Friday, April 5, 2024

TtD supplement #258 : seven questions for Laynie Browne

Laynie Browne’s recent books include: Practice Has No Sequel, Intaglio Daughters, and Letters Inscribed in Snow. She edited the anthology A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on The Poet’s Novel. Honors include a Pew Fellowship and the National Poetry Series Award. She teaches and coordinates the MOOC Modern Poetry at University of Pennsylvania.

A handful of her “Antediluvian Sonnets” appear in the fortieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Antediluvian Sonnets.”

A: I started writing sonnets for Bernadette Mayer almost immediately after her passing. This wasn’t really a conscious decision. It just happened. I was writing by hand in a notebook in the mornings, and at some point realized that I had been writing sonnets. The title arrived spontaneously as if it were just received and I liked the play of the possible meanings, as in ridiculously old-fashioned but also something ancient, as if the sonnets already existed and all I had to do was listen and trace. This is something that Bernadette has also expressed, the idea of tracing language already present, so it felt in keeping with my having her constantly in mind.

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

A: Sonnets are always different than everything else, mostly because of their brevity, they way they talk to each other, and ultimately accumulate. Writing sonnets is addictive. Other work lately has been based more in prose, longer lines, and conversations with persons loved and recently lost. Though there are also elegies in this book, and many poems for Bernadette.

Q: I’m fascinated with how you appear to approach book-length works not only as self-contained, singular projects, but as works in conversation with other writers and writing. How did this emerge in your work?

A: I think this began with the good fortune of friendship and living in rich poetic community. My intent is to write through and make visible the sources from which I have received so much. This is not a new idea, or my idea—that everything is a collaboration.

Q: Robert Kroetsch used to speak of literature being a conversation, which seems a variation on that particular idea, although your collaborative suggestion leans more into that Phyllis Webb mantra: “The proper response to a poem is another poem.” Would you suggest your writing, then, engages as part of a lifelong sequence of call-and-response?

A: I do like the idea of a conversation since this is what’s happening—across time and through reading and writing. I wouldn’t call my homage texts call and response, more just response. Everything is collaboration whether or not there is any audible or legible call. The call might be interior. I’m thinking about the invisible and those sources we all relay and also contain. Nothing is completed in isolation or only by one person since whatever we might be hearing or remembering or drawing from is continuous.

Q: With a stack of published books under your belt, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I am always focused on what’s ahead, and I never know what’s next. In fact, every time I write, which is almost every day, I feel as if I’ve never written anything, looking at the blank page. This is mysterious to me, process and composition. I try to listen. To what am I listening? I don’t know. Everything is received and it isn’t until I’ve generated a body of material that I can look at it and understand a direction. In recent years I’ve been focused on writing books for individual poets. Most recently is a book for Hannah Weiner, and now another book of sonnets for Bernadette. I’ve also been turned to prose, and for the first time, have composed a novella, during covid, which incorporates collage.

Q: When you say collage, are you referring to visual or text?

A: Visual

Q: What do you feel the visual element adds to the text? Do the visual and text work in tandem or counterpoint? How does one form interact with the other?

A: It is difficult to talk about the interaction of text and image in language, since the experience is really not in language, if that makes sense. I find it helpful to work in more than one medium and I’ve generally kept these practices of writing and collage as parallel. Now that they are placed together, at least in a couple of books now (as in my book Translation of the Lilies Back in to Lists, in black and white reproductions, and now in the collage novel, not yet published, Lolly Basswood) I can say that the relationship is always oblique or slant, never illustrative. I’ve been inspired by collage by Keith Waldrop, Helen Adam, and Jess, among others.

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

A: The works of Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Rosmarie Waldrop, Lyn Hejinian Cecilia Vicuña and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge immediately come to mind. I’m incredibly grateful for their work.

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