Wednesday, April 25, 2018

TtD supplement #101 : seven questions for Laura Theobald

Laura Theobald is from in the Florida Keys and has lived various places in the South. Her poetry collections are What My Hair Says About You (Metatron, 2016) and Kokomo (forthcoming, Disorder Press) and the chapbooks Edna Poems (Lame House Press, 2016), The Best Thing Ever (Boost House, 2015), and Eraser Poems (H_NGM_N, 2014). She has an MFA in poetry from LSU, and designs books for BOAAT and OOMPH!. Her recent poems have appeared in The Wanderer, Hobart, Sink, The Atlas Review, Pinwheel, Witch Craft Mag, Everyday Genius, and Black Warrior Review, and the Anthology Women of Resistance (OR Books, 2018). Her website is lauratheobald.tumblr.com.

Two poems in her “Dear Birds,” series appear in the seventeenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the “Dear Birds,” series.

A: They’re from a collection titled Imaginary Conversation in Which You Are a Flock of Birds. It’s about a specific loss, a death, other things, therapy—in this epistolary form. It’s about loving someone who is emotionally unavailable, and also physically unavailable. Someone who becomes abstract and unreal. The speaker also is sort of unreal. Which is a theme that’s a lot more present in my last book (What My Hair Says About You).

There was more reasoning behind it—something about how birds congregate and move as a mass. How they are individuals but also, like, a single observable phenomenon. Um. It’s about shared experience, about writing for an audience, about/to several people at once, confusing the subject. It has gotten some positive comments, but no publisher yet. I have already picked out a cover for it.

Q: Would you consider this work, then, an extension of your previous collection?

A: The tone and form are different, but I’m bound to notice my nuance more than others. There is less humor. There is a section specifically about death... Yes and no. It isn’t consciously an extension. It exists on its own. But it is still my voice talking about the same things I always want to talk about.

Q: With three published chapbooks and a trade collection over the past few years, where do you see your work headed? What do you see your work heading towards?

A: I think I’ll be working with a press to get my first book back into print. And then I have another full length coming out it looks like. Then there’s the collection that I’m looking for a publisher for. I’ll just keep writing and putting out books with whoever will have me. Maybe one day a bigger press will notice me. Maybe not. I keep writing, so that’s all that matters to me. Maybe the world will end soon and we won’t have to worry about any of it anymore.

Q: What writers or titles are in your head when you’re putting together a manuscript? Given this work-in-progress will end up being your third full-length title, how did you learn to put together book-length collections? Was it a process of trial-and-error, or were you influenced by any specific works?

A: Birds I began writing for my thesis in grad school a couple years ago now. I was really influenced by Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. That, to me, is like an untouchable text. I honestly can’t think of anyone else really in particular who I was reading really closely at the time. My peers in grad school were very encouraging. A few poets I really admire—Monica McClure, Natalie Eilbert, CA Conrad, Lara Glenum—have been encouraging.

I learned how to put books together kind of in grad school, because I had to, but also I had already put together three chapbooks and published one before I got to grad school (one never got published, which is good). I guess just by reading. That is probably the answer to most questions about writing. Like, you observe basically how it’s done. But I have usually been pretty lucky in having a clear sense of when a project is over, and where it should end.

Actually with Birds though it’s a harder time than with the others. Probably because of the way things happened in life, and the way things happen in life. Sometimes you’re just taken out of a certain generative space. Like, I don’t have the luxury of going away somewhere and and writing. So, you just wander out of a project, or something happens, and you have to figure out how to go and put the thing back together. Anyway I would prefer to just keep going.

Q: I’m curious: what was it about Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely that resonated so deeply? How did that particular book assist in the poems that make up the manuscript of Birds?

A: It’s so personal, and personal in a way that matters to everyone. And “unflinching,” as they say. A poet looking hard at herself and at the world and making judgements. Speaking very confidently about scary subjects. In a way that makes you feel, like, safer and less alone. We’re indebted to her, and to writers like her, who put in so many extra hours to talk about hard stuff—and to make it appear beautiful, even the ugliest moments.

Rankine did an AMA one time, probably after Citizen, and I asked her something, like how she accounted for parts of the poems that were, you know, maybe embellished or even invented for effect, or for aesthetic reasons. That sounds like a rude question, and it is actually… I had something specific in mind at the time. Anyway, her response became a line in the book.

Q: Perhaps this relates, but what is it about the epistolary form that appeals? What do you feel you can explore or achieve through such that you might not be able to otherwise?

A: The form developed gradually over time. Maybe it’s not even a good idea. I remember while I was writing it, bringing versions to class, the form was changing, towards what it is now, and one of my peers got a little upset. She didn’t like the way the poems were changing. Maybe I should look into that. But I think the form helps make the poems seem more real. Like to make it an address—like there’s a real person here missing. I think it’s good for these poems to be more grounded in that way.

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

A: Chelsey Minnis, Jenny Zhang, Kate Greenstreet, Derrick Austin, Steve Roggenbuck, Kim Yideum, Jiyoon Lee are some poets/writers I am happy to return to again and again. A few recent favorite books are Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison, which I just realized, going back to it, must have informed the poems in this collection; In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse by Carolyn Zaikowski and Caca Dolce by Chelsea Martin.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Touch the Donkey : seventeenth issue,

The seventeenth issue is now available, with new poems by Victor Coleman, Dale Smith, Suzanne Wise, Sean Braune, Phil Hall, Sarah MacDonell, Laura Theobald, Valerie Coulton, Nelson Ball and Janet Kaplan.

Seven dollars (includes shipping). Are you sure it’s on!? I can’t hear a thing!

Friday, April 6, 2018

TtD supplement #100 : seven questions for Sacha Archer

Sacha Archer is an ESL instructor, childcare provider, writer, and visual artist, as well as being the editor of Simulacrum Press (simulacrumpress.ca). His work has appeared in journals such as filling Station, h&, illiterature, NōD, Timglaset, UTSANGA, Matrix, Word for/Word and Otoliths. Archer’s first full-length collection of poetry, Detour, was recently published by gradient books (2017), followed by Zoning Cycle (Simulacrum Press, 2017). His most recent chapbooks are, The Insistence of Momentum (The Blasted Tree, 2017), and upROUTE (above/ground press, 2017). He has a chapbook of visual poems forthcoming from Inspiritus Press entitled TSK oomph. He reviews, interviews and writes what he pleases at sachaarcher.wordpress.com. Archer lives in Burlington, Ontario.

An excerpt from his work-in-progress “Sites of Contemporary Meat” appears in the sixteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Sites of Contemporary Meat.”

A: The first seeds of Sites was my project The Complete True Biographies of Artists and Writers. In that project, which I am concurrently publishing in journals (I have a pretty big backlog), I first began my investigation into the biography and the distorted idea of the artist apart from the civilian. Biographies, presenting the information which is the most intense, entertaining, and relevant to the careers of the subjects, in my opinion and experience, lead the reader away from a knowledge of person as presence by focusing on the aspect of story (which, of course, is much more interesting). So, in The Complete True Biographies I attempt to counter the mythic aura, aura of fame, of the artist by attributing brief quotidian micro episodes to the artists/writers I included--episodes which could and, in most cases, likely do happen to everyone, i.e. tying one's shoes.

In Sites of Contemporary Meat, I wrestle with some of the same themes, this time looking at the poet’s bio which accompanies their work in publications. The writer’s bio is a strange animal. An advertisement, definitely a form, a very small window into an individual's life—a communication which both gives and does not. How each writer tackles the form of the writer bio reveals something of their personality. The information one decides to include can be revealing, or not revealing at all. What is there of person in the writer’s business-card-BIOGRAPHY? What is left when the information which makes it an advertisement is redacted? So, it is an erasure work, in a sense. Personal names, titles of publications, names of publishers, etc. are redacted—and replaced by (in most cases) [name redacted]. Interestingly, this comes to unify the biographies, which have only so much to give in the first place. Where one person stops and another begins becomes blurred, and this text of holes produces a music of absent information, [name redacted] repeated until it burns itself into your dreams.

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

A: Well... my first impulse is to say that it doesn’t. Of course, as I just mentioned, The Complete Biographies is related thematically; they are sister projects. But, the majority of The Complete Biographies was composed in 2013. For the past three years I’ve found myself pretty steeped in visual poetry, especially where it works hand in hand with conceptualism—so, this is a break from that route. I guess Sites relates, at least formally, to a number of shelved projects. One is an erasure work. I used the prisoner’s constraint while reading through a fairly dated children’s book on Jumbo (Dumbo) the elephant. Any word which broke from the prison’s constraint was erased, leaving that constraint satisfied. Also, there is a huge project I have abandoned and restarted numerous times (currently abandoned) in which I replace each word in James Joyce’s Chamber Music with their dictionary definitions. This project relates both in the mass of text and the employment of plagiarism as a literary technique.

Q: You speak of working on multiple projects at any given time. Is this how you normally work? How do you keep each project straight, and how, if at all, does each project interact with each other?

A: Projects flair up and die down; one takes prominence while another recedes. I find it fairly easy to keep track of multiple works in progress, but to aid me, just in case, I have three large sheets of paper hanging on the wall of my kitchen acting as an open notebook. I take notes on themes and developments and further ideas. I have a number of pretty clear cut concerns which my projects return to, as I see it now. Though, of course, there is much which I am unconscious of, which I cannot map. Each project encourages the other, not so much in relation to subject, but perhaps just as an index of quality. The projects can differ, and usually do, greatly. A visual poetic project floating half-finished while I focus on a conceptual text, while at the back of my mind an unfinished project (which doesn't know what it is) continues to assert itself with questions as to attention and possible avenues of execution. The holes which persist in unfinished work might end up being informed by projects that come to the forefront. Usually I have a very clear idea of how a project is to be executed. I don’t really have to compartmentalize each individual one in order to retain my understanding of them. Each project is a clear cut path, and it’s in the doing, the actual work, where the thinking happens.

Q: You’ve had a small handful of chapbooks emerge over the past year or so. How do you see your work developing? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My work has been increasingly focused on the visual. Vispo is not my main concern in poetry, but for some reason that is what I have been producing. Certain curiosities, I suppose, have led me into investigations into what visual poetry is and can be. I enjoy testing the limits of forms. I have a couple visual poetry projects which I have finished, and for both projects I have continued a train of thought concerning reduction and a focus on materiality which have led to or are leading to further projects directly related to those recently finished works. It seems like I have a number of projects that will become triptychs (consciously using the visual term, rather than trilogy).

Where I have been producing work that is not visual, again, it is the testing of formal limits. My recently released work Zoning Cycle which I published through my new small press Simulacrum Press, is a conceptual work which locates the words of the poem not on the page, but directs the reader to the world outside, the speech of us, as it happens. I don’t know where my work is headed. I have a vision, but it is a vague one, one which is unveiled with time—which is very exciting.

Q: I’m curious about your influences; what works or authors have influenced the shapes of your current work? What or who are you thinking of when you’re attempting to craft new poetry?

A: That’s a rather long list... but seminal moments in my life in art are: Listening to Bells by Albert Ayler (I couldn’t make sense of what I was hearing so I listened and listened and listened until -POP- I got it). This particular moment in music was a threshold I crossed where art, for myself, became no longer necessarily an engagement with compassion/ empathy/ enjoyment, and was re-positioned as a pedagogical method where one engaged with new modes of being (in space, in the body). Later... Jake Kennedy gave me a copy of Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault’s The Magnetic Fields (I couldn’t get over this book for a long time). Then found Rimbaud. Then Gertrude Stein (read and read and read till red). William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. Duchamp, Cage, Sun Ra........ Oulipo, Situationism........ the concept of psychogeography..... Robert Grenier’s Sentences and Cambridge M’ass.... Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter, and her sumptuous VOX. The list, of course, goes on....

It is very difficult for me to explain, not the thought process, but the process of becoming, which leads to a work. I have a feeling of a place that I am moving toward, and either the work that I take up confirms my proximity to, or my remoteness from, that place. I will likely never get to that place, the arena of the actual.

I think sometimes it is just a series of misunderstandings. Take Artaud’s scream. This was a method of deterritorialization, for him. But, from here where I stand, each time, the scream was a poem. Of course, a knowledge of performance art aids in that laconic misreading of a gesture. But... what were we speaking about?

Q: You mention fragments and misreadings; what do you feel they allow in or for your work that might not have been possible otherwise? What is it about the structures of accident that appeals?

A: How one reads. Do I read well? What does that mean? I am always envious when I read erudite analysis of art work. It seems so far from me, even now as I assert myself at the center of creation (in my own little world). If I am creative, it is that I steal very badly. I read, observe, listen, and come to understand a concept—one which may very well be quite off the mark—(but what of that?) and sometimes I act on that understanding, or misunderstanding. This is so common, it is the subjective experience of art. In the end, I usually find that a misreading of a work is a subconscious assertion of my creative desire which modifies, sometimes so far as to make it unrecognizable, the work or works at hand. So, Artaud’s scream was not a poem, but that’s not to say it shouldn’t be. I continually see artists manufacturing the lineage of their practice. Visual poets are prolific manufacturers of lineage. They will draw from every corner—and rarely were the sources they pull into their wake ever intended as part of any literary lineage.

As to accident, I tend to agree with Pollock’s There is no accident.

Q: If you are only creative in that you “steal very badly,” what is your take on “uncreative writing” (as Kenneth Goldsmith calls it)?

A: It’s just another mode of composition. It takes the root of influence and exposes it. I have been heavily influenced by the work of Goldsmith and other conceptualist writers. I love the effect of such work as his Soliloquy, for instance, or some works by Rob Fitterman. I have no issue with plagiarist techniques. They are boldly so, and they are not passing as something else. The effect they have on me (this is a general description) is to push me as far away as possible from the notion of poetry, push me far enough away that I can recognize it re-energized. I’ve come across this also with early works of Bernadette Mayer and recently, David Anton. People who didn’t/don’t need poetry to be poetic (at least in any traditional sense) and who arrived at a poetry which is alive.

Some uncreative writing leaves me wanting. Of course, that is to be expected, isn’t it? But I believe that it isn’t, or needn’t be, as boring as it is said to be. If you hear Kenneth Goldsmith reading The Weather, he reads it well, it is a performance, and the audience responds to it, they are engaged by the performance, they laugh (not at) and are really listening. That’s more than can be said for most readings. Some of the conceptual work I have published is very dead and boring on the page—but performed, it opens a latent energy its holes leave room for: how does one read this? It can be given this way, and this way is wonderful.

Q: You might have answered much of this already, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I come back to Gertrude Stein, Anne Carson, Rosmarie Waldrop, Bukowski, Hart Crane, Kenneth Goldsmith, Kafka, Andre Breton, Ron Silliman, Sylvia Plath, Leonard Cohen, Rimbaud, Perec, Susan Howe, Julio Cortazar, Roberto Bolano, Italo Calvino.... and more. Specific works that draw me back are The Magnetic Fields by Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault, If Not, Winter by Anne Carson, The Alphabet by Ron Silliman, Tender Buttons by Stein, Lawn of Excluded Middle by Rosmarie Waldrop, the Against Expression anthology edited by Kenneth Goldsmith and Craig Dworkin, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje, the Yi Jing (I Ching), The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans, and those mentioned in previous questions.