Monday, September 20, 2010

Steffi Drewes talks with Brian Teare for Friday 9/24's reading

Steffi Drewes: Let me start by saying that your two most recent books, Sight Map (University of California Press, 2009) and Pleasure (Ahsahta Press, September 2010), are testament to your expertise at creating vivid poetic terrains—both books contain a beautiful fusion of geographical, sexual, theological, and linguistic landscapes. Before addressing the Biblical garden paradise that is so central to Pleasure, I am wondering if there are any gardens or green spaces that figure prominently into your memory, specific landscapes that have either directly informed your writing or served as personal sanctuaries? You write with such a fierce attention to natural detail—and by fierce, I mean stunning.

Brian Teare:
Thanks so much for your kind words about this recent work, Steffi—and for your own very fierce attention to it.

The first garden I knew must have been my mother’s: she had an L-shaped planter in the backyard that was all hers. But she was a mother of six, and anyway indifferent to plants, and so it never contained much more than a few straggly rose bushes, some low-maintenance perennials and bulbs bought from a catalog—crocuses, daffodils and the likes—a gesture toward the idea of a “garden,” and very little else.

But this was in rural Alabama. We lived on the edge of a small town; our house was largely bounded by pine forest, and I was not a boy given to boundaries. My affinity for the natural world started just past my mother’s half-hearted garden, where the forest, by closing in upon itself, opened onto another kind of horizon.

Mine was the kind of childhood that allowed for many unsupervised hours outdoors, and that was the greatest freedom I knew: the trails and trees and seasons of that place, unmediated by reason. I mean that I know that I loved the forest because I experienced it as entirely outside of “law”: it was a place where familial and religious orthodoxies didn’t follow.

Of course I have lived in and loved other places since, and Sight Map travels through many of them—the Susquehanna river of central Pennsylvania, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and Lake Merritt in Oakland—but as an adult I have been all too aware of the various kinds of law and/or order at work in structuring my experience of the natural world.

You might say that Sight Map records the collision of those two gestures at work in my relationship to the natural world: Romantic idealization (faith) and self-conscious critique (doubt). Transcendentalism meets post-structuralism.

SD: In your newest book, Pleasure, there is a three-part poem titled “Eden Tiresias” in which alternating lines of the first and second sections seem to be remarkably spliced together to create the third section. As soon as I finished this third part, I went back to read the first two again and could have read myself in circles, guessing which came first and intrigued by how seamlessly the first two sections functioned on their own and as a whole. Could you talk a bit about the structure of this poem, how it originated and evolved?

Though Pleasure is foremost an elegy, it’s also an encounter with Gnostic thought—which I was in thrall to for the better part of a decade. I was and remain especially taken with the Gnostic tractate “The Thunder: Perfect Mind,” which both reifies the binary system upon which Gnosticism depends and destroys it through an insistence on paradox as basic to the structure of being. Given that many scholars believe the poem to be spoken by the feminine principle of wisdom—Sophia herself!—paradox would seem to reflect a gendered relationship to knowledge and to reality.

Paradox is a wholeness that acts like a fragment when we try to think about it. That’s what makes it so interesting. Even when we think we’re close to understanding something like “I am the honored one and the scorned one,” we encounter something like, “I am the barren one/and many are her sons.” Just as it seems possible to grasp, paradox always turns some part of itself away—sort of like the moon in its phases. A full moon doesn’t last long, but the light of comprehension is bright while it shines.

So that’s one significant half of the poem’s background. The other is the figure of Tiresias, whose condition seemed to me to be a lot like that of Sophia, but queer: he embodies knowledge gleaned from both sides of the binary. And if in some Gnostic myths Sophia visits the garden of Eden in the guise of the snake offering much-needed wisdom to Adam and Eve, snakes play a crucial role in Tiresias’ transformations—as Ovid tells us, snakes attended each transformation that allowed him to become her to become him.

To reveal how I wrote the poem might risk dispelling its magic, wouldn’t it? Basically, I wanted to write a poem whose form was paradox: binary but dialectical, discreet and chiasmatic. I set out to do so in a fairly methodical way—by which I mean I created a working solution to the technical problem of writing a poem whose two halves work on their own and together—but I’ll say that what I actually wrote, the content of the poem, surprised me: especially the prevalence of rage and refusal in the closure.

SD: This book, Pleasure, is so deeply personal and urgent and yet so intertwined with philosophical and religious narratives that have such cultural magnitude. In one of my favorite poems, “Dreamt Dead Eden,” you write “I walk the graveyard garden schemata.” I think that is such a telling expression of the speaker’s precarious position throughout the book, the straddling of two worlds related through paradox. And in the collection, there are so many other boundaries (binaries) that are explored: self/other, creation/destruction, life/death, knowledge/intuition, pleasure/pain, mind/body, entrapment/escape. Do you find yourself taking a similar philosophical approach in your recent or upcoming projects, or does the new work feel like a departure from that structure?

BT: I once had a teacher who told me that all of my poems were arguments—at the time I took this to mean quarrelsome or aggressive. I was, after all, writing explicitly queer poems set in and against traditional patriarchal family structure, which in my case was also highly religious and regionally inflected by Southern culture. But now I think I didn’t hear all the meanings she intended to set at play in the diagnostic word “arguments”: I think she meant it literally, as in the poems are structured by a rhetoric which is aimed against other rhetoric.

Which is a long way of saying I’ve long been aware both of the rhetorical and ideological contexts within which I was raised and those which have framed and informed much of my adult experience and writing. But rhetoric has its own music, evokes its own prosodic structures—as does counter-rhetoric. Hence the “graveyard garden schemata” by which the speaker is constrained but within which the speaker is also mobile. This structure seems generally true of all of my work. For instance, during the time I was writing Pleasure, I was certainly testing the general formlessness of my own experience of mourning against the received structures of Gnosticism—perhaps that’s my particular music, the counterpoint of mobility (or the illusion of mobility) against constraint.

If my new work differs philosophically from that of Pleasure—and it does—it’s first because Gnosticism no longer has the central importance it once held for me, and second because I’m testing my own experience against other systems of thought. It’s also because, though my own experience remains relevant to the poems, their structures are far less likely to be narrative—a combination of collage, prosodic and syntactical compression, and allegiance to aural improvisation rules my process of writing at this point. Probably my friends could paint a much better picture of the continuities and changes in my work than I can, but it seems fair to me to say that I remain that student writer who is always arguing with something.

At one point, you speak of “the roar before order,” which struck me as a very dynamic line, one that could easily refer to the process of writing, to the process of grief, and of course, to the process of creation. Am I making a fair assessment?

BT: That line—from “Of Paradise and the Structure of Gardens”—was gesturing toward what it must have sounded like to be a priori : before names, before an understanding of the strictures imposed upon us by having a history. Biblical accounts of the garden posit naming as a good thing—evidence of man’s stewardship over beasts—but I love the idea of the garden before man as a kind of cultural pre-linguistic stage. It’s like trying to imagine Western Civ as an infant! But I take full advantage of the generally potent metaphoricity of the Biblical myth of Eden, assigning all sorts of tenors to its vehicle. For example: Pleasure posits the world before Jared’s death as a kind of Eden and his death as a kind of Fall. The snake here is not AIDS—the garden is not a conventional moral space—but rather the Gnostic spirit of Sophia. If we fall from union into wisdom, it is our only consolation, and it protects us from nostalgia, a harrowing affliction because our idea of origin is often so compelling. In the Biblical narrative “the roar before order” is the welter of the world in its purest Being; it’s a kind of chaos whose power is harnessed and briefly controlled by naming and divine sanction; the fall essentially returns us to a state in which the world is uncontrollable and does not answer to a name. Grief is like this, yes. And so, sometimes, is writing.

SD: Writing an elegy, especially a book-length elegy, would appear to be such an inherently daunting, yet therapeutic (and in some cases, necessary), task. What were your biggest fears about writing these poems, if you care to tell? Was there anything that you were most afraid of uncovering or discovering in this uncertain lands of Eden, ecstasy and intellect?

BT: I can’t say I had many worries when I first began writing these poems: I started the book in 2000, a year after Jared’s death, and I can’t say I thought much about what I was doing at first, a fact I attribute to grief. Even the recurrence of “Eden” in the poems at the beginning was incidental; once I had four or five it dawned on me that I was working on a sequence or group or poems. When the energy for those poems slackened off, I was worried about what to do with them; they seemed so unlike anything I’d written, yet they didn’t add up to anything on their own. Then in 2002 the “Californian” series began and the second half of the book began to open up in front of me. It took me until 2004 to write “To Other Light,” after which the book snapped shut behind me. It was only then that I began worrying about the book itself: that it’s too concerned with God and theology for most contemporary readers, that its two sections are too different aesthetically, that it’s too depressing.

But these were shallow and/or unfounded worries; the real ones suggested themselves soon enough. For ethical reasons, Jared’s story was largely not mine to tell—the narrative aspects of it, I mean. So I was worried that the poems would seem too involved in their own experience, not mournful enough of him in all of his specifics. On the one hand, this is not an unusual quality for an elegy, and is, in fact, almost a trope of the historical genre: both “Lycidas,” In Memoriam and Sonnets to Orpheus (among many other poems) eclipse the lives of those they mourn for. On the other, there’s the contemporary genre of AIDS elegy that the book participates in and honors—I’m thinking specifically of Paul Monette’s Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog and Mark Doty’s My Alexandria as well as Tory Dent’s harrowing series of auto-elegies Black Milk—and when measured against these books, Pleasure is largely less domestic and more mythic in its scale.

Though I was certainly inspired by books like Monette’s and Doty’s, my experience of Jared’s death was probably theological and spiritual first—the politics of it came in a close second. This blend of experience, theology and politics moved me to write into a register of language I found in elegy throughout its generic history, thus putting me into a very different conversation with the history of ideas than many of the contemporary books that had been most important to me—though I was constantly reinforced in my ambitions by Brenda Hillman’s Death Tractates and John Taggart’s When the Saints. My basic desire was to forge a language in which I could fuse the mythic and the personal, rather than have to choose one over the other—.

The recipient of Stegner, National Endowment for the Arts, and MacDowell Colony poetry fellowships, Brian Teare is the author of The Room Where I Was Born, Sight Map, and Pleasure, as well as the chapbooks Pilgrim and Transcendental Grammar Crown. On the graduate faculties of Mills College and University of San Francisco, he lives in San Francisco, where he also makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.

Steffi Drewes was born in Iowa. Her poems have recently appeared in New American Writing, Parthenon West Review, Bombay Gin, Shampoo and Monday Night, and her manuscript, Her Wingspan In Inches, was a finalist for the 2010 Cleveland State University Poetry Center FirstBook Award. She lives in the East Bay and is a contributing editor for MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Studio One Reading Series is on September 24th with Brian Teare and Martha Ronk. Music from Campos-Quinn.

The recipient of Stegner, National Endowment for the Arts, and MacDowell Colony poetry fellowships, Brian Teare is the author of The Room Where I Was Born, Sight Map, and Pleasure, as well as the chapbooks Pilgrim and Transcendental Grammar Crown. On the graduate faculties of Mills College and University of San Francisco, he lives in San Francisco, where he also makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.

Single Slit Diffraction Pattern is a tape loop and flicker film based project that pokes a third-eye stalk through the veils of bodily perception. Cresting waves of drone, vocals ripped apart, drifting sands of hum and buzz. Flickering sphincters, full body epileptic fits. From Michael Campos-Quinn and Curtis Tamm.

Martha Ronk is the author of eight books, most recently Why/Why Not from UC Press, In a landscape of having to repeat, Omnidawn (a PEN USA best poetry book) and Vertigo, a National Poetry Series selection, Coffee House Press. She is also the author of Glass Grapes and other stories from BOA Editions, 2008 and teaches Renaissance literature and creative writing at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday, September 24 @ 7:30PM

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lara Durback talks with Ariel Goldberg for her Studio One performance on 9/3

I am about to interview Ariel Goldberg, one of the most serious and hard-working artists I have ever met. We are emailing each other in this interview. We are good friends. We write letters to one another. We are making a book together. (More later.) I would do anything to have the consistency of practice that she is able to keep up with her writing. This person works on art every day.

You have been working in an epistolary mode in the past, writing letters to dead soldiers. I remember your performance by the Claremont post office mailbox. I felt like I had to be reverent to watch you. You were holding and caressing the letters underneath the mailbox with a faraway look in your eye.

Your photographer character, however, in more recent performances, has almost a clowning feel, as some people commented, or even aggressive! Yet I know you didn't want the character to be a clown at all. You said to me in an email or letter that you envisioned the Photographer Without a Camera to be, but rather an "expert on a subject as broad as all of photography." What goes into the sort of mood your performance moves into? Is performance always on your mind while you are writing?

: I am drawn to things that are impossible, confusing or absurd to me. Right now, the act of photographing and the pace of photography feels very urgent, or always has. I throw myself at big topics to obsess over and the writing is daily. My focus on it is anti-canon. Ultra mundane. It takes at least a year of marinating to then know how I will perform it. I tend to collect a lot of junk, usually thrift store stuff, I build mini-installations or sets to write the performance scripts in and then a character will sort of emerge, in a very sloppy way, from the writing. And somehow I'll do a little performance somewhere and it's a way for me to figure out how to reconcile the writing and the performance.

My work can be seen as an anti-podium poetry reading, meaning I hung out a lot around downtown New York experimental theater, so I am always thinking about how to captivate an audience like I was captivated the first time I saw Taylor Mac or Jibz Cameron. I just saw the band Moira Scar play, and they don’t break character. If the mic is fucked up they tell the tech guy fix this now while wearing a cat mask. It’s real.

The Photographer Without a Camera started doing press conferences because I built a teleprompter, sort of by accident, one day in my studio. And then this character was an aggressive yelling mess because they wanted to convey some urgency. This performance scared people, children, at the Headlands open house. I had a crisis of me not wanting to scare people but the character just going for it. They stared past people’s foreheads and asked “Do you want me to take your picture?” The kitchen staff at Headlands, who I talked about my work with everyday there, told me this piece was, “a bummer.” I didn't like this. So I'm tweaking this aspect of the character. I think I'm done amping up the wackadoodle of this character. I had multiple microphones whipping around to satire press conferences in the news. Now I'm more interested in developing the Photographer without a Camera to be more of an eccentric philosopher. I'm working on David Antin style slide lecture talk poems, in the voice of this sort of technological expert, time travelled journalist. I'm thinking now after a year of these impassioned street creature performances that The Photographer without a Camera is just going to write and respond to letters about photography instead of yell in the wind at the Golden Gate Bridge about photography. The characters in the performances become addressees of the writing in other words.

So you are writing TO the characters. I get that. So, since you had a bunch of different characters embodied under this umbrella-person of Photographer Without a Camera, the phrases that you came up with were addressing all of them. (Hey reader, Ariel and I are printing these phrases into a book by setting type, and then printing onto pages of old photo magazine pages.) You have so many phrases, Ariel. You have notebooks full of all the interactions with photography. Why did they get narrowed down to such short bursts of language, like "I thought you were taking a picture of me" ? I know these choices are very specific for you. What goes into the choosing?

I stick with a form, for example one-sentence captions about photographic events, then I have to figure out how to present this writing without it being a total snore. Because the truth is I write all day long so I have a lot of garbage. I’m like a pack rat of my own brain. Notebooks filled with handwriting I can’t even read. Yes, I’m invested in the handwritten. I need objects. I feel terribly overwhelmed when I have to edit. So I get help from friends if I ask nicely or. I did have a girlfriend who was an excellent editor. I feel a little screwed now. But I reread what I write over and over again. Then only the strong survive.

LD: What do you read a lot of? How, when? I know you read the newspaper, the one that is a paper object. Do you read the computer newspaper more often these days? This is a pertinent question to me when I think about writing, writers, and who writers are writing for. I, for instance, have a bookmark in every book in my house, almost. Many of the books I would call my favorites are unfinished. I write more than I read most days. Certain kinds of writing assume that the person reading has a lot of time, or can concentrate in a particular way. A lot of writing depends on undivided attention. How is this relevant to your writing/performance?

AG: I never feel like I read enough. I think of it like a hunt or surprises but it always feels magnetized to whatever I'm trying to articulate in my writing/performance. When I read current experimental poetry I think that's when the world make sense to me. I feel like the news is poetry and poetry is the news. The actual paper is a luxury I only come across in libraries or as a gift of public transit. And I sort of hate the SF Chronicle. I have a complicated relationship with the New York Times, on the other hand, which mostly involves lust and disdain. I skim online; I don't know if it's reading, it's terribly impatient. I listen to the news on the radio more. I read all sorts of commercial and art photography blogs. I write in the voices of photographers. It's sort of research for the writing which is often photographers explaining, narrating the pictures they take, the ones mostly in the news. I inundate myself with news photos. I guess this is reading. It's actually very disturbing. I don't read much fiction at all and if I do I don't finish it; I try to turn it into poetry, crack the narrative in my impulsiveness or laziness.

Right now I'm gravitating towards interpretations of art essays. Because Charity Coleman and I we are sort of writing scripts and creating this talk show Write This Down TV. I went through a pretty heavy phase of reading any documents/essays of the culture wars too, and anything I could about late 80s/90s art scenes in New York, you know when I was just a kid. I really like Printed Matter's Artist and Activist series. It's free, ask for it if you are ever buying anything there. I read old photo magazines, the ones we are printing our book on, Shutterbug, Modern Photography, I read the classified ads in the back where people are actually selling slides of girls in lingerie so you can "learn lighting." I'm imagining that I'm writing an essay called "The problem in Queer Arts Today" or it doesn't have a title yet. So I just read a book on Drag Kings. I'm also hunting for fucked up versions of the epistolary because I'm fascinated with and constantly using the forms of letter/email/text message. So I got Chris Kraus' I Love Dick in the mail. I read My Walk With Bob by Bruce Boone this summer. It was fantastic. I'm into anything interview related. The A.R.T. series and Re/Search publications. But I agree. Bookmarks all over.

LD: Ooh, that Kraus book looks so good. I just looked it up. Anyway, I was thinking about the attention span of reading in general. Your choice of performance (over "podium") makes me think that you are looking for a sharpened attentiveness to your writing while presenting in public. No room for people spacing out. They have to LOOK at your writing. I can relate to that. But then, you lean so much more toward print material, objects, the tactile. I'll have to show you this book of a bunch of letters and emails called The Septa Letters by Liz Rywelski. It's so manipulative. She writes admiring notes with her email to strangers on Septa (Philly's public transportation), and then they email her and she never writes back. There's like this giving happening from the opposite end...the person who didn't think they were being published. But who were they giving to? Anyway...I'm just interested in attention, and how it happens. Is this a question? WAIT! I know where I'm going. You wrote in a letter to me when you were lamenting how wacky the Photographer got, "what about the performance that doesn't want any attention?"

AG: I think art is very serious, or it’s why I’m here. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t fun also, or funny. I’m having fun! That’s where people get mistaken. Somehow this reminds me of when men tell you to smile. Like when I got fired from a gourmet pizzeria nine years ago because I wasn’t smiling enough. No, I’m performing--back off. Because how else will you hold people’s attention?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Studio One is on September 3rd with Steffi Drewes, Ariel Goldberg and Rusty Morrison

Join us Frist Friday for:

Steffi Drewes was born in Iowa. Her poems have recently appeared in New American Writing, Parthenon West Review, Bombay Gin, Shampoo and Monday Night, and her manuscript, Her Wingspan In Inches, was a finalist for the 2010 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First
Book Award. She lives in the East Bay and is a contributing editor for MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine.

Ariel Goldberg writes poetic scripts and performs them, often as, The Photographer without Camera. This writing is in the form of captions, open letters and slide lectures addressing unknown and multiplying photographers and images that may not respond. Currently, you can find her work online. Ariel Goldberg is also the co-host, with Charity Coleman, of the public access talk show

Rusty Morrison's third book, After Urgency, just won the Tupelo Dorset Prize and will be published next year by Tupelo. Her second book, the true keeps calm biding its story, won Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, the Northern California Book Award, & Ahsahta’s Sawtooth Prize. Whethering, won the Colorado Prize for Poetry. She’s received the Bogin, Hemley, DiCastagnola, and Winner Memorial Awards from The Poetry Society of America. She is Omnidawn’s co-publisher.

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