Tuesday, May 21, 2019

TtD supplement #134 : seven questions for Trish Salah

Born in Halifax, Trish Salah is the author of the Lambda award winning, Wanting in Arabic, and of Lyric Sexology Vol. 1, and co-editor of a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly on Trans* Cultural Production. In 2018 she was a finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie prize. She has a story in the science fiction and fantasy anthology, Meanwhile, Elsewhere and poetry in recent issues of Anomaly, Cordite Poetry Review, Prism International and Supplement. She is associate professor of Gender Studies at Queen’s University.

Her poem “Sliding past” appears in the twenty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Sliding past.”

A: “Sliding past” comes out of a feeling of being haunted. They say the unconscious knows neither time nor contradiction, and the poem’s mood is made of several different moments impinging upon one another, or emerging through one another. I think that is what the poem is interested in, the ways in which different temporalities manifest in/as any given present. So there is desire, palimpsest, conflict and contradiction—no contradiction, a bit of all that. It is not a new problem, wondering about how representations of time manifest for consciousness, how much an individual subject can hold, what drops away, what gets written over, etc.

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

A: I have two different manuscripts that I’m working on. The manuscript this will be a part of, and Lyric Sexology Vol 2. For LS Vol 2 I’m reworking the ways in which changing sex, or gender, moving or being in between, have been represented. Lyric Sexology Vol 1 was poetic investigation of archives of sexual minority representation, particularly of the more wildly exotic and often toxic figures and rhetorics of those archives. LS Vol 2 is mainly what I’ve been working of for the two years or so, and it has continued that work focusing upon fantasies of place based (and so cultured, racialized) same sex desires and sex/gender crossing identities, i.e. “exotic” other sexes and sexualities, beyond.... So “Sliding Past” isn’t that. The question about time and memory in “Sliding Past” is also about desire and its capacities, and I seem to be working on a sequence or series thinking about that.

Q: So is Vol 2 a completion of the Lyric Sexology project, or another volume in something more ongoing?

A: Vol 2 is the second part of the Lyric Sexology project, and likely the completion of it, for now at least.

Q: What is it about that? project that prompted a second part? Did you always see it as a multiple-book project? When I became aware of the first volume, for example, I didn’t know if this suggested the first of multiple, or if you were being playful.

A: The archives Lyric Sexology plays in produced figures of sexual otherness that are vast and varied. So it is not about completion. However, within those archives, there are different problematics that stand out.  In particular the second book revisits writing that imagined sexuality and gendered behaviour to be strongly place based, driven by geography and climate. So there is a particular way of writing, about sex and race, that had its roots in imperial travel, the movements of amateur folklorists and sexologists, colonial adjuncts and tourists...and I wanted to give a book to thinking about that.

Q: I’m curious as to why you decided to work this kind of archival study through poetry, over, say, a more traditional essay format or any other kind of critical prose. Was it a conscious choice, or did the form of the project evolve more naturally? And what do you think working such a project via the poem allows that might not be possible otherwise?

A: Before I decided to rewrite these archives with poetry I was working on a dissertation and I sometimes describe Lyric Sexology Vol 1 as the b-side of that work. That said, some poems interested in this kind of inquiry did show up in my first book, Wanting in Arabic, which was finished before I wrote the dissertation. The second volume of Lyric Sexology takes inspiration from Western sexologies of the so-called “Orient” and in that way it has roots in both of my first two poetry collections.

Q: Given this current project is concurrent to Lyric Sexology Vol 2, how do the two manuscripts relate to each other, and how are you able to keep them separate? Does the current manuscript have the sense of being post-Lyric Sexology, once that other project is complete?

A: Great question. This poem, “Sliding Past” belongs to a project that has been evolving along side the Lyric Sexology books. For a while I was calling it Solidarities, and thinking it would mainly be poems of, well, solidarity, that performed the action of being in solidarity, and poems that were about how one makes political commitments. Now I’m thinking Solidarities, maybe? because the more I work these poems about solidarity, the more I see that they are also about complicity and desire and phantasy and other questionable, less certain things.

In terms of keeping the manuscripts separate, it is not an issue most of the time. I do know what I’m writing and can see if it is in dialogue with other pieces that also clearly belong in the same book. And the Lyric Sexology Vol 2 poems are mostly written out of/about four different sites, Toronto, Dawson, Beirut and the moon. However there are occasional exceptions, poems which could equally belong in either book. Then it is a more difficult call.

Q: How did you first began working on book-length poetry projects, over, say, crafting individual, stand-alone project? How did you get from starting to think about writing to working on the book as your unit of composition?

A: I don’t know that I work with the book as a unit. I mean, for a long time, you’re just writing poems, and seeing what they say to one another happens after. But I will say that at a certain point in my writing poems with 19th and early 20th sexological source material, I knew they not only belonged to one another, but also needed other poems to be written, poems that engaged with ethnography, autobiography and later discourses on transgender. Some of which I was writing anyway and already. So I saw in the relationship between these poems, written and unwritten, the outline of a possible book. Then I was invited to submit my manuscript to Roof, and it needed to be finished, to have some coherence...I wrote a lot that year, got rid of a lot too, but in the end I knew that the book would necessarily be incomplete, would need to be continued. And so Vol 1 and Vol 2.

Regarding, Solidarities, maybe I would say that the taking shape of the manuscript is a little different. I’ve been writing all this work, for years, that is NOT Lyric Sexology, and that begs the question, what is it? Does it have its own coherence, its own set of interrelations? And I’ll be honest, I’ve wondered whether these poems that I’m gathering under that title, whether they are one or two things themselves, or possibly more. For now, though, I’m leaning towards their interconnectedness.

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

A: Oh, so many. I suppose, among my contemporaries I could say especially Ching-In Chen, Sina Queyras, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Margaret Christakos, Dawn Lundy Martin, Nathanaël, kari edwards...and more broadly, Phyllis Webb, Gregory Scofield, Agha Shahid Ali, Edmond Jabès, Dionne Brand, Paul Celan, Etel Adnan, Mahmoud Darwish, Erin Mouré, Édouard Glissant.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

TtD supplement #133 : seven questions for Hailey Higdon

Hailey Higdon is the author of the poetry collection, Hard Some, available from Spuyten Duyvil Press. Her recent chapbooks include A Wild Permanence (Dancing Girl, 2018) and Rural (Drop Leaf, 2017). She currently lives in Seattle. Find her online at haileyhaileyhailey.com.

Her poems “Upstream,” “Wake Up We Send Trouble to Each Other” and “I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster” appear in the twenty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Upstream,” “Wake Up We Send Trouble to Each Other” and “I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster.”

A: Both “Upstream” and “I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster” were exercises in automatic writing. “Upstream” was the offshoot of a journal entry written on a trip to Hawaii. It sort of pairs with another poem I wrote at the same time while sitting at a café in Pāhoa a few months before the volcano erupted. I watched a man take up an entire table, not order anything and loudly talk to the busy waitress about another waitress who was wasn’t working that day.

“I’ve Been Told There’s a Roller Coaster” was written before bed one night. It’s basically my way of processing samsara. There is this dog that yaps all night in our neighbors yard. I started thinking about how long life is, how much we repeat the same things that make us unsatisfied, and how it erodes the parts of us that are abundant and confident and hopeful and good. I think this is related to consumerism—compulsive consumerism that pushes people away from dreaming big or feeling big outside of the goal of stuff. I know I carry this narrow fatalism around. I count on the people I love to remind me it is there and to remind me of the glimmering margins outside of that space.

“Wake Up We Send Trouble To Each Other” is a poem I have difficulty describing in language outside of itself. I can tell you what I am thinking about now, if that helps. I’m considering the narrowness that grips and bottlenecks our relationship to our interior life, our loves and our community. Someone flushes up next to us and tries to make a connection, and how many times do we miss it? We are so uncomfortable as integrated beings, and it’s not exactly our fault. It’s terribly hard to see both the hard parts about the world (and ourselves) and also see the good parts and the so-so parts. More often than not everyone agrees to be looking at the deficit instead of the dream life. I mean that in several ways—the emotional deficit we carry, the community deficits brought on by systems—systemic racism, our broken healthcare system, legal system, work—we end up paralyzed and staring at these gaps (the trouble) instead of dreaming beyond them. And it’s self-perpetuating because that dream doesn’t even appear to exist when we are inside those broken systems—we don’t even believe we can develop the capacity to visualize it. We think the capacity to dream becomes available only when the gaps are closed. Like an agreement to dream about things later, once the system is fixed, but we can’t fix the system without the dream. And all this—this way of being in the word—it has an impact on our bodies that we carry with us and internalize in a larger multi-generational way.

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

A: Most of my newer work is the product of a very slow, seeped-in process. These poems are much more immediate.

Q: What prompted you to explore automatic writing? In your view, do the resulting poems differ from the poems composed through your “very slow, seeped-in” processes? Is there a difference?

A: Yes, they are quite different. My “very slow, seeped-in” process has led me to write longer, more personal poems. I think this difference can be felt also, when reading these pieces compared to reading some of my other work (e.g., Hard Some or Rural). Honestly, I use automatic writing to remind myself that a poem is usually always there, so long as I take the time to sit down and find it.

Q: With a half dozen or so chapbooks over the past decade, alongside a full-length collection, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I have always struggled with the problem of having too many ideas and not enough persistence. This may be why I have a lot of chapbook length things, but just one book. And why the one book is made up of lots of tiny books. As I get older, I am learning how this operates in me. How I can spin my frenetic energy inward toward one large hovering thing, instead of a million little things. Hard Some was one of those large “things.” Lately, I have been working on a series of essays—my next big hovering thing. They work for me because I can have a sort of loose thread between them, and still feel able to explore separate ideas. They hover around pregnancy, motherhood and the fertility process that accompanies assisted reproduction for queer folx. Oh yeah, and they are also all about trees.

Q: What was the process of putting together your full-length collection? I would argue that it was remarkably coherent, despite being constructed out of chapbook-length sections. What did you learn from the process of putting that collection together?

A: One thing led to another. I wrote the section “Yes & What Happens” first. After that, I couldn’t let go of the form. So I wrote another long poem in the same form (“A Wild Permanence”), then came “Breaker,” then “Children.” Though they were separate chapbook length poems, they were always a part of the same continuous thought process and they remained connected loosely in form—all written in small prose blocks.

The work followed me through a couple of years in my life where I was going through dramatic personal changes. When “Children” was done, I no longer felt tied to that form, so the book felt done too. The most important thing I learned was to wait. It took me much longer than I expected to find the right words for each poem. There was no rushing. Every bit of the book was considered slowly.

Q: What writers or works have influenced the way you write? How did you get to a point where you are writing in sequence, aka chapbook-length units?

A: Here’s what I know: I was and am heavily influenced by my partner, the writer Tanya Holtland. Mostly, it’s the way we manage to build writing into our lives that determines the forms that are available. She also writes very slowly and carefully, and after we met I started to see that way of writing as more valuable than I had in the past.

While writing Hard Some I was reading Will Alexander’s Compression and Purity. I can see his imprint strongly there. I love getting lost in his cosmos. I was also reading Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Ngugi’s Globalectics, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and Eckhart Tolle. I was spending a lot of time with my friend, the former-Seattle poet Maged Zaher, and I know his language trickled into the book. Other influences that come to mind in my writing life—Juliana Spahr, Maggie Nelson, Frank O’Hara, Joanne Kyger, and Hannah Weiner.

Mostly the chapbook length forms come from my inner sense of time, and how much material I decide one poem can hold within a certain time frame. I’m not sure there was a journey to get to that place. It’s just what happened.

Q: Finally, and perhaps you’ve already answered this, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: This list hasn’t changed much over the years—Lorenzo Thomas’ Dracula, Joanne Kyger’s Collected Poems, Aime Cesaire’s Collected Poems, John Cage’s Silence, Juliana Spahr’s The Transformation and This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, anything by Vonnegut. And my friends. I read my friends when I’m stuck.