Thursday, September 20, 2018

TtD supplement #116 : seven questions for Allison Cardon

Allison Cardon is a Ph.D. candidate at SUNY Buffalo and edits P-Queue. She has published work in Gramma, Full-Stop, and Jacket2. Her chapbook What was the sign you gave (a selection) recently appeared through above/ground press.

Her poems “from What was the sign you gave” appears in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “from What was the sign you gave.”

A: This series is examining questions, “the question,” or, what it means to ask questions specifically in the pursuit of something like justice, remedy, or amelioration. Of course, language is never neutral, but this is thinking in particular about how and why questions, especially questions as performed in classically liberal spaces, have gotten this rap for being innocent, benign, harmless, or perhaps just smart, or insightful, etc, and pushing against that frame.

What was the sign you gave begins from the position that questions, no matter how “open,” organize and hierarchize speaker and addressee. Interrogations can be violent—invasions. There is what Barthes calls “the terror of the question.” Sometimes a question does nothing so much as aggrandize the speaker. At the same time, there are good questions and bad ones, and good ones can release speaker and addressee from the paradigm that has defined them up to the point of the question. I was interested in thinking about these ideas though a couple of different scenes of interrogation—the first, Joan of Arc’s trials, in which it really doesn't matter how she answers the questions the judges put to her because the judges will only understand her answers as evidence of the charges they hold against her. The other is Hannah Arendt's reporting on the Eichmann trial, where she’s concerned that questions are put to him in the service of a colonial project and, further, that these questions allow the spectators to obfuscate their complicity in the atrocities for which Eichmann was condemned. The questions they asked allowed the court to condemn him as a monster rather than as the very human product of the humanist projects that have underwritten the horrific expansion of global, colonial capitalism, the bureaucratic technologies of genocide, etc. In each of these trials, the questions miss everything that's important about the situation because the interrogators need to assert a certain reality. 

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

A: Well, my dissertation is looking at rights discourse in the eighteenth century, which is another intersection between the legal and the political. There I’m looking at grievance as a narrative project, thinking about how grievance marks political conflict and then also the ways that the legal relies on narrative in order to contain or suppress that conflict. I’d say both projects are also related by their interests in figures—people and characters—who are not supposed to be able to think and speak in a language that anyone can understand, the conditions of their intelligibility and the costs of that intelligibility.

The other more poetry-type projects that I’m working on are asking similar questions about intelligibility as a threshold. One that’s been stewing for a long time is a rewriting of Othello in which everyone knows what’s going on around them but carry on with the plot anyway. So the question there is about what happens when the discourses that in some senses determine characters actions are intelligible to the characters themselves. What is it that they know and how does that recode the action or plot of the play?

Q: Have you any models, contemporary or otherwise, for this kind of work? Who have you been reading?

A: Oof. Myung Mi Kim. Anne Boyer, Lisa Robertson, NourbeSe Philip. Renee Angle, whose book WoO am in love with. Roland Barthes. Jocelyn Saidenberg. Anne-Lise Francois, whose book Open Secrets really threw me.

Q: How did such a project first emerge? And what is it about working through some of these concerns through poetry that might not be possible through another form?

A: Originally, this piece was going to be about how conversation organizes the space in which it occurs. So, not just “you” and “me,” but also yours and mine, “us,” “not-us,” the way one person can set the terms of the conversation and thereby delimit the possible. That wasn’t really working but, because I really like working with dialogue, I started working with material from dialogic thinkers.

With this project, I always think of how Stein is like “why do you need a question mark? everyone already knows you’re asking a question.” I’m sort of playing with that idea, and I think that being able to break up and distend these questions, isolate them into their constituent parts, is necessary in order to really see just what we can know from the question being asked. If it is a question, what is it really asking? Demanding? I mean, the whole point with the Joan of Arc questions is that the priests who are interrogating her don’t really want an answer, they don’t care what she says and they just don’t get it. And they think she doesn’t get what they’re asking. Except that, really, everybody does, they all know that this interrogation is performative in the sense that they are ensuring that Joan is guilty, ensuring in both transitive and intransitive senses. Arendt is arguing that something similar is going on with the Eichmann trial as well. So really getting at how these questions are working, I think, it shouldn’t go the route of explanation, proliferating language around how these questions are doing so much. It has to go the route of distillation, concentration, to see what’s going on with them internally, between phrases, words, phonemes. So, poetry.

Q: You’re currently in the midst of SUNY Buffalo, one of the better known North American writing centres, as well as editor of the annual P-QUEUE. How has your time in Buffalo helped shaped your writing, and your poetics?

A: Honestly, I’m not sure I had “a poetics” before I arrived here. There were tendencies I had and ideas I was attracted to but I’m not sure I really had an idea of what there was to do, what I could do. What’s amazing about the poetics program is that it’s not really about “your poetry” (“you” in the generic sense) but more about what poetry does and is doing and figuring out how to contribute to it. Like any critical practice, it’s been an opportunity to identify the conversations I want to participate in. This was also huge relief for me as it took the pressure off of being a poet and made it more about doing things, figuring out stakes. Myung Mi Kim and Judith Goldman are both incredible poets, but through the program I’ve come to know them as thinkers. Poetry has become a mode of inquiry for me, a mode that demands political and intellectual rigor. Equally important has been the fact that a huge part of the program are the readings, so I’ve had the opportunity to meet tons of poets here who are making urgent, critical poetry, and talking with them is always challenging, productive, and humbling. I usually leave these readings with the sense of not having anything at all to add and also really feeling the need to revisit or respond at the same time. That’s a good place for me to think from.

Q: How does one move forward without being intimidated? And how do you see yourself attempting to move forward after you leave?

A: Oh, man. I guess maybe it’s less about not being intimidated than about recognizing the sense of intimidation as a form of engagement? Like, if I’m intimidated, that means I feel some relationship to what’s happening, which could lead to something worth thinking about. I dunno, I do think it’s a good idea to do the thing that scares you. You know? That means there’s something there.

As far as moving forward after this program, oof. It’s the whole job rigamarole. In any case, I’ll be looking for ways to sustain the kind of work that being here simultaneously makes possible (in terms of ideas and resources) and impossible (in terms of work load) at the same time. Also, this project on Othello that I think can handle a lot of work in different genres and which I’ll probably work into the ground.

Q: Has your work on P-QUEUE had any effect on your work? Does it exist as separate from your writing, or do you see it as part of your overall writing practice?

A: Definitely as a part of my overall practice insofar as it requires curation and explanation. Also, I like writing the editor’s note a lot because it really forces me to take stock of connections and departures—that’s always easier when you’re looking at others’ work. Even if my own poetry doesn’t necessarily read as conversational, I do think about it as dialogic; P-QUEUE is nothing if not a dialogue, putting the contributors’ work in conversation with each other.

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

A: Brandon Brown’s Catullus poems. Anne Boyer's Garments Against Women. Jennifer Tamayo. Ed Roberson, City Eclogues. Julian Brolaski’s Gowanus Atropolis. Lisa Robertson’s The Men and also Nilling. Mutlu Blasing’s work on lyric.

Friday, September 14, 2018

TtD supplement #115 : eight questions for Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison’s poems recently appeared in Colorado Review, Fence, and Iowa Review. Her five books include After Urgency (Tupelo; winner of the Dorset Prize) & the true keeps calm biding its story (Ahsahta; winner of the Sawtooth Prize, Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, Northern California Book Award, & DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America), and her recent book, Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta; finalist for the NCIBA and also the NCBA Awards in Poetry). She has been co-publisher of Omnidawn (www.omnidawn.com) since 2001; her website www.rustymorrison.com.

Her poem “our aptitude for perishing” appears in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “our aptitude for perishing.”

A: a pleasure to talk with you about poems thru an email interview process: epistolary, in the sense that each question comes, and feels special in its arrival (i love getting postal letters!). as with all epistolary forms, the interval of time between ask and answer allows each to resonate more suggestively, and allows me to consider it as a singular and fragile missive passing across the ether between us. the poem “our aptitude for perishing” is in my mind as i say this, since it is the sense of each thing in my life disappearing so soon, which initiated the poem. the phrase comes from maurice blanchot, who suggests that it is, in part, “our aptitude for perishing” that we humans have to offer. it is a valuable gift...

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

A: this is a poem from a series with a form that i created (seven-syllable segments; but each poem ends with single syllable word; no punctuation in the poems). in all these poems, i’ve wanted to write about limits. but i haven’t wanted to just write 'about' limitation, i’ve wanted to ‘live inside limitation’ in the work and then see how i handle it. i want each poem, as i write it, to be an opportunity to experience limitation (as an event, as what’s happening to me as i write the poem). the poems do talk about experiences i’ve had in my life, or that i’m having in my life. but i want more than that. i want the poem to have for me the surprise and challenge of living in an event, not just a story, not just aftermath. ann lauterbach points out that the “convergence of subject matter with form releases content.” i’ve found that the form of these poems is a challenge! and i end up revising and revising to create seven syllable segments that don’t break up words at the syllable break. this often causes a contentiousness in my use of syntax that forces me to diverge from my more expected trajectories of thought, and so it exposes a content with more contextual resources than i’d thought i’d had access to. a poem might go through 15, 20, more revisions. at that point, if things are going well, the material surprises me as it changes, as i give up saying something i’d been trying to fit in the form, and i find the poem breaks wildly, and in the rupture i find a new dimension of understanding. if things aren’t going well, then i have to let the whole of it collapse. learning to face collapse, and work to not fear it, and then realize that i do fear it, and that i need to let that be ok, too. then, sometimes, even if i’m experiencing collapse, i keep awake to what might be possible, and some glimmer of realization slips in and changes everything, if i am lucky,  the poem comes alive for me in new ways(sometimes!). these are some of the challenges and thrills that this work has offered me...

Q: Is form your usual place from which to begin?

A: poems begin for me in ways that are difficult to explain. an energy... a flavor... a sudden experience that tempts and tantilizes, sometimes the sensation reaches all the way back decades. i begin to write, and if i am lucky, the energies of the poem open me to the form the work seeks. i work in series, so sometimes the form is mutating radically as poems come, but then something in the work says “yes” and the form begins to settle, but form-mutation can still occur as i work with the energies and more of the poems in the series come, and as i deep-revise what i have. any change of one poem impacts all of them.

Q: How did you get to this point in your writing? What writers or writing have influenced your current thinking on putting together a poem, or grouping of poems?

A: does a writer every actually know what is behind her/their/his thinking about the work? i can list names of some of the authors whom i revere—who shocked and sharpened my directions, as their works expanded my sense of the dimensions that writing/sensing in the world can mean. i remember the incision into my reality of the act of reading them, which changed me:
brenda hillman’s death tractates, reading jane hirshfield’s nine gates, reading hopkin’s journals and papers, reading agamben’s profanations … there are many other works that i keep close, and open at random, still.

 but this is not “thinking,” exactly, or at least it’s not a development of logic-inscribed strategy that has evolved in my work. these are the sharp sudden fingernails that scratch open a scar in me; often it’s a scar i hadn’t known had healed-over hard&thick to hide the origin of a suffering and that produced a numbness of my sentience as a result.

i read, and suddenly an old wound is struck by the language on the page, it is a wound thick with denial, which then bleeds back to sensitivity. i write to allow, to enact a new healing that is will allow my skin to become more supple with breath and flow—painful as that process often is. the pain is the thrill/shock of sensation returning, sometimes it is sensation that i lost decades past.

Q: After a half dozen chapbooks and full-length poetry titles over the past fifteen years or so, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: it’s interesting & challenging to attempt to assess over-arching developments in my trajectory as a writer. i think it would take too long to discuss the many subject matters (and each one’s intimate relationship to the formal strategies i used in each work). but whatever the subject matters and their concomitant forms, i wanted (and still want) to allow past learning that i accrued from the work of previous books to infuse each new work’s crises, curiosities, and demands. and i want to continue to risk what most fiercely and abundantly surprises me. i see a writer’s trajectory as a spiral, as a widening spherical shape; not linear. your question allows for that—and for my saying that i’m heading into the next turning curve of what’s unknown to me.

Q: Has your work as a publisher provided any shifts in the ways in which you think about writing generally, or, more specifically, your own work?

A: as an editor of writers who risk courageously, and who draw readers with them in their journeys, i am very lucky. it’s my role to bring another pair of eyes to their work, and if, and as i can, to offer my sense of the ways that i hear each writer’s writing speaking to me and to the writer. we work as a triad of sensitivity and sensate attention: the writing, the writer, and myself.

this kind of dynamic exchange gives me the opportunity to see the writer’s courage. each of us are different as writers, as people. still, there are qualities of energy (some part courage, and some part openness, and some part candor, and more), which i see, and then feel more able to bring to my own work.

there is always a risk – if one allows one’s self (selves) to engage in the willingness that makes one able to listen beyond the frame of one’s normal expectations of, and for, the work. as i see/sense writers risk this, i can find myself eager (still, with some healthy trepidation!) to do this for myself. oppen said something like: when you fear the word you’ve written, you’ve begun.

shifts come in increments and in bursts. they are the work’s ways of speaking to me. i am lucky to have allies in this unknowable seeking of new outlier paths, as i engage with the depths of new directions, the heights, the spiral-ings.

Q: What factors have influenced your most recent shifts? Was there a particular author or work that prompted some of the direction you’ve been headed lately?

A: when i wrote the poem you published, “our aptitude for perishing” (a title that i repeat in the series that this poem is a part of), i was reading so many excellent poets whose works continue to impact me in subtle but important ways. i know it's not useful to just list some names— but i don’t think that is what you’re after, in asking this smart question.

always a tough choice: to choose one writer’s work to speak to. but that will let me ‘think on paper”; and pursue a meaningful answer.

one book i’d like to share is cole swensen’s noise that stays noise. the essays in this collection of essays allow me to consider the form of this poem of mine as a kind of noise.

here’s a small sense of one of her engaging ideas; she notes
“the paradigm of self-organization from noise, borrowed from the biological and information sciences, ... suggests a way that language-arts practices that are initially impenetrable to a given reader can become recognized by that reader as powerful in their own right while also enlarging the field of the sayable, and thus of the thinkable, the imaginable...”
the form of this poem’s seven syllable segments (with no hyphenation-cheating, and no periods or caps or commas) force a kind of noise into my experience-- the noise of challenge, of frustration with limits. this kind of emotional noise infuses the content for me. maybe for a reader, too.

i expect the reader feels the noise of a challenging reading experience...since she/they/he will have to read without any help from the expected norm of punctuation, of syntactic pause. the seeming consistency of the form might feel to the reader like a wall of noise, a barrier. but, as one reads, i’m hoping a reader will slip inside that space (behind the wall of noise) with me, and the noise becomes a frame we are inside, together.

this is one way that i hope the poem offers, as cole suggests, something “initially impenetrable” that might “enlarg[e] the field of the....thinkable” maybe even of “the imaginable...”

that’s a lot for me to hope for!

it suddenly feels risky, embarrassing, for me to share my hopes for the poem. but i’ll leave this in my reply to you. i realize that what i want is to keep thinking, and sensing, and bringing insight into the ways i work, and in that i want to have the courage to hope for what the poem might manage. i can’t say whether my end result has managed any of this, or not. but maybe the ‘hoping’ can help me keep risking, in the task of writing, and in some way or other, maybe the hope can help me see where i’ve failed the work and thus keep me attuned to what more i might discover.

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

A: since there are so many writers whom i re-read, i’ll limit my answer by looking at the short stack on my desk this morning and pulling out the five books that i’ve been rereading for more than 10 years. and i’ll make a ‘medley’ of lines from these books. two lines/sentences from each, all mixed in together.

see if you can tell who’s who? (the five author’s names are list below, but not in order):
“Let’s see now. The idea of reverse seeing”

“Try to write the worst and you will see that the worst will turn against you and, treacherously, will try to veil the worst”

“NOISE// surrounds the painting     on the right side it is//
cracked   the hair color changed     dried paint    altered the hand”

“I wanted narrative to be / The proportion in her hair”

“Those who know that the approach to anything is done gradually and painfully –and includes as well passing through the opposite of what is being approached”

“I do not wish to judge or to dawdle”

“The long ribs or girders were as rollers / across the wind, not in it, but across them there lay fine grass-ends, sided off down the perspective, as if locks of vapour blown free from the main ribs down the wind”

“Not the private bucket, not the 7,000 griefs in the bucket of each cold clammy word”

“The Luminous // patches of it// on the lettuce a geography
on the trucks brilliant noise”

“that death did not subtract, it added something”

“the question is why. Perhaps in perfect stillness it would not but the air breathing it aside entangles it with itself”
the authors are:
gerard manley hopkins: journals
heléne cixous: three steps on the ladder of writing
brenda hillman: death tractates
lisa robertson: r’s boat
barbara guest: if so, tell me

this was a pleasure to do for me! thanks for asking a question that lit a wick inside me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

TtD supplement #114 : seven questions for Howie Good

Howie Good is the author of The Loser’s Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize for Poetry from Thoughtcrime Press. He co-edits White Knuckle Press with Dale Wisely

His poems “America Is Running Out of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs,” “Psychotropia,” “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Carrion” and “Etc.” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “America Is Running Out of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs,” “Psychotropia,” “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Carrion” and “Etc.”

A: The United States is in a bad place – politically, morally, internationally. These prose poems are sort of my snapshots of what it feels like to be living there. If the poems are dark in tone and disjointed in form, it’s because that is the aura of the contemporary American experience.

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I have written a number of free verse poems, but my main efforts have continued to be directed toward prose poetry, a form I find congenial. The fact that a piece of writing can look like prose, but act like poetry probably suits my ironic sense of life.

Q: Have you any models for this type of work?

A: I first encountered prose poems as a teenager, in Rimbaud’s Illuminations and Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. Their prose poems were different than anything I’d ever read before, but being young and dumb, I didn’t understand what that implied. I must have been in college when I came across Robert Bly’s book of prose poems, The Morning Glory. Later I read Bly’s translations of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer’s prose poems. Reading Bly – who writes in vernacular but often indulges in surreal imagery – gave me the courage to experiment with prose poetry myself. Other poets who have served as guides through the esoteric landscape of prose poetry are Charles Simic and Russell Edson. I’m always on the lookout for poets who write prose poems, but there just aren’t that many of us. Among my recent discoveries is Elizabeth Willis, author of Turneresque.

Q: What do you feel you are able to accomplish via the prose poem that you might not be able to otherwise?

A: The prose poem to me is an example of the concept of detournement. It’s a hijacking of conventional prose for subversive poetic purposes. By “poetic purposes” I mean the carving out of a space for free thought and perception. The prose poem is a bastard form well suited to pushing back against the literary and other stultifying proprieties of the day. At a time when more and more aspects of human experience are subject to commodification, the prose poem remains apart and beyond. It’s a fractured fever dream that disrupts and defies the increasing pressure to conform, sell out, join the team, go along to get along.

Q: With a small handful of chapbooks and a trade collection under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I started out by writing conventional free verse. My patience for not only writing that, but also reading it, has pretty much evaporated. It doesn’t seem to me a helpful way to understand or describe the dislocations of contemporary reality. We need better maps if we are going to ever find our way. I’m trying to create those, which means being open to experimentation, improvisation, chance – poems that are as unpredictable in form or content as life in the 21st century.

Q: How do you feel you are able to maintain that unpredictability while working exclusively in the prose form?

A: A prose poem is unpredictable by its very nature – because it directs prose to behave as if it were poetry. Unpredictability is also a matter of content – which details are included, how I juxtapose the details, what words propel them through the poem and into the consciousness of readers.

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

A: Great question.

Charles Simic, Franz Wright, William Carlos Williams.