Tessa Bolsover is a poet based between Queens, NY and Providence, RI. She is a founding editor of auric press.
Three untitled poems appear in the twenty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.
Q: Tell me about the three short poems that appear in this issue.
A: These three poems were written as part of a longer sequence titled Border of a piece of cloth, which began as an experiment in visualizing a poetic moment as a field of intersecting planes—full of hinges, seams, refractions—in which negative space remains materially active. The title was lifted from a definition of the word "hem"—a word that appeared again and again in the poems, but which I always edited out for one reason or another. The word began to ghost the poems, in a sense, and it seemed right to carry that ghosting into the framework for the overall text.
The third poem, [the hesitate that comes to expect], was written soon after I moved to New York in early 2018, during a time of intense change and redirection. I began thinking of hesitation as a potential opening sustained within/without language, capable of holding space for the complexities of memory and possibility simultaneously.
Q: How do these poems relate to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?
A: I mainly work in poem sequences and short essays, and while I consider each one a separate entity, they all feel linked and carry a lot of the same questions at their center.
I recently finished a sequence of poems titled Crane. The project follows my research into the mythology and etymology of Cardea, the Roman goddess of hinges. Taking certain writers like Nathaniel Mackey and Susan Howe as guides, the poems consider the idea of a hinge as a structure that both connects and folds, and how language could be understood as repeating this gesture. Many of the shapes and ideas in Crane could be traced back through Border of a piece of cloth.
Q: What is it about the poem sequence that appeals? What do you feel you are able to achieve through the sequence that might not be possible otherwise?
A: I'm interested in the way webbed images, sounds, and associations intersect and diverge, laying groundwork for durational harmonics, ruptures, counterpoints. The individual poems in a sequence can be like rooms within a larger architecture in which certain tones and ideas are developed through their navigation. Sometimes they're more like antennas in a field, all tuned toward the same thing, attempting to receive a frequency.
Q: Have you any models for this kind of work? How did you get to the point of constructing sequences?
A: I initially began thinking about and working in sequences through photography. I became interested in how constellated images juxtapose and bleed into one another; how they seem to speak among themselves. There's something precarious and fleeting in it. When I began to focus more on writing it felt natural that those interests and ways of thinking would continue.
A few of the poets I turn to for guidance are Myung Mi Kim, Fred Moten, Lorine Niedecker, Susan Howe, Nathaniel Mackey. My experience of reading their work is tangled all through my own.
Q: With a growing mound of poems produced and published over the past few years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?
A: I’m not really sure where my work is headed. In some ways I still feel like I’m just getting to know it. I do know that my writing is always developing alongside my reading and note taking. In Hoa Nguyen’s workshop, Jenny Penberthy gave a talk on Lorine Niedecker’s poems and said something that resonated with me about how the notes from Niedecker’s reading provided her with a field of language from which she composed, and how she allowed the language a kind of agency and latitude to lead beyond direct reference and into new terrain.
I recently started a new sequence of poems centered around ideas of chthonic descent and the use of sound to locate objects in space. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the circulation of capital and tensions between the symbolic vs. material nature of money/coins.
Q: What do your attempts at working “ideas of chthonic descent and the use of sound” look like, entirely? Is this a research that might emerge as subject matter, or something more structural?
A: Both, though in different ways. I’ve been thinking about the gesture of descent in Greek mythology as passage to the afterlife. And then there is the fact of extraction, the socio-political and environmental violences of extractive industries, and the image of wealth as being mined, subterranean. One of many figures in which these fields begin to cross is the Roman-Greek god Pluto, who originated through the conflation of Hades, god of the underworld, and Plutus, god of wealth, because mineral wealth was extracted from within the earth.
Sound is always a guiding force in my work. Lately I’ve been interested in the ways sound is used in spatial navigation and imaging, such as in echolocation or sonar technology. In sonar, acoustic waves are projected outward from a source and form an image based on where the waves make contact with a body/object and reflect back. The located body/object becomes visible based on where it’s touched by sound. This strange synesthesia is also present in language. Sound waves produced by speech make contact with the world and form an image.
Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
A: A few poets I’ve mentioned already: Susan Howe, Lorine Niedecker, Myung Mi Kim, Fred Moten. Nathaniel Mackey, whose book of essays Discrepant Engagement opened up so much for me. There’s also Jack Spicer, Lisa Robertson, Kamau Brathwaite, Anne Carson, Hoa Nguyen, Etel Adnan… The expanses of James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, and Toni Morrison. And, always, my friends and teachers, and Michael Cavuto.
Thank you, rob, for the questions!