Monday, June 28, 2021

TtD supplement #191 : seven questions for Simina Banu

Simina Banu is a writer whose debut poetry collection, POP (Coach House Books), won the 2021 ReLit award for poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including filling Station, untethered, In/Words Magazine and the Feathertale Review. She is the author of two chapbooks: where art (words(on)pages press) and Tomorrow, adagio (above/ground press). Most recently, she’s co-written the chapbook ERE with Amilcar John Nogueira, forthcoming thru Collusion Books. Simina may or may not be working on a book about “tulips.”

Her poems “land/gu a” and “uns-” appear in the twenty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “land/gu a” and “uns-.”

A: These poems started off in a creative writing workshop, inspired by bpNichol’s “landscape: I.” I loved how its letters became trees. Magic. That slippage between sign and signifier changed how I thought about language and its materiality. “land/gua” riffs off “landscape: I” in its aim to paint a natural (and unnatural) horizon with the materiality of its letters; the reflection drops the physicality of the letters into a realm containing fragments of slightly more meaning. How does nature shape language and meaning? and how do language and human desire shape the natural landscape? “uns-" takes this exploration into the digital world to reflect on binary—have computer windows become our only windows?—and the looming dystopia where we lose our exit button.

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

A: Lately my writing has had a more confessional tilt, relying mostly on direct experiences. But for these poems, curiosity at the level of language was the driving impulse, coupled with broader political concerns regarding climate change and technology.

Q: Given your self-described tilt into the confessional, would you see these poems as outliers, or part of an emerging, or even continuing, thread in your work?

A: These poems were actually written a few years ago, before my plunge into more personal writing, but I anticipate the digital curiosity/fear that shaped “uns-” will resurface imminently, given the year we’ve all had. I expect it will be attacked from a more personal angle though. The question of whether or not we’ll reach a point where we can’t escape the digital isn’t really a question anymore; we’re already there. So my writing going forward will be less about the general implications of technology and more about what Instagram has done to my brain that I can no longer engage with information for more than a couple minutes at a time, and why my keys are always lost.

Q: What might that mean in terms of your work moving forward? Are you incorporating elements you were exploring in these pieces in your more personal works?

A: I hope so! My work now aims to mix the more visual, abstract elements of poems like these right into the lyrical. I’m hoping that anchoring the conceptual in the confessional will breathe new energy into both styles.

Q: Do you have any models for the kinds of work you’re doing? What writers or works are in the back of your head as you write?

A: I remember reading Sina Queyras’ Lyric Conceptualism manifesto when I was in grad school, and often still return to it for inspiration. Queyras extends a lot of generosity to both poetic impulses, how the writer who has one foot in both is “wrestling always with the desire to give over to the poem and to be the poet in the poem.” Their books are definitely in the back of my head, as are Susan Holbrook’s, and Gabe Foreman’s A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People. Outside the realm of strictly poetry, I’ve been influenced lately by Liana Finck’s cartoons, as she also straddles this confessional/abstract divide masterfully.

Q: With two published chapbooks, as well as a full collection, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I think my work has gotten more intentional in recent years. For those chapbooks, and most everything I was writing at the time, the poems were really calling all the shots. Whatever they said, went. If they wanted to ride the wave of a pun for pages or play hide and seek with punctuation, the got that. Lately I spoil them less. I’ve been more interested in using language to investigate an emotion from all sides than in relying solely on the examination of language itself to conjure up unexpected meanings.

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

A: So many! But I’ve been rereading Plath’s “Tulips” pretty much monthly since high school. In fact, given how much that poem is in my blood, I may have to write a book responding to it ...

Thursday, June 17, 2021

TtD supplement #190 : seven questions for Christina Vega-Westhoff

Christina Vega-Westhoff is a poet, translator, and aerialist. She is the author of Suelo Tide Cement, winner of the 2017 Nightboat Prize for Poetry. Vega-Westhoff works as a teaching artist with Just Buffalo and Geneseo Migrant Center and as a movement instructor with The Bird’s Nest Circus Arts. Her work has appeared most recently in P-Queue, The Bind, and Words Without Borders.

Her poem “Never alone” appears in the twenty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Never alone.”

A:  In its simplist:

Parenting / tending
Shift time of present/ce
A list of failed/uncompleted/imagined doings

This poem began on Sept 3, 2019 as a letter of gratitude to youth ecojustice activists (and in the lead-up to global climate strikes), and as a culling of ideas for potential poetry workshops with Just Buffalo, and as a desire to invite others to walk backwards around Hoyt Lake on the equinox as somehow an act of solidarity alliance desire ritual undoing/entwining—

In its iterations of connections and resistance…Scajaquada Creek (Scajaquada Expressway), place in water land neighborhood cut from…the waterbeing (thinking of Stephanie Heit’s wording now) closest to where I live and one I am trying to get to know still under and above ground cut off from headwaters bubbling private corporate property undoing of property
Purposeful action
Inquiry into place placing
Unknowing—methods of
Contaminants inside our bodies and all beings
Wild rice’s home in relation to pipeline
Cecilia Vicuña’s tit chant
Language sprouts
Conditions of parenting: “poetics of interruption”
Added to instead of closed

And the title now seems beyond the parental call for alone time and children’s book references (so many), also as awareness of connection being with (beings making body, for instance). In one book, all the people line up waiting to help care aid tend if only asked

Is the poem an asking

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

A: Almost all the poems I’ve been writing have been long bursts. How does that compare to breastfeeding and co-sleeping? I’ve been working with duration, language development, naming, sound attention/revelation/interrogation. I have a desire to be clear and honest. This poem seems to be a meeting place.

This week I had the pleasure of gathering with others virtually to attune ourselves to land acknowledgement through movement, a collective of instructors TRY/ING (a Movement Research MELT workshop), one speaking of soloing as dancing with (place, ancestors, and and), saying then “we’re never alone,” and it was a reminder of being with and an echo, learning together, and offering, shifting, attending to needs, during this week that is a jolt in assertion of country.

I’ve been embroidering since my paternal grandma contracted COVID during an outbreak at her nursing home. It is teaching me rhythm, patience, pattern. I’ve been imagining quilts, embroidered books, an abecedario of place for my child, maps of this (Niagara) watershed and the watersheds in which I’ve lived.

I’ve been working to raise an antiracist child. And bilingual, though it’s been harder in this pandemic and also since my child responds in English, replaces words said in Spanish with English.  

Writing letters, making calls, listening in the background. I’ve been trying to transcribe my maternal grandma’s poems to send to her, collate. Translating Edison Simons’s poetry is on pause but percolating. Wanting to cite readings, lectures, performances, and workshops, without replicating extractive practices.

Q: I’m curious to know how parenting may have shifted the ways in which you write, or think about writing. Obviously, those first few months suck the energy and attention right out of you, but you seem to still be managing some creative possibly during such times. Do your days with a small child shift the ways in which you think about writing? Are your poems changing in response?

A: Thank you. Managing, shifting, resting! Uff those first months! What if we all shifted in care and attention, societal responsibility.

To do something, something else doesn’t get done. This is still the case with a two-year-old. Need to choose carefully. Attend to spoken and bodily language. Joy of communication received.

“The conditions of the work are the work” is a quote from my partner remembering a class with Myung Mi Kim. Syllables, gestures, context, the layers or constellations of a word, as fountain shifts from bubble, fuente, agua. What is uncovered when listening closely validated who are you listening to closely who can you listen more closely to. What pronouns and articles do you say/read/use for people, animals, plants, snow. How does that shape relationship.

Q: Perhaps this becomes a good moment to ask about translation: how does your work with translation interact with your own creative work? Do the two sides interact, or are they part of a singular consideration towards writing, reading and creating?

A: Thank you for this question! I love translation! And I find this question impossible. So many bubbles to surface. They happen at different times, absolutely interact, and must be part of a singular consideration. It is very beautiful (and a huge responsibility) to be a guest in someone else’s words, storying, considering what can be stretched, internalizing forms and voices, music, play, origin references reorganizing thought. Most recently I’ve been living in the words of Edison Simons (Panamanian poet, translator, and visual artist; born 1933, Colón, Panamá – died 2001, Paris). His work is tectonic, palimpsestic, durational, translingual. I encountered a portion of Simons’ poem “ODALBROWN” displayed on a wall at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Panama City in summer 2018. I was there (in my second trimester) to visit family and share my book Suelo Tide Cement. Immediate affinity!

Q: With a published book under your belt, as well as various works-in-progress since, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I write this in early March, on my laptop, gloveless, cold with the blue of Niagara River before me on Unity Island/Ga’nigö:i:yoh, a renaming of a racist name. I have just dropped off the compost and picked up library books. I have been imagining sensory bins for Lucille Clifton poems. Last night Teo wanted to make a prairie, loving the Emily Dickinson poem ending “the reverie alone will do,” a poem currently part of our bedtime routine. (I hear the sound of bison together.) My work has developed in relationship to reading, place, land, friends, and agency, actions, and more. I can recognize that sound and movement are central drivers. Chant, repetition, mistake/interpretation. Personal as political as ground. Perhaps scale changes. There was a question I had about dance in writing, specifically the three-dimensionality of aerial dance.

The dreamscape is important to me now, always, and I notice it in what I am reading, listening to, and in relation to the pandemic. Now I am back inside the car. Hands too cold. Where my work is headed is uncertain, though there are strands I am tracking. I have thought in terms of performance/dance review poems—my own and others, by way of autoethnographic writing perhaps. All the dances with soil, radio frequencies. There are works I have yet to read that seem like they may be aides—Petra Kuppers’s Eco-Soma: Pain and Joy in Speculative Performance Encounters, Kazim Ali’s Northern Land: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water—I am questioning my listening. Tracie Morris’s Handholding: 5 Kinds. Home, homing, soil health, food and farming equity, climate reparations, land back, early childhood education. As a preteen I loved stories of lucid dreaming, and I would like to engage with that in reality, in the writing. Finally, last week I listened to a talk by Dylan Robinson about his book Hungry Listening. I love the poem citation list early in Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves’s Of Forests and of Farms: On Faculty and Failure. Questions of embodied citation in a Zoom space presentation and discussion of Gabrielle Civil’s work.

Invitational collaboration rooted in love (I first wrote rotted in love).

Last summer biking in the pandemic along Niagara River I imagined a pamphlet series called The Bike Essay (simply, writings from those who have biked along waterways here, their thinking, I am curious). And an uncertain space for Movement with Water (dances/performance series/documentation?). These are imaginary now. To imagine is an important practice. Often what I seek now is rest and presence. I try to make space for that. Joy of laying down and reading.

Also too the pandemic and parenting call me to consider Iowa, all the land tumbling into the Mississippi, the legacy of tilling on poetry in English. In this space of Buffalo, as in many places, there are warnings about playing with the soil, lead count.

I want to hear many more stories from my two living grandmas. I want to sit with them, hold their hands. I want to imagine that handholding extending to the future. I want a space for saying I am listening for/to the future and what it asks. I want to shed perfection desire inscribed. I am thinking of Leah Penniman and Soulfire Farm’s work. I am watching a train cross the river coal/oil/border police on the hilltop. I am in the car, monitored, unbothered. Sun reflecting hands. I am still in the first chapter of Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands.

Did I answer the question? I tried. I may need to move to do the work I need to do next.
Formally, maybe between essay and poetry.

Thank you again for these questions.

Choreography of space. Grief. Change. Robins by the window, round. I imagine canopy coast to coast.

Q: I love how expansive your responses are to these questions! It would be impossible for any reader, I would think, not to be charmed. But reading through these, I wonder at how writing begins for you: do first drafts emerge as quickly and as seemingly-easy and expansive as these responses? I would imagine that containment itself would become an issue. How easily are you able to wrestle drafts into final shape?

A: Thank you. I do get lost. I love when there is a form a name a body to guide what follows, but mostly writing is forming nestling surprising or not along the way. I love research, and I admire research poets. The process is important but not all of it needs to be shared. What needs to be shared? When? (I am thinking of Lee Su-Feh speaking of hearing and attending to the “no.”) So much is ghost presence/activation (thinking now of Terrance Houle’s work). I tend to write yes quickly, and sometimes, belabor later. Yes. That feels true. Overwrite/rewrite? What structures are suggested by the writing itself? What do those structures replicate/disintegrate? It is snowing now. The ice on the river has melted.

I have written this answer multiple times and am writing into this one today. All of the answers that are not here are layered here, are also here. That is also something I tell myself choreographing. Today I read in José Felipe Alvergue’s scenery: a lyric: “My emotional exhaustion is an / exhaustion over the order of words. I prefer / to let them spin around. /// It is all investigation.”

Q: Finally—and you may have already answered part of this—who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: To reenergize… first it feels necessary to bring in Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Magic is Afoot” and Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” Natalia Lafourcade’s Musas, the For the Wild podcast, and the many readings and talks that have helped see me through this year. I am presently desiring/needing return to/breathing in Cecilia Vicuña, John Berger, Leslie Marmon Silko, Myung Mi Kim, Brenda Iijima, Roberto Harrison, Roland Barthes, M. NourbeSe Philip’s She Tries Her Tongue, Wendy Burk’s Tree Talks, Kaha:wi’s Blood Tides and Re-Quickening, Bontown’s Darién–Bunde y Bullerengue. I am always returning to Ela Spalding’s dancevideopoems Entre cielo y concreto. Bhanu Kapil’s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg’s Home/Birth. Shifting tides of course and entirely incomplete!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

TtD supplement #189 : seven questions for Bill Carty

Bill Carty is the author of Huge Cloudy (Octopus Books). He has received poetry fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Artist Trust, Hugo House, and Jack Straw. He was awarded the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, and his poems have recently appeared in jubilat, Denver Quarterly, Paperbag, and other journals. Originally from coastal Maine, Bill now lives in Seattle, where he is Senior Editor at Poetry Northwest. He teaches at the Hugo House, the UW Robinson Center for Young Scholars, and Edmonds College. www.billcarty.com

His poems “THE DISTANCE” and “OLD MACHINE” appear in the twenty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “THE DISTANCE” and “OLD MACHINE.”

A: “Old Machine” is the older of the two poems, and I believe it started as many of my poems do (or did, before quarantine made “overhearing” less of a thing), with a bit of eavesdropped language, someone speaking of their “aunt in Acton.” From there, I grabbed some things from observation (a hardware store that had an employee sit out front with quarters, paying the meters for customers) and a little from experience (RIP to the Brown Bag in Rockland, Maine, where I washed dishes in high school).

I’m a little less clear where “The Distance” originated, besides that I almost certainly wrote it on the Notes app on my phone last fall. I think one inspiration was the general sense that I can never really find something unless I’ve committed to it being lost forever. Like the “gift card for the fish shop”—it’s recovery in the poem is pure fantasy. Never did find that thing.

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

A: I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years revising a few long sequences of poems. I think, perhaps as a break from those poems, I’ve filled in much of the interim with shorter poems, like these two. So in that sense they fit with some of the poems I’ve been writing recently. I think they also include, especially in “Old Machine,” a narrative element that’s more typically of the book I’ve been working on.

Q: You mention weaving in bits of “eavesdropped language.” What is it about this particular kind of prompt that appeals? And what have you been using, if anything, as replacement since lockdown?

A: I think what appeals to me about that type of language is the opportunity it provides, once integrated into a poem, to push the writing into unexpected places. In his book of lectures, The Lives of Poems, Joshua Beckman recounts a short anecdote about Bashō, saying that he “used to slip a poem into the conversation and if it went unnoticed it was a success.” In the process of writing, I often challenge myself to pull from what I’ve read, heard, or observed, and try to bring these different sources together cohesively.

I can think of a few poems in my first book, Huge Cloudy, that owe large debts to the words/worlds suggested by passing strangers. During the pandemic, absent these ideas, I’ve been relying a bit more on a combination of reading and returning to older notes for poems that I’ve compiled. In a sense, things that I’ve written myself offhandedly (whether months or years ago) can often have the feeling of coming from another source too.

Q: With a full-length collection in print, as well as your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? What do you see yourself working towards?

A: I’m currently in the position of finishing up a second manuscript, We Sailed on the Lake, which is (I’d guess) about three-quarters complete. Most of this book consists of the long poems/sequences I mentioned earlier, many of which predate my last book, so in some ways I’d say my new writing is a continuation of what came before. One of the new, long poems actually “overlaps” with the last poem in Huge Cloudy, which I think speaks to some desire on my part to create conversation from one book to the next.

With that said, I’m not sure I see myself working toward anything specific. There are some questions I have in mind as I work on the new book—in terms of structuring a book around longer poems, around different ways of approaching the “we” in the title—that I have in mind when I’m drafting. I have some faith in these things being fleshed out through the writing process, without trying to impose particular goals on the poems themselves.  

Q: Is there a difference in the way you’re approaching the individual poem, as well as the process of compiling a manuscript, now that you’ve already published a book? Is this process similar to that of when you compiled Huge Cloudy?

A: I think that my approach to the individual poem is similar, but it has become a little more drawn out. I think this is partly due to being busy with editing, parenting, and teaching responsibilities over the last year or two, but I also think that it’s the product of putting a little less pressure on myself and taking more time to finish the individual poems.

Huge Cloudy consists more wholly of individual poems (or serial poems in sections), and so there were more discrete poems that I was trying to fit together. With the new book, I’m often trying to fill the spaces among the long poems, and experimenting with what works best. Recently, I’ve been thinking of these short poems as opportunities to magnify moments, ideas, and fragments of language from within the larger poems that bear further investigation.

I noticed, for example, my propensity to use “some” as a determiner (or maybe an indeterminer?) before nouns. I noticed that the epigraph to the book (from Shakespeare: “In the night, imagining some fear, / How easy is a bush supposed a bear!”) includes this as well, and so that struck me as the type of thing that I should investigate, if not “correct.”

Q: You almost make it sound as though the longer poems in this work-in-progress exist as the main action of the manuscript, with the shorter poems existing as asides, akin to elements of Shakepeare’s plays. Do you see Shakespeare as an influence upon your work?

A: I wouldn’t have immediately listed Shakespeare as an influence, but as I think about it, it’s hard to deny the effect the language of the plays has had on me. (And I was recently reminded of this in quarantine, rewatching Slings and Arrows for the third or fourth time.) I would say that particularly in high school, Shakespeare was, by and large, the only “poetry” that was taught regularly or with any depth. Since then, I’ve taught Hamlet and King Lear multiple times in composition classes, and through this repetition, I find that lines from these plays pop into my mind with much more regularity than lines of poetry.

Q: Slings and Arrows really is magnificent, isn’t it? Are there any other elements you’ve seen appear, unexpectedly, throughout your work? It leads to the question: how do your poems begin, and how do they develop? How do they get built?

A: It is a great show! One of my favorites. I’ve actually been thinking about how my poems develop recently, and I think one common pattern is that a piece of language becomes embedded in a geographic place. As I alluded to earlier, a lot of my poems begin for me in overheard or discovered language. And I think what happens after I discover this language is that I begin to ascribe this language, or a pattern of language derived from it, to a specific place. In recent examples, I can think of poems where phrases inspired by my reading lead me to a memory (real or imagined) rooted in, say, a room in my house, a bar in Seattle, or the mudflats beneath a railroad bridge in my hometown. Once the inciting language attaches itself to a particular place, that’s when the poems begin to (imaginatively) travel and reveal themselves.

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

A: I’m not sure this is true all the time, but recently, because my poetry reading has been fairly peripatetic, I’ve been reading prose to reenergize my writing. I think this happens first on the level of the sentence—and I’ve found the writing of Annie Ernaux, Henry James, Jenny Erpenbeck, and Toni Morrison particularly compelling in this regard. At other times, I think I’m reading nonfiction prose in areas like history or economics as a way to expand the vocabulary of my writing—not in terms of new words, necessarily, but situating familiar phrases in new contexts.