Tuesday, December 1, 2020

TtD supplement #174 : seven questions for Isabel Sobral Campos

Isabel Sobral Campos is the author of Your Person Doesn’t Belong to You (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2018), and the chapbooks Material (No, Dear and Small Anchor Press, 2015), You Will Be Made of Stone (dancing girl press, 2018), and Autobiographical Ecology (above/ground press, 2019). Her poetry has appeared in the Boston Review, Brooklyn Rail, BAX 2018: Best American Experimental Writing and elsewhere. Her new book, How to Make Words of Rubble, appeared in 2020 with Blue Figure Press. She is the co-founder of the Sputnik & Fizzle publishing series.

Excerpts from her work-in-progress “How to Make Words of Rubble” appear in the twenty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “How to Make Words of Rubble.”

The idea of a choral ode is crucial for this book-long poem. In ancient Greek plays, the choral ode functions as a lyric interlude when a collectivity reflects on what is deeply troubling the community. A play’s main philosophical core often resides in these sung moments. The chorus lays out the struggle within the issue at stake. They delineate the complexity of what is happening, which is tragic. They often emphasize that there is no way to exit the conflict unscathed. So, I thought about this idea as I wrote the poem. I experimented with performative elements too, playing with sound, and through diction, evoking a collectivity speaking.

What motivated the poem was also a dream I had. Although it was an emotionally draining dream, I wouldn’t call it exactly a nightmare. In my dream, a hurricane had swept through where I was living with my daughter, but I witnessed it while no longer alive; I was witnessing the world without me in it. When I woke up, I started to write this poem, which is also connected to the grief of losing a child or being separated from them. Grendel’s mother (from Beowulf) emerged as a force that represents this experience, and the idea of a three-fold mother emerged too – the main speaker’s body is occupied by a daughter and Grendel’s mother corpse—a trinity altar.

Finally, the poem is a love letter to my daughter as much as an elegy for our dying world.

Q: How does this piece compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

Lately, I’ve been interested in creating poems on graph paper with a pencil. I’m not sure how to explain this desire just yet, but I know it is connected to the pandemic, and to a new experience of time. The poems are quiet and minimal, only a few lines long. I’ve also been writing poems with dots and other graphic marks using the same method. This is all new to me! I have used graphic marks before and also have work that veers more toward the conceptual. But my focus on this kind of work is more pronounced now. Composing outside of the digital space has become very compelling.

Q: What was your compositional process prior to this?

I rarely write on paper, writing at the computer instead. I also edit on the screen quite a bit before printing and working with paper, which I do when I begin to feel more certainty about a piece. Sometimes I might write down a line or two, especially if I’m deep into a project and usually when I’m walking somewhere or elsewhere caught in the middle of my daily routine. I often think about what digital composition permits, but also what it limits. Sometimes I seek a spatial freedom that I feel Microsoft Word, and other programs do not make easy. I think graphic experimentation for me will be more fulfilling if I use non-digital materials, at least initially.

Q: What has been your process-to-date of shaping manuscript, whether chapbook or full-length? Has any of that shifted since you started publishing full books?

Because I usually work with long poems, I typically write every day when I’m initially crafting a first draft. That usually takes about 2 to 3 months to generate. If anything, publishing full-length collections has accentuated my commitment to long poems. I consider both of my books as a single poem with several movements while my first chapbook was perhaps more fragmented, although that tendency was certainly there already. So, the shift would have to be toward embracing the idea of score as a metaphor for composing and for the connections between the different parts of a poem.

Q: With a small handful of published books and chapbooks under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you feel your work is headed?

I think the conceptual connections within each manuscript have become more complex. This is partly due to the long poem as form, but also the way the poem folds onto itself, comments on what went before it and projects toward what follows. It is the elasticity of the concept, which drives the shape of the poem. The conceptual drive of poetry has become more important to me, or at least, my awareness of it has become greater.

I’m currently working on two projects. In collaboration with my partner, we are translating Salette Tavares’ LEX ICON. I am also working on a new poetry manuscript entitled CADA VER. CADA VER refers to a technique pioneered by Tavares, who broke up phonemes to find other words nesting inside words. CADAVER becomes CADA VER, which can be literally translated from Portuguese as 'each seeing.' This manuscript has been written during our present lockdown. It reflects on the computer as grief tablet, on the sensorial telepathy of children, on sobriety, on the void in Malevich's monochromatic paintings, and on the videos of George Floyd's murder.

Q: I find it interesting you mention elements of the current crises, from George Floyd’s murder to the lockdowns due to the ongoing global pandemic. What responsibilities do you feel toward exploring contemporary issues and ideas such as these? How do you approach this kind of content?

Writing can and should bear witness to the ongoing erosion of our social world, whether that erosion happens through policing and surveillance, unjustified killings, racial oppression, or our failure to address, even minimally, the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystems. Furthermore, through this pandemic we have watched in the US a systemic failure to keep people safe from COVID, but also provided with food and shelter.

Contemporary ideas and issues have always informed what I write; they appear in the writing because they are in my mind and in my world, so I watch them emerge in the poem and I simply allow for them to shape it. With George Floyd, for instance, I kept thinking how I was watching someone die on camera. The line that appeared in reference to this sickening thought and feeling was “Someone filmed this disappearance.” I wrote this line on graph paper and then drew a square with four dots. To me this line and dotted square was a mantra for what was happening then, what happens every day, and therefore what will happen again. So, while the poem offers no comfort, I do hope it bears witness.

Q: I’m curious: have you any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? What authors or works are in the back of your head as you write?

I’ve been returning again and again to The Madeline Gins Reader that Siglio Press published earlier this year, a new amazing anthology entitled Women in Concrete Poetry 1959-1979 (Primary Information) edited by Alex Balgiu and Mónica de La Torre, but also to Andrei Monastyrski’s Elementary Poetry (2019). Finally, Jessica Baer’s Essay Press chapbook At One End and their forthcoming book Midwestern Infinity Doctrine (Apocalypse Party, 2021), which is so terrific. So, a couple of things: at the moment, I’m drawn to graphic, concrete poetry, but also as with Baer to how the form of their books is driven by a rigorous conceptual development. For Baer, for instance, trauma gets wrapped up in one’s experience of time, and time travel becomes a perpetual state of consciousness.

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

Any book by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, but especially Hello, the Roses, Notley’s The Descent of Alette, Will Alexander’s Exobiology as Goddess, and Ed Roberson’s City Eclogue.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

TtD supplement #173 : seven questions for Prathna Lor

Prathna Lor is a living poet. Their first book, HEROISM/EULOGIES, is forthcoming.

Their three untitled poems appear in the twenty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the three untitled poems included in this issue.

A: I was thinking a lot about force and compression and how to get out of it. I still am. I had been teaching a couple of undergraduate modernist poetry courses, so I was reading a lot about emotion and contractility, sensation without sensitivity. And I suppose I’m trying to figure out how to captivate with affection that does not degrade what emotion can be or do. For some of the modernists, impersonal emotion reigned, which is a farce, a fancy. So I guess I’m thinking about ways to broach a more honest technique.

Q: How do these pieces compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing?

A: Right now, I’m trying to complete a novel. But my formal and sonic commitments remain the same. The challenge thus far has been trying to balance density, sonorousness, and uncertainty over a longer period of time in the work without resorting to a gimmick, pastiche, or arbitrary anchor. Poetry offers a lot of space and opportunity as well as precision; the novel does, too, but at a different scale. These poems are part of a process of experimenting with how far I can get with puncturing and receding.

Q: Is that how you differentiate your short poem-fragments with your work in the novel? Is it simply a matter of scale?

A: Scale is one of the compositional elements I am preoccupied with between works. I am either obsessed or possessed by a certain poetic impulse which I am trying to wring out of myself. Like there is a lyric singularity to which I return again and again. This impulse is inflamed at the level of the line which makes itself known in the stanza or the prosody of the novel; the scalar difference, for me, then, is how to anchor that delineation in varying structural rhythms and forms. What I’ve been thinking about a lot is this essence of return. E. M. Cioran discussed this in terms of the “agony” of the novelist who must return to that already well-trodden terrain of the literary. It is not so much a question of originality but one of excess, pleasure, revisitation, coming, again.

Q: Can one presume that these poems are part of some larger structure, or might be? It might simply be a matter of scale, but how easily have you been able to shift from the individual poem to the larger, full-length manuscript?

A: Yes, definitely. I tried to work that out, in a sense, in a chapbook, 7, 2, in terms of thinking about sustaining lyric over time. The difficulty, again, for me, is thinking about the breath of the poem, the work of voice and reading, over a longer period of time, or via a larger scale, when the poetic tenor I am trying to explore is so punctual, economical, propulsive. Rhythms and intensities would have to change, modulate, etc., but, of course, over the course of one’s life, I feel as though it is a single line, a single rhythm, towards which I am relentlessly returning, and I suppose that part of my anxiety about sustaining over time/distance is the fear of it dulling over each reiterative sensation.

Q: Why is the idea of extending and sustaining a lyric and lyric rhythm important to you, and how did you get here? What do you feel you can accomplish through such a structure that you might not be able to accomplish otherwise?

A: I long to touch the weight of the material. Mary Burger once said something funny about the New Narrativists who were all these poets trying to write things that looked like prose, obsessed with the question of narrative, and I have been continually pressed by this. There is something exacting, a kind of poetic pineal, about this desire for non/narrative to take hold, to grasp, to seize some kind of encounter between language and experience in a form that is at once fleeting and perpetual. And, certainly, there is something beautiful about a kind of magnitude that is achievable, a sense of regality, for me, to bring that voice along. There is something about the unfolding of form, of gathering each puncture, until it blossoms, monumentally. Again, for me, it’s about this idea of scale—of scale as range or difference—with which the mode of capture, of enrapture, along poetic nodals, can stitch the pulse of poetry like a good sequin dress.

Q: Your author biography mentions a forthcoming debut. Are these poems part of that debut? How do these poems fit alongside this book-to-come?

A: These poems were composed during the writing of my second chapbook, 7, 2, that I mentioned earlier. So I think what I was trying to exhaust in that moment was something about poetic piercingall the pieces are short, fragmentary, and loosely bound together by a sense of this piercing. The things I am working on for the future are trying to develop from those lessons, now that I feel that I have somewhat exhausted those impulsesnot because I do not like the impulses but because I would like to try on a different dress. Hence, my preoccupation with something more "universal" in the sense that some novelists have spoken about it, particularly Gail Scott, in terms of trying to touch something immortal in language. What I'm trying to move toward now in a couple of new projects is an approach to the lyric from the otherside, an analyric, where language, I thinkI hopeis so tightly inversed, implosive, and miniature, that its secret blossoms can offer something stunning in all sorts of ways. As in a kind of lyric that is woven becauses language is constantly in a state of undress, duress, a stoppage that considers language not from the narrative view, or even the impossibility of its narrative view, but from its own pristine gutting.

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

A: That would be the essays of Wilson Harris.

Friday, November 6, 2020

TtD supplement #172 : seven questions for Kate Feld

Kate Feld writes short fiction, essays, poetry, and work that sits between forms. Her writing has appeared in journals and anthologies including Hotel, The Stinging Fly and The Letters Page. She is founding editor of creative nonfiction journal The Real Story and teaches journalism at Salford University. A native of Vermont, she lives outside Manchester, UK.  

Her poems “Pockets” and “False spring ode” appear in the twenty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Pockets” and “False spring ode.”

A: 'Pockets' is one of the shortest poems I've written. I waited but there wasn't any more. It's what I was thinking while emptying out my daughters' pockets in the course of doing laundry and finding several fine conkers. Conkers are the shiny brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree and over here in England kids used to collect them and play a game with them that involved drilling holes in them and stringing them and pitting one conker against another one -- the first to crack lost. Sadly, most English kids don't know how to play it anymore. My kids don't, but they retain this vestigial fascination with conkers and collect them and they end up in  odd corners of the house.

'That's where the canker gnaws' is a line from the stage play of Peter Pan, enunciated with great relish by Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook on the Original Broadway Cast record, which my mother played continuously throughout my childhood.

False Spring Ode: Like (probably) lots of other people I was inspired by Sharon Olds to try writing odes to the kinds of things that don't normally get odes written about them. We'd had a doozy of a false spring that year and I was both ruminating on that and also kind of interested in the false spring as a thing that has happened sometimes in some years of my life. I'm talking about things that happened that spring - pubs calling it wrong and putting out their flower baskets too early, warm weather birds returning only to die, mucky-tailed cows and kites and that old saying 'March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.'

Q: How do these pieces compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: They feel looser and more jazzy, more off-the-cuff and riffy. Lately I've been working in longer prose pieces like lyric essays that have big structures and there is a lot more control. I want to get back to this more playful writing practice, but it's maybe harder for me to get there right now.

Q: You seem to focus much of your work on prose structures, whether the longer lyric essays or these shorter prose poems. What is it about the prose poem that appeals, and what do you feel you can accomplish through the form that might not be possible otherwise?

A: You know, it just feels right to me. I love reading lined poetry, but when I try to do it myself it feels artificial and gimmicky and also kind of limited. I think I'm activated by the mess of a bunch of prose and the possibility of that mess, the interesting slippage and jerks and cross pollinations and associations. It feels capacious, like it can take anything you wanna throw in there, but only according to the internal rigor of the thing you're making which kind of emerges as you go.

Q: How much of that internal rigor is pre-determined? Do poems emerge organically, or do you attempt any particular elements of structure, apart from the obvious consideration to the prose-block?

A: Hmmm. Sometimes I'll try to do it a certain way. Like I'm working on a prose sequence that I can only write on nights with full moons, and I think that will feed into the structure somehow. Mostly, I think, they come out pretty organically. If a certain formal element turns up and seems to fit then I can sometimes kind of make it a feature. But once you know you're working exclusively in prose maybe there are different kinds of parameters to how you go about it and for me they mostly don't have to do very much with how it looks on the page. I think they're more internal, intrinsic.

Q: Do you have any models for this kind of work? How did you first begin to engage with the prose poem?

A: I think I probably first encountered prose poems by Baudelaire, which we translated for my French class at St. John's College in Annapolis MD in the 90s. I didn't try to write any until much much later in my life, maybe about four or five years ago when I entered poetry through the more experimental reaches of short nonfiction.

Since then Rosmarie Waldrop's work has been really important to me, also Francis Ponge, and Mary Ruefle, whose prose poetry I specifically love. The last two both seem to be able to pull glorious prose poems out of the cracks between things in their daily lives. They find the momentousness of the everyday. I think prose poetry works really well for that, because it is not usually announcing its grand message with trumpets and trochees, it is just humming a little song to itself on the bus.... but what can come out of that song is really something.

Q: From what I’ve been able to gather, you’ve yet to publish a chapbook, pamphlet or full-length collection. Is this something you’ve been working on at all? And if so, do you see a difference between composing individual poems against composing individual poems that work to exist in the context of a larger structure?

A: Yes you're right, I have not yet published anything but individual pieces and poems. I've just started sending out a manuscript of short prose pieces that are longer than poems – lyric essays, hybrid prose pieces and stories that aren't either true or made up. I've been working intermittently on a novella-like piece of experimental fiction written in fragments.  But both are unusual and perhaps difficult prospects as the publishing world often likes books that are definitely one thing or another, and I like writing things that aren’t.

I am intrigued by the possibilities of creating pieces that exist as part of a larger structure. That idea appeals to me, but it is not something I have done much of yet. My 4-part prose sequence 'Pause Processional' was published in Train, and this is the longest piece of poetry I think I've written, which isn't very long – it was a very short train. I suspect it is easier if you have a thematic through line that can act as a frame for your work, or a handle. I'm waiting for one to turn up, I guess. But there is something you give up if you go that route that maybe I am not ready to part with in my writing.

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

A: I keep going back to Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay and a couple of her short recent prose pieces published in Brick and Paris Review. The way she has put these together seems endlessly fascinating to me. Another one I pick up a lot is Don Marquis' Archy and Mehitabel. There is a kind of energy in these that can be generative for me. But it is also good to keep a lot of poetry around and just kind of pick things up carelessly.

Monday, October 26, 2020

TtD supplement #171 : seven questions for George Bowering

George Bowering lives in his old Point Grey haunt with Jean and Mickey. In late 2019 Talon Books published Taking Measures, a huge collection of serial poems. The Irish poem is part of a nice unpublished book.

His poem “Mandatory Sod” appears in the twenty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Mandatory Sod.”

A: Usually, when Jean and I go to some distant country to eat and look around, we go to Mexico or Italy. This time we decided to go somewhere that they speak a language that’s hard to follow, so we went to Ireland. Jean wrote her PhD thesis on an Irish writer, but she had never been to Ireland. I had been in Dublin and Dunleary in 1970, my only trip there, and just for a weekend or so. Jean and I stayed in Dublin to look at the usual stuff, then rented a car and drove clockwise around the country. The poem? If you’ve read “Blonds on Bikes,” you know what I am doing. Call it “Eire Blues.”

Q: How does this piece compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Like the Blonds one, it was assigned the job of noticing things during a trip. So it does mention Jack Kerouac as a kind of tip of the Tweed flat cap, and we remember that Kerouac wrote Dave McFadden a letter before either of them died, and we were on the island of poets, though they have had a lot of nice novelists and short story writers and playwrights, no? So Jean drove the Kia along the narrow twisty Wild Atlantic Way, dodging poets and unfortunately whacking a village cat. Most of the poems I have written over the past decade have been thick slabs like Ashbery’s. This Irish one is full of breeze, and it comes into my brain where the associations are, whereas my usual work these years follows thought that comes from experience and research. I often thought of McFadden and his little car in his Ireland book, but I didn’t read the book again, just remembered the chocolate bars.

Q: You’re famous (or infamous) for your play with “baffles,” otherwise known as a pre-determined structure, for longer poetic sequences, so I have to ask: how was the structure of this sequence determined? Was this something rhythmic you followed, or were your structural considerations more complex?

A: What I called baffles a lot of people call constraints. I knew I was going to do a section, or a page. or a stanza, whatever, an entry, that seems right, per day. Section 3 is an easy one––spot something in my immediate environment, let it lead to whatever association inside my head. This gets more interesting as we go along, despite my attempt to hold on, as the poem starts to take over. That is always important, the poem taking over. What I do is keep it from becoming profound. Skip stones on the surface, not drop depth charges.

Q: Given your enormous publishing output over decades, does that make it easier or harder for you to get a poem started? How do you keep from repeating yourself, or is this something you even worry about?

A: I don’t want to sound like a smart alec here, but really, it’s the poem that gets me started, not the other way around. It has always been that way. For example, when I was living in Montreal and writing short lyric poems sometimes, I would hear the rhythm of my feet as I walked to the Metro to go home, and then some words would fall into the footfalls, and then I would say them out loud, maybe, as I held onto the strap, and when I got home I would drop my stuff and go way back of the apartment, to my writing room, and write it down, the poem. Next day or five days later I might throw it away or change a few words, and type it and three-hole punch it and add it to my binder. I don’t know about repeating myself. I repeat other poets in peculiar ways. Is that different?

Q: Given the length and breadth of your published work-to-date, how do you see the trajectory of your writing, from those apartment beginnings to everything you’ve accomplished since? Where do you see your work heading?

A: I can say that at the beginning I wanted to write poetry, fiction, funny stuff, nonfiction. Actually, when I was a schoolboy my ambition was to be a sportswriter, journalist who sometimes did books, I guess. So you can see that I have published several books about baseball and one about hockey. I played some basketball, but never did a book about it. In other words, when it comes to the main news, I am still aiming toward writing whatever presents itself. Now, the things I have read have made some alterations in my interest and therefore my writing. When I was 21 years old, my favourite fictions were realistic, Steinbeck, James T. Farrell, Budd Schulberg. Then I read a realist named John Dos Passos, and was drawn closer to text because he used newspaper headlines on his pages. You see? That’s both to show authenticity and writerly activity. So it wasn’t long till I was reading Gertrude Stein and the French antinovelists, and then diving backward to read Tristram Shandy. It’s saying to the reader, “It’s you and me, not them and them others.” So with poetry. I never did care for mopes like Frost and his gang, but I liked poems that were clear. Well, I still operate on a sheet of clarity, but like to remember that those are words, and they constitute a surface, and that’s a nice place to be. As to the future? Or where is my work heading? Toward me, toward my pen.

Q: I’ve always been curious about your ongoing engagement with the long/serial poem. What do you feel you are able to do through longer works that might not be possible otherwise?

A: I feel as if I can’t really, properly, answer this question. It is true that my favourite poets are great long poem writers: Shelley, H.D., Williams, Kroetsch. But I also love a lot of short poems. Do you think that short poems as related to long poems are like short stories as related to novels? I don’t know. Look at H.D. She wrote, early in her life, exquisite short imagist poems, like “Oread,” "Sea Rose,” “Helen.” But she wrote longer as she grew older (and wiser?), leaving us the great Helen in Egypt, etc. If you’re going to throw a book into my grave, make it her Trilogy. The first editions of the three poems that make up that trilogy were. printed by the Bowering Press, I am proud to say, the same press that printed the first major attack on the Oxford Group, I am proud to say, too. I don’t know. Going back to an assertion I have made before, I will plead that the poem knows when to stop or when you have longer stuff in mind. But then what about poor old Doc Williams, who was writing at least notes for Paterson 6?

Q: Finally, and perhaps you’ve already answered a version of this, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I sorta know what you mean, and it is true that I read lots of poems, but rarely do I read them to get me going. I know, I make lots of allusions, and even heists. Sometime in the near (?) future, my book Soft Zipper will appear, and from the title you might know that it is a rewriting of Stein’s Tender Buttons. Actually, it is an attempt to translate that book into Canadian English, trying to make it a little more familiar, even easy to read. It’s not like my rewriting of Rilke, though, nor my rewriting of Homer, Wait! I am not answering your question! Actually, as I approach my long goodbye, I have a different system of reading. I read alternately from my pile of books that will eventually go to my library within the UBC library, and books that won’t do that. A couple of days ago I finished reading a book by Alphonse Daudet, and now I am reading Michael Boughn. I don’t think that either will reenergize my work. But I have two manuscripts open on my desk. One mentions Dom DiMaggio and Jane Austen. The other goes on about tacos and crocodiles.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Touch the Donkey : twenty-seventh issue,

The twenty-seventh issue is now available, with new poems by Kate Feld, Isabel Sobral Campos, Jay MillAr, Lisa Samuels, Prathna Lor, George Bowering and natalie hanna.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). If you ask me they're all winners.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

TtD supplement #170 : seven questions for Tessa Bolsover

Tessa Bolsover is a poet based between Queens, NY and Providence, RI. She is a founding editor of auric press.

Three untitled poems appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the three short poems that appear in this issue.

A: These three poems were written as part of a longer sequence titled Border of a piece of cloth, which began as an experiment in visualizing a poetic moment as a field of intersecting planes—full of hinges, seams, refractions—in which negative space remains materially active. The title was lifted from a definition of the word "hem"—a word that appeared again and again in the poems, but which I always edited out for one reason or another. The word began to ghost the poems, in a sense, and it seemed right to carry that ghosting into the framework for the overall text.    

The third poem, [the hesitate that comes to expect], was written soon after I moved to New York in early 2018, during a time of intense change and redirection. I began thinking of hesitation as a potential opening sustained within/without language, capable of holding space for the complexities of memory and possibility simultaneously.

Q: How do these poems relate to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I mainly work in poem sequences and short essays, and while I consider each one a separate entity, they all feel linked and carry a lot of the same questions at their center.

I recently finished a sequence of poems titled Crane. The project follows my research into the mythology and etymology of Cardea, the Roman goddess of hinges. Taking certain writers like Nathaniel Mackey and Susan Howe as guides, the poems consider the idea of a hinge as a structure that both connects and folds, and how language could be understood as repeating this gesture. Many of the shapes and ideas in Crane could be traced back through Border of a piece of cloth.

Q: What is it about the poem sequence that appeals? What do you feel you are able to achieve through the sequence that might not be possible otherwise?

A: I'm interested in the way webbed images, sounds, and associations intersect and diverge, laying groundwork for durational harmonics, ruptures, counterpoints. The individual poems in a sequence can be like rooms within a larger architecture in which certain tones and ideas are developed through their navigation. Sometimes they're more like antennas in a field, all tuned toward the same thing, attempting to receive a frequency.

Q: Have you any models for this kind of work? How did you get to the point of constructing sequences?

A: I initially began thinking about and working in sequences through photography. I became interested in how constellated images juxtapose and bleed into one another; how they seem to speak among themselves. There's something precarious and fleeting in it. When I began to focus more on writing it felt natural that those interests and ways of thinking would continue.  
A few of the poets I turn to for guidance are Myung Mi Kim, Fred Moten, Lorine Niedecker, Susan Howe, Nathaniel Mackey. My experience of reading their work is tangled all through my own.

Q: With a growing mound of poems produced and published over the past few years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’m not really sure where my work is headed. In some ways I still feel like I’m just getting to know it. I do know that my writing is always developing alongside my reading and note taking. In Hoa Nguyen’s workshop, Jenny Penberthy gave a talk on Lorine Niedecker’s poems and said something that resonated with me about how the notes from Niedecker’s reading provided her with a field of language from which she composed, and how she allowed the language a kind of agency and latitude to lead beyond direct reference and into new terrain.
I recently started a new sequence of poems centered around ideas of chthonic descent and the use of sound to locate objects in space. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the circulation of capital and tensions between the symbolic vs. material nature of money/coins.

Q: What do your attempts at working “ideas of chthonic descent and the use of sound” look like, entirely? Is this a research that might emerge as subject matter, or something more structural?

A: Both, though in different ways. I’ve been thinking about the gesture of descent in Greek mythology as passage to the afterlife. And then there is the fact of extraction, the socio-political and environmental violences of extractive industries, and the image of wealth as being mined, subterranean. One of many figures in which these fields begin to cross is the Roman-Greek god Pluto, who originated through the conflation of Hades, god of the underworld, and Plutus, god of wealth, because mineral wealth was extracted from within the earth.

Sound is always a guiding force in my work. Lately I’ve been interested in the ways sound is used in spatial navigation and imaging, such as in echolocation or sonar technology. In sonar, acoustic waves are projected outward from a source and form an image based on where the waves make contact with a body/object and reflect back. The located body/object becomes visible based on where it’s touched by sound. This strange synesthesia is also present in language. Sound waves produced by speech make contact with the world and form an image.

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

A: A few poets I’ve mentioned already: Susan Howe, Lorine Niedecker, Myung Mi Kim, Fred Moten. Nathaniel Mackey, whose book of essays Discrepant Engagement opened up so much for me. There’s also Jack Spicer, Lisa Robertson, Kamau Brathwaite, Anne Carson, Hoa Nguyen, Etel Adnan… The expanses of James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, and Toni Morrison. And, always, my friends and teachers, and Michael Cavuto.

Thank you, rob, for the questions!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

TtD supplement #169 : seven questions for katie o’brien

katie o’brien is a poet, community worker, and Netflix enthusiast originally from St. John’s, Ktaqamkuk, on unceded Beothuk land. They currently live and work in Mohkínstsis, on Treaty 7 territory. a peal of thunder, a moment of (The Blasted Tree, 2019) is their third chapbook, and they recently founded blood orange, an experimental poetry tarot. katie dislikes lying, sings a lot, and doesn’t kill bugs. 

o’brien’s poems “longing,” “ad agio,” “superlatively” and “comedia finita est” appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “longing,” “ad agio,” “superlatively” and “comedia finita est.”

A: these four pieces are part of a series I’ve been working on for the past year or so, taking the musical score for Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor, chopping it up, and reconstructing it. the series is very personal to me – when I was fifteen, my grandmother died, and she and I were very close. I remember listening to this piece the moment she passed away. for a long time after that, I wasn't able to listen to Beethoven at all. working on this series has been a really meaningful journey through that grief.

as a musician and a poet, I'm really intrigued by the importance of punctuation and phrase building. the fascinating thing about building these concrete pieces from a musical score is the way that the sentiment that one might hear when listening to the music can be portrayed visually. as someone who reads music, the compounding, growing forte markings at the end of 'comedia finita est' over the rest in the original score is quite a profound irony, but I think that the visual is impactful even if music isn't a language you're familiar with. I love that concrete poetry can transcend language like that.

Q: How do these poems relate to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: to be honest, I haven’t been writing very much lately. when I have the time and energy, I tinker with work in this series and I try to keep up with the tarot project I started last year, but the current state of the world generally has me in a state of exhaustion that isn’t very conducive to writing these days.

Q: I can understand that, although I do appreciate that you’re still tinkering on the poems in this series. How many pieces exist in this series? Have you any models for this kind of work?

A: I published a chapbook with ten pieces from this series through The Blasted Tree (Kyle is an absolute gem!), and I’ve finished about 15 more pieces since then. my hope and plan is to process the entire score this way, which I think will end up being about 100 pieces. I became interested in layering text this way in high school, when I would write journal entries over top of one another to keep them from being legible – a way of writing out emotions while still keeping them secret, I suppose.

Q: How has the series been progressing, and what have you discovered through the process?

A: when I first started this project I held myself to a really strict form. for the first few pieces, I took a line from the musical score and layered it in its original form, if that makes sense – no cropping, no rotating, no shrinking or enlarging. I learned that allowing myself some more flexibility was much more exciting and allowed me to explore some different themes in the score. it’s also been a really interesting journey through and reflection on my grief, which has been so cathartic.

Q: How do you feel your process of grieving helped shaped these poems? Do you feel them the result of working through that process, or evidence of the process itself?

A: I think that I wouldn’t have been able to create these poems earlier on in my grief process. for a long time, I wasn’t able to listen to Beethoven at all, so working so closely with the score would have been impossible. I do think that there is evidence of growth through these poems, too, though – a loosening of my original rigidity, some blossoming and exploration in ways that I didn’t foresee when I started the project.

Q: With a couple of chapbooks under your belt, as well as this current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I think I’m better at editing my own work now than I was when I started – better at looking critically at my work and getting to the point. I have worked with some really fantastic editors who have encouraged me to be more intentional and less cryptic in my poetry, which is something that has really impacted the way I write and create. I also tend to have more of a focus on longer-form projects now, like suites and chapbooks – the flexibility of collections is enticing to me, especially given that my poems are usually short-form.

some directions that I’m interested in pursuing: I've been talking with some friends about creating sonic representations of my concrete Beethoven works, which is an exciting concept that I have never experimented with before. my sibling does visual glitch art, which is so beautiful, and we’re talking about collaborating on a remix of my Blasted Tree chapbook. I’m also itching to get back into text work, and have some ideas about ekphrasis and biographical poetry that I’m starting to put to paper. so many exciting possibilities!

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

A: derek beaulieu really introduced me to what concrete poetry can be, so I love returning to his work, and more recently I’ve been reconnecting with Joshua Whitehead and Vivek Shraya’s anti-racist, decolonial, heart-rending practices. as an editor, I find reading submissions for blood orange to be incredibly energizing, and I also love returning to work by dear friends like Leslie Ahenda, jaye simpson, and Amy LeBlanc. some discoveries that have recently brought me joy include work by Mercedes Eng, Jordan Abel, and Terese Mason Pierre.