Wednesday, March 30, 2022

TtD supplement #212 : five questions for David Buuck

David Buuck lives in Oakland, CA. He is the co-founder and editor of Tripwire, a journal of poetics (tripwirejournal.com), and founder of BARGE, the Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics. Recent books include The Riotous Outside (Commune Editions, 2018), Noise in the Face of (Roof Books 2016), SITE CITE CITY (Futurepoem, 2015) and An Army of Lovers, co-written with Juliana Spahr (City Lights, 2013). He teaches at Mills College, where he is the chief steward of the adjunct faculty union, and at the San Quentin Prison University Program.

His poem “Total Persuasion Architecture” appears in the thirty-second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “Total Persuasion Architecture.”

A: Well this is an excerpt from a longer series of poems that continue to slowly accrue, currently in a doc titled “AfterJules” which I presume means Jules Boykoff, or more likely in conversation with Jules’ work and that of other contemporaries who work to find ways to articulate the scale work of local-global political economies and cultural politics. In this section, I was trying to find ways to signal the uncanny relations between the individual/subjective biopolitics of self-regulation and the broader global matrices of capital, finance, and infrastructure. How does one’s body attune itself to forces that seem beyond the reach of individual agency? How do the economic metrics of something like a condo’s ‘seaside view’ (e.g., the speculative real-estate that can put a price on a vista) relate to one’s everyday drinking water? I make no claims that the poem is successful in mapping out such relations, but I suppose this might be one way to conceptualize the jumping-off points for trying to language such questions.

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

A: Most of the work I’ve been doing over the last year or two has been in prose, either fiction, essay, or some hybrid of both. Verse poetry – when it ‘comes’ – remains for me a site for a certain kind of thinking in and through language, especially when a kind of highly torqued articulation of concrete and abstract relations seems to the most productive way of working through a set of concerns, be they political or aesthetic or – most likely – both. Form as an extension of content is an old canard, but if ‘content’ can mean something more than ‘subject matter’ but rather a set of pressing questions in need of agitation, disruption, unpredictable swerves of inquiry, etc, then following thought and counter-thought through poetic practice tends to be the formal approach (for me) best suited for certain concerns that cannot be contained and ordered by conventional prose genres.

Q: I’m curious about your work in the hybrid: how do you distinguish between genres, and how do you decide when such arbitrary boundaries require crossing?

A: It’s pretty intuitive though often dictated by the project/animating questions that push themselves into form in the doing. I’m not super invested in genre though at times if I’m writing something more like a ‘story’ I will be thinking about narrativity, the sentence and paragraph, the time of writing/reading, etc – more formal concerns than genre, I suppose; whereas in verse other questions arise which can dictate various choices/directions. I guess I mostly let the writing/content/interrogations dictate the formal approach/process of unfolding, even if at times I will work within compositional constraints (such as sentences-only, stanza length, etc) if they propel the work forward into places I can’t anticipate.

Q: At what point do you allow the hybrid to develop naturally? Do you begin with a sentence, a phrase or a sense of shape? Have there been poems, for example, that have evolved into hybrids?

A: Yes, often I will begin with a phrase or ‘sense of shape’ as you put it – a loose sense of form or occasionally method/concept/constraint within which to explore — but then generally the compositional ‘logic’ (rhythm? propulsion? line of inquiry?) pulls me further into whatever form the work seems to require. Occasionally I may struggle with a sentence that I want to see as poetry (i.e. chopped into linebreaks to slow down reading/comprehension and attend to its sound-parts) and in at least one case have used a sentence in both a prose work and then in a separate poem (and then again in a different prose-context, as a language-memory that emerges out of a different narrative-genre context). But generally the ‘project’ will dictate the form. At the end of the day, really, there are works that ‘insist’ on being poems but otherwise I tend towards more cross-genre prose constructions these days. The ‘poetry’ tends to arise out of certain moments (protests/riots, the temporal contractions of online-mediated life, etc) in which the speed/disruptions/disjunctions of socialized language and its particular musics seem to require more fragmented, intuitive articulations and rhythms.

Q: Where do you see this particular thread of your work headed? What is it you feel your writing is working towards?

A: Not sure yet. I have a number of prose projects in the works, but will no doubt always turn to verse when certain questions or formal concerns seem to demand. I feel (hope!) that I’m more open to new and different directions in my work (vs using the same moves and habits to each new piece) to the point where I can’t really predict how the work might develop, which (I hope) is a good thing!

Friday, March 18, 2022

TtD supplement #211 : seven questions for Emily Brandt

Emily Brandt is the author of FALSEHOOD, as well as three poetry chapbooks: Sleeptalk Or Not At All, ManWorld and Behind Teeth. Her poems have appeared in many journals including BOMB, LitHub, The Recluse, and Washington Square Review, and anthologies including Inheriting the War and Brooklyn Poets Anthology. Her essays appear in Weird Sister and are forthcoming in Electric Gurlesque. Emily is a co-founding editor of No, Dear, curator of the LINEAGE reading series at Wendy’s Subway, and an Instructional Coach at The Boerum Hill School for International Studies in Brooklyn. She’s of Sicilian, Polish and Ukrainian descent.

Her poems “drinking from boredom, a toast to the dead” and “Nothing here today that doesn’t exist yesterday” appear in the thirty-second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “drinking from boredom, a toast to the dead” and “Nothing here today that doesn’t exist yesterday.”

A: These two poems are part of a 30 poem series written daily during a month of meditation on Stein’s essay: “Composition As Explanation.” So each poem is, in part, a quotidian reflection on whatever I was doing that day. And in part, a reflection of an embodied process of integrating Stein’s ideas – which to me feel both impenetrable and wildly intuitive.

The first poem of that series (a series which retains the present tense) is “Nothing here today that doesn’t exist yesterday” – a pretty direct correlative to Stein’s essay. On that day, I had a conversation with a young person who told me that I taught him what it means to be a man. This was interesting and sweet to hear, and something I can’t actually take any credit for. But it did reinforce for me a sense both of connection (in the present to this young person, and across time back to Stein) and of ambiguity/simultaneity – a lack of connection to any set interpretation. So in part, what this kid said might be true (we’d had some cool and deep conversations), and in part, it’s not – only he can be credited with his own learning, as we are all offered a constant stream of infinite stimuli and only attend to so many minutiae.

On the day I wrote “drinking from boredom, a toast to the dead” I was, well, drinking from boredom - and fell down a rabbit hole of wondering what happened to cocktail glasses, which used to be commonly seen. So the poem’s a nod to how there is not difference in how life is across time, but in “the way life is conducted.” Here I am, drinking the same drink as ten or twenty years prior, from a different shaped glass. As if shape matters. And it doesn’t.

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

A: Well, the last few months I haven’t been making poems. I’ve been focused on creating a video about people’s sleep and waking rituals, with support from the video art collective Temp Files.

Q: What prompted this shift from poems to video production?

A: I love making photographs, and though I have less experience with video, I find it really exciting. So I’m thrilled to be back for my second year with the collective. I wouldn't exactly call it a shift from poetry to video art. It’s more pragmatic – we’re on a tight production schedule with Temp Files, and my video goes live in early March. So everything else got put on pause. During Covid, it’s been particularly supportive to work with a true collective – since there has been so much less in-person engagement with poetry communities, this video collective has been a real gift. I think ultimately I approach making a video the same way I approach making poems. But with a lot more equipment.

Q: What do you mean when you say you approach both forms in the same way?

A: I tend to start from an intuitive, meditative space and collect a lot. Then I look for patterns and attend to language to find an intentional and intelligent shape for the piece.

Q: Are these poems part of any larger grouping or thinking? Have you done much writing since the poems included in your full-length collection, FALSEHOOD, for example?

A: Yes! This series is one of three sections in a new manuscript, one which reckons with the ghosts of place. That’s been the bulk of my writing since FALSEHOOD – though I’ve also written some random things and have been dipping in and out of a sonnet series I’ve been working on for a decade now. I’m looking forward to taking some time this spring to write without a particular project in mind and see where that takes me.

Q: With a full-length collection and a handful of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: That’s maybe a better question for my readers! I can say that for a long while, I felt like I was vacillating between very formal hyper-revised constructions and very intuitive/associative constructions that I was reluctant to revise at all. Now, in my work I feel confident in balancing intuition and precise intention. I’ve done a lot of poem revision and visual art-making in the last two years, and have only drafted five, maybe seven, new poems since the pandemic began. I’m ready to dive back in to writing this late-winter/early-spring, so more on this soon.

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

A: I recently loved and felt energized by Jennifer Nelson’s Harm Eden, Ted Dodson’s An Orange, and Jordan Abel’s Nishga. I return often to Muriel Rukeyser and William Butler Yeats, because I can’t not, and I read the Tao Te Ching over and over again endlessly.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Touch the Donkey : eighth anniversary sale,

To celebrate the eighth anniversary of the quarterly Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] this April: anyone who subscribes (or resubscribes) anytime between now and the end of April 2022 has the bonus option of three (3) items: three Touch the Donkey back issues of your choice, OR three above/ground press (2021 or 2022) titles of your choice (while supplies last) OR any combination thereof.

Issue #33 of Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] lands on April 15, 2022.

2021-2022 above/ground press titles include chapbooks by: Rob Manery, Lillian Nećakov, Amanda Earl, Karl Jirgens, df parizeau, Wanda Praamsma, Lydia Unsworth, Michael Schuffler, rob mclennan, Natalie Simpson, Nate Logan, Stan Rogal, Sean Braune and Émilie Dionne, Urië V-J, Sarah Rosenthal, Andy Weaver, Simon Brown, Mayan Godmaire, Phil Hall, Kevin Varrone, Susan Rukeyser, Barry McKinnon, Benjamin Niespodziany, Ken Norris, Terri Witek and Amaranth Borsuk, George Bowering, Franklin Bruno, Gary Barwin, Emily Izsak, Jen Tynes, Valerie Witte, Robert Hogg, Ken Sparling, Jessi MacEachern, Nathan Alexander Moore, Katie Naughton, Summer Brenner, Monica Mody, Kōan Anne Brink, Gregory Betts, Michael Sikkema, M.A.C. Farrant, Jamie Townsend, Conor Mc Donnell, Adam Thomlison, Alyssa Bridgman, James Lindsay, David Miller, Amish Trivedi, Ava Hofmann, JoAnna Novak, Sandra Moussempès (trans. Eléna Rivera), Helen Hajnoczky, Edward Smallfield, Valerie Coulton, James Hawes, Anik See, David Dowker, Shelly Harder, Alexander Joseph, Joseph Mosconi, Brenda Iijima, Al Kratz, Saeed Tavanaee Marvi (trans. Khashayar Mohammadi), Jason Christie, katie o'brien, N.W. Lea and Andrew Brenza.

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Monday, March 7, 2022

TtD supplement #210 : seven questions for Hugh Thomas

Hugh Thomas is a poet and translator living in Montréal, where he teaches mathematics at UQAM. His first solo book of poetry, Maze, was published by Invisible Publishing in spring 2019. Other translations from this project appeared in the online journals long con and periodicities.

His “Five poems from Hauge” appear in the thirty-second issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the project “Hauge.”

A: This project consists of defective translations of poems by Olav Hauge. Hauge was one of the leading Norwegian poets of the mid-twentieth century. I started with the text of the poem in Norwegian, and then tried to “translate” it somehow, based on what the words sound like, on guesses, or occasionally based on the actual Norwegian meaning. Jason Heroux described the translations as what these poems would see if they looked in a funhouse mirror, and that is a great analogy.

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

A: As you know, I’ve done a lot of work with various kinds of fake translation (including some which you’ve published). This project has been interesting because for the most part, the Hauge texts I was using are ones I was already familiar with in English translation, or else ones whose literal sense I was able to figure out (despite my limited knowledge of Norwegian). In this project, I’ve tried to be open to letting the literal meaning of the original poem be one of the aspects that I’m working with in constructing my translations.

Q: What first prompted your interest in what you call “fake translation”?

A: I remember experimenting with fake translation when I was at university in the early nineties, so it’s been an interest of mine for quite some time. Back then, I was excited about the idea of translation, but it turned out to be really hard. I wanted the fun of translation without either the hard work of getting good at another language, or the hard work of trying to match effects between two different languages.

Q: One could argue that your approach with the “fake translation” is comparable to a kind of close-reading response poem—a combination of, I would presume, responding to word shape, sound, cadence and potential meaning—and that you could easily return to the same source poem every couple of years and return with an entirely different result. When responding to a poem in another language, what do you feel your relationship is, or even responsibility to, that original poem in a language you can’t understand?

A: I think my main responsibility is not to be boring. That may not sound like a responsibility to the original text, but in fact, I think it is. The poems I am translating have a certain charge of energy, and the least responsible thing I could do would be to provide a flat translation, conveying the literal meaning with none of the energy. Any kind of energetic response is more appropriate than that.

I do think about other kinds of responsibility, at least sometimes. With Hauge, I’m happy to be able to tell people “Look, these poems are also out there in perfectly competent English translations, and if that’s what you want, I encourage you to look those books up.” And, really, it would add something for the reader of my messed-up translations to take a look at conventional translations as well. Though hopefully it’s not necessary.

Q: With a handful of published poetry chapbooks and trade collections under your belt, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I have gotten more interested in trying to keep on going with one idea for a while, for example, translating a bunch of Hauge poems, rather than just one. I think in the past, I would have felt like either I should translate just one, or I should translate all of them, and the latter would be impossible. So once I had translated one, I would feel like I had to do something else instead of trying to carry on. I think I now have a bit more willingness for my process to be visible in the final work. So, with the Hauge poems, I translated some and not others, as I happened upon them, and that’s okay. That may seem really obvious! But in the past, I think I would have felt like I had to erase that trace of my history from the final result of the poems.

Q: Do you find your work in “fake translation” impacts at all on the other kinds of writing you’ve been doing? Is there any kind of cross-influence, even through working a translation from a language you don’t actually know?

A: I’m very interested in the way the source material does somehow bleed into and invigorate what I’m doing, even if I don’t know how. It might seem like what I’m doing isn’t really engaging with the source at all, but I can tell you that I have tried translating a lot of poems and it hasn’t “worked”. It feels like there is some kind of connection that has to be made. And in fact, maybe if we’re being honest, the same thing is true when we’re reading poems in a language we know well: there are poems that are just fine, but we don’t connect with them. With a poem in a language we know, we may not notice the difference between connecting and not connecting so easily, because we do at least understand the words, but I would argue that that’s the least important thing.

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

A: To avoid embarking on an infinite answer, let me just say Frank O’Hara.