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 ...

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