j/j hastain lives in Colorado, USA with hir beloved. j/j is the author of numerous full-length, cross-genre works such as: asymptotic lover // thermodynamic vents (BlazeVox Books), our bodies as beauty inducers (Rebel Satori Press), we in my Trans (JMS Books LLC), autobiography of my gender (Moria), ulterior eden (Otoliths), prurient anarchic omnibus (Spuyten Duyvil) as well as many chapbooks and artist’s books. A new chapbook collaboration with poet-artist Marthe Reed, is forthcoming from Dusie. j/j’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including: Trickhouse, Vlak, Unlikely Stories, The Offending Adam, Eccolinguistics, and Kelsey. j/j is an elective affinities participant, a member of Dusie kollektiv and a regular contributor to Sous Les Paves. j/j’s manuscript Let was a finalist in the 2010 Kelsey Street and Ahsahta book competitions. In 2011 j/j’s book we in my Trans was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award. j/j’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In the near future j/j has full-length, cross-genre collections coming out with various exciting presses.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I want to begin by thanking you for these questions. I think that they are rooted in effort to reveal the layers of the complex experiences of composition and living (how those things do or do not overlap) and I am grateful to you for asking!
Okay now, to get to your question—my first book asymptotic lover // thermodynamic vents came out with BlazeX a few years ago. I am not sure that it really changed my life (or that it will really change anyone else’s “life” for that matter) but the book does have an intent: it only has to touch once in order to have mattered… so, for me, and others, as long as that touching occurs, I think that that first book is/was successful. Please do not get me wrong, it is a very affirming feeling to have a composition move from its ephemeral states inside of the body, into physical states (via publishing). I feel that this process is a collaborative alchemy and I am always grateful when publishers want to share space with me in that way.
A recent work is coming out with SAY IT WITH STONES PRESS (edited by Micah Robbins) in the next few months. This book is called long past the presence of common...the book is the creation of a commons, intent to activate future states of feeling.
I am working (through my books) toward a state-able poetics. The following is a bit of what I have come up with so far: mine is a poetics of the felts. the felts is path, and the felts as path is evolution being made visible/ visual via pages. The continual making of a body that must eat itself to preserve itself. So, recitative, yes. And interconnections (in tone, voice and vision) between books is a major necessity. What I am saying is that the felts are confessional staying. They are not trying to be smart, or Joyce or Stein. They are trying to be my future offspring, occurring now. Future offspring which are composites of the essential accruals. the felts are fractions of a visceral new world being pressed again and again into fact, for the sake of continuing the divergent body and all of its buoyant desires.
In the felts, the fact that the word felt is multi, is integral. felt: a past marking of interior experience, felt: an external contact, felt: a fabric (non-woven) compacted together through heat, moisture and great pressure.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I am not sure that what I write is “poetry” and I am not sure that I identify as a “poet”—therefore I do not know, really, how to answer this question. I do think it is relevant to others though, depending on how they identify.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Regarding the writing projects…there are many different ways that they occur for me, but the whole work of feeling coming into from (which is my primary compositional impetus) is located in a transcendental/ trance experience that I had a few years ago. I was out in the snow, after some major life changes that hurt—that made me unsure of whether or not I wanted to stay on the planet-- and I was sitting naked on a boulder and weeping. My head in my hands. My tears turning to ice before they hit the ground. I groaned and growled to any awaiting intercessors in whatever forms they might exist, outside of the planes of my vision…I was calling on them for assistance. I needed to be given funnels in order to translate, morphose and make passage for all of the sensation that exists in my body. G Stein and P Celan appeared to me as plain as humans. I mean that I think that they were ghosts that materialized for the sake of assisting me with bridging. They spoke with me. They gave me some funnels (forms) for translation—for assistance in kneading the data outward into procedures or systems that could affirm and sustain. At that time I vowed to them (the gods) that if given access to forms, I would live to fill those forms beyond the state of brimming. That I would give the forms literal stretch marks. I guess what I am saying is that for me the impetus to make visceral continuities in and amidst so much subsumed, is always where the writing comes from. The books do have varying qualities, but those are often made vivid in each book, by way of its particulate theories that are driven by sound. I am saying that one of my primary methodologies is the music of language. Rather than a slow or rapid process, I think that what I want to say is that for me, the work is a constant process. Relentless configuring.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I would say that I work on books (which are places, which are identities) as moving and motile wholes. The other day an editor for an upcoming book asked me if the “poems” had appeared in other places on-line. As the books are composed as wholes, it is often awkward for me to attempt to extract pieces of that whole, to try and publish them in journals and such. I would prefer to compose something new when I know what the journal is looking for, as I have many meta-stories and shapes within _the felts_ that need to be elucidated—that need transduction.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I am glad that you have asked this question, because I think that too often it is assumed, that readings are an inherent part of writer’s processes. That readings feel good to writers, and that assumption feels dangerous to me. Feels like robbing us of the complexity of our personal feeling about spaces. Let me say more…if I was asked by an editor to do readings, I could do them. I would do them to support the editor of the small press. That is where the gesture would be located for me. It is also true, that I am much more inclined (when with a group who has come to be a part of my composition space) to enact some sort of initiation toward collaborative activism. Or to sing…I am saying that I would rather put on a body performance, than to read at “you” (said audience) for an hour. That is, unless you (audience) feel that the reading would add dimension to your experience of the books’ capacities to touch. Does this make sense?
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I have many theoretical concerns/ intents in my writing. As a genderqueer writer/ maker of things my books deal directly with the transgressive body, deviant gender, eros and identity construction as necessary compositional methods to living with empowerment in what can be a diminutive and polarizing world.
I am interested in expanding traditional notions of what activism is/ has been/ can be. I am interested in doing this via the reimagining of spaces. I believe in creating texts/ spaces that are inherently non-linear and a-historical. Texts as spaces that have never been patriarchally controlled and cannot be patriarchally controlled. It is my hope that in these spaces there will be room to experience post-contemporary moments of truth, eros, convergence, conjunction and profoundly new types and sensations of equity.
So, GLBTQI concerns (questions of gender, genitalia, sexuality, identities, equity, collaboration, variance, inclusion) and of course, phonic theories of many types. My work is also greatly concerned with physical and ephemeral states and how both of these are body—are makeable corpuscle making itself. There are needed alchemies that once invented and applied, open potential—I am also very interested in these.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think more important than generating any more narrative regarding “roles” (should and should-nots) is emphasis of what can occur when we (as writers and as creative beings) remove chasms between ourselves and ourselves. I mean that to alert or alter our relationship to our socializations so that we can move with more emancipation in world, is I think of more importance, than is upholding dogma or roles.Let me be clear here—I am not proposing that alterity is the only way. I am however, saying that I believe that each of our gestures toward provocations of emancipation, is of extreme value in that it continues to loosen up the congestions or stasis that are caused by exteriorly imposed chasms between ourselves and ourselves.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I love working with editors. I find it to be a very rewarding collaborative experience.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Hmmm—one of my favourite stories ever, involves a young student walking into the small kitchen in the monastery where they are studying with their lama (teacher) and while the lama is eating cereal and reading the newspaper, the student says: “with all due respect lama, didn’t you just tell us “when you are eating your cereal, be eating your cereal, be nowhere else, but right there”” and the lama says “yes, that is what I said” unsure of the problem that the student is implying. Unsure of the confusion. The student points to the lama eating cereal AND reading the newspaper at the same time and says “but you are eating your cereal and reading the newspaper”…the lama looks down at cereal, and looks at newspaper. Then gets a huge smile on face. “Ahh—when you are eating cereal, be nowhere else but eating cereal…and when you are eating cereal and reading the paper, be nowhere else but eating cereal and reading the paper”…
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Regarding a writing routine. I write every day. I make sure that I keep a voice recorder with me (as well as a notebook that is an ulterior bible) so that when the sound coils come, I can record them. I can trace them and trance with them, until I know where they belong in compositions.
Regarding how the day begins…my beloved covers me in rose oil and we sing to each other. This is a constancy more imperative to me, than the sun is. It is ritual which is portal. It is non-linear fascia being moulded into more and more ways to contact and feel (which is to identify with) world. I am talking about how my beloved and I work together to be deep participants in planet, as planet. I am saying that we begin the human days in rose oil, and touch and sound.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
My writing does not get stalled, because there is no pressure that I put on the writing regarding an expected “pace”—there is also no place (that is pre-determined) that the writing must end up. Instead it is like the writing—the pages, are path in the present tense. Like wafting. My pages are path happening. No pretense and no pedagogy. The phrases and pages are the act of laying cobblestone, one sweet shape at a time, ahead of me, toward__________. I am saying that it is the composition that lets that continuance happen. Then I pour honey over the steps (honing) and the bees come and make noise here. I am saying that there is no stalling. Just stalwart attentiveness all the way through…
12 - What was your last Hallowe'en costume?
I grew up Mormon and my parents were very worried about us kids dying from eating a bad candy that might have been given to us by someone “creepy”—so Halloween is not a very fond thing for me to look back on or participate in in the context of costumes… I do however, love that my sweetheart who is an elementary school principal, dressed up as a large tomato one year. Also, a fish tank—yes, I said it--a fish tank…little yellowish paper fish swimming in the fish tank around Tracy’s body. Great stuff!
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I think that this is so beautiful and correct. That books do come from books and from music and from nature and from science and from visual art and from dreaming and from memory (linear and ulterior) and from our aching and from vacancy and from hope. I could keep listing, but what I am saying is that I find it unimportant to differentiate the work from what it is that compels the work, because what it is that compels, for me, is always multiple. Therefore a more important work for me is to generate aggregates and forms capable of holding multi-fascinated content and context at once. This generativity, for me, will always be a needed polysemy.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I enjoy much of the Tibetan and Taoist spiritual writings. I enjoy reading G Stein at the same time as I read the King James version of the bible (I cannot read either one without making some sort of blatant act of superimposition or threading). I love reading and reviewing friend’s books (there are so many amazing writers engaging so many amazing projects!!!) and I really enjoy etching the future body, now. I make caves and alcoves—sweet sites to archive—and these creations of locations make me feel enabled to feed those locations with lactating, magical dna. Which are pages. Which are books.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would love to ride a wild stallion bareback for miles and miles...
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I currently work (day job) in the transportation/ mobility industry, increasing mobility options (independences) for those who do not have that privilege. I think that this is a very good occupation. I am lucky. I guess if I could do anything I wanted, and get paid for it, it would be wonderful to teach music in a severely independent arts school. I have considered Montessori, but I think I would prefer to go even more wild than that.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The writing is both action and form. And it enables me to materialize the visions and their meanings in ways that are object or map—that are less abject. I think that working with self-invented and self-sustained forms, is an incredibly enabling experience. I think that this is true across the board (not only in writing)--
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: I am currently reading A Discovery of Witches with my beloved sweetheart, in bed before we go to sleep. This process is so enjoyable (I am saying that I am not sure if it is solely the book that makes that it great;)—I also really recently enjoyed J.A.Tyler’s A Man Of Glass And All The Ways We Have Failed (sort of like reading M Duras in quality)…
Film: I really enjoyed Brokeback Mountain. I also love some of the oldie but goodies: Girl Interrupted, Winter Spring Summer Fall Winter, Like Water for Chocolate.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a non-novel. I am very excited about it. This may be the closest I have come to the discernible precision that I have been longing for, yet. Stay tuned!