Thursday, July 27, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Andrew Seguin



Andrew Seguin is a poet and photographer. He is the author of the poetry collection The Room In Which I Work (Omnidawn 2017), which was inspired by the life of photographic pioneer Nicéphore Niépce, and of two chapbooks, NN, and Black Anecdote. A former Fulbright Scholar in France, Andrew lives in New York City.

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?
Mostly not much, though it was a real affirmation of work and persistence, and risk-taking, because my first book was actually the third full manuscript I’d written. I had sent the other two around a lot, sometimes with solid leads, and I think that The Room in Which I Work follows naturally from those manuscripts, in that it synthesizes lyric poems with prose and documentary material. What’s different about it is I decided to force or allow all those things to cohabitate—with imagery too—and that the book is really devoted to someone else’s (Nicéphore Niépce’s) life.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
At the level of word and sound, I think. A natural love of language and a sense that it was an enormous forum for play—silly songs with my siblings, lots of nonsense language with friends. Then, in high school, being assigned to read Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and wanting to make a phrase like that, which could take on a subject as large as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

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?
It depends. The Room In Which I Work really happened in a year and a half, and that had to do, in part, with the duration of the grant I was on while writing it. But I do tend to generate a lot of material, and throw away a lot, and often that is with no project in mind. It’s only after a period of a year or two where I can say, “oh, I’ve been generating a lot of poems about X.” First drafts, for me, do often come close to their final shape, but I think that is also because I abandon a lot of drafts, and they are the rehearsals for the later, better draft, even if they are completely different poems.

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?
A poem for me begins with a line or phrase that occurs to me after having seen or felt something, and in sound and meaning it somehow has accuracy or mystery that needs to be investigated. I think of myself as more of a short-piece writer whose pieces accrete into a book, but the evidence points to the contrary: The Room in Which I Work was definitively a book project from its outset.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
They are neither part of nor counter, I would say. I don’t give a lot of readings, but I really enjoy them when I do, so maybe I should do more. There is something about being able to deliver the poems directly that is really important—the pacing, how I hear the poem in my head. And I have had moments of embarrassment in reading aloud a poem that maybe was not finished, and so knowing, really knowing, I had work to do on it. Embarrassment is a great revision tool, I think.

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?
No theoretical concerns, but lots of questions, both concrete and otherwise: How far can language be pushed to show me or make me (and by default others) feel something truthful and new? How do we make sense of our lives? Has anyone heard this before? What has value? Where are we going as a species? Where can the English sentence go? How much time does the earth have left? What’s the responsibility of consciousness? If it’s absurd to be here, what else is it?

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 think it’s the same as it always been: to expand and preserve the province of the imagination.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I have two very close readers that I’ve known and worked with for years now, and I find their feedback to be crucial in revising poems, and in testing out new modes and silly ideas. The value to me is clear: someone with more distance from the work can see things you can’t see.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My grandfather: “Let the knife do the work.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to photography)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s been easy and very natural, though I admit that is changing. I seem to be gravitating more towards writing these days, and am having a harder time making photographic work that I feel has any consequence, but I also know from past experience that that can change, depending on what ideas seize me. The appeal, I think, is in letting go of language when I’m working photographically, and having a purely visual vocabulary to employ. And my photographic work, because I work in a way that requires preparing paper and brushing on sensitizer, has an element of the hand in it, which carries an immensely pleasurable and meaningful feel that does not exist when writing. I think each genre affords me space from the other, and also lessons about the other.  

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I try to write something new every Friday morning, and then revise and tinker a bit over the weekend and throughout the following week. On a typical day, I get up at 6:10, make coffee, and read for an hour or so before I have to start my life.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Art, the cinema, and walking around. Visual representation is always provocative for me and helps generate poems. And then I sometimes have to reread a poem such as Wallace Steven’s “The Man on the Dump” to remind myself what it’s all about, or just stroll through the city and let things wash over me.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Baseball diamond dust.

14 - 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?
Visual art and movies, as I mentioned, and then travel. As of 2015 I have traveled regularly to Senegal for work, and my experiences there have inspired a lot of new poems: making sense—or acknowledging that trying to make sense is my default reaction, and perhaps not an appropriate one—of all the things that comprise a different culture.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
An incomplete list includes Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, WG Sebald, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf, Emily Wilson, Joseph Roth, Herman Melville, Susan Sontag, Gustaf Sobin, Bruce Chatwin, Pierre Michon, Basho, Buson, Issa, public signage, menus, the news …

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Live in a Spanish-speaking country so I can finally become fluent in the language.

17 - 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 would like to be a woodworker.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I never felt it was a choice. It was always what I wanted to do.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m giving two of each because their intake occurred almost simultaneously: the books were Splay Anthem by Nathaniel Mackey and The North Water by Ian Mcguire. The films were Aquarius and Toni Erdmann.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A new manuscript of poems.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Emily Ursuliak, Throwing the Diamond Hitch




Thickened spit clings to the bit and tries to drip, but stretches. The saliva necklace hanging from his horse’s mouth, a prize for the trip back, forty miles from the seismograph outfit. Stanley Burrell pulls out a package, bacon bound up, fat licks the paper wrapping darker. He passes it to his sister-in-law, Mrs. Burrell. She grasps his gift: the greasy cliché brought home. His coming now, a knot of luck in the rope that we blindly follow to learn the diamond hitch. Before he’d come, I asked our question, Mr. Burrell, his brother, unable to name any other, said only Stanley would know how to cross the lines, the knots to tie, for the diamond hitch.

Anne dissuades me from asking Stanley to teach us now. She says nothing when she spots me, darting forward, my mouth half-open to inquire. Our eyes meet and a slight shake of her head and that’s all that’s needed to keep me silent. The man is exhausted after all and the light is failing us anyway. The dusk stains its way up the trunks of the trees as we walk back to the buildings. We share his bunkhouse. Anne and I pile on the mattresses, Stanley lies on a bed of straw. He is the first to slip into dreams. First his breathing deepens, draws out in the length of its rhythms. Then the speaking starts, these soft mumbles Anne and I begin to listen for, interpreting his half-mouthed vowels. The two of us, too fascinated to sleep now, listening to all the odd things a man might say when dreaming. (“Two Kinds of Diamonds”)

Calgary poet Emily Ursuliak’s first trade poetry collection is Throwing the Diamond Hitch (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2017), one of the first two titles in a new poetry imprint produced by University of Calgary Press. In Throwing the Diamond Hitch, Ursuliak writes the 1951 road trip adventures of Phyllis and Anne, as she explains in the notes at the back of the collection:

Phyllis was my granny, and Anne was her best friend. The poems in this book are based on the travel diary they wrote during their 1951 ride. A few liberties have been taken here and there with some minor details, but the quotes accompanying the photographs are taken verbatim from the diary.

Phyllis and Anne remained lifelong friends. Whenever I saw them together it was like they were back in their twenties again, teasing each other and making quirky jokes. At my granny’s funeral, Anne spoke of their 1951 ride and what it had meant to both of them. At the time they told people they had wanted to buy horses, and wanted to take a horseback ride that lasted longer than a day. But Anne talked about how it was a last hurrah for both of them as single women before they settled down and got married. Anne said she hadn’t really known what she was in for when they left on the trip, but it gave her a deep sense of strength and independence that she drew from during her life.

Shifting between prose and lyric, diary entry and poem-sketch, Ursuliak combines fact and occasional fiction alongside archival photos, postcards, artifacts and direct quotations from her grandmother’s travel diary for an exploration of friendship and western adventure. Ursuliak writes her collection as a collage of individual moments and experiences along Phyllis and Anne’s journey, writing out less a linear narrative than a sequence of events, akin to a photo album of short sketches.

As well, there is something curious to the construction of her collection through poetry, as opposed to made into a novel, non-fiction title or play, yet including elements of fiction and theatrical performance that reads as a narrative, and could easily be adapted, say, into a staged production. This structure is reminiscent of those early works by Vancouver poet Michael TurnerCompany Town (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp, 1991), Hard Core Logo (Arsenal Pulp, 1993) and Kingsway (Arsenal Pulp, 1995)—all of which were originally produced as poetry titles, with the second of these, obviously, later adapted into a feature film (and subsequently a graphic novel). In an interview posted at Touch the Donkey, Ursuliak discussed the structure of the collection, writing: “I’m relentlessly attracted to the idea of narrative and it’s interesting for me to explore how I might tell a story through poetry as opposed to fiction.” In the end, the book exists as an intriguing portrait of these two fiercely independent women on an unlikely and unusual journey, portrayed through monologues and character sketches. Part of what fascinates through this collection is the multiple structures the book holds, suggesting a myriad of directions Ursuliak’s work could move in, subsequent to this. Could she write a play, a novel, a collection of lyric poems? Where might she go next?

Welcome to Banff

A CONVERSATION WITH A PARK WARDEN

you cannot camp anywhere but in a campground
you cannot bring your horses to the campground
you cannot leave the horses
you cannot leave
until we say you can


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?
Eucalyptus.    

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.