Monday, May 11, 2009

Mini Portraits of Writers

Mini portraits of writers, one a week for six weeks. Portraits may include: answers to interview questions (listed below), introductions to readings, video clips of writers reading or discussing their work plus texts.

Instructions/Questions/Frame:

Please reply with your own answers to the questions as you like:

1. Tell about a book that you have loved for at least a decade.

2. What circumstances are most conducive to your creative work?

3. What is the biggest myth about being a writer? Something you’ve unlearned through your work.

4. What is the writer’s responsibility — in relation to the world, the current state of events? How do you experience the daily news? Does this process enter your writing?

5. Talk about the role of place in your work. Or, where are you, when you are working (physically, mentally, etc). What is your residence of word-ing?

6. What questions would you like to explore through your work at the moment? Talk about a work in process, or your most recent work.

7. On method, provide a writing assignment, tactic or process that you’ve found useful.

8. Talk about the relationship between your creative work and other work you do.

9. What is the most pleasurable aspect of your writing life?




Week One: Jeanne Heuving

(The order of these questions is important to how I am answering the question)

3. What is the biggest myth about being a writer? Something you've unlearned through your work?

The theorem about writing that I induced from my formal education is that the sum of a piece of writing is greater than its parts. This initially lead me in search of gestalts or authoritative responses that would "spring" my creative work. Although now I neither completely believe nor disbelieve this theorem, as an early conviction of mine, it propelled my writing into all kinds of roadblocks. Looking for a way in and out, I judged my own writing as inevitably lacking. I just couldn't get into it, or behind it. I write about this in my first published chapbook, Offering (1997), later reproduced in Incapacity (2004): "How outside of her life she had been in trying to be too much inside of it. Only by viewing the inside of her life from the outside could she begin to effect the casual attitude she sometimes possessed in living, but rarely managed in writing." At one point, in my writing, I began to realize that writing was importantly one word after the next, one sentence after the next. While I still think there is something to the theorem that "the sum of a piece of writing is greater than its parts," conceiving of writing as Each Next (to borrow from Kathleen Fraser), was a most helpful corrective to my gestalt-ridden expectations.

As a young writer my visual responses were more acute than my aural responses. By learning to listen to language as an initiatory act, I found my writing really opened up. Most helpful to me was the discovery of the New Sentence--discovered by example well before I read its theoretical exegesis in Silliman and others. An important source for my discovery of the New Sentence was Leslie Scalapino's The Return of Painting. I have written about this discovery in a essay about Leslie Scaloppini, "A Dialogue 'About Love in the Western World'" (HOW2 Spring 2002) : "It was important for me to think of each sentence . . . as a separate unit that could connect or not connect to the unit before it. It was also important to hear the syntax of the sentence in advance of writing, as if only through separating syntax and meaning could my stalemated consciousness produce writing."

One important movement out of my stalemated consciousness was attending a workshop that Leslie Scalapino gave for the Subtext Writing Collective in 1997, I believe, in which she gave some fairly involved instructions about writing in relationship to an inside and an outside. I knew that my mind would catch on to these instructions in an unproductive way--begin responding to them as theory or argument--rather than as a mobilized writing. I listened to the other writers in the room as we went around the room reading from an in-class writing experiment. In listening to Laynie Browne, I thought, a-ha, I will do it Laynie's way. I will listen to writing as writing and then write it down. For our over-night assignment, I went home and found ten sentences I liked from Dorothy Sayer's Gaudy Night (this was my outside) and I copied them down on a separate piece of paper. I then, used these sentences as "melodies" for my jazz improvisation. I took the sentences on: loved them, copied them, reformed them, mutilated them, and added to them. Out of this experiment came what some writer friends thought of as a real breakthrough piece for me, namely "Gaudy Night," also in Incapacity.
A rather different writing experience around this time also came through a weekend Subtext writing workshop, with the writer Lee Ann Brown. Lee Ann has a great way of connecting to people through writing, and her high charge, energy state helped me to connect to language. Important, I think for me, in both of these Subtext workshops was the sense of connection to the other writers in the room, and the possibility of performing / projecting language for someone who wished to hear it. There have been other sustaining friendships through writing, without which I would not have unlearned the blank of my own "gestalt" expectations. Lissa Wolsak, Kathleen Fraser, Joseph Donahue have all been particularly important to my "learning / unlearning," as has the larger community created through the Subtext Collective.

6. What questions would you like to explore through your work at the moment? Talk about a work in process, or your most recent work.

For the last several years, I have given much of my writing energy to a critical book, The Transmutation of Love in Twentieth Century Poetry. This book explores "libidinal" connections to language in the work of Pound, H.D. Duncan, Kathleen Fraser, and at least one other poet, as yet undecided. In this project, I take on writers who begin with a serious engagement with love writing through lover-beloved forms of writing, and then transmute these forms into what I call a libidinized "open field" poetics and transpersonal love writing. In writing this book, I am considering writers, who, unlike myself, seem to have had a limited, or minimal calling, with respect to "negativity." This critical project comes out of my experience in writing my most recent book of poetry, Transducer (2008) that finds its writing through the poetics described above. As I get to the end of this long critical project, I am anticipating a return to forms of creative writing. In any new project, I would like to see where my exploration of negativity in Incapacity and affirmative modes in Transducer land me--to bring these into a kind of conversation, perhaps. I am intrigued by the kind of transparency of writing in Renee Gladman's To After That (TOAF). But that is just an outside "gestalt," a kind of glamor, beckoning me. When I take up my pen, I shall discover this new writing, word by word phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

1. Tell about a book that you have loved for at least a decade.

I will tell about a series of letters and a book, both very important to me. As a writer who has definitely suffered from writing blanks or blocks, I greatly love Artaud's early correspondence with Jean Riviere, anthologized in several collections of Artaud's writing. I recently created a piece called "Translation" that consists of pairing passages from two different translations of this correspondence. The translations are different only in small ways, but by quoting them I wish to draw attention to the impossibility of transparent language, while at the same time, inclining the reader to experience this transparency, as one needs to carefully compare the passages to find their small differences. These small differences, as choices in writing, were Artaud himself making them, undoubtedly would have caused him a grave sense of consternation. I think the fastidious choices writers make about word choices are really important, if writing is to write the writer, and not someone sort of like him or her--but they are also comedic, in the larger face of things. They are important to the discovery of a piece of writing, but once written, once the thrust of the piece has been created through careful attention to language, then translators (and readers) have their own way with these words, inevitably altering the piece of writing, but not destroying it. What I love about this correspondence was Artaud's need for the presence of Riviere, in order for Artaud to write in a fluent way about his difficulties in writing. (Please see the end of this commentary for my piece, "Translation.")

One of the books I have loved for at least ten years is Marguerite Duras' The War. I love this book because how it is partially compiled from journals Duras kept when she was part of the resistance movement in France in World War II. Duras captures the intrigue of this book (between personal and impersonal recollection), perfectly in her opening paragraph:

"I found this diary in a couple of exercise books in the blue cupboards at Neauphle-le-Chateu.
I have no recollection of having written it. I know I did. I know it was I who wrote it. I recognize my own handwriting and the details of the story. I can see the place, the Gare d' Orsay, and the various comings and goings. But I can't see myself writing the diary. When would I have done so, in what year, at what times of day, in what house? I can't remember. . . ."

The War is one of the most important things in my life. It can't really be called "writing." I found myself looking at pages regularly filled with small calm, extraordinarily even handwriting. I found myself confronted with a tremendous chaos of thought and feeling that I couldn't bring myself to tamper with, and beside which literature was something I felt ashamed.
The first part of the book consists entirely of journal entries (perhaps altered) and the latter part of the book is made up of several diverse narratives that are partially interlocking, from "realistic" accounts to fables. The book tells of unspeakable truths, violations--including the resistance group's own excessive violence. One of the fable-like stories at the end is of an "abandoned Jewish girl" who is looked after by an unidentified "lady." The book ends, when this story, told hitherto entirely in the third person, changes to the first person:

"My name is Aurelia Steiner
I live in Paris. My parents are teachers there.
I am eighteen.
I write."

4. What is the writer's responsibility

The writer's responsibility is to disclose and to construct a world that does not "cheapen" the experience of those living in it.

video
__________________________________________________________

TRANSLATION
by Jeanne Heuving

I suffer from a frightful disease of the mind. My thought abandons me at all stages. From the simple act of thinking to the external act of its materialization in words.

I suffer from a horrible sickness of the mind. My thought abandons me at every level. From the simple fact of thought to the external fact of its materialization in words.

_____

These poems come from the deep uncertainty of my thinking. Fortunate indeed when this non certainty is not replaced by the absolute inexistence from which I sometimes suffer.

These poems stem from the profound uncertainty of my thought. I consider myself fortunate indeed when this uncertainty is not replaced by the absolute none existence from which I suffer at times.

_____

Here, too, I fear a misunderstanding. I would like you to realize that it is not a matter of the higher or lower existence involved in what is known as inspiration, but of a total absence, of a veritable dwindling away.

Here again I fear an ambiguity. I would like you to understand that it is not a question of that greater or lesser degree of existence which is commonly called inspiration, but of a total absence, a real extinction.

_____

It is very important that the few manifestations of spiritual existence that I have been able to give myself not be regarded as inexistent because of the blotches and awkward expressions with which they are marred.

It is very important to me that the few manifestations of spiritual existence which I have been able to give myself not be regarded as nonexistent because of the blemishes and awkward expressions they contain.

_____

Obviously (and that is what prevents me, for the time being, from publishing any of your poems in the Nouvelle Revue Francaise) you do not, in general, achieve sufficient unity of impression.

Obviously (and this is what prevents me for the moment from publishing any of your poems in La Nouvelle Revue Francaise) you do not usually succeed in creating a sufficient unity of impression.

_____

I am attempting to justify myself in your eyes. I care very little whether I seem to anyone to exist. The distance that separates me from myself suffices to cure me of the judgment of others. Please do not regard this as insolence, but rather as the very faithful confession, the painful statement, of a distressing state of mind.

I do not seek to justify myself in your eyes, it is a matter of indifference to me whether I seem to exist in the eyes of anyone at all. I have, to cure me of the judgment of others, the whole of the distance that separates me from myself. Please do not regard this as insolence but rather as the very accurate confession, the painful disclosure of a distressing state of mind.

______

I flattered myself that I was bringing you a case, a definite mental case, and, curious as I thought you were about all mental deformities, all obstacles destructive of thought, I thought thereby to draw your attention to the real value, the initial value of my thinking and of the products of my thinking.

I flattered myself that I was bringing you a case, a distinctive mental case, and curious as I thought you were about all mental distortions, about all those obstacles that are destructive of thought, I thought thereby to draw your attention to the real value, the initial value of my thought, and of the productions of my thought.
_____

There is something that is destroying my thinking, a something which does not prevent me from being what I might be, but which leaves me, if I may say so, in abeyance. A something furtive which takes away from me the words which I have found, which diminishes my mental tensions, which destroys in its substance the mass of my thinking as it evolves, which takes away from me even the memory of the devices by which one expresses oneself and which render with precision the most inseparable, most localized, most existing modulations of thought. I shall not labor the point. There is no need to describe my state.

There is something which destroys my thought; something which does not prevent me from being what I might be, but which leaves me, so to speak, in suspension. Something furtive which robs me of the words that I have found, which reduces my mental tension, which is gradually destroying in its substance the body of my thought, which is even robbing me of the memory of those idioms with which one expresses oneself and which translate accurately the most inseparable, the most localized, the living inflections of thought. I shall not go on. I do not need to describe my state.
_____

Do you think that in a sound mind excitement and extreme weakness coexist and that one can both astonish and disappoint?

Do you believe that in a well-organized mind apprehension is accompanied by extreme weakness, and that one can simultaneously astonish and disappoint?
_____

I am struck by something: the contrast between the extraordinary precision of your self-diagnosis and the vagueness, or at least the formlessness of what you are endeavoring to achieve.

One thing strikes me: the contrast between the extraordinary precision of your self-diagnosis and the vagueness, or at least formlessness of your creative efforts.

_____

Even if I had not other evidence, your tormented wavering, shaky handwriting which gives the impression of being absorbed here and there by secrete whirlwinds, would be sufficient to assume of the reality of the phenomena of mental ‘erosion’ of which you complain. But how do you manage to escape from them when you try to define your difficulty?

Even if I had no other evidence, your handwriting—tormented, wavering, collapsing, as if sucked in here and there by secret whirlpools—would be sufficient guarantee of the reality of the phenomena of mental “erosion” of which you complain. But how do you escape them so well when you try to define your sickness?

_____

To put it more precisely, this is how I see the matter: the mind is fragile in that it needs obstacles—adventitious obstacles. If it is alone, it loses its way, it destroys itself. It seems to me that the “mental erosion,” the inner larcenies, the “destruction” of thought “in its substance” which afflicts yours, have no other cause than the too great freedom you allow it. It is the absolute that throws it out of gear. In order to grow taut, the mind needs a landmark, it needs to encounter the kindly opacity of experience. The only remedy for madness is the innocence of facts.

Here is my idea at closer range: the mind is fragile in that it has need of obstacles—obstacles not of its own making. When left to itself, it is lost, it is destroyed. It seems to me that that this mental “erosion”, these internal thefts, this “destruction” of the thought “in its substance” which afflicts your mind are the result of the excessive freedom you allow it. It is the absolute that unhinges it. To be taut, the mind needs a boundary and it needs to come up against the blessed opacity of experience. The only curse for madness is the innocence of facts.

_____

If by thought one means creation, as you seem to mean most of the time, it must, at all costs be relative. Security, constancy and strength can be obtained only by involving the mind in something.

If by thought one means creation, as you seem to most of the time, it must at all costs be relative; one will find security, constancy, strength, only by engaging the mind in something.

______

I am quite aware of the jerkiness of my poems, a jerkiness which derives from the very essence of inspiration and which is due to my incorrigible inability to concentrate on an object.

I am perfectly aware of the sudden stops and starts in my poems, they are related to the very essence of inspiration and proceed from my chronic inability to concentrate on an object.

_____

There is no absolute peril except for him who abandons himself.

There is no absolute danger except for he who abandons himself.


[Every word of this piece, except the title, is from the correspondence between Antonin Artaud and Jacques Riviere, as reprinted (and translated) in Artaud Anthology, edited by Jack Hirschman, City Lights Books; and Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, edited by Susan Sontag, University of California Press.]




Introduction to Jeanne Heuving’s reading, Tucson AZ, Feb 2008:

Jeanne Heuving ’s cross-genre Incapacity (Chiasmus Press) won a 2004 Book of the Year Award from Small Press Traffic, and her book of poems Transducer (Chax Press) was released in 2008. She has published multiple critical pieces on avant-garde and innovative writers, including the book Omissions Are Not Accidents: Gender in the Art of Marianne Moore. She is a member of the Subtext Collective, on the editorial advisory board of HOW2, and is a professor in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program at the University of Washington, Bothell and in the graduate program in English at UW, Seattle. In 2003, she was the H.D. Fellow at the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

In her book, Incapacity, we find capacious rooms of prose, stilling light to study the features of a memory, remark, or hour. Hueving deftly wills the reader to enter a state of reverie. Reversed time. Looking into a spectrum of becoming reversed.

In her newest book, Transducer, are four works. In "Frequency," the first sequence of short poems, we are given the precision of the painterly poised. In "Flora," is a deft and winnowing page, al la HD’s Sea Garden and Pound’s Sea Cantos, an exchange of verse in which brevity underlines a palpable depth, the unsaid reflected in landscape of sword lily and sea plume. In "Chthonic," a sinuous delicacy chases sound beneathe speech to gesture, a sorting of seed and season. The final sequence, “Limning,” gives full light to questions plundered throughout Heuving’s work. Kathleen Fraser refers to “a silence of longing between love’s requited and unrequited dependencies.” I would add to this a silence of habitation within unanswerable questions seeking answers. She writes of “keyless exchange of no entry,” “fraudulent eyes,” “a dark swirling comma reaching down.” Heuving explores a domain of intimate indeterminacy. Thus becoming expert at dwelling within the unbuilt, notating the impossibly sung. She confidently decodes a tangled embankment of eros—the location where thought succumbs to matter. She sheds light and limb upon those habitations of mind mostly unexamined. Within her gaze we spin paradox, so Incapacity becomes - in the words of one reviewer (Anna Gibb)s, an expansive “potential space,” or “virtual dream.” Transducer reclaims the inexpressible as a realm in which to revel.
video

1 comment:

Amina said...

I love these questions, and this way of learning about a writer-- through question, text, and talking on a video. I love too what Hueving says about inside and outside.