Sunday, December 31, 2006
Questions by CAConrad
Suzanne, time is something many poets seem to have such a hard time managing that the poems wind up getting pushed away, and lost in the time, the need for time. You've told me how important it has been for you to MAKE that time, to push the rest of the world away from the surface of the clock to get to your poems. This is something everyone, no matter what creative things they want to do should listen to you about. Making the creative core a priority is necessary to being alive, and necessary to changing the world (I'm not at all saying this lightly here) as Real Change must have creative bodies at work. Elaborate for us please on your creative process, and making the time for it, and how it's changed your life and changed the world around you.
I don't know that I've learned how to manage my time, I feel I waste it inordinately all day & all night long, I can never get enough done no matter how much I do or try to do. I will say that there have been very few decisions I've made about my life that haven’t been with some eye towards how I could continue to begin to investigate language & eventually poetry, particularly in its most expansive [architectural] forms, or thinking, and try to come to some understanding of what it is possible to have happen inside of it, that can willfully effect or affect my own body and therefore or possibly additionally the bodies and environments around me. I can’t really separate the work that is the writing of texts from the work of being a poet or person or agent in the world. There is the part of me that goes to a job every day that is not about writing with the hand and the pen [keyboard], and I lament that but I also take it into account as an opportunity--when I can remember to--to make a wilful prosodic act by my manner of being present there. I guess what I am addressing here is how I engage at every moment what you are calling the creative core, even in those places where it doesn’t look possible to do that.
In 1998 I left the gallery I'd been running with a friend for four years because I recognized it was keeping me from being fully attentive to this other [writing] work I wanted to do. I went to graduate school and I was at that time semi-employed at a law firm where I had no work to do and an office with a door that closed, and I kept that job for almost 7 years. I finished my graduate thesis there, then they laid me off and I had about eight months of being unemployed, where I walked around Lake Merritt every day and read a lot of books [I think] and started a press, and became as busy as if I had two full-time jobs, one which was reading and writing and the other about being even more fully engaged with the community of writers here. Then I had to go get an actual full time job on top that.
I would say that these efforts have landed me at 38 somewhat outside of what I myself feel is appropriate or at least conventionally socially acceptable for a person my age: I live alone, I'm poor, I'm in debt and I have a pretty grueling low-level administrative job [albeit in a wonderful place]. All my efforts have also put me very productively & giddily inside a conversation and a community and a body of work [mine and the works of those around me] that I feel have possibility for what you call "changing the world" if by nothing else, their, our, insistent continuance. I do think that making life-decisions in the service of art, even if one fails, is itself a life-affirming act that demonstratively feels up other bodies, and hopefully excites them to take their own matters into their own hands.
To specifically answer your question about time and creative process: right now, since I have the full-time job: weekdays & weekday nights are for the day job & for dispensing with tasks like laundry bills correspondence business of poetry tasks and anything to do with the press. Also reading, thinking, notetaking, walking, yoga, a social life [you see already that it is impossible]. Also I try every day while at work to put a little of my writing life into it [more about that below]. On Saturdays I am working on one book, and on Sundays I am working on another book. [Except maybe they're one book; I keep changing my mind.] So far this plan is sort of working. But also I need long periods of unstructured time in order to work/think/write well and this is something I'm trying right now to negotiate, as I have very little time thus. I have to take a long-range view of my work and be patient, not my foremost quality, patience.
You are employed at the SFMOMA, one of my favorite museums! What's it like being around all that amazing art everyday? Has being at the SFMOMA changed your poems and the writing of poems? And if so how?
Well, here's the thing, Conrad, I am in a cubicle the color of dried blood all day long, and I have so many phone calls to make and emails to write and envelopes to do things to and papers to print out and calendars to fill in and then empty again, it's not that often I go look at the art. HOWEVER, this might be because there is an Anselm Kiefer show on right now and I don’t like it or how it works on my body, so I have of late been avoiding the galleries generally, which is insane. When I started at the Museum five months ago, Matthew Barney DRAWING RESTRAINT was on view and I walked into those galleries every morning and was willfully, willingly and exhilaratedly eroticized all the time. Before I had this job I spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about the visual arts, so I'm not sure how my work has changed foundationally [anyway it is too soon to tell] since coming here, on the other hand, as would be true anywhere, the languages are seeping in or being borrowed, so that even the piece of writing I think you're going to post here is very obviously affected by--ugh!--Anselm Kiefer's language of heaven&earth and what is "holy" and what is the use or effect of "cauterization."
However, the job itself and being a worker in an office there is rich terrain for thinking more clearly about elements I've already been considering in prosody. For example, working in the museum is causing another reconsideration of the prosodic or effective action of my real body in a real and very particular social space. How do I present or perform my social role as a poet in this space? I’m confronted every day [as we all are, always, but this job has brought it all the way home for me] with a public which is not witnessing prosody, and what is my responsibility or possibility within that particular sphere or milieu? The one comprised of this set of workers/humans who are perhaps cultural workers [is that an awful phrase or what?] of various other kinds outside their museum roles, but inside of the museum corporation are mechanisms of a very particular and modulated kind of culture interpretation and dissemination. And who, as a rule [there are exceptions], do not think about poetry. What use is my prosodic or prosodized body there? I think about this a lot, both in my raging egocentric demanding childish way and also in my pure and openhearted stance as a being who cares and who loves and who wants to give it away, as often as possible, in poetry, which is stance, which is love.
Another thing being in the new job is encouraging me to think about and examine is how people organize and disorganize themselves inside of already-built structural social containers--I'm in an unusual situation in that my department as a whole is very new, I mean the department existed before but more than half of the workers, including the person who heads the department, have only arrived to their jobs within the last year, and we haven’t settled into a formal operating unit I don’t think, or, we are in the interesting process of arriving there. We're still negotiating the basics, like, how do we congregate and decongregate? How do we deal with each others bodies [corporeal and emotional] in the small space we share, which is the physical site as well as the theoretical site of the group still finding its way into its own role as a single force or body. That's the most hopeful picture of what a "department" in an "organization" does: it self-creates according to its own demand. In a way. So I'm being invited to think about something I haven't participated in thinking about before, and observe myself being acted upon by the structures in place and consider how to properly acqueisce to the group and to the neccessity of personal and social and structural and departmental agency all at the same time. Can you acquiesce with agency?
Also, I think about the building a lot, both the main museum building itself, the Mario Botta building, and the little four-story contraption of cubicles across the alley, which is where I spend my days. I do go into the Museum building several times a day and go up and down the stairs. There is a large central stairwell [and it feels like a well] that is the main support of the building, and then there are these ridiculous decorative columns in the central open atrium, whose purpose I think is to keep the interior space from giving you the feeling it's going to topple over on top of you & crush you to pieces, & I think What is this indecorous sleight-of-hand doing for or against me? In general I am considering how does it affect my body? I walk into the galleries on the upper floors, which are more light, airy and open, and I think, if my body is a porous piece of, or continuousness of, text, what is it absorbing and transferring? How is my breath affected, is it expanded and made more open or what happens to it? Am I breathing? What happens to other bodies here? I’m very focused on considering how my entering and exiting the physical as well as all the social spaces I encounter throughout the day is cocreative and personally and socially affective, and I'm thinking about this as a large scope of continuous text, drawn out over time and always traced and retraced and revised and rewritten & set down on top of. I am always trying to think about how to build a poetry that can have these sorts of real-body/real-action phenomenological effects. Or that these experiences are prosody. It seems I could answer this question forever, because its been so particular to my recent experience and thinking.
To just say one or two more things about it: It is also very curious and interesting and exciting to me to be all day around people who are thinking about art & its strategies in the world in ways that are particular to how that information is interpreted, encountered, and disseminated. I wish they thought about poetry more, but I also wish poets thought about art more. It seems to me in San Francisco there is not enough intergenre, intermedia, intertextual reproductive sex happening. So I have made a conscientious effort since arriving at the SFMOMA to get [especially the younger] poets into the museum like crazy, I want them to come and have their own selves affected by the works, am always calling people and telling them to meet me in the café for a date and then sending them off into the museum [I get free tickets! five each day! everybody come visit!] to look around and have an experience. The other thing I did as soon as I got to the museum was ask all the writers I know to donate books for a small poetry lending library in my cubicle, for the exclusive use of the Education Department [of which I am the littlest cog]. The library is still unadvertised to them, but not unused, but maybe by the time this goes live I will formally invite them. My department does all of the PUBLIC PROGRAMMING, and of course I have also suggested in my terrified and squeaky way [and in writing] that poetry and language arts events be part of that programming. In this job, as in all parts of my life, I do believe that just standing in and speaking and offering, in whatever small ways one can, is an effective world-and-being-changing action. One of my coworkers has just read Frank O'Hara for the first time in her life, via the secret lending library, and she loved it. Six poets watched the endless Matthew Barney Drawing Restraint 9 film with me [and they have forgiven me for it]. So, how wonderful is that? It's true. I love it here. It might be the most excruciating job I've ever performed in the best place I've ever worked. But I'm all about loving--and changing--with all my will--what torments me.
Can you please share with us some details surrounding your "site-specific performance" given last year at New Langton Arts in San Francisco in which you write:
"If one could write a book that would build a more humane human being while that being read. Employed in the construction of the co-de-edification device a system of INTENTIONALIZEDBUT UNORCHESTRATED POETRIES plus inelidable sciences, perpetrating a PHYSICAL, AMETAPHORIC biopsychopharmaceutical poetics, without the drugs." (Tout Va Bien)
Please witness the re-construction accordingly and willfully sound out the actual aspect of building as devotional architecture.
Thank you, and wish you were here.
And now you are."
Oh boy, this is a big one.
You are quoting from the self-published chapbook Tout Va Bien [Everything's Fine]. I did, as quoted above, make the book--subsequently--as a kind of reconstruction of the performance. I will talk here about both. The first part of the performance [and the book] outlines a kind of poetic stance which endeavors to suggest that, put in the simplest terms, poetry [and only poetry, perhaps] can refigure a body or a being or an environment. Then it outlines HOW. I knew the space I was going to be presenting in, and I knew--for the most part--the bodies who would likely be in attendance that night, and I constructed the performance with those things in mind. It was to have a tripartite construction, a kind of church-like space built in time, with my body as the building [vocalising] agent. [The work/poetry as the extension of this acting body.] So, in the first part I do this kind of difficult and dense explication of a theoretical, and inside of that dense theoretical there are poetries that--maybe rather than illuminate the theoreticals, they exist in order to foundation the theoreticals. Maybe if we think about the poems of Spring and All, or of La Vita Nuova, as the foundational, not demonstrative, but also demonstrative, actors, that exist in order to provide their own frameworks which surround them. Something like that. So, I read this very dense stuff, which talks about itself as designed to do all the things Laura Riding Jackson, according to Joel Nickels, hated and despised about poetry, ie, maybe it wanted to hypnotise and soften or loosen, to make a magic on--that's what it wanted to do, to soften and loosen all of our minds and bodies, mine included, and prepare them to be altered [or altared]. The second part of the performance needed to be an entertainment, something that passed the time, which would let the listening bodies rest and forget [and absorb] the theoreticals. So I showed a play--an Orpheus story stolen, fake translated [I don’t know French] and compressed from Cocteau's early play--not the film!--Orphée--my version is much better--and projected it on the wall as intertitles, decorative, like a silent film, with the actors being the text only, and the audience required as a group to read to themselves alone together in silence. After that, the third part, I read a long poem that addressed/demonstrated in prosody all that had come before as well as specific beings I knew would be in the audience, and our social currency, it is kind of a version of The Wasteland, or anyway it sort of refers to The Wasteland but maybe doesn't have anything to do with it. I put my body into that performance with a kind of acute awareness of it being the only thing I had to make the whole thing effective in the way that I wanted it to be affective. I don’t know if it was successful, but I think it was enjoyed.
The chapbook then was a way for me to try to see for myself if I could reproduce what I usually do in performance [all my work til then was for the most part completed, if not begun, as a willful performative act, often with dire results]. Again, I considered the site I had at hand, 24 pages, 8.5 x 5.5. I used all the same texts as from the Langton performance, but sometimes modified--but I had to find another interruptive entertainment that could somehow pass the time, and that could not be the play, because in the form of a book, the play could only be seen as a text of something else, not as an actor, not as a separate action of time, it could only be a representation and not as something outside of the rest of [the book/time]. At the time of making the chapbook I was rewatching all of Godard’s films on DVD [thus the stolen and badly and multiply translated title of the chapbook], and thought I could steal lots of stills from all the films and put them in very tiny, across the central spread, but choose very seductive images, so that hopefully a reader would slow down in the middle of reading the book to look at all these pictures, which do not make a narrative, of guns and of Brigitte Bardot and sexy apartments and if I was lucky that reader would have a similar experience of forgetfulness of all that came in the first part of the book, thus softening, letting the first part sink in, and then be ready, willing, open, for the last part. Which is the long poem. I want us to have come through the same but different. It does sound like what I want to do is tell other people what's good for them and top them and seduce them and give them what I've hypnotised them into now really wanting, but I don't think that's what I'm really after [ah, who knows, maybe it is], but I recognize this is one very obvious perhaps deserved criticism heading my way.
Does that answer the question? I do not really address the content of the performance in this answer, just the form.
You've mentioned you are writing a critical book, something you refer to as "architectural poetics," and I was wondering if you could tell us a little about this project?
My other answers here surely indicate several possible directions it could go. Somebody asked me to develop a project of "talks", which is in part what I am doing. I could say I suppose that if, as Madeline Gins & Arakawa say, Alexander Pope in constructing his grotto "exceeded the bounds of the mainstream tradition that embraced him by constructing prosody in the round", then what I am wishing to do is reinsert prosody-in-the-round into the poem itself. Which is ridiculous but perhaps probable. "She behaves as if she were on her own recognizance, never quite sure that it is valid to assume this." Madeline Gins & Arakawa, Architectural Body. Or, "A constructed world that has, with great forethought, been tactically posed and thus been given its procedural due will instruct people in brand-new coordinating skills and in the compounding of skills attained. Ability to coordinate a greater number of skills leads to a freer and wider-ranging and more persipicacious intellect." Ibid.
The present community of poets in the San Francisco area are a force to be reckoned with! Nothing against the men by any means, but you've got a large, DYNAMITE group of women poets, something that feels very rare in a male-dominated world. What's that like, a woman poet writing poems in a community of such strong women poets all around her? What have you learned in your community that's different from other communities that we can all learn from?
Amen. I am the luckiest person in the world to be living in the Bay Area right at this moment where I agree with you poetry and all that it can do and all that are practicing it here are exploding. I feel we are all in the calm eye of a storm [but which storm exactly?], making clear, precise, forward- and beneficially backward-thinking actions and poetries. Here's the thing about being a woman in this community of strong women poets: it is such that I do not often have to think about the fact of ourselves as women. Maybe this is my own failing, or the superb success of the women who have been working here in many forms for many years: Norma Cole, Laura Moriarty, Leslie Scalapino, Myung Mi Kim [ok she's gone now], Susan Gevirtz, Kathleen Fraser, to name a few immediately most important to my experience.
There is something about community here that I want to address, and this is the tension, I hope productive tension, between those poets pretty firmly ensconsed in the academy and those poets who are not. And in this case, I am referring only to our little group of so-called experimental poets, we're mostly white people, which should be embarrassing, & I am not including say the spoken word people or other "writing" [let me show off my bias with a couple of scare quotes] communities around these parts. But in our small milieu there is what I feel a strong insistence on certain forms of discursivity that, let's say in the social verbal space, can be overwhelming & terrifying to anyone untrained to speak that language. I feel myself as one of the terrified. [But probably we're all terrified.] There are particular maneuvers of speech acquired in the academy that can be totalizing and silencing, even or especially I suppose to the real creative bodies manifesting [laboring under] it. I suppose one thing I learn from that is how to speak up anyway, and how to be attentive to and listen to and value all kinds of articulation and attention and response. My own and that of others.
That said, this self-organizing body of poets & writers I find to be very generous and attentive generally. I don't know if it's unusual or not—because I've so firmly come into being alive in this place. We all know there's not much to be traded on a poetic, and that it's pure will, interest, and devotion that keeps everyone showing up to all the readings, and reading everyone's work all the time, and as Juliana Spahr said recently, believing that poetry can in fact change the world. I just could never hope to meet a more loving, dysfunctional, brilliant, energetic, creative set of beings. The list of names is long, but I feel I would like to give at least some of them: judith goldman david buuck david brazil kate pringle magdalena zurawski elise ficarra stephanie young juliana spahr bill luoma brandon brown laura moriarty alli warren norma cole brent cunningham taylor brady rob halpern kevin killian david larsen eleni stecopoulos kate colby...
These people help and cause me to always investigate my own complacency, they all know so much more than I do, or different things than I do, and I look to them to gain a more complete understanding of a world I have great difficulty seeing. Living in the constantly charged and competitive cocreative state with these poets compels me to always seek further, research more, work harder at being a writer and human being and take the example given by this group, of intellect, education, self-training, sensitivity & loving-kindness always applied to what it is to productively imagine--in language, the foundational loop of a real architecture--how to be anticomplicit to the implicit power structures we're all so singularly still married to.
Finally, an important thing I've learned being engaged with my people here is that not every single one of us has to address and do every single thing at every moment. Which was my own problem of feeling personally responsible to achieve every sort of poetic at every second, which will make you crazy! We all have different roles to play and works to do, so Judith Goldman attends to one prosodic or social concern and Stephanie Young to another, and Brandon Brown to another and I get to live with and learn from each and all of them and their works every day of my life and understand that arising all together is a complete and open participatory stance in the world that hopefully can in its collective generosity indicate a life-giving and -pursuing devotional vocabulary that changes itself and models for the rest of the world an economy-less public which is its own public. Is that tautologically stupid? That's entertainment, and it's good for everyone. It is.