Monday, July 24, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristin Sanders



Kristin Sanders is the author of CUNTRY (Trembling Pillow Press 2017 and a finalist for the 2015 National Poetry Series), This is a map of their watching me (BOAAT 2015), and Orthorexia (Dancing Girl Press 2011). She has taught at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Loyola University, New Orleans; Belmont University; and Louisiana State University. She is currently a poetry editor for the New Orleans Review and a contributing writer at Weird Sister.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook, Orthorexia, was with Dancing Girl Press in 2011. Of course, that first published chapbook or book is very validating. My first full-length book, CUNTRY, is coming out in June 2017. I’ve been working on this project, and publishing pieces from it, since 2012, so it feels good to have it out in the world. In between was a second chapbook, This is a map of their watching me, from BOAAT Press in 2015. I don’t think these books have changed my life, but they’ve affirmed the sense that I want to write about certain themes—gender, sexuality, feminism—and are a record of how I felt in my twenties.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I think my love of reading and writing poetry has to do with the English teachers I had in elementary school, high school, college, and grad school. Poetry teachers are the best, aren’t they? My high school English teacher, Mrs. May, who I adore, made a Xeroxed poetry packet for her classes. I still have it. One of the poems in the packet was Denise Levertov’s “The Secret.” The romantic ideas in that poem probably influenced me more than I knew.

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?
I don’t start with notes, but more of a conceptual idea. The writing usually starts loose, and then I have to pare it down.

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?
Book from the beginning, usually. If I write an individual poem I often don’t know what to do with it next, if it doesn’t fit into a specific project. I have a few of those, and they make me sad. They feel homeless.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings! I like to participate in readings at all stages of the creative process. I’ve been reading (and, okay, singing) pieces from CUNTRY since 2012.

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?
Theoretically, I’m interested in writing that makes the reader feel uncomfortable, not only in regard to content but also genre and the hybrid text. There’s a Hélène Cixous quote which I always remember from Laura Mullen’s brilliant “Hybrid Text Talk”: “If you haven’t, as a reader, burned your house down, if you are still at home, then you don’t want to go abroad. People who don’t like what I call ‘the text’ are phobic, they are people who... dislike being displaced” (Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing 81). What’s the use of art that feels easy and safe? The questions I’m interested in have to do with bodies, sexuality, desire, gender, feminism, and technology’s effects on these things. The questions are constantly changing, developing—pornography, identities, labels, trends—and yet the questions are unchanging, always the same—love, the nature of desire, communication between two people, the ways we move in the world as individuals and within our prescribed societal roles.

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’m going to quote Chris Kraus on this, because I can’t really think about the role of the writer divorced from the roles of gender: “Because I’m moved in writing to be irrepressible. Writing to you seems like some holy cause, cause there’s not enough female irrepressibility written down. I’ve fused my silence and repression with the entire female gender’s silence and repression. I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world. I could be 20 years too late but epiphanies don’t always synchronize with style” (I Love Dick, 210).

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t had that experience yet. Most of my poetry editors and publishers have been fairly hands-off, which has benefits.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
One of my favorite quotes is from Rumi: “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” That’s probably an odd choice, because by all accounts I’m a generic-looking, rule-abiding Californian woman. My risk-taking tends to live out in my writing.

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?
No writing routine! I write in bursts, most often at night. I’m a night owl. I have zero willpower in the mornings. I’ll press snooze for hours.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I turn to other books, or I talk to any of my brilliant women friends (or my sister, or my mother) to compare stories, bounce around ideas, get advice, etc. I’m lucky to have an amazing network of intellectual, artistic friends. I’d get more writing done if I spent less time reading and socializing, but I’d be a much less happy person.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Eucalyptus.    

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?
Books influence me the most, but also music and visual art. My dad is a painter, and my uncle and cousin are country songwriters. I spend a lot of time thinking about how different forms of artistic expression are limiting in different ways. I suppose I’m influenced by the idea of boundaries, whether those are self-imposed or imposed by genre or industry. I hate feeling limited or controlled, and literary writing allows me the most freedom.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Hélène Cixous’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick. Jean Rhys, Elena Ferrante, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, bell hooks, Clarice Lispector, Plath, and Sexton. Louise Glück and Margaret Atwood’s poetry. The life-outside-of-my-work writer friends who are not just important but necessary are Laura Mullen, Megan Burns, Carolyn Mikulencak, Jenn Marie Nunes, Mel Coyle, Elizabeth Hall, Ben Kopel.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Figure out a way to teach English—which I love—without grading a gazillion papers—which I absolutely hate.

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 did attempt to be a country songwriter in Nashville, but I’ve mostly been a writer and English teacher. I might’ve missed my calling to be a tap-dancing contortionist.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I wasn’t good enough at not saying impolite/gross/weird/sexual/darkly humorous things—in country songs or in real life.

18 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve been on a huge Jean Rhys kick; I’m currently reading her biography by Carole Angier. I also recently read Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex, which I think is saying a lot of the same things I’m saying in CUNTRY, but through research and journalism. I just re-read The Lover, too, to remember how gorgeous a book can be.

19 - What are you currently working on?
A novel and essays.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Anna Gurton-Wachter, The Abundance Chamber Works Alone




To enter the realm of writing one must take one’s self to divorce court. I’m sorry it has to be this way. The re-education of my working eye winks. To enter the realm of writing is to suffer losses. Run off other sufferers, run off. I wanted to but could not say run off. I need someone to pet me until I fall into a lava tank engine love. The construction worker concept is just an unused drill by the side of the road. The well-lit crane sways in my direction. The trial of the snail is set to begin. Take your time. The trial of the elephant is told to us by the parakeet mind. (“Maya Deren Lives Forever / in the Speedboat at Night”)

Ever since discovering her work via Ugly Duckling Presse’s 6x6 [see my review of such here], I’ve been eager for more work by Brooklyn poet, editor and archivist Anna Gurton-Wachter. I’ve now been rewarded for my patience, thanks to Essay Press producing her chapbook (both as a free pdf online and limited-edition print edition) The Abundance Chamber Works Alone (2017) as #92 in their “Groundloop Series,” a series that seeks “to bring together authors exploring diverse subjects through loud, innovative architectures.” Set in three sequence-sections of prose poems—“Maya Deren Lives Forever / in the Speedboat at Night,” “A Development Proposal / for the Center of the Earth” and “Instances of the Corpse / Flower Pose, a Study Group”—she opens the small collection with an introduction/prose poem titled “PREFACE,” that reads:

There are competing visions of the swamp. Females deposit their eggs in a parasitic territory for gratification alone. The intruder salivates. An act is magnified by formal study. End scene. Later, back at the lab, the summer spirit remains unknown. Parasites surround the forest. What we call a self-created memory worthy of the father and worthy of the mother and worthy of the mountain of golden guts. What we call, “lurking in the water,” or “stable speech acts.” The world is sufficiently killable as the squatters can attest. The abandoned critters are so modest and struggle to become a symbol for the cosmos, seeping through the soil deep inside the earth.

I want to know how to feel when I wash ashore. What to communicate first. You might find yourself the viewer, the violent concept, alive to the spill of sight as it tries to expire. The viewer is meant to experience a faint memory comprised of all possible readings. To feel like the act of reading has accomplished a tunnel display of denied tenderness. You might find yourself inside this lonely boycott state, active inside a motionless pit.

I’m absolutely blown away by the music of her lines, and a rush that sweeps the reader off their feet and into further, unexpected spaces. There is something fascinating in how Gurton-Wachter’s poems exist as abstract essays, constructed as expansive lyric catch-alls, structured to be able to include anything and everything, even while providing a linearity and purpose through each individual sequence. Her work is absolutely stunning, and she is easily one of my favourite American poets without a full-length poetry collection; I can’t imagine such a thing is far off.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost




Auntie told me to paddle down the river to Chi’Niibish. When I get to the lake, she said to turn west and paddle along the shore until I see the mist of Niagara Falls. As soon as I can see the mist, that’s the spot to lean into the lake and cross. She said that’s how those old Mississauga Nishnaabeg Ashkiwiwininiwag did it, hypnotic hard paddling, drowning out the screams of tired arms and aching shoulders, keeping the mist in sight, in the corner of their right eyes.
            Now I’m sitting on the shore of the lake, thinking about you, at the spot where I’m supposed to be turning and crossing. I always forget how big the lake is. I always forget how blue the lake is, the clean wind picking up drops so I can breathe them in. I’m imagining you’re here and we’re talking about you and me and us, and things that matter. How we got here. Where we’re going. What’s to be done. My impulse is to push the conversation to somewhere it shouldn’t go, somewhere it doesn’t need to go, and I catch myself. I stay centred. I need to have just one more conversation with you so I can write this. I just need to see your movements, your face, your response to the tiny moments of life most never even notice. I need to feel your beautiful boy-spirit rise as you lie down on the cedar boughs, lean in towards the fire and listen to your Kokum’s quiet singing on Zhaawanoog land.
            It can’t just be lists of battles, speeches, failed marriages, and betrayals. (“Leaning In”)

Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s latest collection of stories and songs is This Accident of Being Lost (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2017), a collection of intimate pieces that resist genre, writing out love, labour and loss, in a series of pieces that “continually rebirths a decolonizing reality, one that circles in and out of time and resists dominant narratives or comfortable categorization.” This Accident of Being Lost is a book of resistance, acknowledging the weight and damage of colonialism, but refusing to be overcome by it, writing out prose, poems and lyrics with characters simply trying to exist as best as possible, even while in constant struggle. As she writes of the ongoing loss and disconnect that colonialism has created in the story “Doing The Right Thing”: “My territory is zero minutes from the sliding glass patio door hellhole I’m trapped in.”

Topic 11: Being a Writer Sucks

Writing actually sucks. Like you’re alone in your head for days on end, just wondering if you actually can die of loneliness, just wondering how healthy it is to make all this shit up, and just wondering if you did actually make this shit up, or if you just copied down your life or worse someone else’s life, or maybe you’re just feeding your delusions and neuroses and then advertising it to whoever reads your drivel. (“22.5 Minutes”)

There is both such a lightness and weight to her writing, often occurring in the same breath. Despite, and even through such difficulties, hers are passionate and intimate stories that hold to a foundation of hope and possibility, composed as much as a means of survival as one of optimism, writing out stories of love, human connection and disconnect against a backdrop of cultural oppression reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez or Milan Kundera.

Friday, July 21, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with José Felipe Alvergue



José Felipe Alvergue is the author of gist : rift : drift : bloom (2015) and precis (2017). A graduate of both the Buffalo Poetics and Calarts Writing Programs, he teaches and lives in Wisconsin.

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 suppose that depends on what I consider my first book. I’ve moved recently and had to take stock of old things I might throw out and came across some very old projects. One in particular reminded me of a chapbook I made back in the early 2000s. I’d taken a video camera and walked down a particularly busy street in my hometown, San Ysidro. I remember taking the footage and drawing portraits of faces and then writing short prose/poetry pieces. Really just descriptive passages of place and person. If that were my first book I’d think that it changed me by revealing new ways of envisioning a politics. I’d been a political theory major in undergrad and I’d planned on becoming involved with both law and later politics, but writing offered me something that a life in politics wouldn’t have, which is a sort of immediate availability to the symbols through which politics becomes ‘the political’ identity of a group, nation, community, etc. I think I’ve been tracking this throughout. Even with my last book before precis (gist : rift : drift : bloom). On the surface it’s described as a book on the last wild passenger pigeon, but it’s also about gun law, space, and the religio-moral impressions left behind by the various cultures that have settled the Midwest, and their etymologies. I’d say precis feels different in the stability of readership that comes with the publisher. Omnidawn is an amazing press and they work very hard to promote both their authors, but more importantly poetry. And poetry as a plural and diverse poetics at a moment when commodification puts a lot of pressure on various art forms to accommodate to the consumer. I feel like I’m part of a larger community than I’ve ever really been a member of before.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I remember two impactful events. First, reading Leaves of Grass in a political theory course taught by Tracy Strong––I remember reading it at Monument Park, which is a park at the border wall where it recedes into the ocean (where I did most of my reading for school while in college). And second, I remember becoming acquainted with the Taco Shop Poets in San Diego and getting involved in local projects, meeting artists and poets. Even then, however, I understood poetry to be about story telling, even if in a performatic, or non-fictive disclosure. In fact before writing mostly poetry I’d been writing sort of macabre short stories all taking place at the border––both as an actual geography and imagined space. So it’s not so much that I don’t see genre. I do and I think genre is important in many ways, but the boundaries are more porous than we, culturally, recognize. In short, I came to poetry later, but even while writing short fiction, I was I think already writing poetry throughout the syntax and movement of the pieces. I realize now that my MFA advisor, a novelist (Steve Erickson) might’ve been telling me all along to try poetry more concertedly.

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?
I wouldn’t be able to say one way or another as all of my projects have had different lifespans. I start with research and sometimes this takes a long time, sometimes it takes less time. Then the writing. After, sometimes during, also the arranging. I don’t writ- discrete poems. I work on sustained projects that are from the beginning a ‘whole’ so I think the most time-consuming aspect of how I work is the arranging––the making it all into a book so to speak.

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?
Definitely the latter.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
For a short period I became really invested in performance art. It was a way of interrogating terms I was also writing about critically, like ‘the body’ or ‘space’, ‘becoming’, etc. So a lot of my work involved my body and temporality rather directly. My readings now continue to think about the relationships between language and embodiment I suppose, and they have involved different interruptions to sonoricity, space, breath. I’d say that I enjoy doing only a few readings because they take a lot from me and each one is very specific. I read differently each time. I basically re-compose or re-arrange the work so that I truly feel like I’m performing the initial response of the poetry each and every time.

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. I try not to distinguish between scholarship and poetics, though obviously there are many important distinctions. But my questions pertaining to voice, place, and personhood are always coming from the same place of my experiences with politics, diaspora, alienation, and force.

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 writing is essential now. Communication is essential and relevant. The problem I think is that we don’t tend to value communication in the moment––as a wide community––yet later we orient ourselves to lasting words and sometimes even make national holidays commemorating their events. I hope that contemporary communicators can change this and we should be open to how communicators use media, for instance, to interrupt the temporality within which intimacy becomes public. Some problems that I see, especially in academia, is a distance between thinking and the community. But this movement towards the public humanities offers an opportunity to re-work the affective binds between what takes place in the classroom and what takes place outside the classroom. We need to “feel (for) each other” as Fred Moten and Stephano Harney write in The Undercommons, and by this I mean to both invest in the reality of the theoretical discourses we create, while permitting ‘the real’ world to trust in the intellectual labor of clarifying authentic histories from the fabricated narratives meant to gloss over historical reality.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think it’s great because they see or hear what I miss. And they’re invested in aspects of the poetic that as a writer I can sometimes miss while being so focused on certain parts of the project. Gillian Hamel was my hero at Omnidawn in this regard.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I don’t know about best­­­––I think anything that inspires work is good. Though I think the worst advice I often hear poets give creative writing students is that poetry isn’t about ideas. It’s always about ideas. Even if this is not what we mean when we say it to students, we shouldn’t really say it so carelessly in that it’s utterly not true.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between text and performance? What do you see as the appeal?
See 5. As for appeal I don’t know. It’s a fairly old tradition I think and at many points in literary history readings have signaled the emergence of Community. I think a cool trend that’s come back are house readings. David Hadbawnik re-invigorated this practice in Buffalo while he was there, and Jordan Dunn and Andy Gricevich run a series in Madison called Oscar Presents. I think the appeal of house readings is more authentic for me than bookstore readings, or things of that nature. Then there’s the collaborative events Susan Howe and David Grubbs have been doing, or Cecilia Vicuña readings that disrupt what readings are or have been in many ways. Different readings have different appeals I guess is what I’m saying. What I don’t like are readings that are just sort of impersonal, industry-necessary readings. I think also the kind of stuff Douglas Kearney has been doing for a while, which might explain his turn to experimental opera now, has also pushed out a new space for performance/text to explore each other.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
My day begins with changing diapers, making breakfast, dancing, and singing songs to my child. My routine now is about letting go. Treating time in a less compartmentalized fashion and being present where I am needed by someone else for however long that takes. I’ve been working on a project from my research on casta paintings and casta in general throughout Latin America, and it started before the birth of my son, and from me thinking about his being biracial in America today. So my being present for him I think is an extension of the thinking I was doing in his prenatal absence (though he’s always been present as an extension of his mother’s body). My present as unconditional love is now the impossibility of writing from the same or towards the same unconditionability of love despite the over-conditioning obligation of position, race, body, labor, colonialism, etc. While I haven’t written as much as I’d like to have written, I’ve felt the project in a way that I hadn’t realized I should be during the time when I was mostly writing.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Netflix.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Contaminated water. Seriously. Rotten beach smell, and onion fields.

14 - 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?
Always the natural world. But in terms of books, Jean Toomer’s Cane and Theresa Cha’s Dictée are books I teach and think about often. I listen to a lot of music, and a lot of different genres and styles at different stages of writing––reading, composing, revising, etc. From son jarocho to EDM, Argentinian and Mexican punk/ska core to Kendrick Lamar, musique concrete, opera, Richard Skelton, post-rock, and so on. Different tempos are conducive to different moments of thought I think.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
See above I suppose.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write.

17 - 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 like observing so maybe something observational/conjectural, like a sort of animal biology (though I don’t like extreme temperatures so it would have to be of a rather uninteresting species).

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
An urgency to draw attention to, to understand for myself, to regain myself from capitalistic and nationalistic obligations to give away my self.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on something that explores the racialized/sexualized body, land, and the emergence of civil laws pertaining to the governance of boundaries between them I’m calling casta for now. It started from looking into and teaching casta paintings in my classes, and from a collection of ekphrastic poems I had lying around related to baroque paintings I’ve had the opportunity to stand in front of throughout the years.