Monday, November 30, 2009


Your poems seem to come from a place inside the brain that speaks; though cerebral, that voice seems more concerned with musicality than explanation. What do you think about when you’re writing?

JANE GREGORY: I’m not sure I will be able to answer this question. While I am sure that I must be thinking while I’m writing, I’m not sure it’s the kind of thinking that takes an object, that there is any thinking about going on. The kind of thinking that happens during writing feels more like trying thinking. Like trying to think in noise, make noise thinkable, or make noise the material thoughts are made of. It probably goes both ways. While I do not actually hear voices, sometimes writing a poem feels like trying to understand voices that are just distant enough to be indiscernible. Sort of the way the neighbors are, even when they are loud. I can hear what the thoughts sound like and then the business of writing the poem becomes a kind of trying to say the thoughts the noise is trying to think in order to impersonate noise’s thoughts. That description sounds either like bullshit or like madness. But we know that poets are very often wrong about their own work, so there is my first wrong answer.

Does the voice in your poems come automatically, or is there some process out of which the voice emerges?

JG: I don’t really know what voice is. I know that some of my poems are more “voicey” than others and those are the ones that I’m most comfortable reading out loud in front of other people. Those poems also often tend to be the ones with regular punctuation, which makes me wonder what the grammar of voice is or if there is one. I hope that voice isn’t exactly personality and that it isn’t exactly style or signature. I think it’s important that poems are transparently trying to communicate to other people and maybe voice is what we call that quality of feeling like we’re being communicated to or spoken to. Maybe voice is always interrogative. Tell me more about what voice is and I can tell you if it’s automatic or if emerges out of a process?

MH: I mean by voice exactly how you define it, the quality of speaking or being spoken to, or at least the quality of some sort of speaking, even if to the self or to a wall. I don’t mean that voice has to imply a personality, but it does imply a person. Sometimes poems are merely made of words and don’t point back to a source. I wonder how the sort of language that adheres itself to a speaker occurs. Can you explain whether that voice is something that naturally comes to you or something you have to discover?

JG: I guess I would like to combine both of the possibilities you’ve offered here. I think that voice comes naturally, but by coming naturally, it necessarily comes through a process— the process of trying to discover what there is to say or trying to discover a way of saying what there is. So, it’s natural but not effortless, and that effort is the adhesive that binds language to a person. Communicating is difficult and I tend to like poetry that manifests that difficulty and the effort it requires. (Poetry that grunts?) I’d like to learn how to write in a voice that points as much to a receiver as to a speaker.

MH: Do you think of the page as a formal constraint? Can you explain how you interact with the page during composition?

JG: Sure, in the way that any formal constraint, if it is working, is a tool. If I’m being honest, I interact with the page in large part through the screen that mediates between the page the poem began on and the one it will end up on. I work from hand written notes and so when I am writing the poem, the vertical page (or whatever the screen is) is a way of organizing the relationships between units in the poem—those units are sometimes single words, lines, stanzas etc. I am terrible at math, but I want to say that if space is used primarily going down the page (between lines or stanzas) it is operating like division, subtraction or addition. Maybe multiplication too but that’s much harder, maybe impossible. If space is being used across the page, (between words or if there are several columns of lines or phrases) it is establishing equations not between the terms but in time. When I use the horizontal space of the page, sometimes it’s to try and play around with simultaneity. Of course it’s impossible, because we read from left to right and from up to down, but it’s fun to try and play with space and see if I can deprioritize things for the reader, so that things are competing for attention and priority. I also think that space on the page is important for when we stop reading. Things we need to pay attention to aren’t always already consolidated for us in the world, we have to cross several types of distances to make sense of things.

MH: What is the relationship of a poem’s sound and its arrangement on the page?

JG: When the page helps to establish correspondences and resemblances in sound I think it makes the reader more necessary for the poem’s completion. When we first learn to read we do so by sounding out the phonemes until they make a recognizably meaningful unit, usually a word. Using the page to emphasize that sounding out allows the reader to make meaning accumulate. So if you put the word “intuition” above or beside the phrase “in to it,” intuition defines itself by way of sound. That’s a silly example. In the essays, “Notes on the Structure of Rime” and “The Truth and Life of Myth,” Duncan talks about some of this much better than I can.

MH: You are writing prose poems now. What are the disadvantages of writing in prose?

JG: That sounds like a loaded question. Maybe the first disadvantage is that if you are like me, when you pick up a book of poems you’ve never read and you flip through the pages you might not read the prose poems right away. But I think a good prose poem can have a variety of lengths and paces in it, just like a lineated poem can. It is harder to make a prose poem contain the spaces needed to let lines or sentences “breathe” or be absorbed by the reader. Because I’m writing prose poems right now, I’d rather not think about this question at length. I have a friend named Geoff Hilsabeck who was writing these wonderful prose poems but he insisted on calling them paragraphs instead of prose poems because for him a prose poem had to be lyrical. By lyrical he didn’t just mean musical; he also meant that the prose poem had to engage with the kind of address we think of as the lyric address, either a troubled or untroubled lyric address. As someone who values both the music of a poem and the kind of ‘you’ that the poem tries to make, maybe that is a disadvantage of a prose poems. I can’t imagine Celan (whose you is the best you) writing too many prose poems.

MH: Has theory, or any other recent readings, influenced your writing in unexpected ways?

JG: My first answer is: I hope not in any detrimental ways. I’m in graduate school now, and I hadn’t anticipated how disturbed I am by how often theory effaces or mutilates the object it tries to explain, especially when that object is poetry or any other art form. Being in school has made me really careful about not making my poems do theory. I don’t want my poems to be able to demonstrate any theory, or at least not until I come up with a theory. I do think poetry has a really complex and interesting relationship to philosophy, but I don’t think that good poems can ever really listen to theory, even when it’s theory by a poet, even when it’s poetics. If you try to use A Vision to read Yeats’ poems, you will probably screw up the poems.

MH: You have broad tastes in books, cinema, music, cracks in the sidewalk, hot dogs stands, and so forth. What has gotten the mixer in your brain turning recently?

JG: Right now, I feel really protective of what I’ve been reading so I’m going to be vague. In part, that’s because instead of doing my PhD homework I read other things that are incredibly unfashionable in PhD school. For school I am reading a good deal of critical theory and poetics texts, but I often pretend that I’m a spy. As a spy I read short stories I loved as a teenager, books about death and attitudes, poetry, the dictionary, a variety of mystical texts, all while listening to loud and strange music and eating fake hot dogs because I live in California now.

Matthew Henriksen is the author of Another Word from DoubleCross Editions Single Sheet Series and Is Holy from horse less press. He co-edits Typo, publishes Cannibal Books, and hosts The (now irregular and locationless) Burning Chair Readings.

Jane Gregory's poems have appeared in Absent Magazine, Cannibal, The Hat, Notnostrums, Soft Targets, Typo, and elsewhere. Cannibal Books published a chapbook in 2007. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona and is currently a PhD student in English at UC Berkeley.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


PE: By what process/under what sign do you feel you have moved towards writing longer poems? To what effect are your poems getting, and i mean this appreciatively, more time-consuming?

GF: I think I’ve approached writing in the same way one might approach exercise. Start small, go slowly at first, try to be able to do a little more as time goes on, etc. When I began to write poems, my goal was to pare things down to the fewest possible words, because, well, that's one useful way of thinking about what constitutes a poem. And it happens to be not so easy, I guess, but perhaps *manageable* in some way. Now I'm feeling more like I can get carried away, not in the hallucinatory sense, but like I can go long distances or many rounds with a particular idea or emotion or a particular set of ideas/emotions.

I'm selfish, too--I write poetry because I like writing, and writing little poems just isn’t interesting to me right now, though there are some short-ish poems in the new book. I just finished a 30-page poem, which I'll read at Studio One. Maybe people will stick around to hear the end of my jogging in place.

PE: Can you talk about collagist/allusive poetic procedures? Your poems contain many quotes and references but in a way that would make an index quite beside the point. I wonder if the many fragments of poems and songs that find their way into your work act as a kind of thickening agent to the nominally solitary lyric voice. Do you snip to thicken?

That seems like a terrific way of describing one of the effects/uses of that technique, though it's not the only one. I’ve always thought that Spicer’s notion that poems can’t live alone any more than we can to be absolutely accurate, so that’s part of it too. I sample to keep my poem company.

PE: Can I ask you a word-association question? In the new book, out of some kind of California, two major themes seem to keep pushing each other around.... So: *grief* and *belief*; what kind of energy (or doubt, or whatever) obtains between these states?

GF: One ends where the other begins. It may be that poetry is rooted in belief-oriented grief. Holding dear a weight? That seems a decent description of a poem.

PE: You've presented half of your books in a specific visual context: the paintings of Brian Calvin. Can you talk about your poetry in the context of the non-auditory arts? Has this become more important to your work over time?

GF: I've been drawn to painting for as long as I've known that I'm incapable of it. Maybe longer. I love Brian's work, and, as it happens, he's been kind enough to let Flood Editions use his images for my books. I don't much like "imagey" covers for books, especially for poetry, but I think his pictures work well with my poems--they set a certain tone, rather than saying "Behold the person these poems are about" or something awful like that. Though it's amazing how many people asked me if the paint on the cover of Necessary Stranger was in the shape of me.

PE: What artists, or artistic trends, in any mode, are currently infuriating you, in good or bad ways?

GF: Bad art is very easy to ignore, as is bad thinking about art (as is bad thinking by artists about subjects other than art)--one need only switch off the computer, leave the gallery, close the book, etc. So I tend to not get infuriated very often. But I get interested in things with some frequency, and lately I've been very interested in Roberto Bolaño, the Brice Marden paintings at SFMOMA, a singer named Eilen Jewell (particularly her album Sea of Tears), and Alice Notley's poem "In the Pines."

But maybe that’s a cop-out answer. Here’s one: “The idea of making things last is something which just has to be conquered.” That’s Spicer, too, and I think a lot of writers seem to be buying it lately (though not necessarily because of him). As much as I like Spicer, I don’t buy it for a second. It’s an idea that the folks who make the plastic gewgaws you buy at Wal-Mart have already conquered. I think we should expect more from poetry.

I read that Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost once had an argument that went respectively something like this: "The trouble with you is you write about things." "The trouble with you is you write about bric-a-brac." Were they having a real argument?

GF: From gewgaws to bric-a-brac . . . We’re on a roll! "Subjects" was what Stevens accused Frost of writing about. In order to have a “real” argument, people have to use a shared set of terms, so I guess I'd have to think about how "subjects" and "bric-a-brac" are related to one another. (And "bric-a-brac" could in fact be a subject, which makes things a little strange.) So, perhaps Stevens is accusing Frost of being grandiose--he's writing about capital-S Subjects--and Frost is accusing Stevens of being chintzy and quotidian. Or maybe Stevens is accusing Frost of knowing what he's going to say before he says it and Frost is accusing Stevens of just fiddling around with language rather than "saying something." These are "live" arguments in the sense that we see these same notions being pitted against each other these days as well, but are they “real”? I feel like poets are always engaged in some combination of all of these things, so I don't see much point in arguing about it. Poetry is what we make out in the distance while other people are quarrelling about it.

Paul Ebenkamp lives and works in Berkeley CA.

Graham Foust is the author of A Mouth in California and three other books of poems. He works at Saint Mary's College of California and lives in Oakland.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thursday December 3rd

Readings are Thursdays for December and January. Then we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Check it out:

Jane Gregory's poems have appeared in Absent Magazine, Cannibal, The Hat, Notnostrums, Soft Targets, Typo, and elsewhere. Cannibal Books published a chapbook in 2007. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona and is currently a PhD student in English at UC Berkeley.

Music from Mouse Heaven Heaven is a mix of Goth Country Cocaine Blues. It was formed in Oakland in early 2009 by Samuel Stein (Lead Guitar + Vocals) and Alena Johson (Vocals). Thomas Denesha (Guitar + Banjo) joined in the summer of 2009.

Graham Foust is the author of A Mouth in California and three other books of poems. He works at Saint Mary's College of California and lives in Oakland.

donation for entry
7:30 to 9:30
Doors at 7
Readings start at 7:30

Bart is MacArthur
Cross is Broadway
Parking in Street or in back of Studio

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Neat Art Show on Friday

My friend Jake Gillespie, who has shown films at Studio One, is having an art show on Friday. If you are in the Oakland area, stop over at Rooz by the lake.

Show of drawings+videos by Jake Gillespie as well as live music from Joseph Bryce and RACCCCNS.

Jake Gillespie =
Joseph Bryce/ClovisHeald =

Art show starts at 7pm (FREE)
Rock&Roll show starts at 8pm ($5)