Tuesday, July 07, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kimberly Alidio

Kimberly Alidio is the author of the books, why letter ellipses (selva oscura, 2020), : once teeth bones coral : (Belladonna*, 2020), and After projects the resound (Black Radish, 2016), and the chapbooks, a cell of falls (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2019), and solitude being alien (Dancing Girl, 2013). She’s a tenure-track drop-out, once-and-future adjunct, ex-high school history teacher, and MFA poetry candidate at the University of Arizona. She lives in Tucson with her partner, the poet Stacy Szymaszek.

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?

For more than ten years before my first poetry chapbook and first poetry book, there was a shadow book on U.S. Filipinx history that refused to find its way into the world. This book had an advanced contract with the University of Chicago Press that remained on file long after I left academia. The amazingly patient and persistent Robert Devens, when he left his job at the press, handed my chapter drafts over to Timothy Mennel who emailed me to ask whether I was still working on it, ten years later. He kindly let me out of my contract but technically has first dibs on it should it ever manifest. My relationship with those editors was probably one of the most sustaining relationships I had in academia. Academic book editors were kindred spirits of a sort, but small press poetry publishing was an alternative universe of valuation.

For most of my life, I knew things were going to come out of me and take the shape of books. Whether it was something “I” had to say or something that had to be said through me is hard to say. But I do admit that all along I just wanted one book with my name on the spine. After three books, I’d like to think the “I” has worked its issues out.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I didn’t. As an adult, I was fully identified with being a humanities scholar of U.S. empire, critical ethnic studies, and Filipinx Studies, and not with the poetry that I wrote consistently through high school and college.

I had an exit year working as an assistant professor at the University of Texas after being dismissed for not submitting my research manuscript to the promotion-and-tenure committee. During that year, I took my first poetry workshops with Abe Louise Young and Hoa Nguyen. I subsequently attended whatever I could — VONA/ Voices, Kundiman, all four weeks at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program — while on a postdoctoral fellowship and various adjunct gigs. I wrote my first book while teaching high school, the first supportive workplace I ever clocked into. My second and third books came together the summer after my first year in an MFA program.

To gain writing time and resources, I’m again in an academic institution. Even so, I still come to poetry for the breathing space not afforded by the research university’s neoliberal rationalizations, moralistic humanism, and standardized versions of innovative thinking, diversity, and language-use. I have very specific expectations for poetry as a field akin to Duncan’s meadow rather than as a discipline.   

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?

My inquiries and interests, if there’s enough breathing space, are usually all over the place. They become “projects” on their own time. Not too long ago, I was writing a hybrid New-Narrative-ish book that eventually broke apart into two poetry books and a poetry chapbook – no prose anywhere. The whole process was gnarly, probably because I was busy upending my life at the same time. Once I settled into a supportive partnership and living situation, the books and chapbook quickly took shape.  

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’m starting to play around with the idea that a poem begins for me as a humming vibration or frequency. And as a space of communion. Where gestures begin to work with linguistic units. That’s about all I can say about words, sounds, utterances, lines, forms, the page, sequences, and books.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

In our self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic (it’s April 22, 2020 6:34PM Arizona time right now), my partner, Stacy (who answered these questions seven years ago!), and I made up a game of “Guess Who This Is.” The game goes like this: one of us picks a book from her shelf and reads aloud until the other one guesses. Stacy’s really good at it. And honest, too. I picked up Helping the Dreamer and Stacy yelled, “I can see it’s Anne!” Rookie mistake because I really wanted to perform Anne Waldman.

Part of my writing practice is to listen to a lot of recorded poetry readings. And I love and live with a person who programmed poetry readings and oversaw poetry reading curation from 1999 to 2018, at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee and at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York City. I think a lot about what poetry readings have been, what they seem to be now, and what they could be.

At this moment, I wonder what a poetry reading might be for. What ethics and practical concerns inform attending as a reader or as an audience member? To celebrate and gather? To participate in unilateral and/or inauthentic obligation? To make sure people know you’re alive and matter? To uphold some idea of the local or the ethnic? To clock into your gig? To sell an image other than a book? Is it deeply felt work?

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?

Not surprisingly, I do. Each of my books has an endnote indicating those concerns. None of them tries to answer the questions it raises, though.

There are a lot of questions of this current moment. If we could get into a space of communing together, let’s say in a half-hour, we could draw up a mighty list of urgent and beautiful questions. Different ones would arise between us tomorrow. And the next day.

Right now, I’m wondering: What is care? How are we living this moment? To borrow from Latour’s questionnaire, Where to land after the pandemic?: What suspended activities do we want to see cease or change? What do we want to see begin anew? How do we propose that people transition, change, or begin anew?

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?

Poets can care about and for the language used to pose questions. We can make multi-dimensional macro-micro inquiries into the language used to pose answers. As much as we are typically tasked with imagining, we can attend to what is present and to what is already arriving.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

My poetry editors have included Marthe Reed, Brenda Iijima, Krystal Languell, and Fred Moten. In each case, there’s been real trust and joy.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Over the past two Januaries, I’ve worked with the writer Selah Saterstrom’s divinatory readings. From her latest: “Claim the resources you’ve gained from surviving loss.”

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?

I don’t keep a writing routine separate from other routines. But I try not to keep separate routines. I go through my day and reflect on how any labor and any experience relates to a writing and reading life.

I don’t associate writing with time but with space. I try to sit at my desk in my studio in a routine, ritualistic way and do whatever I need to do to inhabit that space, to keep it vital and energetic.

11 – When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I don’t know if I’ve experienced this as a poet in a way that I lived it for many years as an historian. If writing is stalled, other aspects of my life are likely to be “stalled,” and I have to go figure that out. I’m happy to no longer follow the academic model of subordinating all aspects of my life to “writing a book.”

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Presently, creosote. This question is raising a question about what and where and when “home” is (sigh). I don’t know — jasmine rice in my rice cooker. My chicken adobo. Old Bay seasoning? Chlorine.

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?

U.S. modernist poetry cut its teeth on all those things. They’re all in the poetry.

I love queer visual art, performance, and dance.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

My life and work are gloriously gifted by the experience of writing and reading poetry in relationship with an amazing poet. So, most immediately, Stacy Szymaszek — her lived experience with poets, her lineages, and her projects — past, present, and future. And her bookshelves.

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney helped me to write After projects the resound, and an excerpt from Lorine Niedecker’s Lake Superior Journals guided my second book,  : once teeth bones coral :. My third book, why letter ellipses, is sort of crowded with all sorts of people, like Yayoi Kusama, Amiri Baraka, Andrea Dworkin

Lately, I’ve felt a queer, kindred relation to certain writers associated with U.S.-ian Language Poets: Tina Darragh, P. Inman, Steve Benson, Ted Greenwald, Stephen Rodefer. Susan Howe continues to be important. I have a tongue-in-cheek aim to reclaim Language Poetry, generally held to be antithetical to the expressive, subjective, and even experimental poetics of BIPOC/ LGBTQIA+ writers, for a poetics of queer-of-color, postcolonial, cross-lingual synesthesia.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Work with others to build alternatives to neoliberal, racial, settler-colonial, carceral capitalism and figure out how to end it.

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?

Being a poet is not an occupation. But: I would have liked to have learned to be a painter, sculptor, or dancer. (Please don’t @ me with O’Hara.)

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Language wants me.

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

19 - What are you currently working on?

Care and consciousness amidst the pandemic. Reading poetry in translation. Writing experimental, creative translations of Pangasinan-language poetry — a language of my mother’s that I neither speak nor read but a language that helped to raise me.

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