Monday, November 27, 2017

TtD supplement #92 : seven questions for Tessy Ward

Tessy Ward is currently working on an MFA in poetry at Boise State University. She has an MS from Illinois State University, where she was a Sutherland Fellow and worked on SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review) and Downstate Legacies.

Her poems “Fogs You Come” and “First Time” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Fogs You Come” and “First Time.”

A: “Fogs You Come” was written last fall after I read about the upcoming election in the Netherlands. One of the candidates, Geert Wilders, was using anti-Islam threats as a campaign tool. Wilders had written pledges to close borders to Muslim immigrants, shut down Mosques, and ban the Koran. Many citizens were concerned with any far-right viewpoint that could contradict the liberal openness that has been created, although that seems to be changing some too. After the United States’ election results, I was equally surprised and horrified to read of a similar candidacy situation. I think the poem resists a strangeness happening in the world today; it meditates on exclusion and selfish power, and what that might mean for the rest of us.

“First Time” was written from a fun-fact app on my phone that I used during a daily writing project. The app exclaimed it was Sputnik’s anniversary, which made me realize I didn’t remember much about Sputnik. I went on to read about the beginning of a technological, military, and nationalist revolution. When I learned about the satellite as a child in school, I never considered the large risk the USSR took during the launch. Sputnik was a propaganda child, a loved possession that needed to be prized upon its successful return. This poem has always read hauntingly slow in my mind, kind of distracted by the immediate needs to preserve oneself. 

Q: How do these pieces fit in to the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Lately, my work has had a sense of overwhelming to it. I think that sense fits in with these poems. These two poems originate from one specific event or person and I find that in my work quite often.  My poetry can be written as an instantaneous reaction or emotion from a striking thing I hear or read. It can also be written from the afterthoughts of that striking thing. I think lately my work is focusing on the afterthoughts of things rather than the instant response. I think I have taken the reactions I wrote about and am writing about their aftermath.

Q: Have you any specific models for the way you approach writing? What poets or works have altered the ways in which you write?

A: In short, no, I don’t have any specific models for how I approach writing. I’ve played with several different types of procedure (Oulipian, Cagean, etc.,) but I’m not attached to any particular set of steps.

Recently I’ve been interested in a method Keith Waldrop spoke of in an interview about Transcendental Studies. He said while reading he would take note of small words or phrases from different texts, and later on form the poetry. Since I’ve dedicated my summer to an overload of reading I figured I would try it. So far I’ve taken the tedious task of citing everything, but we’ll see how long that lasts....

Q: How has this method shifted the ways in which you see, or even approach, your own work? If at all?

A: I think this method has brought a revitalized attention to language in the texts I’m reading. I am noticing each author’s aesthetic with more detail, and now I’m attempting to find my own. Choosing phrases is fun, but placing the language in a way I find pleasing has become quite a challenge. I’ve taken more steps to create poetry than I am used to, which is both time consuming, tedious, and engaging.

Q: To date, you haven’t published in chapbook or book form; is this something you are working towards?

A: I am currently working on production of a chapbook, which should be forthcoming this fall.

I haven’t found a project/book idea quite yet, but I’m sure entering my MFA in the fall will help me work towards a larger piece of writing.  

Q: How are you finding the process of putting together a chapbook-length manuscript? Have you had any models for such? How are you approaching the selection/grouping?

A: Unpracticed! I’ve looked at models from friends and colleagues, which is immensely helpful, but at times still difficult to use when considering my own writing. The selection has been focused around the body and its betrayal. Mostly, I’m working closely with the publisher and taking knowledgeable advice.

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

A: I have to say, I’m a big fan of C.D. Wright’s Deepstep, Come Shining. Sometimes, poetry in general feels intimidating to me. My language feels inadequate, or just generally not up to standard to the work I read.  I'll keep in touch with Academy of American Poets “Poem-a-Day” and look up author interviews. This is a good way for me to strip some of the poet-pedestal I see in others. I’ll get a laugh out of something someone says, or be reminded how incredible poets are indeed humans too.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TtD supplement #91 : seven questions for Cindy Savett

Cindy Savett’s first book of poetry, Child in the Road, was published by Parlor Press. She is also the author of three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in journals including LIT, Word For/Word, and Dusie. She lives on the outskirts of Philadelphia with her family and teaches poetry workshops to psychiatric inpatients at several area hospitals.

Her poems “on the prowl,” “they follow themselves” and “you and her” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “on the prowl,” “they follow themselves” and “you and her.”

A: It’s always challenging for me to speak about my work – here’s a stab at it, though. The first two poems share the same struggle, coping with the death of my daughter, Rachel. The last is part of a group studying man/woman relationships – tension, power, hierarchy…

on the prowl” – My child’s anger is stealing my future…I am responsible for her pain, become vulnerable. There’s no safe place for me.

you and her” – To protect myself, I push away from Rachel by creating another identity (“you”), causing her fear and uncertainty. She tries to trap you, claim your sadness, take away your power. Your work is the navigation through the puzzle of your life and her death…made harder by cryptic clues.

they follow themselves” – The man wants to mold the woman with his hands using her own life force against her. She counters by envisioning her strength, and assumes his momentum as hers. He becomes the scent of failure…she, the creator.

Q: What was the process of beginning to write about such a loss? Had you any models for this kind of writing?

A: Describing a process is difficult for me…Rachel died on a Friday night and I started writing about her and her death on Saturday sometime in the morning. It was pretty rudimentary, more just a full body scream, but over the following months it began to form itself into moments and pieces of art. Writing was saving my life, literally.

I began a search for other poets who’d had children die…I needed to see how they had found solace, how they integrated that into their writing. At times I found offerings about how to survive, how to want to survive. Yet I felt very alone and frightened with where my thoughts - and poems - were taking me. Ultimately, resonance and guidance came from poets more aligned with my aesthetic yet not necessarily working through a notable grief.

Q: Are you noticing any structural differences between these pieces and the poems you’d written prior? Obviously, the process of grieving a child shapes the content, but has it affected the cadence or the line or even the shapes of your stanzas?

A: Early on I worked with sparse lines, often single words to the line, with staggered indentations that created a strong visual expression of falling with no handholds as one went down. At the same time the words screamed for anyone to hear and yet held meaning and intent extremely close – my contradictory existence at that time. Hear me but don’t understand because that is not possible. As Rachel’s death grew further away I came to understand that ultimately I would be able to break through my loneliness by expanding my lines and listening to a different rhythm within. I shaped my lines around the white spaces differently, wanting to create more color (richness beginning to return to my life) within a wider band of unspoken space (an understanding of my relationship to living).

Q: With a published full-length collection and a handful of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My early work, those poems in Child in the Road, were raw and emerged from listening to a painful and confused world. They were largely formed using a language that could only speak in abbreviated words, lines, stanzas. Stuttering out the overwhelming emotions and despairing thoughts, I was incapable of expanding the poem for fear it would become an open pit. As my life took on more stability I was able to flesh out what ended up on the page without feeling as if I was abandoning my tragedy, which had become a defining moment. My poems are now heading further away from what I consider to be a closed internal conversation into one that is inclusive and seeking the reader’s response as part of the poems’ purpose.

Q: What do you mean by “seeking the reader’s response as part of the poems’ purpose”?

A: As the years passed since Rachel’s death, I began to understand how great the split was between my oral and written words in the way I connected with others. I had successfully walled off where I considered my integrity to be housed: what I heard when I wrote. The reader was pushed away because I was frightened. Over time I realized my work could not continue to live in the vacuum I had created…my need to escape from my loneliness demanded I experience the poems as both my creations as well as a partnership with the reader who would offer me a way out of my isolation. My poems were then engaged in two very different yet critical missions.

Q: Can you speak further to those two missions, and how well you feel you’ve accomplished them?

A: It’s slippery…I am regularly tripping over my own feet as I sway between each intent. My ear and eye are inwardly pointed. My body is aware of its own workings and although I don’t breathe separately from the world, nonetheless I seem to remain what I consider too distinct. Yet it is in this space that I believe what my poems have to say. The difficulty is enormous when I connect those truths with my surfacing desire to break from conversations with myself. How am I able to move out and welcome in a reader who does not live inside me? Am I capable of hearing two realities at the same time thereby forming ties with others who want to read my words?

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

A: I tend to jump from poet/poem, one to another depending on what flies through my mind either while I’m writing, just wandering or aware of being very thirsty – Rukeyser, Transtromer, Hopkins, Aygi, Popa, Celan, Paz... many non-English writers. I seem to hear them more easily. It’s made me wonder often whether there’s another language beneath my words that’s supporting the poems.

Individual poems draw me in with an urgency that I experience in different parts of my body - right now, it’s “What Do I Give You” by Muriel Rukeyser. A little bit ago it was “The Mountains in the Desert” by Robert Creeley and two by Tomas Transtromer – “ Memories Watch Me” and “Midwinter.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

TtD supplement #90 : seven questions for Harold Abramowitz

Harold Abramowitz is from Los Angeles. His books include Blind Spot, Not Blessed, Dear Dearly Departed, and the forthcoming Man’s Wars And Wickedness: A Book of Proposed Remedies & Extreme Formulations for Curing Hostility, Rivalry, & Ill-Will (with Amanda Ackerman). Harold co-edits the short-form literary press eohippus labs, and writes and edits as part of the collaborative projects, SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO. He teaches in the Department of General Studies at Charles R. Drew University.

An excerpt from his work-in-progress “Dark Rides (Version 2)” appears in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the work-in-progress “Dark Rides (Version 2).”

A: Dark Rides came out of research I have been doing around poetics and narrative in relationship to state violence and both collective and individual memory, and how these concepts can be understood in relation to the built environment, or what Norman Klein calls “theme space.”

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

A: For several years I have been developing a body of work that deals with these themes from various angles. My 2010 book Not Blessed dealt with, among other things, the relationship of constructed narratives and constructed memory from the perspective of power; my recent book Blind Spot deals with similar topics from the perspective of culpability and interiority. In these projects, as well as in Dark Rides, I find the terms narrative corruption and memory corruption useful.

Q: What is it about the corruption of narrative and memory that you find so generative?

A: Good question. For me, the possibility of narrative and memory corruption opens up really intriguing questions about permeability and language, the articulation of borders, beginnings and endings, the integrity of content, and so forth. It’s well-trodden territory, but fascinating!

Q: With a small mound of books and chapbooks over the past decade or so, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: This is not something I ever think about, or it is something I try not to think about. I feel the progress of the writing while it’s happening. For me, the process of thinking and writing is very simultaneous. The trick is to keep working even with a busy life: parenting, day job, etc, to make the time to write. I think the energy created from the work allows everything else to take care of itself, including the ways in which the work ends up being disseminated.

Q: What drives you to explore some of these questions through poetry, as opposed to prose? What do you feel you can accomplish or explore through the poem that you couldn’t through other forms?

A: I think it’s a question of scale, in some cases. The poem offers a much wider range in terms of scale as compared to prose. But my process is very much about letting the work dictate the form it is going to take. It is very much about listening. In reference to your question before about progress, I hope that I am always growing to be a better and better listener to the work as I am writing it, better at reading it while I am writing it. In my view, I am always writing poetry, though it sometimes ends up more or less prosaic. I very rarely sit down to write and say now I am going to write prose, now I am going to write a poem.

Q: How does your prose differ from your poetry? Is it simply a matter of scale?

A: I was speaking of scale generally. I don’t think my prose and poetry differ.

Q: What writers, through example, have helped you construct your books? Are your books constructed organically or have you a set plan?

A: As far as construction of books, I have started with a set of themes, ideas, devices, language, e.g., phrases, sentences, words, deployed in some initial manner and then organically developed from there.  If I had to pick a dozen writers off the top of my head right this minute whose work I am often thinking about… Harryette Mullen , Alain Robbe-Grillet, Amina Cain, Dolores Dorantes, Georges Perec, Harmony Holiday, Janice Lee, Natalie Sarraute, Rosmarie Waldrop, Will Alexander, Wanda Coleman, Kathy Acker.