Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mini Portraits of Writers Week 6

Week Six: Renee Gladman

Introduction to Renee Gladman’s reading

Renee Gladman lives in Providence, RI, where she is the publisher of Leon Works, a press for experimental fiction and cross-genre writing. She also teaches in the Program for Literary Arts at Brown University. She is the author of four collections of prose (Juice, The Activist, Newcomer Can't Swim, and most recently TOAF) and one book of poetry (A Picture-Feeling).

In her newest work, Gladman examines the somewhat illusory categories of life and fiction. She asks what accumulates, beyond thought to create a narrative about another very elusive narrative, that being the narrative of writing the narrative in question. It is telling that this book was published by Atelos press, edited by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz, in which each text is specifically commissioned for publication and deals in some way with crossing traditional genre boundaries. The book back text reads: “Though she has been exploring multi-genres and hybrid spaces for almost fifteen years, she has no idea how to categorize this book.” And of course, nor do I, except to say that there is something to articulate here about the uncategorizable. For Gladman, fiction, life, and place (in this case more specifically the urban street), are related processes that are demonstrated in her work. The project of writing is not separate from a body walking down a street, or a sensibility struggling with say, the common cultural conundrum of a cell phone. What does it mean that an object we once lived in utter harmony without now dramatically absorbs public space to the extent that we now find navigation unimaginable without it?

She writes in her newest book, TOAF:
“My work is easy, it seems to say, walk along here happily, but what I’m attempting to do is to make the reader suspect this progression. . . .That’s what I want, to move and go nowhere.”

“In this kind of writing it is hard to know how much you want to say about a thing that you are calling a failure.”

In the recent publication Notes on Conceptualism, Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman write the following:
“Failure is the goal of conceptual writing.

Note: failure in this sense acts as an assassination of mastery.
Note: failure in this sense serves to irrupt the work, violating it from within.
Note: this invites the reader to redress failure, hallucinate repair.”

Gladman is one of the few writers of her generation clearly carving out a new space for fiction, for others to newly approach the “novel” as a form in flight, a form to be examined and reimagined. A form for which to hallucinate and execute repair. Gladman works with a delicacy and a deceptively smooth surface which penetrates assumptions always just beneath the veneer of the daily.

And that is perhaps why her work is such a reassuring combination of enjoyable reading and provocative sifting of thought which gently though persistently prods and uncomfortably probes. While reading Gladman’s work I’ve found myself asking: What is an activist? What is a victim? What is public space? Where does one body end and another begin? What is the responsibility/responsiveness of the witness? What is the responsibility of the writer? Her work swims between descriptive and emotive. She creates fictive portraits, like captioned pictures, cinematic scenes, in which the culmination of action is always coupled with calamitous thought, and leaves the reader free to interpret her rendered scenes. She offers photographic exposures, seemingly untouched landscapes of language. We are invited to tint, light, zoom, develop, compose and ask as we read.

Renee Gladman reading at The Drawing Studio, Tucson, Feb 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sustainable Aircraft 3

The latest issue of the online poetry review magazine Sustainable Aircraft is now up, with reviews of Marie Buck's Life & Style, Brad Flis' Peasants, Jenny Holzer's PROTECT PROTECT (the site is mostly poetry-oriented, but not entirely), Gert Jonke's Homage to Czerny, two books by Brian Kim Stefans, and Rodrigo Toscano's Collapsible Poetics Theater. In addition to the reviews, there is also an "SA Press" edition of "Autoportraits", by Michael Scharf.

Sustainable Aircraft comes out on a somewhat unpredictable schedule and has a relatively small body of content for a web-based operation, but the books it reviews merit the attention, and I recommend looking through the archives of the last two issues if you haven't read them yet.

Full disclosure: the Buck review is by me. Both her book and Flis' are out now from PatrickLovelaceEditions, in beautiful copies designed by Dirk Rowntree. They aren't yet in bookstores, as far as I know, but you can pick up copies via paypal on the website for Flis and Buck's magazine, Model Homes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mini Portraits of Writers Week 5

Week Five: Renee Angle

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

I think I am too young to have loved a book for at least a decade. I’m currently on the hunt for books in which part of the reading experience ends up being a lucid dream. I don’t have lucid dreams much, but when I do the dreams are picture-less, and are comprised of some kind of extended conversation with the text. I’ve only had this happen with two books: Dan Beachy-Quick’s Mulberry and Lisa Jarnot’s Ring of Fire. Though I like these books a good deal, they aren’t ones I have extended relationships with in my waking life. Ten years from now, I hope Moby Dick is still a part of my waking and dreaming life.

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

Marathon running. See below.

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

I was always taught that you should never wait for inspiration, that you should always make opportunity/time for it in your life. But, I have always done my best writing (or had the most fun) while doing other things, like composing in my head while running or very quick sessions on my lunch break. I am not necessarily seeking out inspiration. And, often I won’t write for extended periods of time. I’m interested in poets who have given up poetry in one way or another throughout history: Laura (Riding) Jackson, George Oppen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arthur Rimbaud, Coleridge. All the writers listed above write with a violence, force, and relentlessness that make such silences great reprieves and at times great despairs. I’ve come to understand that silence is the most important part of writing for me.

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?

I don’t know the answer to this question. But I do think irresponsibility is an overlooked opportunity for artists. Which is to say, I’m really only interested in approaching these kinds of questions indirectly. I wonder how much “responsibility” is linked to notions of the afterlife. I wonder how much “responsibility” we can really articulate without falling into the genre of manifesto. I’m hungry for writers that do rather than say. I’m looking for doggedness, not authenticity, not honesty, not responsibility, and certainly not salvation.

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?

I hate traveling distances greater than 10 miles unless on foot. When I’m writing, I’m usually at home or within 10 miles from home.

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.

I have another found lyric essay called "Favor". It is an inquiry into the lexicon and etymology of “suicide” and takes as one of its models John Donne’s "Biathanatos", an essay on suicide published posthumously (and against Donne’s wishes). Tropes, syllogisms, and the fugue form are things I’m playing with here; however, I wrote very little of the text. I think of all my poems as BORGs (if you know the Star Trek allusion) or half-humans-half-machines because they often utilize large amounts of found text or exist as a result of common software program functions. Through the use of these techniques, I seek to undermine the authorship of a text. I’m not a computer programmer, if I was I’d create a robot. I discovered the easiest, low-fi way for me to play with issues of authorship, agency, and authority is to use found text. These fragments have a haunted, reverberating vocal quality that I love to manipulate. I keep vigil by the idea of the work unwritten.

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

Sentence diagramming, sort and summary functions in Word, spellcheck, Alta Vista translator, typewriters, and graph paper.

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

At the moment, it’s not writing.

Introduction to Renee Angle’s reading

Renée Angle, is the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Program Coordinator. She holds an MFA from George Mason University, where she was editor of the journal So to Speak. She taught at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, Kore Press Literary Activism Classes, and for a charter school in South Tucson. Her poems have appeared in Practice: New Writing + Art , Diagram, and The Sonora Review.

In her manuscript “WoO”, Angle explores the history and legacy of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, in a manner never previously attempted.

She creates a faux encyclopedic view, complete with illustrations and bifurcated text

She writes:
"a word. my word. our word. thy word. your word. his word. her word. their word."

In other words, varying perspectives are taken. Riffs on the power of the word, whose is the word, whose word against whose? To whom does “the word” belong? Possession history, and authorial vision are central to this unveiling or excavation.

Reading Angle’s “WoO”, I have the sense that I’m trying to read or decode another language. English with baubles, a different dialect, or a secret membrane has been placed atop words I once thought I knew. It’s like looking through a peep hole into a world which completely baffles. We get a whiff or an inkling and then are left to drift, within her adept prose. Who is wooing who?

We are given instructions, we are told where to go, historically speaking to follow this scavenger history lesson

She writes:
“You, the aspiring detective and psychic investigator, caught off guard (which, even to the acute visual organs of heavenly beings, may appear only as a small lucid speck in the sky”

I can’t say enough good about Angle’s work, except to say, it is your duty, dear listener to bring the overly modest talents of this writer to light.

Angle’s prose presents a dense and tangled landscape and a rare concrete complexity which is at once vivid and abstract, lush with psychological composure and ruin, with doubt and the formative potential of faith.

The text is flanked with line drawings, diagrams, and tonal omnipotence at once convincing and determined to erupt itself. The text requires one to penetrate beyond the surface, which lies ironically placid, as if clasping within its covers the uncontainable. Here borders admire breech. History is a form of question and reproach. The codifiable is a lesson in undoing.

Reading "WoO" is like becoming an initiate into the world where as she writes “farce, farce, farce farce farce” and “belief is a cramp”.

Listeners beware, this is a book with which to reckon. A long awaited symphony of elegantly culled woes.

Renee Angle reading at The Drawing Studio, Tucson, Feb 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mini Portraits of Writers Week 4

Week Four: Robert Mittenthal

Reading his work, downtown Seattle, February 2009

Robert Mittenthal is a curator of the subtext reading series (SubtextReadingSeries.blogspot.com) in Seattle. His most recent books are Value Unmapped (Nomados) and Wax World, which is forthcoming from Chax. He believes (after Blaser) that the poetic is the language of the mapless.

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

I can tell of an "event" resembling a one night stand. It was an experience I'll always remember, even though it's been distorted in my memory. I haven't reread the book since the event, and I'm unlikely to go back to it. Anyway, more than ten years ago, I had an encounter with Maurice Blanchot's Thomas The Obscure, translated by Robert Lamberton. It was a book I'd had around and tried to read a number of times with no success. One evening I tried again, and suddenly the book had me and I was riveted, paralysed, unable to stop reading. In fact, I was scared to get up for fear that I'd interrupt the spell that I was under. I read it in one sitting, or rather it read me. That's the sensation I remember. It was as if the book had read me. When finished I was left confused, stunned – I wasn't sure what had happened. In retrospect, I remember only the experience and almost nothing about the story. JG Ballard's Crash or Burrough's Naked Lunch or Bataille's Story of the Eye are other examples of books that leave you with the feeling of being read, of being repulsed and attracted at the same time, but their stories are more easily retold.

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

To name another title of a book: Space, Time & Spacetime. A diet of adventurous ideas. The adjectives: double, nonfat, extra hot.

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

“These are my words.” Reverse (or stop rehearsing) the unlearning, that is, stop worrying about influence and begin to influence yourself.

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?

Duty is in a way a very unhappy concept. Not all constraints should be happily embraced.

My work is informed by politics, economics, and aesthetics. But whether a literary text works subversively or not depends less on one’s intent than on the so-called political forces that seize upon a description of the world. That said, I do remain as interested in how words use me as how I appear to be using them.

As a consumer of information, the daily news is a staple of my diet, though it often tastes pre-processed and artificial.

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

To quote David Bromige, "I draw a blank." Maybe it is a habit that holds me back. I fear Place as a limitation or constraint.

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.

All writing and reading as translation or in translation. I’ve been doing a translation or rewriting of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall – using a randomized version of the text as vocabulary. But this question of translation is really so broad as to effect anything one reads or writes.

In "Diseconomy of Scale", which appears in Wax World, forthcoming from Chax, I tried to write something that would mimic a structure that’s so big that it collapses under its own weight. It seems impossible to even imagine how capitalism could come to an end. A diseconomy of scale is one notion of how this could happen. The piece itself seems destined to fail, but I’m afraid it does not fail for being too enormous. Amazingly enough, the concept seems very timely, with all the talk now of protecting these behemoth financial entities that are allegedly “too big to fail.”

I continue to work on how to collaborate more effectively with myself and others. Lately I’ve been working on thumb poems. It’s a relatively new technological form, that subsumes the hand and has the allure of a more immediate communiqué.

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

With Nico Vassilakis, I did collaborative work which came out of attending the same concerts. We work in very different ways, so I think the collaboration proved useful for both of us. The tactic – Nico’s really – is a way to keep moving by inverting a text that isn't quite right, reversing it to shake it loose and get it to breathe again.

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

I thought the provocative idea these days was non-creative writing. The drudgery of translation, moving text from one box to another.

I don’t see much direct relationship. I work as a so-called knowledge worker in a lawfirm. I consider it a no collar job. It does ground me in the world and it exposes me to interesting disfunctions in the economy. There is a distinct class structure, but it’s like a university where there are plateaus of power – most everything is run by committee. Unavoidably, some of this bleeds into the work.

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

The actual flash (or is it flesh?) – moving into and through the motion. The forgetting. The not looking back. It’s this allure which calls one back for more punishment.

That’s the retrograde answer, very un-non-creative writing.

Poetry Lives at the Video Inn
by Robert Mittenthal

Where a critic fears to say "I hate poetry"

A program of iron instruments – faking a move down a vulgar path
A reign of disappointments next to the occasional
Explosion and missed chance

Failure befriends one's other half
We she he that once pronounced
Airspace of the other

White walls and chain link
Bound to resist ideals (it’s true!)
The market prefers itself

Prepurchased contracts where language
Is bought and sold. I hedged what will be will be
Doris Day’s simple repetition built to an uproar

Lost time as a forge of memory
Platoons march thru an image
All three of them re-enacting

First question then argument
Interrogation as the excavation of the adjacent walls
Pixels the size of sand

We met at Blackhat
Three paces to the right
Swarms of flies in our wake

Carnage is for the rest of us
The bot-farm or army
Used to deploy information

The plasma hooks up
Who wagers to halt right there
Cowboys blue in the face

Backdrop where pixel density was
Never so immune to the eyes
Rev’d up end to end