Milwaukee's Mitzvah Chaps does it again, under the aegis of (KU MFA) Robert J. Baumann. Coming soon: Animal Forms, words by Kiki Anderson, art by Madeleine Leplae. Anderson's poems: emotionally charged moments; economically rendered; precise details (to do so); hypotactic sentences, paratactic pages. Gorgeous colloquial language sculptures. Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia. Leplae's etching plates (say that out loud) are equally amazing: familiar animal forms; antique-modern; 19th c. neolithic. Gorgeous (also). Production values: make you want to own. Bravo Mitzvah.
Many thanks to the fabulous David Lazar for inviting me to join this discussion re: writing as present-progressive verb. You really must read David's new book, Occasional Desire, which, unlike most "creative nonfiction," is composed of essays - indeed, essays that are entertaining! He is also editor of the indispensable journal Hotel Amerika and is a Professor of English at Columbia College Chicago.
1.) What are you
That’s a rather pointed question to pose to a writer. What
the hell am I working on?
My “Big Project” is a trilogy of books about my mother’s
life and times (and a lot of other things besides, like history in general, US
in particular; time; gender; epistemology, etc etc). This is a follow up to my
last book, Things Come On (an amneoir)
[Wesleyan UP – now available in paperback! Woo-hoo!]
I’m also revising a poetry collection, working title: Extinction Canceling Button.
And I’m writing a book chapter about documentary poetry for
a critical collection on 21st c. US political poetry.
2.)How does your work differ from others of its
Uh . . . it doesn’t have one? It doesn’t even establish one. I’m
talking about this Big Project: it mixes and invents genres, uses whatever is
ready to hand. One volume is inspired (loosely) by scrapbooks; another, by the
archive; a third, by the newspaper. There’s verse, prose, dialogue,
reproductions, headlines, photographs in each.
In terms of content, you could say it’s
biograpahy/memoir/history. Indeed, the point is to think about those three
genres as mutually constitutive: a small life as a tour through a big history,
documentation merging with memory, all one text. The point is that you could
write a trilogy of books about anybody’s life. My mom wasn’t famous – though
she did work as Sen. Albert Gore’s secretary during the 1950s, which just makes
her a famous-person enabler. But that’s an interesting perspective: from the
wings. And doubly offstage, as a woman artist.
The poetry book is built around several voice-based serial
poems, broadly on the theme of schizotheology, in a neo-necro-pastoral mode. I
don’t think that’s ever been done before, do you?
The book chapter is, well, academic criticism. But it’s on a
topic that hasn’t gotten much ink. And I think criticism/theory can and ought
to be more interesting to read – more “creative” – and that’s what I’m moving
3.)Why do you write what you do?
Because I can’t help myself.
4.)How does your writing process work?
And does it? Another pointed question!
As to the Big Project: bricolage. “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF
CONTENT,” to which Olson adds “this possible corollary, that right form, in any
given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under
hand.” To me, that corollary sounds like “There is only and exclusively one
possible person for me, in all the whole wide world!” – a belief which has
diverted billions of dollars of capital into the pockets of divorce lawyers.
I got yr corollary right here: throw it against the wall and
see what sticks. But the writer has to do the throwing, even if she doesn’t use
any of her own words in the text. One chooses one’s content, and the more moving
parts, the more possible combinations.
If you’re working with existing texts, as I am, part of it has
to do with which of those texts seem most compelling. In Things Come On, it turned out to be hearing transcripts and a
medical chart – and those things largely suggested the structure of the book.
Likewise, using scrapbooks, archives, and newspapers as research sources
suggested broad structures for the others.
Then again, I’m revising the hell out of all of them. It’s
not like Michelangelo “finding” the form in the marble. It’s more like a potter
shaping something that’s in motion, in response to the shapes that are emerging
in her hands. And then collapsing it all and doing it again. That sounds more
organic than it is. But then all metaphors are.
As to the serial poems, I try to hew to Jack Spicer’s
injunction to listen to “The Outside” – that is, to try not to find the perfect
words to ex-press my inner truth, but rather to trust that I’m receiving something
more important as words come into my head. And I collect phrases, sentences,
etc. I have a “word collection” that I draw upon as the bricks for poemlets –
then I put in new words to form the mortar.
OK! Well, now that you’ve suffered through the warm-up
act, here are the headliners for Feb. 17:
TONY TRIGILIO’s newest books are The
Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood), Book 1 (BlazeVOX Books,
2014); White Noise (Apostrophe Books, 2013); and, as editor, Elise
Cowen: Poems and Fragments (Ahsahta Press, 2014). His other books
include the poetry collections Historic Diary (BlazeVOX, 2011) and The
Lama’s English Lessons (Three Candles Press, 2006); the chapbooks With
the Memory, Which is Enormous (Main Street Rag Press, 2009) and Make a
Joke and I Will Sigh and You Will Laugh and I Will Cry (Scantily Clad
Press, 2008); and two books of criticism, Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics
(Southern Illinois University Press, 2012) and “Strange Prophecies Anew”
(Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000). He is co-editor of the
anthology Visions and Divisions: American Immigration Literature, 1870-1930
(Rutgers University Press, 2008). He directs the program in Creative
Writing/Poetry at Columbia College Chicago and is a co-founder and co-editor of
Court Green. Tune in next Monday to Tony's website.
CARTWRIGHT’s poetry and prose poetry have
appeared in Sentence, The Stinging Fly, Parcel, and Midwestern
Gothic. He was awarded the Ana Damjanov Poetry Prize from the Academy
of American Poets, and won third place in the 2012 Atty Award poetry contest,
judged by Margaret Atwood. Ben records poets reading their work for his
Kansas Blotter poetry archive, and his recordings of the poets Kenneth Irby,
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Fred Moten have been added to the PennSound
archive. Ben lives in Topeka, Kansas, and teaches creative writing and
literature courses at the University of Kansas. Tune in next Monday to Ben’s Blog.
LEA GRAHAMis the author of the poetry book, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No
Tell Books, 2011). Her poems, translations and reviews have been published in Notre Dame Review, Southern Humanities
Review and Fifth Wednesday.She is a contributing editor for Atticus Review’s feature, “Boo’s Hollow,”
which showcases poets writing on place.She is an Associate Professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie,
New York. Her entry will appear on the Atticus Review web site (somewhere - stay tuned!).
Author of Things Come On: (an amneoir) (Wesleyan University Press’ poetry series, 2011), earth day suite (Beard of Bees Press, Dec. 2010), Of Some Sky (Bedouin, forthcoming), and Poetry and the Public (Wesleyan 2002).