Friday, March 31, 2023

TtD supplement #236 : six questions for Ted Byrne

Ted Byrne is a Vancouver poet and translator. He frequently writes on poetry and poetics. His most recent books are: Duets, which is based on the Sonnets of Louise Labé and Guido Cavalcanti (2018); A Flea the Size of Paris: The Old French fatrasies & fatras (with Donato Mancini, 2020); and Tracery (Talonbooks in 2022). The Seventh Chamber is an alternative autobiography, a peripatetic perambulation or circular walk, a murder story, a serial poem, and an experiment in translation, punctuated by the unpunctuated choruses of the two sisters from its earlier companion book Beautiful Lies (2008). The second chapter of this work can be found in the fourth issue of SOME.

“Chapter 1” of his work-in-progress “The Seventh Chamber” appears in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “The Seventh Chamber.”

A: The Seventh Chamber is a book largely derived from other texts, and includes historical documents and translations turned to its purpose, a work of intertextuality in the proper sense of the word. Not influence, but confluence. I remember writing, in my teens, a prototype of this work derived from the “night town” section of Ulysses, The Barbary Shore, Saint Julien the Hospitaller, and Gwendolyn MacEwan’s Julian the Magician. Sometime in the eighties, I wrote a long introduction to a work that was meant to include a series of several books taking their stories from anecdotes in Marjorie Freeman Campbell’s magnificent A Mountain and a City: The Story of Hamilton – several notorious murders, the Bloody Assize of 1814, the HSR strike of 1906, visits to the city by Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman. Only two of these books have been written. One of them, Beautiful Lies, tells of the murder of Ethel Kinrade by her sister Florence, and the other, The Seventh Chamber, includes the story of the butcher Mike McConnell’s murder of his landlord. In the first of these books, the “essential anecdote”, as Mallarmé called it, is not recounted, although it’s hidden in plain sight on the back cover of the book. The impetus for this approach came from Marguerite Duras’ Emily L. In The Seventh Chamber, the essential anecdote – the murder of Nelson Mills – is told twice.   

Although they can be read separately, the two books are similar in their structure and method. They don’t so much mix genres as oscillate between them. Although I refer to them at times as novels, I more often think of them as serial poems in prose. Alongside or within the “murder mysteries”, which take place in the distant past (in terms of Hamilton time), runs a kind of parallel or imbricated text set in the “present” – the 1970s in Beautiful Lies, the twenty first century in The Seventh Chamber. This second text is partly autobiographical. I’m presently referring to The Seventh Chamber as an alternative autobiography. In Beautiful Lies, the character in this second text is peripherally present in the first and may simply be the narrator or author.  In The Seventh Chamber, this peripatetic character narrates his own story and may or may not be aware of, let alone be the ‘author’ of the parallel texts. There is also a third textual element, a kind of chorus in which, originally, the two sisters conduct a dialogue. These are recognizable by the absence of punctuation. In The Seventh Chamber, the two voices are still busily commenting on the literary unconscious of the work. They are now twins, and toward the end a third voice arises, that of the so-called narrator or author. This may be a device for setting up a sequel made entirely of this unpunctuated choral work.

I recently came across these words of Tzvetan Todorov in his Theorie du symbole which I think apply to the structure of The Seventh Chamber:
It is possible to conceive, in the abstract, two forms of coherence in a literary work. First, coherence between its strata: a certain number of levels can be seen at work throughout the text, harmonious and, in some manner, vertical. A second coherence is at play between the segments of the work – if we cut its continuity into pieces, we will find that each part is necessary and interdependent with the others; this latter is, so to speak, a horizontal coherence.
These books also incorporate translations, as does most of my work. These translated texts are modified in most cases by a slight change of detail – location, time – that allows them to fit into the ongoing narrative. This practice owes something to the work of Rodney Graham, in Landor’s Cottage, for example, or The Piazza. In most cases, but not all, these translations could, with the readjustment of the divergent details, stand as “faithful” renderings of their originals.

The first book, Beautiful Lies, is available from CUE Books. The Seventh Chamber is being published in three parts – in feuilleton, as I like to say. The second part is currently available in SOME fourth issue. I’m still working on the final section and appendices, which I expect to publish soon in a journal or as a chapbook.

Q: I’m curious about how you see this particular project alongside your other works. The way you describe these seems less a matter of individual works than a single, ongoing trajectory, of which this current project is simply the latest in a line. How do you see the trajectory of your work, and the relationships between your projects?

A: I don’t see much in the way of a direct relationship between these works and other projects that I have completed or continue to work on. That is, other than certain methodological procedures: the serial poem, the book as unit of composition (Spicer), the incorporation of translation, my own lyric presence in the text to a greater or lesser extent. What I see when I look back along the ‘trajectory’ to which The Seventh Chamber belongs is a life-long trail of disasters, of failed attempts to write a novel. I don’t read a lot of novels, but when I do get captured by one I am always amazed at the nature of the writing and the labour involved. I don’t seem to be capable of that. I think it’s a result of a certain devotion to lyric, a short attention span, and an inability to write prosaic sentences. On that last point, my effort is always to write sentences that slow reading down, encumber the reader, not ones that move the story along, if there is a story at all. I find it difficult to write sentences such as those that punctuate dialogue, for example: “Joachim sourit, content de pouvoir s’expliquer,” or “Il se retourne et lui fait face.” Or sentences that simply maintain the momentum and bridge events: “In high spirits, we skipped down the steps and across the walk to the front doors of the courthouse,” or “I watched the leafy trees and many banana palms go  by the tram windows.” These examples are taken from two novels that I’m currently reading – novels that I admire and enjoy reading: Anne Dufourmantelle’s Souviens-toi de ton avenir, and Larissa Lai’s The Lost Century.

Q: You mention Jack Spicer, but I’m curious at what brought you to the point of working on, as you say, the book as your unit of composition. Was Spicer an early influence? What other writers or works prompted your preference for the book-length structure?

A: Well, I named Spicer because I’ve always associated that phrase with him. I probably should have said “the Berkeley Renaissance”, since the practice is common to Blaser and Duncan as well – think of The Image Nations, or The Structure of Rime. In “The Practice of Outside”, Blaser refers to the “the special value the poet [Spicer] gave to composition by book.” I’ve seen the phrase attributed to b.p. nichol, but I wouldn’t know where he got it from. I’m not really one of his readers. Anyway, there’s nothing new about this practice. I could just as easily have said Hesiod, Vergil, Dante, Maurice Scève, Louise Labé or Basho. Or more immediately, Pound, Williams, H.D. or Zukofsky. For me, probably my first sense of this practice came from books I read in my teens – Rimbaud’s last two books, Bliss Carman’s Sappho : One Hundred Lyrics, Kora in Hell, Helen in Egypt, Joanne Kyger’s The Tapestry and the Web. My first conscious use of this method was probably the composition, in the early 80s, of a series of dizains modelled on Scève’s Délie.

Q: With numerous published books and chapbooks over the years, as well as this current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I wonder this myself. It always begins with reading. When asked if I’m writing, I often say that I’m reading toward writing. Right now I’m reading a lot of Dante and Dante criticism, ostensibly toward the completion of The Seventh Chamber and the writing of an essay on Cavalcanti. I’m reading Anne Dufourmantelle and thinking about the case history as ‘literature’. This began as a work of translation but that project slipped away with her death. I’m reading the Duncan/Levertov correspondence with the intention of writing a short coda to a paper I wrote a few years ago on the Duncan/Blaser quarrel. I’m reading a lot of long poems, I’m not quite sure why yet. And I’m looking again at Rilke’s Vergers with an eye toward translation. At some point I always find myself writing. It surprises me to discover that I’m ready, but I always carry the utensils.

Q: I’m curious about the ways in which your writing and your translation work interact with each other, if at all. Do you see them as separate threads, or something intertwined? How does one impact upon the other?

A: I’ve always treated my translations as part of my writing, whether they were literal or entirely divergent. The earliest translation I remember writing was a short poem of Apollinaire’s. It took its place in the chronological ordering of my own poems. In the poem he addresses his mother in a way that corresponded perfectly to the situation I found myself in at the time – living on my own in a rooming house. And so it’s been for me since then – not living alone in a rooming house, but situating the place of translation within my ongoing work. The only exception to the practice I’ve just described is the translation I did with Donato Mancini of A Flea the Size of Paris: The Old French fatrasies & fatras. As the first translators of this body of work into English, we felt a responsibility to the poems and to the reader that we could not shirk. Donato is presently doing more adventuresome things with the fatrasie form. With regard to ‘literal’ and divergent translations, some examples of the former would be the Mallarmé translations in Beautiful Lies and The Seventh Chamber, or the translations of Ponge that I published years ago in Raddle Moon; some examples of the latter can be found in my most recent books, Duets and Tracery, or the ‘translation’ of Canto 28 of The Purgatorio in Beautiful Lies – loosely based on the Dante, it is written in prose but retains all the features of terza rima.

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

A: I’d have to say Mallarmé’s prose poems, including Igitur, Dante’s Comedy, H.D.’s wartime writings, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, Walt Kelly’s Pogo, Cocteau’s film Orphée, Robert Duncan’s Passages, André Breton’s Vases communicants, Agnes Varda’s Cléo de cinq a six, Bach’s Cello Suites and Partitas and Sonatas for violin, Beethoven’s Late Quartets, maybe Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, Celan and Hölderlin, Lyn Hejinian, Godard’s La Chinoise, Julia Kristeva, The Cocteau Twins, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Maya Deren’s Ritual in Transfigured Time, Eliot’s Four Quartets, Plato’s Phaedrus, and so on. At the very least I’d need Dante and Hegel.

Monday, March 20, 2023

TtD supplement #235 : six questions for Hilary Clark

Originally from Vancouver, Hilary Clark now lives in Victoria, BC. Before retirement, she taught English for 25 years at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. She has published three books of poetry, her first, More Light (1998), winning the Pat Lowther Award for 1999. The most recent is The Dwelling of Weather (Brick, 2003). Besides writing new poetry, she is singing in a choir and working on translations of poetry, mostly French Surrealist and Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle).

Selections of her work-in-progress “My Muted Year” appear in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

This is now a completed manuscript she is readying for submission.

Q: Tell me about “My Muted Year.”

A: “My Muted Year” is a sequence of around 124 untitled prose poems composed at intervals over the year 2020, the year of the most stringent Covid lockdowns and restrictions. I started it in November 2019 and ended in November 2020. It began when, after a period of rejections and anxiety, I decided to restart in a non-threatening way, by handwriting nine prose lines in a notebook per session. There was no intended topic: the sentences were prompted by rhythm, by whatever came into my mind, by forays into the dictionary, and by repetition of earlier fragments in the sequence. As I usually do, I used chance procedures and associations to interrupt intention. The individual poems may contain traces of narrative, but they are connected not by narrative but by repetition and variation of seasonal and other motifs, some inspired by location (West Coast), some by the Covid context. Motifs from a life overturned.

Over the whole, there is an “I” voice that mostly monologues. There is also a second voice that addresses the “I” in a snarky but sometimes off-base way. The effect is a compromised dialogue in which each side talks past the other.

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

A: This sequence has been my only poetic project for the last few years. It has grown out of an earlier unpublished manuscript: both originate in constraint procedures and develop by surrealist disjunctions and imagery that is often dream-like. (The new sequence has further required that, in revision, I work out forms of repetition, in particular identifying themes and creating variations.) Another continuity with the earlier manuscript is that both include playful and conflicting voices. I think the voices have been a solution to my ongoing struggle with/against lyric beauty: they make a unified ‘I’ impossible. And as a bipolar person, I find they both reflect and give me some control over the endless noise in my head.

My other projects at present are translations of French surrealist and Oulipo poems by Marianne Van Hirtum (Belgium) and Jacques Roubaud (France). I have also translated a sequence by Normand de Bellefeuille (Québec) from La Marche de l'aveugle sans son chien (2000). I am still a newbie along with many other emerging literary translators. In its constraint procedures, imagery, and often-illogical transitions from one sentence to the next, “My Muted Year” has been influenced by the poetry that I translate (just as my translations are shaped by my poetic practice).

Q: What originally prompted you to work with constraint and repetition in such a way, and what do you feel those structures provide that might not be possible otherwise?

A: There was more than one prompt: In my graduate work especially, and in university teaching and research, I worked with Modernist and Surrealist authors. In a context of wars and revolutions, avant-garde writing undermined unified subjectivity and narrative logic, often composing paratactically, by association or dream logic. These are the main emphases that have shaped my approach to writing poetry. I am presently immersed in Surrealist works, translating them from the French.

As well, over time I have become interested in the French Oulipo group, whose authors work/play from constraints: sets of rules, as in games. (Think of older forms, like the sonnet. Think of Eunoia by Christian Bök.) Here content is not intended beforehand but emerges as the game is played. As Jacques Roubaud, eminent Oulipean, puts it: “I will say / That a constraint opens up a possible / World of language. With this, I / Hold a passkey.”*

So these influences, plus that of the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver—where I took workshops in the 1980s—have shaped my writing. Lyn Hejinian’s writing has been an inspiration, in particular her prose-poetic memoir My Life (1980) and her more recent book The Unfollowing (2016), in which, she claims, the non-sequitur is the main principle of development. In composing from sentence to sentence in 14-line units, “[n]othing was to follow—or nothing follow logically” (Preface).*

It’s in my nature to “mute” myself and avoid starting with a bald intention such as “I will write about my experience of the COVID lockdown in 2020.” And I like writing chained poems rather than writing a self-sufficient lyric or narrative poem. I don’t know how to write one of those. They are complete units, whereas my individual poems are not so much complete in themselves as taking on meaning from those that precede and follow, extending with indefinite or potentially no closure. (Of course, the sequence has been practiced by many Canadian poets.) Here, repetition serves as a kind of memory for the reader, a way of holding things lightly in mind.
1st * Jacques Roubaud, “Les contraintes,” Churchill 40 et autres sonnets de voyage 2000-2003 (Gallimard, 2004), p. 45. My translation.
2nd * Lyn Hejinian, Preface, The Unfollowing (Omnidawn, 2016), p. 9.
Q: With three poetry titles, as well as your current work-in-progress, since the late 1990s, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: When my last book of poetry was published, as a prof I had to focus for a while on publishing academic articles. These qualified me for a SSHRC grant to do research that interested me and satisfied the powers-that-be. By 2015, when I retired, I had poems and manuscripts but no luck at all in placing work until last year, 2022. In the meantime, something must have been happening: the writing I started doing around the time of retirement and since then has been a little different than my earlier, more lyrical books. When I am composing now, I am directed by voices in my head that go back and forth: my lyric I-voice arouses satirical retorts and abuse from another voice or voices. I still turn to admire-this-beauty! phrases about flowers, light, and weather, but my writing shows some humor now in the gap between lyric and satirical voices.

Thus for some years, while my poetry was backgrounded, it shifted somewhat in . . . style? preoccupations? This shift may be associated with the increasing pressure/fear of extreme weather, especially wildfires here in BC. It is also associated with aging: I’m 67 and some of my friends have died already. Working at a job is a distraction from one’s mortality; retirement and an aging body brings it clearly into view. These morbid concerns flick through the prose poems in “My Muted Year.”

As for where my writing is headed, who knows? I hope it gets closer to the quick of my experience. Every new project might be the last. Every new project is a new beginning.

Q: I’m always interested in multiple generations of writers within any family, and over the years, I’ve asked numerous writers about their experiences with being the offspring of writers, but rarely I’ve been able to ask from the other direction: your son, Winnipeg poet Julian Day, recently published his chapbook debut, and has been publishing poems in a whole slew of journals over the past few years. What is it like to have a child who has followed your example? Are the two of you able to discuss writing? And how different from or similar to your work do you see his?

A: My husband teases me (repeatedly) that my son Julian publishes more than I do. No, I tell him, it doesn’t bother me: it’s a special source of happiness. Julian is in his early 40s, which was my age when I published my first book More Light (1998). He has worked on his poetry and submitted it over many years now, and his patience is bearing fruit. He also edits + doc: a journal of longer poems; the 4th issue appeared this month. As for me, I’m at the other end of the journey—older, no wiser.

It is gratifying to have a child who is as mad about poetry as I am. He knows his Canadian poets, and I give him books by British poets, plus classics like Dickinson and Blake. We discover our reading favorites together: we both admire Robin Robertson, John Burnside, and Alice Oswald. We don’t discuss technique or poetics, or share poems, that much. My poetry and his are somewhat different, mine being more constraint-based and influenced by North American experimental poetry and poetics. I won’t try to characterize his!

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

A: These works and authors reenergize, inspire imagery and/or techniques in my work:
Buddhist texts, Tibetan Book of the Dead. Classical Chinese poetry. Japanese haiku and renga. Surrealists, Oulipians. Contemporary Canadian and Québecois poetry: Normand de Bellefeuille, Susan Andrews Grace, Louise Halfe, Sylvia Legris, Tim Lilburn, Daphne Marlatt, Don McKay, Mary-Lou Rowley, Steven Ross Smith, Anne Szumigalski, Fred Wah, Phyllis Webb, and more. Contemporary American poetry: Will Alexander, Forrest Gander, Peter Gizzi, Lyn Hejinian, Brenda Hillman, Fanny Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Cedar Sigo, and more.

These works and authors must be deep in the folds of my brain: they have a permanent place in my imagination, from years of listening, reading and teaching:
The Odyssey; Greek tragedies; Sappho; Ovid; the Bible; Dante’s Inferno; Marlowe, Dr. Faustus; Shakespeare’s tragedies and The Tempest; Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Grimms’ fairy tales; Carroll, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass; Keats, Dickinson, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Pound, Joyce, Woolf, H.D. The Wizard of Oz (film).

Friday, March 3, 2023

TtD supplement #234 : seven questions for Kathy Lou Schultz

Kathy Lou Schultz is a literary historian, scholar, and poet. She is the author of The Afro-Modernist Epic and Literary History: Tolson, Hughes, Baraka (Palgrave), as well as four collections of poems, recently Biting Midge: Works in Prose (Belladonna) and Some Vague Wife (Atelos). Her first poetry collection, Re dress (San Francisco State University), was selected by Forrest Gander as the winner of the Michael Rubin Poetry Award. Her poems are published in Bombay Gin, Cleaver Magazine, Fence Magazine, Fourteen Hills, Hambone, Marsh Hawk Review, Miracle Monocle, Mirage #4/Period(ical), P Queue Literary Journal, New American Writing, and other journals. Her poetry manuscript in progress in tentatively titled Mother(g)ood: A Report from America.

Schultz’s articles have appeared in numerous scholarly journals including Contemporary Literature, Jacket2, Journal of Modern Literature, Plume Poetry and anthologies: Some Other Blues: New Perspectives on Amiri Baraka, The Companion to Modernist Poetry, and From Our Hearts to Yours: New Narrative as Contemporary Practice. New work on Askia Touré’s Songhai!” is forthcoming in Paideuma: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics and a solicited article on Claudia Rankine and Muriel Rukeyser will appear in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth Century American Poetry and Politics. A book on Claudia Rankine is scheduled for release in August 2023 from Lake Forest College/Northwestern University Press.

Her poems “To: ‘To Elsie’:,” “A rouse is a ruse is a rose” and “Class (A Manifesto) Again” appear in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “To: ‘To Elsie’:,” “A rouse is a ruse is a rose” and “Class (A Manifesto) Again.”

A: “To: ‘To Elsie’:”
The poem is an epistle that talks back to WCW’s “To Elsie,” tossing images back at it, by only using words from within the poem itself. First, let me say that Spring and All is a gift, but this particular poem has always bothered me. My reaction is visceral and fiery. For me, this arises from the use of working-class caricatures in the poem: “mountain folk from Kentucky,” lusty railroading men, and finally “Elsie.” The poem isn’t really to her; rather, it is tossed somewhere in her direction. She’s not even a person, she’s “some Elsie” (emphasis added). Sure, William Carlos Williams, too, is “some doctor,” but he’s constructing a field of knowledge about “the pure products of America” through the prism of the “broken brain,” “ungainly hips” and “flopping breasts” of a mixed-race woman who works as a servant in his house. The poem can be read as a critique of class, race, and capitalism; after all, Elsie reveals “the truth about us” but Elsie is dehumanized in this process. Elsie isn’t “us.” She’s “them.” The poem also invokes the “I, Too” of Langston Hughes. (I have an ongoing catalog in my head of poems either addressed to “America,” or that use “America” in the title.) I also attempt to emulate Williams’ carefully sculpted link breaks. Spring and All and Paterson are genius, but that’s also why I’ve obsessed over “To Elsie” for 15+ years. (Or, I could say something smartish but vague about rewriting female figures used in great male modernists’ writing—and I may actually continue to try to do that—but the first part of my response is more honest.)

“A rouse is a ruse is a rose”
This is another poem in conversation with a poem: using Gertrude Stein’s language to engage and re-read Stein. There is so much energy and so many diverse language concepts in “Sacred Emily” to rediscover when you go back to the text, though the line “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” floats about in one’s head in perhaps a vague way. This re-immersion in Stein allowed me to recapture some of the sassy sensuality and humor in my earlier work. It’s a mode that reconnects me to my body and makes me feel alive (in contrast to the dissociative deadness brought about by big life changes and the daily horror show of current events).

“Class (A Manifesto) Again”
This poem exposes the undercurrent of thought of a working-class person who has made it into spaces where they don’t belong. Or, should I say “I”? I was born in a place so remote that there is no hospital and it would take you days to get there--if you could find it at all. Find Burke, South Dakota on the map. Go. The majority of people don’t realize that there are locations like this in the U.S., have no idea what life is like there, or if they do, they don’t associate them with me. I often am in places where I don’t belong. And class rage is real. And class privilege, or lack of it, persists. Most professors (and many poets and artists) are from middle or upper-middle class, educated backgrounds. They have generations of college and graduate degrees behind them, access to resources, and choices I never had. One goes along through daily life thinking that they’ve “made it,” or that they’re “equal” now, but that gets thrown back at you in unexpected moments. So one is many things at the same time: a person with racial privilege, from a working-class background, now “educated,” unexpectedly a mom, now living in a violently misogynistic place that makes no sense, reviled by some for being in an interracial relationship or for experiencing sexual and gender identity along a continuum when people would be much more comfortable if you would just “pick a side.” People mainly want you to shut up about anything that doesn’t support their narratives and expectations—but these narratives and expectations are propped up by assumptions, rather than actually getting to know a person. This poem is also a clapback to those who thought they could intimidate me or who tried to make me feel small or ashamed. Also re: “dynamite in their skulls,” all credit to Calvin C. Hernton.

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

A: “To: ‘To Elsie’:”
I place this piece with, “Below these bluffs,” a poem I wrote for my son, and for/after Elizabeth Treadwell, who I think is one of the best poets of my generation. I place these two poems together, because in each I think I got something right in the form. https://www.aspasiology.com/kathy-lou-schultz-in-response-to-elizabeth-treadwell.html

“A rouse is a ruse is a rose”
Stein, Stein, Stein. My poems in Some Vague Wife (Atelos) are divided into three sections, each with an epigraph from a woman modernist: Mina Loy, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf. I’m still trying to listen to what these writers have to say to me. Sometimes transmissions are garbled, but the spirits want you to play.

“Class (A Manifesto) Again”
My poem, “Core Curriculum,” published in Marsh Hawk Review, Fall 2020, addresses some of that same material—but “Core Curriculum” is much more poem-y, built out of neat quatrains employing some fierce enjambment. https://marshhawkpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MHR-Fall-2020.pdf

Writing about embodied experiences of class is difficult, unless it’s content-driven by recognizable working class professions, like mining, often about male experience.

Does anyone understand what I’m writing about? Do they care, or are they resentful, and want me to be quiet about it? Am I messing things up for them? Who is my audience?

“Core Curriculum,” by the way, refers to the first two years of study at Columbia University in NYC. The “Western Tradition,” etc. It’s about my experience of encountering all of that as a working class, rural, first-generation college student, and as a young woman beginning to articulate a feminist critique and vision. And why were the authors we studied all very particular kinds of white people? I began working in Black Studies at the same time I discovered feminist studies, when I was 18, 19 years old. I was very purposeful about it.

So, these poems consider, in part, what it meant for me to encounter that “Western” tradition, as an experience of being “educated.” I still have those books, and as a scholar, I study the epic, so it added up to something. But I was always one working off campus “in the community.” People found this so amazing. How do you reach “the community”? I am the community! My dad is the guy trimming the lawn with amazing precision, but you don’t see him.

Q: With a handful of poetry titles over the past twenty years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My first book, Re dress, was an accident. San Francisco State University ran a book contest every year and my friend, Catalina Cariaga (we were both in the MFA program) convinced me to enter. I wasn’t ready for all of that, so I thought, I’ll do this as an exercise in how to put together a manuscript, laying out all the pages on a big table and seeing what might cohere or surprise. I really took pleasure in that process of making, meditation and silence. But then I won—poet Forrest Gander selected my manuscript for the Michael Rubin Award—and I panicked! There’s no going back and “fixing” it at that point. Ha. But I look back it now and I’m amazed at how bold it is, how it thinks about sexuality, everyday life, form, white space, and found material. I also participated in the book design: I chose the photos and the ink color and worked with photographers (Lori Eanes, Deborah Allan) and designers (Jim Brashear, Glen Helfand) on the palimpsestic overlay on the cover, the trim size, the book flaps (I love the book flaps!) where the blurb, author photos & bio are printed.

In addition to Gander, Kevin Killian, Robert Glück, and Myung Mi Kim wrote blurbs for me. Bob and Myung were two of my primary teachers. How lucky I was! I prize that time in my life and the writing community: even when it was fraught, it was wonderfully alive. Gander compares my work to Stein and Rosmarie Waldrop. If only. I want to build on that potential and what lives in the book, reclaim the audacity to go full speed ahead into that charged material, busting and remaking form. You see in there the combination of prose, fragment, collage, and highly sculpted lyrics. I want to figure out how to do that again.

Jill Stengel made the chapbook Genealogy for her wonderful a+bend project. Genealogy is a long poem that actually is my most autobiographical collection in terms of recounting events. I want to include it in a full-length book. I’ve had a couple nearly-successful manuscripts that presses were interested in, but I need to revisit that project. I’ve spoken a bit about Some Vague Wife above. All thanks to Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz for including me in their fantastic series. I was still funny in that book, while thinking deeply about literary history, and the other obsessions of my work: gender, sexuality, class. It has all that weird prose in there too, which is maybe my true form, but then the experimental sonnets are pretty good. I’m still figuring out form!

Belladonna in NYC published my last chapbook. I love Belladonna! Biting Midge: Works in Prose arrived in my mailbox after I left Philly for a job, and I never made it to the reading in NYC (I’m still sad about that) because by then my life had blown up and I was too sick to travel. Being so far away from my writing communities in the Bay Area and the Northeast: Philly, NYC has really thrown me off my axis. Not only am I separated from poets and publishing projects and attending fantastic readings nearly every week, unrelenting trauma and toxicity alienated me from my own work. I didn’t think that was possible. It’s miserable. But there is a new project, tentatively titled Mother(g)ood from which some work has been published. There’s a long piece in the “Hybrid” section of an issue of Miracle Monocle, published by the Univ. of Louisville, and a shorter one in Bombay Gin, both based in prose blocks. And I want to start publishing a journal again. Those issues of Lipstick Eleven that my friends and I edited and published together are pretty great.

Q: You almost make your work sound like an ongoing sequence of random occurrences, ranging from deliberately-prompted projects to certain accidents. How do your poems or poem-projects usually begin? How do poems find themselves grouped into chapbook or larger manuscripts, if at all?

A: Poetry and life are random and accidental, but my answers probably reveal more about how I felt about writing the poems, rather than the work that I actually did. Feeling vs. doing.

In Genealogy and Mother(g)ood, I write with the purpose of constructing long poems that I intend to be a set of serial poems. Genealogy came together rather quickly (or so it seems to me now). I kept making additions until it felt “finished.” I wrote it in San Francisco, the only place I’ve ever really felt at home, but between my past and then-current selves lay a large gulf of understanding  and experience: the picture on the cover of myself and two siblings with my dad on the farm. Reconstructing that experience is challenging because I don’t really remember it—though I deeply feel it, a gaping loss my father never really got over. Mother(g)ood goes to the heart of one of the deep sicknesses in the U.S.: the hatred of women and the obsession to control our sexuality. The patriarchy fell on my head harder than ever before when I had a baby in the South. The deep disregard for women is illustrated that by the fact that the U.S., a wealthy nation, has the highest maternal mortality rate among “developed” countries. I don’t especially want to write about this, but I have to.

Tremendous crisis can affect one’s ability to remember and the memories you do have are strangely fragmented. When I was younger, I could stick with a project from beginning to end, writing on the bus on the way to work, during lunch (my version of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems), or thinking about lines and sounds while at poetry readings, at the doctor’s office, etc. I always had a notebook, recording everything. Now, I find poems on my computer that I have no memory of writing. None. So it becomes a process, then, of gathering the individual poems and seeing how they speak to each other, like I did with my first manuscript. These types of collections are less popular now; however, many books have themes and audiences seem to want that.

Q: What brought you to constructing long poems/serial poems? Do you work through accumulation, or have you a specific direction in mind before you begin?

A: As a reader, I’m interested in long form works that can’t be contained on a single page. (That was one of the primary aims of Lipstick Eleven: providing space for long poems.) I’ve been in love with Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead for decades, even as her work went in and out of print. Contemporary icons include Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Nate Mackey.

I’m less interested in those short poems whose aim is a “gotcha” or “Ah…” at the end. Though of course many shorter poem are brilliant; Amiri Baraka’s poems have taken you somewhere by the end, but certainly not where you expected. I work by accumulation, followed by often painful revision. I don’t know where I’m headed in advanced. The poem reveals itself to you as you work. The same goes for scholarly writing.

Q: I’m always fascinated by American/Canadian conversations around the long poem, given the lineages of these particular threads might share common markers, but have otherwise wildly different trajectories. What do you feel is possible through the form of the long poem, as opposed to a collection, suite or otherwise-bound assemblage of shorter pieces, that might not otherwise be possible?

A: The long poem allows an extended explorative space for world making, the creation of unique extended forms, and the use of multi-media. Important eras and writers include: American Modernism (William Carlos Williams), 30s Modernism and the lineage of documentary modernism (Rukeyser, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Claudia Rankine), Midcentury Modernism (Langston Hughes in the 50s), women who published and published in HOW(ever) and HOW2 (Kathleen Fraser, Beverly Dahlen), Language Writers (Lyn Hejinian), Black Arts-era epics (Askia Touré). Hughes’s multi-column ASK YOUR MAMA: 12 MOODS FOR JAZZ with it musical instructions, Mackey’s epistles, or Hejinian’s versions of My Life require a long poem format. I also love Canadian writers Gail Scott, Lisa Robertson, and Nicole Brossard. The long poem continues to delight and obsess: I was invited to speak at an international conference on the long poem at the Univ. of Basel in Switzerland. Rachel Blau Duplessis gave a keynote.

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

A: In addition to the writers named above: Emily Dickinson, Harryette Mullen, C.D. Wright, Claudia Rankine (especially some of her earlier work), George Oppen, Myung Mi Kim, Erica Hunt, Juan Felipe Herrera, Paul Celan, Tyehimba Jess, etc.