Thursday, May 25, 2023

TtD supplement #240 : six questions for Barbara Tomash

Barbara Tomash is the author of five books of poetry including, most recently, Her Scant State (Apogee), PRE- (Black Radish), and Arboreal (Apogee); and two chapbooks, Of Residue (Drop Leaf Press), and A Woman Reflected (palabrosa). Her writing has been a finalist for The Dorset Prize, the Colorado Prize, The Test Site Poetry Prize, and the Black Box Poetry Prize. Before her creative interests turned her toward writing she worked extensively as a multimedia artist. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Conjunctions, New American Writing, Verse, Posit, OmniVerse, and numerous other journals. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.

Her poems “Of Love,” “Of Transit,” “Of Equipoise,” “Of Sightings” and “Of Seawater” appear in the thirty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Of Love,” “Of Transit,” “Of Equipoise,” “Of Sightings” and “Of Seawater.”

A: The five poems in this issue of Touch the Donkey were written as part of poetry manuscript in process (working title: Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea). All the poems in this manuscript share the same form of a narrow rectangle with justified margins and no punctuation.

I come to poetry from the visual arts, and I remain interested in how the sound and sense of a poem shift according to how the words are arrayed on the page.

While writing the first poems in this narrow box-like form, I evolved a process of researching various questions about the ancient and ongoing intersections between our human species and other species on earth and joining this with my writings about my daily life and with excerpts from the things I have been reading. I like assembling a glossary of words and phrases and then feeling out connections between these disparate things as I go. Forgoing the use of punctuation can free the words gathered inside the frame to assemble and reassemble themselves, even as I write them down. I enjoy this fluidity within the process, seeing how fragments seam together in unexpected ways allowing for shifting meanings, multiple readings. I have always loved the wonderful modernist tool of collage, which imitates, I believe, how our minds work, the jump cut that transports us, rather than the smoothly paved road of continuity.

I wrote “Of Equipoise” by a different method than most of the other poems in the manuscript. I gave myself the exercise of condensing one of my books, The Secret of White, into the narrow rectangular form of a single poem. It was exhilarating and oddly satisfying to see how seventy collected pages representing years of writing could be distilled to fit into one small container. (At this point, there are several other poems in the manuscript which I wrote using fragments gathered from each of my published books.) “Of Transit” also stands out within the body of the manuscript. It is the only poem written from a third person perspective, and its momentum derives from a continuous narrative flow and syntactical progression, rather than from an acceleration of images in juxtaposition. As I revise, I am considering whether “Of Transit” ultimately belongs in the final version of the manuscript.

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

A: When my exploratory writings begin to hint that they have potential to grow into a book, it is easy for me to become mono-focused. Recently, I have been writing only poems belonging to Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea. Since I don’t have concurrent work to which I can compare these poems, I’ll have to look back a bit to answer this question.

In the past few months, with my editor Valerie Coulton at Apogee Press, I was preparing my newly released book Her Scant State for publication. It was a pleasurably absorbing process of selecting a cover image and helping with interior design and proofreading, etc. Her Scant State is an erasure of Henry James’s novel The Portrait of a Lady, and the most obvious connection between it and Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea is that both were written under the pressures of creative constraints. The process of writing Her Scant State involved keeping strictly to the novel’s words (adding no language from outside the novel) and to their order (but I allowed myself free rein with punctuation and with form on the page).

My previous book, PRE-, was also written within constraints, and it shares collage as a compositional method with Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea. The creative constraint in PRE- is that all the poems spin out from dictionary definitions for words beginning with a particular English prefix. All the language is found, but fractured and juxtaposed with a freehand approach—so, not surprisingly, my proclivities for certain kinds of ideas, images, and language emerged and circulated. One of these preoccupations is human presence in nature and its paradoxical merging and alienation—which brings us to what we could call a thematic connection with Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea. Where these books part company most notably, I think, is that Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea includes a more active first-person speaker in many of the poems. Though that speaker is not consistently autobiographical, its presence springs from my own sense of urgency about the perils of our political and social circumstances today.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting some prose writings I began fifteen years ago—and for these I am not working with compositional constraints at all. But it is too early to talk about what these pieces are like, or what they are not like, or what they may become.

Q: I’m curious about your exploration of the constraint: what brought you to first utilizing such compositional processes, and what do you feel is possible in your work through the constraint that might not be otherwise?

A: As I mentioned, I worked as a multi-media artist before I began writing. At first, I attempted writing short stories. Out of curiosity, I took a poetry class—I had never written a poem—and I fell for poetry hard, even obsessively. I remember the tactile sense I had with the very first poem I attempted, transfixed by the endless options and permutations possible in “breaking” lines. That sharp focus and concentration on form was a continuation of what I had been doing as a visual artist—the experimentation, the sense that a poem was an object, made from language patterns and play, yet full of ideas, of thinking on the page that wasn’t necessarily struggling to tell anything. I hadn’t felt that thrill of the malleability and physicality of language when I was writing short stories. Writing my first poems reminded me of standing in front of a Kandinsky painting as a child—I felt both awkward and at home—as if I were hearing a new language I understood perfectly without being able (or asked) to translate a word. I thought also of the paintings of Pierre Bonnard. In his works “the subjects”—the people, the objects—are often at the periphery, as if they are about to fall out of the frame; the center may be empty. And I wanted to find a way to write this same movement or spin, to find in language a center replete with absence. Here was a beauty I really wanted, that seemed to spring from the formal necessities and constraints of artmaking.

For me, as artist turned writer, process and intention always go hand in hand. I am often more committed to a mode or method of writing than to a subject or theme. I trust ideas to percolate up during a writing process in ways that will surprise and interest me and take my thinking further—in fact, leave me in a state of creative bewilderment (Fanny Howe) that I value. Because I love the materiality of words, I’m curious to let them have their way with me, to act on me, with accident, chance, and randomness—it is this love of process, and of words as objects, as portals to new perceptions, that engenders my attraction to formal constraints. A formal constraint asks that I drop old habits of putting together words and start anew. Pushed beyond the limits of my familiar experiences with language I find images, sounds, and even thinking, that the constraint itself seems to set free. It is a fruitful collaboration. The well-known irony of constraint is that what at first seems to be a limitation turns out to be an opening up of new terrain.

Of course, projects start in various ways. Each of mine has called forth its own logic, calling on a different writer in me. Not all of them work consistently with constraints. The elegiac origins of Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea gave the project its form. In spring of 2018, just as my book PRE- was released by Black Radish Books, the press’s founding publisher and managing editor, Marthe Reed, died suddenly. She was an irreplaceable poet, teacher, and social activist in the prime of her life. As a person new in her orbit, I felt lucky to have known her, and also the sad finality of the loss of any continuing friendship and collaboration. Marthe wrote an essay titled “somewhere in between: Speaking Though Contiguity,” and that title alone, when I began to think about writing in her memory, recalled a box-like unpunctuated form that I had previously tried out and then put away. What could I find in that “somewhere in between,” in the narrow space inside the justified margins? What could working without punctuation and instead by use of shifting juxtapositions reveal about the meaning of “speaking through contiguity”?

I continue to be particularly moved and excited by the visual arts, by their revelations about the world through the act of framing and re-framing things, changing angles of perception. Art’s recording of variations, shifts, and movements holds for me the essence of reality. The use of constraints helps me write into this reality by offering radical modes for composing language within the unforeseen, the unknown. Writing the first poems in the narrow box-like form in Amid Foliage in the Dark and in the Sea, I came to see the page more as a window than as a container, a translucence that shapes and makes possible perception, while above my desk, the actual window, filled with tree branches, became the scrawled-upon page.

Q: With a handful of published books and chapbooks under your belt, as well as your current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work heading?

A: It’s hard to say if my work has progressed, or if it will ever progress. A progression suggests following a road directly to some locatable end, with interesting stops along the way. Instead, my work tends to move in either a circular or a branching pattern. (I think, again, of the tree that fills my window.) Each of my five books diverged stylistically and formally from the one that came before. Such abrupt departures may not be conducive to a forward motion, but they do offer the pleasure and adventure inherent in a new start. I am circling back these days—in another kind of beginning again—to making drawings (which I haven’t done in over thirty years) and revisiting prose I wrote fifteen years ago. Likely there is an imaginative core from which all the books and projects have emerged, and to which I keep returning. I couldn’t even begin to put into words what that core might be.

Q: You say you came to poetry from the visual arts: what moved you to shift genres so radically?

A: The shift was more subtle, more gradual than it sounds. During the years I was making visual art, I had a desire to connect my work more directly with my love of reading—I wrote diaristic entries on my paintings, recited excerpts from Daisy Miller in a video performance, used recorded dialogues in installations. I created assemblages, installations, and video works from the assortments of bulky found objects and raw materials I’d drag home in my small car. Over time, the thrill of the physical object began to wear off—I wanted a more direct conduit to the immediacy of imagination. The notion that as a writer I could spend a few seconds gathering tools and supplies—a pen and a notebook—rather than days or weeks of heavy lifting and building was very appealing. But underneath everything else that turned me toward writing was something more basic to my emotional life. As a child uncomfortable in my own skin, in my own family, I read and read—stories, novels, biographies. Reading was an alternative skin, an alternative body I could become whole inside of. I found intimacy and truth in the reader and writer exchange, so, for me the writer has a deeply human, even primal role. I think one of the ways the method of erasure (as in Her Scant State) appeals to me is that it allows me to plumb the mystery and potency of the reader and writer connection in an unabashed and imaginatively assertive way. Yet, it’s not so surprising that as a writer I have missed the physicality of artmaking—the whole-body involvement, the wide movements of the arms. It has been a pleasure recently to find out that even within my mono-focused style of working, I can make both poems and drawings. I’ve dreamed of using a broom to spread painted words on a wall. This may be why I often find an exciting new connection to my books when I read from them to an audience—the poems take on palpable physical presence in my body and in the room.

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

A: Innovative women poets reenergize me. I think of Anne Carson, Kathleen Fraser, Lorine Niedecker, Barbara Guest, M. NourbeSe Philip, and so many more. But most sustaining to my writing practice have been my writing groups and writing partners. Their creative projects inspire my own and we share processes from day one, when things are raw and messy. Without having to make any vows, we share a commitment to each other’s work. My joy and sense of fulfillment in seeing my writing partners’ manuscripts through final revisions and on to publication grounds me in the pleasures of my own work. During the last few years, in this odd pandemic period of isolation and zoom meetings, my writing groups have proliferated—an unexpected bonus in tough times.

I often return to George Oppen’s “Psalm.” The poem begins “In the small beauty of the forest/The wild deer bedding down—/That they are there!” The exclamation point that punctuates the simple statement “That they are there” slays me every time. The poem—which ends with the odd and delicately stunning syntax of “The small nouns/Crying faith/In this in which the wild deer/Startle, and stare out”—fulfills for me the lost promise of every religious service I attended as a child in love with words. I sat in the synagogue and listened intently to a mishmash of bad translation from Hebrew and a contemporary liturgy that never seemed to say anything. I was amazed that words could be so disappointing. I listened and read along and was confounded and bored out of my mind. Whenever I read Oppen’s “Psalm,” I find what I urgently needed then and still need now—I can’t put it into words, but the poet has.


Tuesday, May 16, 2023

TtD supplement #239 : seven questions for Devon Rae

Devon Rae is a queer writer who grew up in Montreal. She now lives in Vancouver.

Her poems “Conversation with Her Body,” “Conversation with My Hands,” “Conversation with My Appendix” and “Conversation with My Uterus” appear in the thirty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Conversation with Her Body,” “Conversation with My Hands,” “Conversation with My Appendix” and “Conversation with My Uterus.”

A: I’m fascinated by the etymology of the word “conversation.” The root of the word means to dwell with or keep company with. These four poems are conversations with my body, where I explore what it means for us to live together. Conversations between my body and other bodies are also captured in these poems.

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

A: I started writing prose poems on the theme of “Conversations with My Body” in 2020 and haven’t stopped! These poems are part of this project.

Q: What prompted you to work in the form of the prose poem? What do you feel is possible through the form of the prose poem that might not be otherwise?

A: I have no idea what prompted me to start writing prose poems – it just happened. A prose poem can fool the reader into thinking that the text they are about to read is not a poem – they look so innocent and orderly! I love the duplicitous nature of this form.

Q: Have you followed any particular author or example for your forays into the prose poem, or are you working more intuitively?

A: I am working more intuitively. But Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein always inspires me.

Q: Have you noticed an evolution in your poems since working through this particular project?

A: Yes, absolutely. The poems in this project are becoming more mysterious and surreal. As Mary Ruefle writes about poetry practice: “Something stranger and stranger is getting closer and closer.”

Q: Do you see anything beyond this particular project, or are you not there yet in your thinking?

A: I am definitely not there yet!

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

A: Reading poetry, or other writing by poets, always reenergizes my work. I often return to Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke and Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton. I have my mum’s copy of the former and my dad’s copy of the latter, so these books feel like they are part of an inheritance or poetic lineage. I also frequently reread Odes by Sharon Olds. This book always invites me to be more irreverent, vulnerable, and daring in my work.

Friday, May 5, 2023

TtD supplement #238 : seven questions for Micah Ballard

Micah Ballard is the author of over a dozen books of poetry including Waifs and Strays (City Lights Books), Afterlives (Bootstrap Press), The Michaux Notebook (FMSBW), Parish Krewes (Bootstrap Press), Selected Prose, 2008-19 (Blue Press), Evangeline Downs (Ugly Duckling Presse), Muddy Waters (State Champs), Daily Vigs (Bird & Beckett Books), Vesper Chimes (Gas Meter), and Negative Capability in the Verse of John Wieners (Bootstrap Press), with a new chapbook forthcoming this spring with above/ground press. He also recently co-edited G U E S T #21 : Castle Guestskull (above/ground press, 2022) with Garrett Caples. He lives in San Francisco with poet Sunnylyn Thibodeaux and their daughter Lorca.

His poems “CAJUN WANT ADS,” “IN THE MILEIU,” “ULTRA DAB,” “BALMY VAPORS” and “EXTRA USHERS” appear in the thirty-seventh issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: I'm not completely sure how to talk about my poems other than I attempt to be available to receive whatever it is they may want to tell. I try to keep out the way but also stay tuned into any frequencies they share. It’s my understanding that that’s what most of my favorite artists do (in whatever medium). At any rate, let me try to dive in without too much marginalia because I really don’t know. What I do know is how things feel, where I was, or what I was doing.

“CAJUN WANT ADS” is a place I used to work at in Lafayette, Louisiana, when I was 20. They printed classified ads for a handful of parishes. I’d sit at a Betamax/Atari-esque machine and type all the want-ads that came in via fax. Lots of odd stuff people sell, from bass trolling motors for boats, to dune buggies, alligator eggs, crawfish traps, whatever. The computers were new for that time, and it took a bunch of coding just to type a sentence. The main thing was proofreading, which seemed easy save for competing psilocybin tracers courtesy of the local mushroom field. It did make for a great experience (of having a job while not really being there!). People faxed what seemed to be like crazy little sonnets that described what they were trying to sell. Very personal faxes, written in various accented drawls. We are talking mostly Cajun slang and there was no editing allowed. Had to be how it came in via fax. Anyway, about the poem, I usually start in the middle and move around, collaging thru notebooks of various lines, etc. “I was raised supernatural” was a new one for me, starting a poem by first line. It had been a minute. I was raised Southern Baptist and all I heard three times a week, even into college, was people talking about an afterlife, eternal damnation, repenting...some spoke in tongues about it, there were tons of altar calls, and so on. I guess I was imagining myself sitting at Emmanuel Baptist church stuck with all those curious teenage crushes and thinking about life after death.

“IN THE MILIEU” is a totally random. I stayed up late as usual and Hotboxin with Mike Tyson popped up. I was a bit intrigued (for lack of a better operative) about him taking venom from these toads that hibernate in caves. It seemed like a massive hallucinogenic shift of awareness and he was so articulate about it. Hell no, toad venom?! I guess I pulled some dramatic monologue and imagined Iron Mike in a hotel tripping out and using it as a positive place to deal with a range of things in a variety of ways, etc. I have no idea.

“ULTRA DAB”...Trying to keep it quick here. I guess talking on the phone at work while typing is a good idea! I’m finally never Frank O’Hara. The first thing that comes to mind is that I was reading Because, Horror a fantastic essay collection by my old friend Johnny Ray Huston and Bradford Nordeen. I got it in the mail and was just slammed. So many good lines. I couldn’t help steal some, or act like I didn’t but did. This poem was more like a translation from their book, while texting my friend Sarah Cain about her show, and reading a found magazine on “the new cannabis culture.” Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

“BALMY VAPORS” is kinda similar to the title Ultra Dab, in the sense of achieving vapors! I keep typing vamps. I think this also comes out of some cribbed lines from the above book (promise to give credit!). Anyhoot, this one is from a dream. I woke up and just tracked lines in the dark. I tend to have a super vivid dream life, and Sunnylyn can attest. It often takes 2-3 hours to “snap out of it” what with all the different sleep-movies tracing thru the next day. She always says “write about it” but I’m like nah, no thanks, I’m still living them and can remember every detail. So this one is one of those. Plus “jungle mansion” comes from a painting by one of my favorite poets, Kevin Opstedal, that I had in my “embalming room” office at New College. Yes, it was a mortuary at one time.

“EXTRA USHERS”...When I drop Lorca off at school in the Mission District every morning I always stop by my old favorite, Muddy Waters cafe (most poems since Feb. 2022 are from there; my friends Garrett Caples and Rod Roland just published some and used the name of the cafe as the book). At any rate...this poem was from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and back to San Francisco. Airplanes. Waiting rooms. Funerals. My grandmother had passed when I visited and then my other grandmother did when I visited again. My Aunt Caroline started calling me the Grim Reaper. “I’m not going to dinner to see him, when Micah comes to Baton Rouge he’s the Grim Reaper!”

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

A: Well, I think we’re all making one poem/painting/song/film etc. our whole life? I mean, one hopes. Who said that? Probably everybody. I can’t recall at the moment but I believe and live by that. All the way thru. Sure, “the work” changes as it should, and we alongside it. It does what it pretty much wants. We’re lucky enough to have our dirty long painted nails in the bowl!

How do we remain present as vessels for “the work” is always a question that’s entertaining. I say entertaining because it entertains constantly. I’m not thinking about it, ya know, as predetermined, performance, or after-the-fact, etc. I’d rather be led by an undercurrent willingness to be variable, to take chances, to be led into the unknown, to make mistakes, to be uncomfortable and embarrassing, to be controlled by forces we don’t know about, and somehow trust it all by revealing what’s given.

What I mean to say is that I’m doing the same thing but totally different. I keep notebooks, always walking hills, riding the bus, skateboarding, reading, and picking up lines along the way. I’m going thru a lot of these City Lights handbags and use them as a suitcase of sorts. I still never have a damn pen, and if so, it’s dead. I’m writing with markers and different inks right now (I prefer black). I love a one subject wide-ruled 70 sheet notebook...I usually go with red or purple now, some color that can cast a different aura for the lines. Green is always too Keatsian “divine symmetry” which is cool but doesn’t work anymore. Now I prefer smaller sized notebooks that can help me write like I don’t but maybe wish to? I wear different rings, paint my nails gold, anything that’ll make my hand look different on the page. I should try gloves. Okay, non-sequitur time!

A very real change recently is that I tear pages out of found books (blank ones front/or end; hopefully a good title page!) and I’ll collect them as writing paper. These are usually found on the street or in our neighborhood free libraries (these little stand-alone birdhouse looking things in SF where people place used books in). We’ve got a sick one here in Alamo Square, which I also contribute to.
What I think about most is Muddy Waters around 8:15am and having an hour or so of writing before getting back on the 22 Fillmore bus to work (then later at 11pm catching up to what I was doing at Muddy’s)...Amazing tho, the mornings on 16th and Valencia feel like the same time period as the 90s. Pure energy, sketchy, almost vacant yet not, packed with something in the air that never leaves. A feistiness of random energies. Seems perfect to me. I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else. It’s the home conjure zone.

Q: Your self-description of channeling and being a vessel etcetera is reminiscent of the Jack Spicer notion of simply being a radio of sorts for external signals. Do you see yourself merely as someone who presents poems from an external, ethereal source? How do you see the craft of putting words upon the page?

A: Yes and no via ethereal. I like to receive the radio static and be the antenna but it doesn’t happen as much as imagined. Probably half the time within a poem, things just come from some otherwhere and you’re fortunate they find you. However, it’s up to you to be available in order to be found, then figure out what to do with what’s given. How to translate noise into something tangible, or not.

As mentioned, I often begin in the middle of a poem combining noises (words) then hear how they sound and look together, how they communicate and live with each other. Like, what’s going on, maybe they need company, so I’ll invite more vibrations around them. Soon multiple conversations are happening; when they’re done hanging out, disturbing one another, usually there’s as Williams said, “a discharge of energy” (I’ve always dug that) and there’s this living organism looking back at you. Turns out it’s a poem, or something of the sort. I then read it for a first time to see what’s going on, what we’ve been doing, etc., which is always a surprise. Sometimes pleasurable, other times frightening. I enjoy both.

I basically make collages. Words and phrases are like cut-out pieces of paper that are put together thru sound. I enjoy discovering what they make when beside one another. Let me be clear tho, not all poems are collages (some come straight outta the hand, almost like a trance) but if they are I am part of each clipping, in that my poems are autobiographical. There’s personal emotive counterparts weaving thruout the whole thing. I do have a tendency for encryption which I sometimes enjoy too much. To me, poems are primary continuums of experience and interests that find a way to exist together. We’re in their service and they act almost as a true mirror to show us what we’ve been feeling, what we are feeling, or will soon enough.

Q: Is utilizing the autobiographical a means to an end or an end unto itself? Are these moments you seek to examine, or are they offered as a way through to something else?

A: I would say it’s more of a way thru (portal) into something else. I use the term autobiographical in the loosest possible sense, in that anything I make there’s always a shadow of self, multiple selves, or a conversation with someone else. There’s a human pulse whether it’s mine or projected into, thru, or out of. The ole “objects in a field of objects” where everything is equally important still holds very true. Poems allow all things to speak, the seen and unseen, and they gather the communique for us. They have that magickal ability to reveal the unreal, show you what you don’t know or thot you did, and record your experiences (real or imagined). I love it when they blur these two. Naturally you feel delusional at times. Is this a trap door or an escape hatch? Guess it’s time to find out!

Q: With an accumulated dozen or so books and chapbooks over the past decade-plus, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Well, I hope the work keeps changing and morphing into whatever it chooses. I don’t care to paint the same thing over and over. There’s bound to be corresponding trace elements from poem to poem, book to book, that sooner or later reveals itself to be “you.” I’d just like to keep doing what I’ve been doing since I moved to San Francisco when I was 23. Basically, just keep living within the poem on a daily basis in order to discover and be discovered.

Q: Your partner, Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, is also a published poet. Do either of you ask the other to look over poems while in-progress for potential commentary? Do you find elements of your work responding to her own? How does one compose differently, if at all, as part of a writerly household of two?

A: We’ve been sharing poems since we met in 1997, and honestly we really don’t share them during composition. It’s usually only after a poem is done with us that we become “first readers” of one another’s work. I’d say altho we have a lot of the same interests and community of like-thinkers and friends, our work’s totally different and our approach to writing, likewise. We appreciate and dig one another’s poetry but we definitely stay in our own lanes while holding each other accountable to what the poem wants. We definitely talk about process a lot, what we’re reading, what we’re up to, etc. I suppose we’ve gained a lucky advantage of living and growing up writing poems and reading beside one another.

I’ll say that there have been occasions when we’re in the middle of a long poem, maybe sequential, or book-length, and we’ll ask one another about ordering sections. Or, more so how the final arrangement of poems in a manuscript communicates. Unless we’re writing a collaboration or editing a magazine/book for our small presses, then we’re actually communicating in the act of...but that’s a different scene or scenario.

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

A: I go to my close friends’ books, and their recent or brand new work. I’m definitely fortunate to have a vast group of poets that I continually talk and/or hang with. Some still live in SF or Bay Area, others elsewhere...really all over the place.

John Wieners and Joanne Kyger, always. David Meltzer, Diane diPrima, Duncan McNaughton, Stephen Jonas, Eileen Myles, Renee Ricard. Lots of translations of other writers.... Whew, too many to name! Definitely John and Joanne tho.

Lately, over the past two years, I find myself going to those free libraries, particularly Alamo Square, a block from our place and a couple from 707 Scott Street (one of my all-time favorite books, John Wieners’ 707 Scott Street). I love picking up random books, bibliomancy style, where you just grab one or two and you can feel if you’re going to get something out of them (lines/poems/whatever). I’ll admit though, I always find myself in Egypt and Atlantis, most recently again thru Edgar Cayce’s trance archives. Stunning and otherworldly.