Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sarah Rothberg interviews Aaron Kunin

Sarah Rothberg: According to The Mandarin is a novel. Any thoughts about this categorization?

Aaron Kunin: I call it a novel too. I'm very proud of it.

SR: In Folding Ruler Star, you use parenthetical statements, sometimes in ways that break from the dominant syntax of the poem and sometimes in ways that seem as if they could be alternate continuations of the words that precede or follow. In some sense this creates a number of possible poems within each poem (some examples: the poem excluding the parentheticals, only the parentheticals, the whole poem straight through). Can you talk about the implications of the parenthesis in Folding Ruler Star.

AK: The parenthesis is conceived as a fold, a way of marking a division without making a cut. It indicates a relationship between parts, inside and outside. A lot of things could happen inside the parenthesis: a new speaker, an esoteric line of thought, a theatrical aside, a translation into intelligible language, a second poem running underneath and occasionally joining with the first one when it surfaces, and so on.

The parenthesis as a device is specific to these poems, but other poems have ways of doing the same thing. A poem "creates a number of possible poems," as you say very nicely, and reading usually means making some choices.

I read some elements of your poems as silly (for example, in the poem “False Nativity” you write “the desk was/ terrified/ that I might sit on/ my glasses and what/ my bottom would see”). Does silliness play a role in your writing?

AK: Really? Silliness? Okay. There is something I like about that. I like for a poem to have an element that doesn't recur and isn't meaningful, that if it made you laugh you wouldn't be able to remember why afterwards, and that maybe one person in the world would find amusing. My writing might not be the first place to look for that element--I can think of other writers who are better at producing it.

Those lines about the desk are pretty serious. The glasses are on the desk, so in effect the desk is wearing the glasses, and the glasses are doing what they do, correcting the desk's vision. The desk gets a picture of something scary. How awful it would be if I sat on it. It wasn't made for sitting; it's not a chair. (The name for that in engineering, when you use something for a purpose for which it was not designed, is tool abuse.) Then, seated on the desk, I would be wearing the glasses again, but not with the part of me that sees. I guess the word "bottom," and treating it almost as an independent agent rather than part of me, does make it sound silly, and protects against some of the terror.

SR: Some of your poems share titles, which at once delineates them as separate poems, while nominally they are the same. Can you speak to the particular ways in which you see these poems with the same titles relating to each other?

AK: Yes. In Folding Ruler Star, the relationship between the inside and outside of each poem, however you interpret it, is reproduced in the relationship between pairs of poems. Again, two parts of a whole. Writing the poems was sort of like solving an algebra problem, where if you do something on one side of an equation you have to perform exactly the same operation on the other side.

The form of a poem really is a solution to a problem. So you keep finding the form until the problem goes away or the solution stops working. If you get the same answer every time, that helps to confirm that it was the right answer.

SR: You often apply multiple formal constraints, like meter and word-recycling, in your poems. What’s your reasoning when applying these constraints?

I don't view form as constraining. What people mean by formal constraint is not completely wrong: in this world of change, where everything runs away from itself, form freezes things into definite shapes, allowing you to examine them. The phrase is misleading in that form is not really for stasis. It would be better to think of the form that a thing has as a funnel through which materials pass. Form packs things up so that you can move them around.

SR: You’ve been working on the Jack Spicer archives along with Kevin Killian. Has immersing yourself in Spicer’s poetry affected your own?

AK: I sometimes use the words "community" and "society" to mean something slightly odd. That is probably Spicer's influence. He talks about how a poem establishes a community. Poems are not just props for the social bonds that keep people together; they are members of the group. They are a society by themselves. That usage was reinforced for me by later reading (Berger, Arendt, Latour), but I first encountered it in Spicer.

Aaron Kunin is the author of Folding Ruler Star: Poems (Fence, 2005), and a novel, The Mandarin (Fence, 2008). Another collection, The Sore Throat and Other Poems, is forthcoming. He lives in Los Angeles.

Sarah Rothberg
makes poetry, fiction, art, music, and the occasional short autobiography in the third person. Her writing can be found in recent issues of Cal Literary Arts Magazine, Berkeley Poetry Review, and hopefully some other places in the near future. Her music is available to listen to at and Her art cannot be found.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Brandon Brown Interviews Kevin Killian

Check out Aaron Kunin, Kevin Killian and music from Heads Across the Sky on Friday August 7th.

BRANDON BROWN: Kevin, you wear a lot of hats: poet, prose writer, playwright, scholar, editor, Amazon critic, art writer, and there are even more hats than all these. Because it would be impossible to ask about the relations of ALL of these activities, I want to ask about a specific one: your many-years-long engagement with the poetry of Jack Spicer. How do you, at this point, think of the relation of Spicer's literary works to your own? Are there motifs or ideas or parts of his poetics that seem particularly important to you viz a viz your own recent work? Can you separate the scholarly work and your own writing? What does that look like?

KEVIN KILLIAN: Hmm, trying to think of how to put this, but in brief, I find my own poetry more and more dependent on what Spicer called dictation, even as I have been arguing more and more that Spicer wasn’t as dependent on it as he claimed. Still, I don’t suppose I’ll ever write anything that doesn’t sound like me, and this applies to collaborative projects and even the conceptual ones as well. When I performed as Clifford Irving at the Positions Symposium in Vancouver last summer—a part written for me by the Scottish art writer Francis McKee—many accused me of having written the whole thing myself. As for my scholarly work on Spicer, I continue to try to demystify him, perhaps because he took me in at an early age when I was so impressionable. Peter Gizzi, Aaron Kunin and I are working on a collection of Spicer’s poetry and other sorts of writing that will really bring the reader right into his studio as it were. There’ll be some duds in it, perhaps, but they will be fascinating if so.

BB: As part of your reading at 21 Grand in December, you spoke at length about the musician Arthur Russell. We know you've got Kylie on smash, but what other music have you been listening to?

KK: Oh dear, I knew you would ask this! Well, since Michael Jackson’s funeral I must have listened to Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz massacre “I’ll Be There” a million times. I love her hands, the way she watches them like a mongoose watches a cobra. And what about “Will You Be There?” Wow, what a weird and plaintive track! First he had I’ll Be There, then Got to Be There, finally Will You Be There, completing the Be There trifecta, which led to constant comparisons to Being There, its eternally hollow hero just barely managing to stay in the conversation. I’m trying to finish a novel in which the narrator is continually speaking with the great divas of his childhood who give him advice on every occasion. I wouldn’t say I’m listening to Joni Mitchell, “Down to You,” Stevie Nicks, “Silver Springs,” nor Laura Nyro, “He’s a Runner,” but after a certain point you don’t have to, do you, they like heartbeats have become part of your own compost heap of a body.

BB: You've been a vital part of the Bay Area "poetry community" going back to the late 1970's. I'm not trying to live in the past, but what I'm really dying to know is what you think in general of the scene these days? Some people in my milieu find it to be a really vibrant, productive time; others think it's horribly depressing and superficial; and then every thing in between. What's your take?

KK: I don’t know, Brandon. I admire the young people trying to make a go of it in these difficult times. The scene itself seems astonishingly pleasure-mad, like the Weimar Republic, and yet what do I know? I haven’t had a drink in so many years I’m beginning to forget the urgency with which I had to quit. I’ve been in San Francisco only since 1980, so I missed out, say, on the Grand Piano period and the heroic age of Bob Perelman’s loft and talks. There’s always something that one missed out on, that one got in too late to enjoy. I think of Ebbe Borregaard as the poster boy for this feeling. He was the very last student at Black Mountain College and, it is said, arrived via his thumb on the very day the school closed forever. Some say he only made it up to the front porch and never got inside. I don’t know, didn't you feel you missed anything by lingering in Kansas City and not sleeping with Kathy Acker or whomever?

BB: What are you working on now? Last year you had a tremendous book of poetry
published, the first volume of Spicer's works was released to critical and popular ecstasy, and more. Do you have current projects you can talk about or plans? tells us all we want to know (and more) about what's going on with Def Leppard, and while provokes us, your fans want information!

KK: My new book of stories, IMPOSSIBLE PRINCESS, comes out from City Lights in November. Hooray for Garrett Caples, the poet, surrealist, editor and all around freak who has sponsored me there. In the spring, if I finish it by August 1st, my novel SPREADEAGLE will appear—it’s a book I started in 1990. David Brazil and I are editing a collection called THE KENNING BOOK OF US POETS THEATER 1945-1985, a massive compendium of plays written by poets in the long neoliberal moment. And what else? Oh, a book of my film writing called SCREEN TESTS. Yes, that sounds like a lot of projects doesn’t it? Dodie and I are also still working on the book we are writing together for Atelos Ptess. It is called EYEWITNESS and will describe what we saw in our years on the scene. It is like THE GRAND PIANO I suppose, only we started ours first, we’re just slow.

As for the website, Dodie bought the site for me as a birthday surprise, and hired a designer, but only put up one photo as a joke, and I’ve had no time to go in and fix things up to become a compendious place for all things Kevin Killian. What’s there is a photo from a marathon session from last autumn, in which the young photographer Job Piston worked with me to try to replicate some early photos, taken of me in the early 70s, also nude, stupidly drunk and nervous. And still I looked good and now just blowsy. Job Piston is sort of the West Coast version of Ryan McGinley, and he did fantastic photos of his young contemporaries naked and looking perfect, but he had his work cut out for him transmogrifying me into a subject fit for the camera, poor lad. He took literally hundreds of photos and winnowed them down to five or six pictures.

Brandon Brown is from Kansas City, MO. Chapbooks, poems in journals, readings and performances. He co-curates The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand until late August and publishes small press books under the imprint OMG!

Kevin Killian has written two novels, Shy (1989) and Arctic Summer (1997), a book of memoirs, Bedrooms Have Windows (1990), two books of stories, Little Men (1996) and I Cry Like a Baby (2001) and two books of poetry, Argento Series (2001), and Action Kylie (2008). With Lew Ellingham, Killian has written often on the life and work of the American poet Jack Spicer [1925-65] and with Peter Gizzi has edited My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008) for Wesleyan University Press. For the San Francisco Poets Theater Killian has written thirty plays, including Stone Marmalade (1996, with Leslie Scalapino), The American Objectivists (2001, with Brian Kim Stefans), and Often (also 2001, with Barbara Guest). New projects include Screen Tests, an edition of Killian's film writing, and Impossible Princess, a new fiction collection forthcoming from City Lights Books in 2009. A new novel Spreadeagle will appear in the spring.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fall Sneak Peek and updates

The August reading is coming up with Aaron Kunin and Kevin Killian. Interviews will be up in the next few days, so keep an eye out.

Look forward to the fall list of dates and readers, musicians, and film artists coming soon! Some of these peeps include Brenda Hillman, Gillian Conoley, Truoung Tran & Shannon Tharp.

Also, check out the project Mumolo and Alisa Heinzman have started. Calaveras.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Craig Santos Perez interviews Valyntina Grenier

Craig Santos Perez: how would you describe your aesthetic style? how has this style developed over the years?

Valyntina Grenier: I'd describe my poetic sensibility as earnest. My aesthetic style-- modern lyric? Rhythmic sound patterning is a significant generative, as well as editorial, force in my writing. Many of the poems I've written are a mystery to me. My style is continually developing esp. in the revision process; this means everything from the look of the poem on the page to the poem in the air. Each time I read a poem aloud, particularly to different people, I learn something new about it.

CSP: when did you begin writing poetry? where did you study? who do you consider your teachers/influences?

VG: I began writing poetry in primary school. I was introduced to poetry as a child. My grandmother Gail wrote poetry and my grandmother Sue entertained her children and grandchildren with poems and songs she had memorised.

CSP: can you talk about the developments of Back Room Live: the reading series, the magazine, the online issues?

VG: Well, thinking about it now, I guess I'm compelled to write poetry because Gail did and to make writing happen among peope because Sue did. I curated Back Room Live, a monthly multi-genre reading series, at Mc Nally's in Oakland, for two years. The magazine publishes writers who have read. I started to continue the monthly series online.

CSP: since you are a visual artist as well--can you describe the intersections / divergences between your visual work and your poetry?

VG: Making visual work is guided by color and the line. The intersection between the two is in the potential for color, line, language and voice to generate ideas and emotion. I called my first 3 annual shows at the Lanesplitter "Autopoiesis" because each painting individually generates a story and, taken together, creates a larger narrative. My current show is less symbolic.

Craig Santos Perez is the co-founder of Achiote Press and author of several chapbooks, including all with ocean views (Overhere Press, 2007) and preterrain (Corollary Press, 2008). His first book, from unincorporated territory, has just been published by Tinfish Press. His poetry, essays, reviews, and translations have appeared in New American Writing, The Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Denver Quarterly, Jacket, Sentence, and Rain Taxi, among others. He is currently a PhD candidate in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Valyntina Grenier is a poet and painter living in Oakland Ca. and Tucson Az. She edits and You can see her most recent paintings live at Lanesplitter- Temescal in Oakland July 1st - 31st. She also has some poems and images up at

Friday, July 3, 2009

Donna de la Perrière interviews Jane Miller for the July 10th reading

Donna de la Perrière: What role does place play in your work / aesthetic? How has your extended time in the Bay Area over the past few years played out in your work?

Jane Miller: I will say this of place and time -- if one can only imagine, but not remember, one is in danger. In order to be mindful of the past and the future, I usually start by writing in a notebook about what is in view. I move gradually from the sort of description common in prose to more figurative speech, all the while hoping to gather momentum, music, and meanings.

The Bay area, especially Berkeley, is the setting for Midnights, my most recent book. Other locations get added, in a widening circle like a snail. My hope is to locate, to point out in the stuff of this world, other worlds.

DDLP: What do you find especially rewarding and/or challenging about writing prose poems?

JM: The prose poem is an enforcer of the sentence for me. While I welcome visits from fragments, mostly my prose poems are subject-verb-predicate, often accompanied by subordinate clauses, prepositional phrases, asides, interruptions, and an occasional chocolate cake! When a shard occurs, it hopes to be lyrical, surprising, and thrilling. Then the work of discourses and of stories resumes, keeping the text’s emotions in real time.

I guess I think of working at a prose poem as I would work at a good job. I labor over it like a letter to someone I love. I write prose quickly, and also, without realizing, carelessly, so I go back and back. I like going back in art as I like going back to some places; that is, I feel compelled by forces larger than myself: responsibility, commitment, engagement. The prose poem demands a certain adult behavior. It prepares me to return and enjoy the present.

DDLP: What roles have visual arts (painting, in particular) and music played in your work? And how has changed over time?

JM: I’ve had two amateur preoccupations with other arts: I used to paint and now I play the piano. So while all the arts are of a piece and interdependent, these have affected me the most. I think probably by keeping me sufficiently free. By this I mean that while art and music require discipline, I only painted when I was moved to paint and now I only play the piano to experiment. So there you have my young cousins, indulgence and fun!

I try to take them wherever I go, because I don’t have children.

In poetry, I wish not to be over-permissive, nor too protective. I go back and forth on this; sometimes, to ground the reader, I’m overtly autobiographical. Also, I can be abstract and distant. As an aside: I love surrealism because of its special relation to time and place, with a torch in its mouth and a seahorse in its path. In surrealism, do time and place serve to hide or reveal things as they are? Perhaps, as the greatest of literary movements, it serves both.

With the recent death of my mother, I feel that I would like to speak more sparely. Perhaps I may say goodbye to the prose poem, goodbye to surrealism, goodbye to the long line, and goodbye, mother.

Donna de la Perrière is the author of True Crime (Talisman House, 2009). Her poems have appeared in Agni, American Letters and Commentary, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Five Fingers Review, The New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly, New American Writing, Parthenon West Review, Volt, and other journals, as well as in Faux Press’s 2006 Bay Poetics anthology. The recipient of a 2009 Fund for Poetry award, she teaches in the MFA and undergraduate creative writing programs at California College of the Arts and San Francisco State University, and curates the Bay Area Poetry Marathon reading series at San Francisco’s The Lab gallery and performance space.

MIDNIGHTS, poetry and prose poems by Jane Miller, is Saturnalia Press artist/poet Collaboration Series, #4, 2008, with visual art contributed by Beverly Pepper and an introduction by C.D. Wright. Miller’s other recent work is the book-length sequence, A Palace of Pearls (Copper Canyon Press, 2005), which received the 2006 Audre Lorde Prize in Poetry. Among earlier collections are Wherever You Lay Your Head; Memory at These Speeds: New and Selected Poems; The Greater Leisures, a National Poetry Series Selection; and August Zero, winner of the Western States Book Award. She has also written Working Time: Essays on Poetry, Culture, and Travel, published in the University of Michigan's Poets on Poetry Series.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 10th! with Valyntina Grenier, Tommy Busch & Jane Miller

Check out readings and Music from:

Valyntina Grenier is a poet and painter living in Oakland Ca. and Tucson Az. She edits and You can see her most recent paintings live at Lanesplitter- Temescal in Oakland July 1st - 31st. She also has some poems and images up at

Music from thomas busch and co: "for this collection of songs we drew a lot of inspiration from the aztec people, i spent last winter in south america just backpacking from village to village, it was as much a spiritual journey as it was a physical one" says thomas of his as of yet untitled project. This is clearly evident in the rich soundscapes of mystic chants and tribal beats i witnessed by the band last month at the martinez annual world music festival, Busch says of the bands live performances "i like to become whatever instrument im taking on at the time, guitar, bass, bongos, anything, it becomes an appendage of the self as well as of the spirit"

MIDNIGHTS, poetry and prose poems by Jane Miller, is a Saturnalia Press artist/poet Collaboration Series, #4, 2008, with visual art contributed by Beverly Pepper and an introduction by C.D. Wright. Miller’s other recent work is the book-length sequence, A Palace of Pearls (Copper Canyon Press, 2005), which received the 2006 Audre Lorde Prize in Poetry. Among earlier collections are Wherever You Lay Your Head; Memory at These Speeds: New and Selected Poems; The Greater Leisures, a National Poetry Series Selection; and August Zero, winner of the Western States Book Award. She has also written Working Time: Essays on Poetry, Culture, and Travel, published in the University of Michigan's Poets on Poetry Series.

doors & wine @ 7pm
readings at @ 7:30pm
entry by donations