Friday, November 25, 2016

TtD supplement #66 : seven questions for Norma Cole

Norma Cole’s books of poetry include Win These Posters and Other Unrelated Prizes Inside, Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988—2008, Spinoza in Her Youth and Natural Light, and most recently Actualities, her collaboration with painter Marina Adams. TO BE AT MUSIC: Essays & Talks made its appearance in 2010 from Omnidawn Press. Her translations from the French include Danielle Collobert’s It Then, Collobert’s Journals, Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France (edited and translated by Cole), and Jean Daive’s A Woman with Several Lives. A new translation of Daive’s first book, White Decimal, is forthcoming from Omnidawn. She lives in San Francisco.

Her poem “I Got Word” appears in the eleventh issue of Touch the Donkey. Another poem, “DISTRACTION,” appeared in the first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “I Got Word.”

A: Because memory is fiction, “the past” is suddenly very bright and horizontal. There was no impulse (genre, form, idea) behind this writing. I just had these three words in my mind after reading an email from Claude (Royet-Journoud) where he told me that Ludovic Janvier had died. I had met Janvier because Claude had put me in contact with him. When I saw that he had died I was “thrown back” to that moment (whatever moment means). Memory opened, opened me up to this moment now and I could write about that moment then. The words as thoughts began to branch out, rhizome-like (orchid/wasp) and I noticed that this is one way writing can happen.

Q: Have you composed other memorial pieces over the years? How do they differ from your other works? And how does this piece, if at all, fit in with the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I’ve done several memorial poems, for instance for Robert Duncan, Jacques Derrida, Leslie Scalapino, Hélio Oiticica. The Derrida poem was one I never imagined or though of, it just happened. They all “just happen,” but Derrida? It’s in my book, Do the Monkey, “In Memoriam Jacques Derrida” which also has my “Dear Robert.” “ESTAR for Hélio Oiticica” is in Spinoza in Her Youth. These poems are also in my selected, Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008 (City Lights). The poem for Leslie is in a journal but I can’t at the moment remember where, so I will enclose it here. But as you see, “I Got Word” is in a different register altogether from these poems.

When Push Comes To Shove
Elegy for Leslie Scalapino

Nevermore is just a word
The crease of life
Rain’s sweet scent or
The erasure of rain
Localized deafness—

As the wind folds other things
Go, go out and play
The nothing that stops
Time—check it

Fresh as rice powder
In the wind, perfect
Memento, remember
She lives

Q: I think the poems are best when they, as you say, “just happen.” But do you ever feel as though, when someone you admire dies, that such a poem is required, simply because you’ve done such for others? (The idea is reminiscent, slightly, of a quote I once heard about how Robert Creeley felt as though he spent the last third of his writing life composing obituaries for his friends.) Also: how and why does the tenor shift? I know Vancouver poet George Bowering has long worked an open-ended series of prose poems as tributes to poet friends, as has Toronto poet Victor Coleman. How have you managed to retain the individuality of such pieces?

A: To respond to the first part of your question, “But do you ever feel as though, when someone you admire dies, that such a poem is required, simply because you’ve done such for others” when a person dies, I always cast about in my mind to see whether I have something right there to say, to write. Usually, nothing comes to mind. It is not “required.” No requirement for the poem. Every conversation is so particular (poetry is a conversation), and the conversation I am having—still with that person—will occur, but when? That’s the weird thing about this piece, “I Got Word.” It was so immediate. Maybe because I was not exactly writing TO Ludovic Janvier, I was kind of writing, back-channelling, to Claude Royet-Journoud. Which brings me to your next question, “how and why does the tenor shift?” And I say because it is so individual. Your questions here had me thinking about “celebration poems,” to honor someone. You know, the poem for a festschrift to honor the poet’s 80th birthday or something. There, I do have a “usual” procedure, in that I go to the poet’s work, and I write from a book or even a single poem from that person’s work. For instance, “For Rosmarie Waldrop, Eighty Words from Splitting Image.”

For Rosmarie Waldrop, Eighty Words from Splitting Image [Zasterle, La Laguna 2005]

One heart conceals accuracy a line the snow very deep its views like beauty is felt out loud at angles grooves sound reflecting language as water like love structures time magical awkwardness

Blue apple make possible abstract values breath the gift signals letters jazz in collusion color stirs and time flying like overtones beyond sun edge moon mirror measure field of warm snow

Invisible images all forms each enable unraveling winged clarity

Q: I suppose the question I was asking did relate to the “celebration poem,” in that often the response to a poet’s death, other poets write poems in homage, or, as you say, conversation. Robert Kroetsch often referred to literature, including his own writing, as a “conversation.” Is there an element of that in the larger arc of your own work? Or only for those pieces composed for others?

A:  Robert Duncan spoke of poetry as a “serial collaboration,” and as a “grand collage.” Robin Blaser had his great companions. I have the on-going conversation, in particular, and in the larger arc of my work.

Q: You’ve published an enormous amount of work over the past three decades, from books and chapbooks of your own work to anthologies edited and numerous translations. With thirty-some years of production so far, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I laughed out loud this time, truly I did, when I read your question, simply because I have no answers. The second question first—a case in point—at the turn of the year, 2015/2016, I had no idea, writing? It was a blank slate. I thought I would still be working on a book translation I hadn’t really begun. I wanted to write something from my recent trip to Southeast Asia but hadn’t. And then I wrote “I Got Word.” And rather quickly a lot of things happened. I was asked or invited to do things that meant different writing or translating, for conferences etc. And was asked to teach a seminar in June. Right now, I am writing a prose piece (there it is, more prose) for Art Practical, an online journal. The piece begins with my 8th grade English teacher. Never would I have thought of that, about starting there, if I hadn’t had this one moment sitting in a cafe last week hearing Miles Davis and my notebook on the table. And that popped into my mind and I started to write. I guess this is my way of saying it’s in the moment. Body/mind conspiring. Neuroscientists say that one begins to do something, anything, before one consciously knows. And the first question, how the work has developed, I would say “more mindfully,” but I don’t yet have the means to explain what that means.

Q: A worthy answer! More should simply admit when they haven’t a clue about a specific question or point. But to ask as follow-up more specifically: how do you construct your books? Is there a unifying theme or project-based structure that pushes a manuscript forward, or are books constructed entirely on a case-by-case basis? How do your books begin?

A: Case-by-case basis. But the books all begin with a beat, a syllable, a word, a fragment, more fragments, building a something, eventually a poem. And then another. When I have several, looking at them, I begin to grasp that they are telling something, telling me something. My friend the artist Stanley Whitney said something pertinent in an interview last year. “When you paint, you want to paint something you don’t recognize. But then, you don't recognize it, so it’s hard to see.” It might take a while. But we have time, we wait.

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

A: Someone just asked me (actually several people have asked this) if I went to writers’ retreats or artists’ colonies to “get away” and write. I’ve never done that. It seems that I like to stay with the familiar in order to go far away in imagination. As far away as can be. So I’ll take a walk, or go to a cafe to sit for a while. Sit for a while reading whatever I have on hand. It could be a book of poetry, old or new; or philosophy, neuroscience, a book about a painter, dancer, filmmaker. I am reading, slowly, Robert Duncan: An Interview (by George Bowering & Robert Hogg, 1969). About to read To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolution, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson (Autonomedia 2016) and Kapusta by Erin Moure (House of Anansi, 2015). 

It seems I go back to Forces of Imagination (Barbara Guest), Nathaniel Mackey’s prose (Discrepant Engagement, Paracritical Hinge) and Idea of Prose (Giorgio Agamben). And I’m reading for the millionth time Beckett’s version of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau ivre.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

TtD supplement #65 : seven questions for Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy is the author of The Redcoats, Down with the Ship, and Millbrook (forthcoming from Black Dress Press). He has received grants and awards from the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Chelsea Magazine, The Fund For Poetry, and The New York State Foundation for the Arts.

His poems “Untitled 5,” “Untitled 7,” “Untitled 8” and “Untitled 9” appear in the eleventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Untitled 5,” “Untitled 7,” “Untitled 8” and “Untitled 9.”

A: I’m not sure what to tell you about them specifically, but I can say that they are part of a longer sequence that centers around my return to my home town in New York’s Hudson Valley after living elsewhere for the past 18 years—so in part I think they are about a kind of dislocation with a familiar landscape, and allowing those images to re-introduce themselves in to my vocabulary.

Q: How does this work differ from the work you’ve done prior?

A: Well, the landscape has changed, which certainly changes the language. And I think that these poems are a bit more stripped down than work I have done in the past.

Q: Is being influenced by your surroundings an element of your writing, or only one specific to this current sequence?

A: It has always had a lot of influence on my writing. My poems are almost always written about the dailiness of wherever I find myself.

Q: Would you consider yourself a poet who builds books, or individual poems? How are your books usually constructed?

A: I think that I tend to end up most naturally writing sequences, which is perhaps to say, a little bit more than an individual poem, and far less than a book. I think that because generating work is difficult for me, and that moving the words around is so much fun, they tend to grow into multiples.

Q: Do book manuscripts emerge through a process of enough sequences coming together to finally cohere? Through this process, are there sequences that get set aside for another potential manuscript?

A: I tend to hit a kind of critical mass and then try to write back in to, and take things out of, the manuscript, to try to get it into some kind of reasonable shape—its dubious if I’ve ever actually pulled this off successfully...

Q: What writers or works influence the ways in which you write? What poems or poets are in your head when you’re putting a book together?

A: Always Rae Armantrout, Robert Creeley, Louise Neidecker, and perhaps Jack Spicer above all.

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

A: I would say that John Ashbery would be that poet who always re-energizes me. Not that we share much of anything stylistically, but his pure imagination and the facility with which he writes is constantly astounding.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

TtD supplement #64 : seven questions for Kemeny Babineau

Kemeny Babineau’s work has appeared in Rampike, Carousel Magazine, PRECIPICe, Stone the Crows, fhole, Damn the Caesars and other publications over the years. His most recent titles are Poems of Days (self-published) and The Blackburn Files (above/ground press). He has one trade publication with BookThug, After the 6ix O’Clock News. Babineau runs an out-of-print bookstore called Laurel Reed Books as well as a poetry micro-press of the same name. Earlier this year he saw the birth of a new book with Angel House Press.

His sequence “The Log of Wonorata” appears in the eleventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the sequence “The Log of Wonorata.”

A: It is an erasure poem. The source text is a book I once bought mistakenly due to the author sharing his name with poet Charles Olson. It is an adventure logue.

Q: How does this fit with the work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Funny that you’d ask. It doesn’t fit at all. It does continue some work I did a year or so ago, in a sense, but I haven’t composed in erasure for several years. Lately I have gotten away from games of content manipulation generators and have been chasing more conventionally written poems. Erasure is at the opposite end to that as none of it is written by you.

Q: Is this part of a larger piece or something you see yourself continuing?

A: I am beginning to see outlines of something, but I don’t tend to work that way. I see my process as more aleatory. The shape completes itself. Content and direction are driven by what I do in day to day life and by my interests. I don’t have something in mind to write about; something to write about comes into my mind. So for me patterns and plans are in retrospect.

Q: As the author of a mound of publications over the past decade or so, are your structures entirely informed through intuitive means? Is there a difference at all in the way your chapbooks were constructed, versus your full-length collection?

A: No, not all. I have written teleologically before, or have attempted to, but I tend to fizzle off and become disenchanted with the results. I felt like it was too easy, almost unearned, and I felt the results bordered on the disingenuous. I began to distrust the process based on the results. My most prescriptive piece is The Incomplete Tree Guide published by Wot Press in 2005. I set out to write a poem everyday using a different tree or shrub as the starting off point each morning. I liked some of the results and I am proud of some of the work in it but overall I was dissatisfied so I abandoned both the project and the process. I think I work best in short sequences. Putting together manuscripts for trade publications is a real challenge for me, I don’t see ahead that well and end up just kind of cobbling things together as best I can. It is a kind of poetic myopia I suffer from and no corrective lenses will help.

Q: Given your numerous collections over the past decade or so, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I am headed in several directions at once. Some are what I think of as pure poems, grounded in observation, written in the Nelson Ball style with an emphasis on image, clarity and sound. Other directions are more exploratory. It is difficult to reconcile the two. One of my larger uncompleted projects is a history of Canada in verse, A Furrtive History. This is driven by my interest in history and politics. When I write a piece that I feel fits I find a place to plug it in. It is an unwieldy project but I see it as a life work. Parts of it have been published in other projects but overall it is far from polished. It really is the kind of project that will never be finished, it blows by perfection.

Q: I’ve seen less of your work over the past couple of years. Is that part of that tension between writing and perfection, or are you simply working in further directions? And how does your AngelHousePress title fit into the mix?

A: I have never been a prolific writer, and I am slowing down, but I do really want to say things. My AngelHousePress chappy, The House of Many Words, is totally different from anything else I have done to date. It is written as play, a word play.

Q: When you say “a word play,” what do you mean?

A: Well, it is a play on words, most plays consist of words so they are in a sense all word plays, but House of Many Words is written as a play that isn’t necessarily meant to be performed. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be, there are staging directions provided. Also, part of its structure is punning on characters names. Many Words is a character in the play, along with Nobody, Many People and Land Barren. It is more of a poem than a play, so I call it a word play.

Q: You mentioned poet, publisher and bookseller Nelson Ball earlier as being an influence. What other writers have been important to your writing?

A: Nelson Ball has become a close personal friend over the years and his poetry has rubbed off on me, we are quiet moths in the corner of the room. Charles Olson’s big, open field poetics has also been a large influence. Other strong influences are bill bissett and John Newlove. I want my poems to sing like bissett and weep like Newlove. Jackson Mac Low figures in there too, his book Twenties really opened things up for me.

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

A: Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems, I return to that constantly. It is so huge, like a planet of its own. Dennis Lee’s work contains a lot of energy for me as well, The Unpoems, Yes/No, Riffs, great playful stuff.  But discovering new poets and new work is vital. Latest gems have been Mary Ruefle and Joseph Massey. Just finding that work that really clicks with you, that’s like acetylene.