July 21, 2011
Tell us about Compendium. I hear that it’s written in mostly in footnotes and glossaries. Seriously?! Why would you do a crazy thing like that?
Let me just start by saying that Compendium is a very strange collection. The book juxtaposes prose poems in the style of a Victorian novel with mock-scholarly attempts to deconstruct these types of books. I hope that the collection blurs the boundaries between scholarly and creative work. Throughout my writing process, I tried to show that poets and artists can make useful observations about literary tradition, and that this isn’t something that’s limited to scholarly writing. For me, every poem is an act of deconstruction. This is something that I tried to enact in many of my formal choices in the new collection.
Are these hybrid pieces really poetry? Why do you consider them to be poems?
They’re definitely poetry, at least in my assessment. For me, what makes something a poem is not a particular use of form, but rather consciousness of a greater poetic tradition. I feel like learned a great deal from more established experimental poets, such as Jenny Boully, Kim Gek Lin Short, and Kristy Bowen. I hope that Compendium contributes to the literary conversation that they’ve already begun. For me, the dialogic quality of poetry is what makes it so exciting.
Why are you drawn to these forms, as opposed to more traditional ones?
I’m drawn to footnotes, glossaries, notes, and other unusual poetic forms because readers tend to bring a great deal of expectations to them. For me, frustrating these readerly expectations is great fun. It also presents a unique opportunity to question the judgments that we tend to form about literary texts before engaging with them. With that in mind, I try my best to open up possibilities that have been foreclosed by the reader (i.e., a glossary can’t be poignant, a series of footnotes could never be beautiful, etc.). For me, this isn’t something that’s limited to footnotes and glossaries, but appropriated academic forms seem especially well-suited for this type of endeavor.
Why did you approach Cow Heavy Books with this project, as opposed to a publisher who focuses exclusively on poetry?
At the time, I admired Cow Heavy Books’ fiction titles, but didn’t know that they were starting a poetry series. I had sent Compendium to Mud Luscious Press and the editor, J.A. Tyler, suggested Cow Heavy. It turned out to be the best rejection I ever got! For me, Cow Heavy is a great choice for a hybrid text like Compendium. During the writing process, I thought a lot about audience, who the book might appeal to. Since the work emulates and parodies works of fiction, particularly Victorian novels, I hoped that it might appeal to a broader audience than exclusively readers of poetry. With that in mind, I think it’s fantastic that Cow Heavy is known for choosing books that blur the boundaries between genres.
I see that there are several artist colonies listed on your book’s acknowledgement page. What role did residencies play in your writing process?
Without the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Ragdale Foundation, Compendium probably wouldn’t exist, or it would be in a state of complete disarray. I’m incredibly grateful to these organizations for providing not only time and space to work on my book, but also the opportunity to exchange ideas with writers, visual artists, and musicians. For me, this was the best part of visiting these artist colonies.
As a poet, I’m not exposed to as much visual art, fiction, or contemporary music as I would like to be. When I try to explore these disciplines on my own, I never know where to begin. Having practicing artists to guide me toward work that might be instructive for my poetry was really a fantastic opportunity. When I resided at Ragdale, for example, I met a very talented printmaker who uses maps, catalogues, and other received documentary forms to explore autobiographical subject matter. I found this tension between the cold precision of documentation and the vulnerability inherent in the personal narrative absolutely fascinating. It’s actually something that I’ve since started to emulate in my footnote and glossary poems.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a fourth manuscript, which uses imagery and rhetoric from Romantic poetry to explore Julia Kristeva’s writings on melancholia. The project is called Melancholia: An Essay, and it appropriates academic forms—such as footnotes, glossaries, and dictionary definitions—in an attempt to construct a narrative of personal loss.
Do you feel that your work as an editor informs your poetry? How so?
Most definitely. As an editor, I get frustrated that many writers who send in submissions shy away from strangeness, unusual literary forms, and other aesthetic choices that would make the reader experience discomfort. For me, frustrating the reader’s expectations of what a poem should be is incredibly interesting and exciting. I think of my writing as a small but earnest attempt to bring these aesthetic concerns into the dialogue that contemporary poets are taking part in.
Who are some people you’d be interested in collaborating with and why?
I’ve spend the past few summers at artist colonies and have met some amazing people, many of whom I’d love to collaborate with. In terms of poets, I’d have to say Kara Candito, C.M. Burroughs, Sam Taylor, Julie Babcock, and Melissa Range. But I’d also love to work with a visual artist.
A couple of years ago, I started on a collaboration with a fashion designer and practicing artist, Max Avi Kaplan, and this was extremely productive for my poetry. After seeing Max’s wonderful artwork, images crept into my poems that I would have never considered using before. His work, which draws a great deal of inspiration from Victorian material culture, was actually a powerful influence on Compendium. Some visual artists I’d like to work with in the future include Jessica Kreutter, Erin Harmon, Austin Furtak-Cole, and Michael Gellalty.
Who are some of your favorite poets to read?
More and more, I find myself reading experimental poets, but also writers whose work is completely unlike my own. By this I mean individuals who use more traditional literary forms, but also those whose work deals with political subject matter, social issues, or the contemporary cultural landscape—things that I tend to shy away from in my own work. I think it’s important to broaden one’s horizons, because the best poets are always learning from other writers, and their work is constantly growing and changing.
Right now, some of my favorites include Sabrina Orah Mark, Donna Stonecipher, Rae Armantrout, Brandon Shimoda, Anne Carson, Eleanor Stanford, Joshua Clover, Eileen Myles, Brenda Hillman, H.D., Lorine Niedecker, Bin Ramke, Daniel Tiffany, Simone Muench, Kent Shaw, Sandra Lim, Brandi Homan, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Kathleen Rooney, Daniela Olszewska, Zachary Schomburg, and James Shea.
What is your favorite non-poetry book and why?
That would be H.D.’s Asphodel. It’s worth reading for the ghosts alone.