wrote The Totality Cantos (Atelos 2022). totalitycantos.net includes the complete text, links to buy copies, and a generator that randomizes assemblages of its one thousand sections. Interview for Eastwind Books of Berkeley. Prose: Brian Ang’s Favorite Books and Assemblage Poetics. Readings: The Totality Cantos: Brian Ang and Alex Abalos on the Avant-Garde, with Caleb Beckwith at Woolsey Heights, and with Anne Lesley Selcer at Your Mood Gallery. Current poetic project: A Thousand Records, open to the totality of music.
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 book, The Totality Cantos, has changed my life by helping me be in the world by signifying what I’m about. It is continuous with my previous work through bringing together methods in my previous work such as sampling, word counting, and the randomizing generator, but more extensively, and through articulating my poetics concerns in practice.
2 - How did
you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry blew my mind first. I read T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in college and was amazed by its assemblage of discourses.
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 conceived of The Totality Cantos in 2011 and drafted half of the poem through 2013. I focused on editing and criticism through 2017; developing my poetics revealed inadequacies in the poem’s method and I discarded its drafts and restarted it that year. Once I figured out how to write it, writing came quickly. Of the poem’s one hundred cantos, I set a production rate of a canto every ten days, completing two-fifths of the poem in a year. I then adjusted the rate to a canto every two weeks and completed the poem on New Year’s Eve 2020. This writing was close to its finished form, the product of planning.
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?
A poem begins for me with conceiving its concept and form. Right now I’m only interested in writing book-length poems.
5 - Are
public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort
of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are part of my creative process in that they are opportunities to blow people’s minds and bring creativity into the world. I enjoy doing them.
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
Yes. My work is concerned with questioning the present and its possibilities for poetics. I’m interested in how totality is organized and could be reassembled otherwise.
7 – What do
you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even
have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I see the current role of the writer in larger culture as aiming to articulate what is singular from the position of the writer, in contrast to other roles. The writer can act with language and minimal equipment.
8 - Do you
find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or
Both. Atelos invited me to contribute to their series in 2014 and that was constitutively essential to writing The Totality Cantos in knowing where it would be published. Difficult in that working with others is challenging because of differing perspectives.
9 - What is
the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“The challenge of creativity, as far as I’m concerned, is to move towards the greatest thought that you can think of.” Anthony Braxton, my favorite musician.
10 - How easy
has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do
you see as the appeal?
It’s been easy for me to move between poetry and prose because I focus on one at a time. From 2013 to 2017 I focused on prose, especially writing my “Post-Crisis Poetics” essay. From 2017 to 2020 I focused on poetry, writing The Totality Cantos. In 2021 I wrote the prose piece “Assemblage Poetics,” published in Rabbit: a journal for nonfiction poetry. In 2022 I began writing my next book of poetry, A Thousand Records, open to the totality of music in five hundred sections. I see writing poetry and prose as relays for each other, furthering each other’s possibilities. My poetry writing is fast, my prose writing is slow.
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?
I set schedules for completing certain amounts of writing in certain amounts of time: a certain amount every day, every week, and by certain dates. A typical day for me begins with making food, giving me energy to write for as long as I can. When I have free time in a day I prioritize writing. A full day spent writing is a good day to me.
12 - When
your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a
better word) inspiration?
My writing doesn’t stall. I have enough ideas to work on for years. It’s mainly a matter of organizing my life to have energy and time to write. Books, family, food, friends, and music are energy sources for me.
13 - What
fragrance reminds you of home?
My parents’ cooking.
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?
I try to be influenced by everything. I’m especially influenced by food, music, philosophy, and politics.
15 - What
other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life
outside of your work?
Louis Zukofsky, Jackson Mac Low, Gilles Deleuze, Bruce Andrews, and writers I consider in my “Assemblage Poetics” essay: Caleb Beckwith, a.j.carruthers, Tom Comitta, alex cruse, Paul Ebenkamp, Angela Hume, Carrie Hunter, Michael Leong, and Divya Victor.
16 - What
would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to find a partner who we’re mutually right for.
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?
18 - What
made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t have to rely on others to write. It’s never let me down. It’s how I’ve best been able to be creative. What I do in it is mine.
19 - What was
the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson. Film: Everything Everywhere All at Once directed by Daniels.
20 - What are
you currently working on?
Promoting The Totality Cantos and “Assemblage Poetics,” writing A Thousand Records, and editing an Assemblage Sampler to develop “assemblage poetics” further.
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