Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Conversation: Joseph Lease and Ben Mirov

Joseph Lease & Ben Mirov discuss poetry as soul-making

the opposite of sincerity is mediocrity
-Joseph Lease

Ben Mirov: After reading Testify for the first time, I couldn't help but feel that it was the book for our particular moment in American history. It addresses huge political and social issues without lapsing into diatribe or didacticism or sacrificing the musical integrity of the poems. The tone is an oxymoronic mixture of pathos and courageousness. Do you get the sense that Testify offers a vision of salvation from the mess the country is in? Or is it more important that the work embody a yearning towards an alternate future than the one being offered by politicians and CEOs?

Joseph Lease: It may be easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.  That’s what Mark Fisher says in his book Capitalist Realism.  I think it’s more important than ever to have different ways of imagining.  I think poetry is the best way of embodying and enacting different ways of imagining.  And that involves different ways of imagining social space, different ways of imagining capitalism and justice and the ideal of democracy.

BM: One thing I love about the work in Testify is how the musical quality of the poems has a catalytic effect on their subject matter, which is often politically and or emotionally charged. Can you talk about this quality in your work?

JL: A poem makes passages of emotion and thought actual in a construct of words.  My work is ear-driven: rhythmical control answers/embodies the emotion that animates the poem.  So a poem isn’t merely political.  It’s not alienated.  A poem is ethics and eros and spirit.  A poem of erotic experience embodies and enacts what it feels like to move through the world—to be alive—to have a body and a mind and desire and a conscience and an unconscious mind. 

BM: Another thing I admire about the work in Testify is the application of repetition throughout the book. Lines come up again and again, or they morph slightly into different versions of themselves. It occurred to me that this repetition and the repetition in prayer have something in common. How important is prayer in Testify?

JL: Rhythmical control answers and embodies the emotion that animates the poem. The music becomes incantatory. And, yes, the music of the poem—the emotional trajectory—makes the poem matter so much more than a summary of a political or emotional argument could matter.  Poetry can enact changes in awareness so well because that isn’t the only thing poetry does.  Let me try to say that a different way.  A poem is a rollercoaster ride, not a description of a rollercoaster ride.

BM: One of the ideas that's come up when we've talked about the breathtaking poem "Broken World (For James Assalty)" (from Broken World) is creating community through "mystical individuality". For me this idea encapsulates the visionary aspect of your poems. How is "mystic individuality" important in your work? How does the idea play into the poems in Testify?

JL: James was one of the smartest, toughest, most gifted writers I have ever known.  I needed to write a proper elegy for him.  And I love the connection between elegy and political anger in “Lycidas”: so when I write to James—“You are with me / and I shatter // everyone who / hates you”—I am enacting a ritual—and I believe that poetry connects the living and the dead in mystical community and democracy (if you are part of a true democracy, you are part of something spiritual). 

BM: We've talked about the idea of "soul making" in your work before. How does the idea of soul making play into your poetics, specifically your work in Testify? Is it a sense of structural and/or musical completeness you look for in your poems? Or something less tangible and ineffable? 

I don't want to sell poetry short. Sometimes there is a bias against strong emotion in contemporary discussions of poetry.  Sometimes there is a bias against real intelligence (emotion enacts intelligence). Sometimes there is a bias against sincerity (sincerity is not the opposite of irony—sincerity is artifice made actual in a construct of words—the opposite of sincerity is mediocrity). So, sure, Keats believed we aren't just put here to suffer—we are put here to make our souls. Soul-making demystifies lies.

BM:  "Soul-making demystifies lies" is really wonderful. For me, this is a summation of the connection between the individual and the political in your work. Your poems are courageous in the way they put so much faith in the reader. They are the exact opposite of the empty rhetoric we're spoon-fed by politicians, who treat their constituents like idiots. It strikes me that you must have a great deal of faith (faith in the reader, faith in poetry). Is poetry a religious practice for you? 

It's a spiritual practice, yes.  I'm a leftist Jew but I don't go to temple.  I read psalms and Walter Benjamin and Emily Dickinson. Reading poetry aloud can be prayer. "The exact opposite"—I like that.  I've studied and written about oppositional poetics.  I think post-capitalist political language can be poetry—resistance—poetry that resists dehumanizing lies—we need fullness of representation, fullness of embodiment and fullness of enactment.

Ben Mirov is the author of Hider Roser (Octopus Books, 2012), and Ghost Machine (Caketrain, 2010) which was selected for publication by Michael Burkard, and chosen as one of the best books of poetry in 2010 for Believer Magazine's Reader Survey. He is also the author of the chapbooks My Hologram Chamber is Surrounded by Miles of Snow (YES YES 2011), Vortexts (SUPERMACHINE, 2011), I is to Vorticism (New Michigan Press, 2010), and Collected Ghost (H_NGM_N, 2010).

Joseph Lease's critically acclaimed books of poetry include Testify (Coffee House Press, 2011) and Broken World (Coffee House Press, 2007).   Lease’s poems  "'Broken World' (For James Assatly)" and "Send My Roots Rain" have been selected for Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (Second Edition). "'Broken World' (For James Assatly)" was also selected for The Best American Poetry 2002.

*Note: This interview was conducted in 2011, after the release of Joseph's book TESTIFY (Coffee House Press)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Friday, September 6th @ 7:30pm featuring Joseph Lease, Emily Carr, and Evan Karp

Join us for a reading with Joseph Lease, Emily Carr & 
Evan Karp, + a performance of "After Frost"

This event will begin promptly at 7:30pm; please arrive on time.

Beverages and snacks will be served.

+ Come early for Bites Off Broadway: amazing food outside on the Studio One Lawn, 5:30-8:30pm 

 Joseph Lease, photo by Laird Hunt

Joseph Lease's critically acclaimed books of poetry include Testify (Coffee House Press, 2011) and Broken World (Coffee House Press, 2007).   Lease’s poems  "'Broken World' (For James Assatly)" and "Send My Roots Rain" have been selected for Postmodern American  Poetry: A Norton Anthology (Second Edition). "'Broken World' (For James Assatly)" was also selected for The Best American Poetry 2002.  The Academy of American Poets anthologized Lease’s poem “True Faith” on, and emailed the poem to 70,000 subscribers.  Marjorie Perloff wrote: “The poems in Joseph Lease’s Broken World  are as cool as they are passionate, as soft-spoken as they are indignant, and as fiercely Romantic as they are formally contained.  Whether writing an elegy for a friend who died of AIDS or playing complex variations on Rilke’s Duino Elegies (“If I cried out, / Who among the angelic orders would / Slap my face, who would steal my /  Lunch money”), Lease has complete command of his poetic materials.  His poems are spellbinding in their terse and ironic authority:  Yes, the reader feels when s/he has finished, this is how it was—and how it is.  An exquisite collection!”

Michael Bérubé called Broken World “remarkably inventive and evocative work from Joseph Lease, one of the finest poets writing today.” Of Testify, Sheila Murphy wrote: “Lease is the master of tenderness, crafting a deeply felt synthesis that is as potent in its specificity as it is accurate in its intuitive musicality.  . . Lease’s singular use of anaphora, the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase for a specific effect, achieves perfection as it sings or cries its musical reality in repeated chant-like fragments that become in their aggregate more whole than any more traditional construction would allow . . .”

Lease was born in Chicago, and attended Columbia University, Brown University, and Harvard University. He has received The Academy of American Poets Prize, The Henry Evans Fellowship in Poetry, and Fellowships and grants in poetry and poetics from Columbia University, Harvard University, Brown University, and California College of the Arts. He is a Professor of Writing and Literature at California College of the Arts and a member of the Advisory Board of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.

Emily Carr

Emily Carr directs the Low-Residency MFA at OSU-Cascades. She is passionate about the rediscovery of Mississippi poet besmilr brigham, the sexual politics of meat, the limits of Achilles’ honesty and the problem of Chaucer’s spring, unposted love letters, cannibal chickens and a ship too late to save the drowning witch. Emily has been a finalist in seven national poetry competitions, most recently the National Poetry Series. She is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, directions for flying (Furniture Press 2010) and 13 Ways of Happily: Books 1 & 2 (Parlor Press 2011) and some lovely chapbooks from horseless press, Little Red Leaves Textile Series, and dancing girl press. Her third full-length poetry collection, Up The Shinbone Superlatives, is forthcoming from horseless press in 2014.

Evan Karp


Evan Karp puts words on paper in a way that feels good to him. He does not care about poetry as such, nor about fiction, and believes all overtly political art is a contradiction. He also feels if something is not important enough for you to learn by heart you shouldn't publish it. New and improved, Evan's lived in the Bay Area for four years without a job, writing regularly for the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, KQED, and SF Arts, as well as contributing articles to the Guardian UK, BOMBlog, The Rumpus, The Bay Citizen, and elsewhere. He's the founder and Executive Director of Quiet Lightning and the founding editor of, and his ideas and feelings may be found in Eleven Eleven, Vertebrae, OmniVerse, and Dusie (some of which he does not have memorized).

 Tobey Kaplan

"After Frost", a mixed-media performance with text by poet Tobey Kaplan and choreography by choreographer/dancer Nan Busse, + music by Julianne Moscovitz & others:

Tobey Kaplan, a poet originally from New York City, with degrees from Syracuse and San Francisco State Universities, has been teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area for over thirty years.  Her honors include: Dorland Mountain Colony Fellow, and Affiliate Artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts, as well the recipient of a Bay Area Award (New Langton Arts, 1996). A full-length volume appeared Across the Great Divide (Androgyne, 1995), and her poems are contained in numerous publications, most recently East Bay Monthly  April 2012, Omnidawn Feature February 2010, Turning A Thought Upside Down (Scarlet Tanager 2012)and  The Berkeley Poets Cooperative: A History of the Times (Hip Pocket Press, 2013). She also has a position at a Native American social service agency encouraging those she works with to write, tell stories and continue with some kind of formal education.

Coming quite late to dance following 20 or so years as a visual artist, Nan Busse has danced for many years primarily with local choreographer, Danny Nguyen.  Having also performed with Christine Germaine & Dancers, Vangie King, Amy Lewis, Axis Dance Co. and participated in Deborah Hay's "Solo Performance Commission Project", her focus has turned increasingly over the past couple of years to creating her own work solo and with the likes of the fine performers with whom she’ll be performing at Studio One, and whose efforts are inestimable.

Classically trained musician, Julianne Moscovitz, has performed alternative music for decades and accompanied various traditional and non-traditional art presentations and performances.  Julianne currently serves as Director of Performing Arts and Music at Castlemont High School in Oakland.    

Other "After Frost" performers include:

Dan Bruno-waltz
Cynthia Berrol-performer
Gustav Davila-performer
Leslie Egashira -performer
Cathy Broder-waltz
Paul Lynch- musician
Peggy DeCoursey-performer 

2013-2014 CALENDAR

Studio One Reading Series 2013-2014 Calendar

Friday, September 6th @ 7:30 PM

Joseph Lease
Evan Karp
& Emily Carr

+ A Performance by Tobey Kaplan and Nan Busse

Friday, November 1 @ 7:30 PM

Sara Mumolo
Geoffrey G. O’Brien
& Joel Craig

Friday, December 6 @ 7:30 PM

Studio One & YesYes Books

Phillip B. Williams
Matt Hart
Roger Reeves
Tanya Olson

Friday, January 3 @ 7:30 PM

Brenda Hillman
Frances Richard
& Evelyn Reilly

**Sunday, January 26, 7-10 PM

          THE LANA TURNER GLAMOUR READING  (sixth issue release party)

Brian Ang
Rusty Morrison
Andrew Joron
Lyn Hejinian
Brenda Hillman
Geoffrey G. O'brien
Alli Warren
Michael Palmer
Lauren Levin &
Joshua Clover

Hosted by L.T. editors David Lau & Calvin Bedient

Friday, February 7 @ 7:30 PM

Jane Gregory
Joseph Bradshaw
& Raina León

** SECOND Friday, March 14 @ 7:30 PM

Judith Taylor
Ben Mirov
& Diana Arterian

Friday, April 4  @ 7:30 PM: 

Elizabeth Robinson
Steven Seidenberg &
Donna Stonecipher

Friday, May 2  @ 7:30 PM:  

David Koehn 
Dean Rader &
Tess Taylor

Friday, June 6 @ 7:30 PM: 

Studio One & Futurepoem

Frances Richard
Ronaldo Wilson
Samantha Giles
David Buuck