Thursday, October 28, 2010

Matthew Salesses Q & A

What inspired this story, Our Island of Epidemics? I guess I'm curious about its setting and theme.

I'd wanted to write a number of linked short shorts for a while, and at the time, I was interested in the kind of magical realism of the epidemics. I was working on a novel and was growing tired of the length, and I wrote the first drafts of these stories one a day in the afternoons. I think that lurking somewhere in my subconscious was a Korean movie I'd seen about a year earlier about an epidemic of memory loss. I was also interested in writing something in collective first-person, and I think from these things, and from the idea of a community versus the other, came the island.

You maintain a first person plural point of view for the majority of the story. A single narrator reveals himself about halfway through book, in a very short story called "On Telling This Story," and returns again at the end of the story. Why not maintain the group voice entirely?

The stories' larger arc is about communality and communal denial. The islanders are caught up in the spell of the epidemics, caught up in being a part of something bigger than themselves. But they ignore the reality of these illnesses. Then one man becomes immune, and different, and by the end, they split up and are forced to make choices—which is about individualism. The arc is mirrored in the POV. The narrator keeps saying we, we, we, but once he is able to realize that the epidemics are not all great, and he starts to write about them, he becomes aware of his individual place in the world and in the world of story.

The illustrations by Luca Di Pierro made me visualize the story as cartoon. That seemed natural to me, esp with some of your descriptions (like the epidemic of unstoppably growing hearts, when everyone's chest swelled them into the shapes of peanuts and then pears). How did Luca come to draw these pictures for your story? What was the collaboration like?

I think PANK asked Luca to do the pictures--I had peskily requested more white space between stories. I'm so glad they asked him, though. I always wanted the stories to be illustrated. The original plan was to have a friend in Chile do illustrations, but then she was in Chile. Luca is amazing; the people he draws are so full of longing. His sketches were perfect for the book.

You have another book, The Last Repatriate, coming out soon from Flatmancrooked. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I took an archive class while at Emerson and ended up researching this Korean War POW who, at the end of the war, refused to go back to America. He was one of several POWs who did this. After a short while, he asked to return (or perhaps escaped) to the US, and was treated as a hero--he received three months off and backpay, and he got married and had a honeymoon. Then, at the end of the period given to convince the other non-repatriated POWs to return, the Army arrested him. The book is based loosely on the research, which was so interesting I got a short story and a screenplay out of it as well.

Can you name some of your literary cousins and explain how you're cousins?

Literary cousins? I tend to write a lot of different types of stories. But I'm working on a novel right now, and I will say that I have used as guides Lawrence Durrell, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Christine Schutt, and others in my revisions.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dream Lineup: November 7

Cousins returns on November 7th. A power-pop mix of poetry and fiction:

Darren Angle is a poet teaching at Brown University and writing a book.

Jim Behrle lives in Brooklyn. His latest chapbook, Succubus Blues, was released in late 2009 by Editions Louis Wain.

Drew Johnson was raised in Mississippi, lives in Carlisle, Mass. with his wife, four cats, and many books. His stories have appeared in Harper's, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, Swink, and StoryQuarterly.

Matthew Salesses is the author of Our Island of Epidemics (just out from PANK) and The Last Repatriate (forthcoming from Flatmancrooked), as well as a nonfiction chapbook, We Will Take What We Can Get (Publishing Genius). He writes a column for The Good Men Project.

We start around 6:30 PM at Abe's Bar on Wickenden Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fantastic Lineup: October 17th

October 17 Cousins Reading is almost here. It's going to be fantastic.

Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, forthcoming from Keyhole Press in October 2010, as well as three chapbooks, Wolf Parts (Keyhole Press), The Collectors (Caketrain Press), and How the Broken Lead the BlindConjunctions, Hayden's Ferry Review, Willow Springs, Unsaid, and American Short Fiction, and has been selected for inclusion in anthologies such as Best American Mystery Stories 2010 and Best American Fantasy 2. His book reviews and critical essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, American Book Review, and The Quarterly Conversation. He is also the editor of The Collagist and of Dzanc's Best of the Web anthology series.

John Cotter’s first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. Previously, his short fiction and poetry had appeared in Volt, The Lifted Brow, Lost, and (forthcoming) New Genre, among other spots.
(Willows Wept Press). His fiction has appeared in Volt, The Lifted Brow, Lost, and (forthcoming) New Genre, among other spots. A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John’s published critical work on contemporary novelists, poets, and translators. He graduated Emerson’s Creative Writing program on a Performing Arts scholarship and Harvard’s Extension School with a master’s degree in English & American lit.

Adam Golaski is the author of Color Plates (Rose Metal Press) and Worse Than Myself (Raw Dog Screaming Press). He is a founder of Flim Forum, a press publishing books of contemporary experimental poetry, and is the editor of New Genre, a literary journal for new and experimental horror and science fiction. His poetry, fiction (horror and otherwise), and non-fiction has appeared in journals such as: word for/word, Supernatural Tales, McSweeney's, Sleepingfish, Conjunctions, and All Hallows.

Carol Novack
is the former recipient of a writer’s award from the Australian government, the author of a poetry chapbook, an erstwhile criminal defense and constitutional lawyer in NYC, and the publisher of Mad Hatters’ Review. Hugh Fox has called her new collection Giraffes in Hiding (Spuyten Duyvil): “THE most seductive, original, impacting work I have seen for years. A fascinating combination of Kerouacian street-talk plus a trip through the museum of Modern Art in Chicago, plus a nod-off to Kosty's furthest out experimentalism." Works may or will be found in numerous journals, including Action Yes, American Letters & Commentary, Caketrain, Diagram, Drunken Boat, Exquisite Corpse, Fiction International, Journal of Experimental Literature, LIT, and Notre Dame Review, and in many anthologies, including “The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets" and "The &Now Awards: The Best Innovative Writing."

Show starts at 6:30 or so. Abe's Bar can be found on Wickenden Street in Providence.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our Expanding Cousinery

A new cousin has been identified: Amish Trivedi. He has quickly become the hardest working cousin in Providence. He is doing big and good things that will be announced here soon. Welcome to Cousin Amish.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mystical Ceremonies This Sunday at 6:30

...access to goddesses and the unconscious, for free, alcohol possibly not necessary
Mini-interview with Janaka Stucky

COUSINS: Something really cool about this book is how, for all its sensuousness and fire, the poems seem overall an act (acts) of ceremonial speech...rituals. It does sort of feel as if what enslaves the poems--speaking their death and desire--is also what redeems them... In the context of these thoughts, I found your title particularly fantastic. I wonder if you could talk about why you chose that title?

Janaka: It’s interesting that you picked up on the “ceremonial” act. I wrote these poems back in April of 2009, as part of an exercise for National Poetry Month. So I set out to write a poem a day, but normally I’m not a very prolific writer. Following some advice from a very prolific novelist friend of mine, I created a ritualistic space for myself to write in every night. Now, I think he was talking “ritual” in a very broad sense when he gave me the advice, but I created a complete ritual for myself. I turned off all the lights and lit candles and incense; I poured myself a small glass of chilled vodka, and I just sat in the semi-dark listening to this really ambient, droning doom metal. I also only read one book: a collection of the Nag Hammadi scriptures—or Gnostic “Dead Sea” scrolls. At the same time I was meditating on the Hindu goddess, Kali. So out of all that personal ritual and focus came this very deliberate (and almost transdimensional) act of speech. I’ve considered writing poetry a form of meditation for years, but this was the most overt acknowledgement of that. The title of the book is a direct address to both Kali and the lover that appears as a “you” in many of the poems. There is an annihilation of the Self through love for the Other, whether that’s a spiritual love or a romantic love. That self-death is also totally liberating—so in the Other, in the mantra and the name of the Other, there is freedom from the Self.

COUSINS: Who are your literary cousins, dead and alive?

Janaka: Among my literary cousins I would include Frank Stanford, Bill Knott, kissing cousins Mina Loy & Arthur Cravan, Paul Celan, and S.A. Stepanek (for her trance-written book “Three, Breathing”). Also, Dorothea Lasky and I are developing a school of poetry that we refer to as “psychedelic goth,” but we need a catchy name for it—possibly “gothadelic?” I also like posi-goth, or psygoth…

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Can't wait can't wait can't wait

I was looking at Brown's Literary Arts calendar today and saw that Lydia Davis is coming to Providence! That goddess may be walking among us in October.

Then I saw that, of course, all the Brown readings are on Tuesdays or Thursdays in the middle of the day. Which is great, if you're a student. And which sucks if you are even mildly pretending to have a real life.

Which is why (back to propaganda--this is site is nothing but propaganda, as you know), it is so great to have these readings at Abe's, on a Sunday, at 6:30. Anyone can amble in (or drive down from Boston) and listen to great stuff. The first reading of the fall is one I've been looking forward to all freaking summer because it's four poets, and NONE OF THEM WILL BE BORING. Really. Or I'll buy you a drink. These are poets, who, in ten years, Brown Literary Arts will probably be inviting to their series, and by then, their formidable talents will be known to all and none of us will have the courage to approach them. But now, they're young and brilliant, and you could come see them read and maybe buy them a drink and so be able to say in 2020 that you heard them when... Janaka Stucky, Dorothea Lasky, Brian Foley, Emily Pettit.

I've also sort of (translation: very much) been looking forward to buying one of those Manhattans that they make at Abe's, to kind of kick off the autumn. And so, building on a loose connection between the name of a drink and the name of a hallowed magazine that occasionally has great poetry, here is a poem by one of September's readers, Dorothea Lasky, originally published in The New Yorker.


by Dorothea LaskyFEBRUARY 15, 2010

I remember he was bent down
Like a whirlpool
I was yelling at him
He looked scared and backed away
Another time, I squinted my eyes to see
And he said I looked ugly
The funny part was when
My sister asked me where he went to
And I just didn’t know
He just disappeared one day into nothing
I am rotting and rancid
Each day, rotting, but I am water, too
I am a watery nymph that is hot and wet
Like a wetted beast
I saw the man walking, hunched over
And thought it was him
“Father!” I yelled after the man
Who was hunched, he was going somewhere
He turned but the face was green
It is a black life, but I don’t want to die
I don’t want to die, I don’t ever want to die
God damn you, don’t you shoot me in my sleep
Let me rot on this earth forever
Like a carrot I will be everything God can’t see
Oh, what do I mean
God can see everything
I mean the angels, I mean the half-gods
I mean the flowers, don’t ever let them see me live forever
Don’t you ever let them see
That I am all root here in the ground


Friday, July 16, 2010

More Cousins

Cousins Reading Series at Abe's Bar resumes in the fall with these great nights of poetry and fiction:


Brian Foley

Dorothea Lasky

Emily Pettit

Janaka Stucky


Matt Bell

John Cotter

Adam Golaski

Carol Novack

More details to follow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cousins Reading 4: May 23rd

Terence Hawkins, the author of Rage of Achilles, was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Yale. His work has been featured in Poor Mojo's Almanac(k), Pindeldyboz, Ape Culture, Eclectica, The Binnacle, The New Haven Register, and on Connecticut Public Radio. He is a trial lawyer in Connecticut.

Matt Jasper is the author of Moth Moon, a poetry collection published by BlazeVOX in 2009. He was born in Manhattan in 1966. A frequent contributor to Rollerderby and Grand Street in the 90s, he went on to have many children and start a poorly-posed-taxidermy-and-bad-yard-sale-art-themed restaurant called the Friendly Toast. He collects schizophrenic autobiographies and makes lists of poet enemies in Farmington, New Hampshire. He is currently working on a book-length poem entitled Obolus.

Gordon Massman divides his time between Medford, Massachusetts, and the island of Frenchboro, Maine. Poems from his book The Essential Numbers, 1991-2008 (Tarpaulin Sky Press) have appeared in The Numbers (Pavement Saw Press) as well as in Exquisite Corpse, The Harvard Review, The New York Quarterly, Pleiades, and elsewhere.

Kathleen Rooney is a poet and a writer. With Abby Beckel, she is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press. With Elisa Gabbert, she is the author of That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths). With Counterpoint Press, her prose collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs is now available. With her husband, the writer Martin Seay, she lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Best-Smelling Cousin We've Got.
Elisa Gabbert explains what's wrong with "woman writer," and answers other questions, and I hope it's not some kind of latent anti-feminism that made me highlight the fact that she wears perfume in the title when I could also have highlighted what a freakin good poet she is.

COUSINS: I've followed a bit of the discussion on your blog recently about sexism. Do you identify yourself as a female writer first? Or simply a writer first and last? Or a female writer out of necessity? Were you to be asked to submit poems for an anthology of women writers, would you? Why or why not? Did you ever read that Candor discussion between Rachel Zucker and Sarah Manguso? Does what either says resonate with you? Would you be more Zucker or Manguso? Or someone/something else?

EG: Here’s how I feel about the phrase “woman writer.” I’m a woman, and I’m a writer; insofar as English syntax allows nouns to be used as modifiers, I’m a woman writer, by definition. I don’t know what else that phrase could mean. When someone denies that they’re a woman writer (while conceding that they are both a woman and a writer), it sounds like they are saying that a “woman writer” is inferior to a writer, which makes about as much sense to me as saying that a black dress is inferior to a dress, or an 18th century painting is inferior to a painting. “Woman,” like “black” or “18th century,” is just a factual description. I don’t see why adding a modifier to a noun, in this case, automatically creates an inferior category. When someone asks me if I’m a “woman writer” in a challenging way, as though it’s a category I could choose to be in or not, I find it very odd. What exactly does “woman writer” mean to everyone else? Why is it less than the sum of its parts?
So to answer the question of what I identify as first: It depends on the question. If someone asks what I do for a living, I say I’m a writer. If a form asks me to check M or F, I check F. I find this statement of Manguso’s a little hard to swallow: “In my mind my identity begins with Writer and Teacher; Woman is much further down the list.” So, if she woke up tomorrow and had lost her job(s), she would feel more alienated and stripped of her identity than if she woke up and discovered she was a man? I’ve been female longer than I’ve been a writer. I may say “I’m a writer” more often than I say “I’m a woman,” but that’s because the latter is generally so obvious.
I do identify with some of Manguso’s statements; like Manguso I am not a mother and don’t feel like an “egg-box.” I identify with this: “I am genuinely interested in the lives of mothers inasmuch as I am interested in the lives of people in general, but I’m separately fascinated by some mothers’ apparent conviction that nonmothers are shallow, that mothers suffer and feel more deeply than nonmothers.” However, I identify with Zucker in that I feel the fact of my body is inescapable. Whenever I leave my house, and often when I don’t, it is obvious that people are noticing my appearance: my gender, my race, my age, my build, how I’m dressed (a strong indicator of my economic status). I see no reason to pretend they don’t notice or that it doesn’t matter.
I wouldn’t object to being included in an anthology of women writers. For the most part, I think projects of that sort address an imbalance. More men are published than women in general poetry anthologies; more white writers are published than writers of color. I think anthologies of women writers or Hispanic writers or what have you are intended in the spirit of inclusion, not exclusion. I’d be suspicious of an anthology of men writers, or white writers, because the publishing market does not appear to disadvantage whites or men.

COUSINS: Something I love in your poems is how your lines undo themselves:

When the boredom hits, I hit the boredom like a glass door.

The man who pushed me pulls me up.

In "Ego of the Distance" (which is totally awesome): Sometimes the distance looks at me.

It reminds me of that John Ashbery line: So that meaning can begin and in doing so be undone. How important for you is meaning in poems? In your poems? In poems that you love by other writers? Do you love any poems because of what they mean?

EG: Primary importance. Complete importance. It seems to me that everything you can talk about in a poem (the language, the lines, the syntax, the “music,” etc.) adds up to its meaning.
I’m most interested in poems that foreground ideas, versus sound or meter or image or _____. (There are a lot of ways for poems to do that, without just dropping ideas in overtly, though I’m not against that as a rule.) Maybe to me the meaning in idea-based poetry is more … meaning-y? Has more meaningness?
That said, there are poems I love although, or because, I don’t understand them. I think I believe that trite cliché that you can’t paraphrase poetry. I was talking about this with some writers on Twitter recently. I think translation is necessary, but there is something in every text that can’t be translated. The poetry I’m most attracted to seems challenging to translate (see Cesar Vallejo). The meaning is so tied up in the specificity of the language and its arrangement; you can’t extract the meaning completely and port it over to another language and another syntax; those elements are part of the meaning.
COUSINS: Would you talk a little bit about why you called the series "Blog"? Do those poems follow a poetics of blogging? Or did you have something else in mind?
EG: I wrote the blogpoems one April for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). I think initially I was sort of mocking the idea of speed-writing a poem to then post on your blog, but from the first day, the exercise of speed-writing a poem for a blog became very fertile and interesting territory. I liked working under those limitations. I wanted the poems to feel free and immediate, as you said, and I wanted them to fit neatly in the space of a blog post, to be sort of easily digestible, since people read blogs differently than they read poems on paper. And, since I had to write one every day, I considered anything and everything as fair game for material. I couldn’t only write about the big stuff or the beautiful stuff; there was no way I’d write 30 big, “important” poems in one month. So I often started with an insignificant or silly idea and tried to push it until it became an interesting poem. It was like an intellectual challenge, to make a poem out of anything, without it all feeling like an empty gimmick.
COUSINS: Tennis. It's the sport of poets, right?

EG: Do you think so? I don’t know why I have an affinity for racket sports. I like racquetball and ping pong too. I think I like how much of the skill is in the return. I could never beat my brother at ping pong; he just has a stronger shot. But I have a really good return. It’s rare that I can force him to make an error, but I can win points by consistently hanging in until he screws up of his own accord.
If the writer-reader dynamic is anything like a game of tennis, I hope I’m my brother in this analogy.
COUSINS: In the AWP magazine this month, there's an interview with Marie Howe, and she's talking about jobs for writers... "How do you find a job that doesn't drain the essential energies that you bring to participate in the creative act? ... How do you nourish those energies and live in life?" Could I pass these questions on to you?
EG: It’s a difficult balance to achieve … I work as a writer, so in some sense, my job does drain those energies. After reading and writing all day, I don’t always want to deal with more words when I get home, or sit in front of a computer. At the same time, it’s kind of amazing to get paid for something I actually like doing, and it’s surprising how endlessly renewing the need/desire to write is.
I admire writers that don’t work as writers or teachers of writing. I think it’s good to leave the insulated bubble of the writing world from time to time. It enriches your writing and, you know, your life. I often think back fondly to college when my social group was a lot more diverse in almost every way. Sometimes, hanging around writers all the time, I feel like we’re not learning anything from each other. (Assignment!: Talk to a physicist or an architect or a doctor this week. They’ve read just as much as you, but totally different words.)
Wow, that wasn’t what you asked at all, was it? I guess my point is, one can be a writer and not focus on writing all the time. I used to work as a copyeditor, and while the job wasn’t wildly fulfilling, it did free up my creative energy to direct completely toward writing. There are rare individuals with boundless energy, but for others, it often comes down to a choice between dream job and dream writing-life. I think I’ve settled on a compromise between the dreams.
COUSINS: Would you name 2-3 of your literary cousins, dead and alive?
EG: My first cousins are my alive-and-well “community,” poets I feel really close to on both a personal and artistic level. I’ve got a bunch of these. Chris Tonelli, Kathleen Rooney, Sam Starkweather, and Heather Green, to name just a few. Second and third living cousins would be poets I don’t know personally, or only know a little, but feel some kinship with artistically. I wrote a blog post once about the Netflix algorithm and said I thought people who liked Heather Christle’s poetry would like mine too. Who else would I put in that category? Maybe Matthew Rohrer.
Among the dead, I feel an especial kinship with Wallace Stevens, John Berryman, and Frank O’Hara.
Anne Carson and Mary Jo Bang would be a cool as honorary aunts.
COUSINS: And, to complicate that question, since you are a perfume aficionado, if these idols were perfumes, which scents would they be?
EG: That is a tough question. I’ll just do a few. Anne Carson would be something very intellectual, classical, and androgynous, like Mitsouko or Cuir de Lancome … John Berryman would need a reckless scent, dangerous but with a sense of humor. Kouros, perhaps? My friend Kathy would be a smart, snappy feminine like Lolita Lempicka.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Rob Stephenson's new book Passes Through (FC2) is truly a book like no other. It's poetic and plainspoken. It's wildly transgressive and it is also, at times, kind of homey, especially once his voice is in your head. Rob passed through Providence a few weeks ago and he was kind enough to read for the cousins assembled at Abe's. And he submitted to this Q&A:

Can you describe the composition process of Passes Through? How did that process dictate its structure?

The text was made by passing four times through a journal I kept for over ten years. The journal started out as description of daily events and morphed over the years into detailed thoughts on all sorts of subjects. Eventually, I tired of keeping the journal. I never intended it to be published. A few years later I considered the time I’d spent writing it and decided it should be transformed into a fiction. Prior experience with writing memoir and autobiographical essays left me dissatisfied and questioning the value of expressing truth about the past by using traditional storytelling. I decided to move in another direction. Using innumerable constraints, I deleted most of the journal and combined the remaining pieces with all sorts of material external to the journal. The form (and formlessness) of the text grew into its shape as I moved along. Without going into all of the specifics, the architecture of Passes Through comes from an improvisatory linear accumulation over time within a semi-rigid overall scheme designed to create non-linear movement.

The book makes me think of David Markson's description of his work: "nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like, an assemblage." Those terms apply to
Passes Through, but in addition, there is a genuine narrative and a strong sense of the narrating character. What were some of the benefits to this lyrical, collage-like approach? Were there specific challenges that emerged that would not have been a factor if you had taken a more conventional approach?

I’ve been making art of various sorts with found material for over 30 years. At 19, inspired by punk rock concert posters (whose creators were sometimes inspired by Dada poets, Burroughs, or the Situationists), I cut up the pink entertainment section of the San Francisco Chronicle and taped words to paper. I only remember one phrase: “Your hero moves to a boring age.” Soon I was cutting up abandoned grammar school science textbooks and remaking them into my own stories. I still have some of these. I felt comfortable with non-linear approaches very early on. For years I made short or small pieces using various systems of organizing material: films, texts, music, drawings, photo collages, videos. I have always based a certain amount of my work on bringing disparate elements together to see how they suggest something that is not there when they remain separate. I’ve made many shorter precursors to this book. Paris Over Paris possesses some of the qualities that became more elaborated in Passes Through. I am now more interested in making extended pieces that take on other qualities altogether. One challenge for me in making Passes Through was to invent good methods and then trust and finesse them enough to carry them out for longer than I usually do.

And WOW. This is the third time in recent weeks that David Markson has come up in conversation about Passes Through. I finally read a book of his, The Last Novel, about a year after finishing my book. I loved it. Really loved it. It moved me in ways that I did not expect to be moved. It’s such a beautiful book. I was completely unprepared for the way the last fifteen pages left me dewy-eyed. The only other long list that has affected me in an emotional way is on Maya Lin’s powerful Viet Nam war memorial. While it’s true that Markson and I both use short bits of text that accumulate over time into something unexpected, I think our intentions and modes of composition are quite different. And from what I surmise, I often built things up from much shorter elements in Passes Through, than he did in The Last Novel.

Stylistically, there are many incomplete sentences in this book. Which I love. I always tell students that incomplete sentences are OK as long as meaning is not sacrificed. You somehow make more significant meaning with your incomplete sentences. Can you say how this style developed for the book?

I often work with much less than sentence lengths of text. Passes Through especially points up one-, two-, three-, and four-word combinations. If you have ever kept a rambling journal, you know that a lot of mistakes creep in and a home-grown shorthand emerges. Sloppiness gets the upper hand late at night. I kept, even embellished, aspects of that in Passes Through. My rhythmic flow became a finely tuned word-by-word, sound-by-sound jaggedness. I was interested in creating a version of English that mirrors the way thoughts bounce around in a mind over time with all sort of collisions and interruptions between inner modes of being and external distractions. I pushed hard against the way most people tell stories by progressing linearly through argumentation or by using uninterrupted chains that build towards specific inevitable goals. All sorts of voices coalesce and compete to infiltrate the narrator as he speaks. He becomes all of the voices that are speaking. My hope is that the reader, by the end of the text, has adjusted to this Hydra of selves and feels in spite of it all that they do perceive a narrator. You, in fact, did feel “a strong sense of the narrative character.”

You are a composer as well. How does writing music inform your prose writing? And vice-versa?

Music influences everything I make in a number of ways. I think of my writing as music. Passes Through is as much a musical composition as it is a novel or a long poem. The text is tuned to my speaking voice and inflections. I consider the sound and rhythm of words as much as the meaning of words.

Compositional methods from medieval to contemporary times directly influenced Passes Through. Specifically, the constantly shifting and momentum-driven multi-layered music of J. S. Bach permeates the work as much as the Moment Forming and Integration theories of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the asymmetrical pattern distribution techniques of Morton Feldman, and John Cage’s thoughtful forty years of chance operation deployment. Composers create wonderful abstract languages, how can contemporary writers not look to them for inspiration?

Passes Through was published by (the great) FC2. What was it like working with them?

Absolutely terrific! I am amazed and grateful to have such a beautiful book object with my name on it. I know, I know. The author is supposed to be dead, but I’m secretly glad I’ve lived long enough to become one.

You read from
Passes Through at AWP recently and you're touring to promote the book. Can you describe this life on the road? And can you describe audience response to your readings?

Though this is my first published novel, I have been reading for years in public and I enjoy it very much. I get strong responses from audiences, mostly positive ones, but sometimes my subject matter causes some negative reaction. That’s fine with me. I feel it is important for writers to know how to read and perform their work. (This is the composer in me speaking.) I have been to many readings by authors who mumble their way through a passage as if it’s a bother or who have no idea how to relate to a microphone or a sound system and have never considered how the sound of their voice changes in every public situation according to the acoustics of the environment in which they find themselves. Reading out loud is as much about communicating something as is writing the book. By reading your text, you are asking an audience to absorb and contemplate something (usually a small piece of something longer) that they could probably more easily understand by taking it off the page at the rate they are comfortable with and that allows them to reread at will. I think readings in general would be more compelling if authors thought more about what is special about these events and how best to make their words have a life off of the page. I’ll save the part about using video projections, pre-recorded animal sounds, and having someone peel and chop onions during the performance for another time.

(our standard closing question) Can you name some of your literary cousins (contemporaries or precursors)? That is, what writers inspire you to the point that you feel a kinship?

Among my favorite fiction writers are Michael Snow, Brian Ferneyhough, Charles Darwin, Robert Altman, Alice Aycock, Daniel Liebeskind, and Robert Ashley. I can’t come up with a short list without feeling that I’m leaving out so many I ought to mention. I’ve loved so many writers long and hard that you will find tiny bits of them sprinkled liberally throughout Passes Through. Even Marguerite Duras’ cookbook makes an appearance.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cousins Reading 3: May 2nd

Sandy Florian is the author of Telescope (Action Books), 32 Pedals & 47 Stops (Tarpaulin Sky), The Tree of No (Action Books), Prelude to Air From Water (Elixir Press), and On Wonderland & Waste (Sidebrow Press). She lives in San Francisco where she is an affiliate artist at Headlands Center for the Arts and works as one of the “other” editors for Tarpaulin Sky Journal.

Elisa Gabbert is the author of The French Exit (Birds, LLC) and the chapbooks Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press) and, with Kathleen Rooney, That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths). She is the poetry editor of Absent.

Lara Glenum is the author of two books of poetry: The Hounds of No (Action Books) and Maximum Gaga (Action Books). Her chapbook, The Hotling Chronicles, is due out from Tarpaulin Sky later this year. With Arielle Greenberg, she is the co-editor of Gurlesque (Saturnalia Books), an anthology of contemporary women’s poetry and visual art. She teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at LSU.

Leslie Patron lives in Providence, RI where she is an MFA candidate inPoetry at Brown University. Her poems and stories have recentlyappeared or are forthcoming in Dewclaw, OCHO, and Parthenon West Review. Her hometown is San Jose, CA.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday Night Email Chat with Amish Trivedi

Amish Trivedi, amanuensis of the Trivedi Chronicles and curator of the Museum of Vandals, will be reading for Cousins on April 18th. I promise not to ask him any stupid questions that night. It will be purely, purely his poetry.

COUSINS: Have you by chance read Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker? I ask because that book title seems to me to be a blaring statement of Zucker's poetics... And I wonder if you see Museum of Vandals working in that way?

AMISH: I haven't read it to be honest and I only became aware of the title after Vandals was set to come out. For titles, I usually think up something and Google it. If it asks me to try without the quotes, I take it as a good sign.

Or I could phrase the same question differently maybe: Do you have a method of, or allegiance to, wreckage or breakage in your poems? And I guess I mean wreckage/breakage in a sort of playful sense... "Vandals" makes me think of kids destroying things for the fun of it. Your poem "Rowboat Over the Atlantic" seems to work like that.

(We interrupt this question to bring you 'Rowboat Over the Atlantic')

I have become
my own airbags, admitting
I'm more willing to break
than be broken. These words are
not mine
anymore, but they are a revenge
lay. And I used to sit
outside, slumped over feeling
boxed or stigmata over the
soil. Steps line a side, which is
a jar. Rain and saliva become
the next tabloids.

And if I'm completely
wrong, set me straight?

AMISH: I hadn't really thought about it, but yeah, I am very interested in the destruction of language. There's no method, I guess, but whatever we build, we can take down. I grew up with parents that had moved from India, so I came to understand language as being built however you choose to build it. (That sounds really frumpy.)

COUSINS: The way your poem "Letters and Soda" works makes me jealous. How do you do that! And by "that" I mean---hmmm---make a kind of non-linear sense that seems playful and irreverent but also not random, not meaningless...

Letters and Soda

My craw-daddy penis
has so many claws!

I thought you'd written
that psalm: one is drunk and

the other drunken. About
the rain? I was the

one that buried
it in a wall.

AMISH: The first line came from my friend Mark Mattes in Iowa City. Mark's a great guy and he is incredibly playful. He just screamed that line out one night and I told him I was going to steal it, and if it ever got published, I'd get him a case of beer. I have yet to pay up. But I think in a lot of ways, I think in random thoughts (you can ask my wife) and so, with a poem like this one, it's about giving in to the randomness. But there are patterns in everything, I think, even if you are trying to avoid them. Sense, like language, can be created from what you want to put into it.

COUSINS: Also, would you be able to list here a simple recipe--an idiot's guide perhaps--to writing good short poems? I would give you Bill's fifth-born child for the knowledge.

AMISH: I have rewritten my answer to this question several times now! I think the only tip I can really give for a short poem is to cut the fat, so to speak. You have to want to keep it short and the thing kind of is, you can't let the poem settle at any one point. It's like making a custard: if it settles, you're screwed.

COUSINS: In your piece in Octopus on Ceravolo, you wrote that after reading Transmigration Solo, "I probably didn’t even put pen to paper for a bit, thinking that everything I could do wouldn’t be what Ceravolo had already done." I know that feeling of deep admiration inspiring a kind of hopeless paralysis... Do you actively try to imitate him in your work? Or work against him? Is there a poem by him that you have sort of set for yourself as a goal?

AMISH: I think maybe there was some desire to imitate Ceravolo in some poems, but I don't think I ever really tried it because I realized it was impossible. I figured eventually it was better to write my own crappy poems than attempt to ruin Ceravolo's. In terms of poems of his, it's hard to pinpoint. Chunks of Transmigration are so fantastic- I remember sitting in two different Special Collections rooms at libraries just pouring over it.

COUSINS: Has there been a writer or book since more recently who has struck you dumb? (a/k/a Who are your literary cousins?)

AMISH: I have no idea! Graham Foust comes to mind right away, especially because I am obsessed with his first two books that came out in '03 or so. I almost don't want to name anyone else because I don't want to drag them down! BUT if I had to name my largest influence, it's my old TA from UGA, Johannes Goransson. I didn't even know I could get an MFA or do anything with poetry until I met him. He always pushed me (and still does really) and that's been the great influence. "A New Quarantine Will Take My Place" is probably one of my favorite books because there's so much that appeals to me: the threads, the language, the thematics- it really is something nearly perfect for me and each reading reveals something more to me. Beyond books, I'd say I have always drawn a lot of inspiration from films: Lynch, Bunuel, Godard, Svankmejer, Varda, and Bergman especially. In Lynch and Bunuel, I think I'm drawn to something that you mentioned earlier: at first glance, things can seem random, but the pieces fit in a way.

COUSINS WHO ARE LOOKING FOR ANSWERS THEMSELVES: Once you finish your MFA, how will you make your way in the world? Will you continue to write? If so, how are you imagining that you will
set up your life so that you can do that? What else are you besides a writer? What could you do or accomplish or be in your life that you would consider worthwhile?

AMISH: You should never ask such questions! I have no idea- part of me wants to keep going with school- maybe a PhD in literature/English, but I would say I ultimately want to teach. I know it's a lot of work, but I'm drawn to the classroom with the goal of creating a good experience for the students. I'd love to do little more than teach workshops, but I'm guessing I'm 2-3 books/10 years from that right now. I don't think I can really quit writing, to be honest. It's nearly a compulsion. I'm addicted to it, in a way: I'll wake up, and say I'll never do it again, and within 20 minutes, I'm deeply embroiled in a poem. In terms of accomplishment, I've decided I just want to be comfortable. I want to write and publish, course, but I don't really want anything out of that. Does that make sense? I'm not looking for poetic achievements/milestones, and don't really expect them to come any time soon. I'd just like a nice little life of poems and teaching and maybe a Ferrari at some point. Nothing major.

Finally, if I gave you one of my poems, would you vandalize it for me?

I could try, sure!

Monday, March 29, 2010


Marc Lowe is a dexterous writer who reduces the space between character and setting with nimble (but artfully complex) sentences. His new ebook from ismspress, Sui Generis and Other Stories, is a collection of kinetic, surreal, and obsessively detailed stories.

For a quick taste of Marc Lowe's prose, check out a short animated feature that Marc's brother Jeff produced for "Immaterial," a short story from Sui Generis.

Marc Lowe is a featured reader at the Cousins' event on April 18:

Several of the stories in Sui Generis feature characters responding to accusations that lack justification or explanation. How do you bring accusation from element of conflict to thematic center?

I take it you are referring to pieces such as “Restless” and “Guilty,” where the narrator is in some way implicated in a crime he may or may not have committed. I should probably say that I took my cue from Franz Kafka’s The Trial, which is my favorite of Kafka’s novels (The Castle is a close second), though, the more I think about it, the less sure I am of whether such a claim would actually be true. What is true is that the spirit of Kafka pervades a lot of the work I tend to enjoy. As Nathalie Sarraute suggested in her essay on Dostoevsky and Kafka, written in the 1950s, those who have come after Kafka can do little but to retrace his steps (albeit in a variety of original and constantly updated ways, I’d assert).

As this doesn’t really answer your initial question, I guess I should also add that “uncertainty” is frequently a theme in my work. Perhaps this is so because, well, who ever knows what tomorrow may bring? None of us can ultimately “know” anything in any definitive sense. Life is multifaceted, unpredictable, the human condition a mystery. If this weren’t true, we would no longer have any need for religion, philosophy, psychology, or neuroscience. I am generally a paranoid person by nature, so that probably tends to creep into my fiction sometimes. It’s not so hard for me to imagine that someone could in fact wake up one day to find himself (or herself) transformed into an insect!

A few of the characters in Sui Generis are floundering in "fish-out-of-water" scenarios, and in "Fish: A Melodrama in Five Parts", you make the fish literal. In other stories, birds appear and carry significance. With stories so short, so precise, readers latch onto every detail, especially those that appear to recur. Should readers attach any significance to the fish and birds that populate the collection?

Well, I’d say that there is a semi-literal fish in “Fish: A Melodrama in Five Parts.” That is actually one of the earliest pieces in the collection, and was penned earlier than I’d realized when I first decided to include it. (In other words, it was conceived some months before I boarded the plane to Japan, where I was to live for the next two years of my life, though this can just be our little secret.) I guess, in a sense, one could argue that the collection goes from a semi-literal fish to those scenarios you’ve described as “fish-out-of-water” narratives. I’m not sure how exactly they might relate to each other, though. I’ll leave such things to the reader to decide. The only literal bird that comes to mind at present is the one in “Eggshells,” which is quite dead and quite frozen…

I like your use of form in several of the stories in the collection. You use timeline and other associative techniques to mold your narratives. What’s your take on story structure? How do you use (or define the importance of) structure as an element of process?

I derive a great deal of pleasure from work that does interesting things with form, as well as from work that plays with or subverts narrative conventions. While I think a story that is structured traditionally with arc, climax, resolution, etc. can definitely be satisfying, so long as it’s well done and holds my interest for reasons other than its decidedly staid shape, in my own writing—and perhaps especially in the work I was writing between 2004-2006, which is now a very long time ago—I do quite enjoy working with the bare bones of narrative. For me, the building blocks of fiction often lie in its structure, rather than in its characters, as someone like Virginia Woolf would have asserted. Of course Woolf was also very much concerned with language, imagery, etc., things I greatly care about as well.

Over the years I’ve been strongly influenced by the nouveau roman aesthetic, particularly by the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose novels were a sort of obsession to me when I first discovered them. They literally changed the way I thought about the potentialities of fiction, especially Jealousy, which was the first one I read. Before that I was reading and thinking seriously about Kobo Abe’s body of work (an important Japanese non-realist writer who died in 1993). Before leaving for Japan I had been writing a thesis paper that dealt specifically with Abe’s “mature” novels The Box Man, Secret Rendezvous, and also Kangaroo Notebook, his very underrated, darkly humorous final statement (some of the culture-specific bits in it literally get lost in translation, unfortunately). He does some very interesting things with structure and metafiction in those works, especially in the former two. I’d say that his influence can be felt most strongly in the first fragmentary novel I completed in 2005, a very strange metaphysical detective story set in and around various dark, labyrinthine alleyways in Japan, though it hasn’t yet been published.

You mentioned that teaching “occupies a good deal of [your] brain space”. Can you talk about how teaching workshops informs your writing.

This is an interesting question, which I’m going to have to answer in two parts. At the time I was writing these pieces I was not leading a fiction writing workshop, but was rather teaching fifteen to twenty-five English language lessons per week to Japanese businesspeople, the majority of them private. This, and the fact that most of my communication outside of these classes was done in Japanese, got me thinking a lot about how language communicates, or fails to communicate. This is not to say that I’m an expert in linguistics/semiotics or anything (far from it), but simply that this concern surfaced in some of the fictions I penned at the time, such as “00” and “Patterns.” (Unfortunately, neither of these particular fictions could be included in the e-book.) “A Good Example” was in some ways a satirical response to what it sometimes felt like to teach English to children in the public school system in Japan, a job I was often asked to do when the companies for which I taught were on holiday, but that’s probably not the sort of influence you were referring to…

In terms of how teaching fiction workshops informs my current writing practices…hmm. I haven’t yet written anything either about teaching or workshopping fiction, which is maybe a good thing! I think that running a workshop has made me think more carefully about the ways in which I critique others’ work, which may ultimately change the way I think about my own work. It’s interesting to see how others perceive the writing process, what they think works or doesn’t work in a piece (i.e. what they are reading for, what their expectations are) as opposed to what I’m seeing or not seeing in a given piece of writing. The booklists I assign probably say a lot about my own quirky tastes, in any case. I really want to open my students’ eyes to things they might not otherwise be exposed to in their other classes, such as, for instance, a prose/poetry hybrid work by Renee Gladman (The Activist), or a modern fairy tale by Barbara Comyns (The Vet’s Daughter), or a high-octane, literally electrifying nightmare by the French postmodernist writer Claro (Electric Flesh, translated by the chair of our department, Brian Evenson), or a collection of “transgressive” fictions by Kono Taeko (Toddler Hunting & Other Stories)…

Can you name some of your literary cousins?

Well, Kobo Abe and Alain Robbe-Grillet, as I’ve already said. And of course Kafka is always there in the background, paring his nails. Other writers I might claim as “cousins”—if, by cousins, you mean influences, and this is by no means an exhaustive list—are Paul Auster (especially City of Glass/The New York Trilogy), Samuel Beckett (The Unnamable!), Thomas Bernhard, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Angela Carter, Adolpho Bioy Casares, Julio Cortázar, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Brian Evenson (I’ve been hooked ever since discovering The Wavering Knife in ’04, and am really excited to have him as my thesis advisor), Witold Gombrowicz, Mieko Kanai, J.K. Huysmans, [Comte de] Lautréamont, Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov, Ann Quin (Berg should be required reading for anyone who likes experimental fiction), José Saramago, Bruno Schulz, Yôko Tawada, Alexander Trocchi, etc., etc.

In terms of my reading these days, I’m pretty much all over the place. I recently reviewed Rachel Kendall’s The Bride Stripped Bare (Doghorn Publishing), which I liked a lot, and Suzanne Burns’s Misfits and Other Heroes (Dzanc Books) is next on my list. Read Marie Darrieussecq’s allegorical novel of “lust and transformation,” Pig Tales, over the weekend, and have books by Rikki Ducornet, Chris Abani, and Hiromi Ito in the to-read queue. Lastly, I’ll just say that I’m excited to get my hands on Rob Stephenson’s Passes Through and Brian Conn’s The Fixed Stars, both published by FC2 this spring.