Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tangent Reading this Saturday, 2/28: Alli Warren, Brandon Brown & Tom Fisher

Alli Warren and Brandon Brown bring it to Portland this Saturday with poetry’s one-man incredible string band, Tom Fisher. Feel free to stick around to feed and water the poets afterwards.
Tangent presents
Clinton Corner Café, 2633 SE 21st Avenue (@ Clinton) Portland, OR

ALLI WARREN was born in the 1980s and remains extant. Recent publications include No Can Do (Duration Press), and a collaboration with Michael Nicoloff entitled Bruised Dick. Alli co-curates The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand, and lives in San Francisco’s Mission District.

BRANDON BROWN is from Kansas City, Missouri. His friends have published his poetry in chapbook form including Memoirs Of My Nervous Illness (Cy Press), 908 1078 (Transmission Press), Kidnapped (Duration Press), Camels! (TAXT), and the forthcoming Wondrous Things I Have Seen (Mitzvah Chaps). He co-curates The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand in Oakland and lives in San Francisco.

TOM FISHER is working on two manuscripts: one on not writing and modernism; one on songs, selves and sorceries. He lives in Portland, OR and teaches at Portland State University.

Monday, February 23, 2009

News from the Oracle at Delphi

Container is also a structure.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Silver Lining …

... to the cloud that is having to miss the book launch for Alicia Cohen’s new Debts and Obligations and Jules Boykoff’s Heretical Text, Hegemonic Love Potion, at Powell’s on Hawthorne this Sunday;

Rules for Drinking Forties
arrived from the Cy Press dream team last night, so will see its world premiere in Eugene on Saturday. That’s why I got into this business, folks—so I could say “world premiere in Eugene on Saturday” some day.

Which reminds me to shout out to my next-door neighbor, who grew up in Eugene being babysat by Ken Kesey, then rode The Bus as one of the last Merry Pranksters on Kesey’s “flawed, ill-advised, and often embarrassing” tour through Britain in 1999. Sounds like poetry.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hello, Eugene

I’ll be reading with Kasey Mohammad this Saturday in Eugene, Ore. for Tim (“Wig”) Shaner’s new A-New Poetry series. “Poetry” and “Eugene” went together like sardines and orange juice for me—never really seen it, hadn’t thought to try it—until Tim started bringing poets like Bob Grenier, Kaia Sand, Laynie Brown, Maryrose Larkin, David Abel, and Jules Boykoff to read at the DIVA center late last year. I think Kasey’s coming with a minyan of the Ashlanders busy turning Southern Oregon into a kind of pillowy, cream-centered, high-speed connected Black Mountain. If you find yourself anywhere between Eureka, CA and Vancouver, WA with time on your hands, we’ll be here:
A-New Poetry presents
DIVA (Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts), 110 W. Broadway
Eugene, OR

is the author of Breathalyzer (Edge Books, 2008), A Thousand Devils (Combo Books, 2004), and Deer Head Nation (Tougher Disguises, 2003). His work has appeared or is soon to appear in various journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2004, Bay Poetics, and A Best of Fence: The First Nine Years. He maintains the blog Lime Tree and edits Abraham Lincoln, a magazine of poetry. Mohammad teaches creative writing at Southern Oregon University.

RODNEY KOENEKE is the author of Musee Mechanique (BlazeVOX, 2006) and Rouge State (Pavement Saw, 2003). A new chapbook, Rules for Drinking Forties, appears from Cy Press this spring. His poems have been included in Abraham Lincoln, Jacket, New American Writing, ZYZZYVA, and other publications, and in the anthologies Bay Poetics and the forthcoming Flarf primer. He lives in Portland, OR where he curates the Tangent Reading Series with poets Kaia Sand and Jules Boykoff.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reading Local Interview

On the interview tick, here’s one I did last month on poetry, Portland, and poetry in Portland for Gabe Barber’s Reading Local website. (If you decide to click through, please hit “Play” right away to quickly animate the bizarrely contorted face.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009


A while back I was crying into Stan Apps’s blog about LA-Lit not updating its mp3 archives of interviews with poets I like. Turns out they had, but I’d missed them, they’re here (and on PennSound.) Hosts Stephanie Rioux & Mathew Timmons provide an easygoing, free-form format for (often younger) poets to read, yawp & stretch. San Francisco gets all the literary love, but take it from Dodie Bellamy: “L.A.” and “lit” are doing just fine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

Susana Gardner & the Dead

RK: I may be totally off-base, but is there a particular “thesis” about the presence of the dead in our lives that [lapsed insel weary] explores? The loss of a loved one seems to drive a lot of the work, but I didn’t know exactly what to make of it. At times—and I feel I’m on shaky ground here—I wondered if the brackets relate to the sentence the way the poems want to suggest the dead relate to the living: as insistent intrusions, but also permanent connections stronger than the bonds of ordinary syntax. Is this at all what you had in mind?

Susana Gardner: I once was at a doctor’s office; I couldn’t have been more than 18 and only was at this particular office because it was a sliding-scale clinic. While I waited forever for the doctor to appear, I carefully studied an artistic rendition of the female body. In the cavity where the uterus and eggs should have been were hundreds of tiny women, women nested within women and so on, into infinity. It seemed like a genetic and emotional map of mothers no longer remembered in the family tree, an assertion that no matter how hard one’s name was erased, the imprint will always be organically there and undoable. I have searched high and low for this picture, but perhaps it was something donated from another patient like myself, in lieu of payment, because I cannot find it. I sometimes wonder if I imagined it, but whatever the source of its incantation, I still carry the idea of it: the nesting dolls of the female line, born with 5 million or so eggs, eggs within eggs that in some respect were always there as piecework, waiting as well.

Loss does drive much of my creative work. Perhaps because the process of creation is an act toward reconciliation in some way. I tried to write myself out of pain and for the longest time told myself it was working, only later to come crashing down. I eventually realized, especially when talking to Kaia about the long “To Stand to Sea” sequence, that instead the writing had brought me into a very intense relationship with this time of loss in my life. It’s almost too painful to envision ever wanting to put myself there again, whether that “there” be love or writing, even though it was a chosen loss, an almost surreal inextricable living poetic state.

Thinking back to that picture in the doctor’s office, I feel it maps in a way my own occupations, daily: memory nests upon memory, and the act of writing is a way of letting out what is there, or what hopes to be there. Hence the overlaid words, hence the interruptions, the continuance, the not forgetting, as well as the grand departures.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Susana Gardner & the Feminine

RK: There’s a special embrace and torque of the “feminine” in [lapsed insel weary], from the cover art on, that I wasn’t sure how to address. Elizabeth Barrett Browning came to mind, partly because of your chapbook EBB (Port), which you made from erasures of Sonnets from the Portuguese. But the poems here, too, show an engagement with a long tradition of women writers, and seem concerned with the bonds connecting women across generations. Parts of the book had me thinking how for the Victorian middle class, “memory work” fell mostly to women—forget-me-nots, embroidered memorials, photo albums, tokens of mourning, etc.—along with the ethos of sentiment that sustained those occupations. Your poems seem to use that legacy as part of their material, working against it but also looking for a way to acknowledge its role in creating attachments (particularly between women) that we now need a new kind of language to talk about. Except the poems don’t “talk about” it so much as enact it.

I wonder if it’s anything like this that shapes your particular approach to “experimental” writing, or how you see your work in relation to a modern tradition of women’s writing from Browning through Dickinson to Stein.

Susana Gardner: I think most first collections deal with many fields that ultimately introduce the poet as thinker, revealing what first created and brought her to the page. And in most cases this is inextricably tied to what is nearest: love, family, environment, economics, whatever has shaped and formed us in this world. I have a hard time reconciling myself to a certain manifestation of femininity in this work, but it is irrevocably there. Of course, I am female, and so hope that this language of linking relationships, namely to ancestors and writers, is there. There is something in femininity that I find darling and beautiful and hope to reclaim or perhaps better to say, not forget. I am glad it is there in enactment vs. any other prescribed recipe: for me this means I have in some way succeeded.

But, at the same time there is much masculinity there, kind of the yin to the yang, as without the opposite, it is not fully possible to have any one thing. With that said, I as writer can tell you that many of these poems are written about my relationship with, and coming-to-be through, my father. There are more father poems than mother poems and I am not sure why, perhaps because I write a lot about his grandmother, the one who encouraged me to be an artist, to write, the grandmother who had desperately wanted to be a painter, but because of economics, situation, and the times simply never lived that dream out for herself. Her life and pain deeply impressed me at an early age.

Around this time I also wrestled with the idea of madness and the artist. Madness created out of the mere chaos and waste of one who is not allowed for whatever reason to create, who is forced to find measure in other sources, hooking carpets, or putting everything, anything which is left of one’s self into one’s children, as this was the only option for many. Reinvesting energies which could be lethal, for some, like my other grandmother, for whom living was simply a time-bomb.

m treading into uncertain waters when I say this, but neither I nor writers of the likes of EBB, Dickinson or Stein ever wrote in a tradition of “female writings.” My goal was always to attempt to be the best writer, and search for examples which were already well ahead of me. I never wanted to be the heroine; I wanted to be the hero. I’m not sure how much EBB could find of a female canon per se; it just wasn’t there. Her very reason for writing Aurora Leigh was to create not another female antagonist, but a girl hero. Stein would have had Emily and EBB for initial guidance, but more importantly she had the money and confidence. I also have an affinity for the Victorian period and the writers it fostered. Mina Loy, too, was essential to my development as a poet. Perhaps because in her time, finding a way to produce poetry and art was not easy (it still isn’t!). But Loy had the chance to study and then, later, financial support for most of her life in some vein. But she still had to fight to be an artist. It was not easy, and this comes out in her writing and design throughout her work.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Susana Among the Brackets

RK: Hi Susana,
One thing I wrung my hands about in describing [lapsed insel weary] is the recurring use of brackets. The punctuation does a kind of violence to the lines by disrupting the ordinary flow of the syntax, closing off the phrase inside and putting it into an adversarial relationship with the rest of the sentence. At the same time, the brackets allow the phrasal units to connect in a looser, more modular way, opening up shifting semantic possibilities you can’t achieve with workaday syntax. By the time we get to that great coda at the end, where there’s nothing that’s not inside a bracket, the tissue connecting the phrases comes closer to music than standard grammar, working the way leitmotifs do.

How do the brackets function in your poems, and what did you hope to convey with their use?

Susana Gardner: First off, it is all so interesting in hindsight, the creation of a volume. What makes the volume speak, so to speak. This book has existed in various incarnations, but I was not happy with, say, the ms. of eight or so years ago. Especially as it was brought together in its initial castings, as Slant Light (my MFA thesis), or with its original title, which was nixed by some advisors, etc. The final title is heavily Dickinsonian and in that way is another harbinger of the Victorian that does haunt much of this ms., especially when rethinking the work as a whole, revising again and again, deciding what was worth keeping and what I should just chuck out as craft and/or practice.

The sequence “To Stand To Sea” was written the year following my MFA. Many changes were made to the poems which were kept. I studied with Kaia Sand, one of The Tangent Press co-editors, and she and her partner, Jules Boykoff, have provided an amazing amount of support and guidance in the entire process and its completion in this work.

The bracket came somewhat later, and initially as a way of keeping time (which I am notoriously poor at in the day-to-day!). But whenever I have done readings, it was always a natural thing or tool for me to, say, put musical markings alongside lines, indicating stress or rests: half notes, full stops, longer rests, etc. The movements also indicated passage of time, in subject as well as in departure.

But this is all in retrospect, as it came to be organically, through many revisions and re-workings. Of course, the closing “score” or CODA is certainly aware of this, and this is almost a legend or guide for those who make it to the end (as well as indicative of a repeat.) Once there, one might muse or go back as having finally “gotten” it.

Geraldine Monk, who contributed a blurb, described the brackets—as well as the spacing in “To Stand to Sea”—as islands denoting and reifying the isolation, despair, and hope that’s apparent there. But the bracket certainly creates discomfort and has an illogical quality for some. Recently, a reader stated that he was angry with the brackets throughout, and had a hard time reading them until he came to the end, when suddenly they made sense. This was great to hear, not just that the brackets made eventual sense, but that at first they pissed him off! At my last reading, in Basel, a listener actually walked out. I felt a strange thrill at that and then laughed and announced to the rest of the kind audience: “Just remember, it doesn’t have to make sense.” Laughter followed.

Of course, I didn’t set out to make the work messy for others, but to indicate my own constant struggle with words and their place with (and in) time and reading; my thrill with things that do not necessarily make outright sense (first language, or poetry itself AS language); and the effort to find ways of expressing oneself other than the easy first-person narrative (yawn!) that long made my own work an anomaly among my peers. The very strange musical, mathematical substance and sustenance which makes for good poetry, to my mind, is the open page as well as the ear, and the writer’s allowance for chance and possibility.

Monday, February 02, 2009

[lapsed insel weary]

Just reached 150 poetry “reviews” (squibs? blurbs?) on Goodreads. It’s soothing, not addicting: literary knitting. You don’t often get a chance though, there or anywhere, to know what the author thinks of what you’ve written. So I thought it’d be interesting to ask Susana Gardner to respond to what I said about [lapsed insel weary], her new book from The Tangent Press. Here’s the initial reviewlette; I’ll put up Susana’s responses over the next few posts:
Emily Dickinson had her dashes, Chelsea Minnis her dots; Susana Gardner emerges in her debut collection as the laureate of the bracket. In Gardner’s hands, the bracket works in the poem the way loss and separation do in real life: interruptions but also expansions of meaning, which open up possibilities for new forms of connection. Elegiac but hopeful, experimental with a yen for the Victorian feminine, [lapsed insel weary] creates a thorny lyricism where no breaks are ever clean enough to isolate, and the dead are always with us, as palimpsest or whisper—“Love-, has no beginning or ending but Only/needs for Continuance.”