Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cousin about Town...Kate Schapira

While she may not be one of our zillion Irish cousins, Kate Schapira is one of our best Providence townsfolk (and treasure)... And she's got a new book of poetry out that is very cousins-ish, in a way. 

  • Come see her read tonight 2/13 at Ada Books on Westminster Street at 7pm. Heard there'll be treats.
  • Or, head out to Symposium Books in downtown Providence on Thursday, 2/25 to hear her read from Town.

Unlike Providence's genesis on the seven hills (oh so like Rome), the genesis of Kate's town was more conceptual: she asked about a hundred people to describe an imaginary town. She built the contributions of those who responded into poems that explore how we live differently in the same world, who we mean when we say we, what we mean when we say here.

To see the book:
To buy the book:

To hear more about the book and Kate's thoughts, keep reading:

COUSINS: What kinds of formal constraints did you give yourself for the project?

KATE:  63 people (including me) contributed. I committed to, and succeeded in, using something from every contribution -- sometimes the exact wording, sometimes parts of the language, sometimes just the information. The contributions came in in a few different ways -- some were more narrative and informational, some were developed with more attention to language, some were mostly images, one was just a word -- and the forms in which contributors presented them definitely affected the way I used them.
The only real formal constraint (besides the basic conceit of the project -- ask for contributions and treat them all as true) was the way the titles/headings work. There are a number of categories -- "plumbing/sanitation," hauntings" and "commerce/currency" are a few -- and each poem has a heading that lets us know which categories it addresses. I think my original mental model for that was a manual, something that the mayor might leave behind for her successor.

COUSINS: It seems as if you work fairly often in collaborative projects. How does your writing process differ when you write with others, or using others' voices? Or does it?

KATE: I am continually interested in the ways communities work and decide things, include and exclude, what "standards" and "okayness" are -- as well as violations or failures or ruptures of these-- and I feel that people's estimate of how much control they have over that is rarely accurate. So ...I wanted to see what would happen with this distribution of control, which is different from the one I work with when I'm just working on a project on my own -- and different again from projects where I'm including or working from material that already exists in the world and I just select it. My favorite thing about the way I set this project up is the "everything you tell me is true" clause, because that really required me to think about consensus and contradiction -- what they require, how they shape what happens, what they make possible or impossible. I think collaboration is always about that for me -- it's a way of reminding my ideas, feelings and actions that they share the world with (many, many) other ideas, feelings and actions--what kind of gravity are they exerting on each other?

COUSINS: How does a local community affect/influence your writing? An online community? 

KATE: Well, I run this reading series in Providence, Publicly Complex, and a lot of the people who attend are writers, so we get to see each other, which I love. I'm good individual friends with some writers here in town, and I love hanging out and talking with them about writing and writing-related things. I think they affect my writing primarily by helping me remember that this is a real thing that people do, that I'm not foolish for wanting to do it, that the mini-frustrations and mini-triumphs are real as well as mini. (Here's that idea of "okayness" back again...) I hope I do that for them as well. Also, of course, their work often brings me a great deal of pleasure, and it's possible that I might not know about it if we didn't live in the same place. Some of them I have a relationship of mutual critique and commentary with; others I just enjoy.

I wobble a bit about online community. Most of the people I feel close to emotionally but not geographically, and deal with largely online, are people I've met and spent time with in person, although there are exceptions. I have a lot of feelings about online behavior that I'll be happy to share with you if you buy me a strong drink (although you may not be happy to listen) and what it means to "know" someone online, what you give them and what you need from them, which I feel IS different from knowing someone in person (even if you see them rarely) and certainly different from living in the same place as someone. On the other hand, stuff I've read online, being part of online publications, and even acquaintances I've made online -- writers who, BECAUSE we don't live in the same place, I might never have encountered were it not for the magic of the internet -- have played a huge role in my work itself as well as how I present it. Clearly I need to think about this a bit more.