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The cover of Bushnell's most recent poetry collectionMike Bushnell has been making Internet literature for years, and in 2007 he appeared as the force behind publishers Jaguar Uprising and Bore Parade. He also created an alter ego in the form of a professional wrestler called “The Industry,” with which he made promo videos wherein he wore his now-signature face paint and business suit as he screamed threats into the camera. Jaguar Uprising was a chapbook press as well as a sort of shock squad that challenged literary and Internet conventions, while Bore Parade specialized in parodies and tributes to the aesthetics of the publisher Bear Parade.

Austerity Pleasures, a 5.5” by 5.5” chapbook of 30 poems by James Payne, is now available via Monster House Press – a “not-for-profit, cooperative publishing house” – for $4.

My first interaction with James took place in the comments section of something I posted on The Nervous Breakdown and I remember initially feeling threatened by him and “like he was another intellectual shit-talker” whom I’d invariably meet IRL one day (via mutual friends) and feel uncomfortable around. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

After a period of time, James and I became good friends, appearing in Monster House Press’s first release, Assuming Size, together, doing readings together, doing drugs and getting drunk together, etc.

Austerity Pleasures struck me as a kind of literary advance, in that it seemed written in an aesthetically conventional, to some degree, manner, but dealt with content ranging from hierarchy to J Crew. I read and enjoyed it many times and plan on reading it more in the future.

Below is a Gmail chat interview I conducted with James.

10:22 PM
James: H’lo

10:23 PM
me: Whassup

James: Nothing too much, running around.
I woke up very late today so all of my to-dos had to be squeezed in very tightly.

me: Nice
What are your plans for the rest of the night?

10:24 PM
James: This interview, making buttons, painting a little bit, packing for tomorrow, and going to sleep.

10:25 PM
me: Sweet
Should I just start asking questions about your book?

10:26 PM
James: Yes, whatever you want to do.

me: Ok, I can’t stop thinking about how my mom came into my room ~5 minutes ago and said something about she ‘never actually said yes’ re me going to the Lil B concert tomorrow in a manner that implied that she didn’t want me going.

James: Haha.

me: I feel an ability to ‘move on’ now, after having typed that

James: Oh, the travails of family life.
She wouldn’t want you to miss out on the number one gay performer in the world.

me: I wrote unorganized questions in a notebook while reading Austerity Pleasures around the 3rd time I read it.  I was thinking about just picking random ones and asking.

10:28 PM
James: That is usually my journalistic approach as well.

me: Sweet.  I also have an introduction/short review written of the book, so we don’t have to talk about the basic things.  Like what it is.

James: Okay.

10:29 PM
So we can cut to the incisive questioning on specific word choices.
And questions about how my early childhood relates to my syntax, etc.

10:30 PM
me: Exactly.

10:31 PM
me: Were there any specific books that you focused on specifically in terms of style and/or content that had a large impact on how you chose to write and/or organize the poems in Austerity Pleasures?

10:37 PM
James: Yes and no. Basically Austerity Pleasures is the culmination of my first year of writing poetry. So I was running through styles and influences fairly quickly, and wrote ‘sets’ of poems that show strong influence of other writers. However, after a year of assorted writing, an extensive editing process, etc, I’m not totally sure if that is obvious. However, I have next to no formal training/background in poetry/creative writing, so some of these poems might be exactly like other things, without me realizing it.

That said…

I like Frank O’Hara. I think writing about contemporary art in poems is something you can’t do without doing him.

10:38 PM
I’m pretty sure that Tao’s writing / seeing him read and realizing that you could do ‘punk’ or ‘diy’ in literature and it could translate well led me to consider writing.

I’m not sure my poems are much like his.

10:39 PM
I think you and Richard and Ryan EIlbeck had the strongest influence on me.

Since the writing of my friends provoked me more than anything else.

And Matt Whispers I should say.

10:40 PM
There is a poem that is very clearly like a Brandon Scott Gorrell poem.

But I wrote it before reading his book.

me: I remember that.
I like that poem.
Where you listed the websites.
I like that.

James: I like Chelsea Martin a lot.
And the people writing short declarative sentence poems…

10:41 PM
And Jacques Prevert and Richard Brautigan.
That’s it really.
I have plebeian tastes.

10:42 PM
I should say that I wanted to write poetry because I didn’t know anything about it.
And that was freeing.

me: Interesting, can you elaborate?

10:43 PM
James: Sure. I initially went to school for painting and I work generally in museums and galleries. In constructing a visual image I am always constricted by the referents in my head – can’t do that, that’s a (this famous artist).

10:44 PM
And that knowledge can be paralyzing, as can knowing what your contemporaries are going to think of your work based on your shared education.

10:45 PM
I’ve read so many comics that if I was going to make a comic it would be anxiety-ridden, same with music I think.

10:46 PM
But I skipped the part of my life where I was supposed to read literature and become well-rounded, which I initially took as a fault but I began to see that as an opportunity as the business cliche would have it.

Poetry specifically was perfect since I could do it anywhere.

And for the year AP covers I was a transient.

So that was important, and offered me something that other art forms couldn’t.

10:47 PM
me: When, in your view, did you “start writing poetry?”

10:48 PM
James: The first poem I wrote was a fake rap hook I kept saying to fill up space.

me: How did it go?

James: “I’ve got so much money, I’m a bank.”

10:49 PM
with the “I’m a bank” repeated.
The first long poem I wrote was the Oh, O’Hare one.
That was January of 2010.

me: Damn.
The bank rap sounds good.

James: It’s not.

10:50 PM
me: lol

James: But I think it was already thematically what AP turned out to be.

10:51 PM
me: “I’ve got so much money, I’m a bank” or “Oh, O’Hare”?

James: Both.
The bank one is a pretty facile comment on the bail out.

10:52 PM
Oh, O’Hare satirizes privilege/upper-class and is about class conflict.

10:53 PM
But the “I’m a bank” one is interesting to me since it takes a social issue and turns it into a personification/personal identity thing.

me: Yeah.
James…bro…I feel like I’m going to throw up…

10:54 PM
Like, ‘out of nowhere’ I just started sweating really badly and feel like I’m going to puke.

James: lol
You should puke.
If you feel better I will be online.

me: I’m going to be near the toilet but will continue asking questions.

10:55 PM
James: Haha, okay.

me: The toilet bowl just hit my head.

10:56 PM
James: My answers are sort of stomach-turning.

me: lol
I am laughing

James: Is it the Lil B anxiety?

me: Hehe
Maybe.
Seems possible.

10:57 PM
One thing I thought would be interesting for the review would be if I sent you words/phrases that may or may not somehow pertain to Austerity Pleasures to enter into your Gmail inbox to search.

Do you have emails saved or archived somehow?

10:58 PM
James: Yeah, I have every email that isn’t junk since 2001 or something.

me: Sweet, do you feel interested in doing that?

James: What would I do after I search the term?

me: Tell me how many results there are.

10:59 PM
James: Ohhhh, okay.
Yes, I am intrigued.

me: “Panera”

11:00 PM
James: I see. I hope none for Panera.
The last place I went before I took the GRE was Panera.
I regret that decision.

me: Why?

11:01 PM
James: The sandwich made me quasi-sick, and I was over caffeinated.

me: Do you remember what sandwich you got?

James: Yes.
It had goat cheese.

me: Damn.

11:02 PM
James: I remember thinking, “goat cheese, at Panera?”
That’s what gets all of those New Albany parents in there.

me: That sounds funny.

James: Working on their vanity novels.

me: I have seen them before.

11:03 PM
The novel writing moms in Panera.

James: It’s a rich scene.

me: “Fleetwood Mac”

James: Goat cheese driven.

me: Rich goat cheese: a novel.

11:04 PM
James: I would read/eat that.
What about Fleetwood Mac?

11:05 PM
me: A phrase to search.

James: Ohh, should I be doing this now?
I will do it now.

me: Yes, ok.

James: Somehow only 4.
And one is this chat.

11:06 PM
me: “American Apparel”

James: Another is a survey for a focus group.
6
2 are Microcosm emails.
Another is an email to myself with notes for an essay I never finished.

11:07 PM
me: I feel interested in reading the essay or notes if you’d be willing to share them.

James: Called “Radical normalcy.”

11:08 PM
Radical Normalcy is not the “Radical Center.”
Radical Normalcy is not an ideology but a tactic.
Radical Normalcy is the purging of inessentials.
Radical Normalcy cements expression.
5 RN is
5 RN is not
5 Paragraphs + Foot notes.

Malcolm X, Jehovah Witnesses, Their thoughts / actions, Thoughts and actions instead of slogans and signifiers, no labels, no references, no style, Against “Get Decked” – mainstreaming of hair dye, piercings, American Apparel’s style change and incipient bankruptcy as “before its time”, true subversions, neither norms nor hipsters ready for it, Americans think creativity begins and ends with clothing, like politics with bumper stickers, our life is in the quartier des spectacles, not, print culture, written arguments remain, vestments/investments/invested interests, brick lane plimsoles, Woody Allen.

I think I have a more written out version somewhere else.

I wrote that walking around in Montreal.

11:09 PM
The basic idea is that people should look as boring as possible so the only way to judge them is on their ideas/expressions.

Because clothing is short hand for that, a lot of people never have to develop their ideologies further than their clothes.

11:10 PM
Also, that looking normal is a tactic taken by radical activist groups / radical religions.

I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I think that plays into it.

But how immaculate Malcolm X always looked, for instance.

11:11 PM
So you couldn’t use ad hominem arguments against his appearance to denigrate his ideas.
A N Y W A YZ

me: “666″

James: 3

11:12 PM
One is from Austin Eilbeck’s phone number.

me: How many emails total do you have saved or archived?

James: 4019

me: Interesting.

11:13 PM
“Tao Lin”

James: I keep them so someone can write my biography one day. J/k not j/k.
6.

me: That is a good idea.

James: Mostly in emails with Cassandra.

11:14 PM
me: “I’m” “drunk”

James: I have 31 for that.
lol

me: “I’m going to kill myself”

James: 1 – just this conversation.
Strange.

James: Maybe I usually text people that.

me: I am laughing.
One thing I was wondering about in AP was how you chose when to use line breaks?

James: Funny you ask.

Well.

My first drafts of all of those poems, it was entirely intuitive, without any idea of how anyone ever decided that – or even recognizing it as a real issue.

Later I edited the poems to be somewhat like how I would read them.

I don’t fuck with metrical feet or any of that, mostly because I’m horribly ignorant.

But when I sent the final edit to Richard, something happened, and so the line breaks in about half the poems in AP are exactly like how they ideally would be to me, and about half are different than my ideal.

11:19 PM
I think my .doc file did something different when he opened it, at it was on our deadline, so he sort of felt it out.

I think 1/3rd to 1/2 are affected.

me: Damn, interesting, how do you feel/what do you think about that?

11:21 PM
James: I think there is only a poem or two where I think it matters, I generally embrace the results of the exigencies of creative things.

11:22 PM
Like.
My line breaks don’t make sense to begin with.
So even if they were all different, I doubt it would matter to the reader.

11:23 PM
But a lot of the poems are exactly how I want it to be and I’m sure make no sense or are very annoying to read to people with creative writing educations.

me: Interesting.
I personally enjoyed it.

11:24 PM
I think.

James: Poems like ‘Cloudberry Jam,’ ‘Trop Moderne Lovers,’ or ‘Bushwick, NYC’ are not things that can be put down to any methodology.

It’s like outsider art… or something, or I imagine it to be the equivalent.

11:25 PM
Well people who are educated on a subject generally like their educations to remain relevant.
They don’t like to see things change.
I think that is the main reason for the blowback to Tao Lin, for instance.

me: Interesting, I think I agree.

11:26 PM

James: There are things that are safe and are products of a tradition, generally an exclusive one that is divided along lines of class and education, and there are things people are making because they are making it and their friends find it valuable to their lives.

11:27 PM
The academy takes like 30 years to catch up, usually as those artists/writers are dying.

Not that that concerns me, but I do think that is happening to Tao.

There is no real reason that he should have been excluded from that New Yorker list for instance.

11:28 PM
me: I agree.

11:30 PM
I am enjoying your responses.

11:31 PM
How often have you been doing drugs recently?

James: I have been “super sober” recently.

It sucks.

I’m incredibly poor right now, and I don’t have any friends in Chicago.

me: I’m sorry.

11:32 PM
Do you hang out with Matt Whispers?

James: We went on tour recently together.

11:33 PM
He’s great. It was a treat to hear his poems each night.

I think in Chicago you can know 40-50 people and never see them.

And I think Matt would agree with that.

11:34 PM
me: While writing poems for AP, did you write them with the context of a poetry collection in mind?

James: Not really.

11:36 PM
I was publishing poems in different things, and writing poems for different things, and generally just enjoying making them.

Then I wanted to collect them, and I thought I was going to collect them under the title “Us Out of North America”

And then I thought maybe two collections…

11:37 PM
But then I just made Austerity Pleasures, which was a good idea.

Because I could have really even cut that in half too.

It isn’t exactly an integrated whole…

If that’s what you’re asking.

11:38 PM
me: Yeah.

James: I picked poems that seemed thematically appropriate and then Monster House Press picked the goodies and that was that.

I presented them with 40 poems and they picked 30.

me: Interesting

11:39 PM
Bro, I’m sorry, I’m feeling pretty sick and want to try to sleep so I can wake up for school tomorrow. Can I just email you a few more questions tomorrow?

James: Yeah, sounds good.

me: Ok cool.

James: I hope you feel better.

me: Thank you, good job.
Thank you.

James: Have fun in Columbus.

11:40 PM
me: Thank you.

James: Sorry I write a lot! You’ll have to edit this a bit I think.

me: I will, don’t be sorry
Good job.
Goodnight.

James: I think it’s partly because I am drinking Modelo and I never drink anymore.
Night!

* * *

me: Hey, one second.

3:02 PM
James: Okay.
5 minutes

3:07 PM
me: Ok, sorry about that.

3:08 PM
James: It’s okay.

me: How is your mother’s day so far?

James: Awful.
Personal turmoil.
I had to ask my mother for a loan yesterday, that was my Mother’s day gift.

me: Damn, lol, I’m sorry.

3:09 PM
I think there are only a few more questions/things I want to ask and talk about.

James: Okay.

3:10 PM
me: I also wanted to ask whether you would prefer reading it unedited, the interview, or if you’d rather read it edited, to some degree, in a more conventional ‘interview format.’

3:11 PM
I can’t decide whether to publish it unedited or ‘extract the juice.’

James: Edit it.

me: Ok.

James: Extract the juice.
Edit my answers too, they are long and mostly boring.

me: Ok, sounds good.

3:12 PM
Would you rather be able to fly, become invisible, or both but inevitably die at age 30?

3:15 PM
James: I don’t really know what I would do with either. I don’t know. I guess I could monetize either.

me: lol, yeah.
What is the last ‘major motion picture’ you watched and enjoyed?

3:17 PM
James: I watched, this is embarrassing, but that Howl movie.

me: That is funny
That is the most recent thing you watched and enjoyed.
What are your thoughts re Allen Ginsberg?

3:18 PM
James: The most recent thing I enjoyed was the two season of Pulling.

3:19 PM
I like Ginsberg in small amounts. I think it’s a little annoying at times.

me: Interesting re “it’s.”

3:20 PM
That seems…I keep thinking of aphorisms re works of art and the people who create them and thinking about posters at school.

3:21 PM
James: Yeah, he had a shtick I think, people indulge in sometimes, Ginsbergian.
You could slap him on a poster and make some college Freshmen bucks.

me: I am laughing.

3:22 PM
What else are you involved in besides writing and literature?

3:23 PM
James: Um.
Currently I am involved in trying to stitch my life together.
Artwise…
I don’t know.

3:24 PM
I make visual art sometimes. I blog. I used to be in some bands. I used to book shows. I occasionally curate art shows.

3:25 PM
me: What specifically are you doing to “stitch your life together”?

3:26 PM
James: Moving away from a failed relationship, trying to make rent, always applying for and being turned down by jobs and schools and residencies and internships and grants.

It’s been a rough year.

3:27 PM
Very transient/unstable. I think a lot of Austerity Pleasures is about that.

3:28 PM
me: Damn.

3:29 PM
James: I have to move back to Columbus currently.

me: Do you want to?

James: I don’t know what is going to happen.

No.

I wanted to live with my girlfriend and go to school in Chicago.

3:30 PM

me: Damn, I’m sorry bro.

3:31 PM
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about AP or anything else?

3:32 PM
James: Did we talk about the Monster House Press end of it?
Like the process of making it? I think that is important.
Maybe we already did.

me: I will check, one second.

3:33 PM
It doesn’t look like we talked about it
Do you want to type some things about it now?

James: Yes.

me: Ok, sweet.

James: I met Richard and Ryan Eilbeck at The Dube when I was visiting Columbus.

3:34 PM
I asked what they were publishing next after Assuming Size.
I said I had something ready to go (though it wasn’t really, I thought it was).

3:44 PM
Richard looked at millions of edits of this thing, as did everyone in the collective. They whittled it down into shape, and picked the order of the poems in the book. Jack Ramunni and I and Richard did the cover, Richard and Jack did the interior design work, and I sent edit after edit back to them, probably being very annoying.

It came down to a buzzer beater, which was the Chicago Zine Fest, but they managed to print copies and bring them. I think the whole process took 3 months.

3:45 PM
There are copies left and they can be ordered through MHP’s website. They are releasing Josh Kleinberg’s chapbook next.

me: Sweet
I think I have enough things to use to make an interview.

3:48 PM
Thank you, I’ll talk to you later bro, have a good day.

3:49 PM
James: Alright
1 Byeza
Thanks for doing this.

 

Karla Kelsey knows a good poem when she sees one. She also knows a thing or two about writing them. Last year she published her second book, Iteration Nets, (her first book, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary, won her the Sawtooth Poetry Prize with Ahsahta Press) and she is also the editor of  The Constant Critic. In addition, she finds time to edit Reconfigurations, an online journal of poetry and poetics, and is also on the editorial board of Tarpaulin Sky. She created Imprint Press, a project devoted to book arts, which publishes limited edition artists’ books, and is on the creative writing faculty at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. During spring of 2011, she will be teaching at ELTE in Budapest as a Fulbright lecturer.

Recently, Karla and I found some time to talk via email about her latest book, writing and reviewing, and her experience at Denver University.

AS: Let’s talk about the premise of Iteration Nets. This work is a collection of varied forms (traditional and otherwise) of connected sonnets and prose poems. Tell me how this idea for this structure came about.

KK: The book’s improvisation with the sonnet form traces to several sources. The most immediate source was a course on the sonnet that I took while working on my PhD at Denver. Here we looked at the tradition of the English-language sonnet spanning from the first sonnets in English—which were translations of Petrarch—through the cannon, and out to radical innovations with the form such as Jen Bervin’s Nets, a text that erases Shakespeare’s sonnets. The course opened up the form for me (and, in fact, the whole idea of form), in an incredible way. I realized that, all along, the sonnet, which seemed to embody Tradition (with a capital “T”), had always been a conversation between innovation and tradition—and I wanted to participate. During this course I started working on the first section of Iteration Nets, which is composed of 19 sonnets that weave lines of other writers’ texts with loose sound translations of those lines. While working on these poems I began the second section of the book—19 prose poems which are expansions of the first poems. And then, when these two sections were absolutely complete and revised I wrote the third and last section of the book, which is an erasure of the second section. All in all the process took two or three years and spanned my time finishing graduate school in Denver and then moving to Pennsylvania, which became, itself, part of the book.

A less immediate source, and so perhaps more interesting, is my background in ballet, which I studied ardently from the age of 4 until about 18. I have always been fascinated with the creation and transmission of choreography. The result is something that we feel is fixed—and in the context of ballet we feel the result to be the epitome of tradition. But the process is continual innovation. Ballets often take their source from story, but the way the work develops is in collaboration with a composer (if temporally possible) and with the dancers themselves as the choreographer tries out different patterns, bringing the work into being through the dancers. The way choreography is disseminated is that it is brought to other companies (or brought back within the same company after years—decades—of silence) by dancers, choreographers, and directors who have performed the work before. Ballets are rarely written down, and if they are, the written text is necessarily sketch-like, only a framework. The real essence of the work resides within the bodies of the dancers and directors who have worked with the ballet and the work is passed on by showing, by doing. I feel great kinship with this compositional tradition and like to think of Iteration Nets, in its intertexutal elements, in its tensions between tradition and innovation, in its conversation with form, as a written embodiment of such a process.

 

Tell me about your research process for this book. What was it that inspired you in terms of voice/style, etc., in terms of influence?

Celia and Louis Zukofsky’s translation of Catullus acts as continuous inspiration for me. Their translation works to render the sound, rhythm and syntax of Catullus’s Latin into English, but also manages to pick up the sense. Engagement with their text not only delivers an unparallel sonic experience, but it also throws into question my assumptions about where meaning resides, for perhaps the anchor of meaning is this constellation of sound, rhythm, and syntax. And if one can anchor English in the same sounds, rhythms, and syntax as the Latin, the meaning then would follow, coming out of the very fibers of the language. This kind of translation is of course an impossible task, which makes it all the more exciting to me. The first section of Iteration Nets takes its engine absolutely from this process.

The other writer who continually influences me is Ronald Johnson. In Iteration Nets it is RADIOS, his erasure of Milton’s Paradise Lost that informs my work. I met Ronald Johnson’s work in one of my very first poetry-writing classes at UCLA. I was studying Paradise Lost when Stephen Yenser, my poetry teacher, brought in Johnson’s erasure. I was astounded at the way in which Johnson had created something completely different in texture and voice than the original text. While Milton’s syntactical and rhetorical work was a revelation to me in many ways, Johnson’s lyric arc was equally as revelatory. And I have always loved the fact that the Milton is there underneath—just as Zukofsky’s Catullus absolutely has Catullus’s Catullus underneath. This feels so resonant to how writing happens, to how being happens—always a palimpsest.

As you can tell from my responses, much of the book comes from reading, from being inside other texts. The path to these texts has most often been dependent on the teachers and peers I have met through writing programs, and now in a broader community of poets, many of whom I would not know about if I had not studied poetry in school. Of course there is always the complaint that writing programs might be ruining poets and poetry, and while there may be ways that this is so, I know that I would never have been able to learn about poetry without my path through higher education (and yes, I am sort of a “pure product” having done a BA with a philosophy and English double major and creative writing emphasis at UCLA, an MFA at Iowa, a PhD at Denver, and now I teach in a program at Susquehanna University that has an undergraduate creative writing major). I think I read one poem in high school (something by ee cummings, surely) and so how would I ever have been exposed to poetry without what people disdainfully call “the institutionalization of creative writing?” In the US we cart our kids to ballet and band but offer no place for poetry. I am currently in Budapest for the semester, teaching creative writing, and you probably know that not many European countries have creative writing classes or programs. But they have poets. How can this be? Well, for one, Hungarian culture includes poetry. In addition, there is a strong tradition of mentorship, wherein older poets form one-on-one relationships with younger poets, teaching them tradition and craft outside of any sort of institution. I like this idea, but it also bothers me that many of these relationships seem based on family connections—on whether or not your relatives are in the position and inclination to know people in the arts. This may be OK if your culture supports the arts and so each creative child is likely to have at least one adult to help her cultivate his or her inclinations. But, I know that in the US, many of my finest students absolutely do not have relatives interested in any of the arts whatsoever. The arts, according to such relatives, are a waste of time and money. What a shame if poetry was closed to these students, because we decided that academia was “ruining” it, and so they never read such a thing as a contemporary poem, let alone wrote one.


Your publisher, Ahsahta, published your last book, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary. What has that experience been like?

Working with Ahsahta has been remarkable and I could not ask for a better experience. Not only is Janet Holmes a wonderful editor and promoter, but she also has endless patience and genius when it comes to typesetting. The first book has some really long lines and it is important that they not wrap, but rather span margin to margin, creating tensile space. Before she set the book I suggested to her that I would revise the lines so that they would fit into the width of the page. But instead, she was able, with that book, to make the pages wider. The willingness to do this in spite of the extra expense of both design time and money just blew my mind. Iteration Nets was even more of pain to deal with. I thought I was being smart when I wrote the second and third sections of the book using In Design because I wanted the text of the second section to literally underlie the third, which is an erasure of the second. I knew that unless I wrote the book in In Design that margins, etc, would shift, upsetting the spatial movement of the erasure. Despite my good intentions, though, Janet had to reset the whole thing because I really didn’t know what I was doing with In Design. She was enormously patient both with this task and with my endless tweaking after the text was set.


Do you find the process of finding and working with a publisher via a contest different than that of  submitting work to various places for consideration?

Both of my books have been published by Ahsahta and I felt that Janet gave just as much attention to Iteration Nets as she did to the prize-winner. And other than these books, I don’t really have the experience of submitting to various places and working with other editors except with the chapbooks, which came about in a different way. One thing I can say, though, is that winning a prize and having a book published feels like double-affirmation. Not only had Carolyn Forché liked my work enough to select it, but Ahsahta thought it worth publishing. It is really rare to feel such enormous affirmation from complete strangers, and so it was an extraordinary way to have my first book come out.


The structure of this book is of particular interest to me. I am in the process of deciphering order and structure to my first book, so I’m curious to know how you chose the compositional method used in Iteration Nets.

The structure of Iteration Nets was less of a choice, and more a consequence of process set into motion. I began with the first section of sound and translation-driven sonnets. As I worked on these poems, possible trajectories of what might come between the lines and phrases kept announcing themselves. For example, the first sonnet begins: And suddenly we were in it and it was snow. What is this “it”? Life? Love? And what about snow? So suddenly we were in the middle of love, but it is already winter, already over? I began writing the prose poems of the second section out of these trajectories, and worked on the first and second sections together. I don’t know when I had the idea of the third section. I feel as if the idea of erasure just came to me, although when I was working on the first two sections I was always aware that the book had so much density. That it needed a bit of light. This is probably why, when I came to the erasure idea it felt inevitable, that of course one proceeds by addition and then proceeds by subtraction. With both of my books the sense of texture was of primary importance in figuring out the structure of the book, although with Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary the poems were finished before I ordered the book (or, rather, they were originally in a different order). With Iteration Nets, the structure was part and parcel with composing the poems themselves. Attention to density, weight, tensility, space (etc) fundamentally creates a path through the text for readers.


Each movement is divided into three sections. First: Sonic Packet Enclosures–the notes on your process in your book say it’s derivative of Wyatt and Surrey’s 16th century rendering of Petrarch’s Italian into English—into process. What about that process inspired you?

The fact that the sonnet, in the English language, comes to us from a tradition of translation affirms for me the idea that everything we create comes from some place else. As Spicer channeled alien muses, the sonnet channels a series of formal movements and revisions. As we know so very well, there is no such thing as a perfect translation, and so in the act of moving Italian over to English Wyatt and Surrey had to improvise with the form. These innovations infuse their own sonnets and the rest of the English-language tradition. In addition, I find resonance in the fact that both poets translated many of the same sonnets, and so something like Tottel’s Miscellany, the first printed anthology of English-language poetry, in which their translations and original work appeared, had two versions of the same poem. This speaks to an openness to plurality of meaning that I think many people today would balk at.

The second movement, Riven Arc Explosions takes with it the complexities of form in the first movement and opens that up into prose poems. Your narrative expands to incorporate elements of the first movement. When you wrote Iteration Nets, was this your idea from the beginning (in terms of structure) or did it evolve as you figured out how to put all the elements of your book together?

The idea to move into prose poems in the second section came to me fairly early on in the process. Because my first book is also tripartite in structure, I think that I began the project suspecting that the Iteration Nets would also have three movements, a kind of “Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand.” The content of the second section, however, is very much a product of life as I was living it. In this way the section evolved as I did and includes moments from lived-life: a cousin’s wedding, a grandmother’s illness, a dinner party, the exploration of a new town, a new landscape, and many other small, daily details. The process of writing the second section made me very aware of the value of the daily and I feel huge influence of, for example, Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day. Although, of course, her project is temporally circumscribed, and my project works with very different formal parameters. And so one of the challenges of working on a temporally extended project of place-based writing, and the writing of the everyday, is that your life might change in the middle of the book, as mine did, when I moved from Denver to Pennsylvania. And then, as author, you need to figure out ways in which the project can maintain integrity which is the same as asking yourself what it is about you that has remained the same, even when many of the daily aspects of your life have become completely different. We all take some sort of form or structure with us and we might call this identity. The structure of the book absolutely gave the process continuity, and I know a looser form of prose poem would have lost this.


Your third movement: Fragile Ladder Barques really focuses on fragmented structure by way of blank spaces and leaving out connective tissue of narrative. This section reminds me of Cecilia Vicuna’s style of erasure and maybe even Loy. How difficult was this portion of the book for you compared to the first two movements, if at all?

This association with Cecilia Vicuna actually helps me to explain the difference in compositional experience because making the third section of the book was very trance-like and I felt that I was in relation with language in a different way than I ever had been before. The words became very material in their location on the page and in their sound. The path that I made through the text felt more directed by the language than by me. It made the decisions and drove the poem. My job was to be as clear-headed as possible and to obey. While there is always some resonance of this as I write, the process of writing Fragile Ladder Barques absolutely made me an instrument carrying out some other plan. In many ways working on the section felt close to being part of one of Vicuna’s performances. I remember, in particular, the beginning of one of her performances in Denver. She began walking through the audience, weaving us together with red yarn while softly singing/chanting. As she made her way through us I felt inevitably connected to her and to everyone else in the room. I felt my mind channeled into the energy she was creating.

 

Talk about your experience at Constant Critic and how you choose the work you review there? How important is a review to the success of a book in your eyes?

On one hand, reviewing might seem to be very generous work: spending time and energy on the work of a book that somebody else has written. However, editing and writing for the Constant Critic is compelling to me in very selfish ways. First, it allows me to engage the ideas and writing of the other critics who write for the site. Jordan Davis, Ray McDaniel, Vanessa Place, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee all have wonderful minds and I have learned so much from them about poetry—and about thinking through and with poetry. So, the main reason I value working with the Constant Critic is that I get to have an on-going dialogue with these writers about writing. Nearly all of our reviews are essays that reach beyond a simple descriptive or evaluative articulation, and this is fundamental to the reason the site offers something different, and much more rare, than much of the review-based criticism being written today.

In terms of selecting books to review, I am also completely selfish in this regard. I review what I am interested in. I review what I am instantly drawn to read but can’t immediately figure out. I review work that I would love to have written, in some capacity, or that troubles me in its mode of articulation. Many people would think this to be the wrong way of going about reviewing: that one ought to select texts one has some sort of immediate authority over, or that the reviewer thinks will be important to the future. And that readers will then value the criticism because such-and-such reviewer, with such-and-such authority, has pronounced X, Y, and Z about them. I reject this notion for myself as critic. I am too skeptical about the role of the “Culture Maker” that this model implies. Also, this mode does not interface very well with the texts that I value—they eschew such authority. I am much more interested in writing and reading criticism that shows the mind at work with difficult and mysterious art—that offers an example of the kind of attention one might bring to a text—than I am interested in reading or writing criticism that pronounces or becomes didactic. I am interested in analyzing the cultural forces that institute gate-keeping, but I am not interested in a position on the patrol.


What was your experience like working for DQ with Bin Ramke? And in general? Do you feel that time as an editor for the magazine helped you have a keen eye as a reviewer? Do you feel like your own work changed as a result of that position?

While my writing and thinking absolutely changed as a result of working with Bin, the transformations and revelations were mostly due to long talks over coffee and to engaging with the community of writers who are drawn to DU for the express purpose of working with someone like Bin. However, working with him on the Denver Quarterly did teach me many things. Mostly the instruction was towards aspects of the “poetry world” such as AWP and publishing—things I knew almost nothing about. Here is an example: when I began at the Denver Quarterly I had the usual tasks of sorting and opening mail, of reading through the slush pile. Bin taught me to always paperclip submissions such that the poems were first and the letter and envelope were last—this way I could read the work for what it was, rather than through the author’s name and accomplishments. He taught me that care should be taken with all manuscripts, even the ones that were clearly (very clearly) not going to be published. As a result of this instruction, I remember distinctly feeling that the poems had value because their writers had written them and sent them off into the world and that this value was something to be honored irrespective of the quality of the work. For a young graduate student, overly-willing to dismiss work that did not align with her aesthetic or uncompromising sense of “quality” (and so young and with much to be learned), this ethic of manuscript care was something that (luckily) impressed itself upon me. I needed to learn that dismissal is easy, but the how and the why is often complex. And, imagine my joy when I read a beautiful submission that was clearly typed on a typewriter and then discovered after reading the poems several times that my suspicions were correct: I was holding Gustaf Sobin’s work in my hands. Through the slush pile. “Just” “like” “everyone” “else.” Though not really, because the poems were luminous. Brilliant. They made themselves distinct from the other work. And so, yes, each of us who makes a poem is engaged in a related act. But, also, there are poems–and there are Poems. And so which kind do you want to strive to write? Which kind do you think are worth sending out into the world, to make their own way?

I met Emma Trelles more than twenty years ago, a fact that simultaneously amazes and depresses me. We were both members of an informal workshop run by the wonderful writer John DuFresne. Every Friday afternoon, Emma and I would ditch our day jobs and drive up to Florida International University and sit on a patio with a bunch of other wannabes and try to figure out how to make our bad decisions go away.

Emma must have been writing prose back then. But she was clearly another species -– an observer of the hidden signs, impractical and heartbroken, prone to brief bouts of song. A poet, I mean.

I had no idea how good a poet she was, though, until a few weeks ago, when her debut, Tropicalia arrived in my life. I’m on record as a bad poet, but I happen to be a good judge of the stuff, by which I mean that I recognize its essential mission, which is to reintroduce us to ourselves by reintroducing us to the English language.

Emma does this over and over in Tropicalia.

I spent about a happy week trying to figure out which lines to quote. I finally settled on these three, for no other reason than their devastating simplicity:

I keep asking if he’ll try and find me
after we leave this world, in the next place
whatever shining white nothing that entails

I’m sorry, but no one who’s ever been in love hasn’t hankered after this same mystery.

Emma generally works double shifts during National Poetry Month, but she was kind enough to answer a few questions for an old friend, on behalf of The Nervous Breakdown.


Let me start with the mushy stuff: Tropicalia blew me away. I knew you’d gotten better as a poet, but reading the book I got that strange I’ve come to think of as awenvy –- half awe, half envy. The thing that impresses me the most, though, is your patience. The poems here took a long time to reach. Was there ever a point where you were like: Ugh, this is taking too long. I give up.

I definitely felt like it was taking too long. Writing poetry, by its very amalgamating nature, is an art that requires as much dreaming as doing. But I went to work as a journalist right out of grad school. And that’s a devouring job. The only time you’re not working is when you’re sleeping. But I never considered giving up on writing poems. When I wasn’t, I was reading or thinking about them. I made little random notes, sometimes in the margins of my reporter’s notebook, which was the idea behind one of the poems in the book. Even just one  beautiful word or a lyrical phrase reminded me that I was also a creative writer, that I was once an artist and that I would be again.


I love that the book has an overt morality. One of my favorites was “Letter to the Right,” in which you write:

America, I don’t remember who you belong to
Even when I’ve smiled and said thanks, I’ve really meant shut up.

What I admire so much is the sense of sorrow and bewilderment you’re able to put across. It’s not a sermon, so much as a lamentation.

I wrote that around the time the health care debates were raging, and all that incredible bullshit about death panels was playing on right-wing television as if it was actually real. Alleged news outlets and commentators just pimping their lies with no remorse. It made me sick. I literally couldn’t sleep. One morning I got up feeling helpless and I remembered that I could always write a poem and that act might be my only weapon against demagoguery. Except for a word choice or line break, the poem pretty much appears as I first wrote it. I think I had been collecting some of its images in my mind for quite a while.


So you’re a first generation Cuban-American, and the book has several gorgeous poems about Cuban culture. But what interests me the most is how your family feels about your work. Do they get what you’re up to?

My family rules. My husband is a musician and a bookstore manager and my brother is an art director. Both of them support me in myriad ways, from reading my work to designing event flyers to simply cheering me on at my readings. And my mother is my crazy number one fan. She has a file stashed somewhere with newspaper cuttings, or even printouts, of everything I’ve ever written. I hope she’s not passing that thing around at parties.


You’ve got some amazing poems about what it’s like to be a reporter, the crushing artifice of seeing the world in that way. I’m thinking specifically about “Reporter’s Notebook,” which is written as a kind of news story gone awry. Please tell me you turned it in to some unsuspecting city editor.

Steve, that makes me laugh because I have no doubt you brought all kinds of little surprises to your own editors over the years. There is a part of that poem that was indeed the lede to a feature story I wrote when I was the art critic at a newspaper. My editor at that time, the blessedly cultured Robin Berkowitz, emailed me saying the beginning reminded her of a Tennyson poem. Can you imagine that? At a daily! Of course, it stayed with me, and a few years later when I wrote the poem, I worked in some of his lines from “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal.”


You write about music a lot, so I think you need to talk about your own work as a musician. Also, for bonus points, please explain what “noise music” is to the John Mayer fans.

Does anyone listen to John Mayer? I have been a big music fan (and snob) for many years now and I used to write a lot about local music. Eventually I wrote about Ed Artigas, a guy who ran an indie label down here and played music in great bands like Bling Bling and Map of the Universe. Ed convinced me to start a band with two other women. Even though I didn’t know how to play, I thought, why not? So I played a rather shitty bass, sang, and wrote songs. We performed at all the music holes in town, at a few festivals, and even in Austin. When our guitar player left the band, we asked another musician we adored to play with us. I wound up marrying him.

Noise music may be defined as a collaboration of instruments and players without any rehearsal, predetermined composition, or any inclination at blending sound or melody. A driving principle might include chaotic assaults on the inner ear, which, in turn, can cause auditory kinds of hallucination. Noise music is freaking loud and it hurts and the only people that can abide listening are the ones playing it.


The poem “Lorca Is Green” astonished me. Was he the poet who made you want to be a poet?

Lorca is one of the poets who keeps me writing and learning my craft. I read “Poem of the Deep Song” at least once a year. There’s always someone I come across at just the right time who rescues me from my own thinning language or subject matter; when I first started writing seriously, I was bowled over by Denis Johnson, Toni Morrison, James Wright, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. But there are a lot of factors that went into me wanting to be a poet: my friendships with musicians and artists, my evergrowing obsession with birds and the natural world. I grew up in South Florida, and as a girl, I drafted poems in my head whenever we visited the beach. I wanted to describe the ocean, the light, the sound of gulls and water slapping the bow of our boat. It was my way of remembering.


When I first met you, too many years ago, you were working for an insurance company (I think). As a poet, how do you make ends meet?

I forgot about that. I had a lot of dispiriting business jobs before I started writing. It literally changed my life. I pretty much make a living the same way I have for years now: writing articles, features, and reviews, editing, teaching, really whatever is tied to language. Juggling all these jobs takes effort and a sort of patchwork, faith-based approach to money, which is not an easy thing for a daughter of immigrants, or for anyone. But if you want the freedom to make art, you have to give up some security.  And, I might add, that this kind of toil all goes back into the same well from which my creative work comes.  I’m pretty much living and breathing letters.


What’s next?

Another book of poems, a book of non-fiction.  More writing and reading. As I type this I see it sounds monotonous, but it so isn’t. Writing is all about discovery, and in this way, it reminds me of hiking, especially through unfamiliar trails and woods.  I love wondering what comes next.


***

 



Emma Trelles is the author of Tropicalia, winner of the 2010 Andres Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame Press, February 2011). She is also the author of the chapbook Little Spells (GOSS183) and the editor of OCHO: The Travel Issue and MiPOesias Magazine’s American Cuban Issue. She has been a featured author at the Palabra Pura reading series at the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago and at the Miami Book Fair International. Her work has appeared in publications such as Verse Daily, Gulf Stream, 3 AM Magazine, Poets and Artists, Newsday, the Miami Herald, the Sun-Sentinel, and Organica. She is a regular contributor to the Best American Poetry blog; read her rambles here.



Eric Norris is a New York poet, born in Buffalo, and educated in Boston. After studying astrophysics, archaeology, and acting, he settled down to pursue English at Boston University, with a minor in Classics, Latin language and literature. Although he has been writing poetry for twenty years, only within the last three years did he begin submitting his poems for publication. Then all Hell broke loose. Terence, his first book, is not a book of poems, but a love letter to A.E. Housman, author of A Shropshire Lad, humanist, editor of Manilius and Juvenal, and perhaps the most feared and formidable scholar of the 20th Century. Encouraged by Housman, who published A Shropshire Lad at his own expense in 1896, and by the example and success of his friend, and fellow New York poet, Jee Leong Koh, author of Equal to the Earth, and founder of Bench Press, Eric has published Terence, with two other books (one co-written with poet, lyricist, editor, Tom of Finland model and former pornstar, Gavin Dillard) planned for release later this year. The landscape of publishing is changing. The way we connect to one another is changing. The old authorities are dying. New ideas are everywhere. We are re-thinking who we are as writers, as poets, as people—from the ground up. In the following interview, Eric discusses what shape our Renaissance may take and how we can bring our discoveries to the world.


Q: Terence is being officially released today. What is the premise behind the book?


A: Terence asks two very basic questions. What makes us human? What makes us different? I do not think Terence answers these questions. But Terence does pose them to the reader, I hope, in an entertaining way. They are two of the most important questions we can ask. The reader must arrive at his own conclusions.

Q: How did you come to the decision to self-publish it with Lulu rather than find a conventional publisher?


A: I decided to publish on Lulu.com because Terence is an experimental story and I didn’t think it would find a home anywhere else. Poet and Professor A.E. Housman, whose dry, scholarly shade haunts the action in the story, published his first book of verse, A Shropshire Lad, independently, at his own expense, in 1896. It sold very few copies at the time. But it proved to be enormously popular in subsequent decades. Since, in many ways, Terence is my love letter to Housman, as scholar, poet, and self-publisher, it seemed right to me that I should do the same.

Q: How do you plan to market the book?


A: I plan to market Terence on Facebook, on Lulu.com, on Amazon.com, through readings here in New York City, and elsewhere, The Rainbow Book Fair, perhaps a few paid ads on different blogs and websites. Also by giving interviews to online journals like this. Most importantly by establishing networks of friends here and abroad. The English-speaking world is much larger than the United States and the United Kingdom. Right now a copy of Terence is winging its way to Singapore. Marketing will take patience, time and ingenuity. That is part of the challenge of self-publishing. That is part of the fun.

Q: Do you see yourself following an alternative model for publication for all your work?


A: I think so. Publishing is changing, it is evolving. We are the plucky little mammals who will one day inherit the Earth. We move faster. We nurse our young. We can cope with the cold. It is easier now than it ever has been before for an author to compile and publish and market his own work. You begin by building up a small base of readers and branch out, online, at readings, in blog comments. You interact with them. E-mail them back when they e-mail you. Literature has always been a dialogue of great ideas which takes place over time. Now, thanks to technology, that dialogue can take place in real time. Anytime. Now.

Q: What would that model look like?


A: For some it will resemble a military campaign, brutally establishing a beachhead in the imaginations of others. For me, well, I am a better lover than I am a soldier. I would rather woo my readers with a word, with a kiss, like the English King does to the French Princess in Henry the Fifth: “You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate: there is more eloquence in a sugar touch of them than in the entire Pulitzer Prize Committee.”

Q: Self-publishing seems to be growing in popularity as well as credibility amongst poets and writers who find the orthodox literary field to be increasingly less democratic and difficult to penetrate, in part because of the impact that the Internet and devices like the Kindle have had on print publishing. Do you think that online journals and self-published books are where the freshest work is coming from?


A: There is a lot of inbreeding which goes on in the cocktail party circuit of the respectable world. Academia is probably the worst offender in this regard, probably because the booze is so inferior at most faculty parties. Academia is the Appalachia of the mind, in some ways, incestuous and largely insulated from the universe except for the science and engineering departments.

The liveliest stuff I see is coming from the online world, from all over the planet. In the gay and lesbian pavilion, saucy upstarts like Jee Leong Koh’s Bench Press, Bryan Borland’s Sibling Rivalry Press, and the late John Stahle’s Ganymede, have produced beautiful collections of poetry and prose. I have no interest in penetrating the orthodox publishing world, unless it is to crash the party with a pin and pop a few balloons. Whether a reader buys Terence or downloads Terence to his Kindle does not concern me. That Terence is read and, possibly, enjoyed is all that really matters. If the reader wants to say, “Hey, that was funny!” or, “Son, you should be crucified,” I have included an e-mail address so he or she can do just that. Even on paper, Terence is a fully interactive book.

Q: As well as playing the role of gatekeeper, traditional presses have functioned as the arbiters of taste and quality in the field. As we do away with this convention and self-published books come into the market, how do readers separate the wheat from the chaff? Will there be a new system of critique to go along with the new system of distribution?


A: Taste and quality. Yes. Well, there are many tastes, many piquant and poignant qualities.  In the 19th Century, editors redacted Shakespeare’s more peppery passages for the eyes of easily corrupted young ladies. The other day I learned that some well-intentioned moron was trying to do this to Mark Twain. I am not sure this is to my taste.

I would rather decide on what is quality literature for myself, rather than outsource my intellect to some caffeine-addled intern condemned to a slush pile somewhere. In the future, as more and more independently published books tumble forth from the presses, the hardest thing will be for the reader to pick out something good to read. Here, I think the reviewing system on Amazon and Lulu is a help. It is democratic. It is slightly chaotic, as all good democracies are. Any madman can post his opinions. (Look at me.) So can any genius. It doesn’t take long to identify who is who. With practice, one can learn how to skim through the reviews, sample a page or two, and make up one’s mind to click ‘BUY’ for one’s self. And then, there are the blogs, e-zines, sites we have developed a relationship with, friends on Facebook we trust.


Q: How do you intend to help readers differentiate your book from the morass of self-published vanity projects?


A: That’s easy. If you look at the back cover of Terence, you will notice that I got very favorable reviews from William Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, W.H. Auden, and from some spooky, ectoplasmic entity calling himself ‘Terence.’ Working the Ouija Board was a little tricky, at first, I admit. But once I figured out how to connect it to my computer’s keyboard, excellent reasons to buy my book practically flowed from my fingertips.


Q: How do you think the politics of your work comes into play?


A: There isn’t really very much politics in Terence. Though the question of what makes us human, what links us to one another, the principal question asked by the book has the profoundest moral and political implications.

Q: Gay writers, as well as writers from other marginalized groups, have tended to be anthologized more in conventional publishing than they have had their work published as part of the general pool, as it were. Is self-publishing Terence an attempt to break out of that mold?

A: In this particular case, no. There is very little market for stories like this, where one man confuses another man with a cow, so I thought I should take responsibility for Terence myself. Hats are another matter. Oliver Sacks made a bundle of money off a man who mistook his wife for a hat several years ago. I have plenty of hats, but I am not married. Being gay, I am not even able to get married in New York State. So, I had to write a different story. All I had to work with was myself, a man, a carton of milk and a cow. I did the best I could.