Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Helen Dimos, No Realtor Was Compensated For This Sale

I stand before a wall. This wall extends infinitely in either direction and is of course located outside.

A wall that used to be one-foot wide. Is now razor-thin. So thin I can see through it. But not, for reason of its thinness, weaker. May even be stronger.

The desire to pass through the wall.

To the other side. (“THE WALL”)

I’m fascinated by the poems in Helen Dimos’ first full-length collection, No Realtor Was Compensated For This Sale (The Elephants, Ltd., 2017), a collection gathered, it would seem, as much as constructed. Built in five sections—“THE WALL,” “DEAR NOBODY,” “POEMS,” “LANGUAGE OF THE PORES” and “DEAR NOBODY”—the poems in No Realtor Was Compensated For This Sale allow for the sketched-out line—the fragment, the shift and the expansive canvas—creating a book-length work of remarkable nuance and strength, attempting the minutiae of language and the world as part of far larger questions. In sections that shift structurally from a long poem constructed from stanza-fragments and clear statements, a suite of ekphrasic pieces, a collection of lyrics and a short script of scenes, Dimos’ poems feel both restless and incredibly clear, relentless and flawlessly casual, writing and writhing deep into the heart of just about everything. As she writes to open the fourth section: “Is it the language of the pores that can take the shape of molecules?”

Dear nobody

I go to dinner with a writer in Athens. We talk about literature. We talk about politics. We talk about literature. We talk about Greek politics but I’m not sure it matters. ‘It’s more rewarding to talk about literature’ he says as I propped up my face with my hand? While talking of Tsipras. —Maybe more rewarding which isn’t the right word anyway but speaking of literature the world opens acquires endlessness while talk of politics clicks the world shut not the shut-ness of closure but dead-shut, despair

This is totally and completely wrong

Monday, July 24, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristin Sanders

Kristin Sanders is the author of CUNTRY (Trembling Pillow Press 2017 and a finalist for the 2015 National Poetry Series), This is a map of their watching me (BOAAT 2015), and Orthorexia (Dancing Girl Press 2011). She has taught at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Loyola University, New Orleans; Belmont University; and Louisiana State University. She is currently a poetry editor for the New Orleans Review and a contributing writer at Weird Sister.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook, Orthorexia, was with Dancing Girl Press in 2011. Of course, that first published chapbook or book is very validating. My first full-length book, CUNTRY, is coming out in June 2017. I’ve been working on this project, and publishing pieces from it, since 2012, so it feels good to have it out in the world. In between was a second chapbook, This is a map of their watching me, from BOAAT Press in 2015. I don’t think these books have changed my life, but they’ve affirmed the sense that I want to write about certain themes—gender, sexuality, feminism—and are a record of how I felt in my twenties.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I think my love of reading and writing poetry has to do with the English teachers I had in elementary school, high school, college, and grad school. Poetry teachers are the best, aren’t they? My high school English teacher, Mrs. May, who I adore, made a Xeroxed poetry packet for her classes. I still have it. One of the poems in the packet was Denise Levertov’s “The Secret.” The romantic ideas in that poem probably influenced me more than I knew.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I don’t start with notes, but more of a conceptual idea. The writing usually starts loose, and then I have to pare it down.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Book from the beginning, usually. If I write an individual poem I often don’t know what to do with it next, if it doesn’t fit into a specific project. I have a few of those, and they make me sad. They feel homeless.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings! I like to participate in readings at all stages of the creative process. I’ve been reading (and, okay, singing) pieces from CUNTRY since 2012.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Theoretically, I’m interested in writing that makes the reader feel uncomfortable, not only in regard to content but also genre and the hybrid text. There’s a Hélène Cixous quote which I always remember from Laura Mullen’s brilliant “Hybrid Text Talk”: “If you haven’t, as a reader, burned your house down, if you are still at home, then you don’t want to go abroad. People who don’t like what I call ‘the text’ are phobic, they are people who... dislike being displaced” (Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing 81). What’s the use of art that feels easy and safe? The questions I’m interested in have to do with bodies, sexuality, desire, gender, feminism, and technology’s effects on these things. The questions are constantly changing, developing—pornography, identities, labels, trends—and yet the questions are unchanging, always the same—love, the nature of desire, communication between two people, the ways we move in the world as individuals and within our prescribed societal roles.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I’m going to quote Chris Kraus on this, because I can’t really think about the role of the writer divorced from the roles of gender: “Because I’m moved in writing to be irrepressible. Writing to you seems like some holy cause, cause there’s not enough female irrepressibility written down. I’ve fused my silence and repression with the entire female gender’s silence and repression. I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world. I could be 20 years too late but epiphanies don’t always synchronize with style” (I Love Dick, 210).

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t had that experience yet. Most of my poetry editors and publishers have been fairly hands-off, which has benefits.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
One of my favorite quotes is from Rumi: “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” That’s probably an odd choice, because by all accounts I’m a generic-looking, rule-abiding Californian woman. My risk-taking tends to live out in my writing.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
No writing routine! I write in bursts, most often at night. I’m a night owl. I have zero willpower in the mornings. I’ll press snooze for hours.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I turn to other books, or I talk to any of my brilliant women friends (or my sister, or my mother) to compare stories, bounce around ideas, get advice, etc. I’m lucky to have an amazing network of intellectual, artistic friends. I’d get more writing done if I spent less time reading and socializing, but I’d be a much less happy person.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Books influence me the most, but also music and visual art. My dad is a painter, and my uncle and cousin are country songwriters. I spend a lot of time thinking about how different forms of artistic expression are limiting in different ways. I suppose I’m influenced by the idea of boundaries, whether those are self-imposed or imposed by genre or industry. I hate feeling limited or controlled, and literary writing allows me the most freedom.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Hélène Cixous’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick. Jean Rhys, Elena Ferrante, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, bell hooks, Clarice Lispector, Plath, and Sexton. Louise Glück and Margaret Atwood’s poetry. The life-outside-of-my-work writer friends who are not just important but necessary are Laura Mullen, Megan Burns, Carolyn Mikulencak, Jenn Marie Nunes, Mel Coyle, Elizabeth Hall, Ben Kopel.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Figure out a way to teach English—which I love—without grading a gazillion papers—which I absolutely hate.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I did attempt to be a country songwriter in Nashville, but I’ve mostly been a writer and English teacher. I might’ve missed my calling to be a tap-dancing contortionist.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I wasn’t good enough at not saying impolite/gross/weird/sexual/darkly humorous things—in country songs or in real life.

18 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve been on a huge Jean Rhys kick; I’m currently reading her biography by Carole Angier. I also recently read Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex, which I think is saying a lot of the same things I’m saying in CUNTRY, but through research and journalism. I just re-read The Lover, too, to remember how gorgeous a book can be.

19 - What are you currently working on?
A novel and essays.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Anna Gurton-Wachter, The Abundance Chamber Works Alone

To enter the realm of writing one must take one’s self to divorce court. I’m sorry it has to be this way. The re-education of my working eye winks. To enter the realm of writing is to suffer losses. Run off other sufferers, run off. I wanted to but could not say run off. I need someone to pet me until I fall into a lava tank engine love. The construction worker concept is just an unused drill by the side of the road. The well-lit crane sways in my direction. The trial of the snail is set to begin. Take your time. The trial of the elephant is told to us by the parakeet mind. (“Maya Deren Lives Forever / in the Speedboat at Night”)

Ever since discovering her work via Ugly Duckling Presse’s 6x6 [see my review of such here], I’ve been eager for more work by Brooklyn poet, editor and archivist Anna Gurton-Wachter. I’ve now been rewarded for my patience, thanks to Essay Press producing her chapbook (both as a free pdf online and limited-edition print edition) The Abundance Chamber Works Alone (2017) as #92 in their “Groundloop Series,” a series that seeks “to bring together authors exploring diverse subjects through loud, innovative architectures.” Set in three sequence-sections of prose poems—“Maya Deren Lives Forever / in the Speedboat at Night,” “A Development Proposal / for the Center of the Earth” and “Instances of the Corpse / Flower Pose, a Study Group”—she opens the small collection with an introduction/prose poem titled “PREFACE,” that reads:

There are competing visions of the swamp. Females deposit their eggs in a parasitic territory for gratification alone. The intruder salivates. An act is magnified by formal study. End scene. Later, back at the lab, the summer spirit remains unknown. Parasites surround the forest. What we call a self-created memory worthy of the father and worthy of the mother and worthy of the mountain of golden guts. What we call, “lurking in the water,” or “stable speech acts.” The world is sufficiently killable as the squatters can attest. The abandoned critters are so modest and struggle to become a symbol for the cosmos, seeping through the soil deep inside the earth.

I want to know how to feel when I wash ashore. What to communicate first. You might find yourself the viewer, the violent concept, alive to the spill of sight as it tries to expire. The viewer is meant to experience a faint memory comprised of all possible readings. To feel like the act of reading has accomplished a tunnel display of denied tenderness. You might find yourself inside this lonely boycott state, active inside a motionless pit.

I’m absolutely blown away by the music of her lines, and a rush that sweeps the reader off their feet and into further, unexpected spaces. There is something fascinating in how Gurton-Wachter’s poems exist as abstract essays, constructed as expansive lyric catch-alls, structured to be able to include anything and everything, even while providing a linearity and purpose through each individual sequence. Her work is absolutely stunning, and she is easily one of my favourite American poets without a full-length poetry collection; I can’t imagine such a thing is far off.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost

Auntie told me to paddle down the river to Chi’Niibish. When I get to the lake, she said to turn west and paddle along the shore until I see the mist of Niagara Falls. As soon as I can see the mist, that’s the spot to lean into the lake and cross. She said that’s how those old Mississauga Nishnaabeg Ashkiwiwininiwag did it, hypnotic hard paddling, drowning out the screams of tired arms and aching shoulders, keeping the mist in sight, in the corner of their right eyes.
            Now I’m sitting on the shore of the lake, thinking about you, at the spot where I’m supposed to be turning and crossing. I always forget how big the lake is. I always forget how blue the lake is, the clean wind picking up drops so I can breathe them in. I’m imagining you’re here and we’re talking about you and me and us, and things that matter. How we got here. Where we’re going. What’s to be done. My impulse is to push the conversation to somewhere it shouldn’t go, somewhere it doesn’t need to go, and I catch myself. I stay centred. I need to have just one more conversation with you so I can write this. I just need to see your movements, your face, your response to the tiny moments of life most never even notice. I need to feel your beautiful boy-spirit rise as you lie down on the cedar boughs, lean in towards the fire and listen to your Kokum’s quiet singing on Zhaawanoog land.
            It can’t just be lists of battles, speeches, failed marriages, and betrayals. (“Leaning In”)

Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s latest collection of stories and songs is This Accident of Being Lost (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2017), a collection of intimate pieces that resist genre, writing out love, labour and loss, in a series of pieces that “continually rebirths a decolonizing reality, one that circles in and out of time and resists dominant narratives or comfortable categorization.” This Accident of Being Lost is a book of resistance, acknowledging the weight and damage of colonialism, but refusing to be overcome by it, writing out prose, poems and lyrics with characters simply trying to exist as best as possible, even while in constant struggle. As she writes of the ongoing loss and disconnect that colonialism has created in the story “Doing The Right Thing”: “My territory is zero minutes from the sliding glass patio door hellhole I’m trapped in.”

Topic 11: Being a Writer Sucks

Writing actually sucks. Like you’re alone in your head for days on end, just wondering if you actually can die of loneliness, just wondering how healthy it is to make all this shit up, and just wondering if you did actually make this shit up, or if you just copied down your life or worse someone else’s life, or maybe you’re just feeding your delusions and neuroses and then advertising it to whoever reads your drivel. (“22.5 Minutes”)

There is both such a lightness and weight to her writing, often occurring in the same breath. Despite, and even through such difficulties, hers are passionate and intimate stories that hold to a foundation of hope and possibility, composed as much as a means of survival as one of optimism, writing out stories of love, human connection and disconnect against a backdrop of cultural oppression reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez or Milan Kundera.