Friday, March 17, 2017

TtD supplement #75 : seven questions for Erín Moure

Erín Moure’s 2017 new-old book is Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure, edited and introduced by Shannon Maguire (Wesleyan U Press), marking forty years of poetry. In 2016, she published two translations, of François Turcot’s My Dinosaur (BookThug) and Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan (Omnidawn). Two translations will appear in 2017, of Antón Lopo’s Distance of the Wolf: Biography of Uxío Novoneyra (Fondación Novoneyra, Galicia) and of Brazilian Wilson Bueno’s Paraguayan Sea (Nightboat Books, NY, fall). 2018 will see publication of her translation from Galician of Of Stubborn Dreams, by Uxío Novoneyra. Moure lives in Montreal.

Her poem “ferticule” appears in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “ferticule.”

Well, it’s a fertile molecule, a poem small and fertile. As such, it has something to do with little theatres. Its refrain is a chant in which (as in the medieval cantigas de amor) there is no concrete image. The refrain is a movement from the interior, from the cells. It is small rhythm. At first, it is each time followed by concrete images, then becomes less concrete as the poem proceeds. Finally, even the words become unwords that do not articulate a universe we know. At the end, the last three words are real again, and concrete, if disparate: a chewed cud, the Spanish for “to heat up,” and the name in Polish of the southern city of Krakow or Cracow or Cracovie, a city with a long history in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the Habsburg monarchy, and, sadly, in the Second War, as the capital of the Nazi General Government for conquered territories in the East. Now it is a popular tourist city in Poland, and one of the most bustling cultural places in Europe.

“Ferticule” is a wondering about thinking or meaning, one that wonders by actually trying to think or mean, through chanting. The poem is thwarted, or indigestible, yes, but the chant remains. The thwarting could have to do with the poem being part of a work in progress called The Elements, which has to do with my Dad and is a book my Dad wanted to write with me about his own condition. I am trying not to write a sad story about dementia, where the metaphysics, and ontological base, of a “normal” person is set above those of someone whose brain is different. Rather, I am trying to receive that difference as equal, and let it enter the book on a more receptive footing, to see if this can help provide a ground, one ground, for hearing new epistemologies. My Dad died fairly suddenly, before he was able to work with me. But we spoke of it and he wanted me to do the work. He wanted lyric poetry, and there is plenty of that in the book. But there are also moments of destabilization, such as “ferticule”.

Q: As you say, this piece is part of a far larger work-in-progress. What is it about the larger project – whether book-length or multiple book-length – that appeals? One could ask how you moved to this from composing individual poems, but is there even such a thing as a poem that stands alone?

Actually, it might be said that I moved in The Elements from larger project to composing individual poems. One reason for the title of the work is that each poem is an element, is poem in and of itself. This includes the few longer poems in what I call linear sections, as well. The project is 104 pages, shorter than my other books.

Your last question resonates: I think all good poems refer and relate to poems that came before, and reach toward the poems of the future. But not only do poems not stand alone, I don’t think they “stand.” That’s an ableist word. Rather, I think they roll. They hold out words and sounds of the néant, and sometimes the real poem takes place between any one poem and another, in that space the poem/s open, forward and beside each other, and backward too. Translation makes time go backward by making poems in other languages contemporary to us; poetry can do that too.

Yet, to go back to the longer project: we read poems in books. In the end, I am always writing a “book,” I think. So. in that sense every poem or text has to contribute to the space of the book, to understanding what that space is and might be, and how it might change. The book is a wonderfully flexible mechanism! And it resonates, always, with other books, and with the books of the future.

Q: With over a dozen poetry titles going back some thirty-plus years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see yourself headed? I know you’ve a selected poems just published; was this an opportunity to look at more of an overview of your ongoing work, or is this something you already do? Or not at all?

At any given point, I am immersed in two or more writing projects, and two or three translation projects at different stages of completion; I read my contemporaries in Canada, the USA, and Galicia primarily; I’m immersed in the past—in 19th century Galicia, in 20th century Ukraine, in David Hume and Miguel de Cervantes to think about George Bowering, in Ionesco to think about stagings, in Rosalía de Castro to think about migration and precarity, etc. An overview of my own work? I am not sure if that is even a useful or possible thing for me; I just keep going. In the poems, Planetary Noise, it’s feisty poet, editor, and literary scholar Shannon Maguire who writes the introduction and provides the perspective, and who read all my books and proposed selections; she welcomed my thoughts and opinions, but it was her efforts made the book possible. I’m grateful for that, grateful that she turned her bright mind to the 40 years of my own work in poetry, and grateful too for her consultative process in deciding the contents and for her work with Wesleyan University Press, who have been tremendous.

As for where I see myself headed... same place as all of us: the ground, more or less. I’ll try to get a few more things done before then, writing included, translation included, and love and laugh too, and be there for my friends in times tough or glad, as they are there for me. Life is amazing and I want it to go on, of course. I’ve been very privileged to live in a peaceful part of the world, and to have basic health care, and to have had decent access to education, food, shelter all my life, and have neighbours of all origins and nations. I want to listen, too, and live long enough to see writing and possibility and future changed by younger writers, particularly Indigenous writers, as their thinking via their languages and traditional knowledge is going to be essential to all of us to make a future earth in which we and our children can thrive.

Q: Given you work on multiple projects concurrently, I’m curious as to the ways in which projects relate to each other. Do your multiple projects feed into each other, or are each deliberately constructed as an entirely separate thread? Are all of your projects – akin to bpNichol, for example, or even Robert Kroetsch and Dennis Cooley – individual elements of a single, ever-expanding canvas?

I don’t work as do bpNichol or Rachel Blau Duplessis, for example, with a single ongoing life project, as in The Martyrology or Drafts. In Shannon Maguire’s introduction to the Selected, she classifies my more recent production in terms of trilogies, which makes sense to me. So there are definite links. I did conceive of the first such trilogy as one: Search Procedures (the investigation of what it is to be a person and not just a human being), The Frame of a Book (or A Frame of the Book) (the investigation of what it is to relate as person to another person, a relation we call love), and O Cidadán (the investigation of what it is to relate as person to other multiple people we don’t even know, which is the citizen relation). Maybe what I am working on now, The Elements, forms a trilogy with Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots and The Rooming House, one of which will appear from New Star Books later this year, and one of which is still to be written. In working on any given project, avenues open up that can’t be explored as part of the project, either open up in the work at hand and get tangled with my life, or in the life at hand and get tangled with the work. I’d say the latter is the case for all three projects in my head at this moment. I also see translation of poetry as part of my work, as a contribution to the shared conversation that is poetry. Much of that sphere of my work is scarcely visible in Canada, as I translate poets who are from other nations, and there is no institutional support for that translation here. So my conversations tend to move into the USA and Europe, which is exciting, of course. It also has a great influence on my own poetry, though I do mourn the inability to converse more with my fellow Canadians on the challenges to poetic thinking that arise from working across languages and welcoming poetic voices from across our borders. I miss the chance to share that, so particularly welcome VerseFest’s invitation to Chus Pato in 2017.

Q: I’ve always preferred the idea that writing, generally, is a conversation. Over the course of your work, who do you feel you’ve been in conversation with? What writers are you speaking, or even responding to?

Probably more responding to than speaking to! Definitely in conversation with. Even with the dead for their whispers persist and converse with us still, being as we can only read all things as contemporaries, and with or against (warp or weft) our contemporaries. Diogenes Laertius, Lorca, Butler and Derrida on mourning and hospitality, Chus Pato, Eugen Ionescu, Francisco Cortegoso, Méndez Ferrín, Rosalía de Castro, Heinrich Böll in The Clown and Billiards at Half-Past Nine, Timothy Snyder on Eastern Europe, Aristotle, Cristina de Perreti on Derrida, Myung Mi Kim, Foucault on discourse and its structures, Lisa Robertson on the cinema and weather and the moment and the sentence we need, Christine Stewart’s upcoming project, Treaty 6 Diexis, Rachel Blau Duplessis, Oana Avasilichioaei, Phil Hall, Pam Dick, Uljana Wolf, Christian Hawkey, Gerald Edelman in the 1990s, CD Wright, Andrés Ajens, Guillermo Daghero, Jake Kennedy, Geneviève Robichaud, Chantal Neveu, François Turcot, Nicole Brossard, Robert Majzels, Norma Cole, Gertrude Stein, bpNichol, Caroline Bergvall, Nicole Markotic, Louis Cabri, Alice Notley, Barbara Guest, Fred Wah, the Quartermains, Margaret Christakos, Liz Howard, Louky Bersianik, France Théoret, Laura Mullen, Dom Denis, Calum Neill, Jordan Abel, Aisha Sasha John, Jacques Roubaud, Joan Didion, Winnie the Pooh, Gonzalo Hermo, Daphne Marlatt, Serhiy Zhadan, Yuri Izdryk, Roman Ivashkiv, St. Augustine, Allison Clay, Colin Browne, Yasemin Yildiz, Peter Kulchynski, Jean-François Lyotard, Robin Blaser, Albert Camus, Thomas Merton, Mendinho, Luz Pozo García, Belén Martín Lucas, John Cage, Christa Wolf, Randall Jarrell, Mother Goose, Elisa Sampedrín, Carole Maso, Rachel Zolf, Renee Gladman, Claudia Rankine, Anthony Burnham, Immanuel Kant, Descartes, AM Klein, Ben Lerner, Luce Irigaray, Antón Lopo, Oriana Méndez, Harryette Mullen, Georges Perec, Lorine Niedecker, George Oppen, Paul Celan, César Vallejo, Jerome Rothenberg, John Millington Synge, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Rancière, Colette St-Hilaire, Angela Carr, Claudia Roden, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, Svetlana Alexievich, Al Purdy, Rosalía de Castro, Primo Levi, Phyllis Webb, George Bowering, Rilke, Philip Levine, Alice Notley, James Wright, Frank O’Hara, Vida Simon’s art, Pavel Yurov’s documentary theatre, and Bernard-Marie Koltès too, and Heiner Müller of course. And there’s not just writers! There’s art curators and commentators like Emeren García and Kim Fullerton, artists like Lani Maestro, Clive Holden, Vida Simon, translators like Lou Nelson, poet-translators. Plus my brothers, one of whom is a historian and the other an engineer.

Actually, I hate questions like this. I can’t answer them. My own work is a bit of blown pollen in a groundscape and seascape teeming and rich with the work of all these people and more... and older, Gilgamesh, and the dances in the streets of eastern villages at the beginning of village time... dances made to dispel death.

Q: One might suggest that your work has been an exploration of how the individual interacts with the group, from your work through the ‘citizen’ to the staged performances in and within Little Theatres. I also see a variety of other threads throughout your work, such as the poetry of both “witness” and “resistance.” Where do you see your work situated between these ideas? A blend of the two, or does that even miss the point?

I’d say the position of witness insofar as it interests me is always in a position of resistance. I’m a quiet person by nature and raise my own voice as witness when something troubles me to which I can’t assent. My work, I’d say, thinking here of the trilogy of Search Procedures, Frame of a/the Book, and O Cidadán, has tried to explore, despite censure or ego or other pressures, what it is to be a person and not just a human being, and this necessarily involves others. Not “the group,” I’d say, but others, the community of persons-not-ourselves with whom we share space and time but whom we do not know. Without this link of community and responsibility toward the other — which includes above all the responsiblity to resist genocides — we cannot fully be persons. We are humans, perhaps, but are slaves or self-colonized, I might say, by authorities and privileges that distort us to ourselves, and that in fact do not have our shared interests at heart.

As Bernard-Marie Koltès demonstrates in La Solitude dans les champs de coton, which I saw again last fall in Montreal at Théâtre Prospero, the situation in which we often find ourselves vis-à-vis others is that of commerce and not of exchange, and we are damaged by this. In the language of Koltès’s monologues (an influence, to be sure, when I was writing Kapusta), which is often compared to that of 18th century discourse, we see the origins and development of commerce and its entry into our bodies long before what we like to call late capitalism. That 18th century period coincides, as Foucault wrote, with the time when the modern notion of the “author” emerged (a restrictive notion, intended to shut down possible meanings, and a notion also based on commerce, not exchange).

But back to those three books from the 1990s and early 2000s. They triangulate the space of an Elgnairt Adumreb, the opposite of a Bermuda Triangle, in which our ships do not disappear but can float. It is inside that space where other flotation devices arose, like Little Theatres and O Cadoiro, my translations of Chus Pato and Rosalía de Castro, of Andrés Ajens and François Turcot, and then O Resplandor and into The Unmemntioable and Kapusta. Inside that space is the work of many other writers as well, and many thinkers and doers. I did not invent that space! I just mapped it provisionally, half stumbling into it, having already swallowed a lot of seawater, so I too could create there and breathe.

I don’t trust necessarily what is called the “poetry of witness” where the poet speaks for another (and, yes, since the 70s, this concept has been problematized and rewritten by many others). But I do believe the act of witness i.e. listening to the other and recognizing their right to space (I had written at first “giving them space” here, as if space were mine to give! yikes! the formations of our own neurons that prevent us from thinking!) by attempting the act of hospitality à la Lévinas —which is not to judge or to make the speaker conform to what we believe— is critical for poetry and thus for our future as thinking beings, as persons.

Q: I think you may have already answered a variation on this, but, finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

So many people, as I said before. In sixty-two years, it couldn’t be otherwise! And works I can’t help returning to are likewise many, and depend on what it is at the moment that I can’t help. But today, were I losing my faith in poetry? There is so much clamour in poetry, and sometimes there is joy in the variety, and sometimes there are too many words of poets and poetry seems a vulgarity I could part with. If this happened right now, I’d read touch and smell: Barbara Guest’s Fair Realism, César Vallejo’s Complete Poetry (tr. Clayton Eschleman). Late Paul Celan, in the Joris translations. Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings. Norma Cole’s My Bird Book. The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. Caroline Bergvall’s Drift, George Bowering’s rocky mountain foot, Lisa Robertson’s 3 Summers. Phyllis Webb’s Water and Light, Giorgio Agamben’s “Notes sur le geste.” Lorca’s Divan del Tamarit, Clarice Lispector’s Água viva. Lani Maestro’s Tulalá, Susan Howe’s That This. Andrés Ajens’s Æ. Michael Palmer’s “Série Baudelaire” (tr. Emmanuel Hocquard et Philippe Mikriammos). Chus Pato’s Carne de Leviatán and Secesión. Ingeborg Bachmann’s No sé de ningún mundo mejor (tr. Jan Pohl). Heiner Müller’s Hamlet Machine. Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth. Miklós Radnóti’s Tajtékos ég in all the translations. Between “cloudy” and “frothy”, how to choose! Neal McLeod’s current Facebook posts on the Cree language, which are poems. Gilgamesh, in the Gardiner translation from the Sîn-leqi-unninnī version. Os Eidos by Uxío Novoneyra. New poetry in Room Magazine by Marilyn Dumont. And those medieval Galician troubadours. Martín Codax! “Ondas domar de vigo.” I’ll let him have the last word...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

TtD supplement #74 : seven questions for Kate Hargreaves

Kate Hargreaves is a writer, book designer, and roller derby skater who makes lattes on the side. Her most recent book is the poetry collection Leak (BookThug, 2014), and her writing has appeared in journals across Canada and the U.S. She lives in Windsor, Ontario with her boyfriend and their black cat Winn. Find her online at CorusKate.com, @PainEyre on Twitter and @CorusKateDesign on Instagram.

Her poems “removal of splints following septoplasty,” “Backspace” and “taco baby” appear in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “removal of splints following septoplasty,” “Backspace” and “taco baby.”

A: I’ve always had a fascination with the human body, especially when it is making itself known by being uncomfortable or a little bit gross. I had a septoplasty a couple years back, and having never been that aware of the state of my nose, I was suddenly unable to become unaware of it. I couldn’t breathe at all, I had plastic tubing sewed into my nostrils plugged up with dried blood, and this went on for two weeks. When they came out, I imagined that there had been far more than just medical grade silicone and a few stitches up there.

“Backspace” was written in a bit of frustration as, coming out of grad school where part of my job was to write, and being out of academia, working 40+ hours a week, with no one forcing me to write, I found that there just wasn’t enough time in the day to get any writing done. When I finished work, I was too mentally exhausted to get anything creative accomplished, and writing became part of the list of chores that were piling up.

“taco baby” came out as a bit of a strange tangent while thinking about the vast expanses of suburban grocery store parking lots. I like playing with the domestic and the mundane and making them a bit more surreal and visceral, so when I had this vague idea of a hot cement parking lot soaking up the heat and this person sort of trapped within it, the poem sort of spun out from there.

Q: How do these poems fit with the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: The poems are quite a bit different from what I am working on lately in terms of form, because I am currently writing a collection of short fiction. In terms of content, though, they echo one another. There is a definite sense of an over-consciousness of the body in the fiction I am writing, as well as sort of magic realist moments where it is unclear whether something strange is happening or being imagined.

Q: I’m curious about the echo, as you say, between the poems and your current fiction-in-progress. How might the current work relate to the work in Leak, or even Talking Derby: A Life on Eight Wheels (Black Moss, 2014)?

A: The current project doesn’t have a tonne to do with Talking Derby, in terms of its subject matter besides that fixation on bodies and bruises and injuries, etc. However, the writing style does in some ways echo the way in which Talking Derby used some tactics I use in my poetry and transplanted them to fiction. I write my fiction with a pretty loose grammar that is more coloured by the actions or feelings of the speakers, so sometimes it reads more like poetry.

I see the new fiction collection as a bit of an extension of Leak as the main character has a lot in common with the speaker(s) in Leak. She’s neurotic, dealing with discomfort in her own skin, behaving erratically. I’ve sort of taken the voice from Leak and made her into a more fully formed character with a name and a story.

Q: With two published books to date, as well as your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see yourself headed?

A: Really at this point I am just happy to be writing anything again. I had a few years during which I really struggled to get any writing done at all because I was so creatively and mentally exhausted from working full time on other people’s books. It took me a little while to recharge and reapproach my own writing and I think in the process it has definitely changed. I’m still interested in language play but I’m having fun with narrative a bit more now as well. Going forward I would like to see the fiction I’m writing become a book-length manuscript. I’m also interested in exploring some different ideas in poetry so I still write a bit of that on the side but the fiction is the bulk of my writing at the moment. I’m trying to get to a point where I can make more time for writing between my design work and my part time job, but the logistics are tricky.

Q: Given that composing poems are currently secondary to your fiction work-in-project, are you aware of any specific project evolving, or are you working instead on a series of occasionals that have yet to shape themselves? Is the fiction prompting the occasional poem, or is the poetry forcing your attention?

A: The poems are not really one project at the moment. I was working initially with the idea of exploring exercise and fitness and the ways we talk about these things, but the poems I have been writing haven’t all been part of that train of thought. Sometimes I will have an idea that I think will work for the fiction project and for whatever reason when I sit down to write through it, it ends up being a poem, and that’s alright with me.

Q: What writers or books are in the back of your head when you’re putting together a poetry manuscript, or even an individual poem?

A: Because of the great professors I had at university when I was doing my BA and MA in creative writing, including writing Leak, I tend to always consider what Susan Holbrook and Nicole Markotić would say about something I’m writing. They are both writers whose work I admire, as well as wonderful editors with very keen eyes for detail, so I tend to think if I would be embarrassed to show a piece to them that it likely needs more work before it sees the light of day.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I have read Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You over and over in the past few years, and am thinking about it a little differently now that I am writing fiction. I also return a lot to Ariana Reines’ Mercury, especially when I feel like my writing is getting murky and I need some influence in terms of making it more direct and concise.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Touch The Donkey #11 reviewed in Broken Pencil

I just discovered that Joel W. Vaughan was good enough to review Touch the Donkey #11 in Broken Pencil .Thanks so much! You can see the original review here. Previous issues reviewed by Broken Pencil include #10 [see the review here], #5 [see the review here] and #1 [see the review here].

The eleventh incarnation of rob mclennan’s poetry journal presents a few writers familiar to those well-acquainted with above/ground press’s prolific output (including Buck Downs, lary timewell, and Kemeny Babineau). However—in addition, the little journal features double the number of fresh faces as well, balancing stylistic expectations with a little new blood. In all, there is nothing here which significantly differs from mclennan’s editorial approach in previous issues, but this is by no means to say that the poetry contained herein is not worth investigation.

A kind of ‘scratching out’ of form makes itself felt in a number of these poems, and one wonders whether mclennan’s grouping of them together was thematically intentioned. Buck Downs’s “full speed in partial paradise,” reading: “beaten gold | in hammered sheets | golden chain | I doubt I see” was composed using personal notes that were transcribed, cut out, and re-arranged, then pasted into little disordered monologues. Kemeny Babineau’s “The Log of Wonorata,” similarly, began as an erasure poem, and figures semi-significant couplets (ie. “V: Red Wolves of Poverty | Petroleum Mecca teat”), though it does not present itself as such when printed in short-line towers, just as Downs’s work cannot be made out as word-collage. An excerpt from The Pain Itself, by kevin martins mcpherson eckhoff brings this scratching out of form to new heights, figuring an entire page in prose, with text replaced by “Lorem ipsum…” garbled Latin.

above/ground’s “Touch the Donkey #11,” then, seems concerned with representing and mis-representing the form in which poetry is written, originates, or operates, and often to interesting effect. It is worth a look.

Monday, February 27, 2017

TtD supplement #73 : seven questions for Kate Greenstreet

Kate Greenstreet’s new book The End of Something is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in 2017. Her previous books are Young Tambling, The Last 4 Things, and case sensitive, also with Ahsahta.

Her poems “CARDBOARD STAR,” “IS THIS FOR ME?,” “HE WAS A BOY ONCE,” “IN A HOUSE OF MARKS,” “HORIZON MOTEL” appear in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: These poems are from a manuscript called The End of Something, scheduled to come out in May from Ahsahta Press. I see this book as the conclusion to my previous three.

Q: How do you see the current project as a conclusion? And a conclusion to what, precisely?

A: The new manuscript is actually the center of a bigger project that includes art, video, and audio experiments, based on The End of Something and offering alternate ways into it. That will all be accessible from a site (theendofsomething.com), which will go up when the book is published.

After I finished case sensitive, when I was writing The Last 4 Things and then Young Tambling, I didn’t think of the books as parts of a set or some kind of continuing inquiry. But while working on this one, I began to realize that my books are interconnected, and to feel I was putting down a fourth corner to define a formerly open-ended space.

Although I see The End of Something as a conclusion, I also like the idea that a reader could start there and go to case sensitive next. Or to either of the others. The books seem to belong to each other in a new way, so that any one of them might be the beginning or the end of a cycle that now feels complete.

Q: The curious thing about all of your writing to date being part of a single project: what might come next? Do you see yourself writing something beyond this collection, or might you simply move onto other things?

A: I want to bring poetry into the other things I do, more than I have already. And I want to find out what else I can make with language. I’m not exactly writing at the moment. But I have the habit of writing things down. Jean Valentine said to me once: “We’re always reading, and we’re always writing, even when we think we’re not.” At lunch yesterday, I started reading Fanny Howe’s poem “Loneliness” to Max. Do you know it? It’s a wonderfully matter-of-fact poem, unsentimental, but my voice cracked at “And you climb the stairs obediently” and I had to stop for a minute. In the pause, Max said: “Mid-poem, she began to weep. The audience became restless.” That made me laugh, and I wrote it down. I don’t have the temperament to keep a diary, but I don’t think I could break the habit of writing things down for no reason. Or I wouldn’t want to. So that’s the present. About the future: there are other kinds of books I want to make, different from the books I’ve made so far. I have ideas. But I know from experience that those ideas will not lead me where I think I want to go.

Q: With four trade books over the past decade-plus, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’ve become a somewhat different person in the past ten years, but my methods haven’t changed. Say a farmer calls a dowser on the phone. She drives over and gets out of her truck. She might have a special little branch with her or pick one up off the ground. She walks out to where the water needs to be. Maybe it’s there, maybe it isn’t. My writing has developed in more-or-less this same way. Walking around with a stick until I feel a pull, one field after another.

Q: I get the sense that your books are pieced together as a kind of slowly constructed collage. How do your books get built, and how did this develop?

A: Well, if you found yourself in a room where there were hundreds of photographs on the floor and seven taped to the wall, you might notice a common element, maybe a subtle element, in the taped-up photos. Looking down at the floor, you see another photograph that seems to belong to the set of seven. Luckily there is also a tape dispenser on the floor, so you tape that eighth photo to the wall. At this point, you might feel the urge to rearrange them. They’re not your pictures! But no one else is around, so you go ahead and move the fourth one to the first position. You’re “reading” the photos from left to right, as we do in English. Something’s missing—there’s that empty space, but it’s more than that. You get down on the floor. You begin to select certain pictures and put them in a pile. Soon you have two small piles. Off to one side, you spread those out. You put one of the pictures from the first pile into the second pile. You put two of the pictures from the second pile into the first pile. You realize that you need to start a third pile. Okay. Now you can put some of the pictures from each pile onto the wall. One seems perfect for the empty space. But as soon as you’ve taped that up, the last photo feels wrong. You take it down and lay it on top of the third pile. You try a photo from the second pile for that end spot and it’s good there, but asks for clarification. You’re constructing a kind of a narrative from these pictures. You know you will understand what you’re doing when the arrangement is right. It’s not about chronology, it’s about meaning. You’re not trying to tell a story, you’re trying to find the story. There are still hundreds of photos to go through! The answer is in there somewhere.

It’s like that. But instead of pictures, you’re working with pieces of language. Phrases, sentences, paragraphs. So you’re looking but also listening. And speaking. Where do these language fragments come from? Like the photographs on the floor, who knows? They come from anywhere. Words you woke up with in the middle of the night, old notebooks, what your neighbor told you on the stairs. You say a phrase out loud and join it to another, then add a sentence that comes to you in the moment, which reminds you of—but you don’t want to go there. Although later you might talk with a friend about that memory and find a chunk of your conversation useable.

The process goes on and on this way until you finally find the sound and the order you’re seeking—the best you can do. Then you change it four more times, write a whole new poem from nowhere, and even though you’ve used the word “something” a hundred times, you’re done.

Q: What influences, do you think, helped bring you to this point? And when you say you want to “bring poetry into the other things” that you do, what are some of these other things and how have you managed to keep them separate so far?

A: I’ve been working with visual art, sound, video, and text for quite a while. It’s funny to think of someone trying to keep all these things separate—I haven’t, but at this point I’m more actively looking for ways to combine them. It’s exciting that so many artists work in multiple disciplines now. That’s probably the main outside influence on my current thinking.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: My needs vary. In the past few days, I’ve returned in a big way to Immanent Visitor: Selected Poems of Jaime Saenz, which I first read while writing case sensitive. It was important to me then and I often come back to it. I don’t read Spanish, so the English translations by Kent Johnson and Forrest Gander are the poems I know, poems I especially love to read aloud. Gander and Johnson also translated The Night, Saenz’s final work, and I just reread their introduction—an enlightening and entertaining essay about the author and about some experiences the translators had in La Paz, his home city. Both books include wonderful photos of Saenz—not incidental to me, as they heighten my impression that I know this guy, from the old land (and I don’t mean Bolivia).

Brief stanza from a poem in Immanent Visitor: “Contemplating the bones on the plank, numbering the darknesses with my fingers starting from you. / Seeing that things are, I fill with desire. / And I find myself crossing a great distance.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

TtD supplement #72 : seven questions for David Buuck

David Buuck is a writer who lives in Oakland, CA. He is the founder of BARGE, the Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics, and co-founder and editor of Tripwire, a journal of poetics (tripwirejournal.com). Recent publications include SITE CITE CITY (Futurepoem, 2015) and An Army of Lovers, co-written with Juliana Spahr (City Lights, 2013). A Swarming, A Wolfing appeared from Roof Books in 2016.

His poem “FIRE ON FIRE” appears in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “FIRE ON FIRE.”

A: William Rowe wrote a review of Joshua Clover’s The Red Epic (Commune Editions, 2015) for issue #10 of Tripwire, and in it he hones in on JClo’s line “how to set fire to fire?”, seeing it as a central question about the hazards of how insurrection can become spectacle. Rowe references a line from Hegel — “Fire is materialized time” — that then became the first line of the poem. I’d been thinking a lot about the relation between insurrection and lived time, how certain moments can flare up in a way that feel outside of clock-time. In the poem I try to get at how capitalist clock-time — necessary for the regimentation of the wage-hour — ‘resides’ in commodities, commodities that, like Marx’s exemplary table, can burn. All that is (seemingly) immaterial congeals into solids. And in fire, all that is solid (commodities, carrying within them labor-time) melts into air, free — if only for a brief moment — in the ‘pure present' of combustion. That’s the gambit, anyway. 

Q: How does this poem fit in with the other work you’ve been doing lately? Is this piece an occasional, or is it part of something potentially much larger?

A: It is definitely part of a line of inquiry over the last several years, beginning with the work that will be coming out this fall from Roof Books (A Swarming, a Wolfing) and continuing on into what seems to be a new MS. Whereas A Swarming could be summarized as trying to finds new or at least non-cliché/nostalgic modes of representing militant social movement, upsurges of revolt & their affective dimensions (from Occupy Oakland on through its offshoots and aftermaths) the new work is more concerned with languaging ‘insurrection’ as a form of both irruptive praxis and discursive energies: while this particular poem is more meditative and/or ‘philosophical’ on the subject, it certainly extends my trying to think through the (lived/non-capitalist) time of revolt as well as how poetics can articulate such contingent but collective experiences from the perspective and hazards of ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’. 

Q: Do you see all of your writing as existing on a particular kind of continuum? How are your books usually constructed? How do poems begin?

A: I feel like my interests and concerns, both thematically and formally, are related across books & projects, or at least I imagine readers could trace such continuities, even as/if they develop and change (as I hope they do!). Certainly the performance works, fiction, and hybrid prose-works differ considerably from the more straight-ahead poetry – especially regarding prosody as well as method – but that may more be about testing different compositional methods to engage and interrogate political questions from different sites and modes. I guess that’s where I might like to hang on to the adjective “experimental” to describe kinds of non-conventional writing even though that term seems to have become merely a branding term for niche marketing, at least within the US poetry worlds.

The construction of the books varies. The Shunt and Site Cite City were largely written over the same period (2001-08, 1999-2012) and though the difference between the two might appear to be simply poems/prose, they were in many ways different projects. An Army of Lovers was co-written with Juliana Spahr, and evolved into a ‘book’ over time, driven less by narrative plot (as pseudo-realist fiction) as much as a shared sense of appropriate scale and reach for its interrogations of poets, poetry, and the possibilities for political action. The forthcoming book is work ‘coming out of’ Occupy Oakland and its more militant offshoots, and the questions of radical movements and representation, so that thematically that came together as a book-length MS more organically. As you know, it’s often more about what one leaves out that helps constitute a book’s form and I dunno, identity? – and each of the books involved a ton of stuff left-out.

Q: With three books (including collaboration) and a small stack of chapbooks/pamphlets over nearly two decades, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Yikes, two decades! Where has the time gone?

I tend to follow various lines of inquiry, be they thematic or formal questions, but have tended to be a bit ADHD in terms of following such lines all the way to actualized ‘products.’ However, one could probably fairly easily trace some through-lines in my work so far. Certainly the question of politics and how social/cultural issues and one's own politics work themselves out in writing and art has been a primary driver in my work, both in my own writing as well as with BARGE, editing Tripwire, organizing events, and other efforts in the cultural spheres of the poetry world. Increasing skepticism as to the power and/or ‘efficacy’ of overtly political poetries can certainly be seen in The Shunt, as the book moves from more forthright (if embarrassingly so) ‘anti-war’ poems to a self-questioning of such genres and platitudinous pronouncements of certain received ideas and political platitudes. An Army of Lovers certainly pursues this skepticism, if not outright doubt and frustration, in my and Juliana’s fictions about the roles and possibilities for political poetry and art in its (pre-Occupy) historical context. Occupy Oakland and its related irruptions certainly have informed my own thinking about representation (in poetry and performance) and its relation to ‘lived’ (off-the-page) political movements, and such rethinking is (I hope) evident in A Swarming, a Wolfing.

Current projects include a novel about military simulations set in the Californian desert, as well as a cross-genre book confronting the question of (and relation between) ‘insurrection’ and writing. I hope to do more off-page BARGE and performance work, as well. I'm also increasingly committed to the editorial project of Tripwire, which feels like a space for critical thinking and interrogation (if only for myself!), as well as a mode of constellatory mapping of potential alternatives to what can often seem like a stolid, insular, nationalist, and Manichean approach to poetics in the US.

It’s hard to say ‘where my work’s headed’ given that I can’t predict the social and political landscapes that we will be confronting over the next years and decades, and how they might (re)shape my own aesthetics and politics. I hope to remain open to a continued self-critical engagement with such questions, however they manifest in practice.

Q: I’ve long been fascinated by those who engage more overtly in engaging the political in their poetry, something so easily done poorly, but managed brilliantly by a small handful over the years, from Spahr to Stephen Collis, Rita Wong and others. And yet, ‘political poetry’ has often been accused of pushing a message over the art. Why do you think the form is so easily dismissed?

A: Well, at least in the US, it’s easy to dismiss or roll one’s eyes at a lot of self-described ‘political poetry’ for a couple of reasons: it can be self-congratulatory, moralistic, and platitudinous; and/or it can seem to relegate formal and aesthetic concerns to the background in order to emphasize more overt/‘legible’ social content. (Though of course content and form are always mutually imbricated; I’m just suggesting a false separation for argument’s sake here.)

That said, I’d argue that the same could be said of much poetry that is not overtly political: it’s tired, cliché, and formally not very interesting. It’s not clear to me, for example, why overtly political content or intent in and of itself makes for worse art. Rather, bad art is ‘bad’ because it's bad art, no?

Or, a thought experiment: what would one rather have — an OK poem with radical politics, a good poem about the poet’s personal feelings, or a Great Poem that upholds Western cultural values. How do we enter this question without interrogating what we mean by OK, good, and great? Can we possibly divorce content from aesthetic judgment? How are these not political questions? (I’m not saying I know the answers to these questions — I prefer good poetry to OK poetry, but what I mean by good is very likely different from what others mean, and not just as a matter of personal ‘taste’...)

The other charges — pushing a message, preaching to the converted, sacrificing aesthetics, the limited efficacy of poetry (‘if you wanna change the world, why don’t you just go march’) etc etc, are perhaps more complicated, especially if we again think of ‘non-political’ art. I mean, love poems ‘push a message’ and are imbricated with questions of efficacy (i.e. they aim to convert, even if only the object of desire). Most lyrical poems preach to the converted in terms of shared aesthetic values (look, I’m writing that way that we all have agreed is good!). Few contemporary ‘political’ poets in the US actually claim their work has some broad efficacy in what we conventionally think of as ‘actual’ politics, but some critics level this charge regardless, choosing to ignore the multiple ways in which the political can work within art and cultural practice, not to mention poetry’s relation to radical social movements, ecological disaster, history, etc., or simply to press potent affective charges in readers (anger, inspiration, etc). I also don’t think it’s coincidental that the poet-activists most active in challenging institutional forms of exclusion and hierarchy within Poetry-World-Inc are also poets we'd generally think of as ‘political’ in their writing.

And of course, most importantly, we have to remember that all poetry has a politics — its values, histories, forms, and relationship to institutions and power are all deeply political, whether or not poets choose to directly engage those issues. So really when folks talk about “political poetry” they mean poems or poets that are more overt or explicit about politics (either in the work itself or in extra-poetic claims about poetry or authorial intent/posturing), almost as if the complaint is something like, “please go away and be an IRL activist or whatever so I don’t have to think about these difficult questions and can just concentrate on art,” as if what we call art or good art or art-not-sullied-by-politics isn’t at its core a political question, given the history of Western poetry and its values (craft, a focus on the individual, relegation of anything by or about marginalized peoples into the sub-category of “[identity category]-poetry,” etc etc).

I don’t, however, want to make any claims about overtly political poetry as some kind of privileged form or ‘better’ poetry. There is, as with any kind of poetry, a ton of dreck and clichéd political poetry out there (and believe me, my own work is certainly open to that charge!). But we don’t dismiss the great lyrical poets based on the millions of shit lyrical poems produced over the years, do we. I just find that the questions investigated by certain modes of political art — which are always formal and aesthetic questions as well as questions of content or an author’s beliefs or opinions — are more compelling and challenging to me these days, especially given our historical moment. I'm just not sure how much the world needs more USAmerican MFA’d poems about bourgeois ‘personal experience’ or perfectly crafted lyrical poems or risk-free award-winning poems, etc etc. I want poetry that challenges the way I see the world (which includes art, of course), whether or not it’s “good” as defined by the gatekeepers of convention. Down with ‘good’ poems!

Q: Should poetry that overtly engages the political be tied to action? As Peter Gizzi wrote of Jack Spicer: “He is not against political action; on the contrary, he suggests that instead of writing a bad political poem one should write a letter to one’s congressman.”

A: I try to resist ‘shoulds’ when it comes to making art, and we’d need to unpack what we mean by ‘action’ and even ‘tied to’ to begin to get at this one. Generally, though, my answer is no — or at least, I’m not sure how exactly one would begin to make some direct connection between art and action, or how one would then judge such poems. If my love poem doesn’t get me any action, does it fail? If my lovely lyrical poem doesn’t get me awards, does it fail? Why would we only value ‘action’ in relation to ‘political’ poems?

At the same time, if “tied to” means something like “in relation to” we could certainly begin to trace various traditions and histories where poetry emerges from and alongside political action/movements/events/etc., whether through historical, witness, documentary, movement poetries, etc. And obviously “action” in general — aka “life itself” — seems to be a pretty broad ground from which poetry might ‘overtly engage the political,’ since our responses are always going to be mediated through ideology and aesthetics.

On the whole, though, as much as I do believe poems can be and make action in and of themselves, I’m generally cautious about making any claims for poetry's efficacy or “shoulds.” I would ask Gizzi’s Spicer, however, what about a good political poem? Why isn’t that a possibility? I certainly think (good) poems can do more than letters to one’s congressman.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Well it’s a pretty long list, and it depends on what I’m struggling with at any given moment. There are often different kinds of works that provide different kinds of charges for me — writers that inspire me as models of what an engaged writer can be and do in the world even if I don’t write anything like them (for instance, a few off the top of my head this week: Baldwin, Cesaire, Brecht, Woolf, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxembourg, Dario Fo, Raul Zurita, CAConrad, Eileen Myles, Amilcar Cabral, Said, Fanon, a million others), or writers whose work reignites certain aspects of my creativity, even if I just pick up a book and read a couple pages (Gombrowicz, Acker, Leslie Scalapino, Cesaire again, a million others), or writers who I read at some important time in my early years and so re-reading them tickles some hopefully not-nostalgic moment of Wow-you-can-do-this? (Nietzsche, Genet, Stein, Beckett, Dambudzo Marechera, Jean Toomer, the New Narrative writers, a million others). And my friends and contemporaries! And artists and scholars and musicians and and and!