Monday, August 25, 2014

TtD supplement #7: seven questions for Julie Carr

Julie Carr is the author of six books of poetry, most recently 100 Notes on Violence (Ahsahta) and RAG (Omnidawn). Think Tank is forthcoming from Solid Objects. She is also the author of Surface Tension: Ruptural Time and the Poetics of Desire in Late Victorian Poetry (Dalkey Archive, 2013). She is the co-editor of the forthcoming collection, Active Romanticism, which will be out from University of Alabama Press in late 2014. She teaches poetry and poetics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and lives in Denver where she helps with Counterpath gallery and Counterpath Press.

Two poems from her work-in-progress “REAL LIFE: AN INSTALLATION” appears in the second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the work-in-progress “REAL LIFE: AN INSTALLATION.” How did it originate?

A: Like a lot of poets, I found myself in a situation where I had a number of manuscripts sort of lined up, ready to send out or even slotted for publication, and it seemed to be happening too fast. It was the summer of 2011, and my partner Tim said to me, you need something to write that will take you at least five years. In response I created a process for myself – I would write every day from labor day to labor day to labor day, beginning in 2011. I did not allow myself to read back what I’d written, except at three-month intervals, and then I could do only very slight cleaning for spelling and stuff. That way I was always writing into an unknown, forgetting what I’d done the day before, keeping it strange and off-balance. Of course themes and forms emerged, but they’d shift pretty regularly, and I had to allow that, since I was not editing at all. At the end of the two years, I had twelve sections and a total of almost 600 pages. Now I am editing, forming, shaping, and cutting most of it. The editing process will take as least as long as the original writing took. Probably longer.

The title came from my daughter, who was four when I started. She’d often refer to things and events as “real life,” in order to distinguish them from stuff that was happening in her imagination, in her dreams, or in stories and movies. For kids at that age it’s important to clarify, since so much is going on all the time that is not “real life” (and they are often unsure what is and what isn’t real). I started to notice that when adults use the phrase “real life,” they usually mean work, or the mundane, the everyday, as opposed to art, sex, love, illness, dreams, play – pretty much anything that is any fun or has any intensity attached to it qualifies as not real life! I thought I’d trouble the term, while also thinking a lot about labor, work, economics – throughout the writing.

I began thinking about installation art first because I always am, but second because of a talk Fredric Jameson gave in which he claimed that the artists of the future will all be installation artists, or something like that. I can say more about that if you like.

Q: Certainly!

A: What I remember from Jameson’s talk (and I think this is a talk he’d been giving a lot that year around the country) was the idea that 1) we are in a time of rampant presentism with no clear or even muddy vision for the future and no memory of the past, and 2) that all artists are now curators or installation artists, gathering materials and arranging them, rather than making them. I don’t agree with either of these ideas, though certainly I can see where they come from. Instead I see a lot of people struggling to imagine new futures and working toward them (in art and activism), and I see a lot of really relevant art that is in no way “just” a gathering together or curating. Nonetheless, the idea struck me enough to make me want to explore directly what it might mean to think of my writing as installation art. Often, long before hearing this talk (and this is probably because of my theater/dance background) I've imagined or dreamed my poems happening in spaces – I hear the voice recorded, see some kind of event or dance or architectural structure that illuminates, supports, or otherwise IS the poem.

When I was little I used to love, almost more than anything 1) amusement parks and 2) the plaster Easter eggs where you can peer into one end and see a little scene of bunnies and kids in spring clothing, or whatever. Both of these are installations – big and small – created worlds. I think I want my writing to act like that.

And so, Real Life has many imagined installations running through it, some that could be constructed, and others that could not. My friend Christina Battle, a filmmaker, is collaborating with me on a work that will bring these written installations into conversation with moving images.

Q: Your five poetry collections, including RAG (Omnidawn, 2014) are each constructed as large, expansive book-length projects as well. How does this current project relate to what you’ve produced before? How is it different?

A: You’re right about that! One day perhaps I’ll write a book of discrete poems – what Spicer called one night stands. But for now, this is how my mind works. Right now I’d say that Real Life is different because of the process of creating it. I want to hold off on understanding for as long as possible – to keep it unstable and unknown. So far that has been the case – it is too long and too wide for me to be able to see the whole of it. Eventually I assume that won’t be true, but for now it seems important to be patient, to let it unfold to me very slowly. There are certain topics that I find urgent and modes of expression that I’ve explored in relation to those topics. Here I want to push myself to find a way to not settle too quickly. I should say that there are two other books coming out before this one – and I’ve been working hard on these as well – so Real Life has also been a kind of background project at times. A form of meditation. A practice. Ongoing and continuously strange – as I’ve also been writing these other things with very different modes of attack.

Q: I like that you’re allowing your uncertainty to develop, and not letting the conscious mind interfere with what the unconscious mind is creating. I’m curious about your development into utilizing the book as your unit of composition (as opposed to the poem). How did this evolve? You mention Jack Spicer, but who (else) are your models?

A: I’d say my first influence in working this way was Lyn Hejinian. I read her first when I was about 27, and she blew my mind. Before reading My Life I had a very different idea of what a book was and what it could do. I was into minimalism, abstraction, the odd meditations of Rene Char, Tomaz Salamun, Denise Levertov, Emily Dickinson. My Life broke something open for me, even though I still love all those authors! Also, early on I read Michael Palmer quite a lot, and his sequences were a big influence as well. Cole Swensen’s work was a huge influence on my first and second books – especially her Noon, which I read constantly for at least a year.

After that, Zukofsky’s “A” and Vallejo’s Trilce – both of which I read with others over long periods of time – and these reading experiences were so rich, unprecedented in their slowness and depth – I’m so grateful to the people in that reading group for the time we spent with those authors. Williams’ Paterson is one of my favorite works to teach and reread. I love it for its struggles and all that is unresolved there. And Olson’s Maximus has also been wonderful to spend time with, to teach, to attempt to get inside. More contemporary writers that have influenced me in this way include Eleni Sikelianos – her California Poem especially (in terms of form – I love all her work), and Anne Carson for how she blends genres and forms throughout books.

Q: A number of the works you mention engage with narrative and personal information in rather interesting ways. How conscious are you about including your personal and domestic life in the conversation of your writing? Is this something you think might change as your daughter ages, and begins to gain awareness of how she is being depicted? What are your boundaries?

A: Well, first, there are three kids, and the oldest is 16. Just for the record.

I feel like there’s a question inside your question. Maybe something like – is it ethical (or polite) to depict one’s kids in one’s work? So, yes, I think it is fine, inevitable, and important. Because I’m interested in the human – in all of life, which must include relations, especially those most intimate (but not only), it would be entirely false of me to somehow exclude children from writing.

I’m not at all interested in writing that places boundaries around what can and can’t be written about. That said, I would not reveal someone else’s secrets, or willfully embarrass a child or anyone else. When I’ve had questions about my material – about whether it embarrasses a person or reveals something they don’t want revealed, I simply show it to that person and ask them directly. So my boundary is exactly that – I let the person decide and only one time has a person said “No. Please don’t include that.”

All three kids are aware that “they” appear in poems – and sometimes, in fact, their own poems have appeared in my books – credited of course. I think they understand what others also understand – that all of “real life” is filtered when written. It is and isn’t truth. It is and isn’t them. They write about me too! And even when they say things that are not true to me, I understand that what they write is true to the writing. I’m pretty sure everyone around here has a healthy understanding of writing as complex in its relation to truth.

As for the first part of the question – there are so many issues that this brings up, I hardly know where to begin. First, I’ll say that the question is loaded for me with concerns around gender. Women have historically been shamed out of writing the “personal,” or shamed for writing about “domestic” issues (read Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh for a great satirical attack on the way women’s writing has been mocked for being too involved in intimate matters). I resist that shaming and I resist any division between the personal and the political or the private and the public, because all of these divisions are gendered, and have been for hundreds of years. My personal and domestic life is my civic life, is my political life, is my public life. There is no way that my house is not political – it speaks about class, it speaks about education, it speaks about race. There’s no way my work as a teacher or a publisher is not intimate. That work speaks about love, desire, friendship, emotion.

One of the thrusts of Real Life: An Installation is to put pressure on the very question you are asking – but I’ve been putting pressure on that question ever since my first book, and I suppose I’ll always be doing that.

Q: I like hearing that your children are writing, and that you are including – credited of course – some of their poems in your books. What do you think you’ve learned about writing, whether generally or your own, from your children? What have you discovered through seeing your own work through their perspectives?

A: I learn from them that it’s great when you can write each letter in a different color.

And here’s an anecdote: when my middle daughter was about six she drew a self-portrait around which she wrote the words “There is no escaping me.” My youngest’s first written sentence was “I like myself” (I lak m sef). This has something to do with their personalities. But also, both of these statements are useful for writing. Whatever and whoever we are, that’s always going to be in the writing no matter how hard we might try to depersonalize it. There is no escaping the self, so you might as well face it. On the other hand, as I was saying to some friends yesterday, writing is this strange process of constantly coaxing ourselves to fall back in love with ourselves (or at least to like ourselves), because if we are too disgusted we just can’t do it. So there’s this facing and this forgiving that have to happen all the time.

Q: After five published poetry collections (as well as this current work-in-progress), how do you feel your work has developed? What, if anything, do you feel you are working toward?

A: This is a hard question to approach. One doesn’t like to sum up one’s work or to claim goals that will inevitably shift anyway. Also, I resist narratives of progress in relation to making art. But I do know that for a while I’ve been setting a goal, in one way or another, of more range, freedom, or wildness. At the same time, I’m also interested in how each book creates its own boundaries, whether those be in terms of form or content – a book ends up describing itself and I’m trying to be aware of what each given project wants to do or be.

To be a bit more specific, I'm working toward a couple of prose books right now (in addition to Real Life, and another book of very short poems, Think Tank, coming out soon from Solid Objects). I’m trying to teach myself to write essays I’d want to read. And, to that end, I’m studying various writers who push the essay form. One of these books is on the topic of confession (literary confession, more or less). The other is a collection of essays about poetry and affect, which will take me a long time to finish.

I guess if I could say anything about what I’m reaching for I’d say maximal range, maximal intensity, and more patience. And one day I’d like to write a novel – maybe when I am very old.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TtD supplement #6: seven questions for David Peter Clark

David Peter Clark is the author of two chapbooks: feathereDinosaurs (shuffaloff / Eternal Network, 2012), and the upcoming PENTACLES : A Tunnel Glimpse (BookThug, 2014). His poems have popped in publications such as BafterC, COUGH, Echolocation, House Organ, RAMPIKE, and Yellow Field. He was the editor of COUGH II, and along with Jonathan Pappo co-curates/hosts(?) UHOH, an art performance series/beast in Toronto. Holler: davidpeterclark@gmail.com

His poem “On the Way to the Tranzac on March 7, 2013” appears in the second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: “On the Way to the Tranzac on March 7, 2013” is very much an extended, fractured “occasional poem,” an “I did this, I did that” poem, akin to works by Frank O’Hara and even David W. McFadden. What is your attraction to the occasional poem, as opposed to any larger construct?

A: Well, the occasionals are not more attractive than a larger construct; the larger construct is so dominant in my work that the occasionals allow for a breath of something different: a breath for me, and a breath for the audience, which in the case of the occasional poem is an event audience first. When I wrote “On the Way...” I had a reading at the Tranzac. This was during a time where much of my work foregrounded music over syntax. “On the Way...” allowed for the audience to maybe feel like they could do a little less work to receive what's going on. At the COUGH III launch my friend Oliver Cusimano read some great philosophical music to near silence and then named a doughnut to cackling laughter. The relief of contrast soars. Also, occasional poems for readings allow for an eye contact whenever you say “you.” The yous get less royal. The place and date in the title extend those timely intensities into the ever aging page they might then appear in (like Touch the Donkey). If you lay down all these different qualities on spectrums like Zukofsky’s integral, the hip and archaic, the timely and aphoristic, the subjective and objective, types of persuasion, etc, etc, you get a world of contrasts you can explore as tempos, timbres, volumes and rhythm. I’d be missing a valuable instrument if I didn’t have the occassionals. There’s also the ramble and the rest, heh.

Q: So would you say the occasional poems are ones that eventually become their own larger construct? I think of works by Jack Spicer, Jay MillAr or George Bowering, all of whom had collections of one-off poems. Given such, there was something of the “one-offness” that became less so, and more of another series of pieces that fell into a larger construct. Is this something you see your own occasionals doing, or are they purely occasional?

A: It’s funny you should ask that because although “On the Way...” escaped the grips of the larger construct, I’m currently at a phase where occasionals can be absorbed into it. The construct is in the serial mode à la Spicer and Duncan, and for a while would pass over anything in the first or second person. It had no taste for the exposed I, and occasionals could live out their lives in the ears of audiences or crunched up in the boxes of epistle targets. Mat Laporte and I were bouncing inquisitive pieces back and forth without worrying about where they would end up, perhaps thinking that writing that way was even more free of the State and other monsters. Now, although it won’t always be the case, the construct is happy to gobble the occasionals right damn up.

Q: What other larger constructs have you been working on?

A: You might have seen some of the Pentacles around. I’ve come across this coin which makes phonemic and syntactical suggestions as to what must be written. It’s opened some kind of transdimensional tunnelling. It might be the Zahir Borges spoke of. BookThug will be releasing a chapbook of some of the first explorations in the fall. The eighteenth pentacle merged with the mansions of the moon Yeats explored in A Vision. From there I had to consider different desires, masks, fates and creations as I walk or am walked through the affective space of this magical coin. Spicer said “Some poems you never get out of.” Let’s just say I’m a little worried, rob. (Nervous laughter)

Q: From what you’ve said so far, your influence appear very deliberate. If literature is a conversation, who or what do you feel yours is in conversation with?

A: Yeah, I hear this. It’s been an exploration. Although I can’t say the influence is deliberate, I sure can see a certain thread. And I’ve tried at times to shake that thread up. Mat, who I mentioned earlier, helps organize a Contemporary Reading Group which helped lead me to Alli Warren, Julianna Spahr, and Fred Moten. Some stuff you read tells you to stop writing this instant and go help somebody, while other stuff spurs me on. I never know what the conversation’s about. The work seems in conversation with inquest, the weird, desires, animality, and science limits. It’s in conversation with imagination? Is this a cop out answer? Are all answers cop out answers?

Q: Possibly, but then again, possibly not. Your Contemporary Reading Group sounds pretty entertaining, even enviable. How long has that been going on, and who else is in it?

A: Oh, unfortunately I’ve only made it out a couple times when I don’t have work. However, I can keep an eye on the works being read and give ‘em a shot.

Q: How did you first get involved in COUGH?

A: Jay MillAr and Jenny Sampirisi were running the Toronto New School and I took a class with Stephen Collis. After that I took a San Francisco Renaissance class with Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman. At the end of the run the group put some work together as a new Open Space as a nod to the original mag of the same name. For a couple of years after that people continued to meet up along with new faces. We discuss, critique, and enjoy each other’s works near weekly. Michael and Victor have been around writing longer than the rest of us and strongly felt there were those out there who would want to see the work. We agreed to rotate the editor for this new book and that was really the only rule. This became COUGH. The contributors get a few copies and hand them to those they think would want to engage with it.

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

A: Beyond other works of poetry I find fuel in theory texts and rhetoric journals. Right now I’m enjoying Graham Harman and Kamau Brathwaite. I keep returning to the Black Mountain constellation, but I doubt I'll ever stop rereading James Merrill’s "The Changing Light at Sandover." Eric and Marshall McLuhan's "Laws of Media" and the tetrads within are always a very useful way of looking at words as well.