s moving toward equalization, far, far fewer women than men are published in magazines, and anthologies, and publishing houses. Fewer get listed, or awarded. Part of that inequality is a matter of taste. The majority of readers like certain qualities in writing that men write more often, it seems, and this applies in other areas rather than just fiction. People respond to a kind of confident authoritarianism. I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not going to get offended by people enjoying whatever kind of literature that calls to them.

However, it’s also very telling that when people deluded by a false name on a piece of writing, they make a lot of assumptions about it based on that. For example, doctors shown applications picked those they thought to be by men. People see what they expect to see.

Many of my favorite presses nothing, or almost nothing, by women. You sure don’t see women Bizarro writers. Publishers just put out what they honestly want to, and I’m glad they don’t feel the need to pretend by putting out token women. It feels relaxed between the sexes, in the milieu of literary writers, and that can only build up the realization of how much we do have in common, and like to interact and read each others books. I watch women getting involved in the literary world more all the time, creating strong voices.

6.)  Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Kate Zambrino, Alissa Nutting, Meg Pokrass, Laura Benedict, V. Ulea, Debra DiBlasi, Deb Hoag, Kate Bernheimer, Joanna Ruocco. Frances Madeson is hilarious. Fantastic Women is an anthology I enjoy put out by Tin House, which is a reputation-maker. Dog Horn puts out Women Writing the Weird anthologies, another place to discover some talent. Frank Hinton’s Metazen has been noted as a magazine to watch, and I like that they include meta-fiction. Lily Hoang, and Kelly Link of course, are going places.

I also love writing by my students, though I don’t want to single out any names. When when they become known, I’ll be the Cheshire grin you see floating behind them in the iron colored sky.

7.)  If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I’m a writer of Lucid Fiction. I go where angelhair fears to thread.

Lucid Fiction, the genre I created, meant to remain obscure, has been embraced as a term to label many people’s style and preferences, and that always makes me happy. They they feel liberated by it. There are many aspects to it that I have covered elsewhere often such as in articles.

One of these aspects includes what I mentioned about debunking the official stories in our society, and also the disinformation within the more alternative stories as well. I like to look into who is telling these stories, and why. When appropriate, that informs my fiction, such as the novel Unside.

Most fiction perpetuates those illusions instead without calling them into question. Most fiction also relies on problems creating a tense plot arc and Lucid Fiction is open to other ways of entertaining.

8.)    In your poem “4 chapters,” a part of a book Collapsible Horizon, first published by Camroc Press Review we enter a scene with the speaker and the last moments with their father. The poem reads, “My love went away long ago, left me sitting here. I don’t see the chapters. But I can make them up.” Proceeding, “we drift  2 like snow  1 and die  4 and you forget    1 you ever loved us  3 you thought we were beautiful   4 we want to die   2 we dressed like snowflakes for christmas in the white coveralls we for months because of.” Do you believe that we can forget how to love? Or make up love similar to how we create stories? I am particularly interested in the intentional disruption of linear time and how this conversation works with death and memory, particularly loss of memory.

I’ve seen forgetting how to love, at least temporarily. By the time I wrote that story, Papa had gone into dementia, and was violently angry at us for not believing what his subconscious was making up. He also didn’t want us to pretend to believe in his visions just to humor him. He was making up our relationship to fit the blank spaces that were disrupting his flow of linearity, for the last year of his life. He said it was his best year, though, because he did feel so loved.

He was putting invisible notes in the drawers he saw above him, cursing at his caregiver/girlfriend, and me, as we couldn’t read them. I followed him down into his sensation of an abyss, into his blindness, and back out. I couldn’t sleep for several months going through all I did at the time. I accessed the closest I could come to sleep through writing these stories. I approached the situation from many little demented stories that aren’t expected to hold together or reference my life at all. But collaged, they form a made-up version of living with Papa’s very creative dementia – he saw flaming goat hooves dropping ashes on his head as he lay in bed. I echoed the conceptual dissolution of linearity and the ability to make stories hold together we all were experiencing by going in and out of Papa’s world.

The book arises out of losing the love of a fiance, and that’s the reference in the story when it says “My love went away long ago:” he literally did forget and did go away. I’ve seen people make up what they thought had happened, when it hadn’t. Making up up lack of love, as well as making up love. Going through my own abyss of nothingness on the impossible other side of our being together, while losing everything the family had after major theft, preparing to leave all my relatives, facing the falling apart of the world — it was all like going through a black hole. The family belongings were high quality, but like the land, worth no money in that part of the rural south in a recession. The old way of life is dissolving for so many people now, losing their houses, their land. For us, it was because of a con-artist who had made up love for us. She’d also left Papa and his house with a case of scabies, which my partner and I devoted 4 months to ferociously destroying, wearing white coveralls, as in the story, while being good sports.

My father was sure about how he had met his caregiver that he called his girlfriend, and would berate anyone who suggested it had happened otherwise. He was blind at the time that he said he’d seen her striking beauty across a counter. In making up how he fell in love, and what she looked like, he brought something like what he imagined to pass. The complexity of his blind love as our her bedridden patient coming into and out of lucidity informed the book. The stories are fantastical, as was his world that I was sharing with him, by his side, helping him try to understand in some impossible way.

The structure of this story is — cabinets, which Papa is arranging by holding his arms in the air as he lies in bed, and the story begins in order, organized. The core bits of our lives repeat in many permutations in our minds, like a collage.  Everything was drifting away from us, becoming silent chapters that we arranged and rearranged as they dissolved. We were losing the homestead out from under us.  I read aloud from Papa’s brilliant book of short stories and my own, as he lay there, our tenuous truth.

I talked about physics with him, parallel worlds, as he struggled to understand what was happening to his continuity. The discontinuity he was experiencing took him into the realm of my literary sensibility: the freedom that allows the cabinets to be shuffled around. The breaks in Experimental, and between stories, or chapters, are as meaningful to me as the words. Papa was floating in and out of the silent expansiveness until he became unglued to his body altogether and went into that field of being, the space between the stories.

9.)  “Quantum Fool” is a story from Lucid Membrane that touches on our perceptive movements of meaning. In the final paragraph the message leaves us with the jester:

Your character is one of the cards. Or many of them, in your case at the moment. He is the jester, laughing at it all: don’t take any of it too seriously. Enjoy the colors and the drama. Especially the deep red velvet. Enjoy the way the characters pretend to be who they are, pretend life is just a normal, simple thing. Pretend it can be all separated out nicely. All the aspects of one thing. All sleeping in one deck together. Lying in wait for meaning. Meaning that comes and goes.

The folds and multi-dimension of our light and the ways in which we experience the world fluctuate. Meaning requires a balance between the carnal and the spiritual. Where do you believe humor is situated within this scheme? And can you please elaborate on the last sentence.

This continues the previous idea, humor coming often from the shuffling of the different collage pieces against the background field of being. I visually see the manifest world pulsing out of the non manifest field behind it. Playing with the juxtapositions provides great fun. When I meditate less, the world looks more solid. When it’s solid you can feel a little more trapped into the linearity of it, stuck in the glue, and it’s not so easily shuffled, like cabinets, or a deck of cards, or a bunch of stories. Things seem more serious.

I prefer picking up our characters’ props and costumes as if improvising for a surreal comedy movie and playing them without identifying with them fully. Being able to go back to the beingness without the costumes, rather than holding onto a label. The meaning we give our lives is so subjective and changing and based on illusions and limited perspectives, delusions, brainwashing.

When you see the pulses off, as well as on, in the vibration of our world, you have the freedom that comes from the infinite expansion within each of those off-pulses. That part is the Fool, the zero – play, improvisation, miracles, laughter pouring out of the simple beingness, like dreams arising from deep sleep. The Fool is BEINGNESS playing. He’s dreaming himself into the other characters, and he uses humor to dream himself back out into the ZERO. He doesn’t get glued into the personae of the roles he plays in this production of life. He isn’t stuck on one meaning, but can pick up any of them, learn from them, not take them too seriously as the only reality.

profiles in linguistics: Kirsten Lunstrum

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Kirsten Lunstrum

Websites:  www.kirstenlunstrum.net

Gender dialogues differ and our conversational styles reflect these personas to the outside world. Seen as sexual entities,  this complicates how our message is received.  How does sexuality affect our action and intention?  In other words, how can we empower our bodies without defining the social markings of entrapment?

Kirsten Lunstrum’s short story “The Remainder Salvaged,” listed as a distinguished story of the year in the 2012 Best American Anthology cascades these remarks. The story is centered around a man Nils who experiences two different female relationships. Iris is a secular emotionally unavailable lover and Sister is a Catholic nun who wittingly permits non-judgement and peace. Nils is unable to deeply connect to Iris in a way because of their traditional sexual attachment and gender binaries. Sister and in this case his mother allow him a genderless report,  but why the double standard? This piece questions how we handle emotional “wreckage,” how we heal, and the relationships pursued in order to “[move] forward”. We acknowledge regret, anger, grief, and acceptance, of not the precise re-translation of the past, but of humanity’s ability to listen and take action.

Active listening transforms stuck emotive frequencies and dissipates dualisms. Community is necessary to this process, as we watch Nils, see the snow fall, and nurture self. In this story we encounter “a complex faith and a wide worldview,” behind the characters and also the writer; an “ability to see beyond [life’s] immediate circumstances.” This is how we fall into committed love regardless of gender stereotype. Lunstrum writes to teach, to connect, to recognize how others “recharge [one’s] own creative energy”. And also to remember as readers we, “can actually fall in love with a story.” What are the stories that we fall in love with? They are ones of time, of colliding concepts that interact in memory and intimacy. They are ones of sexuality and friendship. How do women affect this landscape as women and as writers? Lunstrum describes, “Obviously, I’m invested in this as a woman writer; but simply as a reader I feel strongly about the contribution women writers have made to literature, especially recently.” The women in her story here reflect this sentiment as well.

Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum is the author of two collections of short fiction, This Life She’s Chosen and Swimming With Strangers (both published by Chronicle Books). She has been the recipient of two Pushcart Prize nominations, a PEN/O. Henry Prize, and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers Conference and the MacDowell Colony. Kirsten has taught writing at a number of colleges and universities, including Saint Mary’s College, the Inland Northwest Center for Writers, and Purchase College (SUNY), where she was a member of the Creative Writing Program faculty from 2008-2012. She now lives in the Seattle area with her family and is at work on a novel.

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?

My parents are both the kind of readers writers dream about, so I think credit goes first to them. My mother reads a novel a week (truly!), and when I was a kid we made weekly trips to the library. My father has shelves and shelves of books, and during the long and tedious summers of my adolescence he kept me from whining about boredom by letting me pick and read whatever I wanted from his collection. I was lucky to grow up in a house in which books were sacred objects and in which literature and the arts were valued, and I think that probably shaped my desire to write more than anything else.

And, of course, there are also particular books that caught me, that made me want to write. The first book I loved completely was Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and I still love it. I read it once a year and am always just as smitten with Cather’s stunning prose, her sense of landscape, her very real characters as I was when I first read the book as a girl. I could go on and on listing favorite books – The Great Gatsby is at the top of the list for me, as is Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Anthony Doerr’s Memory Wall, everything Alice Munro has ever written, John Berger’s To the Wedding, Gina Berriault’s Women in Their Beds…  And because I have a soft spot for the short story, I’d have to include several individual stories that have stuck with me and taught me about writing—stories like James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” Andrea Barrett’s “The Behavior of the Hawkweeds,” David Long’s “Attraction,” Lauren Groff’s “L. DeBard and Aliette,” a beautiful story by Andrew Sean Greer titled “Darkness”… Again, I could go on and on. One of the things I love about teaching fiction writing is getting to make reading lists that allow me to share the fiction I love with other readers (readers who get that you can actually fall in love with a story).

I do think my reading tastes have changed over time. When I was a teenager I pretty exclusively read mysteries—and the trashier they were, the better. Now, because I’m a mother to two young children, one of whom has just learned to read himself, a good portion of my reading is kids’ lit. My son is obsessed (obsessed!) with the Harry Potter books, and I have to say they’ve pulled me in too. We’re on our third go through the series right now, and I’m still enjoying it. Beyond that, in part because I have even less time for reading than ever before in my life, I tend to be fairly finicky about what I read. I just don’t have time for something I’m not going to love. I still go to the library weekly, and I always come home with a huge stack of books, but I probably only finish a book every month or two. I’m a sadly slow reader these days. I still read more short stories than novels, and I spend a lot of my reading time re-reading, trying to figure out how a writer accomplished something, or just seeking comfort in a book that I’ve read so often it’s become a kind of home.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

I’ve had some fantastic teachers. Rich Ives was my first creative writing teacher, and he really shepherded me when I was still very young and not at all certain that I should pursue writing as a career. My wonderful undergraduate literature professor at Pacific Lutheran University, David Seal, encouraged me and challenged me. And then, when I went to graduate school at UC Davis, I was so lucky to get to work with Lynn Freed and Karen Joy Fowler and Pam Houston—women who mentored me as I wrote my first book, and who still serve as the models, in my mind, of what it is to be a successful woman writer. I owe Pam, in particular, a huge debt of gratitude; my first book would not have happened, I think, without Pam’s guidance and insights into my stories. She changed me as a writer and gave my book its chance in the world. There’s always among writers an argument about what the value of attending a graduate program in writing really is, but for me it was the community I got at UC Davis. Many of the writers I look to for encouragement now that I’m out in the world, writing on my own, are those I met there—both the faculty and my fellow students. That community shaped me when I was just getting my feet on the ground as a writer, and it sustains me now.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?

I look back at the writing I was doing in my early twenties, and it’s all very imitative—and though I think that’s okay (imitation is part of how one learns to write) and I’m not embarrassed by that early work, it’s very different from what I’m writing now. I feel like as I’ve grown up and seen more of the world and of life, I’ve become a little more confident in writing what and how I want to write, and I’m grateful for that. I think being a writer makes aging easier, actually. Writers tend to only get better with age.

But I’d say the biggest change in my writing has actually come about as a result of becoming a parent. For a long time after my first child was born (he’s six now) I couldn’t write. It wasn’t exactly that I couldn’t write, now that I’m thinking about it—it was more that I didn’t care to. I’d sit down to work in the brief windows of time I had free, and all I felt was ambivalence about fiction. I was so wrapped up in living fully in the real life happening in front of me that any time spent in the imagined world of a fictional narrative felt thin. I just couldn’t get invested enough to care. And that was difficult. I worried that I’d never write again, that I’d never want to. I worried that I’d killed something necessary for writing by choosing to become a mother. But, happily, all of that eased with time, and when I eventually got back to writing I found that the experience of parenthood had taught me things that were important for writing too. I have more patience, for one thing, since becoming a mom, and I’m better able to let go of control in a narrative, which is something that really scared me for a long time. I’m better able to wade into a story without knowing where it’s going or how it will develop than I was before I had kids, and I think that must be directly related to learning to live with the risks and uncontrollable variables that are part of parenting. I feel hugely thankful to my kids for helping me grow in that way.

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

A couple of years ago I went through another phase of disillusionment with fiction, and in the midst of that I started reading literary nonfiction—a genre I hadn’t read much of before. It was like opening a door in my mind! I suddenly felt freer to explore different narrative structures, to push at the boundaries between what is imagined and what is not, and I came back to writing fiction with a very different perspective on process and form. I owe a lot of that shift in my thinking to the students in a class I taught on literary nonfiction in the fall of 2010. I taught the class right in the thick of my own little literary depression, so the class might have gone terribly. But I lucked out and had some of the best students I’ve ever had in that class. Their questions and creative leaps challenged me and reminded me what I had loved about writing in the first place. I always left class feeling stirred, still thinking… It’s another testament to the value of having a writing community—people invested in the process of writing to talk to so that you can recharge your own creative energy.

In terms of your question about genre, I’d also add that while I don’t write poetry, I do read it pretty avidly, and that, too, influences my fiction. I tell my students that prose writers must read poetry—and read it often—because it reminds us to pay attention. Poets are excellent and careful observers, and they listen to the sound of language in a way prose writers often either forget to do or dismiss as unimportant, which is a shame.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?

Hmmm. Golly. Hard question. I don’t know. I’ve just completely uprooted my life, left my teaching job, and moved across the country—in part for my family and in part to nurture my writing life more fully—and I’m not entirely sure yet where all of those changes will lead me. I’m trying to be open to possibility right now, both in life and in writing. I’ll have to get back to you on the end result.

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

Like a lot of women writers, I’ve been paying close attention to the discussion happening regarding American literary culture and women writers. The women at VIDA have done us all an incredible service by opening up that conversation, and I’m hopeful that the process of talking about the ways in which women writers continue to be marginalized will mean more opportunities for literature written by women to be published and seriously considered by the larger community. Obviously, I’m invested in this as a woman writer; but simply as a reader I feel strongly about the contribution women writers have made to literature, especially recently. Women like Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Lydia Davis, Marilynne Robinson, Anne Enright, Yiyun Li, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, and Joyce Carol Oates have changed the shape of literature, and it infuriates me that their contributions and the contributions of other women writers are often ignored or dismissed primarily because of the (female) name on a book’s jacket.

My feeling is that pointing out the inequities in publishing and criticism is essential, as is speaking loudly and positively about the good work women writers are doing. I’m hopeful, too, that as the publishing industry undergoes the kind of massive changes we’re beginning to see happen now, independent presses will flourish and accessibility to a wider ranger of literature will be possible.

7.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Jodi Angel, Alix Ohlin, Lauren Groff, Laura Van den Berg, Julialicia Case, Lauren Gordon, Jennifer Chang, Robin Elizabeth Black, Allison Amend, Halina Duraj, Monica Ferrell, Jacqueline Kolosov, Karen Russell, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jessica Griffith, Hannah Tinti, Lily Hoang, Frances Hwang. These are off the top of my head, but I could probably come up with a list a mile long. Elliott Holt has a book coming out that I’m very much looking forward to reading, and I loved Catherine Pierce’s recently released book of poetry, The Girls of Peculiar.

8.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I’m laughing here at home about this question. I’m not sure about a label. My first book was marketed to fit solidly in the “literary chick lit” category (it had a pink dust jacket), and that label really never sat well with me. I don’t know. My fiction is all primarily interested in the domestic. It’s been called “quiet” on a number of occasions, and though that used to worry me, now I see it as a compliment (most of the time). And I hope it’s accurate to call it “literary” fiction.

I think what I’d really like is what all writers want: to write work that readers feel is true.

9.)      The main character Nils in the short story “The Remainder Salvaged,” listed as a distinguished story of the year in the 2012 Best American Anthology, vacillates between two female relationships. One with Iris, an emotionally passive and removed lover, and Sister, a Catholic nurse who is potent in her philosophical exigency and listening ear. These characters exonerate character weakness and strength in Nils through their relationships. My first question pronounces Iris as trapped in the “mess” of her life with a dead husband whom she hates. Her inability to forgive the domestic traction of her past tangles her inability to physically connect with Nils, and she ultimately leaves him because he “[needs] too much”. From the perspective of Nils, Iris is “running from her dead husband.” Nils works for a search crew who sifts through the snowfall of winter searching for the dead bodies of an overturned train. In the stenciling of these parallel interactions can you delineate your intention behind femininity as it is projected through Iris and Nils? Do you believe that forgiveness is achieved in her ultimate departure from Nils? Or is it perhaps Nils who is the one ultimately seeking a way out of his own patriarchal sense of masculinity as he arbitrarily chases and dismisses his relationship with death?

I’d say that it’s true that Nils, who is still struggling with the grief of losing Iris when we meet him, finds some sense of redemption (maybe not forgiveness, but definitely a kind of redemptive grace) through his relationship with the sister—as well as through the physical act of searching through the snow for survivors of the mountain train wreck. Iris leaves him because she cannot let go of her own regrets and losses, and at first it seems that Nils will suffer in the same way, unable to move forward with his life because of a need to hold onto his past. But over the course of the story he begins to let go. He begins to accept the wreckage—both the literal wreckage of the train, and the emotional wreckage of his lost relationship—as inexplicable and horrible, but not the end. And in accepting that, he’s able to forgive Iris at least a bit, which is necessary for his own movement forward. I tried to show that through his burial of the dog he finds dead in the snow. The burial as a kind of merciful and tender act.

9). “The Remainder Salvaged,” initiates a conversation with nostalgia. This nostalgia relates to our things, our pets, our past lovers, family members, experiences; these are the roots of our past. For Nils and Sister, this negotiation is settled in the frozen bodies buried in snow and secrecy. They find remnants of past lives. The last body found is a dog whose ear has been sliced off. One that they rebury after it reassembles Nils’ dead mother. Nils shares his past dissonance with spirituality and the priest’s failure to acknowledge his trauma at his mother’s passing as neglecting the importance of acknowledging the unsayable. Why is the mother-son relationship with Nils paired with nostalgia and regret, whereas his relationship with the sister, who is removed from the possibility of a sexual relationship, one of connection and acceptance?

Well, his relationship with his mother would presumably also be one devoid of sexuality, so in that sense it shares something in common with his relationship to the sister. My sense is that his mother’s death is relevant in that it is another loss (like the loss of Iris) that he hasn’t known how to grieve, how to let go. At the time of his mother’s death he began to express grief and was more or less shut up by the priest. When he recounts this to the sister and she expresses shock and indignation at the priest’s response, instead validating Nils’s sadness and doubt and anger at his losses, she offers him a way out of silence and withholding. She allows him his grief, and I think that’s where the graces comes into the story. I think that’s why with her he feels acceptance and connection.

10.)   Branching from this scene, Nils says, “It wouldn’t have made any difference. I wanted him to say nothing. I wanted every noise to stop without her there to hear it.” Admitting, “What you’d will doesn’t matter. There’s no stopping. And that’s all. I didn’t see it then, but now I do.” His fingers trace the found clock he holds in his pocket, he buries the dog. He asks the sister if she is okay. Time here is placed in a transformative landscape of the feminine alternative of spirituality. The Catholicism of the sister, who remains a compassionate friend, is juxtaposed to that of the priest, who speaks to Nils about his mother’s death and remarks in insensitive passing. The sister then prays, they walk away together in a solitude that has friendship and a sense of fragile closure. Can you please comment on the threads of religion, spirituality, masculinity, femininity, linear and nonlinear juxtapositions of time?

I suppose my answer has to do with the models for the story. Several years ago I taught at a Catholic women’s college, and during that time I led an autobiographical writing workshop for the retired sisters who lived in a senior care facility on the campus. I am not Catholic (I’m Lutheran, actually), and had until that point understood Catholicism as a fairly rigid kind of spirituality, with a very prescribed, black-and-white version of morality and belief. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I worked with the retired sisters, listening to their stories as we workshopped their writing, my understanding of their faith deepened, and I came away from the experience with deep respect for them and for their faith. So, when I sat down to write this story and the sister appeared, I had a solid model on which to base her. I wanted to write her as a woman with a complex faith and a wide worldview. I think that because of her faith, she understands time more broadly than does Nils, who, in comparison, has fairly limited life experience and little ability to see beyond his immediate circumstances. When I wrote the story, I wasn’t honestly thinking about that as a commentary on the masculine or the feminine. I was just aiming to write believable, real characters, whose actions suited their backgrounds. I do hope, though, that by the end of the story the reader sees Nils as changed by his interactions with the sister, who I think helps him see a way forward through his losses toward a future less bound to doubt and regret.

profiles in poetics: Lori Anderson Moseman

Lori Anderson Moseman

Websites: www.stockportflats.org/index.htm

www.stockportflats.org/lori.htm

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.