Monday, September 27, 2021

TtD supplement #198 : seven questions for Cat Tyc

Cat Tyc is a writer/artist who has three chapbooks, An Architectural Seance (dancing girl press & studio), CONSUMES ME (Belladonna* Collaborative) and I AM BECAUSE MY LITTLE DOG KNOWS ME (Blush Lit).  Her most recent work has published in Maggot Brain and The St. Marks's Poetry Project magazine The Recluse.

Her video work has screened at the Microscope Gallery, Anthology Film Archives, Brooklyn Museum, Hauser & Wirth, Kassel Fest and the synthesis gallery. She has directed music videos that have been added to the rotation on LOGO’s NewNowNext and MTVu.

She has been granted residencies and fellowships at Signal Culture and The Flaherty Seminar and has received support from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts.

Her collaborative project Poet Transmit (with artist Victoria Keddie) engages in the connections between poetry, transmission, and performance and has been presented at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, Knockdown Center and MOMA Ps1.

She is the Director of The Home School in Hudson, NY which is a summer intensive / online program with a mission to infuse poetry education with an interdisciplinary approach grounded in the fine arts and multimedia. She has taught writing for several CUNY/SUNY branches, Rutgers University and Northeastern University. She is based in Brooklyn and Hudson, NY.

Her poems “ART OF PRETEND,” “THIS PARTICULAR GOAT,” “THE BEES” and “WHISPER NETWORK” appear in the thirtieth issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: All of these poems are part of a collection entitled XO which is about excavating a path towards love after experiencing various heartbreaks perpetually for several years. Or what I mean to say is that it is a book about love without an explicit love poem in it.

The poem THIS PARTICULAR GOAT is specifically about an astrological reading I had right when I moved upstate in 2019 to escape a situation that felt untenable.

It is also a little bit about the frustration of being a white Latina because sometimes the eruption of witchcraft into the mainstream makes me feel like I have found community in other witches but then I also feel patronized to by people who weren’t raised in it and speak to me as if I wasn’t raised in certain traditions.

The WHISPER NETWORK was a vent after being sexually harassed a few years ago and how desensitized I felt after the fact. In that piece, I am observing my survival mode in action and acknowledging the fact that I got through that moment unharmed but also acknowledging because I had learned how to. It is really different from other things I have written.

THE BEES is about moving to upstate NY. It is partially about hitting dead ends and also relating to nature in a way that felt so much more immediate. In taking in all this knowledge about the natural world. or to be more specific, learning about the interesting politics of bees, I am thinking about the support networks in place in their society and how solidarity doesn’t always come from where you expect it to in ours.

ART OF PRETEND is an unabashedly 2020 ‘welcome to lockdown’ poem. It is about rethinking intimacy in digital spaces and observing how it shifted at that moment in time.

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

A: This work is different from my other work mostly in that I identify mostly as a prose writer.

Writing these poems was a way to process what was happening for me emotionally during a really intense few years and the accumulation ramped up around when I moved. I was commuting to the city for teaching that first fall so I spent an inordinate amount of time on the train for several months and decided to use that time to write poems to deal with the isolation and just use that time well.  The work manifested in a way that is very different from the rest of my practice but also speaks to the constraint of time within how they were produced.

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

A: There are always so many because I ingest a lot of media. When I am at home I usually have a podcast or something streaming. And when I am in motion, I play music.

Since I wrote most of these on the train, I would say that there is some influence from what I am listening to.  I love and listen to so many artists but Mos Def (Yasin Bey), Kendrick Lamar, Princess Nokia and Nas are people that I feel like I was listening to a lot that fall and whose lyrical cadence really resonate with me and kind of stick in my brain long after the music stops playing.

Q: I’m aware that you work in multiple disciplines—not just composing prose or poetry—and I’m curious as to how these various streams of your work interact. Do you see your work as a large, singular project, or are you working a sequence of different threads that occasionally overlap or interact? Do the multiple sides of your work influence each other at all?

A: It is still project by project and they do overlap and have a conversation with each other. Dare I say, occasionally a debate. I mean, how could they not ? - it is all coming from me.

In regards to mixing media, I do feel like I am entering into a place of more intentional integration. Mostly in regards to how the intersection of media and poetics are at the center of my practice which I am excited about.

Writing is always at the core of my work, though. Sometimes the project starts as a poem and turns into a three person collaboration and sometimes a project starts as a sort of an investigation for a type of documentary poetics and sometimes a poem is just a poem.

Most of the time this all evolves out of my desire to work with people. And sometimes a project evolves because I really need to be alone.

Q: I find it interesting that you suggest you work in poetry to process certain experiences. How is this different from the work you’ve been doing with your prose?

A: It is funny to me that you ask me this today because I just got off a call with a friend who just had a traumatic loss and who is struggling with how to talk about it in her work. And I was talking about how art is what I do to save myself so I guess I was encouraging her to try if she wanted to and when I said that I was thinking in particular of this collection of poems but the fact of the matter is that I am always processing something in my work. .

In prose, I do this more as a way of  letting my overthinking self take over and let her freak flag work off some energy.

I am not really interested in work that is clever just to be clever.

When I am being conceptual in a project, I am thinking of it more like a science experiment to test out an idea or just to see what will happen so I have material to work with.

Q: With three published chapbooks, as well as your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Well, I have a full poetry manuscript that could be broken down into chapbooks but I am really committed to the process of sculpting it into a full book. So that’s one that I am in the process of reorganizing.

I have spent a lot of time organizing the papers, notebooks and files in quarantine and have come to realize that outside of the one book of essays I was working on, I really have three and that essays are really where my heart lies near these days.  

The other two projects are in much earlier stages of development and I am developing short podcast series as part of the research and development of writing through those.

I am writing this as the world is “opening” back up so it is a weird time of meeting and conversation but there is some interest in a book of essays I have been working on for over a decade for  an online series and that is all I want to say about that for now so as not to jinx it.

And I wrote this script that I sent to an actor friend who thinks it could be a pilot so that is another interesting thing. I really miss directing and the whole running away with the circus feeling of making a film but it is also really daunting because it means working with a lot of people and I am still in the phase where I am trying to not be stressed out about having multiple dinner plans in one week so you know, we’re just taking it day by day right now.

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

A: I feel like I am always thinking about Eileen Myles’ work. Their book, evolution, has been on my mind quite a bit for the past few years because the poems reflect this position of really looking at the past to try to make sense of NOW in a way that just paralleled my head space so much.

And sometimes when I need to start my engine, I read a little bit of their book about Iceland or Inferno to get back into that head space of finding my ‘voice-ness’.  

I also get a lot of energy from seeing art and just taking in whole day of galleries and I just scribble the whole time. I went down to the city about a month ago to see a new show by one of my most favorite painters, Kathe Bradford.

Laurie Anderson is another artist that I return to consistently as well which some might think strange as I don’t work in sound but think I think she is such an interesting writer in how she kind of writes these layered meta narratives and there is something about the way she bends that opens me up when I am thinking about my work.

The art and writing I feel connected to is the kind that moves you beyond the art because it transcends the form to be something far more impactful than the form itself.

It grabs you and says ‘hey I see you’ and it holds you because the artist has learned how to do that for themselves. Or is at least is trying to and there is something in that trying is what I find most meaningful and inspiring.

I have also read a ton this year but the highlights have been Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Harry Dodge’s My Meteorite, and Matilda Bernstein Sycamore’s The Freezer Door.

In poetry, I have loved Stephanie Young’s Pet Sounds, Kate Durbin’s Hoarders, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s (another all time favorite poet) A Treastise of Stars and Bhanu Khapil’s How to Wash A Heart.

I have been nibbling on all these books like really expensive chocolate.

Monday, September 13, 2021

TtD supplement #197 : seven questions for Emma Tilley

Emma Tilley’s writing has been published in Popshot Magazine, The Anti-Languorous Project, EVENT, and Poetry is Dead. Her debut chapbook Carp Dime was published by Rahila’s Ghost Press in 2019.

Her poems “SNOW GLOBES” and “HOMEBOUND” appear in the thirtieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “SNOW GLOBES” and “HOMEBOUND.”

A: “SNOW GLOBES” is about living in the bubble of a small town and not wanting or knowing how to grow up. “HOMEBOUND” explores the idea of being in an unhealthy relationship and trying to control that which does not belong to us, or anyone really.

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

A: At the time the poems were written I was doing a lot more persona poems by making up a character or a situation and exploring it. The same can be said now too, but I am learning to write more from my own experiences and be direct. The subjects overlap in some ways, but it comes with a whole different set of emotions for me when writing and revisiting them. I am also finding myself working on sets of poems with a shared theme that connect with one another more so than individual poems.

Q: Are you finding your poems are interacting with each other more than they had previously? Might this have been since you published your chapbook, possibly? Has the way you see your poems evolved at all since you published Carp Dime?

A: I think my poems are interacting with each other more than they had previously. The poems in Carp Dime came about after discovering how much I loved the prose poem. I was having a lot of fun coming up with a line or a pun and then seeing where it would take me. The process was very lighthearted and organic, and it wasn't until I reread the poems during the editing stages that I began to see more themes in them. These days I find myself wanting to be more structured so that I can put together a longer collection of poems that follow a cohesive theme. I think it helps keep me focused on the work at hand. It also helps me see more clearly the different phases of my life and where I was at when I was writing the work. Since publishing Carp Dime, I have become more critical of the work (or lack of) that I have been producing so the way I have seen my poems has changed. I am trying to rediscover what it means to write for myself and how exciting exploring on the page can be.

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

A: Nancy Lee’s What Hurts Going Down, Lorna Crozier’s God of Shadows and Dina Del Bucchia & Daniel Zomparelli’s Rom Com have all been in the back of my head recently. I would say the imagery, story, humour, form, and characterization within their works as a collective have served as great models for the work that I have been attempting and trying to branch out with the kinds of poems I am writing.

Q: With a chapbook published and your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I think it’s becoming more authentic to who I am, and I am also taking more risks as I go. The more I learn about poetic form, the more I am trying to see what I can push myself to do. How I can grow and develop with each phase of writing. I see my work growing and exploring more topics that I would have shied away from before. I can only hope that the work evolves in ways I never even would have imagined which is both motivating and exciting.

Q: How do you see those risks revealing themselves? Are you leaning more in a structural direction, with the language or the line, or are you seeking out different areas of subject matter?

A: I see the risks revealing themselves in the kinds of projects I undertake and the ideas I come up with. I’m interested in looking at poetry beyond the page at some point and I think what I’m learning now paves the way for that. It’s also about giving myself permission to try and fail which is something I’ve always been very critical about.

I’ve noticed myself in a bit of a rut lately when it comes to line and structure. There are times when I feel like all the writing sounds the same and looks the same. 2020 was a crash course in grief for me and it’s pushed me to write about subjects that I normally would have been too scared or unsure of how to talk about. It’s also taken up a lot of brain space that would usually be used to explore new ideas and concepts. I’m trying to find the balance again.

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

A: If I need a reminder to bring humour back into my work, I would look to Fredrik Backman or Louise Rennison. Humour is important to me in both my life and my writing – it’s nice to find the right balance for it. Some works that I return to would be Lorna Crozier’s The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things and Diane Schoemperlen’s Forms of Devotion. They always draw me back in and every time I read them I discover something new.

Friday, September 3, 2021

TtD supplement #196 : seven questions for Paige Carabello

Paige Carabello is a writer who currently lives in Denver, Co. Previously her life was in Los Angeles, CA, where she worked as a professional singer/songwriter, voice/acting teacher, and in the music industry. Besides being a lyricist, she has written scripts for musical theatre and theatre.  She is currently working on her first poetry manuscript. She loves poetics and diving into scholarly concepts. Her poems “Site” and “Weeds Worn” appear in the thirtieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Site” and “Weeds Worn.”

A: I had been involved in the final stages of my manuscript when Covid hit… literally. Hit me. It was March and we knew little to nothing about Covid, except that it killed “or just lasted two weeks”.  One of the things I have found very grounding during this time of isolation has been taking classes that require my full attention; that have deadlines and expectations. In a recent class with the poet Elizabeth Robinson we   were investigating the lyric poem’s ability to deepen an experience. It was the week of the Great American Nightmare (the election) and this timely assignment allowed me to pay attention specifically to ‘focus’ and intensity— how can the writer hone in, capture that core glimpse of real time experience? One of my foremost intentions with my poetry is to offer the reader an opportunity to really step inside another’s reality, to inhabit the voice. Paring away extraneous stimuli, what do you see?

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

A: The poems I am writing now are different from my manuscript. I’ve been writing a lot of experimental pieces, and just finished studying with Gregory Pardlo, which was extremely liberating! However, I am still working on my writing projects and just finished a chapbook. I’m struggling with the age old dilemma: so much to write, not enough time. (pause for heavy dramatic sigh). I am cleaning up my manuscript of persona poems—which sounds very mature and  disciplined? But I struggle with staying with one project. I pick up a poetry book and even though I’m only a few pages in, suddenly I MUST stop to write! I get triggered easily, so I find it difficult to finish reading anything unless it is assigned.

I love taking classes: there is a pressure to produce built right in and an opportunity to focus on concepts. Learning excites me, and class allows me to glean insight from poet-teachers who usually teach to their own strengths or feared weaknesses, so I benefit from their eye. I thrive on exposure to new ideas, new writers, new and different interpretations.

Most of my writing is people-centered. I admire good writing about place and natural environments, but to me, humans are the ultimate mystery and magnet. Inevitably, I find my writing is mining the layers of humanity—so writing my green leaf descriptive piece morphs to bug commentary which leads me to infestations... and suddenly I’m in a violent crowd at a clearance sale!

Q: You say you’re working on a manuscript of persona poems: what originally prompted the manuscript and how are these poems presenting themselves? From where do these personas emerge?

A: My concept for this manuscript was fleshed out before I submitted some of my work for an intensive year long poetry manuscript course (at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop) billed as having “all the details you don’t learn in an MFA program”.  At the time the course was led by Elizabeth Robinson, and she understood what I was shooting for—a book of female persona and identity poems. I know, I know—been done to death and I about fell asleep just writing the description. But as with anything worth much? I think, hopefully, the proof will be in the pieces.

I engage with them as acting monologues—as real glimpses into an other’s reality, with the “other “being some representations of female human existence. Hopefully, recognizable to all humans, regardless of sexual or gender identity— just like good theatre.  Some of my “characters” are pathetic, frustrating, stupid, humorous, lost…they are messy.

Where do my characters come from? Amalgams of concepts, personalities. Imagination. Experience. Curiosity. Passion. Living.

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

A: No, I don’t. I have an understanding of what I need each piece to say or cover, but beyond that? It’s a risk, a leap in the dark. The closest art form would be my experience as an actor, the nearest representational or visual form would be Cindy Sherman.

Q: What is it about Sherman’s work that appeals? And how does that present itself in your writing?

A: I actually created my concept a year prior to seeing Sherman’s work. However, the draw for me is in the opportunity to see differently through inhabiting. Often, when I read persona poetry or poetry “about” someone, there is a distance afforded the reader. The poet has written a “voice”, and this becomes an “other”... sometimes you've got 3 or 4 voices in with you, plus your own narration. In contrast, when I read a play (script), I automatically climb into the characters. They are immediately present, and they become real right now. It is this unique experience I am trying to capture. There are characters and characteristics of human behavior that I am interested in allowing the reader to inhabit more closely.

So, I was introduced to Cindy Sherman by Elizabeth Robinson. In Sherman’s work you can observe from a distance, simply register: here is a a photo of a beautiful woman. An Ugly woman. A Disgusting woman. Or you can ask ‘ who is she, what does she see, what does she say about how we have been socialized?’  What is revealed about the woman in the photograph? And what does my reaction reveal? What makes one woman ugly? Significant questions, all—but. “The Woman” is still being held at arm’s length, within a frame. Observed. Most viewers would agree that knowing about the individual women, or even the women’s back story, would effect our perception or judgement of her. I would like to go in further: what happens to our perceptions when we become the woman?

Q: How was it working with Elizabeth Robinson? Where there any shifts that her workshop prompted in your work, or was it more of a fine-tuning?

A: Elizabeth is a natural instructor and very open to new ideas and challenging boundaries. I often find it tricky, taking class from poets—just because one can publish doesn’t automatically mean one can teach. Elizabeth is an amazing teacher. And yes, she was very instructive in the technicalities of manuscript creation—composition, variation, selection, proximity—and criticism.  However, I think the most vital thing she gave me is her encouragement. I discount most pats on the head, just don’t trust them. Because I know Elizabeth has a discerning eye, and because I had taken several of her “academic” classes, I knew she was highly intelligent and had a deep sense of curiosity. I trust her.

If I had to single out the most helpful experience I had building this manuscript it would be the discoveries I made during my first public reading of the material. Up until that moment, I wasn’t certain my idea had any lift. It was exciting to experience a positive response.

In general, I find reading my work out loud to an audience is immensely helpful. When I read I am able to hear and feel and see what needs to change. Poetry is such a fluid art, and I think reading aloud allows me to experience more fully all the passages in the piece that I didn’t take. It helps me make better choices.

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

A: I’m so grateful for the phrasing of your question, rob! Whenever someone asks “who is your favorite poet” I break out in mental hives—I visualize a top hat full of hundreds of little white paper strips and my hand plunging in, snuffling around, trying to pull out THE one name! So, my consistent go to’s  are C.D. Wright, Lucille Clifton, and forever Emily Dickinson. I recently took classes by Layli Long Soldier and heard readings by Hanif Abdurraquib; both very musical writers. I’ve recently rediscovered Marilyn Nelson and Natalie Diaz, and I’m currently reading Kevin Young’s anthology, African American Poetry, and Natalie Trethaway’s work. Because I just finished a class on her life and work, I’m still caught up in Lorine Niedecker's writing— she is simply masterful. My pandemic favorite for a lift was Khadijah Queen’s I’m So Fine; but my favorite immersive experience was Thomas A. Clark’s Farm By The Shore. There are many more, of course. So many poets, so little time….