Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dara Wier Talks to Ben Mirov

Dara Wier: Ben, are you still the recording angel Zachary Schomburg suggests you are?

Ben Mirov: I’m probably more of a recorder than an angel. My personality is kind of flat and suited for observation more than interaction. Sometimes, I feel like a huge eyeball.

I like the idea of being a recorder. I think I’m at my best, poetry-wise, when I’m acting like a recording machine that’s trying to articulate the unfolding of a poem in my brain. If I’m any kind of angel, it’s by accident. Or because I’m terrified of not being liked or breaking the rules or causing trouble.

I like being mentioned in the same sentence as Zachary. He is sincere and kind in a preternatural way. Although I may be a little biased towards Zach because Octopus Books, the press he runs with Mathias Svalina and Alisa Heinzman, is publishing my next book. Knowing he has anything to say about me or my writing feels rad.

DW: You do have that great longish poem “Eye, Ghost” in Ghost Machine, so I feel as if I know something about the kind of eyeball you might be.

Someone is going to let me look through her eyeball through its pupil to see inside her brain; she’s studying medicine. Your poems lots of times feel accurately and carefully enunciated, as if what’s in them has to be treated carefully, it’s that fragile out there, how do you do that?

BM: I think the enunciation of “fragility” comes about due to two aspects of the way I write. The first aspect is the content of the poems. I care to write about things that tend towards fragility, like emotions; memory; love; consciousness; relationships; etcetera (The content of my writing is unremarkable. I feel like I write about things people have written about since humans began to write).

The second aspect is the way I revise poems. I revise work over long periods of time. I write a lot, but only foster a small percentage of the poems I write into their mature forms. Once I finish the bulk of a poem, I dwell on it, or file it away and come back to it, sometimes over the period of years. Because I want to enhance the content of what I write, I try to help the form of each poem catalyze its content as I revise. I edit lines down for grammatical simplicity, so that they, hopefully, attain a structural integrity and or lyrical quality that bolsters their “fragile” content. I break lines and or tease out rhymes that enhance the poems object-like qualities. All this is in order to embody the ephemera of the content without undermining it. After a while, if a poem is successful, it takes an advantageous form, one that will hopefully enable it to deliver its messages and survive entropic dissipation.

DW: Wow, I just read your poems “#0.99999” and “#23.33” in the new notnostrums, with atoms and little dots and a very wonderful notice that goes along the lines of “…you only see once / and you don't get to share.” That directly speaks to surving entropic dissipation. Thanks for saying how your work develops, and finally, can you tell me something about the titles I mention. I love 9s for sure, so 3s are great too.

BM: I love nines and threes, too. Those poems in notnostrums are from a collection of poems called the Analects of Confusion, loosely based on the Analects of Confucius, of which I’ve only read a few pages. I thought it would be funny to write a bunch of poems that had a didactic tone, but sort of undermined there moral authority by spiraling into confusion and ambiguity. Using numbers as titles was my idea of cataloging the poems in a completely unorganized manner. Most of the time the number relates to the content of the poem. In the case of the ones in notnostrums, “#0.99999” was intended to have the little line over the last nine [#0.99999], which is a mathematical symbol denoting that the series of nines extends infinitely. Most of the moments in the poem are similar in that they meditate on mysteries that aren’t resolved. The poem moves from paradox to paradox without resolution sort of like the potentially endless string of 9s represented by the title. Also, “0.99999” is on the verge of being the number 1.0, much like the poem, which is on the verge of understanding without ever reaching it. I don’t remember why I went with the title “#23.33,” maybe I thought it was a funny number or it just appealed to me.

Ben Mirov reads this Friday at Studio One with Cassandra Smith, music by Peter Burghardt. Be there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Friday September 2nd with music from Peter Burghardt. Poems from Cassandra Smith and Ben Mirov.

Check it out:

First Fridays at Studio One

Food Trucks/bites off broadway 5:30-7:30
Readings 7:30-9:30
entry by donation

Cassandra Smith is a visual artist and poet. She makes things and writes things and often these seem like objects more than art. She is a poetry editor and book designer for Omnidawn Publishing. She has degrees. She has fire. She lives in Oakland.

Peter Burghardt and Stuart Pittman have been friends and frequent collaborators for the better part of a decade. Though geographic distance kept them from performing together during the past several years they continued to contribute words, ideas, and encouragement to each others music and art. Reunited again, Peter and Stu look forward to sharing the stage and making sounds wherever folks will have them.

Ben Mirov is the author of Hider Roser (Octopus Books, Summer 2012), Ghost Machine (Caketrain, 2010) and the chapbooks Vortexts (SUPERMACHINE, 2011) I is to Vorticism (New Michigan Press, 2010) and Collected Ghost (H_NGM_N, 2010). He is currently working on a trilogy of sci-fi novels about a man named Ben Mirov who is struggling to write his third book of poetry, while suffering from mild burnout and an addiction to the video game Starcraft 2.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fall First Fridays at Studio One

* September 2nd with music from Peter Burghardt. Poems from Cassandra Smith and Ben Mirov
* October 7th with Heather Christie, Brandon Downing and Daniel Tiffany
* November 4th with Sandra Doller and Ben Doller
* December 2nd with Gillian Hamel, Jenny Drai, Sara Mumolo, Barbara Claire Freeman, Elizabeth Robinson and Brian Teare for Phrases/Fragments: an anthology release reading published by Achiote Press

Image details:
2009 Finalist
River of Words
Jacob Scott, Age 12
Tell City, Indiana
Tell City Junior High
Teacher: Kyle Miles

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Colby Gillette talks with Claudia Keelan

Colby Gillette: As I was driving from Oakland to Vegas recently, and especially as I was making my way through the expanse from Barstow to Vegas, I was thinking about how the severity and beauty of such a landscape must shape people. Specifically, I thought about Alice Notley when I saw the sign for Needles and about something you said in one of your Ecstatic Emigre pieces, that the desert is your teacher. I'm wondering how you see the place you live in (and I'm thinking more of Blue Diamond and the undeveloped desert to the west than Vegas and its concrete cut outs, though, I imagine both make their presence felt) informing you and your poetry.

Claudia Keelan: Lately, the desert had been teaching me how to bear indignity. There it is, a desert forever, with no chance of being an ocean again. Developers have done their best to raze the land completely, but native plants still come back. Cezanne had his mountain, and I have somehow inherited this desert. The subtle cycles of change here teach patience, and demand a being-in-time that saves me from any form of nostalgia.

CG: I imagine some of these lessons were put to practice in writing Missing Her. The book is structured by/shot through with loss, which demands patience; you can't speed up mourning; you also can't rush its articulation, especially when loss is taking place on so many levels: personal, public, political, cultural, environmental. In some ways, the poem, “Body of Evidence,” through the story of Pocahontas and all its implications, is a locus for the whole range of loss that the rest of the book develops. I was wondering if there was any motivation for the poem besides the film, if her story holds an importance or resonance that you felt needed to be articulated.

CK: As I think of it now, "Body of Evidence" is an elegy to the American history that was lost by our failure to honor the aboriginal people here. Western civilization has largely discredited the experience of nativeness, even while it makes a cottage industry of the spirit available there. That native condition is also related to the land itself, and the ways in which our relation to the earth has been a documentary of theft and defilement. The American narrative pays lip service to the spirit of the land and the spirit of the people, even though the government has always been very busy creating bureaus that will categorize and still the very essence of that spirit. I've always loved Walt Whitman, but of late, I can't help but feel that his radical democracy is just a humanist version of manifest destiny, and that the equalizing he attempts in "Song of Myself" is just the same kind of categorizing I've just referred to, which by grouping together, ultimately fails to see the true originality, and necessity, of individual Being. Whitman asks "what is grass," and the figure in "Body of Evidence" comes "as grass," and is ultimately the physical activity of becoming, before the separation that must take place and things are delegated to their names. There is something infinitely old and wise, suffering and proud, in the earth, and esp, in places that have been misused. We are all born native (in our nativity), and are almost immediately stripped of origin, the sweetness of origin, as soon as our names go into the Bureau of Vital Statistics. I am not happy with our condition. We should be able to live with our originality intact.

CG: In connection with, or in contrast to, the fact that "western civilization has largely discredited the experience of nativeness," could you say more about the "ethics of negative capability," which you bring up in the Ecstatic Emigre series? Also, though this may be too large a question to bring up in this short of a space, I'm wondering how you stand towards Heidegger's philosophy?

CK: The further I take the ethics of negative capability, the more I see that it involves a course of action, a way of living in relation to the creation, or what we call the world. Keats, obviously, coined that term, and he was opposing it to what he called the egotistical sublime operating in the work of Wordsworth. He spoke of being annihilated by his perception of the others, by the Being of others, so that what he himself was involved in that being-the-others. I don’t know if he ever read religious philosophy, but his concept is found in the concept of the via negative, or the negative way, which proposed a diminishment of self in regard to the others. The work of Simone Weil operates this way, as does the figure of the Bodhisattva, a secular saint, who refuses to enter Nirvana, to attain paradise, but rather to stay in the imperfect here, so that others will see his refusal as a course of action which makes a possible paradise here. I’ve tried to write from that position, most esp. in Utopic, where I was tracking that stance through various texts, King Jr. for one. The capitalist adventurers who came to America wanted to eradicate, or assimilate, the native people who were here into a Christian-European model of civilization, and they wanted to dominate the land in the same way. We live in this continued aftermath, many of the supplanted natives absorbed by casinos across the West for recompense. Heidegger? Dasein? The Holocaust brought everything into question. I’m more drawn to Emmanual Levinas, who came after, and whose investigation of Being supplanted philosophy for ethics. I’m not as interested in what you can know, but what you can do.

Claudia Keelan is the author of six books of poetry including Refinery (Cleveland State University Poetry Prize), The Secularist (University of Georgia Press), Utopic(Alice James Books), and Missing Her from New Issues Press (2009.. In the preface to The Body Electric ,The American Poetry Review’s Best Poetry critic Harold Bloom wrote: “Claudia Keelan, new to me, is very welcome…she is endlessly enigmatic, again almost always what one hopes for in poems.” Of Utopic , the late poet Robert Creeley wrote: ”This profoundly moving book is fact of a consummate skill and the human possibilities it works to realize and to honor. In these poems Claudia Keelan keeps the faith for us all.” Born in California, Keelan has taught in universities in Iowa, Boston, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Colorado. Since 1996, she has been at the University of Nevada, where she is Professor of English and Creative at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and affiliate to the Black Mountain Institute, as well as editor of the literary journal Interim. Her honors include the Jerome Shestack prize from The American Poetry Review, the Beatrice Hawley award from Alice James Books, a Creative Achievement award from UNLV, a Silver Pen award from the Library Board of Nevada, and grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. Under the auspices of Interim, she is partner to, an online poetry archive founded in Berlin, whose mission is to serve poetry through translation.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Conversation: Laura Sims and Joseph Massey

Joseph Massey: What does the apocalypse mean to you, and do you believe we're now in the midst of it? And how does it play into the manuscript you're currently working on?

Laura Sims:
Apocalypse means everything to me. By that I mean: 'apocalypse' can mean and be so many things, great and small. There are: personal apocalypses, marital apocalypses, physical apocalypses, job apocalypses, nuclear apocalypses, weather-related apocalypses, and so on. These all share a cataclysmic end followed by a raw, often painful, beginning. In the larger scheme of things, there have already been a number of apocalypses (like Chernobyl, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hurricane Katrina, any of our great or small wars, or the recent spate of devastating earthquakes, to name a few), and yes, we're in the midst of a multitude of overlapping apocalypses, and also there are more to come, and maybe some of them, or at least one of them, or all of them combined, will eclipse all other apocalypses that have come before, and that will be The Apocalypse.

And then what? That's what my book is concerned with, for the most part. Even in the event of a gigantic earth event, there will probably be survivors. It may be the end of the human race as the dominant species, but we'll still be around. My interest in reading and writing about apocalypse stems, in part, from nostalgia for an earth I've never known, one that's fresh and clean, full of natural resources, and free of strip malls, highways, and chain stores. Wouldn't it be nice to have the slate wiped clean? Don't we kind of need it? And wouldn't it be hard and grueling and depressing? And wouldn't that be refreshing? To strip away all of the useless activities and anxieties in which we indulge in the 21st century and be forced to use our basic, forgotten human skills, the ones programmed into our mammalian brains (hunt, gather, make fire, reproduce, etc.). I admit that sounds appealing to me, as much as it sounds terrifying and awful. I'd probably die (or at least want to die) if I had to rely on those skills, mind you, but I'm still smitten by the idea of having to do it.

I started to think about these issues...well, because it does seem like we're living in the end times, even though that has not been an uncommon thought throughout human history. But also after I read David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress, whose protagonist believes she's the last person on earth, and whether or not she is, she has to deal with the ramifications of living in a world emptied of everyone, and every living thing. Her situation (real or imagined) is both strangely enviable and deeply distressing. When the trappings of civilization fall away, and all other human or animal companions disappear, do we, should we, must we go on living? And what does that 'life' look like? There's a compelling purity to that life, as I was describing before, but there's also (of course) a great, unending emptiness. Kate (the protagonist) turns her brain into the last reliquary of civilization, but to what end? There will be no future human generations, so the book emanates a sense of loss that is both intimate and immense, all-encompassing.

I'm using a lot of source material for the poems that includes books (science nonfiction, science fiction, political nonfiction), films, tv shows, informative pamphlets, and online survival guides. Some of the richest ones have been: the revamped Battlestar Galactica, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, the animated film "9," Tropic of Chaos, by Christian Parenti, and the New York Department of Health's pamphlet on disaster response. I've tried to find sources whose words and images appeal to me--there's a plethora of apocalypse material out there, but a lot of it is pure crap. Or just boring.

JM: Do you feel any anxiety over the so-called "death of the book"?

LS: How can I be anxious about the death of the book when I'm so busy worrying about the end of the world??

But seriously: yes and no. Yes, because I think what's really dying is the book-object, not "the book," but I love book-objects and want to always have book-objects available to me, and in the world in general. Of course you could argue that a Kindle is a "book-object" but I mean the old-fashioned version, with paper and binding and glue and words inked or printed on pages.

No, because as I just said, I don't think "the book" is dying -- people are still reading, they're just reading differently; the format of "the book" is evolving, and ultimately its evolution will preserve it for the future. Hopefully. But I don't believe that people don't read anymore -- I think that's b.s.

JM: Do you have a writing ritual, or rituals? Any superstitions surrounding the act?

LS: Right now my ritual is: get it done, and get it done fast. I write during my infant son's naptimes, or after he's gone to sleep, before I crash for the night, so when I have some time I just try to clear my mind as quickly as possible, sit down, ignore everything else, and write. No time for rituals!

I don't really have superstitions about writing, either. I do have a lot of anxiety about losing my work, though--in fire, earthquakes, accident, theft, etc.--I do an awful lot of backing up. Now I use an external hard drive to do that, and also Time Machine on my Mac, and also Sugar Sync, which backs up data online.

JM: If Lorine Niedecker suddenly reanimated from the dead and made herself available to you so you could ask one question, and one only, what would that question be?

LS: What is it like to be dead?

Laura Sims is the author of My god is this a man, forthcoming from Fence Books in 2013. Her previous books are Stranger (Fence Books, 2009) and >Practice, Restraint, (winner of the 2005 Fence Books Alberta Prize). She is a co-editor of Instance Press, and lives in Brooklyn.

Joseph Massey
is the author of numerous chapbooks and two full-length collections: Areas of Fog (Shearsman Books, 2009) and At the Point (Shearsman Books, 2011). Work has also appeared in various journals and magazines, including The Nation, The Cultural Society, Verse, Western Humanities Review, Quarterly West, Asterisk, Tight, A Public Space, Mary, Carve, Northwest Review and American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, among many others; and in the anthologies For the Time Being: The Bootstrap Book of Poetic Journals (Bootstrap Productions, 2007) and Visiting Dr. Williams: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of William Carlos Williams (University of Iowa Press, 2011). He lives in Arcata, California.