Monday, October 26, 2015

TtD supplement #38 : seven questions for Suzanne Zelazo

Suzanne Zelazo is a poet and academic currently working in commercial publishing. Her scholarly and creative work engage the modernist Avant-garde. Together with Irene Gammel, she published Crystal Flowers: Poems and a Libretto by Florine Stettheimer, and Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the first major English collection of the Baroness’s poems. She was the founder and editor of the small press magazine Queen Street Quarterly.

Her poems “Ménage à Cinq,” “Brancusi’s Golden Equinox,” “Congruent,” “Under My Dress, A Thousand Startled Moons” and “Cher Ubu” appear in the seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Ménage à Cinq,” “Brancusi’s Golden Equinox,” “Congruent” and “Under My Dress, A Thousand Startled Moons.”

A: Ménage à Cinq
(for Roger Conover)

This poem, and the whole collection explores lines of influence, appropriation, again and always collage, but collage as the rhizome of language and consciousness. The poem is a linking of lines by the poets Mina Loy and Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven, but it is also queries how their work has become available to us—so the role of the editor—their editors, is also being probed. The modernist scholar Roger Conovor was the first to bring Loy back into the fray when he re-issued Loy’s poems from her only book, Lunar Baedeker (Contact Editions, 1923) along with previously unpublished work, first in 1982 and then again in 1997. While the Baroness did not publish a book during her lifetime, Irene Gammel and I co-edited a collection of her poems for MIT Press where Conover is an editor. The poem is about the amplification of voice in its contemporary moment and in the future moments and voices it inspires. Where one begins and the other ends may be impossible to discern.

Under My Dress, A Thousand Startled Moons

This is about voices on the fringe worthy of centre stage. It is also about falling in love with art and the creative spirit. How does one negotiate the paradoxical seductive intimacy of experiencing art in the absence of its creator—its weird isn’t it?


Two sets of points are congruent if one can be transformed into the other by a translation, a rotation, and a reflection. Again this is about influence, Loy’s and the Baroness’s on me, but more specifically, it is about their influence on the men they loved or inspired whose own work would become critically recognized well before that of these innovative female modernists. Of course the perception of the direction of influence under those circumstances becomes not simply unclear, but often reversed. Twining is also central to this project—is the recognition of self in another about belonging, solidarity and confirmation, or is it about the loss of self, erasure and dissolution?

Q: How do these poems compare to other pieces you’ve been working on? Are they part of a larger grouping, or an ongoing series of occasionals that haven’t yet cohered into something book-length? And how might they compare to the work in, for example, your first collection?

A: The poems are characteristic of what I’ve been working on for a while now— a modernist conversation between the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven and Mina Loy, and a more general consideration of artistic influence. They are all part of the book length project (minus one occasional here). As in my first book, collage is central, but I think the collection explores voice—the simultaneity of voices—very differently.

Q: What is it about the works of Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven and Mina Loy that speak to each other? What is it about their works that still needs to be discussed?

A: For both Loy and the Baroness, collage enabled a dispersal of self, predicated on language as embodiment. Both women daringly redeployed the art form to critique the conventional sexism and pro-war sensibilities which the masculinist avant-garde disseminated. This collection stages an imaginary, sustained conversation between the two poets who in spite of numerous aesthetic resonances and common artist friends (notably, Djuna Barnes and Marcel Duchamp), never engaged with one another. There is no record of any exchanges between the two poets. Their non-relationship thus figures as a curious “absent presence” in modernist cultural history.

Q: What is it about utilizing collage that appeals? What does collage allow that another compositional structure might not?

A: Collage destabilizes meaning, mobilizes verbal and visual puns, performs a resistance to the ontological fixity or essence of the word or art object—emphasizing instead states of perpetual becoming and constructedness.

Q: How do you feel your work has developed over the past decade-plus, from the appearance of Parlance (Coach House Books, 2003) to your current project? Collage was already an important element of Parlance, but your critical work—specifically Crystal Flowers: Poems and a Libretto by Florine Stettheimer and Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven—have obviously made an impact on how you approach your work. What do you feel your writing has gained through exploring early Modernists such as Stettheimer and von Freytag-Loringhoven?

A: With respect to the Baroness in particular, I spent a few years really immersed in her thoughts, her writings, her manuscripts, her wonderful portmanteau words—themselves mini collages, and I think I came to “hear” differently. The Baroness had a voice and an ear like nothing I’d ever encountered—at once hard and whimsical. She is complex, raw and sharp in her perceptions, but she is also deeply humorous. As for Stettheimer, working closely with her writing allowed me a new entry into her painting. Stettheimer’s is a sophisticated, even crystalline whimsy and I think both have found their way into my writing.

Q: How do you feel this is different from your prior work? What has the shift allowed you to explore?

A: As an identical twin, I have long been intrigued by the moment of shared creativity. This work has allowed me to explore the concept of collaboration more explicitly—imaginary or not.

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

A: Anything by Karen Mac Cormack or Sina Queyras. But, I also tend to go the visual arts—like the work of Toronto-based artist Gord Peteran (in particular, a book of essays on his work Furniture Meets Its Maker edited by Glenn Adamson), or the narrative photographs of Janieta Eyre.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Touch the Donkey : seventh issue,

The seventh issue is now available, with new poems by Stan Rogal, Helen Hajnoczky, Kathryn MacLeod, Shannon Maguire, Sarah Mangold, Amish Trivedi and Suzanne Zelazo.

Seven dollars (includes shipping). My god! It's like you've known me all your life!

Friday, October 2, 2015

TtD supplement #37 : seven questions for Deborah Poe

Deborah Poe is the author of the poetry collections keep (in circulation), the last will be stone, too (Stockport Flats), Elements (Stockport Flats), and Our Parenthetical Ontology (CustomWords), as well as a novella in verse, Hélène (Furniture Press). In addition, Deborah co-edited Between Worlds: An Anthology of Contemporary Fiction and Criticism (Peter Lang) and is working on finding a home for her first full-length novel. Deborah Poe is associate professor of English at Pace University, where she directs the creative writing program and founded and curates the annual Handmade/Homemade Exhibit.

Her poems “Proun (sixth)” and “Letter to B” appear in the sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Proun (sixth)” and “Letter to B.”

A: I discovered El Lissitzky’s Proun at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University in March of 2013. The term drew me in, making me think at once of prose and noun. Proun is a term El Lissitzky’s coined, which he once defined as “the station where one changes from painting to architecture.” When I found Lissitzky’s definition, I was thrilled to think of the proun relative to memory and place. Though his definition was fairly ambiguous, it possessed a decidedly spatial quality, and the aspect of “translating” from one medium to another interested me greatly. I decided at the museum to write my fourth section of keep as “prouns,” wherein I attempted to translate the spatial—the canvas of place(s)—to language on the page.

To the extent that a poem can have a beginning (and memory of another can be imagined), I began the sixth proun about a GTMO prisoner, after viewing visual artist and poet Janet Passehl’s ironed cloth works. I had been listening to news on Democracy Now about Guantánamo Bay as well as reading a piece in Al Jazeera by detainee Moath al-Alwi, and Janet’s piece River (2010) immediately evoked both shroud and prayer cloth. The relationship between imprisonment, systems of power, and injustice—relative to our disastrous foreign policy in the Middle East—materialized in a cell on the page.

 “Letter to B” takes much of its language from a 2011 email to Brandon Shimoda. I was preparing for an upcoming trip to Tucson and had started working out the relationship between my concept of the sensual infrastructure and memory. (“Letter to B” was an early piece for keep, my collection based on memory.)

Q: How do these pieces connect to your previous work?

A: In his short piece “Towards a Poetics of Monstrosity,” from Lyric Postmodernisms, edited by Reginald Shepherd, Bruce Beasley introduced me to an Italian expression that speaks to that connection.

Italians have an expression I love: rimanere in force, to “remain in perhaps,” not to know, for a while. Like Keats’ negative capability, it’s a soothing respite from the “irritable reaching’” of the intellect toward knowledge and fact. A dispossession of the experience. To stay in perhaps, to linger with the eroticized body of the temporarily or permanent unknown. (1-2)
I love the openness that this Italian expression demands. I love the “placeness” held by perhaps. To pay attention to the colors, the sounds, the changes, and occurrences beyond the surface is to engage the rational and to revel too in the limitless country of the unknown[1]. “Mind coadunates with world in memory of place,” writes philosopher Edward S. Casey.

The pieces connect to my previous work then in their preoccupation with place and with the relationship of a poem to the unknown, the latter of which I think materializes in the correspondence between the abstract and concrete language of a poem.

Q: I’ve always admired just how lyrically packed your poems are: how you manage to incorporate a great deal of information into your poems without allowing the poems to feel overpowered or overwhelmed. There is, it almost feels, such a light touch to your lines, and your sentences. When it comes to how poems are built, what poets have you been influenced by?

A: I appreciate your question and reading of my work; thank you. Milan Kundera asks at the beginning of his novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being,
Weight or lightness? I have thought about that question a lot—how that paradox of lightness and weight gets articulated in life and in literature. I have no doubt this is another way in which my preoccupation with belonging and freedom (home and home-lessness) manifests itself in my work. I read ferociously and across a wide aesthetic range, so there are many, many writers by whom I have been influenced. With regards to “weight or lightness” though, I think first of Bruce Beasley whose intelligence and rigor carries a great deal of information—monstrously rich concrete language—into his poems without overwhelming. Paul Celan and Emily Dickinson come to mind for their unbearable lightness of being. Orlando White and Layli Long Soldier for the simultaneous breath and sink in letter and line. Jorie Graham for her teeth-sunk interrogation into the veiled and underneath.

Q: Much of your work to date seems to exist in that convergence of translation, memory and space. What is it about engaging these elements that attracts you so deeply?

A: I’ve spoken to you elsewhere about preoccupations with place, cultural identity, and notions of belonging and home and how growing up in a military family contributed to those preoccupations. Also, I process the world emotionally very differently from my family and suspect I figured that out pretty early on. I am sure that is foundational to engaging translation, memory, and space over and over again in my writing—trying to speak the same language but knowing often we (the general we) just don’t. For a talk that I gave a year ago for the Equality State Book Festival, “Handmade/Homemade: Between Concept and Making” I spoke about my own process of writing and making books. I discussed how I consider making books as a kind of translation of text into other mediums. Just as we move across multiple grammars when we move between languages, we can move across modes of expression in transforming a text to a book object. We experience different materials and the way those materials manifest in the world. Remaining open to multiple modes of expression is like remaining open to other ways of “speaking.” Thinking about moving between genres like this pleases me greatly. But to get back to your question, I suppose my answer is kind of existential. What attracts me so deeply about engaging translation, memory, and space is how those elements animate my understanding of connection (and lack thereof). I am trying to come to more peaceful terms with that relationship between human connection and ultimately being alone. Dig far enough, I suppose, and we’ll all eventually find that our preoccupations are not unrelated to our limited time on this earth.

Q: How do you feel your work has progressed over the past decade or so, through four published books (three poetry collections and a novella in verse) and a mound of chapbooks? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Over the last ten years, I think my work has become more and more socio-politically oriented with a deeper environmental consciousness. The connections between social justice and the environment have become clearer and more urgent over the last few years. I was reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything early this summer, and this passage about the reason for social movements to exist resonated strongly:

. . . . it means continually drawing connections among these seemingly disparate struggles (my emphasis)—asserting, for instance, that the logic that would cut pensions, food stamps, and health care before increasing taxes on the rich is the same logic that would blast the bedrock of the earth to get the last vapors of gas and the last drops of oil before making the shift to renewable energy. (Part 1: Bad Timing)
Over the past ten years, I have also settled into a poetics that is fairly concept-driven. My last two published books of poetry, for example, were Elements and the last will be stone, too, based on the periodic table and art about death respectively. As I mentioned before, my latest poetry collection, keep, is about memory. Another progression is my accelerated interest in prose. I view Hélène, my novella in verse, as a departure from my poetry. In it is my keen attention to language and the poetic line, but there is some semblance of a narrative arc. Last winter I finished my first novel am now seeking a home for it. As for where my work is headed, we shall see. I’m playing around with more elements this summer (there are only 39 of 118 in the Stockport Flats book). I have been awarded a sabbatical for the spring semester and have mapped out a schedule to work on two books, at least one of which will be prose.

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

A: That is an impossible question. I just learned from Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon that the longest word to appear in an English language document was the word for an important protein, the titin protein, on the tobacco mosaic virus. I could write a list as long (and started to yesterday just for fun). The length of titin—189,819 letters—couldn’t hold all of the writers and works, old and new, which energize my work.

Lori Anderson Moseman Bruce Beasley’s Lord Brain Paul Celan

Haruki Murakami Sherman Alexie Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine

Jorie Graham’s Swarm Michael Palmer Raymond di Palma’s Works

in a Drawer
Harryette Mullen Mei-mei Berssenbrugge Rikki Ducornet

Wallace Stevens William Carlos Williams Bhanu Kapil Judith Butler

Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn Laird Hunt

Jane Miller’s Wherever You Lay Your Head Edward Said Rebecca Brown

Jacques Derrida Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider James Baldwin Marilynne

Robinson’s Gilead Laynie Browne’s Mermaid’s Purse Ta-Nehisi Coates’s

Between the World and Me Anthony Doerr’s The Shell Collector Lydia Davis

Cole Swensen Junot Díaz Yoko Tawada’s Where Europe Begins Jhumpa

Lahiri Marguerite Duras Roberto Bolaño Maggie Nelson Arundhati Roy

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Elfriede Jelenik Lao Tzu Virginia Woolf

Jeannette Winterson Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm-of-the-Hand Stories Raúl

Zurita’s Inri Cecelia Vicuña Anne Carson Bernadette Mayer Jean

Valentine Etel Adnan Arthur Sze Emily Dickinson Lucie Brock-Broido

John Ashbery Claudia Rankine Kate Greenstreet’s Case Sensitive Meredith

Stricker’s Mistake Zhang Er’s Verses on Bird Michael Ford’s Carbon Elizabeth

Willis’s Address Stéphane Mallarmé Akilah Oliver Elizabeth Bishop Lorine

Niedecker Gertrude Stein Dogen Thích Nhât Hanh Michel Foucault Suzanne

Paola’s and Brenda Miller’s Tell It Slant Suzanne Paola’s Body Toxic Xu Yuan

[1] Hélène Cixous, from “The Laugh of the Medusa:” “Because poetry involves gaining strength through the unconscious and because the unconscious, that other limitless country, is the place where the repressed manage to survive.”