Friday, November 26, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thursday December 2nd with Matthew Zapruder and Robert Hass. Music from Sean McArdle.

check it out:
December 2nd
doors 7
reading 730, sharp
entry by donation

Matthew Zapruder is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Come On All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon), recently selected as one of the top 5 poetry books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly. His poems, essays and translations have appeared in many publications, including Open City, Bomb, Slate, American Poetry Review, Poetry, Tin House, Harvard Review, Paris Review, The New Republic, The Boston Review, The New Yorker, McSweeney's, The Believer, Real Simple, and The Los Angeles Times. He has received a William Carlos Williams Award, a May Sarton Award from the Academy of American Arts and Sciences, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Currently the Holloway Lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as an editor for Wave Books and a member of the permanent faculty in the low residency MFA program at UC Riverside-Palm Desert, he lives in San Francisco.

Sean McArdle cut his teeth in the San Francisco Bay Area scene in the '90's with his own lo-fi recording project, Driving by Braille (Troniks Records) and most notably with The Cost (Lookout! Records).

Sean went through a career change with his music when moving to Washington, DC in 2005. Turning down the volume on a new set of songs, and joining forces to record and perform with resident Dischord Records drummer Ben Azzara (Delta 72, Joe Lally) and Lida Husik (Alias Records). Enlisting players for organ, vibes and guitar, Northern Charms was finally mixed at the legendary Inner Ear Studios, in Arlington, VA. Completing a national USA tour in the summer of 2009, and a month in Europe in the winter, Sean is back in San Francisco working on a new record, a short film and more tours.

Robert Hass has published many books of poetry including Field Guide, Praise, Human Wishes, and Sun Under Wood, as well as a book of essays on poetry, Twentieth Century Pleasures. Hass translated many of the works of Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, and he edited Selected Poems: 1954-1986 by Tomas Tranströmer, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, and Poet’s Choice: Poems for Everyday Life. He was the guest editor of the 2001 edition of Best American Poetry. His essay collection Now & Then, which includes his Washington Post articles, was published in April 2007. As US Poet Laureate (1995-1997), his deep commitment to environmental issues led him to found River of Words (ROW), an organization that promotes environmental and arts education in affiliation with the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Hass is chairman of ROW’s board of directors, and judges their annual international environmental poetry and art contest for youth; he also wrote the introduction to the poetry collection River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things. He is also a board member of International Rivers Network. Robert Hass was chosen as Educator of the Year by the North American Association on Environmental Education and, in 2005, elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. His collection of poems entitled Time and Materials (fall 2007) won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. He wrote the introduction to a new edition of selected Walt Whitman poems in Song of Myself: And Other Poems. His most recent volume entitled The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems was published by Ecco in spring 2010. Hass is currently at work on a collection of selected essays.

see you there!

We will be taking Jan and Feb off, but we will back on March 4th for a reading with David Antin.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Scott Davis talks with Elizabeth Hatmaker for Nov 5th's reading

Elizabeth Hatmaker’s poem cycle, Girl in Two Pieces (BlazeVOX, 2010), explores the life and mythology of Elizabeth Short, the “Black Dahlia,” who was brutally murdered in January 1947 in Los Angeles. This interview was conducted by email exchanges between 10/27/10 and 11/1/10.

Scott Davis: First off, let me say how much I enjoyed reading your work. You’ve taken this figure that’s simultaneously famous and anonymous and interrogated the conditions of her status as icon and managed to restore to her some resemblance of humanity at the same time. It was deeply moving. What drew you, initially, to the story or the character of Elizabeth Short? Stories like this are told all the time, when did you get the fever, “the girl rancor,” when did you decide that this was the story that needed to be told?

Elizabeth Hatmaker: Thank you for your kind words. I was in Washington Dulles airport on a long layover with nothing to read, so I picked up Max Allan Collin’s Angel in Black. He wrote a series of detective stories in which his protagonist is embroiled in all of the great mysteries of the early to mid 20th century, including the Black Dahlia murder. As a lifelong true-crime junkie, I was intrigued by both the variety of true-crime “solutions” and Collin’s willingness to string them together into this larger unruly narrative—one that is, at turns, appealing and overheated. I tried to imagine how one could write Short in a way that was clean and dignified or smooth. I couldn’t. Trust me, there’s no way to write about her that doesn’t get banal or narcissistic or naive really fast (probably I shouldn’t admit this at the start of the interview). I suppose I started off interested in her narrative and representational awkwardness within true crime writing, a genre that beckons you to think about dead women like Short but then can never offer a dignified language for you to do it in.

My “girl rancor” came as I confronted all the creepiness that the project made me embody, all those positions of fantasy—liking her, identifying with her, killing her, fucking her, saving her, experimenting on her, avenging her, solving her—that make it impossible for me to simply and reasonably observe that we shouldn’t commit violent crimes against women. How am I supposed to look other women—other people—in the eye and say that I couldn’t quite play that line straight? That sense of writerly discomfort seems like the story that I needed to tell.

SD: Your work frequently invokes women who are peripheral to the story (as well as society): Harriet Manley, “all those women in Juarez,” the long list in “Norton, Jan. ’47 (Author’s Note),” “this daughter” in “Theory 3” (and elsewhere), Geneva Ellroy, and in part VI, simply “the Girl” (with its final allusive nod To Elsie). The cycle seems as much for all of them as for Elizabeth (and you acknowledge you write “for women like her”). In what ways do you imagine Elizabeth Short as a point of comparison for so many women? In what ways as simply human? How do you negotiate between this sense of “representability” and her own singularity?

EH: As I continued to obsessively research all things Black Dahlia, I was struck by the impossible epideictic logic of her dead name: “The Black Dahlia.” All these occasions which commemorate her memory—the books, films, TV documentaries, the crime scene photography that appears in art books. I can’t quite decide what to do with her. The bisected “Dahlia” riffs on the “beautiful dead girls” in those 19th century penny dreadfuls; her impossible name links an overwrought romanticism to a more forensic modernism. “Dahlia” the name is the idealized “angel of the house” term perversely reborn to perfection as pure mystery after a wild adventure in the 20th century public sphere. Elizabeth Short, on the other hand, was, several researchers tell us, “going to seed” at the tender age of 22 and probably not slated for a long or happy life even had she not been murdered in January 1947 and become “The Black Dahlia.”

As scholars like Chris Breu, Greg Forter, Erin Smith and Sean McCann observe, for many men noir and hard-boiled literature served as a site for “working through” the various complicated ideal constructions of masculinity and the increasing impossibility of embodying these roles within a Fordist economy. In this same way, true crime accounts of Elizabeth Short and many of the other women I explicitly name—famous names like Sharon Tate and the less-known but specific names of women killed in Juarez and in Vancouver’s Eastside—and the anonymous signifiers — “the Girl” or even “Elsie”— represent a similar “working through” space for women who make up a significant readership for both true crime and police procedurals.

Similar to pulp masculinities, true crime femininities serves as a sign under which the material violence of everyday life is elided with nostalgic imaginary relationships. It seems counter-intuitive as noir offers culturally celebrated “tough guys” while true crime offers us abject dead bodies for possible identification, but I wonder if, for many women, the name shift from Elizabeth Short to “The Black Dahlia” is an understandable thread between safety and death enacted in the “angel in the house/beautiful dead girl” dialectic. Certainly this thread can produce conservative responses—blaming the victim, identifying with violence, endless melancholia. But I think it also challenges us to construct better stories of supposedly “seedy” women like Short, probably like all of us, who, not safe but not yet dead, are perpetually in danger of death.

SD: Karen Joy Fowler once wrote a story about multiple Elizabeths –Tudor, Borden, Cady Stanton, Taylor – as different avatars for a singular intelligence (ed: “The Elizabeth Complex,” 1996). And as I read about “Beth for Short,” I kept thinking about additional Elizabeths: Bennett, Minnelli, Hatmaker. How much of a hatmaker is your short?

EH: I initially liked the idea of Elizabeth Short for obvious reasons: I liked the way she looked; she grew up not far from where I once lived in Massachusetts; some of her sad attempts to impress men reminded me of my similar attempts; we both have last names people make stupid jokes about. Two rather solitary matter-of-fact Elizabeths just trying to hobble together some sense of mystery and style in their lives, or at least that’s how I romanticize our shared intelligence. It seems wrong to claim we share the intelligence of male violence given her murder, but I suppose we do. I sometimes look at her picture and wonder if she would have liked me. Since writing the book, I’ve come late to three brilliant texts I wish I would have read a long time ago—Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts (both about the murder of an aunt she never knew) and Kate Millet’s The Basement (about the murder of Sheila Likens). Both women I think struggle with this problem of connecting one’s intelligence—which I take to include one’s ethics, one’s stupidity, one’s disappointments—to that of someone we can never really know even as we obsess about.

SD: You riff so well with received language and images and there’s a moment mid-way where I felt almost assaulted by the language of film, especially the language of noir. And your invocation of this language suggests a deep ambivalence toward it: you lean on it in so many ways and yet you seem resistant to it and bemused by it and even resentful of it. Do you imagine film as something akin to some social apparatus within which we learn to work all right all by ourselves without ever really knowing it? Something we consume without knowledge and without thought and yet it animates us, creating what we mistake for knowledge, channeling what we think is thought?

EH: I join several others in “killing the father” in the name of the Black Dahlia. I suppose my relationship to the idea of film in this piece revolves around the lack of a film starring Short. In theory, she went to Hollywood to be an actress, but there’s no evidence she actually followed through, not even a screen test or girly movie. It’s amazing to me how many narratives about her want to redeem her in film. Even as De Palma’s film Black Dahlia was largely dismissed by critics, it was the fictional Elizabeth Short “screen test” scenes that people thought had promise. It’s as if, more than any actual father, we count on film to save her and make her whole in our eyes.

SD: “Poetry can be about public outcry, same as the next form.” There is no art after Auschwitz or Hiroshima, we’re assured, and yet one reads, say, James Ellroy, and one feels that in the crepuscular light of January 47 the pain is only just beginning. Ellroy invokes what he calls a ruthless verisimilitude to find a narrative form that can encompass that pain without sentimentality or venality; how do you imagine the public outcry that is poetry as a form to encompass this pain?

EH: I love Ellroy’s work, don’t get me wrong, but I have to say that his claims for ruthless verisimilitude feels limited, more limited I think than his writing, which always psychopathically lyric, like the illustrations on old pulp covers—precise broody lines with color vomiting itself out. You know, before the events of January ’47, Short was apparently a fairly prolific letter writer, especially to men she dated. She kept a journal. She tended to exaggerate the events of her life—often constructing romantic and sentimental narratives to cover over what seemed to be a life filled with numerous rejections. She herself was probably guilty of the kind of banal excesses that somehow we are to avoid so as to respect some larger ethos about pain. But it seems awful to assume that the modes of engagement she used to seek comfort and to contemplate pain wouldn’t be meaningful or pure enough to engage our esoteric pain about her death.

What would it hurt to be sentimental about Elizabeth Short? I think we give up too easily on the modes of narrative engagement historically imagined to be feminine or excessive, forms that “talk too much.” Certainly the appeals of parataxis and tight indexical images are many, but I’m not convinced that they somehow get at pain in some better or more ethical way than overwrought sentimentality. Whose sentiments are venal here? The “no art after Auschwitz” line always struck me as insincere even as I offer up a similar sentiment; “poetry’s not free anymore,” after the Dahlia that is. There’s art, and we love it, but it seems like we don’t trust art to do much after Auschwitz. I’m kind of up in the air about whether poetry, like other forms, can express Short or women like her right. But I find great beauty in the web of attempts to do some justice for all of us.

SD: What are you working on now? I hear you and Chris are working on a project on Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, can you say more about that now?

EH: I’m working on a number of projects now. I’m lucky to be married to your friend and mine, Chris Breu, author of Hard-Boiled Masculinities. All my psychoanalytic gyrations above—all stuff I worked through with him and for which I owe him huge props. As I write in my dedication, he truly walks with me in the dark in many ways. We recently collaborated on a project on what we are terming “imposter noir.” Through this narrative structure—most famously employed by Patricia Highsmith in The Talented Mr. Ripley—we try to navigate how noir explores the larger shift from U.S. Fordism to the current neo-liberal global economy. In conjunction with this, I ‘m trying to work out some connections between the work of Cornell Woolrich, who inspired many of my most over-the-top moments of excessive bathos in Girl in Two Pieces, with Japanese writer Natsuo Kirino, whose brilliant novel Grotesque seems equally willing to dig at the guts of self-pity, morbidity, and resentment—those emotions that I suspect everyone fears will infect the pure pain I talk about above. I’m also working on some new lighter poetry about exploitation films.

SD: A great moment in John Sayles’ Lone Star has our detective protagonist conversing with an old family friend who shakes a rattlesnake skin at him and says, “Don’t go digging around in the past; you never know what you’ll find!” In all the research and archival work you did for the project, was there anything that just blew your mind that didn’t make it to the text?

EH: First off, I’d never claim to be any sort of Black Dahlia expert or archivist. Plenty of folks– many cited in my acknowledgements—researched Short’s life far more carefully than I did. Even then, it’s my impression that there really isn’t much of a Black Dahlia archive. Apparently all of her “stuff,” all the evidence in her LAPD files, has gone missing over the years. Even so, plenty of Dahlia enthusiasts will note things they are obsessed with that I left out, or guessed at, or even got wrong.

But what rattled my chi as I got lost in all the various true crime accounts I read was what Mark Seltzer, in his recent book True Crime, would articulately describe for me as a kind of pathological substitution of my own commiserative reading forensics (Poetics? Are these the same in my work?) for more materialist modes of inquiry into her life. Perhaps this is what you are getting at? It’s not the stuff you dig up; it’s what the action of digging produces.

Still, and I couldn’t have written this book without it, there was a sort of drunkenness of objects and observations about Short’s life; with this came great joy. There was endless narrative and lyric possibility, for which I am eternally grateful to all of those Dahlia researchers. I’m equally grateful to my comrades in creative writing—Kevin Killian and his obsessive music to the dream of living pop in Action Kylie; Cecil Giscombe and his insistence on the importance of Martha Reeves’ voice, and then of physical place and its documentation in Giscombe Road; Joe Amato and his obsession with the un-erasable working-class figure on the blue-print of academia in Industrial Poetics; Dodie Bellamy and her continued commitment to documenting that female body in all states we ain’t supposed to talk about. These people, among others, showed me the way to work my “archive fever” in new ways. If poetics may suggest problems, it has always been a good place for me to find fellow travelers.

Scott Davis is Chair of the Department of English at California State University, Stanislaus. Elizabeth Hatmaker is the author of Girl in Two Pieces (BlazeVOX 2010), a collection of poetry and essays about the 1947 “Black Dahlia” murder. Her work also appears in Life As We Show It: Writing on Film (City Lights 2009), ACM, Bird Dog, Epoch, Mississippi Review, MiPOesias, Mandorla, and Mirage/ Periodical. Hatmaker teaches creative writing, film, cultural studies, and urban education at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.

Elizabeth Hatmaker reads from her work at Studio One Art Center on Nov 5th at 730pm

Elizabeth Hatmaker will also read at California State University, Stanislaus (Turlock, CA), on Monday 11/8/10, 1 pm in the Vasche Library West Reading Room. Click for more information.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Lewis Freedman: Since this is an interview for a reading, I thought I might start by asking you about your performance of your poetry.

I've heard you read quite a few times now, and it has been an insistent and powerful experience each time. To my ear, your voice builds in its insistence, but builds by refusing to resolve, by leaving the end of a line or statement splayed. Since your poems very often have to do with confronting the problems of perception (and the role that plays in being a self and relating to others), the insistence and unresolvedness of your voice gives me a simultaneous sense of the vulnerability in strongly asserting these perceptions (the forces threatening them) and of the strength in having produced this vulnerability.

What I'm getting to, is I wonder if you'd be interested in talking about your bodily sensations before, during, and after public readings. Perhaps even your sense of time. How does the listening group of people occur in your body while you read (if they do)? I'd be interested to hear generally about your physical sense of performing, but also specifically if you consistently have bodily associations in relation to particular poems (perhaps even some of your poems that specifically locate your body?)

Dorothea Lasky: Thank you for asking this question. Reading to an audience is very important to me and to my practice of poetry and I often think about why or what I am doing when I am reading. I remember once reading a short essay Eileen Myles wrote for the Poetry Foundation website, in which she talked about the places readers go to when they read. I can’t remember her exact words, but in the essay she described the otherworldly place (maybe not otherworldly, but alter) that poets go to in a reading and how important it was to be gentle to a poet afterwards, as she had just been transported through time and space. I remember that she said that a poetry audience should “help her down” afterwards. I think this is right. Reading poems makes you go somewhere else, where your body does not exist and it can be hard to reconnect the timeless part of you with your body once it is over.

As far as my own bodily sensations before, during, and after a reading, they change every time and are completely determined by the reading space. They are especially influenced by the people at the reading. If it is a friendly reading, if a lot hinges on being social and warm, then I actually have a tendency to be less vulnerable and I feel less during my reading. The more I don’t know an audience and the more work I feel I need to do to either win them over or hurt them or make them see something, the more I feel a duty to get to a vulnerable place where I am nonexistent within the situation. These times are both my best and worst readings.

Reading wears me out. If a reading is simply a social interaction, then I get worn out by talking to people before and afterwards. If a reading is a reading, then I am worn out by transporting my timeless part away from my body, as it is genuinely cleaved. But I think, ideally, reading should wear you out. I think of my Track and Field days back in high school. I used to never exert myself to the point of passing out during practice or a race. This was part due to the fact I had amazing endurance at a young age and the fact that I didn’t really see the point. I remember being scolded by a particularly ditzy coach of mine. Between snapping her gum, she told me that I should look like I am dying each time I run. I thought she was full of shit then, but now I think maybe she is right, if I translate it to reading poems. A reading should really be something. I think readers should always give it their all.

In terms of certain poems and reading perceptions, I guess I’d say that I started off reading with an insistent volume about 5 years ago, because I had a lot of poems (some of these are in my book, AWE) that are based on religious tracts, ephemera from religious zealots, and so forth. I wanted to make my readings into religious ceremonies. This translated into other poems. I feel a spiritual void often, despite having a very real spirit within my body, and so I sometimes want my readings to take away this void.

Lewis, I really like the way you read your poems. It’s scary. You scare me when you are reading. I mean that as a compliment.

LF: Dottie, thanks for your real answer. I certainly have an experience of what you name as the transportation of the timeless part away from the body in the performance of a reading. It's genuinely scary sometimes for me in the extent of its amplification. It's as though my body has expanded and vacated to make space inside it for all the people in the room. My body feels very light and unfelt, and my voice jumps with the struggle to stay with the presence of words as they are making.

When you mention that your experience of a reading space is essentially being influenced by the people in the room, I'm drawn to thinking about how significantly and variously your poems are populated by people. Not only the names and presences of people in your life as subjects in the poem, but also by a way in which people and culture are already present in language and writing and how they feel active to me in the uncanny leaps your poems regularly make.

I'd be really interested to hear about how you experience the arrival of other people in your writing process, those you know and those you don't? Do you look for or follow language that brings them in? Do you receive strength towards honesty and confrontation in your poems from the companionship of other peoples' presence from within language?

DL: I like what you say about the body being unfelt. That is nice, because I think about felt experience in the world. But to be unfelt during a reading would mean to be in transcendence after something presumably felt in the poem. Yes, that seems right.

Thanks for saying that about people and my poems. People are very important to me in terms of poetry. I cannot divorce the two. I cannot divorce myself from the idea that language is always grounded in the social, and that it is a finite form to human experience. And so that what is uncanny in the poem (I love the word uncanny, by the way, thank you for using it) is the idea that people are there finite in the forms of the words.

I think a lot of my writing process involves listening to people. I've been getting this education/social science degree for the past five years and a lot of it involves observing people, interviewing them, listening to the way they structure their discourse as a seemingly silent indicator to what they really think, if they could somehow be cleaved from the social pressure of what they feel they must say (although they never could be and that is great, too). I have been training my voyeuristic perspective for a while now, but I think what actually attracted me to the work, or what made the actual work of the degree seem ok (why I am getting the degree is another story) was that I am fascinated, obsessed, enthralled (never can think of the correct word) with how people talk. I guess both private and public talk, although public talk is more intricate to me because it is part of a spectacle.

You mention the idea that I might receive strength towards honesty and confrontation in my poems from the companionship of other peoples' presence from within language. I don't know about honesty or confrontation. I know that is there. What I am interested in mostly is real conversation. I want to establish in my poems a direct conversation between the speaker and the reader. The other people in the poems are oftentimes beautiful or ugly decorations. Or they were the necessary mediaries to get me to the desired direct address.

How do you feel direct address functions in your poems?

LF: Yes, you put your words right on it there, the direct address of your poems is definitely what I see as their confrontation. What confronts is the genuine clearing you create as a path between speaker and listener. I don't really have a clear sense of that path in my own writing (though I might like to). In the clearing (to continue this not great analogy) (is it something like Duncan's meadow?) I can't usually differentiate where I stand or where others do, who or where is the speaking and the listening,

I wanted to ask you some more about your fascination with talk. Could you talk a little more about what you see as the distinctions between private and public talking? Would thought be included as private talk? Do you hear your poem-making as public talk or private talk? Or perhaps, do you see some of the promise and potentiality of writing poems as occurring within the transference of public talk to private and private talk to public?

DL: You ask a lot of really interesting questions about talking. Talking itself is so complex. Language itself, intent (as convoluted as it can be), and then the private versus public. It is hard to address it all clearly, especially through language as I am doing now. I guess that the most simple way to say it is that I think all talk is inherently public. In poetry, I think the instinct of poets to both communicate feeling/sensation and to entertain the reader, makes even private talk public. And in anything spoken or written, there is the sense that it must have been meant to be public. In my poems, I am trying to play with the lines between public and private talk, but I am very much aware at how public this talk is once it is spoken or written.

I'd love to think more about how thought relates to public and private talk. Obviously something social happens when thought becomes language becomes language that is meant to be and then is expressed. However, we often (in my mind, unfairly) relegate talk that is most like raw thought (i.e. seems to be seemingly unaware of how it might be taken in a social context) to the insane, to children, and to those who have for whatever reason "lost their rational minds" and thus, must not know better. I guess in a way I am most invested in thought that is language, but has not burdened itself to be blended and gutted out by the social world. Thought talk is not exotically beautiful (I hate the term Outsider art, by the way), but is humanly beautiful. I like poetry that is thought talk before it turns into private or public talk. It is the moment of greatest (and most wide-reaching) potentiality of human communication. I think this is what Stein got at in her work and I'd love to continue to explore how to play with the boundaries.