Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Andrew Wessels talks with Craig Santos Perez for his July 2nd reading at Studio One Art Center

Andrew Wessels: unincorporated territory is a project that now spans two books. Do you see this larger project being at some point in the future being assembled into a single, 'completed' form? Or is the fracturing of both the entire project as well as the poem-threads something integral to the project itself? Any idea or knowledge of how far you are planning on taking the project?

Craig Santos Perez:
I will continue this project as long as Guahan, my homeland, continues to be a colony of the United States--as long as I continue to be "from unincorporated territory." Sadly, I may continue this project as long as I live. Yes, I can foresee the books being collected into a single book--but never a 'completed form' as the excerpting and poem-threads are indeed integral to both the making of the project and the project itself.

AW: You have mentioned Paterson as a touchstone for your writing, but when I initially posited a connection, your response made me think that you did not actively and overtly look to Paterson during the writing of this book. The book, though, uses found language as well as epigraphs, so intertextuality is overtly at work here. I'm curious to know more about your various approaches to using texts and what you see as, perhaps, active and passive 'uses' of text?

CSP: You're right, I did not actively look to Paterson during the writing of my books; yet having studied Paterson as an undergraduate left an impression on me. Like Williams, I also interweave lyric poems, historical & political documents, individual speech, and discursive information as a statement not only about a place, but also about how the roots and routes of a place can highlight the experience of colonialism. Research is an important part of our projects--as well as the problematics (and rewards) of finding ways to incorporate that research into the flow of the poetic text. In the same way that the Passaic falls and its river flow through the books of Paterson, water (hanom) also flows through my own books. In terms of how I use text: as you mention, I use many kinds of documents in my work--such as sources from history, politics, anthropology, journalism, popular culture, cultural studies, etc. Almost always I will purposefully manipulate a text's syntax, punctuation, and typography to defamiliarize it--a kind of ritual cleansing of a text before it enters the poetic tide. Often, I will place these shifted texts in new contexts, giving the text new meanings and resonances. Sometimes, texts will be disbursed across an entire thematic trajectory, putting the text in conversation with personal, familial, or cultural memory. So I think my use of documents--of the inter-, pre-, and post-textual--as active in a variety of ways.

AW: I was able to hear you read some poems in Denver at AWP. However, this is before I had read the book. I wish that I could switch that order or be in attendance for this upcoming reading. Now, having read your book, it is apparent that the page as a space or field of composition is vitally important to the existence of the poems. Additionally, you utilize typographical conventions such as bolded words, crossed out words, and italicized words. As this interview is in preparation for another reading, I'm curious to know: How do you translate these physical representations of the word on the page into your live reading?

CSP: I wish you could be in attendance too! In terms of space, I try to embody the space by pausing during my reading, by creating waves of silence that wash over the aural text. Larger spaces require longer silences--in the same way that a larger period in Robert Duncan's work requires a longer pause (tho I am not as mathematical in my pauses as Duncan was). In terms of other typographical conventions, I haven't yet found a way to embody bold or crossed out words in a live reading--so I just read them and hope that it provides a nice surprise to the reader who takes the book home with them.

AW: I'm interested in particular about the conversation in your work between land and the sea. I see the sea as a space where history vanishes nearly instantaneously. Ruins and archaeological remains exist on land. The sea swallows this past, is a continuously blank surface. Like an Etch-a-Sketch in a way, maybe. Your work attempts to navigate this space, I guess these islands, in which this constant-present of the sea is juxtaposed by the history of land and, particularly, of documents. Or, maybe, the difference is a difference between tradition and history?

CSP: I see the ocean (or tasi, in Chamoru) as overflowing with signification, history, politics, transit, story, life and death. Ruins exist in the ocean as well--especially around Guam. For example, there is a "dive site" where you can actually dive into two ships from World War I and World War II (the SMS Cormoran & the Tokai Maru) in the same place. And as we know, the ocean does not swallow the past completely. It hovers or plumes and washes ashore. We can think of the oil spill in the Gulf or the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," the floating island of toxic plastic waste growing exponentially in the Pacific. If only we could Etch-a-Sketch these things ways. If only we could Etch-a-Sketch the fact that in 2009 George W. Bush signed three declarations—under authority of the u.s. 1906 antiquities act—placing the Marianas Trench and the waters around three islands of the CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) and 21 undersea volcanoes, as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the Central Pacific Ocean and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, under the jurisdiction of the u.s. government. These new Pacific Monuments measure about 200,000 square miles, and are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior in consultation with the Department of Defense. Among other things, the declaration quotes (and yes, this is going in my next book): "to protect the training readiness and global mobility of u.s. armed forces and ensure protection of navigation rights and high seas freedoms under the law of the sea which are essential to the peace and prosperity of civilized nation." Just as the land is never truly terra nulls, the ocean--the Pacific--is never truly a blank surface. It is mapped--sometimes visibly, sometimes invisibly--by imperialism, colonialism, geopolitics, tourism, and militarism. So to me, my work hopes to navigate (and de-navigate) the constant-present-past-future of both ocean and land (as land, too, is an ever-changing tidal surface that bears the scars of colonialism. Both land and ocean have history. Both are part of my tradition. The land (tano) and sea (tasi) are interwoven. Tano' tasi: land of the sea. Tasi tano': sea of the land.

AW: The part of your life we are talking about right now is your poetry life. But you have another life as a graduate student in ethnic studies at Berkeley. I'm curious to know more about the push and pull between these two pursuits. How does one inform, encourage, or at times possibly get in the way of the other?

CSP: Don't remind me about the darker, seedier part of my life! Actually, being a graduate student in ethnic studies has been a real blessing for me. I received funding for my first two years through the university, which gave me plenty of time to continue writing poetry while doing my academic coursework. When that funding ran out, I received a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Diversity Fellowship, which gave me plenty of time to finish writing my second book while working on the written portion of my oral examinations. Basically, when I get bored with my poetry I switch to the academic work; when I get bored with the academic work I turn to poetry. That's the push and pull. Because my current academic work is focusing on Native American and Native Pacific Islander Literature and Literary Theory, I am always thinking about how my own poetry fits into these indigenous literary traditions and how certain scholars might interpret / critique my own work. So it keeps me on my toes.

Craig Santos Perez, a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guahan Guam), is the co-founder of Achiote Press and author of two poetry books: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina](Omnidawn Publishing, 2010). He received an MFA from the University of San Francisco and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Andrew Wessels has lived in Houston, Los Angeles, and Cambridge. He now splits his time between Istanbul and Las Vegas, where he is pursuing an MFA in poetry at UNLV. He is editor in chief of the literary journal The Offending Adam and co-edited with Mark Irwin the anthology 13 Younger Contemporary American Poets (Proem Press). Currently, he is a Cobain Fellow at Black Mountain Institute.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Amanda Nadelberg talks with Rob Schlegel for his July 2nd Reading at Studio One

AMANDA NADELBERG: Your first book, The Lesser Fields, is an entire universe unto itself, and it's filled with some of the most beautiful descriptions of the natural world I've seen—creeks, ponds, fish, trees, honey, horses, hay and duckweed, for instance; it's also full of family units and story (but with story comfortably forgetting a few of its details to make for Better Stories) and directions (read: maps, possibly related to Story) and this amazing and particular myth-making that emerges believable while still strange. Could you talk about these poems and address any of these elements, if they seem familiar to you?

ROB SCHLEGEL: I spent most of my childhood living near the edge of Mr. Maller's twenty acre woods on the eastern slopes of the Oregon coast range. I whacked beehives with sticks and was stung. I wrapped vines around the trunks of trees, not realizing the vines were poison ivy. So its possible that the creeks, ponds, fish and trees in The Lesser Fields are the after-images of those landscapes and animals which helped inform my relationship to language and perception. That said, it took me a few months away from the book to actually see its relatively haunted undercurrents. Seeing them for the first time actually startled me a bit. It was as if I had come across an animal I once knew that was now decomposing.

The final section in the book contains poems that were written after my friend (poet Brandon Shimoda) came to live in my backyard for a spell. So often, Brandon's very presence creates an atmosphere of creative and artistic stimulation. At the time, my wife was away in Mexico for a month, so I basically spent that time (once Brandon left) writing these poems in complete solitude. A lot of the poems were born during that hypnogogic state just before we fall asleep, when the cerebral filters that are generally in place when we're awake, begin to soften and our minds seem more flexible, open, perhaps even, less our own.

In some of your newer poems, there is more city alongside the nature: casinos, towers, theaters (of mollusks!) manmade clouds and commuting and it's striking how it all snuck in so easily, like a cousin to the world in The Lesser Fields, but not that world exactly. How have these new poems evolved? Were there changes in your process, and how do you feel about sonnets?

RS: At the risk of sounding a bit reductive and oversimplistic, I feel that this distinction might stem from reading more and more of the first generation New York School poets (not that Schuyler/Ashbery necessarily avoid the natural world). Once I read O'Hara's THE DAY LADY DIED through Geoffrey G O'Brien's lens in his seminar THE END OF THE POEM, the city suddenly became a place that contained as many (if not more) tensions between my psyche and language as the natural world contained for me in The Lesser Fields. It's likely also the result of actually spending more time in cities, the man-made clouds revealed themselves as I drove from Midwestern city to Midwestern city last fall.

The conversations in Geoffrey's class also got me thinking more and more about form. Many of the sonnets actually began as variations on Hopkin's eleven line curtal sonnets. Since then, I've "sewn" (as a smart friend said) a few of the eleven line sonnets together and then began carving away the excess. Many of the sonnets have been informed by Robert Pogue Harrison's mind-blowingly beautiful book The Dominion of the Dead, as well as some writings of Alberto Giacometti and the two-headed philosopher Deleuze and Guattari.

AN: Do you have socks with lightning bolts on them?

RS: One red pair with white boltz; one green pair with yellow boltz.

AN: One time I saw you read a poem to Lake Erie via skype to some people in a library in a small midwestern city. How did that awesome come about? Do you collaborate often? How do you feel towards the interwebs?

RS: Just after moving to Iowa City, I began to feel some relatively heavy anxiety about living so far from the Oregon that I love. When I lived in Missoula, it was easy to imagine myself still very close to my home state (the state that I used to say, as a highschool kid, I would "fight" for, should it ever need to protection--from what, I had no idea, and still don't). Anyway, I asked a few friends to write poems addressed to Lake Erie that I would read to the lake, and then wait for the lake's response. At its core, this project considered the consequences of departure, arrival, integration and reintegration, as well as explorations of the limited and limiting definitions of “audience” and “reader” in the context of the traditional structures that persist in most reading venues today. Additionally, as a new resident of the Midwest (from the Pacific Northwest, a region that helped sustain me physically, emotionally and artistically) I wanted to explore how voluntary departures and subsequent arrivals felt like minor segmentations of awareness Thus, the delivery of these five texts through my own body and throat was an attempt to move beyond the need to feel as though I was "comfortable" in this new place and toward an appreciation for the fact that these texts (as they were delivered) inhabit/deliver me. To this end I hoped to create some semblance of symmetry around the edges of unease; here and not here, having arrived and arrived nowhere.

AN: At times, there seems to be a more public face in the newer work, but then other times I'm reading, I take it all back, thinking there's a more private logic in the sonnets than in The Lesser Fields, with the act of myth-making in your first book being a generous inclusion for the reader. How do you think about the public vs. private in poetry and/or how do you think of audience if/when you do?

RS: Indeed, I can see what you're saying about the sonnets maybe having a more private logic and I can't help but think that working within the form only allows for a more intense immersion into the psyche--you know--the whole idea that the more structure you have in your life, the more willing you might be to actually wander into those parts of your mind you might not otherwise have the guts to visit. I wonder if those are the private parts of mind? Ultimately, I think many of the sonnets seem to be sitting someplace between the public and private. Perhaps somewhere in the "middle" as Deleuze might say in his Dialogues.

AN: You and your wife, Kisha, started The Catenary Press? Pray tell!

RS: Kisha and I started The Catenary Press when we realized that there weren't very many places for poets to publish serial-work. We wanted to create a venue for that. And so far, the first two publications have nearly sold out. This fall we plan to publish one or two more chapbooks (though we're still trying to figure out which).

AN: What did you have for breakfast?

RS: I am currently living in my sister's basement in Portland. So this morning I ate: Granpola (a homemade granola mix my grandfather invented); yogurt; a few Hood strawberries my sister bought at the Sellwood farmer's market; green-tea in a white cup.

AN: A year ago you moved from Missoula to Iowa City. How you have experienced the changes in terms of landscape, staircases, neighborhood, rainfall, culinary delights and transportation?

RS: Iowa City and the midwest in general, seems like a remarkably comfortable place to live. A friend of mine said that the midwest makes you "own up" to being an American. Which feels about right. That said, the writing community in Iowa City has been tremendously welcoming, and I think this is due, in large part, to the ANTHOLOGY READING SERIES.

AN: Some people really like the summer. What will you do this summer?

RS: I'm reading books for a seminar I'm teaching next year tentatively titled The Post-Modern Post-Trauma: Readings in Contemporary Fiction. So far: L.Davis, Murakami, Dellilo, Millet, McCarthy. I'm also wallowing in the loss of a few good friends who won't be returning to Iowa City next year. The coasts are calling them; they may very well be calling me as well.

Rob Schlegel's The Lesser Fields was selected for the 2009 Colorado Prize for Poetry. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, he has lived in California, Montana and Iowa. He currently teaches at Cornell College and is publisher of The Catenary Press.

Amanda Nadelberg is the author of Bright Brave Phenomena (forthcoming from Coffee House Press) and Isa the Truck Named Isadore (Slope Editions, 2006) as well as a chapbook, Building Castles in Spain, Getting Married (The Song Cave, 2009).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Studio One is on July 2nd with Rob Schlegel, Cassandra Smith & Craig Santos Perez

Check it out:

Craig Santos Perez, a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guahan
(Guam), is the co-founder of Achiote Press (www.achiotepress.com) and
author of two poetry books: from unincorporated territory
(Tinfish Press, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina]
(Omnidawn Publishing, 2010). He received an MFA from the University of
San Francisco and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Ethnic
Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Cassandra Smith works with a combination of fixing and making things.

Rob Schlegel's The Lesser Fields was selected for the 2009 Colorado Prize for Poetry. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, he has lived in California, Montana and Iowa. He currently teaches at Cornell College and is publisher of The Catenary Press.

Studio One Art Center
365 45 St
Cross: Broadway

doors 7
reading 730

How much?
Entry by donation

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Emily Kendal Frey talks with Alisa Heinzman for June 4th's reading

EMILY KENDAL FREY: If I described your poetry as "hesitatingly brave" would that resonate for you?

ALISA HEINZMAN: I feel like I don't know what brave means. Actually, I feel like I don't know what a lot of words mean lately. Calling the poems brave feels really funny to me. They address events that I found and find painful, so if that means they're brave I would think it's in a way that a lot of peoples' poems are.

Your poems, especially those from the "Brother in the Field" series handle biography with such quiet command, and I appreciate so much the way your images offer themselves to the space they occupy. For example,

Our grandparents,
kind in their distance.
The hard-starched collars, the flag-heavy video.
Am I late? It seems I am.

These lines are bald, unflinching, and evenly applied-- the softest opaque. People (grandparents) and things (collars, flags, video) do exist. Your world is an actual world. But the speaker seems to float within this real world, neither judging or participating in it fully. ("Am I late. It seems I am.") There's a resigned bravery there.

AH: I think that's a nice way to put it, sometimes floating within the real world. That seems like a common yet totally weird experience, especially during intense and difficult times, right? Like telling jokes in hospital waiting rooms, or feeling like you have to have a decidedly sad face at funerals. It's just impossible to feel fully and properly at the times you're supposed to. So then when do you freak out? In the bathroom, on the bus, at the grocery store. It's been years since I've read it, but isn't that a part of Camus' The Stranger? The guy's mom dies and he can't seem to act properly like "a grieving son". Most of these poems are written about memories of my brother going to Iraq as a medic, and as I wrote them I realized that in pretty much every situation I felt inappropriate and inadequate. Too aware of myself as a part of this public event with so many other families going through the same thing, but also, of course, feelings of terrible privateness.

EKF: What's it like to write poems like these? How do you approach biography in poetry?

Honestly, I'm really looking forward to not writing poems like these at some point. Or at least not poems that overtly address events I was involved with with my family. It feels really complicated. The poems are about me, about my feelings and responses to events because in many ways that's all I can write about here. I'm not in the military and all I can know about my brother's experiences is what he tells me. So there's some of that, things he talked and wrote about, but I tried to deal mostly with myself because that's all I can really know.

What do you do with the personal when it intersects the political?

AH: The issue of the political, and the political where it insects biography is an ongoing source of anxiety. I've had so many terrible feelings about it. Like using the words war and soldier and deployment and uniform...these words are just huge. They are so difficult. But the public-ness and the political aspect of these experiences are integral to the experiences, so writing poems that completely ignored this--poems that just addressed an absence or something like that, or abstracted the events--felt all wrong. I had so many fights with myself like, "really, are you really going to use the word war again?" and "why can't I use the word war? It's a war isn't it?" But the big words feel distancing, so I was/am always conflicted.

I think it's hard, too, because political poems (and really, I'm not sure what exactly constitutes a political poem) get a bad rap for a lot of good reasons. There's the risk of being a sort of "speaker outside the event" that looks in and judges without being culpable or present. I don't know. Lately I've really liked looking at Wave Book's State of the Union. There's this great range of poems there that deal with the political, the public, whatever, in really thoughtful ways.

EKF: How do you include someone else in a poem without being exploitative?

AH: I really have no idea. This has also been such a concern for me in these recent poems. If to exploit is just to put to use then I'm trying to think of it as, In these particular poems, I put my memories to use and my memories involve other people. Really, over and over, I keep thinking that the best solution I have right now is to focus on myself, be certain the speaker is always a version of me, which sounds, maybe, selfish. But really, if what's there is what comes in through my own eyeballs and ears and hands, then I can be responsible for that, or at least I can answer for that in some way.

EKF: What's your relationship to reading? I know that my relationship to reading (poetry, and all texts) shifts constantly, and I'm always in conversation with myself as a reader, not just a writer. Any current favorite poets or writers?

AH: Reading is definitely a big part of writing for me. I think this is especially true when I'm trying to work through difficult parts of a poem, or think about how to approach the sometimes vague poem-blob in my head in some way...to think of how someone else did it in a way that felt successful to me. The books of poetry that have affected me most strongly in the last several months would definitely be WS Merwin's The Lice, and more recently, Susan Howe's Souls of the Labadie Tract. I memorized a couple of short Merwin poems last month and have been thinking about how reading impacts my writing most when it really inhabits my brain, my day to day thoughts when I'm waiting in line or something, thinking about how a poem looks or feels or wondering at a really weird, magic moment in it, and then trying to bring something of that love to my own writing. Of course, it doesn't always transfer.

Emily Kendal Frey
lives in Portland, Oregon and teaches at Portland Community College. She is the author of Airport (Blue Hour 2009), Frances (Poor Claudia 2010), and The New Planet (Mindmade Books 2010).

Alisa Heinzman
lives in Oakland. She co-edits the journal CALAVERAS with Sara Mumolo, and is the poetry editor for MARY Magazine. She will graduate from Saint Mary's College of California's MFA program this month and has several poems forthcoming in the SF Public Press.