Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Poems by Brad Liening

Foxy In Death (Brad Liening Finally Gets the Upper Hand)

In the eyes of the casket, the earth
is more beautiful than the sky.
Hello little groundling,
you look smashing.
My brain?
Totes made of stars.
When I die, exactly how foxy
will I look?
Answer: so foxy
and still I'm hedging my bets:
I want to be semi-nude,
I want to be interred in terrycloth,
I want it to be suggestively draped
over my privates.
In public.
In the totally packed amphitheater,
nobody will want to get up
to go to the bathroom
for fear of missing something,
everyone weeping,
everyone a little aroused and asking
who made all the windows so steamy.

Wolf Blitzer

Everyone steps gravely down
from the helicopter,
expertly dressed and coiffed,
even the last guy
who’s nowhere near the landing pad,
who’s back in the office at 4 am
pitchforking the day’s
shredded documents
into the furnace
and updating the website.
Who’s running
this asylum, anyhow?
The sky fills with
little slivers of light.
In other news:
My foot hurts. My head
is screwed on right
and still the cogs look
wonky wheeling through
the moth’s fraenulum.
Such a tiny thing
keeping us aloft.
A hawk, a wounded butterfly,
a man asking for a lift to Florida.
The tick gets big.
It's time for a change.
Pills, wars, the dollar
against the yen,
water and air filters,
what once saved us
is now decomposing
and dangerous.
Who’s nudging us
through the noisy maze
into the noisy world?
The other side of green
is green, the other side
of purple is the bruise.
Dig deep and you'll get the bone.
Dig deeper and follow
the rat through the hole.

What Brad Liening Does Sans Parents

Looks up definitions for all the words he doesn’t know when reading the King James.
Watches daytime TV and drinks Cokes through Twizzlers.
Plans the perfect heist.
Practices his dance moves in front of a mirror for three consecutive hours, because this is his life and he’s living it by his own rules!
All the real work begins after three hours.
Stares through the window into the street.
Dreaming, dreaming.
Avoids mirrors.
Avoids the telephone except when making crank calls.
Anonymously disses celebrities on the internet.
Finishes the New York Times crossword puzzle then buries it in the backyard and then begins to prepare lies about what happened to the paper.
Digs a tiger pit.
Studies flight patterns of butterflies.
Reads all of Keats’ letters to Fanny and clutches Kleenex not already used for masturbation.
Masturbates again.
Diagrams possible architectures for new flying machines for a new century.
Sips a cup of tea.
Cultivates neuroses.
Accidentally splices his DNA with that of an ordinary housefly, setting into motion a chain of events that will change the face of science forever!
Sets a trap for ghosts.
Hangs out at the mall.
Checks the ghost traps.
Practices his swing because he’s not going to be trapped here forever and this is his ticket out!
Adjusts his headband.
Some medications may increase thoughts of suicide.
Putters and tinkers some more.
Puts his suitcases by the door.
Rigs up a fishing line to catch fish from the crick while tricking some older boys into painting the fence he was supposed to paint.
One-armed push-ups.
Develops new ice cream flavors previously undreamed of: pickle-cherry-oyster-candy-corn!
One-man band practice!
Tries to remember.
Tries to forget.
Places bets on underground bare-knuckle boxing events.
Grows wistful thinking about the smell of fresh-cut grass and the flat sharp crack of a baseball bat and those haunted Michigan summers.
Seals all his secrets in a box and stashes it in the middle of a snowman.
Leaves all the lights on in all the rooms because he was raised in a damn barn.
Drafts a list of goals that never gets filled in.
Cooks a big meal with lots of asparagus.
Waits to pee.
Breaks in the new trampoline.
Goes green, goes paperless, trades in his car because cars are coffins and amasses a large amount of spray paint cans for local radical action.
Affixes sparkly dolphin stickers to the fine china.
Outruns the apocalypse.
Terror starts at home.
Blacks out his name on every document in the house.


Aliens turn people into goo
in an act of great
metaphorical significance.
But first there are a few
buildings to burn down
and a dozen trucks to explode,
a bloody handprint to smear
above the banister.
The dangers of socialism.
The dangers of capitalism
as obvious as the requisite
naked breasts or the mothership
fucking up the metropolis
but nowhere near as fun.
Exploding heads!
Exploding hearts!
Dust: familiar signifier
of our collective futures.
Still, the nudity was nice,
that scene in which the man’s
face changes hideously
into a scary man’s face
and who then brings home
a really creepy poodle
for his daughter, played
by you, the only one who
suspects something is wrong.

Brad Liening is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. His poetry has appeared in over a dozen online and print journals, including H_NGM_N, Swink, Forklift, and Fou. He's a poetry editor at InDigest Magazine and he helps run Hell Yes Press, a DIY press that publishes poetry chapbooks and zines. He lives in Minneapolis.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You Said, Did You Say Something:
An Interview with Leigh Stein

Leigh Stein is the author of the chapbooks How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance (Dancing Girl Press) and Least Inhabited Island II (h-ngm-n Combatives). In 2008, she won an Amy Award from Poets & Writers, and was nominated for Best of the Web, Best of the Net, and a Puschart. She lives in Brooklyn, where she teaches drama to public schoolchildren.

GL: One of my favorite Leigh Stein poems is “You’re Mispronouncing My Name Again,” which appears in your chapbook How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance and was originally published here. The speaker begins the poem by recalling how she used to work as an astronaut in a department store window display—nice work if you can get it. She says, “I took that astronaut job so I / could miss you from the cosmos beyond the glass” though she’s ultimately subjected to more than just self-selected romantic torments. For example, no one can quite hear her or understand her through her helmet, which people recklessly ask her to take off several times by the end of the poem—doing so, it seems, would be symbolically but nonetheless mortally dangerous. In the end, the speaker is so trapped that the reader can scarcely tell whether she, her beloved, time, or the world is at the root of her captivity. Could you tell me a little bit about this impulse in your work, how your speakers, that is, often seem to court captivity and then later wonder if it’s possible to get out of such predicaments? And how do we (or your speakers, at least) derive meaning from captivity?

LS: I'm glad you like it. “Self-selected romantic torments” sums up most of my life.

The poem was inspired by the Macy's takeover of Marshall Fields, an iconic department store in Chicago that has the best window displays every holiday season. Maybe “courting captivity,” as you phrase it, is a writerly tendency—it's the desire to be left alone, but more than that, and especially in this poem, the desire to be left alone while also being admired as an object on display. I think my speakers are often trapped: by their names, their ages, their countries, their languages, time. The physical entrapment in this poem definitely mirrors an emotional predicament.

GL: The title of your wonderful chapbook, How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance, offers the thorny suggestion that this collection of poems functions as a process analysis for treating emotional wounds via, um, vengeance. But the opening poem, “Warning,” indicates that recovery—and even survival—is impossible, at least for reader, if not the speaker as well: “what I’m trying to do here is ruin any hope / you may have had of coming out of this alive.” Thus, therapy, sadism and philosophical pessimism are all thematically linked here. So, I wonder if these poems are having some fun with the tenets of Confessional poetry, which usually seeks to examine loss, heartbreak, neuroses, psychological trauma, et al, through personal disclosures for both aesthetic and therapeutic reasons. Is there a satirical dimension to these poems—or at least an ironization of Confessional poetics, a la Mark Halliday or Stephanie Brown? And could you tell me how the concepts of vengeance and healing interact in your work?

LS: That's interesting that you would read them as satirical. I think it would be fair to classify my poems as confessional, genuinely; I'm aiming for emotional honesty throughout, even in narratives that veer off into the absurd.

When I was about thirteen, three important things happened: my mom made me join the cross country team because she thought it would help my asthma and I came in dead last in every race, I had my first major depressive episode, and I started writing poems. Writing poetry is how I make sense of misfortune, and along the way I make up little jokes to temper the bleakness. Like here's a great Tennessee Williams joke: Nobody gets out of life alive. Haha! I'm getting tougher. I go to parties and flex my biceps. But vengeance for me comes down to the act of writing, keeping a record of he said, she said.

Many of these poems were written in the span of a few weeks, to win back the guy who dumped me for a Go-Go dancer.

GL: The poems in How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance enact a Chose Your Own Adventure motif that frequently gives the reader nothing but bad or impossible choices (For example, you sometimes refer readers to pages that don’t exist in this book), unlike the original CYOA books, which let readers rewind death and try again if they make a mistake. Could you tell me about working with this device/conceit and how it affected both your conception and composition of these poems?

LS: By “rewind death,” do you mean start the book from the beginning once you've met an untimely death or fallen into a trap? I can't remember how I came up with the idea originally, but I bought a couple CYOA books at Myopic, my favorite used bookstore in Chicago, and tried reading them at home and didn't have the attention span to actually finish an adventure. This sounds stupid. But they're like the US Weekly of YA books—there's nothing real to hold your attention, you just keep turning pages. It's so formulaic as to be distracting (at least to me, now at my age).

Anyway, I found a way to use this in poems because I find I'm always looking backwards or forwards, and rarely in the present moment. All those “turn to page such-and-such” cues interrupt the narrative to let you know there's a future, maybe a bad or impossible one, but a future nonetheless.

I also liked playing with the idea of infinite regressions in this book, mirrors facing mirrors, stories inside stories. I think once or twice I reference a page number as if my character is telling a poem from inside another book.

GL: Flip over the back of just about any first or second book of poetry these days and you’re bound to find out that the youngish author of said book more than likely lives in New York—and even more-than-likelier, lives in Brooklyn. Hyperbole aside, it seems like New York offers the best and perhaps the worst or environments for young writers. Regarding the former, there’s a wealth of poetic talent and events in the Apple that should make boredom/lack of inspiration impossible. Regarding the latter, Daniel Nester, for example, has written that the affectations and inhumanities of many New York poets present a savage distraction from the real business of writing. In New York, Nester warns, many poets become enchanted with cliques, trends, imitation and meaningless praise, which are dangerous impediments to art: “To be coddled in New York City as a poet is to be killed slowly.” And Joan Didion wrote about the kind of ennui that sets in for young New York writers who continuously, endlessly, fruitlessly “meet” new people without discovering anything new: “I had already met them, always.” So, what are the virtues and difficulties of being a poet in New York? And how does living in New York affect the way you see, and write about, the rest of the world? Have you stayed “too long at the Fair” or does New York continue to reward?

LS: I moved to New York on my nineteenth birthday to be an actress. Then I moved other places, and then I came back. My poems are usually set in the places I miss, so it's hard to write about New York (or Brooklyn) when I'm here, though this has been changing over the past year. Last year, most of what I wrote was about New Mexico, and when I lived in New Mexico, I was working on my novel, which is set outside Chicago.

If you're a poet, does it matter where you live? It's not like being a fisherman. I like living in New York but find I never have enough time to do ten percent of the things I'd like to do here. I do like having a community of friends who are writers, but I also like having friends who work in non-profit, who are choreographers, who teach. When I moved here the first time, to attend an acting conservatory, I found that spending four to eight hours a day with actors made me want to throw myself down a well, but I'm sure I'd feel the same way if I had to be around other writers so much. Luckily, as writers, we're able to do most of what we do at home in our pajamas, and only come out at night, like bats, to go to readings.

I've always been ambitious and competitive, so sometimes living in New York seems to me like an extreme sport, a contest to see who can “cut it.” I want to prove myself here, but I can't imagine staying here forever. I like open skies and crickets and stars and things like that, as much as I like the Brooklyn Bridge at night, roasted almond vendors, and bagels.

GL: What’s new with Leigh Stein these days? What are you reading, writing, thinking? What kind of poems are you working on at the moment? What kind of poet are you trying to become?

LS: I quit the New Yorker to teach drama to 120 K-5th graders in Sheepshead Bay, a predominantly Russian community in Brooklyn named after a fish that looks like a sheep's head. I just finished the sixth draft of my novel, What We Do when You're Not Here.

I've been reading a lot of poetry lately (this seems obvious, but I usually read more plays and novels than poetry collections) Some recent stand outs: Ohio Violence by Alison Stine, Oneiromance by Kathleen Rooney, AWE by Dorothea Lasky, This Clumsy Living by Bob Hicok, Tsim Tsum by Sabrina Orah Mark.

After finishing the novel that took over two years to write, I'm happy to have more time to write poems, and maybe a play. I've been getting into Russian folklore with, and for, my students, scaring them with Baba Yaga. Kids like to be scared. I read them a picture book and they hold their breath and then when I'm done they ask to see the book, so they can read it back to themselves, master their fear. It's really fascinating to watch.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Three Poems by Kristin Hatch


under the junkyard sky of this brittle-boned place, hope
was smokier.

cold windshield (or julytime) you there like a monk (never a monk, still)
while a thousand babyponies thought you could grow them manes like library scrolls.
listen. behind your puffup lips, you twinkled (your wrinkles).
in the truck this & that.
in the truck & old goat.

(another ha-ha lolita & the sexpart of your neck – really, an origami crane)
fuzzes out of a car, always is a car in scrapfield town:
ooh baby love, my baby love i need you, oh how i need you

when you smiled big: rows of black tulips where you should have had teeth.

oh my animal thief (loudly – my, my what weak), i’m grown.
bring me w/your grayish wiles, your dote & leave

& the dearlittles, the sweetest hums – tuck them into my cloak,
into this bright-okay as i make a bouquet

& safer, just to keep them safe.


that whim of rot all gussied-up
in guts, in guilt. our gasps, our gum-pop
jokes like what. not. we were lullabies
around that yard, that yard.

so bright & sweet, so brightly.
our faces were round, that kind of round, & full
of flour.

we hadn’t yet buried this child (his tiniest head)
unnamed in the garden
behind the garden, stage left.

& our limbs – the buoyancy.of regularlife,
our hands, just balloons.

this is how it was. this is the absolute truth & bone of it.
how teenager & our teenaged shirts &/but ancient
in our inside sky.

there were maps & dogs & shadow plays
(small moons alive, velveteen: our fingers
curved for cup) & so many usual sadnesses:
not enough birds or brick, weathers.

sometimes when he’d sleep,
what worlds shook. we’d touch
his neck & before that globe say home.

hunger haven

in the walk-in, everything is honest
& stacked in clear, plastic tubs. you can think about a bath
of cold noodles or death.

they say, years ago, before i was here,
an old lady was eating soup at table twenty-six (by the window)
& then she just died quiet
& they found her still at closing.
on good days, when it smells like green beans here, i think of her like a lullaby
& our work, our good work, is wholesome.

in the walk-in it smells young like all the things you haven’t done yet.

the guy at table sixteen calls himself a regular, but everyone here eye rolls.
he calls you by name & says it a lot. the consonants ping-pong on his teeth & the vowels
are swear words he likes saying.
one time he told shaya to call him uncle eddie, but his credit card says sam.

in the walk-in, your arms cross in front of you for fake winter.
you can sometimes sit on an empty, upside-down tofu bucket.
this whole place is an animal
& here in the walk-in, you are crouched safely in its white, panicked lung.

uncle e-thing always wants tepid water with a lemon wedge.
once, i forgot about the ice.
i brought him ice & he shouted & waved his hands a bunch
for emphasis. i was scared he didn’t like me & that any second he’d demand shaya
& my face burnt & suddenly i wanted to show him a boob.

in the walk-in, it’s like stagedeath in someone’s arms,
that booming tenor showtune. because sung-to is more comforting
than being the singer for obvious reasons.

you have to cut a whole lemon if it’s lunch and the bar isn’t open yet
& if the bar is open they get mad at you for stealing their lemons. i mean,
it’s just a lemon. you can handle a lemon & the bar really doesn’t care.
it’s just uncle blah-blah & how you’ve already given up
just to say his name & eddie-sam likes that & that one time, how you were.
it makes you blush to think of it so you just shut up & don’t.

in movies, that moment before a buck gets shot & either lives or dies
depending on the storyline.
how its face turns to the gun & hush.
you are crouching in its lung.

Kristin Hatch's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bat City Review, Black Warrior Review, Cranky, Fence, Forklift, Ohio, The Madison Review, Phoebe, Shampoo and Quarterly West. She lives in San Francisco with Luke and enjoys fog, cooking for nice people, the color orange and rolling like a ball in pilates class.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Little Place for You and Everything:
an interview with Dereck Clemons

Hollowed out was a little place for you & everything. (from Paragraphs)

Dereck: writing & living in San Francisco w/ wife Wendy Trevino & liking this / finds dance/house music shortens an otherwise long commute / enchiladas, quick & easy to make, just like he's been told / current reads: some Alice Notley collection, Lyn Hejinian's My Life, Dara Wier's Reverse Rapture.

Three Poems by Dereck Clemons

One rake across the neck, & not even that deep, was all it took for him to dramatize the rest. A suitcase is cornered. His paragraph unmoved by my kneeling on the bed, weeping into a trash can.

Not even if you made me guess your name. Not if these flies took off on back of your bicycle, bound there with the thinnest gold rope. Not if precious baby down floated through my idlest of moments. Not if the lakes coughed up their blood-stained gears. Not if the bandits offered their silky pockets. Not if the waylaid, gutted in the drift of ditch grass & skin-trotting sun, withdrew their gaze. Not if your unicorn came blasted through with a radio dial in its mouth.

Or how not to sound like you. Not to sit here, waiting to. False starts. Lies back into traffic. Lies awake in a roomful of exhaust, disgusted at the bubbling crude back of the mouth. Wants plentifully out. Back inside, mistaken, she identifies a match. Piles of this last failure to get ready sooner, make what remains above ground a little longer, inhale less.

GL: A wise man once said: Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing. Your beautiful chapbook Paragraphs seems manifestly conscious of the “neutral, composite, oblique” space that writing affords. In these eerie, disjunctive prose poems, subjects appear and disappear seemingly at random; observations, motifs, and narrative gestures stagger momentarily into view before being subsumed by your cryptic and apparently urgent meanderings. I find that few people change the subject as compellingly as you. But I’d like to know why you are always changing the subject. Is it because you look at poetry as a unique opportunity to explore obliquities and lost identities? That is, the medium through which the poet can (advantageously) contemplate his own mysterious absence (his death as an author)? Pray tell.

DC: Hey, thanks. I’m glad for the compelling bit. My hope is to draw the reader into this tight little hug, affectionate-like, that becomes a sort of logical headlock. So readers feel sort of taken advantage of, or molested – logically.

I guess there are all these ways to respond, & I suppose that’s part of the shifts. One thinks on “footage,” rolling footage, multiple channels of information, streamed in simultaneously over 13 monitors, but then as well on exhibitions, installations, displays, poem sentences as “examples” of, what, real-world sentences? Live-action sequences of such? So, chain-reaction pieces? The shock of being in a dressing room with a chain reaction?

So…more to that authorial point, I’d say the Barthes thing is present during composition but more as an assumption than an overriding concern or, I don’t know, investigation. I’m not contemplating my own nor the author’s dissolution into the stuff of poetry-making all that much, but rather the actual spaces opened up by the shifts, by the reader’s memory, which allows for the singular & momentary shift in the first place, these resultant spaces, some of which are quite plain & ordinary & pseudo-narrative, actually, opening — & always opening, at each turn, & hopefully ending likewise, creating an impression of these fields much wider & deeper & darker than the almost offensively ordinary discreet sentence, fields that start small & then blast open in the back of the reader’s head. Because of the headlock. Is my hope.

GL: The title of your collection, Paragraphs, is almost brutally non-descript. It seems to abandon the very notion of titling poems, while at the same time calling attention to the anti-formal impulses of your work. Could you tell me a little bit about the title and how it (dys)functions as a heading for these poems.

DC: Paragraphs is intended to point to the installation-type quality of the work. Here’s the space, the paragraph, that states these sentences belong together, they will add up to more than the sum of their parts, etc., as they’re joined — the reader remembering & (re)contextualizing. The paragraph is that body making the shifts possible since it announces a field of gravity, this meaning — making field of social, cultural law I try to exploit into an observable matter that makes constant crisis attainable.

GL: Reading your poems calls to (my) mind two masters of the non sequitur: Gertrude Stein and Donald Barthelme. On one hand, as with Stein, your poems mischievously undermine the commonplace ‘sense’ of words—that is, both their most immediate connotations and our ordinary experience of their sound and application—; and, as with Barthelme, your poems consistently interrupt our ordinary experience of time, plot, event, etc, by featuring ‘events’ and narrative shifts without presenting a coherent causal chain for those events and shifts. Have these writers indeed influenced your work? And, if the above description of your lineage seems inadequate, what other writers have conspired to influence the sensibility and poetic practice of Dereck Clemons?

DC: But yes, about that causal chain, there’s got to be those, though, or else my fear is the work hangs limp, boring & contains no opportunity to shift a reader into a weird, dark space whatsoever. The causal chain, in Paragraphs, then, isn’t always subject-oriented, or a single subject carried out over numerous sentences, but sometimes based more in idiomatic expectation, or what my historical, socio-etc. moment of language “usually” sounds like. I mean, it can get pretty basic & ordinary, so for example “Martha” is a woman’s name but may be the antecedent for a “he.” That’s a pretty simple if not ludicrous example, I think.

Of course Stein is omnipresent, & Barthelme I haven’t read much – one of his books some time ago – but more than that I think David Foster Wallace’s sentences are the greatest & weigh heavily on me, constantly, telling me to turn here or there. Then there’s Félix Fénéon, speaking of shifts & turns in tight spaces, whose book Novels in Three Lines is just tremendous (a debt of thanks to my photographer friend Scott Polach for that rec.). Getting along, though, you have Rosmarie Waldrop, Bob Perelman (a.k.a. is one of my all-time favorites), Sabrina Orah Mark (just got Tsim Tsum in the mail!!), Karen Volkman, Laynie Brown. They’re brilliant with the prose poem.

GL: You are currently a resident of the great and nearly bankrupt state of California, which is, at present, I would imagine, both a sunny and a turbulent place to live. What has California done to your poems? And, although there’s nothing resembling a mimetic representation of ‘place’ in your work, I wonder if you also could tell me how your sense of particular environments, and experience(s) of place and landscape in general, impact your work?

DC: I think the consensus is that moving to any heavily urban area affords a tremendous opportunity to refocus attention away from the domestic & semi-cloistered & toward all this traffic of stimuli - it seems true for me as well. Notions of convergence, of compromise, of one space being inhabited by another, equally valid space – it’s all there, palpable & hypnotic. Plus we’ve met a great bunch of writers out here, as well. It’s great.

GL: Contemporary poetry is becoming increasingly cyber-ethereal these days. Some of your poems that were published in the now-defunct Kulture Vulture, have disappeared following the expiration of said journal. This vanishing seems to epitomize the nature of poetry on the Web, which offers us seemingly “limitless opportunity” (according to the contemporary proverb) to post and publish, while simultaneously featuring an erratic shelf life and a problematic metaphysic to boot. I’d like to get your take on poetry’s migration to the Web, since it’s offered you both opportunity and privation.

DC: Blast! The Kulture Vulture thing, yes. That’s how it goes. I’m interested in how we adapt to the Internet, how we change our expectations of what’s expected & valuable, what’s acceptably permanent or impermanent, what we think the lifespan of some production or other should be — how all these feelings we have will adjust into our technology. Cyborg stuff. Of course, online journals will only get more, what, established? permanent? common? as the Internet continues to grow into this visceral space we spend our lives in. Maybe this is an opportunity for poetry to actually develop something new that sculpture / the visual arts haven’t grown into quite yet — this adaptation that’s taking place on the Web.

That’s the constant flux of the Internet as-is, but too there’s the notion that we’re in this period of expansion, & that before too long we’ll have a hardening that occurs as more regulations are instated & the technology develops to offer a greater sense of permanence. Of course, you’ll still have to pay to operate a site, I imagine. Who knows, maybe Google will own everything by then, including our poems – I’m sorry, the intellectual property our poems depend on to maintain a state of “having been published.”

GL: What’s knew with Dereck Clemons these days? Sparking faculty revolts in the Sunshine State? Drafting manifestos? Writing new strange and beautiful poems? Give us the scoop…

DC: Hey! The UC Faculty Walkout is fast-approaching. I don’t know what to expect. I think it’s vital that demonstration remain active in this country. People are claiming that other sectors of the workforce are also having to deal with the weight of this downturn & why should UC faculty members expect anything different – which is just a completely horrific line of reasoning – that because several groups are going through hardships, no single group should actively demand accountability & transparency from its higher-ups? Here’s a link for those interested to get some context & here’s another if people want to find out more info regarding how to throw their support behind the walkout. It’s strange. I’ve been working as an adjunct English Comp. professor for over 3 years now, & even as a sort of outsourced labor for UC Davis, & I think this is all going to come back around to people like me, somehow. I mean, one of the colleges I’ve worked for has now turned my old position into an unpaid “internship” – so messed up – so I’m watching closely.

But yeah, hopefully pretty & strange. A nice performance Re poems. That’s really it, I imagine. Well, I just finished this ms. News Organization, of which Paragraphs is a portion, a more concentrated sort of demonstration-oriented portion while the surrounding structures provide more breath & aesthetics-oriented language. These newer poems (Paragraphs became 1-year old this past August) explore the language of reportage, of the daily news of Arts & Politics & Human Interest stories, among other language & convergent-fields-of-info demonstrations. Yay. Thanks for the questions!!! Hello everybody!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Three Poems by Brooks Winchell

Out of There

I barely lifted a finger.

It seemed so

right there

(being with everyone),

and I never considered

being gone.

However, looking back now,

I clearly see

there was an emptiness.

What Is To Come

As there are so many possibilities,

we are all, arguably,

concerned at first with what’s

out of the question:

How likely is that to come? 

Arriving at the End (I Suspect)

I will never be there,

or I absolutely

would have arrived earlier:

Certainly, that time is past,

but as you can see,

I am still continuing.

Brooks Winchell lives in Boxford, Massachusetts with his wife, Meredith, and their new daughter, Ella. He received an MA in English from UMass Boston and an MFA from Lesley University. Currently, he teaches literature and writing at Suffolk University and writing at Cambridge College.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What Is Orphan in Me: An interview with Kevin Goodan

I hear the river, and your hand
Brushes against what is orphan in me (“Winter wheat is shorn”).

Kevin Goodan was raised in Montana, and fought forest fires for many years. He attended the University of Montana and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. His first book, In The Ghost-House Acquainted, was published by Alice James Books in 2004, and received the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for 2005. Alice James Books recently published his second collection, Winter Tenor, in the spring of 2009. He currently lives in Idaho...where he does battle with ruffians.

GL: Your first book, In the Ghost-House Acquainted, exhibits both pastoral eloquence and psychological intensity. Reading and rereading those wonderful poems, I often think that you—because your poems feature so many breathtaking moments of solitude—have equal parts Frost and Rilke in your poetic blood. Both of these poets are obsessed with solitude but in radically different ways: Frost sometimes uses his woodland excursions as a temporary deliverance from society and its confusions, while Rilke seems to approach solitude as the necessary and fundamental condition of the poet—the state of existence that gives rise to epiphanic vision and angelic concourse. So, if these simplifications hold (any) water, which poetic strategy has been of greater use to or influence on your work? That is, do you view solitude as the poet’s necessary state of being that gives rise to privileged artistic experience? Or do you find that pastoral solitude offers an imaginative haven from social or urban living?

KG: I can only speak about what kind of solitude is vital to my life, and my work. I cannot really say what is necessary for all writers. I know some writers who need to write in the presence of people… malls, and the like. I, myself have a long-standing relationship with solitude. Solitude allows me the conduit by which to engage the world, to see it and know it, on my own terms. It allows me the stillness with which to hear what is living beneath the din of the modern world. Here is an example… I lived for a time in a smallish cabin out in the woods of Massachusetts, and one day, in this cabin, I heard a loud scratching sound that seemed to be coming from inside the wall in the furthest corner of the cabin. I followed the sound, prepared to deal with a mouse, but what I discovered stunned my friend cooking dinner in the small kitchen. That sound was actually a carpenter ant crawling on a brown paper bag. Would have I heard that sound with that much intensity if I lived in New York, or Boston? I’m just not made to live in close proximity to large groupings of people. I’ve tried a few times, and each time was a failure. So, to answer your question, I feel I reside more strongly with Rilke, though, after I interact with people, I need Frost’s deliverance.

GL: The poems of In the Ghost-House Acquainted are, as the title suggests, beautifully obsessed with the phenomena of absence and disappearance: “Does vanish mean / to arrive elsewhere? A place perhaps / to flourish, to withstand?” (“If I’m Not a Garden) Your speakers spend a lot of time cataloguing natural and agrarian images but often fail, Romantically, to find an abiding link between self and landscape—except for the final and troubling link between the body and the earth, as illustrated here: “Plant me in your soil she said / and I will become your earth.” (“Losing Something Important”). Thus, the observed world seems to continually remind the speaker(s) of your poems both that he is not what he sees and also that he won’t be seeing forever—so that his visionary presence is ultimately ghostly. I’d like you to talk a little bit about the emotional or existential precursors to these poetic sentiments. Do you often feel ghostly in your life and work outside of poetry? If so, does poetry help you to corral or objectify these feelings? Does poetry, for example, offer you a sense of permanence (by creating something that will outlive you) or does it give you a new and different experience of absence and loss?

KG: When I wrote most of In the Ghost-House Acquainted, two things were happening: 1) I was trying to cope with the loss of people close to me, and 2) I was living on a farm in Massachusetts in very destitute circumstances. I have a lung condition, and at that time I not could afford health insurance, so I ‘d been living sans medication for roughly 5 years, and it was taking its toll. I couldn’t breathe really, and what I could breathe was getting less and less. I remember one night in the middle of a poem, I stopped, panting, and asked God to give me just two more years (which seemed extravagant at the time) so I could at least see the manuscript become a book. Then, I said, you can have me, as you must, but just let me see this through, so I can say that I’ve been in this world. So not only is/are the speaker(s) of the poems haunted by the missing, but also by the impending mortality of the selfsame. Luckily, I’ve been granted more time than what I pleaded for. More time, a second chance at love, a first chance at marriage. I’m not sure if this answers your question.

GL: Your second book, Winter Tenor, features many of the same prosodical attributes as your first book: anaphora, catalogues, short lines, punctuation play. But, unlike your first book, the poems in Winter Tenor have no titles—or, like Dickinson’s poems, their titles are taken from the first lines. This structure suggests thatWinter Tenor should perhaps be read as a book-length poem. So, to what extent do you or did you conceive of this volume as a book-length poem? And if so, how was the composition process different for Winter Tenor than it was for In The Ghost-House Acquainted?

KG: Winter Tenor came quickly upon the heels of the poems that became the first book. And they came very rapidly, within the span of a few months, often a few poems a day. They came so rapidly that I almost could not keep up… initially I thought that I would go back at some point and give them titles, but as I went on, I began to see the poems as being of a whole. And, I wanted the reader to be thrown into each poem without a buffer, as I was while writing them. Some of the poems in the first book were ten years old by the time the book was put together. So, I view Winter Tenor as a strange gift. It feels to me that when I wrote it I was writing beyond my capacities. Or maybe I was simply taking dictation from “the source,” as Jack Spicer alludes to in his lectures. Though I think he mentions Martians as being the source of poetry, which, well…. Spicer should’ve known that they gave up on poetry eons ago, and turned their attentions to perfecting the crop-circle.

GL: The poems of Winter Tenor are quietly haunted by violence—by the violence inherent in the slaughter and subjugation of animals, for example, though there is an almost cosmic violence that your poems call attention to as well. The speaker of the final poem in this volume asks: “Will you go as gently to the knives?” which made me look over my shoulder. The poem “Sudden shock of field-surge after rain” describes the “the blade [slicing] across the neck” of a Cheviot lamb. And the first and perhaps most mysterious poem in Winter Tenor ends with a mare bleeding onto the snow after a “punch” from her human keeper. Are you using the master/bondsman relationship between people and animals to think and speak about the nature of power and violence in human beings? Or are your depictions of and meditations on violence more locally confined to the way humans interact with animals and the natural world?

KG: The universe was created (so the theorists tell us) by one massive act of violence. Therefore, violence is an essential ingredient to existence. We cannot get away from it no matter how much we want to “give peace a chance.” I think the authors of the Old Testament understood this. Their God is not a warm and fuzzy god. Violence is as much the cosmic condition as it is the human condition. I believe that any relationship has undertones of violence, be it human/human, or the relationships of animal husbandry. Because I tend to believe that the interactions between a farmer and his animals are often more true and raw, more integral than relating to humans, the violence tends to be more visible, uncloaked, and yet, sometimes no less heartbreaking.

GL: Given the realities of melting glaciers and ice caps, species extinction, and the violent transformation of climate and landscape, I wonder what you make of the role of the pastoral in our current historical moment. How is the very notion of ‘the rustic’ changing right now, and how do those changes affect the way you write about rustic settings? Also: Is every pastoral poem now an elegy for the disappearance or transformation of the natural world, including the Massachusetts farmlands and Montana wilderness about which you so often write?

KG: Right now, in this country, there are more people living in urban areas than in rural areas… this is something new in the history of our nation, however, with the current and ongoing financial downturn we are in, I would not be surprised to see that new trend change as people return to self-sustaining methods of living—gardens, and so forth.

In the places where I’ve lived mostly, the idea of the pastoral and the rustic are simply the ways in which people have to live their lives. When I mention to people in Boston that I do not and have not lived with a television or radio in my house, surely they think I’m odd. But in Montana, or in rural western Massachusetts I’m living pretty much just like everyone else. Which is to say impoverished. Where I grew up, only rich people have cable. Anyhow, I think we will see people living simpler lives out of necessity, because it is being realized that the current mode of existence is unsustainable, for humans and for the environment. As for poetry, I tend to believe, and always have, that every poem written is an elegy. Even if the poem is written in present tense, the thing that triggered the poem is no longer there, at least not in the condition that it was when it sparked a poem, whether it be a piece of conversation, a wheel-barrow, or a face in the crowd at the metro. Certainly, the only constant is change, pastoral or otherwise. Did you know that in Icelandic there are 300 words for weather? And Iceland has a population of 300,000. There are places where the mode of the pastoral is still vital and thriving.

GL: What’s wrong with contemporary poetry? What’s right with it?

KG: I don’t know if I could say that there’s anything “wrong” with contemporary poetry. There are aspects of the current literary world that I don’t engage in, simply because they don’t interest me, but I don’t think that should be the case for everyone. I do read very widely, and I admire the diversity of voices that are present at this point in time in American poetry. I hope it continues.

GL: So what’s new with Kevin Goodan these days? Working on a new book? An epic autobiographical poem about fighting fires, for example? I hope so. What’s the scoop? What’s cooking?

KG: Well, I just moved from the corner of 1st and Crackwhore in Lewiston to a five acre farm a few miles outside of Moscow, Idaho. So, I get to have my barns, my little house, my woodstove. And, it is grain season, so I am watching machinery tread the fields between storms. I love the way the air smells here this time of year, and the qualities of light that exist on the Palouse. And I love the fact that I don’t have any neighbors slashing my tires or trying to run me over because I had the balls to call the cops on them. But, those days are done. Things are quiet. I am enjoying the newly married life, and recently returned from the good old-fashioned honeymoon in Iceland. I do have a manuscript I am slowly, leisurely putting together. In high school, I worked in a slaughterhouse, so this seems to be the underpinning (thus far) of a majority of the work. But, that is always subject to change. And who knows, maybe the work will turn its eye directly toward fire fighting. We will have to see.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Very Me: An Interview with Nate Pritts

          … this tremendousness,
this unutterable and inexplicable tremendousness

that fairly quivers both inside & outside my very me.

(“This Tremendousness I Can’t Talk About”)

Nate Pritts is the author of two books of poetry – Sensational Spectacular (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Honorary Astronaut (Ghost Road Press, 2008) – with a third, The Wonderfull Yeare, due out in early 2010. The editor and founder of H_NGM_N, Nate teaches poetry at the Downtown Writers Center/YMCA in Syracuse, NY. Find him online at

GL: The poems in your second book, Honorary Astronaut, are passionately cosmological. Plus, they’re clever, companionable, and funny at the same time. You (and by ‘you,’ I mean the speaker(s) of your poems) often present yourself as a kind of butterfingered metaphysician: “Again & again I fumble / with the cosmic thread,” who, despite his best efforts, continually falls short of his philosophical quest. Yet…this failure seems to keep the poems energized and thrusting forward. For example, you write, “I am / the thing lost and the thing looking for it.” Could you tell me a little bit about what it is like to be the “the thing lost and the thing looking for it”? And why does this state of inevitable loss, of self-missing-ness, give rise to poems that attempt to “rocket toward discovery” of self and cosmos alike?

NP: Well, I think you’re left with two choices – you can sit around lamenting things, sort of griping & complaining – or you can put this big goofy grin on your face because the whole wide world is pretty damn amazing. And if you’re a normal human being, you probably never hit one or the other pole & instead spend your days kind of sliding between them. I’ve resolved, in my poems at least to give reign more to the latter, even when I don’t totally feel it or when the ostensible subject of the poem would seem to be counter to that emotional range – fake it ‘til you make it. Which is itself a rhetorical stance in a lot of my poems – the speaker sort of hoping for the best, amping himself up & everyone within earshot because then maybe the whole group of them will be ecstatic enough to be worthy of the spectacular things this world is offering us.

A lot of my poems have, at their center, an implicit sense of constructing the self out of words & out of sensations, thoughts, riffs, feelings built out of an essential distrust of experience, or events, as an indicator of anything. So the poem itself is the rocket & the ride begins when the poem starts.

GL: Your poems are full of sudden and unequivocal disclosures, “I live my whole life inside, walking / as carefully as possible to lessen my chances of a fall,” which make your speakers seem lonely and eager for company, as though they have just moments to tell someone, some stranger, their life story. I could imagine these poems—so conversational and urgent—being spoken to someone on a bus ride, on a first date, or in an elevator. They seem, in short, to take advantage of the fact that someone is, momentarily, within earshot and ready to listen. Could you tell me why so many of your poems take the shape of such candid emergencies?

NP: I really like that characterization. My poems often develop out of an intense desire to blurt something out, something that is valuable & necessary. To me, the moment of the poem implies a couple of things – things I take for granted & so don’t even really think about: 1) that there is something really important that needs to be said & 2) that someone is listening but could potentially stop listening if the substance of what is being said is not delivered in a compelling enough manner. This ties into my feeling about subject matter, which is that basically the poem itself is the subject. My role as speaker isn’t to get you to care about the ostensible subject of my poem (holidays at grandmother’s house, or the sound of a certain kind of music); that stuff is & should just be fodder for the poem itself, hurtling forward, trying to get the reader to open up their eyes to the moments of the poem’s happening. To me, I think there’s no bigger emergency than the fact that birds are flying overhead & we’re all still walking around grumbling, or that the big yellow sun is shining down on us & we persist in dopey moodiness. One of my poems says something about how we’re all having epiphanies every day – the big crisis is that not every one is truly experiencing themselves, or allowing themselves to be changed. Or sharing.

GL: There seems to be a lot of New York School in your poems, in that you use what seems to be the speakers’ immediate surroundings and experiences as a source of poetic kinesis and inspiration: “My first name is Nate. / My last name is Pritts. I’m having a wonderful time.” Thus, the reader often feels as though she is witnessing the creative genesis of the poem—feels, that is, as though the poem is being written right before her eyes. At the same time, there is an emotional force in these poems that’s more personal than Personim: “I am not afraid to die. I am afraid to die / before I tell you what I’m thinking & what I’m thinking/ is that everything decays and crumbles…” But the fear of death often shuts us up. How and why, then, do you use these deep fears and anxieties to build a poetry of such velocity, volubility and animated engagement with the present moment?

NP: I call this “processual poetics” – a poetics of process. You’re right that I’m heavily influenced by New York School poetics, which I would define as inherently social & public & demonstrative. Berrigan talking out loud to himself & whoever would listen, Schuyler talking just to you in an intimate way, Koch clowning in front of the room. But the other part of the surface mix, for me, are the styles often lumped together as Black Mountain poetics – though for me it’s much more centered on Olson, Duncan & Eigner – poetry that I think of as inherently remonstrative in nature. And I guess my deeper sense of “where I’m coming from” is channeled through Coleridge.

But, to me, the end of your question answers itself: when faced with deep fears & anxieties, how else can you face it but with something so wound up & charged with life?

GL: As an editor for a successful on-line literary journal, you must be achingly aware of the trends and/or shifting currents in contemporary American poetry. Of those trends/currents/etc, which do you find the most fascinating and appealing? The most aggravating? And how do such editorial observations affect your work as a poet?

NP: I receive as submissions & read in other journals lots of poems that mimic other poems – taking all the surface & none of the substance. But what I love about poetry is its ability to package up the sensibility of another person & deliver it to me – as an intellectual or emotional or linguistic or poetical knock out blow. I found that I was reading a lot of poems that were competent – the kind of poems you couldn’t find much wrong with but where certainly nothing was really crucially right either. This is when I talk about lamenting the professionalization of poetry. But the thing is reading so much poetry keeps me honest – I guess I’m able to see the bluff & bluster of others very clearly so when I go to write my own poems (& let’s say I get to a moment where I want to reach for a zany image) I make sure that what’s in there is earned & necessary.

GL: If I told you that ten years from now you could either become the Poet Laureate of the U.S., or that H_NGM_N would become the most widely read literary journal in America, which outcome would you choose? And, for five points extra credit, why?

NP: To me, this question comes down to a consideration of influence. And I would much rather imagine a poetic landscape that is open to the kinds of diversity I hope H_NGM_N fosters, than a poetic landscape dominated by me. Actually, I think I’m going to write a fake Nate Pritts poem – the way an MFA student in the future might.

GL: How is Nate Pritts becoming something or someone different than the man who wrote Honorary Astronaut? Will the Nate Pritts of the future ever be a real astronaut, for example? Or in other words, what new and exciting things are you reading, writing and/or thinking about these days?

NP: I’ve been working outside of academia for most of the past three years – in advertising as a writer & web developer, & as a tech editor. I think my view of things – which you characterized as that of a “butterfingered metaphysician” falling short – is being tempered by one of extreme order, mechanization & awe. I think the earlier Nate Pritts didn’t trust emotions because they were inexplicable. I think now Nate Pritts feels like even the inexplicable is explicable but is still worth gasping about. My new favorite quote is “Everything is a file” – something that old assembly language programmers thrown back & forth.

My new book, The Wonderfull Yeare, grew out of an experiment, really. I had written all these overwrought emotionally symbolic poems under the influence of Bly, Wright & Stafford in the mid 90s. I found that, when I returned to them, I could see the emotion but not totally feel it – I didn’t even know what I was writing about in some cases. So the poems in The Wonderfull Yeare are collage cut & paste versions of these earlier poems – my present day reconstructions – hoping to invest them with new happinesses & sadnesses.

I’m also diving back into Coleridge & Clare, lots of contemporary poetry, & spending lots of time reading about, & looking at pictures of, what people in the 1950s, 1960s & 1970s thought the future was going to look like.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Opposite of Kiss:
Three Original Poems and an Interview with David Gruber

                                                     …and bodies eroding
the only home I’d call a body

whispering out from darkened corners,
offering the opposite of kiss.

David Gruber is a graduate of Bard College, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Denver. He holds a PhD in English, and has taught at the United States Military Academy and Bard College. He lives in Rhinebeck, New York.

Three Poems from David Gruber’s Sleeper’s Republic.


And turning towards night
whispers reports of failures and losses
from the front that blacken
all the playful beaches hot
with nude whispers continually

walking long streets
distant invasions awake


I had been that ghost wavering
on a footbridge. They cut off my head
once they broke my neck once
once they pulled my arms
tender from their sockets.

                                 I gulped down my last breaths
which were epistles addressed to you
from the trash-strewn foot of the gallows.

I soiled my pants going up that ladder.

After, I dreamed of being in your belly
when they split it open and emerging
fully-grown and blood-slick,
swinging my son by his hair,
                                             flesh to bludgeon flesh,

blowing steam from my nose and ateeter
at the edge of the earth a new heaven of stars
spread open above me as the body of a woman, the body of a child:

as we are folded in our blankets,
                                                    as we are rebels.

An Instant Heaven

Truly, these are dog days, and they try us to our limit.
But for the moment it is raining, and you are looking out
into the haze that has risen from the ground, and
another day has left dry petals in our teacups.
And the serfs are still idle in the fields. We’ve had some good
times, of course, but nothing like what I promised,
or was promised. Me, a lousy country doctor,
and you, a lousy country wife, kings of what little
we can see from the open doorway. The tractors are due
to arrive any minute, to wrap garlands around
our necks and lead us off to the tower, or maybe
the scaffold. It could be worse.

Our bad habits never really disappear but are reabsorbed,
distorted and transformed, revolutionized, born
disheveled and looking like tramps, while they wait for the day
when the low vault up the ladder again,
striking their heads on the rafters,
and hang those wreaths with the streamers that dangle
down almost to the barn floor.
The kids love it, dressed in their white pinafores.

Your face is wet with tears or snow, carrying the wooden mantle across
your shoulders as I hold my tie collection up out of the mud.
I saw you once, laughing with a gaggle of girls
behind the tavern, and I thought: “Here’s trouble.”
Pack your bags, my love, it is time to throw open the windows –
our fairy lights have burnt out but they’ve restarted
the electricity in the city. I’ll put on my dilapidated cap
and we will play at peasants again under the willow.


GL:: The title of your book, Sleeper’s Republic, brings to mind a number of fascinating associations. On one hand, sleep offers the solace of non-being, “the balm of woe,” etc, during which the mind can rest, forget and repair. On the other hand, sleep presents a state of imaginative intensity—dreams—that the poet depends on for his or her art. For example, this anecdote from Breton: A story is told according to which Saint-Pol-Roux, in times gone by, used to have a notice posted on the door of his manor house in Camaret, every evening before he went to sleep, which read: THE POET IS WORKING. Sleep is also (I’ve run out of hands now) a preview of death, the site of nightmares, and in general a routine but deranged and intimate encounter with self. I’ll stop there for now so I could finally ask you a question. What kind of sleep is it that dominates Sleeper’s Republic and obsesses you as a poet? And how does this Sleeper’s Republic (the republic you construct in these poems) parallel, distort, reflect and/or refract the ways in which we (sad humans) organize socially and politically to form our republics in the waking world?

DG: I’ve never been an easy sleeper; it seems that all my life I’ve struggled to find my way into sleep – often lying awake for hours at a time – and then when I do I am often awoken many times each night, whether by the sounds of the night, dreams, or even my own tossing and turning. As a result, I often wake with lingering threads of dreams and nightmares intermingling with the returning sensations of the “real world.” I think that this kind of moment, when “awake” means being awake both to the world and to the world of dreams, has shaped many of the poems in SR. This is the kind of awakeness where intimations of desires and denials, pleasures and sorrows, life and death, all seem to co-exist. I suspect that, at least for me, these are the moments when we can know the truest things about ourselves, and often the most surprising things as well.

And I often think that those true and surprising things can tell us something important about the way that we relate not only to ourselves but to, as you put it, our social and political republics (in the sense of commitments made and obligations incurred through our own choices and actions). Last year, I was teaching Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, a book that I had [originally] read during my adolescence; it made an impression on me then but my memory [of the book/work] had faded over the years. While reading the book, I re-encountered the passage, part of which eventually became one of the epigraphs of Sleepers’ Republic, in which Thoreau has this great pun on sleepers and sleepers, the track-ties of the railroad against which he was railing as an example of the way that the individual submits himself to the commercial needs of the state without enough concern for his own experience. He writes: “And when they run over a man that is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position, and wake him up, they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to know that it takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the sleepers down and level in their beds as it is, for this is a sign that they may sometime get up again.” And this passage threw a sudden light over what I had been trying to think through in this collection, the way that our dreams and ideals make possible a quiet subversion of the “way things are” in the world, not only in our relationships toward the state, which I think is of course vitally important, but in the way that our sense of the possibilities of relating to other individuals are also shaped. The question of whether my book parallels or distorts our social/political relationships, well, I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer that question, but those are the questions I’m trying to ask in this book, and I’d be interested to know what my readers might think.

GL: A number of the poems in this book reminded me in certain ways of Ashbery’s shorter pieces. For example, poems such as “As One Put Drunk Into the Packet-Boat,” “Street Musicians,” and “At North Farm” seemed to inform such Gruber short poems as “Biedermeier” and “Bildungsroman.” Like much of Ashbery’s work, these Gruber poems feature allusive/elusive titles, associative leaps and nuanced and even obscure declarative observations about places and things the reader can only see in fragments. Yet your poems seem sculpted, less concerned with “tr[ying] each thing” and spontaneous bursts; your poems appear to pursue their own hallucinatory scenes and meditations with meticulous care. Could you discuss the ways in which Ashbery, whether as a teacher or a poet, has influenced you?

DG: Ashbery has been very important for me, and I would be remiss if I didn’t begin by remarking on his generosity to me as well – not only as a teacher, when he helped me feel like I could actually do this (write poems), but obviously his willingness to write a beautiful blurb for the back cover of the book as well. I think my poetry has always been a little more, as you say, sculptural, less improvisational, than Ashbery’s, which perhaps just says something about the differences between us as individuals, and about what interests us in poetry. That’s not to say I haven’t written my fair share of (thankfully unpublished) poems in the mode of Ashbery. I also wanted to be able to achieve what he has achieved in his poetry and understand what makes it work. In fact, for many years I wanted nothing more [than] to write a great long or book-length poem as Ashbery had done, and so I produced a number of incredibly boring, twenty-plus-page pieces.

But I recall, maybe about six or seven years ago, reading an interview with Ashbery that was collected in Michael Palmer’s edited volume Code of Signals, in which Ashbery is reported as saying something to the effect that, if one really values a poet, one tries not to write like that poet, but to write away from that poet, because what one really values is that poet’s uniqueness, and so the logical thing is to cultivate one’s own uniqueness as well. And that was really freeing for me. I think, though, that my titles have kept something of Ashbery’s spirit (I am really damning myself here, I think) in part because I love the way that they set up a tension between the expectations of the reader and what actually follows in the poem, and the way that they point towards interpretations and meanings that the poem itself then tries to dance around or escape.

I think that, yes, I have ended up coming back to Ashbery’s short poems as well, perhaps for some of the same reasons I see that I’m still influenced by Ashbery’s titles, but in my reading of Ashbery, his poems are just as meticulous and deliberate (if I may adopt your term of, I hope, praise) as mine are. That is, I’ve always thought that Ashbery means exactly what he says, in the way that I try to mean exactly what I say too. So I guess that’s something else I’ve taken from my experience of his work.

GL: In your beautiful mostly-prose poem, “The Fair Republic,” the speaker appears to mourn the fall of a certain utopia: “The ideal city we vowed to build trampled by rioters / to reach the last toy on the shelf, the first motor off the back of the truck.” That is, your ‘city on the hill’ suffers from physical and moral chaos brought about by consumerist obsessions and/or possibly a faltering of resources. Beyond this collapse the speaker looks forward to the “borderless day” and the “zone of disappearance” of the future. Is this poem a snapshot of our tottering zeitgeist, a dream-hymn to the decline of empire and terrible days to come?

DG: Ha! Well, I’m certainly happy to accept that it might be a “dream-hymn to the decline of empire and terrible days to come.” That is, if the poem can be read in this way, then I think it has succeeded in being more than an artifact of the moment in which I wrote it. And this, it seems to me, is what poetry should do: speak as much to the moment in which it is read as that in which it was written, to achieve an intimacy with its reader rather than clinging to that with its writer. And I also welcome the idea that it is a comment on the chaos that our consumer culture causes for us poor men and women.

GL: Your poem “Instructions for Antigone” draws language “from the speeches of Osama Bin Laden, Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s The Social Contract, and The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States,” according to your notes. The language from these texts intermingles with a triptych of cinematic portraits, moving, first to last, from Antigone to Creon to a panicked Chorus that stands “in the middle of the street yelling into a cell phone” following an un-named but all too familiar calamity. These portraits are novel but not entirely re-imagined. The somersaulting ruin of the Oedipus Cycle bears down on contemporary America, where the integrity of the social contract is threatened externally by terrorists and internally by “soft and weak” politicians and executives who mismanage our calamities. The poem concludes with the now famous and haunting weather report from the morning of 911: “Tuesday dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the east…weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey.” This breathtaking poem forms, I think, a kind of lyrical keystone to Sleeper’s Republic, which tries awfully hard to wake up from the ‘nightmare of history.’ Could you tell me why you sought to blend these texts with a retelling of Antigone? What is it that you found so intriguing about connecting those Theban ruins with our own?

DG: I’ve always been very interested in the story of Antigone, and, re-reading Sophocles’ play a few years ago, I started to think about the way that my sympathies for the characters had shifted, or had become more complex, in response to the rise of terrorism – both the kind that comes from outside, as with our September 11th attacks, and that which emerges home-grown, as in the British July 7th attacks – and our at times misplaced, at times correct, reactions to it. I found myself much more sympathetic to Creon than I’d ever been before, as a kind of gray bureaucrat who gets the responsibility of state thrust upon him by the abdication of Oedipus, and has to deal with this kid, Antigone, who refuses to be bound by the laws of the secular state in favor of familial bonds, which are underwritten by supernatural diktat. Obviously this is in part a deliberate misreading of the play, but I didn’t set out to simply translate the story into contemporary terms, but to rethink it in such a way that it might say something about our own moment. So I found in the tension between loyalty to the law of the state and loyalty to a supernatural “law” that there were things I wanted to think about, and kind of “recasting” Antigone in this way made sense to me.

I looked to the texts of bin Laden (for the passages focusing on Antigone) and Rousseau (for Creon) as a way to think about the kind of language that might inform the way that these figures might speak to themselves about the world that they live in, and the reactions and motivations they might have for their actions. I was also, right before I wrote the poem, reading a collection of Brecht’s essays on theater, and came across his notion of providing a kind of director’s instruction book, containing notes on staging and photographs of sets, costumes, even scenes, which could be sent around to theaters that wanted to put on performances of his plays, and it struck me as an interesting structural idea for the poem; thus we get these scenes that I see as simultaneously frozen and moving, in some way. I also find it satisfying that there is a sonnet-like logic to the poem as well.

GL: How long did you spend working on this book? How did your sensibilities change, if it all, while you were putting this book together? How different is the David Gruber of today than the (slightly) younger David Gruber who first started writing Sleeper’s Republic?

DG: The book came together over a period of about eight years, although there are only maybe three or four poems that have survived that many re-workings of the collection in all that time, and themselves have been revised quite drastically (so maybe it is better to consider it younger than eight years, I don’t know). I’d say that the majority of the poems were written or significantly revised during the period 2004-2007, and the idea for the collection, or what makes the collection cohere, came to me during the 2004 Democratic national convention. It was while listening to John Kerry give his convention speech that I actually started writing lines from what would eventually become the poem “Ingathering of the Exiles.” That’s not to say it all came together as a collection right at that moment, but that I started to think more seriously about the questions that motivate many of these poems at that time. And I hope what comes across in the collection is that I’m not really interested in the bien-pensant liberal responses to the questions of politics and polity that were raised during the Bush era, and which seem to permeate much of the discourse about politics among practicing artists right now, but rather of really thinking about how those questions matter to the way that we experience even mundane things. I’m not sure how much my sensibilities actually changed during this time, aside from the inevitable changes that come with getting older and thinking more seriously about perspectives other than the ones one is surrounded by in the stereotypically-liberal grad-school milieu, but I do think that if you look closely enough at these poems as a collection, you can probably find evidence of a desire to speak to a wider audience than I had been considering before.

GL: Over the past twenty to thirty years there has been an extraordinary proliferation of MFA programs around the country. During the past ten years or so the Internet has allowed writers and editors to launch all manner of web publication with little to no cost aside from donated labor. Blogs (my apologies) run rampant. Are we drowning in poetry? Or is poetry thriving?

DG: Both, I think. We are both drowning in poetry as it is simultaneously thriving in the corners and spaces that it carves out for itself. I suppose this is in part a survival mechanism, since I tend to agree with the new-old saw that only poets are reading poetry these days. Of course, on the face of it that is not at all true, since plenty of non-poets read poetry, they just tend not to read contemporary poetry unless it falls into the Irish epiphanic-lyrical tradition, the American confessional mode, or else is translated from Spanish. But it is obvious that there is a dwindling readership for a serious-minded (though often humorous) contemporary American poetry, and so I think that is where web publication and blogs provide a tremendous service, even while at the same time inundating us with poetry that goes largely unread.

It’s hard to tell if the volume of poetry published either in print or electronically at this moment is much different in proportion to previous eras, though; I suspect that there has always been a great glut of poetry about, and it simply takes time for the important stuff to find its way to the top of the pile. Where I think we might differ from previous eras, however, is that with contemporary professional poets seemingly less interested in addressing a readership outside of the poetry world, we might not end up with anyone who is all that interested in searching out the best of what is being written now. Though no doubt there will be plenty of English doctoral students around in thirty years who will want to resurrect some of our criminally overlooked talent.

GL: So what’s new with David Gruber these days? Are you continuing to work in much the same way as years past? Embarking on new and zany lyrical experiments? Are you out to reinvent poetry? To destroy it? Oh, and by the way, what is the opposite of kiss?

DG: Like everyone these days I am busy worrying about the economy and employment, which I’ll admit hasn’t been all that conducive to writing. But fortunately I managed to finish the bulk of a new collection of poems before it all hit, and I’ve been keeping myself busy with editing and revising those poems over the last few months. The new collection is quite a bit different, in my opinion, from Sleepers’ Republic, or at least I’ve attempted to strike out in a somewhat different direction both stylistically and in terms of the questions that interest me in these new poems. I’m excited about it, honestly, although I’m not sure that anyone will describe the poems as zany.

As for reinventing/destroying poetry, I suppose the answer I should give is “both,” but in reality it’s probably “neither.” Though if one wants to be philosophical about it, every poem both reinvents and destroys everything that has come before (didn’t Frost say something to that effect?). My aim, I suppose, is to remake poetry in my own image. And a handsome image it is, I promise you.

And the opposite of kiss? Again, I think I’ll leave answering that one to the readers of this book.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another Tongue I Don’t Know:
An interview with Jessica Bozek

          in another tongue I don’t know
          in this (one) grow goodbye (“Exhib. 2A”)

Jessica Bozek is the author of The Bodyfeel Lexicon (Switchback, 2009), as well as a handful of chapbooks, including the brand new Touristing (Dusie) and Other People’s Emergencies (Hive), as well as the forthcoming Dear Darkest Sky: Postcards (Dancing Girl). She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tends a puppy, teaches writing and literature at Boston University and the New England Institute of Art, and runs the Small Animal Project Reading Series.

GL: I’d like to begin by citing your publisher’s synopsis of The Bodyfeel Lexicon because I think it provides a lucid, detailed introduction to your rich and complex book:
In this elusive debut collection, Jessica Bozek presents a system of moving parts, of animal lunges, and sudden lootings—documents epistolary and fragmented that form, re-form, and deform language. Staged as a fiction via the paratextual sleight of its introduction, The Bodyfeel Lexicon chronicles and catalogues transformation as a way of evading and understanding bodies and selves. Readers might register the shuttlings of the book’s interlocutors as playful linguistic performances of the animal transformations they devise for each other. The Bodyfeel Lexicon flies at several altitudes, the demarcations of which threaten dissolution at every turn.
Your publishers credit you with executing a “paratextual sleight,” which sounds delightfully transgressive, at the beginning of the book. They are referring, here, to the prefatory prose piece called “The Peary Assemblage: On the Remnant Correspondence and Ephemera of an Unidentified Wolf and Leon Szklar.” This piece ‘explains’ how the speaker discovered the letters—which were written by the stars of the book, Wolf and Leon Szklar—in the North American tundra. “The Peary Assemblage” seems to riff the narrative framing devices of great nineteenth-century novels, such as Frankenstein and, much later, The Turn of the Screw. These traditional paratexts usually qualify and contextualize the proceeding narrative, and thereby give readers license to cross over into a new and fabulous realm. Does “The Peary Assemblage…” clarify the impending mysteries of the text by making the book seem more habitable and/or inviting to the reader, as with the above nineteenth-century examples? Or do you see this piece as exemplifying the ensuing ironies and difficulties of the book? For example, the speaker of “The Peary Assemblage” tells us that even the most ‘diligent’ reader will never learn Wolf’s last name (a Nabokovian taunt?), and that Leon Szklar died in a tragic hot-air balloon accident! So: Is ‘The Peary Assemblage’ a literary welcome mat, or a sign telling the reader to beware?

JB: Thanks for the thoughtful questions, Greg. I’d say it’s a bit of both. Most of the letter-poems (those in the sections A Hot-Air Balloon Is Quieter, Slower and The Sequence Between Molars) were written in a fiction workshop that I contributed prose poems to. Some people in the class were frustrated by the lack of traditional narrative (this was a fiction workshop, after all), so I wrote an early version of the prefatory essay to address their concerns about accessibility. And I agreed with them that a brief lay of the land might in fact be helpful, though at that point only about a third of the book existed, and I knew I didn’t want to be too straightforward about the thing.

Because I was already interested in epistolary novels, and had written a (probably very bad) thesis on the eerie connections between Denis Diderot’s The Nun and Nabokov’s Lolita, paratextual sleights, by way of destabilized texts and the epistolary, were on the brain. The other text I was thinking about was Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters, which not only provided a compelling and discomfiting introduction to the verse-epistle (in fact, I think I read poems from The Master Letters long before I read anything classical or Cavalier), but also proved the impetus for the earliest poems in The Bodyfeel Lexicon, the letters between Wolf and Leo. I actually wrote a creative response to Brock-Broido’s language and sense of emergency as an appendix to another grad-school paper.

More than Brock-Broido’s elaborately wrought contrivances, which parade language as a teratological specimen, I was drawn to her polyvocal inhabitations and abandonments, her restless flights from one (animate or inanimate) role to the next in various settings. And what struck me as crucial to The Master Letters, the slipperiness of its personae, was akin to what I had found simultaneously attractive and disturbing in Diderot’s and Nabokov’s novels—a devastatingly gripping narrative undermined by way of paratextual appendage (in the case of The Nun by the “Préface-Annexe” that follows the young nun’s memoir and in the case of Lolita by John Ray, Jr.’s “Foreword” to Humbert Humbert’s confession). In short, I liked the way the books’ self-conscious scaffolding compelled me to read against habit.

GL: A lot of novelists will sketch their characters for quite some time before they even begin to write their stories. Did you spend time sketching Wolf and Szklar before you started writing the poems? Or did you discover them all at once?

JB: There’s a poem in Brock-Broido’s most recent book, Trouble in Mind, called “Dire Wolf.” That title stuck with me, as did the poem’s last lines: “But in the great white rendezvous, where // I was brooding / Just a while, you get to speak of dire love.” The first letter I wrote began, “Dear Dire Wolf.” That poem doesn’t exist anymore, but it created a way into a poem I’d long (vaguely) imagined—a response to Matthea Harvey’s stunning series “Frederick Courteney Selous’s Letters to His Love” by the woman Selous writes to in the poem. In the poem, Selous accuses his love of having “handwriting [that] is pretty only a bit cramped it has the look / of someone stuck in a living room surrounded by knick-knacks / and patterned wallpaper which you are.” I photocopied that poem and made lots of people read it, even people who weren’t that into poetry. One friend dreamed that Selous’s love was angry at his accusations and at his desertion. Instead of convincing him to come home, she decided to go out and have her own adventure, but one opposite to his. In the dream, she thought that the opposite of Rhodesia must be Alaska and that instead of hunting animals, which Selous details in the poem, she would be hunted by men and “taken on a plough.” I was really envious of this dream (even while I wasn’t completely comfortable with its content). I’d spent so much time with Harvey’s poem that I really wished that I’d been the one to dream a response to it. So, in a sense, I used the paper on Brock-Broido as an excuse to respond.

Something else that was floating around in my head at the same time was a snippet from W. G. Sebald’s Unrecounted. The following poem accompanies a lithograph of Jérémy Seltz’s eyes (all of the lithographs are of eyes, and I have no idea who Jérémy Seltz is/was):

          In deepest sleep

          a Polish mechanic
          came and for a
          thousand silver dollars made me
          a new perfectly
          functioning head

I was drawn to this idea of reinvention, especially reinvention in the wake of some unspoken (and probably cumulative) damage, which I think we all have to differing degrees, whether or not we’re willing to talk about it. So, this poem, like “Dire Wolf” and “Frederick Courteney Selous’s Letters to His Love,” exists as a ghost text (though, now, a not-so-secret ghost text).

GL:: The ‘relationship’ between Wolf and Szklar takes shape around absence. Absence between lovers and/or intimates can of course be oppressive, trying, give rise to despair, etc, but Wolf and Szklar seem to use this absence as an opportunity: they take advantage of their linguistic/epistolary space to construct and deconstruct themselves (as individuals and as ‘a couple’) in fascinating ways. Now, on the one hand, erotic/romantic language can be deeply private, since people often speak a specialized dialect with loved ones. On the other hand, romance and intimacy demands, at times, complete sincerity, stark openness. How did you navigate these conflicting impulses? Do you think Wolf and Szklar achieve greater intimacy by sharing poetic and mysterious language with each other? Are they more in love with language than with each other?

JB: I’ve spent so much time away (maybe a third of my adult life in other countries), so extremes—of communication, of friendship, of intimacy—are familiar territory. The first time I ever went abroad, I went to Russia for a semester. Before that, I’d hardly been out of Massachusetts, and never anywhere besides the East Coast. I had time on my hands in Russia (also, it was winter) and I was lonely, which is not to say bored—I was forever going to plays I couldn’t really understand, to museums, to the ballet because I liked watching the dancers wilt. It’s just that, even doing all of that (plus going to school, drinking tea with my host parents, and reading George Eliot novels), I still had hours alone in my room with my notebooks and my chocolate.

So, I wrote letters and postcards home, almost desperately. I made envelopes from Russian cereal boxes and milk containers and candy wrappers. I sent these off (sometimes three a day to my boyfriend), and some of them arrived in the States a few weeks later, some long after I’d returned, and some probably never at all. I received letters, but the chronology was often messed up, and this disorder and lack of context entertained me more than it annoyed me.

Then, years later, when I was living in Spain, I started to think about how much we’re willing to reveal in letters and emails, often much more than we do in person. I also realized that there were levels of intimacy—written-intimacy and in-person-intimacy—and that these could sometimes not match up. Like when you get to know someone through writing and then spend time with that person, it can be a little awkward, because you have all this knowledge of the person, but don’t quite know how to behave in-person.

So, with The Bodyfeel Lexicon, I think that I was half-consciously trying to make sense of correspondence as a stand-in for, but also unmediated form of, communication. Sometimes it is just about the language (superficial play as flirtation and dare) and sometimes it’s about the intimate space language can enable for Wolf and Leo, a space they haven’t allowed themselves to access without words.

GL:: The book’s “Appendices” feature a poetic glossary of sorts, titled “A Bodyfeel Lexicon.” The Lexicon offers a number of playful and cryptic definitions for terms either immediately or distantly related to the preceding drama between Wolf and Szklar. Here, we even get a definition for the book’s title (almost): bodyfeel n. Pathol. The exploration of one being by another as wound. Which is sad, since this definition makes amorous contact with the beloved seem like a lot of pain and misery. Is this definition somehow an ars poetica for the book as a whole? And to what extent are the definitions of ‘A Bodyfeel Lexicon” conversant with Wolf and Szklar’s missives?

JB:: I think you’re right about the ars poetica. To me, these poems came out of my predicament of often being far from loved ones, of needing to write letters to feel closer to them, but also of feeling like what isn’t immediate grows even more distant (though Facebook may be changing that—or exacerbating it, I’m not sure).

That definition you mention, by the way, I lifted from Barthes’s Camera Lucida, one of my favorite books. Barthes says of his interest in photography, “I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.” He specifies two elements that must be present in a photograph for him to be interested: studium, or “application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity,” and punctum, or “sting, speck, cut, little hole—and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” In my own experience, I’ve seldom been more painfully aware of my own bodyfeel as when I’ve been away from everything (but especially everyone and the one) familiar.

Regarding “A Bodyfeel Lexicon” itself, this appendix I intended to operate as a piece unto itself, not unlike Marianne Moore’s Index for Observations or Stacy Doris’s index for Lisa Robertson’s Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, both of which make an argument for paratext as text. The fun of Doris’s index is less the realization that Robertson’s dense and wide-ranging essays on Vancouver accommodate both “primal shack-envy” and “pronoun caked in doubt,” and more the juxtapositions of such deeply strange word clusters. Both Doris’s and Moore’s subject indices resemble reference texts and suggest the principle of access to a unified whole. Like a telephone book, the index represents a totality, but an arbitrary one—alphabetical by last name, rather than by neighborhood or street. Yet, the index’s decomposition of the text-proper becomes a form of recomposition, of regrouping by letter. So, the parts stay in motion, shift shape.

The appendix might also be read as an attempt to undercut the suggestion of linearity within the letters, which necessarily act more like montage than they do like collage, since readers moving from front to back encounter the poems in a predetermined sequence. Marisol Limon Martinez’s After You, Dearest Language and Emmanuel Hocquard’s This Story Is Mine: Little Autobiographical Dictionary of Elegy are able to disrupt linearity by way of cross-referenced alphabetical entries, which—in Martinez’s case—contain narratives and evasions of narrative, and—in Hocquard’s case—contain diagrams and theories and red herrings. These fluctuating juxtapositions operate the way I hope The Matchbook Fragments do, but that’s another story.

GL: What other writers or projects influenced your work on The Bodyfeel Lexicon? How have your tastes, reading habits, and fascinations changed since you finished the book?

JB: Aside from the writers I’ve already mentioned, a few visual artists: Joseph Beuys, Ray Johnson, and On Kawara also played a role in my thinking about this book.

The cover of the book is one of Beuys’s “multiples,” a tin-can telephone that I saw on display a few summers ago in the (now sadly closed for renovation) Busch-Reisinger’s wonderful exhibition Multiple Strategies: Beuys, Maciunas, Fluxus. Beuys was an expert myth-maker, and I don’t presume to be tapping into that with the cover. But the tin-can telephone seemed somehow appropriate to the makeshift quality of Wolf and Leo’s correspondence (especially relative to The Matchbook Fragments).

And what I was going for in The Matchbook Fragments, or rather in various appendage projects that I executed in Athens, was something (approximately) akin to Johnson’s mail art. Johnson, known as the founder of the New York Correspondence School, began sending intricate collages to friends and acquaintances in the 1950s. Sometimes the addressee was instructed to “add to and return to” Johnson the piece he’d sent; other times the addressee was merely an intermediary instructed to send the piece on to a third person. Johnson created his collages and letters with a specific person or persons in mind. The link between a given piece and its addressee, or the link between intermediary and ultimate addressee, might be oblique, but it always functioned as an affirmation of interpersonal intimacy. Johnson’s coup was to facilitate a system of art that was constantly in flux and thus difficult to catalogue or exhibit. He further destabilized his pieces by way of his methodologies—he used rubber stamps, often cut up old collages to use in new works, and placed no more value on an original work than on a copy, or a copy of a copy, of that work. Furthermore, while Johnson sold many of his collages to galleries for thousands of dollars (often via hilarious, Byzantine pricing schemes—I recommend the documentary How to Draw a Bunny for a glimpse of this), he also gave them away to friends and strangers. And when someone could afford only a portion of his asking price, he simply removed a comparable portion of the work, like he would give them 25% of a collage if they could only pay 25% of his price. At any moment, compositional integrity might be sacrificed to evade any sense of art as sacred.

Then Kawara: for a while in the seventies, Kawara, whose work is obsessed with documenting existence in time, would send his friend telegrams that always said the same thing: “I am still alive.” These telegram were an affirmation that, by the time they were received, affirmed nothing: Kawara could have been dead. But he was telling the recipients that he cared enough to let them know, and that he figured they would care enough to want to know. There’s a compelling vulnerability in this gesture.

When I finished the book, I thought it was too grand, too long. The next project that stuck, a sequence of spare love poems, which moves in the opposite direction (toward the lover), is really different. The poems are short, like the matchbook poems, which were the last poems I wrote for The Bodyfeel Lexicon, which I think were a reaction against what I perceived as the book’s early excesses (early in the composition process, not necessarily early in the current sequence). The new poems are different for me in an additional sense—they came directly out of my experience teaching for a semester in the University of Georgia’s study abroad program in the Costa Rican cloud forest. What a way to end my MFA.

In terms of reading habits, they haven’t generally changed. I’m still reading work by writers who tend to be published by small presses and still going to readings where it’s normal for me to not have heard of at least one of the two or three readers.

GL: I’d like you to tell me about the poem you want to write but haven’t been able to write quite yet. Could you describe the poem you aspire to write that is perhaps still out of reach?

JB: That’s a tough question, because when I try to conceptualize before writing, the result is most often stunted or dead. I usually think about ideas only after I’ve written and as I’m trying to trace my preoccupations in a given draft (and draft is probably generous). So, while I like to be at work on a family of poems (when I’m not, I feel a bit at sea), I’ve come to understand that ideas won’t get me where I want to be. It’s only once I’m already working on something that ideas help.

GL: What pleases you about contemporary poetry? What displeases you about it? And how does Jessica Bozek help solve what’s wrong with contemporary poetry ☺?

JB: One thing that really excites me about contemporary poetry is that the lines of communication seem more open than ever—there are so many small presses, online journals, reading series, poetry blogs, publishing collectives—in short, so many ways to find out about and become immersed in what’s going on.

I was recently at a roundtable discussion at Harvard, on the state of contemporary poetry. The moderator kept returning the discussion to the idea of poetry and tradition (i.e., how are contemporary poets influenced by older poets?), but what I really wanted to hear was the participants talk about how contemporary poets are being influenced by their contemporaries (since that’s who we’re able to read more easily today). Tradition is always relevant, of course, but I think it’s less relevant now than it has been in the past, when writers would almost certainly have been reading the same things in school. Maybe the part of me that hasn’t had a coherent education (which might be a suspect thing anyway) wanted to see my distracted reading habits, my interest in literatures not just US American and British, my sense that some total picture is impossible, validated.

I’m not sure that I have a negative diagnosis about the state of contemporary poetry, but something I love is how easy it is for me to read what other people think about books I’ve just finished. That said, I’m happy to diagnose one of my own failings—namely, the written articulation of my engagements with contemporary writing. Every summer, when I have a bit more time, I say that I’m going to write a review a month, and then I don’t (or I write, at most, one). Maybe this summer I’ll finally do it.

GL: Now that you’re free of Wolf and Szklar, do you miss them? Are you enjoying your freedom? What are writing about now?

JB: I didn’t miss Wolf and Leo at first—in fact, I was uncomfortable with and happy to be rid of them. That’s one reason I wrote The Matchbook Fragments, which began as letters between the characters. But I was tired of them, and their ways of speaking, so I decided to cut them up, to separate their utterances out onto individual matchbooks, which I painstakingly made in the late spring hot of my overgrown Athens house, and then to be even more severe with these words—to remove some and reconstruct a message with the remnants.

But then, as I tried to write after the manuscript was finished, I had a hard time leaving it. I kept writing transport poems, until, finally (a year and a half later), I wrote one called “The Transport Transport,” and I thought, well, this has to be the end of it. And it was.

I mentioned the spare poems earlier—they’re going to be published as a chapbook by Dancing Girl Press at the beginning of next year. And, recently, I’ve been writing poems that look and feel a bit more like the letters in The Bodyfeel Lexicon, which is to say that they’re short prose tales set in an imagined world. At times, they revise or appropriate language from an early nineteenth-century captivity narrative, as well as from news coverage of the war on Iraq. So, they’re much more politically aware. But there are also animals (dogs, birds, beavers), always more animals, it seems.