Monday, February 27, 2017

TtD supplement #73 : seven questions for Kate Greenstreet

Kate Greenstreet’s new book The End of Something is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in 2017. Her previous books are Young Tambling, The Last 4 Things, and case sensitive, also with Ahsahta.

Her poems “CARDBOARD STAR,” “IS THIS FOR ME?,” “HE WAS A BOY ONCE,” “IN A HOUSE OF MARKS,” “HORIZON MOTEL” appear in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: These poems are from a manuscript called The End of Something, scheduled to come out in May from Ahsahta Press. I see this book as the conclusion to my previous three.

Q: How do you see the current project as a conclusion? And a conclusion to what, precisely?

A: The new manuscript is actually the center of a bigger project that includes art, video, and audio experiments, based on The End of Something and offering alternate ways into it. That will all be accessible from a site (theendofsomething.com), which will go up when the book is published.

After I finished case sensitive, when I was writing The Last 4 Things and then Young Tambling, I didn’t think of the books as parts of a set or some kind of continuing inquiry. But while working on this one, I began to realize that my books are interconnected, and to feel I was putting down a fourth corner to define a formerly open-ended space.

Although I see The End of Something as a conclusion, I also like the idea that a reader could start there and go to case sensitive next. Or to either of the others. The books seem to belong to each other in a new way, so that any one of them might be the beginning or the end of a cycle that now feels complete.

Q: The curious thing about all of your writing to date being part of a single project: what might come next? Do you see yourself writing something beyond this collection, or might you simply move onto other things?

A: I want to bring poetry into the other things I do, more than I have already. And I want to find out what else I can make with language. I’m not exactly writing at the moment. But I have the habit of writing things down. Jean Valentine said to me once: “We’re always reading, and we’re always writing, even when we think we’re not.” At lunch yesterday, I started reading Fanny Howe’s poem “Loneliness” to Max. Do you know it? It’s a wonderfully matter-of-fact poem, unsentimental, but my voice cracked at “And you climb the stairs obediently” and I had to stop for a minute. In the pause, Max said: “Mid-poem, she began to weep. The audience became restless.” That made me laugh, and I wrote it down. I don’t have the temperament to keep a diary, but I don’t think I could break the habit of writing things down for no reason. Or I wouldn’t want to. So that’s the present. About the future: there are other kinds of books I want to make, different from the books I’ve made so far. I have ideas. But I know from experience that those ideas will not lead me where I think I want to go.

Q: With four trade books over the past decade-plus, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I’ve become a somewhat different person in the past ten years, but my methods haven’t changed. Say a farmer calls a dowser on the phone. She drives over and gets out of her truck. She might have a special little branch with her or pick one up off the ground. She walks out to where the water needs to be. Maybe it’s there, maybe it isn’t. My writing has developed in more-or-less this same way. Walking around with a stick until I feel a pull, one field after another.

Q: I get the sense that your books are pieced together as a kind of slowly constructed collage. How do your books get built, and how did this develop?

A: Well, if you found yourself in a room where there were hundreds of photographs on the floor and seven taped to the wall, you might notice a common element, maybe a subtle element, in the taped-up photos. Looking down at the floor, you see another photograph that seems to belong to the set of seven. Luckily there is also a tape dispenser on the floor, so you tape that eighth photo to the wall. At this point, you might feel the urge to rearrange them. They’re not your pictures! But no one else is around, so you go ahead and move the fourth one to the first position. You’re “reading” the photos from left to right, as we do in English. Something’s missing—there’s that empty space, but it’s more than that. You get down on the floor. You begin to select certain pictures and put them in a pile. Soon you have two small piles. Off to one side, you spread those out. You put one of the pictures from the first pile into the second pile. You put two of the pictures from the second pile into the first pile. You realize that you need to start a third pile. Okay. Now you can put some of the pictures from each pile onto the wall. One seems perfect for the empty space. But as soon as you’ve taped that up, the last photo feels wrong. You take it down and lay it on top of the third pile. You try a photo from the second pile for that end spot and it’s good there, but asks for clarification. You’re constructing a kind of a narrative from these pictures. You know you will understand what you’re doing when the arrangement is right. It’s not about chronology, it’s about meaning. You’re not trying to tell a story, you’re trying to find the story. There are still hundreds of photos to go through! The answer is in there somewhere.

It’s like that. But instead of pictures, you’re working with pieces of language. Phrases, sentences, paragraphs. So you’re looking but also listening. And speaking. Where do these language fragments come from? Like the photographs on the floor, who knows? They come from anywhere. Words you woke up with in the middle of the night, old notebooks, what your neighbor told you on the stairs. You say a phrase out loud and join it to another, then add a sentence that comes to you in the moment, which reminds you of—but you don’t want to go there. Although later you might talk with a friend about that memory and find a chunk of your conversation useable.

The process goes on and on this way until you finally find the sound and the order you’re seeking—the best you can do. Then you change it four more times, write a whole new poem from nowhere, and even though you’ve used the word “something” a hundred times, you’re done.

Q: What influences, do you think, helped bring you to this point? And when you say you want to “bring poetry into the other things” that you do, what are some of these other things and how have you managed to keep them separate so far?

A: I’ve been working with visual art, sound, video, and text for quite a while. It’s funny to think of someone trying to keep all these things separate—I haven’t, but at this point I’m more actively looking for ways to combine them. It’s exciting that so many artists work in multiple disciplines now. That’s probably the main outside influence on my current thinking.

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

A: My needs vary. In the past few days, I’ve returned in a big way to Immanent Visitor: Selected Poems of Jaime Saenz, which I first read while writing case sensitive. It was important to me then and I often come back to it. I don’t read Spanish, so the English translations by Kent Johnson and Forrest Gander are the poems I know, poems I especially love to read aloud. Gander and Johnson also translated The Night, Saenz’s final work, and I just reread their introduction—an enlightening and entertaining essay about the author and about some experiences the translators had in La Paz, his home city. Both books include wonderful photos of Saenz—not incidental to me, as they heighten my impression that I know this guy, from the old land (and I don’t mean Bolivia).

Brief stanza from a poem in Immanent Visitor: “Contemplating the bones on the plank, numbering the darknesses with my fingers starting from you. / Seeing that things are, I fill with desire. / And I find myself crossing a great distance.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

TtD supplement #72 : seven questions for David Buuck

David Buuck is a writer who lives in Oakland, CA. He is the founder of BARGE, the Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics, and co-founder and editor of Tripwire, a journal of poetics (tripwirejournal.com). Recent publications include SITE CITE CITY (Futurepoem, 2015) and An Army of Lovers, co-written with Juliana Spahr (City Lights, 2013). A Swarming, A Wolfing appeared from Roof Books in 2016.

His poem “FIRE ON FIRE” appears in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poem “FIRE ON FIRE.”

A: William Rowe wrote a review of Joshua Clover’s The Red Epic (Commune Editions, 2015) for issue #10 of Tripwire, and in it he hones in on JClo’s line “how to set fire to fire?”, seeing it as a central question about the hazards of how insurrection can become spectacle. Rowe references a line from Hegel — “Fire is materialized time” — that then became the first line of the poem. I’d been thinking a lot about the relation between insurrection and lived time, how certain moments can flare up in a way that feel outside of clock-time. In the poem I try to get at how capitalist clock-time — necessary for the regimentation of the wage-hour — ‘resides’ in commodities, commodities that, like Marx’s exemplary table, can burn. All that is (seemingly) immaterial congeals into solids. And in fire, all that is solid (commodities, carrying within them labor-time) melts into air, free — if only for a brief moment — in the ‘pure present' of combustion. That’s the gambit, anyway. 

Q: How does this poem fit in with the other work you’ve been doing lately? Is this piece an occasional, or is it part of something potentially much larger?

A: It is definitely part of a line of inquiry over the last several years, beginning with the work that will be coming out this fall from Roof Books (A Swarming, a Wolfing) and continuing on into what seems to be a new MS. Whereas A Swarming could be summarized as trying to finds new or at least non-cliché/nostalgic modes of representing militant social movement, upsurges of revolt & their affective dimensions (from Occupy Oakland on through its offshoots and aftermaths) the new work is more concerned with languaging ‘insurrection’ as a form of both irruptive praxis and discursive energies: while this particular poem is more meditative and/or ‘philosophical’ on the subject, it certainly extends my trying to think through the (lived/non-capitalist) time of revolt as well as how poetics can articulate such contingent but collective experiences from the perspective and hazards of ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’. 

Q: Do you see all of your writing as existing on a particular kind of continuum? How are your books usually constructed? How do poems begin?

A: I feel like my interests and concerns, both thematically and formally, are related across books & projects, or at least I imagine readers could trace such continuities, even as/if they develop and change (as I hope they do!). Certainly the performance works, fiction, and hybrid prose-works differ considerably from the more straight-ahead poetry – especially regarding prosody as well as method – but that may more be about testing different compositional methods to engage and interrogate political questions from different sites and modes. I guess that’s where I might like to hang on to the adjective “experimental” to describe kinds of non-conventional writing even though that term seems to have become merely a branding term for niche marketing, at least within the US poetry worlds.

The construction of the books varies. The Shunt and Site Cite City were largely written over the same period (2001-08, 1999-2012) and though the difference between the two might appear to be simply poems/prose, they were in many ways different projects. An Army of Lovers was co-written with Juliana Spahr, and evolved into a ‘book’ over time, driven less by narrative plot (as pseudo-realist fiction) as much as a shared sense of appropriate scale and reach for its interrogations of poets, poetry, and the possibilities for political action. The forthcoming book is work ‘coming out of’ Occupy Oakland and its more militant offshoots, and the questions of radical movements and representation, so that thematically that came together as a book-length MS more organically. As you know, it’s often more about what one leaves out that helps constitute a book’s form and I dunno, identity? – and each of the books involved a ton of stuff left-out.

Q: With three books (including collaboration) and a small stack of chapbooks/pamphlets over nearly two decades, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: Yikes, two decades! Where has the time gone?

I tend to follow various lines of inquiry, be they thematic or formal questions, but have tended to be a bit ADHD in terms of following such lines all the way to actualized ‘products.’ However, one could probably fairly easily trace some through-lines in my work so far. Certainly the question of politics and how social/cultural issues and one's own politics work themselves out in writing and art has been a primary driver in my work, both in my own writing as well as with BARGE, editing Tripwire, organizing events, and other efforts in the cultural spheres of the poetry world. Increasing skepticism as to the power and/or ‘efficacy’ of overtly political poetries can certainly be seen in The Shunt, as the book moves from more forthright (if embarrassingly so) ‘anti-war’ poems to a self-questioning of such genres and platitudinous pronouncements of certain received ideas and political platitudes. An Army of Lovers certainly pursues this skepticism, if not outright doubt and frustration, in my and Juliana’s fictions about the roles and possibilities for political poetry and art in its (pre-Occupy) historical context. Occupy Oakland and its related irruptions certainly have informed my own thinking about representation (in poetry and performance) and its relation to ‘lived’ (off-the-page) political movements, and such rethinking is (I hope) evident in A Swarming, a Wolfing.

Current projects include a novel about military simulations set in the Californian desert, as well as a cross-genre book confronting the question of (and relation between) ‘insurrection’ and writing. I hope to do more off-page BARGE and performance work, as well. I'm also increasingly committed to the editorial project of Tripwire, which feels like a space for critical thinking and interrogation (if only for myself!), as well as a mode of constellatory mapping of potential alternatives to what can often seem like a stolid, insular, nationalist, and Manichean approach to poetics in the US.

It’s hard to say ‘where my work’s headed’ given that I can’t predict the social and political landscapes that we will be confronting over the next years and decades, and how they might (re)shape my own aesthetics and politics. I hope to remain open to a continued self-critical engagement with such questions, however they manifest in practice.

Q: I’ve long been fascinated by those who engage more overtly in engaging the political in their poetry, something so easily done poorly, but managed brilliantly by a small handful over the years, from Spahr to Stephen Collis, Rita Wong and others. And yet, ‘political poetry’ has often been accused of pushing a message over the art. Why do you think the form is so easily dismissed?

A: Well, at least in the US, it’s easy to dismiss or roll one’s eyes at a lot of self-described ‘political poetry’ for a couple of reasons: it can be self-congratulatory, moralistic, and platitudinous; and/or it can seem to relegate formal and aesthetic concerns to the background in order to emphasize more overt/‘legible’ social content. (Though of course content and form are always mutually imbricated; I’m just suggesting a false separation for argument’s sake here.)

That said, I’d argue that the same could be said of much poetry that is not overtly political: it’s tired, cliché, and formally not very interesting. It’s not clear to me, for example, why overtly political content or intent in and of itself makes for worse art. Rather, bad art is ‘bad’ because it's bad art, no?

Or, a thought experiment: what would one rather have — an OK poem with radical politics, a good poem about the poet’s personal feelings, or a Great Poem that upholds Western cultural values. How do we enter this question without interrogating what we mean by OK, good, and great? Can we possibly divorce content from aesthetic judgment? How are these not political questions? (I’m not saying I know the answers to these questions — I prefer good poetry to OK poetry, but what I mean by good is very likely different from what others mean, and not just as a matter of personal ‘taste’...)

The other charges — pushing a message, preaching to the converted, sacrificing aesthetics, the limited efficacy of poetry (‘if you wanna change the world, why don’t you just go march’) etc etc, are perhaps more complicated, especially if we again think of ‘non-political’ art. I mean, love poems ‘push a message’ and are imbricated with questions of efficacy (i.e. they aim to convert, even if only the object of desire). Most lyrical poems preach to the converted in terms of shared aesthetic values (look, I’m writing that way that we all have agreed is good!). Few contemporary ‘political’ poets in the US actually claim their work has some broad efficacy in what we conventionally think of as ‘actual’ politics, but some critics level this charge regardless, choosing to ignore the multiple ways in which the political can work within art and cultural practice, not to mention poetry’s relation to radical social movements, ecological disaster, history, etc., or simply to press potent affective charges in readers (anger, inspiration, etc). I also don’t think it’s coincidental that the poet-activists most active in challenging institutional forms of exclusion and hierarchy within Poetry-World-Inc are also poets we'd generally think of as ‘political’ in their writing.

And of course, most importantly, we have to remember that all poetry has a politics — its values, histories, forms, and relationship to institutions and power are all deeply political, whether or not poets choose to directly engage those issues. So really when folks talk about “political poetry” they mean poems or poets that are more overt or explicit about politics (either in the work itself or in extra-poetic claims about poetry or authorial intent/posturing), almost as if the complaint is something like, “please go away and be an IRL activist or whatever so I don’t have to think about these difficult questions and can just concentrate on art,” as if what we call art or good art or art-not-sullied-by-politics isn’t at its core a political question, given the history of Western poetry and its values (craft, a focus on the individual, relegation of anything by or about marginalized peoples into the sub-category of “[identity category]-poetry,” etc etc).

I don’t, however, want to make any claims about overtly political poetry as some kind of privileged form or ‘better’ poetry. There is, as with any kind of poetry, a ton of dreck and clichéd political poetry out there (and believe me, my own work is certainly open to that charge!). But we don’t dismiss the great lyrical poets based on the millions of shit lyrical poems produced over the years, do we. I just find that the questions investigated by certain modes of political art — which are always formal and aesthetic questions as well as questions of content or an author’s beliefs or opinions — are more compelling and challenging to me these days, especially given our historical moment. I'm just not sure how much the world needs more USAmerican MFA’d poems about bourgeois ‘personal experience’ or perfectly crafted lyrical poems or risk-free award-winning poems, etc etc. I want poetry that challenges the way I see the world (which includes art, of course), whether or not it’s “good” as defined by the gatekeepers of convention. Down with ‘good’ poems!

Q: Should poetry that overtly engages the political be tied to action? As Peter Gizzi wrote of Jack Spicer: “He is not against political action; on the contrary, he suggests that instead of writing a bad political poem one should write a letter to one’s congressman.”

A: I try to resist ‘shoulds’ when it comes to making art, and we’d need to unpack what we mean by ‘action’ and even ‘tied to’ to begin to get at this one. Generally, though, my answer is no — or at least, I’m not sure how exactly one would begin to make some direct connection between art and action, or how one would then judge such poems. If my love poem doesn’t get me any action, does it fail? If my lovely lyrical poem doesn’t get me awards, does it fail? Why would we only value ‘action’ in relation to ‘political’ poems?

At the same time, if “tied to” means something like “in relation to” we could certainly begin to trace various traditions and histories where poetry emerges from and alongside political action/movements/events/etc., whether through historical, witness, documentary, movement poetries, etc. And obviously “action” in general — aka “life itself” — seems to be a pretty broad ground from which poetry might ‘overtly engage the political,’ since our responses are always going to be mediated through ideology and aesthetics.

On the whole, though, as much as I do believe poems can be and make action in and of themselves, I’m generally cautious about making any claims for poetry's efficacy or “shoulds.” I would ask Gizzi’s Spicer, however, what about a good political poem? Why isn’t that a possibility? I certainly think (good) poems can do more than letters to one’s congressman.

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

A: Well it’s a pretty long list, and it depends on what I’m struggling with at any given moment. There are often different kinds of works that provide different kinds of charges for me — writers that inspire me as models of what an engaged writer can be and do in the world even if I don’t write anything like them (for instance, a few off the top of my head this week: Baldwin, Cesaire, Brecht, Woolf, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxembourg, Dario Fo, Raul Zurita, CAConrad, Eileen Myles, Amilcar Cabral, Said, Fanon, a million others), or writers whose work reignites certain aspects of my creativity, even if I just pick up a book and read a couple pages (Gombrowicz, Acker, Leslie Scalapino, Cesaire again, a million others), or writers who I read at some important time in my early years and so re-reading them tickles some hopefully not-nostalgic moment of Wow-you-can-do-this? (Nietzsche, Genet, Stein, Beckett, Dambudzo Marechera, Jean Toomer, the New Narrative writers, a million others). And my friends and contemporaries! And artists and scholars and musicians and and and!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

TtD supplement #71 : nine questions for Nathaniel G. Moore

Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of Savage winner of the 2014 ReLit Award as well as other books including Bowlbrawl and Let’s Pretend We Never Met. His most recent book is Jettison, published by Anvil Press in May 2016. He is at work on new Catullus-based projects and lives on the Sunshine Coast.

Three poems from “Lot of Catullus” appear in the twelfth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the three poems from “Lot of Catullus.”

A: These are rewrites of Catullus’ poems with a plan to do all 113. The title is based on an eBay term like “lot of Star Wars figures” or “lot of my pet monster stickers” which I guess they repurposed from auctions. The term lot that is.

Q: You’ve explored and re-explored Catullus’ work in a variety of projects over the years. What is it about his work that appeals to you?

A: The length of time I find myself drawn to him. The more I study him, the more I unravel. I haven’t even fully read all his poems. I spend a few months on a handful of his poems and study them intensely. Then I imagine a novelization of the poems. The back to poetry. It’s always fresh. The stuff I’m working on now is almost an interactive genre sampling all about his life and poetry. It took a while away from him to realize he would be with me for a long time. I still buy his books and collect essays and clippings about him like he was a living person. I think about his life. Let’s Pretend We Never Met was a dusting of a larger body of work I have been developing. He was a collage artist like me, taking bits from other poets, styles and influences. I enjoy the class system in his poetry, the use of slang, insulting people by comparing them to goats which was poor people food. He was a psycho but also a sap. He was nostalgic and a hypocrite. A real human being.

Q: Is all of this study, as you say, potentially building up to a larger, all-encompassing project on Catullus, or is it more that you’re working a series of individual stand-alone projects that accumulate into a kind of life-long exploration on his life and work?

A: Probably the later, as I can’t see a publisher publishing a multi-genre effort. Essentially this Catullan focus jumps back and forth and back again between non fiction, fiction and poetry. I like the concept of a life-long exploration on his life and work as it relates to me and other scholars and just him. From the perspective of cultural theory and poetic and fictional narrative. Yet a part of me wonders what a multi-genre single volume (at first) would look like as a final project.

Q: So for now, you are content to explore his work in smaller, more specific projects?

A: Yes, to a degree. Thinking in practical terms, specific genre projects such as a novel or book of essays, or a series of poems is manageable in this day and age. In my last book Jettison, published last year, Catullus had a role in a short story. It was a way to gauge my own interest in that version of him. What he’ll look and sound like in another project will differ considerably down the road. It all stems back to Let’s Pretend We Never Met, a book that still haunts me. New readers discover it and ask me a lot of questions about it. To them it's a very special book and it makes me want to work on Catullus more and more. It makes me feel as though there is more to learn about what he was doing, his friends, enemies, the Roman society at the time. To me, this experience of writing along side the established image and legacy of Catullus is completely new and fresh. When it ceases to be this way, I'll probably give up the ghost.

Q: I’m curious as to your other influences. What writers or works, apart from Catullus, have influenced the ways in which you shape a poetry collection?

A: I feel that I haven’t ever truly shaped a poetry collection on my own. Beth Follett and Emily Schultz shaped Let’s Pretend, and Jason Camlot did most of the arranging in Pastels... As for writers who have influenced me in this regard, I would have to mention those I read heavily, such as, Daniel Scott Tysdal, Gary Barwin, Anne Carson, David McGimpsey, Robin Richardson, Margaret Christakos, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Damian Rogers. But I'm not sure I know how to shape a poetry collection. I’m not sure I’ve ever done it.

Q: If you don’t feel as though you’ve “every truly shaped a poetry collection” on your own, how do you know a manuscript is complete enough to be submitted? Is the process of building a manuscript one of collage that gets re-shaped by another, or one of volume?

A: Well, over the last three or four years for example, I’ve completed three poetry collections. None of them seem coherent enough on their own. I abandon them. I rework them. It’s very unsupervised. The poems get drafted and traded like sports players to other manuscripts. It becomes chaotic, a manic process. Then I turn to fiction for a year or so and never look back. When I have an idea it goes through a filtering system in which it winds up in a poem. But over time, that poem might wind up as a fragment of dialogue, or fake lyric in a fake song in a piece of fiction. I become restless. I also don’t necessarily want to be publishing poetry books. I’ve had some success now in fiction and want to develop that. I could be training myself with these Catullus poems to slip them into a large novel. I do research and realize that the Catullus poetry translation by white males is actually an over saturated anti-market. And I’m not talking about my former next door neighbour Ewan Whyte, but a few US poets around my age who fancy themselves Catullus fan boys very similar to Kilo Ren’s relationship with Darth Vader. I want to do something special I guess and I’m not feeling that any of the poetry manuscripts I’ve completed in the last while are of any substance.

Q: What pushes you to continue?

A: The stimulation I get from revisiting past texts. Whether it is an old poem or short story, I like to see if I can revive it. I don’t think I have the ingredients to be a poet though. I believe you need to have a set of aesthetic expectations and synopsis styled business cards for cocktail parties. I’m cut from a different cloth it seems. We shall see what happens I guess.

Q: I’m not sure I agree with you as far as the “set of aesthetic expectations and synopsis styled business cards [.]” But still: how do you feel your work has progressed over the past decade or so, through two published books and a handful of works-in-progress? Where do you see your work headed?

A: You mean specifically poetry? I have 2 published books of that genre. I haven’t published any poetry since 2009. I feel as though it hasn’t progressed and I am continually feeling alienated by developing poets and new generations of poets. My last poetry book wasn’t even reviewed, and as the saying goes, appropriated from another industry, you’re only as good as your last poetry book / book review. That being said, I could crip a Catullus line of poetry and say that I’m the worst of all poets.

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

A: Jean Genet, Martin Amis, Heather O’Neill, Lisa Moore, Rebecca Godfrey, Kathy Acker, Kurt Vonnegut, John Farrow, Stephen King, Graham Greene, Anne Carson, Camille Paglia, Sheila Heti and Mark Leyner.