Tuesday, December 26, 2023

TtD supplement #255 : seven questions for Alana Solin

Alana Solin is a writer and collage artist from New Jersey. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Afternoon Visitor, TAGVVERK, Dusie, Annulet, Second Factory, Tyger Quarterly, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work at alanasol.in.

Her poems “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE,” “RED,” “SUM” and “CELADON” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE,” “RED,” “SUM” and “CELADON.”

A: I wrote “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE” following sound mainly, but it cohered into a poem about feeling isolated from the past and unable to decipher the future. “CELADON” feels similar, a speaker glassed in and immobilized, watching other objects transform. “RED” I think is about shame. “SUM” is drawn from a number of different unfinished poems, and I think the edges show in it. “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE” and “CELADON” are more or less the same as they were when I first wrote them, while I’ve tried to write “RED” and “SUM” a number of ways.

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

A: Removing line breaks allowed me freedom from the emphases that short lines impose. I could rely on rhythm to create structure and not worry about structures outside of rhythm that would require its rearrangement. I think these poems are similar to my other poems in that they are all quite short. I admire long poems and hope to get there one day, but I haven’t figured out how to sustain anything for longer than a page. When I edit, I tend to add little and remove lots.

These poems are from a period of time last year when I felt unable to write anything but prose poems, something I hadn’t tried previously. Now, once again, I can’t get away from line breaks. Prose poems are harder to escape from because they are coiled and serpentine, but the escape feels more crucial; in my prose poems I always feel like I’m probing for a way out, while my more recent poems don’t feel so concerned with that process. Maybe line breaks are gimmicks because they lead the reader so specifically, but maybe I need gimmicks or at least want them. Maybe line breaks help a poem imitate speech, and maybe I like to give that guidance. Or prose poems started to feel shuttered, and fumbling for exits started to get tiring.

Q: Do you really see such a stark difference between the prose poem and utilizing the line break? What first brought you to the prose poem?

A: I think Elizabeth Willis’s collection Meteoric Flowers led me to prose poems. I’ve seen and written them before, but that book was a turning point for me. I was inspired by the jumps in her poems, the logic she engineers, and the stateliness of the form. By stateliness I guess I mean they felt so put-together and whole. I’ve only been writing poems with enjambment lately; that’s just how they’ve come.

Q: How do poems usually begin for you? Are your poems self-contained pieces that might eventually cluster into groups, or are you deliberately attempting something more interconnected?

A: Pretty often, I construct my poems from bits cut from my other poems. If I like a line but it doesn’t work where it is, I’ll remove it and try to write a poem around it. I take a lot of notes in a lot of TextEdit documents, so I’ll go back through years of those, trying to find bits I can repurpose.

I usually don’t set out with the intention of writing a group of poems. I was writing the prose poems for a little while before it became clear to me that something about the form led to something in the voice that linked them into a series. They feel like landscapes compared to other poems of mine that feel more like gesture drawings; maybe it’s just the form tricking my eye, but they feel like they have more of a backdrop.

Q: With a handful of poems published in journals over the past while, how do you feel your work has evolved? What do you see your work heading towards?

A: My output has flagged in the past year. Sometimes I’ll go two or three months without writing a poem. That habit, which I fight with varying levels of success, makes it difficult to track my writing’s evolution because I feel like I’m always starting from scratch. I’ve just come out of a long quiet phase, and my writing recently has mirrored my older work in some ways; I’m still cutting any word that I suspect of weakness. I think my poems are still recognizably mine. But I’ve noticed that my rhythm has become almost robotic and my tone almost sullen, thanks to an emphasis on weaker syllables/sounds. At first I was put off because I felt like I’d lost dexterity, but now I’m trying to stick with this impulse and see where it brings me. I don’t know where I’m going with my writing, but I’d like to have the stamina to write longer pieces or even a book-length poem. Doing so still feels out of reach, though. I often return to old notes and diary entries when I write, trying to recycle material that hasn’t worked for me before. So while I’m sure my writing is evolving, the path I’m taking feels circular.

Q: You mention Elizabeth Willis’ Meteoric Flowers. Are there any other poets or collections you’ve read recently that have sparked your attention?

A: I’ve recently been returning this book that a student loaned me in the spring called We Lack in Equipment & Control by Jennifer H. Fortin. It’s fixed on the month of February and meets this cold temporal gridlock with steely vulnerability and dark humor. I’ve been very slowly reading Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson. I think a lot of it goes right through me in terms of meaning, so I’m reading it more for the experience.

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

A: Cedar Sigo is a writer I’ll always return to; I think particularly Stranger in Town and Selected Writings. I like reading Bunny Rogers’ tumblr. Susan Howe’s Debths and now That This. And reading my friends always makes me want to write.

Monday, December 18, 2023

TtD supplement #254 : seven questions for Anselm Berrigan

Anselm Berrigan’s books of poems include Pregrets, Primitive State, Come In Alone, and others. He is the poetry editor for the Brooklyn Rail, and also hosts the Rail’s online Wednesday afternoon reading series.

His poems “*****,” “Binge Better,” “Theories of Influence,” “Poem written during a zoom meeting” and “Still Here” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems ““*****,” “Binge Better,” “Theories of Influence,” “Poem written during a zoom meeting” and “Still Here.”

A: They're a strange brew to me. "Binge Better" was written on a nyc subway not too long after some time I got to spend in Kenya at a kind of roving student-based but somehow international open mic bussing from situation to situation -- and then I'm on the train heading to one of my jobs thinking about pigeons and zebras as my affinities. The other poems are a little harder to talk about, or type about -- I think because the writing of Binge Better and the present in Binge Better are overlapped in a state of active remembering as writing. The other poems aren't so conducive to me to locating as writing so exactly.

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

A: “Still Here” is maybe close to some of what I’ve been able to write lately. I was in a lot of arthritis-based pain the last few years, and was able to have a surgery done in May that helped alleviate a lot of that pain. Then I had a burst of writing – none of which I’ve typed up – that I think “Still Here” maybe made room for – treating an impulse as a lead and following it and letting things get said then leaving it alone.

Q: When you say “leave it alone,” are you suggesting not typing up those particular pieces, but allowing them to inform some of what followed?

A: Yeah. Not never typing them up, but waiting a good long while, and reading them frequently, including at readings if one arises. I’ll do some shaping around the edges when I type things up, if needed, but I seem to wait longer and longer to get to the typing. “Binge Better” is not an example of that. I wrote that one in 2017. “Still Here” was written this past February.

Q: Do your pieces usually emerge from handwritten first drafts? And what kind of distance exists between those handwritten first drafts and the eventual finished poem?

A: I write almost everything by hand. And then I wait a long time to type things up. Waiting makes me change things less. And now I believe I get it in the writing. But that’s after millions of years of fucking around with every micro-bit of space and sound.

Q: With a small mound of published titles over the years, including your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A. On some level I’m just glad to get to write at all – I wrote a ton in 2020 during the first half-year of the pandemic, and then went blank for 2021 and most of 2022. Getting back around to very up on the surface experience and reconnection with friendship as a core has been what’s happening on one level. On another, maybe, I think I did a lot of work in the last ten years to really stretch my relationship to language – it’s resulted in books like Pregrets and Come In Alone, the former a set of slabs, very dense, and written in relation to painting and sculpture compositionally (not ekphrastically), and the latter a run of rectangles written out at the end of the page, clause by clause and totally on the outskirts of sense. That anyone reads these things amazes me sometimes, though I do aim for pleasure for readers on the sonic beat, which sometimes means people have to hear the work out loud to feel like they can get into it. I don’t mind living with that, but I am finding myself in this other kind of autobiographical space lately that feels like a dance between memory and temperament, with the present pressing the issue of being present, if that makes sense.

I've been thinking lately about this good-hearted teacher I had in 5th and 6th grades who also very cruelly abused me emotionally after my father died in the summer between those two grades. I think I really stopped trusting teachers after that, and it’s almost bizarre to me right now to know I became a teacher after all of that. I’m saying this because I think maybe I’m working up to write either out of or back into that experience or both. I had this other really disturbing experience a couple years ago, where a student ended a thesis performance by pulling out a big toy gun, finding me in the audience, and unloading it. Everyone seemed to assume I was in on this, and so mostly didn’t react other than with applause. It was the culmination of a lot failure – institutional first and foremost, but also a kind of collapse of trust in the face of the pandemic that just seemed to infect all of us in that particular program. I just this summer wrote a poem called “Fake Assasinated” that tries to get into it a little bit, though it’s a just a drop in the ocean.

Also, I had to have my right hip replaced this past May after discovering I was severely arthritic – I thought maybe I had a muscle injury that never healed properly, but once I had the diagnosis things seemed to get worse pretty fast. I feel like I had a six-month crash course on living with a disability, and doing that in a big city – walking hurt every step, and I had to rely on a cane and make it to work and so forth. Now the arthritis pain is gone, and I’m in better shape and figuring out what this ceramic hip I have has to say to me. So I’m saying all of this because I think my writing has changed in tenor since the surgery, and I’m still trying to figure that out. I can’t see that far into the future, writing-wise, and this is not meant to be a mournful preface (I am borrowing “mournful preface” from Fred Moten’s interview in his book B. Jenkins). The ongoing experience of renewal and decay is one of the lines I seem to be walking.

Q: It does sound as though you’ve experienced an enormous amount of shifts over the past few years, which can’t help but affect the tone of the writing. Do you consider yourself a different kind of writer now, or are you working similarly with a variation on approach? Or does it all come down to tone?

A: I feel freer. That may not make the work read as very different, but the whole experience of writing and making work does feel different in me. I don't have the measure of what I’m doing.

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

A: That’s a harder question to answer, for me, than maybe it should be, because I don’t ever feel like I can stay on top of reading everything I might like to be reading. That’s probably because reading is a big part of my jobs as part-time teacher and part-time editor. And then I always feel behind on those things. Plus when I don’t or do feel pressure I read real dorky things like comic book message boards, fantasy baseball chats, and plot summaries of shows I think I’d like but don’t want to take the time to watch.

I’ve read Harryette Mullen’s book-length poem “Muse & Drudge” aloud in writing classes – group readings, where everyone reads a page at a time as we go around – maybe thirty or forty times over the past twenty years, so that has to be imprinted on me. Actually just read it again yesterday with a class of poets. And Kevin Davies’ long poem “Karnal Bunt” I’ve probably read a couple dozen times, and read aloud with groups too.

In order to work through this internal agonistic space that had to do with approaching my father’s age when he died, back in 2019, I used Frank O’Hara’s poem “Joe’s Jacket” as a model for a poem I was asked to write for a performance series – we were asked to consider the word “proof” but with no particular constraints. So I decided I’d try to start by listing some things I knew to be true but couldn’t prove, and was able to get to some places and say some things. I love “Joe’s Jacket”.

But I love a lot of poems, and I think I get energy from those poems whether I’m thinking about them or not, because they’re permanently with me. There’s a poem by Hoa Nguyen that she's never put in a book that has become, like, my best secret friend. I think about individual poems that way much more often than books, which makes me wonder if we don’t have the role of books all wrong somehow. I just got to hear Dana Ward sing, with his band The Actual Fuck, live in Cincinnati, and that was completely amazing and inspiring. I am, in fact, quite capable of being inspired. And I’m sort of saving Dana’s long poem “Typing Wild Speech” to reread a little later this fall.

And all that said, I have been tremendously energized by a bunch of new books  that I’ve gotten to read in the last few years – books by Claire Hong, Charles Theonia, Courtney Bush, Chime Lama, Claire de Voogd, Kendra Sullivan, Jed Munson, Tse Hao Guang, LaTasha Diggs, Cliff Fyman, Ari Lisner, and George Albon, in particular. I’m leaving some stuff out. My old friend John Coletti has a new publication out – it’s called Attachment Simply – and it’s unbelievably great. I have a new book in the works, that will come out next year – it’s called Don’t Forget to Love Me – and it has sections, and one of those sections is called “John Coletti Imitation Racket”. So that should tell you something.