Tuesday, November 17, 2020

TtD supplement #173 : seven questions for Prathna Lor

Prathna Lor is a living poet. Their first book, HEROISM/EULOGIES, is forthcoming.

Their three untitled poems appear in the twenty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the three untitled poems included in this issue.

A: I was thinking a lot about force and compression and how to get out of it. I still am. I had been teaching a couple of undergraduate modernist poetry courses, so I was reading a lot about emotion and contractility, sensation without sensitivity. And I suppose I’m trying to figure out how to captivate with affection that does not degrade what emotion can be or do. For some of the modernists, impersonal emotion reigned, which is a farce, a fancy. So I guess I’m thinking about ways to broach a more honest technique.

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

A: Right now, I’m trying to complete a novel. But my formal and sonic commitments remain the same. The challenge thus far has been trying to balance density, sonorousness, and uncertainty over a longer period of time in the work without resorting to a gimmick, pastiche, or arbitrary anchor. Poetry offers a lot of space and opportunity as well as precision; the novel does, too, but at a different scale. These poems are part of a process of experimenting with how far I can get with puncturing and receding.

Q: Is that how you differentiate your short poem-fragments with your work in the novel? Is it simply a matter of scale?

A: Scale is one of the compositional elements I am preoccupied with between works. I am either obsessed or possessed by a certain poetic impulse which I am trying to wring out of myself. Like there is a lyric singularity to which I return again and again. This impulse is inflamed at the level of the line which makes itself known in the stanza or the prosody of the novel; the scalar difference, for me, then, is how to anchor that delineation in varying structural rhythms and forms. What I’ve been thinking about a lot is this essence of return. E. M. Cioran discussed this in terms of the “agony” of the novelist who must return to that already well-trodden terrain of the literary. It is not so much a question of originality but one of excess, pleasure, revisitation, coming, again.

Q: Can one presume that these poems are part of some larger structure, or might be? It might simply be a matter of scale, but how easily have you been able to shift from the individual poem to the larger, full-length manuscript?

A: Yes, definitely. I tried to work that out, in a sense, in a chapbook, 7, 2, in terms of thinking about sustaining lyric over time. The difficulty, again, for me, is thinking about the breath of the poem, the work of voice and reading, over a longer period of time, or via a larger scale, when the poetic tenor I am trying to explore is so punctual, economical, propulsive. Rhythms and intensities would have to change, modulate, etc., but, of course, over the course of one’s life, I feel as though it is a single line, a single rhythm, towards which I am relentlessly returning, and I suppose that part of my anxiety about sustaining over time/distance is the fear of it dulling over each reiterative sensation.

Q: Why is the idea of extending and sustaining a lyric and lyric rhythm important to you, and how did you get here? What do you feel you can accomplish through such a structure that you might not be able to accomplish otherwise?

A: I long to touch the weight of the material. Mary Burger once said something funny about the New Narrativists who were all these poets trying to write things that looked like prose, obsessed with the question of narrative, and I have been continually pressed by this. There is something exacting, a kind of poetic pineal, about this desire for non/narrative to take hold, to grasp, to seize some kind of encounter between language and experience in a form that is at once fleeting and perpetual. And, certainly, there is something beautiful about a kind of magnitude that is achievable, a sense of regality, for me, to bring that voice along. There is something about the unfolding of form, of gathering each puncture, until it blossoms, monumentally. Again, for me, it’s about this idea of scale—of scale as range or difference—with which the mode of capture, of enrapture, along poetic nodals, can stitch the pulse of poetry like a good sequin dress.

Q: Your author biography mentions a forthcoming debut. Are these poems part of that debut? How do these poems fit alongside this book-to-come?

A: These poems were composed during the writing of my second chapbook, 7, 2, that I mentioned earlier. So I think what I was trying to exhaust in that moment was something about poetic piercingall the pieces are short, fragmentary, and loosely bound together by a sense of this piercing. The things I am working on for the future are trying to develop from those lessons, now that I feel that I have somewhat exhausted those impulsesnot because I do not like the impulses but because I would like to try on a different dress. Hence, my preoccupation with something more "universal" in the sense that some novelists have spoken about it, particularly Gail Scott, in terms of trying to touch something immortal in language. What I'm trying to move toward now in a couple of new projects is an approach to the lyric from the otherside, an analyric, where language, I thinkI hopeis so tightly inversed, implosive, and miniature, that its secret blossoms can offer something stunning in all sorts of ways. As in a kind of lyric that is woven becauses language is constantly in a state of undress, duress, a stoppage that considers language not from the narrative view, or even the impossibility of its narrative view, but from its own pristine gutting.

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

A: That would be the essays of Wilson Harris.

Friday, November 6, 2020

TtD supplement #172 : seven questions for Kate Feld

Kate Feld writes short fiction, essays, poetry, and work that sits between forms. Her writing has appeared in journals and anthologies including Hotel, The Stinging Fly and The Letters Page. She is founding editor of creative nonfiction journal The Real Story and teaches journalism at Salford University. A native of Vermont, she lives outside Manchester, UK.  

Her poems “Pockets” and “False spring ode” appear in the twenty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Pockets” and “False spring ode.”

A: 'Pockets' is one of the shortest poems I've written. I waited but there wasn't any more. It's what I was thinking while emptying out my daughters' pockets in the course of doing laundry and finding several fine conkers. Conkers are the shiny brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree and over here in England kids used to collect them and play a game with them that involved drilling holes in them and stringing them and pitting one conker against another one -- the first to crack lost. Sadly, most English kids don't know how to play it anymore. My kids don't, but they retain this vestigial fascination with conkers and collect them and they end up in  odd corners of the house.

'That's where the canker gnaws' is a line from the stage play of Peter Pan, enunciated with great relish by Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook on the Original Broadway Cast record, which my mother played continuously throughout my childhood.

False Spring Ode: Like (probably) lots of other people I was inspired by Sharon Olds to try writing odes to the kinds of things that don't normally get odes written about them. We'd had a doozy of a false spring that year and I was both ruminating on that and also kind of interested in the false spring as a thing that has happened sometimes in some years of my life. I'm talking about things that happened that spring - pubs calling it wrong and putting out their flower baskets too early, warm weather birds returning only to die, mucky-tailed cows and kites and that old saying 'March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.'

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

A: They feel looser and more jazzy, more off-the-cuff and riffy. Lately I've been working in longer prose pieces like lyric essays that have big structures and there is a lot more control. I want to get back to this more playful writing practice, but it's maybe harder for me to get there right now.

Q: You seem to focus much of your work on prose structures, whether the longer lyric essays or these shorter prose poems. What is it about the prose poem that appeals, and what do you feel you can accomplish through the form that might not be possible otherwise?

A: You know, it just feels right to me. I love reading lined poetry, but when I try to do it myself it feels artificial and gimmicky and also kind of limited. I think I'm activated by the mess of a bunch of prose and the possibility of that mess, the interesting slippage and jerks and cross pollinations and associations. It feels capacious, like it can take anything you wanna throw in there, but only according to the internal rigor of the thing you're making which kind of emerges as you go.

Q: How much of that internal rigor is pre-determined? Do poems emerge organically, or do you attempt any particular elements of structure, apart from the obvious consideration to the prose-block?

A: Hmmm. Sometimes I'll try to do it a certain way. Like I'm working on a prose sequence that I can only write on nights with full moons, and I think that will feed into the structure somehow. Mostly, I think, they come out pretty organically. If a certain formal element turns up and seems to fit then I can sometimes kind of make it a feature. But once you know you're working exclusively in prose maybe there are different kinds of parameters to how you go about it and for me they mostly don't have to do very much with how it looks on the page. I think they're more internal, intrinsic.

Q: Do you have any models for this kind of work? How did you first begin to engage with the prose poem?

A: I think I probably first encountered prose poems by Baudelaire, which we translated for my French class at St. John's College in Annapolis MD in the 90s. I didn't try to write any until much much later in my life, maybe about four or five years ago when I entered poetry through the more experimental reaches of short nonfiction.

Since then Rosmarie Waldrop's work has been really important to me, also Francis Ponge, and Mary Ruefle, whose prose poetry I specifically love. The last two both seem to be able to pull glorious prose poems out of the cracks between things in their daily lives. They find the momentousness of the everyday. I think prose poetry works really well for that, because it is not usually announcing its grand message with trumpets and trochees, it is just humming a little song to itself on the bus.... but what can come out of that song is really something.

Q: From what I’ve been able to gather, you’ve yet to publish a chapbook, pamphlet or full-length collection. Is this something you’ve been working on at all? And if so, do you see a difference between composing individual poems against composing individual poems that work to exist in the context of a larger structure?

A: Yes you're right, I have not yet published anything but individual pieces and poems. I've just started sending out a manuscript of short prose pieces that are longer than poems – lyric essays, hybrid prose pieces and stories that aren't either true or made up. I've been working intermittently on a novella-like piece of experimental fiction written in fragments.  But both are unusual and perhaps difficult prospects as the publishing world often likes books that are definitely one thing or another, and I like writing things that aren’t.

I am intrigued by the possibilities of creating pieces that exist as part of a larger structure. That idea appeals to me, but it is not something I have done much of yet. My 4-part prose sequence 'Pause Processional' was published in Train, and this is the longest piece of poetry I think I've written, which isn't very long – it was a very short train. I suspect it is easier if you have a thematic through line that can act as a frame for your work, or a handle. I'm waiting for one to turn up, I guess. But there is something you give up if you go that route that maybe I am not ready to part with in my writing.

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

A: I keep going back to Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay and a couple of her short recent prose pieces published in Brick and Paris Review. The way she has put these together seems endlessly fascinating to me. Another one I pick up a lot is Don Marquis' Archy and Mehitabel. There is a kind of energy in these that can be generative for me. But it is also good to keep a lot of poetry around and just kind of pick things up carelessly.