Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ken Belford & Alison Calder

seens is a chapbook from ken belford, a poet I met last year at UBC but had heard about him over the years. We share a love of British Columbia, and not just the obvious spots, but places like the Nass Valley, the Skeena, Hazelton and so on. I'm heading north for the first two weeks of July and very much looking forward to poking around in the mountains, not quite looking for the ghost bear, Kermode, but walking in the dense coastal rain forests.

I've had several conversations recently about the over-production of art, or more pointedly, poetry. For me, being inundated with poetry is almost counter-productive. At what point do the voices blend together into a cacophony of noise? I'm not suggesting that we favor the silent anxiety stricken poetic voice over the public vocal voice, but oh, I long for a more thoughtful poetry, a poetry that requires time and rereading, that rewards one's efforts, that engages and grows as the reader's mood and experience grow...a poetic that has been simmering, that has much to say and really, thought of a thousand ways of doing so before that first utterance...

I say this because discovering ken belford's
seens was refreshing in its slightness. It's a project concerned with what is overheard, or in the poet's word his "discomfort with previously heard conversations and viewed texts having to do with a 'sense of place'," and it's far from the noise of the poetry world.
For 30 summers in a row I flew north
to the Blackwater where the weather
Warms to mild and sand is dirty.
It doesn't matter where it is,
in Gitxsan it's called paradise.
Place means something to Wiminosik,
But it doesn't to the drifters.
It doesn't matter where they go.
The beach is not a place and
They'd sooner travel to another
State of mind than a different spot...
and later
Landscape is about something
But it is not of something I know.
Maybe the north is, or remains a landscape out of reach, out of touch, unimaginable. But it's never far from the hand reaching for the gas pump is it? Or the rare quality of fly-in fishing, the way that the Hemingways dream of felling gazelles... "Travel books destroy rivers," the poet tells us:
Cheap travel means no more undisturbed places
so I left it for the travelers.
I imagine the end of supply.
I didn't make a good guide
Because I didn't fit the purpose
And smashed my good future.
What are we looking at? What are we seeing? There are those who believe that restoring sight might be the potential of poetry, of art. When we look at the land? This isn't a poet who is answering these questions, but asking them.
I wish it wasn't true but I think
People are looking for poems that go away.
That go away? Interesting. Is this the last gasp of lyric earnestness? Or, not seeing, or seeing "seeing as consumption" or what I have taken to call "extinction porn," or the incessant photographing, tracking and webcamming of animals that we are literally chasing off the planet. Is that a kind of "going away"? The sequence, or this portion of it because it seems to be an ongoing project, ends:
...I won't be following the sightseer
On a round trip, or the eco-tourist who wants
To see it all. Everyone's wanting to go
Somewhere, but I'll be staying home.
Another book that slipped across my desk recently. A book with a completely different sensibility, and one that I have opened and closed, opened and closed, being both taken with it and frustrated by it. And now Alison Calder's Wolf Tree, (Coteau 2007) has won the Manitoba Book Prize. This is a quiet book, and one concerned with making full, believable representations of nature, of the quotidian, within a tradition of Canadian poetry that places itself as a kind of ear to the senses (Tim Lilburn, Karen Solie, Don McKay, many Brick poets...). Here's a small poem from the book that seemed to encapsulate it:

What comes of Beauty

What comes of beauty:
the trout lurching in the boat-bottom
and night falling onto the boards

moving and lightless:
the fish, the fisher,
the net and the scales

Not exactly surprising in its associations, but alliterative and imagistic, an ode to small. Other poems such as "Sexing the Prairie," are fun: "That railway? Don't call it 'laying track' for nothing." But poems such as "We Hate The Animals," a musing on our relationship to the animals among us, don't quite get at anything new about our relationship to those animals. And I'm not sure, just absolutely not sure, that we can get at anything new without being more mindful of the language we are using. And not mindful only in the way of sound, but in the way of our laying it down. Thinking of Celan, of course, and closer to home in time and geography, someone like Dennis Lee in both Un and Yes/No.

But Calder gets closer than many of the books I've worked through in the past year to something fresh. The poem "Imagine a Picture," for example, which begins:

Imagine a picture of your sister or your daughter
and stretch it out. Do not stop pulling.
Stretch until the bones jut, until the body
reveals the frame. Stretch until all you see...

Yes, yes, all you see? I'm waiting for a surprise here, a leap of image, of linguistic energy, but what I get is "are bones and eyes." This is a solid book but by skilled poet. But I wonder what the poet would do with a little pull, a little stretching out of her own imagination. A little gap between her own assumptions. What could you see if you stretched and stretched and stretched and stretched? What might the scrim of a body resemble? And why not turn your attention to language, coming behind you like a Grizzly, hungry, feeling the range of her land shrinking, saying, you have one second to astonish, or startle, vanish, transmogrify, even explode for me. One second.

Now still thinking out lout about the avant-lyric which must be lyric untethered, not relying on metaphor, making another kind of sense, and aware of the new sentence, of lyric modulations, of parataxis, collage...all the technologies of the past few decades. A lyric that is aware of world and body in ways that far surpass the kind of naive assumptions that privilege such limited notions of imagination.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ah, spring! Finally!


, originally uploaded by gadl.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the shark is always attracted by a bit of bloodletting

Ah, biography. There are those who offer painstaking illumination of their subject, those who fall into the pit of awe, the quick sand of over-reverence, and there are those, such as Janet Malcolm, who like to give their subjects a good lashing. This seems to give the author much pleasure, and well, perhaps her readers too? Having read the excerpts published over the years in the New Yorker, I wasn't expecting much from the book, but how could I resist a biography of Stein? She and Toklas are compelling, not only because of the books, the documentation of a modernist moment, the literary influence, and so on, but because of their various identities and the fact that they were able to live them out so fully. Particularly given when and where they lived them out.

Not surprisingly, Janet Malcolm's project rests on the question of how Stein and Toklas managed to survive the Second World War in Nazi-occupied France. Compelling, yes. And one wonders, one does want more information. And we are given some information in the form of Bernard Fa├┐ a man with a complicated relationship to Stein, homosexual/Catholic and a collaborator under Vichy. Is this altogether surprising? Stein was conflicted politically, did not seem to want to bother with politics in a direct way, and there is more than one slant reference to unseemly connections in her own writing: one assumes that there were forces at work.

The facts are glaring, and one must wrestle with them, but Malcolm offers little insight into the episode because, quite frankly, there isn't much to illustrate. What is curious to me is the narrative of obliviousness that she crafts for Stein, a strand rooted in the by-now cliched crtique of Stein's ego (we know all that...), her status as last born child, a person with a sense of things "always working out for herself," and them doing so. (In a way, Stein is a perfectly modern American subject isn't she? Just imagine help and abundance and it will arrive...). It would be interesting to imagine the making of that ego and the implications of it, the uses of it in terms of the risk of her multiple and complex identities.

The chapter on Making of Americans reads like a piece from Vanity Fair circa 1986 and might have been written by someone like Dominick Dunne (though in fairness there were moments when I thought of Lytton Strachey's Imminent Victorians too.). In fact I would have enjoyed it in the context of Vanity Fair I'm sure, though I might have expected a little more bite, more stylish detailing, a body, some blood... On the other hand, kudos to Malcolm for actually making it through the novel, twice (I admit to not finishing it myself) and for her reading of the actual text, which I wish there had been more of. Frustratingly, Malcolm opts for a simple conclusion that Stein simply "can't invent" "can't write fiction," and while I agree that the text is a kind of self-discussion, a working out of the project, I think there is much more to say about her process in creating what is a very useful failure of a novel.

In fact rather than going on about Stein's failure as a novelist, it would have been productive to think about the impossible nature of her undertaking, which after all, isn't news. Perhaps someone else will take up that project--other than Ulla Dydo who is both painted for the major Stein scholar she is, and again, made into a Vanity Fair character (as are the other Stein scholars).

There is a sense of playfulness (claws out, not in) in the text, as the New York Times points out, and it does achieve Malcolm's goals, which are clarity and engagement (goals that make her a frustrating choice for writing about Stein). In short, it's too bad that the playfulness wasn't used in the illumination of her subject or her subject's text, rather than the biographer herself. But then, as Roiphe points out, people will likely not read this for Stein, but for Malcolm's by now signature style. Which leads one to wonder whether the book has any use as a means of furthering interest in Stein in the general, biography consuming public, that is outside of the avant garde?

Over at the Guardian they had a much more sober, insightful review which rightly, points out Malcolm's overly moralizing tone, the finger pointing from one Jewish intellectual to another. Malcolm offers up a few self-revelations which mirror in some ways, the most vicious attacks on Stein. I leave you with the last paragraph:

This self-denying attitude (Toklas later and ostentatiously became a Roman Catholic) is really the driving force of Two Lives. So it is puzzling that Malcolm, who is a present narrator throughout her own text, never mentions her own European Jewish heritage. While the Misses Stein and Toklas camped out in eastern France, baby Janet was being hurried from Prague to the safety of East Coast America. One is left unsure whether her reticence on this point is a sign of exquisite and deliberate judgment, or a highly significant oversight. One thing is certain: if she found such an odd loose end in one of her subject's lives, she'd seize it like a terrier and never let go.
And yes, there is a terrier like quality to Malcolm who enjoys her snipes, and enjoys working the bottom out from under a subject. The unearthing of the Leon Katz strand in Making of Americans was certainly worthwhile. Do we dare hope for this elusive information pertaining to the missing documents and the early stages of the writing of that novel? By the sounds of things, no. But now we might have some energetic minds who can get at the work and, as Ulla Dydo points out via Malcolm, create a bridge to the novel, and unlock some of its secrets for would-be scholars.

Perhaps the most useful review comes from Terry Castle in the London Review of Books, who glories in Malcolm's abrasive bitchiness while sketching out both strengths and weaknesses of her text. My irritation has subsided somewhat and I can see the fun in Malcolm's bite, ending a chapter with the line "we may assume that pussy's way would not have been her own" for example. But I remain troubled by the insistence on painting Stein as a failed fiction writer, and I'm not sure what, aside from a kind of oblique titillation, Malcolm wanted to get at in the last section with the following quote from Hemingway: “She used to talk to me about homosexuality and how it was fine in and for women and no good in men and I used to listen and learn and I always wanted to fuck her and she knew it.”

It is perhaps unfair to want a biographer to like her subject, and perhaps even unwise. Rather one wants a range of responses and certainly more neutrality. But really, if one is going to take up the trope of the scathing and insouciant biographer, one might want to have something to say not only about one's subject, but about one's relationship to it, something to back up the penchant for the whip of a good quip (Malcom recently here on Gossip Girls), for the flaying of the unfortunate object who has managed to catch her eye. It isn't that I was looking for a love affair with Stein, it's that I was looking for some genuine insight.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Liz Willis

Audio files on Liz Willis now available through Penn Sound. Here's an earlier post on her two recent books last summer. Another in the genre of Avant Lyric one might argue. If one wanted to make an argument for such a category, a category that might include...

Terrible tease...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Marie-Helene Poitras


Marie-Helene Poitras, originally uploaded by Ludovic Fremaux.

Marie-Helen Poitras, one of the Quebec writers Ludovic Fremaux has photographed. Very much looking forward to learning more about Quebec literature in the coming year not to mention what people are describing as a "new wave of thinkers" such as Joceyln L├ętourneau author of A History for the Future, who are heating things up.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Avant-lyric

Yes, of course there is avant-lyric, a category of luxury, unreasonable and succulent. It remembers poetry but yearns for architecture. Its prose furls, disjunctively connects, refuses all manner of numbing faux realism, unconscious confession, myopic perspective, it provokes more than soothes. It has sniffed out the underbelly of lyric and though it admires the rigging, wants more than a polite, contained, cocktail-fueled jaunt across the bay. It isn't tidal, no, it wants to soar.

Speaking of which... A lovely little book landed on my desk of late called 9 Freight, by Kim Minkus. Having never met and only just discovered said text, recently published by Line Books out of Vancouver, my curiosity is piqued, as is my ear:

My affections have altered. my soul is in my condo. I am sending my
body into the world. I want to sleep. I have buried my talents and
my money is lazy. I'm going greek so give me the boys....

the poems in this first section, "condo," have prose fronts and smaller, italicized little structures, sort of like double haibuns. For example:

The hipsters are getting on my nerves.
tired of pretty. sparkle.
girls. signage is
glossier. things to tighten my skin. bicycle style.
city style. no chains needed. all those
engagements. summer parties.
endless
appetizers. professionals for every need.


when I close my eyes I miss everything.


The last section, "freight" echoes Lisa Robertson's The Weather, but also Margaret Christakos Sooner, a recombinant wonder.

A mark A multiple of some unit So all works go in tones or
shades All balance is lost A mark of skin black in the centre circling
out in its disease A secret murder Has that been said before

A mark A formed handle without a guard Rare short and heavy
pointed We long to touch the hidden parts The foreshaft is the same
barbed Watch for the additional impulse

What do we want from our poems? So many seem to have such set ideas. But is it possible a poem might take you somehow you weren't expecting?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Catherine Kidd

Spoken Word going on at the Banff Center. We've had two nights of performance and more scheduled for Calgary and Vancouver. More on Montreal performer/writer Catherine Kidd here, her new novel here, and listen to "Blue Orb" here on Drunken Boat. She's a wonderful writer and a talented performer, one who uses her body extremely well. If you get a chance to see her, do.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Autoportraits: Conversation with Stacy Szymaszek


LH: You left Milwaukee and a job as literary program director of Woodland Pattern, for a job as program coordinator at the Poetry Project a few years ago. Recently you took over the helm of the Project from Anselm Berrigan. Was this something you had imagined?

SS: I wouldn’t say I imagined it, some days it still seems outrageous to me - but I liked what I was doing and naturally I was looking for ways to continue to challenge myself professionally, ways for my work (the range of it) to positively impact the writing community. I was open to seeing where I could go with the Project. Once I got here it became clear that Anselm had an idea about how long he wanted to do the job, so I knew there would be an opportunity for me to become the Director. I considered Anselm to be a colleague before I even met him, and then he visited Milwaukee to read at Woodland in 2005 and we had a nice dinner at Three Brothers, talked shop. Some kind of transmission occurred there. When the Program Coordinator position opened up he knew me as someone who had a particular type of experience and cared about/for the Project (and poetry, and poets) in a way that places like this need people to care – call it stewardship.

LH: Woodland Pattern fills a vital role in the Midwest...but I'm sure the Midwest also fed your poetry. Has that shifted? Also, do you see a similarity in the roles between the two institutions?

SS: Yes, the Midwest as locale was important to the ethos of Emptied of All Ships, important to the formation of GAM: A SURVEY OF GREAT LAKES WRITING (the journal I edited there for 4 issues. I did issue 5 last summer in Brooklyn, called simply GAM now), important to my personal lore. Midwest as locale is not hinged with the writing of Hyperglossia, the long poem I started in Milwaukee and have continued in Brooklyn. I’ve really taken my time with HG but I have to finish it for publication (Litmus Press) in the next few months. I do feel like a shift is likely which may be why I’m lingering with HG – uncertainty about what I’ll do next and the fear that the job might consume all of my psychic space. Based on the kind of work I’m currently looking at and reading I think my next book will engage my present environs but I have my inner Milwaukee (corner bars and church steeples as Niedecker noted!) fiddling with my axis.

I do see a similarity between PP and WP. I think you can pick that up from my answer to your 1st question. They have me in common, and I’m not being flip when I say that. I mean, I learned most of what I know about poetry and a how to live a life in poetry there and it made me well-suited to work for the Project. There is shared attention to the same aesthetic roots; both serve as community builders with dedicated staff and volunteers and readers and writers and listeners, rippling outward; both serve as hubs for the constant struggle to restore meaning to language; both face challenges of small nonprofit arts orgs, similar budget sizes… It’s actually more interesting to contemplate the differences.

LH: George Bowering said recently that he thinks Woodland Pattern is the best poetry bookstore in North America…which begs the question of books, bookstores and sales. Is it fair to say that the PP has the luxury of being a space of performance, gathering…is there something to this?

SS: I didn't know that George said that, but WP does bring out the demonstrative in people, especially people who visit from other places. By the way, they used to have a Canadian poetry section that is now mixed in with the other poetry. You should try to go someday. Publications (PP Newsletter, The World now The Recluse) are an important arm of the Poetry Project's mission but no, we don't function as a retail bookstore. A teacher recently wrote and wanted to bring a group of grade school kids to the Poetry Project for a field trip some morning but I was perplexed about what to show them if they weren't coming to an event. The Poetry Project is actually a small, overcrowded office on the 2nd floor of St. Mark's and when we have events either in the parish hall or the sanctuary those spaces become the Poetry Project. We're really quite focused, as you note, on being a public forum. It's about the work; the poet and the audience churning in this fairly unembellished space, and then everything that happens after as a result. Existing as a gathering place is important in a Democratic sense (especially when the meaning of this word is being obscured, diminished, forgotten) but if you are using the word "luxury" in contrast to a place like WP I would point out that they have more control over their space and that manifests in their ability to run the Experimental Film Series and the Alternating Currents concert series, reading groups, continual art exhibits in the gallery, have that book shop... whenever they want. The center and the project. Another conversation.

LH: You say you think “a shift is likely…” do you mean personally? In your poetry? In the world? In the intersections of these things??

SS: All connected though I meant to indicate a shift in my poetry. Hyperglossia is so intensely interior. So here I am, nearing 40, over-stimulated in NYC. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m less focused on “knowing myself” (a former preoccupation) the older I get. I’m more interested in time, and perspective of time really starts to shift when you get into middle adulthood. The past takes on a fictive quality and has elasticity of interpretation. It seems less like something I have to “get out from” - so the way I inhabit daily life is with the idea that self and time are these consensus realities and I’m on the look out for the perforations. “If all time is eternally present …”. (Eliot)

Paul Blackburn’s work holds a lot of energy for me now, as poet and as “subtle father” (Bob Holman) of the Project: “Personally, I affirm two things: / the possibility of warmth & contact / in the human relationship: / as juxtaposed against the materialistic pig of a technological world, / where relationships are only "useful" i.e., exploited, either / psychologically or materially. / 2, the possibility of s o n g / within that world: which is like saying 'yes' to sunlight.”

LH: Do you find that your poetic has changed since moving to Brooklyn? Does NY offer you particular aesthetic challenges? Does it enrich your view?

SS: It’s odd to live in a place without having the ability to picture it. I’m totally lost in Brooklyn. Don’t understand its shape or coordinates. I’m actually not very adventurous so I have a few neighborhood places that I can walk to, not so bad since one of them is the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve never been a pedestrian before and obviously driving is a good way to learn your city and make spatial relationships. Emerging from the subway in a different place without understanding how I got there, very odd. I do better in Manhattan. Wait I haven’t answered your question, or have I?

LH: Well enough, and yes I do understand the particular mapping that happens. There is something compelling to me about those spatial relationships, particularly in New York. The sense of experience and personality layered literally—in terms of speaking/walking subjects—and also intrusively, in the way that surfaces are always being marked, fleetingly with shadows, light, color, posters, gashes, tears. Are you also interested in the street as a site of composition? Visually, or in terms of your poetic?

SS: Yes, the street as site. Of course Blackburn was very in tune with the NYC street vibe. I’m also really interested in Marcella Durand’s work for the way she represents the palimpsest of NYC in her work. She has two outstanding books due for publication. As I said, I have never really been a pedestrian/carless so I have to grapple with a really annoying (to me) “street shyness” – it’s really hard for me to take pictures because I don’t like to draw attention to myself. I’m kind of uptight out there and am working on adapting my (slow) pace, or figuring out the functional relationship there and how the city can be a new site of composition for me.

LH: I’ve been focusing on the energy of the body moving through the city, but that’s looking out I realize, and we’re supposed to be thinking about self-portraits! Did you see the recent New Yorker piece on Sabrina Harman’s self-portraits at Abu Ghraib?? It’s disturbing and far from your project, but it does speak to our cultural obsession with the self-portrait (see earlier post) and how entrenched we are in it as a practice. I think your portraits break out of this surface obsession in their dense emotional reality. They allow for complex, unexplained, unfiltered emotion, something that it seems to me contemporary poetry has trouble with… was this something you were aware of?

SS: It is disturbing, not only in her obsession to photograph injury (and not to document any wrong-doing) but then she needed to be in the photograph, smiling, thumbs up, like a tourist. A severe and creepy disconnect.

I wasn’t consciously thinking about using self-portraiture to allow for emotion or to compensate for lack of it but I’m not surprised you find it there. I think in all of my work I’m going for emotional impact and not in a cheap way. I actually think it’s a challenge to figure out what is moving beyond the surface level. In poetry I find it more in the way the work moves, the sound-scape of it more than in anything posited as “emotional” – a poet who knows her material, which is language, is capable of getting to me. As a self-portraitist and in general someone who is fascinated by people’s “facades” I can look at 50 shots of my face and recognize the one that conveys complexity.

That series of photos in the OMG book are really photos of me proposing another gender story. The bathroom, all those faucets & mirrors, is such a powerful site for transformation, playing with identity. It’s where we go to ready ourselves for the world, my favorite place to take pictures. So the intensity is there in my desire to be both more than what I am and less than what I am. A restlessness but also with a sense of freedom through posturing so people can see what I need them to see of me in that moment.

LH: We've talked about photography before, and I know you have an ongoing project of self-portraiture (and now a chapbook). How did your interest in photography/self portraiture get started? Is there something liberating about a poet looking out? And what happens when the looking out is then refracted back?

SS: I only started taking pictures in 2006. Before that time I didn’t have the Internet at home or a cell phone or a digital camera. When I moved to NY I was fascinated by how these technologies facilitated community and interaction while at the same time complicated it. So I got a camera and I was smitten - with my girlfriend, the camera, my friends, my social life, the areas of the city I dwelled in - so a lot of it came out of documentary impulse, and an erotic one. My interest in self-portraiture, or more aptly in literature, persona, is evident in my poetry as far back as Mutual Aid where I’m kind of positing myself as geologist anarchist Kropotkin, then James, then I cast myself as Pasolini, and in Hyperglossia I manifest as Eustace.

It was a natural extension for me to turn the camera on myself, to play with digital depiction of my body. I really love Mapplethorpe’s “Autoportrait” polaroids so the OMG title is in homage to him.

You know that I participated in a group where the challenge was to take a self-portrait everyday for a year. I only got to about 160. I just don’t have as much energy for any photography at the moment, and I feel like it’s time for me to actually learn something about how to use my nice camera before I proceed. Throughout the daily self-po process I really got into controlling my image, using the fact that I’m fairly photogenic, and don’t have a poker face, to make provocative pictures. I just remembered this story. When I was a freshman in college I was interested in a guy and I called his room and started a conversation with him, he asked me to point my picture out in the directory so I did and he was like, oh sweeeet, and came right over. I opened the door and his face dropped and he walked away. Fantasy, right. It’s really a funny kind of power. He thought he was going to get laid and a wide-eyed “overweight” lesbian opens the door. I wasn’t the one who was surprised.

I don’t think I feel liberated by taking pictures but it is a nice contrast to thinking about language (though image-making is just as mysterious), and as I am a pretty desk bound writer I like that the camera gets me moving around, engaging with my environment differently.

LH: I want to pick up on the idea of literary personas, as well as Hyperglossia. But first, I should ask how the chapbook evolved?

SS: Well, Brandon Brown started a new press called OMG and he likes my photographs. He wrote to me and told me about his idea for this project. I sent him some photographs and we decided upon 8. I sent him a list of poets I thought would provide great responses to the pictures. He wrote to them and once they agreed he assigned everyone a photo to work with. He’s the perfect editor; inventive, responsive, careful and reliable. And, I hear people are actually buying it.

LH: It's a great project. I love Killian's piece where he conflates time and enters you into a meta-Ginsberg-narrative...and has a lot of fun. Fun is something I wish poets had a lot more of. Thoughtful fun. Is that something that having the space between poem/idea helps foster do you think?

SS: I’m not sure I follow what you mean here. But I can comment on fun. I’m glad that you feel that way. In part, I think that it’s such a successful book because of the relationships I have with the people we asked to participate. There is substance there, to varying degrees, and people felt free to romp and tease and flirt. I complain about this to my colleagues here often enough but Milwaukee writers, artists, filmmakers were really better at having thoughtful fun. But here we have so many factors against even gathering in our (small) apartments.

LH: I guess that’s what I’m getting at—the sense of the relationship between the image and the narrative. There is a leap, and I wonder if that leap is about collaboration, or giving oneself over to a kind of translation or interpretation, or just how can that enter our poems more?

SS: I think it’s about both collaboration and giving oneself over to interpretation. The more “give” a poem or an image has the better. That’s a value I bring to my work and look for in other work. It’s about disinvesting in the monocular, which is why it’s “innovative” – read, threatening to the status quo because it reinvests in a society that can support radical difference between members. The circumstances that led me to take the picture of me and the Ginsberg poster in my bathroom had little to do with what Kevin saw but what he saw deepened my own reading of it. He saw the humor of it and took it to the nth degree. I keep thinking this all comes back to generosity.

LH: I can’t say for sure because I know you, and I know many of the poets who responded to your photos, but I think that the images and responses don’t rely on special knowledge. That is another aspect of the project that appeals.

There are some allusions in the response texts that could be seen as “special knowledge” but none of the pieces are “insider.” Tim Peterson lifted some crazy things I said to him via email or in person - he wanted me to approve it before he sent it and I approved! There are a few moments within that add an extra layer of meaning probably just for me but these people are all good writers so their responses are really… generous.

LH: Your first full-length book, Emptied of All Ships, was a minimalist investigation of language, and an inter-textual engagement with Woolf's character James, from To The Lighthouse among other things. It was also a response to Niedecker, wasn't it? Can you tell me how those poems began?

SS: Calling it an inter-textual engagement with Woolf's James makes too much of it. I was reading To the Lighthouse around the same time that I was starting to write the poems that would become EOAS. Also was reading Moby Dick, Some Mariners of France (Meade Minnigerode, 1930) The Sea Around Us (Rachel Carson) and a book on catastrophic geological events. I had all these sexy French names that were too attention grabbing, the last thing James wants as it wouldn’t behoove his situation at all to be “Gaston”. So I remembered Woolf’s boy and his longing.

I was also reading Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, a book I became familiar with through Karl Young and of course Woodland Pattern had it, an old kind of ugly edition. The bookstore was particularly amazing at that point in that there were a lot of treasures waiting for the resurgence of innovative poets that happened @2001 - and if you were in sync with the ethos of the place it seemed magical how it had everything you needed in any genre. Anyway, I have a chap called Mutual Aid and it turned out that I was writing Some Mariners within Mutual Aid and realized I had 2 different things going on so made 2 books.

It’s really interesting to think about how it was a response to Niedecker. The poems that were crucial to my development as a poet who could write EOAS were the short poems of Louis Zukofsky and Susan Howe’s Singularities. I was certainly aware of and attuned to LN’s work but hadn’t had the kind of experience as a reader that I was having with these two. It was just a timing thing, a conflation of intense readings (the time and focus I had then, ah) and 10 years of trying to be a good writer – I finally got it, and it had to do with sound and the line and the page. I think that Niedecker’s work ethic (“What would they say if they knew / I sit for two months on six lines / of poetry?” Her excision of the superfluous) and her ability to express a radical political consciousness therein is powerful. That’s what I wanted and what I got from her. She’s in the groundwater around Woodland Pattern, and I’m really happy that I was part of the Niedecker Centenary Celebration in 2003. When I left WP they gave me a Jonathan Williams portrait of her, taken in Milwaukee, 1967.

Check his portraits out. Erica was the one who told me that Williams passed and I automatically welled up and she was like, oh shit, I didn’t know you knew him – but I had never met him. He is part of the reason I got a camera.

LH: Congratulations on the impending publication of Hyperglossia, a text that I heard you read from at belladonna in 2006 I believe. Can we leave this interview with a sampling from that?

SS: Thanks and sure:


he is greeted]

women with casks tiy of cedar oil

his charm is se that he reminds each of someone

nominated spadces on their mattresses

this Eustace from before


Stacy Szymaszek was born in Milwaukee, WI, in 1969. She is currently the Artistic Director at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery. Her chapbooks include Mutual Aid (gong, 2004), Pasolini Poems (Cy Press, 2005) and There Were Hostilities (release, 2005). She is the author of Emptied of All Ships and the forthcoming Hyperglossia (both with Litmus Press). She is the editor of Gam, coeditor of Instance Press, and was one of the editors of the "Queering Language" issue of EOAGH. A new work, Stacy S: Autoportraits, featuring her self-portraits with accompanying texts is just out on OMG Press and Orizaba: A Voyage with Hart Crane is forthcoming from Faux Press.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

a little light reading before snack time...


maya_with_books, originally uploaded by brian lincoln.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The novel sentence: fictions of experiment

Dies: A Sentence, Vanessa Place
Augustino and the Choir of Destruction, Marie-Claire Blais

The sentence going on, without end...don't we dream of it? Unbridled. The comma, such a nuisance! Inserting itself, demanding. The patriarchal period, the severe splice; what affect do these traffic lights have on our language? On our telling?

In the third of her trilogy, Quebecois writer Marie-Claire Blais looks directly into the underbelly of the moment, and she doesn't hold back for the entire novel. Literally:
Much of the book’s complexity is due to Blais’ unconventional use of punctuation: there are almost no full stops in the text (not more than 25 in well over 200 pages) and no quotation marks, so the responsibility of indicating a shift from one narrative to another, or an exchange of dialogue, falls to the comma. Quill and Quire
Recently in the Montreal Gazette Blais suggested that the choir of destruction "is what we go through now..."
"We have the voices of destruction that we hear every day," she said.... "And sometimes we have someone like Augustino who is trying to have a future. And he's feeling like many, many young people around him. Trying to be positive about something that is difficult."
Relative newcomer Vanessa Place, a criminal appellate attorney and co-founder of the magnificent Les Figues Press offers a 50,000 word, one-sentence novel set in World War I, and often right in the trenches of it. Circumnavigating, diverging, listing, relishing in the feast of language on so many levels...it comes out, as Stein says, and after a while it doesn't have to come out ugly. This is the price paid for all the experimenting...our "crisis jubilee"....

Dies: A Sentence is a thing of beauty right from the beginning:
The maw that rends without tearing, the maggoty claw that serves you, what, my baby buttercup, prunes stewed softly in their own juices or a good slap in the face, there’s no accounting for history in any event, even such a one as this one, O, we’re knee-deep in this one, you and me, we’re practically puppets, making all sorts of fingers dance above us, what do you say, shall we give it another whirl, we can go naked, I suppose, there’s nothing to stop us and everything points in that direction, do you think there will be much music later and of what variety, we’ve that, at least, now that there’s nothing left, though there’s plenty of pieces to be gathered by the wool-coated orphans and their musty mums, they’ll put us in warm wicker baskets, cover us with a cozy blanket of snow, and carry us home...
Difficult to excerpt, but my experience with it so far is really one of waves, small, very distinct movements that blend one into the other. And the language! Check this out:
there was sausage in my veins and roast pork beneath my feet, what's worst you say, you callous bastard, how can you squat there armlessly stirring a pot of camp stew and feign sudden irony, it'll get you nowhere, you know, that bit of levity one wears like a rubber nose in the face of cold terror, such weak crooked lenitive proves a man's uncrutch... (29)
Not since The Waves have I been compelled to read an experimental novel through. Not just to appreciate the concept but to actually read it through. Now I haven't yet finished Dies, but it isn't for lack of pleasure. More to come on Place, who is currently working on an ekphratic novel. The work is clearly the point. And what a refreshing way to end this mini-interview...when asked about book contracts etc, she replies:
I've no hope of finishing, though expect I will finally stop in three to five years. I don't have a contract, or prospects, for this book, but am dedicatedly unconcerned.

On a side note, here is Angelica Houston introducing Edna O'Brien in conversation with Vanessa Place...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Put your grow on...


We all need something to grow, originally uploaded by Pablo Barra.

The latest offering from the Books & Portraits pool.