Page 1

elmaz abinader • rae armantrout • viken berberian karl blau • dmitry borshch • julian talamantez brolaski • kevin clarke elizabeth cook-lynn • eleanor davis • rikki ducornet • christian fagerlund cristina garcía • andrew sean greer • robert grenier • e. tracy grinnell scott hutchins • brenda iijima • toshiya kamei • bhanu kapil • fowzia karimi ˜ laleh khadivi • muthoni kiarie • cheena marie lo • marcus lund felipe w.martinez • erín moure • barbara obata • jenny sharaf kelsey thorne • nadja miller • ethan worden • simon pyle kate rhoades • dave young kim • patricia powell joel tomfohr • sara uribe • anne waldman

MILLS COLLEGE Oakland, 2013



annUaL JOURnaL Of





{ managing editor Brian Roth

OBSESSION Issue 15 • Copyright 2013

ISSN: 1523-4762

poetry editor Ivy Johnson

readers Abbie Amadio Michael Canterino Matthew Elias Helen Estrada Sarah Merkle Cosmo Spinosa Jennifer Williams

incoming editor Jennifer Williams

faculty advisor Micheline Marcom

non - fiction editor Jennifer Franklin fiction editor Marcus Lund

design + layout emji spero cover art Map of the Archipelago Rikki Ducornet

580 SPLIT is an ANNUAL JOURNAL of ARTS + LETTERS Edited by a revolving staff of graduate students at Mills College, 580 Split aims to publish innovative poetry, prose, and visual art. The journal takes its name from the highway ramps, overpasses, and interchanges near the college. 5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94613 You can find submission guidelines at:

Mills College

Oakland, 2013




the Folly Garden


the bridegroom


Cemetery (excerpt from King of Cuba)

Andrew Sean Greer Fowzia Karimi


the Sacred Ibis


excerpts from Das Kapital


the First in Two Things

Cristina García


Mũthoni Kiarie Viken Berberian Joel Tomfohr

How to Make a Home (excerpt from The Walking) Laleh Khadivi

non - fiction

/ essay


on Obsession


Heart Murmur


Lover, I’m Home

Marcus Lund Elmaz Abinader Patricia Powell



Rikki Ducornet


Bhanu Kapil


Robert Grenier


Jennifer Franklin Ivy Johnson Ivy Johnson

Erín Moure Brian Roth



brief interview

82 84 86 88 90 92 94

Felipe W.Martinez Kevin Clarke Cristina García Elizabeth Cook-Lynn



Anne Waldman


Eleanor Davis Karl Blau Scott Hutchins

Aria/Paean: Fire Opals on a Forked Tongue what do they know of suffering..., swine of the times, zeppelin over zurich, astral travel w/ paranoia Julian Talamantez Brolaski


Friends, the Pull, the Future


I am learning how to be in my own body

Rae Armantrout

Cheena Marie Lo visual art


the New World






Daughters of the Dust


Sara Uribe, transl. Toshiya Kamei

Rikki Ducornet Christian Fagerlund Robert Grenier Dmitry Borshch

winter/invierno, jongleur/ juglar, day’s journey/jornada


mnemonic [1, 2, 3, 5]


July 24 th, 1997

E. Tracy Grinnell Brenda Iijima

from the Editor Brian Roth

obsession is such a loaded word . The other editors and I tried to avoid

obsession. We tried to ignore obsession. But we could not. This journal became an obsession of that word, in terms grand and everyday. Everything we talked about and envisioned for this journal returned to that singular expression for what we do, what we cared to do, and what we wanted to see and read. So we embraced obsession. Obsession became our theme, our guiding principle. We believed we could uncover artists who knew obsession, and whose obsession dragged them somewhere new. Who better to show this variety, we thought, than the writers and artists that answered a call to some deeper level of engagement and expression in their chosen field? To investigate that question we chose to complement the core fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art content with a cavalcade of interviews that approached the subject of obsession. As writers and artists ourselves, we wanted to hear directly from our contemporaries about their drives and obsessions (if they were even willing to accept that term). With that in mind we asked the same five questions to seven different people in the hope that their answers would surprise, contradict, reveal, and reinforce what we thought we knew about obsession. In addition, we spent considerable time on four longer interviews with luminary writers so we could dig deeply into their work and wallow in the details of their practice and concerns. At the end of all this, their obsession became our obsession, and hopefully yours.

the Folly Garden Andrew Sean Greer

here ’ s a man who ’ s sure he’s with the wrong girl. Worse: he’s affianced.

And take last week, when one minute he was chatting with her on the phone, grinning, listening to her harmlessly funny story about her editor boss, and then she was choking on a glass of water, hacking into the phone and what was he thinking? Was he thinking, How do you call 911 when you’re already on the phone? No, he heard her choking, swallowing, laughing it off—but he was thinking, What if it were true? What a horrible story to tell, later, to her parents at the funeral. No one could say he hadn’t loved her then—and he does love her—no one would guess he feels flattened by dull love. How horrible...he played it over and over in his mind that night, falling asleep in bed. The choking, the real terror of loss, the consoling friends, the moving on... He is a rotten person, Scott is. He knows it; he tells it to himself daily. But there she is tonight, smiling in the candlelight, and he can only hear that watery choking. But a lucky thing happens to Scott. A reunion. He is over by the wicker cornucopia, a display of raw asparagus and radishes formed into a vegetal lava flow, and a young man darts into his vision, raising a glass. Scott Zimmerman? Scott Zimmerman from Foxdale High? The man is flushed with drink, blond and pale and blinking with hope. He has a fuzzy blue sweater on, a smile all expectation, and turned-down eyes showing he’s unhappy in the way we all are. Does Scott recognize this man? Not a chance.


But hey, hello, Foxdale hey? Huh? They start a rapid conversation about the old school, the teacher who went crazy and wore a shawl and nothing else to school, their classmate who was struck down by lightning, all of it. Mostly they talk about Scott. The young man seems to know everything about Scott in high school, but Scott isn’t conjuring up anything about the blond guy except the blur in the bleachers that must have contained him. The fellow doesn’t notice—hey Scott, Scott I remember at junior prom when you took Allyson Farrell in that white limo but disappeared with your friend’s date, Tim’s date, yeah? Rebecca Morineau? Disappeared and now Allyson and Tim are married? Can you believe it? Oh Jesus, Scott hasn’t thought about that in a while. It makes him feel light-headed and brave to be surrounded by his infamies. Unlike the rest of us, he doesn’t find himself regretting old indiscretions. Unlike the young man before him, he never finds himself on the couch in front of the television, a little drunk, recalling an old favorite mistake and torturing himself over and over with the permanence of actions. This conversation’s like a drug—why can’t his girl see these things in him? Why, now that he thinks of it, didn’t he affiance himself to Rebecca Morineau instead? He laughs. No boy ever took that girl too serious in the morning. They talk a little more about Foxdale, about the time when Scott was wild and red-faced and overjoyed with life. Later, in bed with his fiancée, worrying about the coming work week in investments, Scott holds her loosely, resting his mouth against her neck. She makes little noises for him to know she’s happy. He thinks about the young man he met. He thinks about how girls felt back then, taut as wires, pale as envelopes, and then sleep smothers his mind. not long after , he’s having an affair with a woman in his office. Is it really

an affair if he’s only affianced? It’s another broker, a tall Minnesotan with colorless lips and hair. Scott thinks maybe she’s a little crazy; she’ll whisper


Andrew Sean Greer

about how she loves him, how strong he is, then sit bolt upright, cracking herself up about it. And he likes not only the affair—he likes the secrecy which allows him to float through meetings which are killing him day by day like a tobacco habit, thinking of his afternoons with her and how she’d unwrap her wool skirt and make noises in her mouth like drum riffs. The young man from his high school has shown up again, as well. Turns out his name is almost rings a bell. Yearbook or something? Yeah, yearbook, Evans says. They’ve been in touch for this whole month since the party, going out for drinks after work, sometimes with the Minnesotan crazy girl chewing on a red straw as they handle their old memories together, smooth from time now, unbreakable things. Scott in an expensive navy suit and haircut; Evans in a goatee and deep blue jeans. No matter. One time, when Evans has left and Scott is sitting on his stool a little tipsy and proud, the Minnesotan crazy girl removes the straw from her albino mouth and says, You sure like your good gay friend. Gay? Get out of here. Evans is from my high school. Gay for sure. Big big big big big time gay. Gay my ass. You said it, she giggles, Your ass indeed. She returns the straw to chew on and Scott isn’t sure if she’s teasing him again, tricking him the way she always does, picking at his innocence like here’s a lesson to be learned. But it turns out she’s right. Next happy hour, she asks Evans straight out and he answers like he’s telling where his family’s from, like he’s offering directions to a bakery. Not even a blush at his subterfuge. Really? For real? Scott wants to know, and Evans nods. The rest of the evening is taken up by a tiresome list of questions Scott needs answered before he can allow this new friend entrance again, questions about asses and roles and dressing up like a girl, but Evans puts up with them mildly. The Minnesotan crazy girl answers a few, smoking a cigarette she found somewhere, and Scott wonders what kind of woman she is to know these things. He wonders if everyone knows these things but him.


So are you like trying to get into my pants? The crazy girl laughs, Don’t flatter yourself, genius. No, Evans says, sipping his whiskey. But I did have a crush on you in high school. Scott points a finger, Aha! Aha! That’s what this is all about! Evans turns to the girl and explains, He was the basketball star and all. He ruled the school absolutely...all the girls went for him...Scott was cute then. Too bad about time, the girl says. I’m cute now! Scott protests, and it’s his turn to blush, and this is the shift in the conversation when it becomes all right with him, and two martinis later he’s talking about himself again in high school, how he used to work out every day, how he had a cheerleader sneak into the locker room once and show him she had no panties. Evans laughs, says he remembers the story. This is how Scott forgives him, how he feels comfortable with him as a man. the fiancée is out of the picture . One terrible scene, three nights of angry discussion, one afternoon of reluctant tears and it’s over. What a relief for Scott—and a tragedy, too, because no sooner is she out the door than he feels robbed. He looks around, chairs and tables missing, all the orange china. It’s almost like a blackout—who did this to him? He plans a trip to Las Vegas to recover. To celebrate. To mark a great transition. And, maybe, could be, could be he loves the Minnesotan broker from his office. Could be he’s going to tell her that he loves her, although Evans says this is a rotten idea. Stay distant, Evans says. Go long on this one, buddy, but Scott is in some kind of state where he doesn’t know what to make of things. Seems like either everything’s going wrong or everything’s going right, and he’s got to do the perfect thing. And how could a confession of love in Vegas not be perfect? It will be the time, just like years earlier with his fiancée, to sit beside a fire and talk more honestly about himself. The thought unnerves Scott,


Andrew Sean Greer

but it feels a little thrilling, a little bit of the daredevil once again. He’ll talk about when he sees her in the office in that skirt, leaning over the copy machine, looking impatient with a phone scrunched between her cheek and shoulder, the endless curve of her brow and how clear and beautiful it is. He’ll talk about the painting career he abandoned years ago, long ago in college, and one painting in particular he’s lost now in which he did his girlfriend in yellow against a rock. And how cold the day had been when she’d posed, how she shivered naked, back-turned to him, singing to herself. And how nothing would ever be like that again—except tonight, beside a fire in Las Vegas, with you. Don’t say that, Evans tells him when he hears this. I have to. You don’t understand the way it is with women. They need to hear that. I don’t understand? I’m fucking gay. I understand women, buddy. Evans is in a suit himself this afternoon, some kind of interview Scott hasn’t asked about. What is it Evans does, exactly? Architectural design? Evans and Scott have two cigars purported to be Cubans, and they are puffing away at a counter near the window. Outside, girls in hippie dresses have tied a puppy to a parking meter and are begging for change. Both men note they aren’t wearing bras. Evans continues: It’s this way for all of us. Faggots and straight girls. We act like we want all the beautiful stuff. The stuff you’re talking about, all that awful crap about how you need us and how special we are. And we think we do. I remember being on a beach at night in Rhode Island, skinny-dipping, and this guy I was wild about holding my hand and kneeling in the sand and telling me, all shy, what I meant to him. How I was so rare, and he now realized how rare. I can feel my heart beating thinking about it...but you know? That night I knew he’d said a little too much, and that in the morning one of us was going to have to begin, you know, begin to not care. And that it was probably him. So I got up early and dressed and left. You know? Left this guy who’d said he loved me. QED. It’s weird, Scott says, to hear of you being like...being like a girl.


So you can’t say that kind of crap to her. Not if you like the way things are, yeah? I mean you just ended a fucking engagement. Evans says this, staring at Scott seriously, with what Scott considers his faggoty eyes, his too-wide eyes which Evans uses to watch men in the bar. Scott puffs his cigar and says, You’re my best friend? And you’re telling me to fuck this thing up? Forget it, Evans says, giving the finger. Forget I said a fucking thing. the trip to las vegas goes ahead as planned but a little cooler. She’s bringing a friend, a college friend whom she describes as Red-Headed and Loony, and Scott is bringing Evans. It’s made clear to the college friend that Evans won’t be an option, that he’s there as gay chaperone for everyone, so no touching and Scott laughs: Yeah! Yeah like right like she’d want to! It’s a beautiful drive, just Scott and Evans. The girls are flying in tonight, and the plan is Scott and his blond broker will drive back together. Evans already has his ticket home. But this trip, the two men, it’s the kind of trip where you know, when you’re in it, how you’ll remember it. Leaving the lush green and smog of the city for the mountains, out into Nevada and the feeling, none like it, of standing next to your old Corvair and pumping gas from a real pump with the desert hot and sparkling everywhere. Beer and nacho chips in bags that rip apart too easy. A night in a hilariously sad motel. A loony Indian woman in a cafe who sits down next to Scott and starts to tell a garbled history. This is the sort of thing Scott lives for. And Vegas is mad, as always, always the gaudy flaunting of taste and common sense, the obvious and easy vices, the water misting outside all the casinos to cool you from the daytime heat—but what are you doing outside, anyway? They gamble. They drink a little much and slowly recover. Evans is in a Hawaiian shirt; it’s all he’s packed, Hawaiian shirts. Sunglasses on both of them. Scott wins, thinks of how he’ll spend this money on


Andrew Sean Greer

champagne, on a good room. They decide to take a breather in the hotel’s garden; they’re in The Marquis, and everything is French before the Revolution, so the garden is all fake-ruined temples and Egyptian obelisks and Oriental pavilions. A pamphlet tells them this is a replica of a real garden in France, full of these weird buildings called follies. They were made to look old; they were made to be ruins. The hotel calls this the Folly Garden, and Scott and Evans sit beneath an ivied pyramid. A girl dressed like a milkmaid pours champagne from a ceramic pitcher. Hours later, a note arrives from the Minnesotan crazy girl. It says: I’m not coming. I’m from a long line of people who do this. My father went to bed at the age of forty and never got up again. We’re easily forgiven. Scott crumples the note against his chest and can’t look anybody in the eye. He’s a stupid fuck for sure. Years of women, years of starry-eyed, nervous and desperate women, as he sees it. He has a vision of himself in high school, in that gym, with the cheerleader tendriled around him with her skirt up—and now a note in a casino? The two men are sitting under the pyramid again, a hundred dollars won today at blackjack, and now this? It almost feels like the end of summer, the mad regret of squandered days, a rush for any action now, except that Scott does not feel boyish. He just feels old. Evans, no time for I-told-you-sos, says, Fuck her. Like you need to bring a date to a town like this? This is destiny, buddy. Oh yeah. The faggot tells my fortune. I’m your best friend. I’m telling you, desist. I’m telling you to get a drink. A drink! he says to the milkmaid now approaching. So they drink. There are the champagnes in the garden, and the cocktails by the machines out in the casino, and the Bloody Marys they slurp down at the endless prime rib buffet they find themselves at very late. They are champions of something tonight. Scott is losing his composure a little, and reacts too much to the waitresses passing by, the skimpy Antoinettes and ladies-in-waiting. He’s falling for their smiles tonight; he’s tipping big, with chips whose color he’s not watching closely.


Slow down buddy! Evans says, but Scott’s staggering around now. He’s seeing beauty marks. He’s seeing decolletage. Oh Evans, Scott says, supporting himself on a glittering one-armed bandit. Friend friend of mine. Nothing hurts tonight. Well okay, I’m sure it doesn’t. You know I was thinking maybe I remember you in high school. When you were in love with me. Were you the fucker in band with the clarinet or some...some fucking piccolo and couldn’t march right? Had your fucking knees up when everyone else was the opposite? I remember that. Wasn’t me. Sorry, buddy. Tyson Farmer, I think. You sure? Maybe no more drinks now. Scott shakes his head and sips from his cup. Okay, but doesn’t that sound just like you? Up, down, up, down...Jesus, it was hilarious. See, you were there after all. I was there. Things are better up in the room. Evans has managed to load him into the elevator, up to the twenty-seventh floor where the room lies in darkness. The room with the fireplace, the bottle of champagne in the mini-fridge, the plans he had. His chips fall onto the floor. I’m an idiot, Scott says, lying shirtless in the bed. I was born okay, but I’ve grown into an idiot. Yeah, but don’t give up. Buy low sell high, right? Evans says. The laugh makes Scott ache even more, and he closes his eyes. Oh Jesus. Don’t worry, don’t worry, Evans says, sitting next to him. You’ve still got me, buddy. I remember you. I remember you in the day. Basketball, all the girls. I wasn’t really like that. Jesus I’m going to be sick. I remember one day in the library, I could look down in back of the school and I saw you walking out the back door. In your uniform.


Andrew Sean Greer

And there was this chick with you, holding hands...I don’t remember who...but you did her right there in back of the school. I couldn’t believe it. Right there. I remember that, Scott says, not quite recalling this, getting a boner nonetheless. See? I remember you. No one else but me remembers you. That’s right. You’re still the same. I don’t notice. You’re the same to me, Evans says. And then Evans suggests something Scott can’t quite believe. It’s almost like he’s misheard it, but then Evans says it again and the room seems suddenly too dark and close. The man is above him, breathing like a machine. What? Scott asks. What are you crazy? Evans is stroking Scott’s forehead as if he were an ill child. Not if you don’t want to, he’s saying. I don’t care. It’s not for me. But you’re my best friend. I want to do it for you. Man you’re crazy, stop it. You just lie back, don’t think about it. You’re the star, right? I fucked up. Don’t worry, man. Close your eyes. Later, in the middle of things, the air conditioning comes on loudly and stirs Scott’s brain and he hears his friend’s loud breathing again, knows what’s happening, but he’s never learned how to stop a thing in motion, and he doesn’t remember this man when he was young. When they were both young, when in math classes there was a boy behind the basketball star watching the back of his head, the muscles of his neck when he laughed, a boy eraseable as chalk. Scott gasps a little, thinking, It’s okay, it’s Evans, it’s okay. He’ll accept all kinds of things tonight, even this, even someone else’s old passion. He can’t tell that in a few hours he’ll be alone. Or that something isn’t love here.


the New World Rikki Ducornet


an Interview with Rikki Ducornet Jennifer Franklin with assistance from Jennifer Williams

rikki ducornet is the author of eight novels, three collections of short fiction,

a book of essays and five books of poetry, and has been honored twice by the Lannan Foundation. She has received the Bard College Arts and Letters award and an Academy Award in Literature. She is also an accomplished visual artist, whose work has been exhibited widely. She has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges, Forrest Gander, Kate Bernheimer, and Anne Waldman, among others. Her most recent novel, Netsuke, published in 2011 by Coffee House Press, is a fast-paced and unsettling portrait of a corrupt psychoanalyst, who uses his power and his personal charisma to seduce his patients. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Ducornet when she came to Mills College as part of the Contemporary Writers Series.

JENNIFER FRANKLIN: rikki ducornet : i love to write , but the process

Would you characterize any aspect of your process as obsessive? How do these obsessions fuel the process, if in fact they do?

doesn’t feel obsessive so much as driven by an irresistible energy. I don’t like the idea of being owned by anything, above all my own ‘issues!’ This recent book, Netsuke, was a place to confront and examine obsessive behavior, to articulate and deconstruct it. The book was informed by a particular experience and my desire to understand it—but the examination of abusive authority is nothing new. My own ongoing inquiry into the problem of evil. I’ve written about the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the many forms dogmatic thinking takes within families and societies. Obsession interests me because it speaks to an


incapacity to think clearly; obsession rules the mind in other words.Â



Would you say writing a way out yes obsessive thinking, irrational is a way out of that? thinking is visible on the page. Writing about it

is a way of understanding its nature and power.


Netsuke in particular yes he is totally taken with abusive sexual has quite an obsessive main power. In this way he is like de Sade who is a character.

central figure in another novel, The Fountains of Neptune. Perhaps the most obsessive of all is the French Nazi in Entering Fire, who is both terrifying and absurd as he has no distance from himself whatsoever! He is totally swept up in an obsessive rage against everyone and everything. He longs for a planet that would be completely flat and inhabited by people with perfectly round heads!

These are people that when the ends justify are ruled by certain ideas, very scary territory! certain goals, maybe? Where do you think fascinations these, let’s call them interests, even passions...

the means you get into



Fascinations. You were well they are informed by real life. I think for saying that for Netsuke, the writer, for the creative artist, the ongoing it was a collection of musings based on personal work is very much at the heart of living deepexperience. Where do these ly, deeply in the moment. Which we all try to musings intersect with real do as much as we can—to be fully alive in the life? Do they interfere with wondrous, mutable, mysterious place of the real life?

real. In my experience, the book I am writing chooses its own trajectory; writing is a process of revelation. The book makes its demands, the


Rikki Ducornet


most imperious being to be a lot smarter than I am. So I do a great deal of research as I write and this is exciting; it is enabling—it brings kindling to the book’s fire. When I was finishing my first novel, The Stain, I became so swept up in the book’s energy that I did begin to work obsessively. So I cut back to a maximum of four to five hours a day—else I put my family life and all the rest at risk. It’s an important question you are asking, because one must find a balance and not allow one aspect of one’s life to become a sort of mania!


It takes a tremendous initially it took discipline But I’m lucky; so amount of discipline. many writers need the discipline to work more,

not less.

I wanted to talk a little either one bit, dive into Netsuke, and talk about your psychoanalyst. I want to call him your main character, but it’s difficult to call him your protagonist. Which are you comfortable with?




So he describes moments yes that s it exactly In the interstices he lives like in time, that he calls ‘inter- a god. He’s living a fantasy, it’s his ‘reality,’ but it’s stices,’ where he’s superhuman crazy; it’s not sustainable—and he’s hurting people. and out of the real, accountable to no moral codes. Is that a fair characterization?

. Attempting to put the ‘real’ world into boxes.

It’s a way he’s sort of exactly categorizing.



He’s compartment- so his marriage is less and less alizing. over the top sexual life is taking

‘real’ and his over; the fantasy of being a god is pushing him and all those around him ever closer to the edge.

I was wondering where i have known a number of such people, two were you came up with that idea psychoanalysts. This overblown ego is a risk for for him. I know that a theme throughout your work is those in the profession. They are fascinated by myth and magic and trans- neurotic people, they see themselves in their formation, and I’m wonder- patient’s dilemmas, and they are in a position ing how those themes play of real power. It’s seductive. They begin to see into this idea. This character becomes his own mega ver- themselves as very special and unique, and sion of himself. What was the they begin to write their own rules. The pagenesis of that?

tients go along with this because it is seductive to enter into a mythical place. To think you are a ‘chosen’ one...breaking the rules!

Is it always connected to i suppose maybe all people have their moments, this narcissistic personality, their narcissistic moments more or less, and if this god time, these moments of super reality? Or is it you’re a healthy person you pull out and you something a more balanced think, God’s sakes! What was I thinking? person can access for any good reason? Or do you think it’s always a product of someone who’s a bit mad? And recover.


Rikki Ducornet

( laughs ) you recover . And you might offer up an apology...But the other aspect of this book is that it’s clear, if implied, that the analyst is himself a deeply wounded man. When the book begins he’s already in deep, in dark water; madness is taking hold.

you talk a lot about this idea of the fever dream. When you talk about

writing a book, you talk about being yourself in a fever dream. You talk about your characters being in a fever dream. The analyst is in something of a trance state, he puts himself there. Then also the reader gets swept up in the world of the book, and is herself entranced by it. So I wanted to talk to you about trance states, and what is special about them, and what is possible? There seems to be this possibility, and maybe that relates to the interstices. thank you ; i wrote that book in a species of

trance—at least it seemed so; it was like entering into a storm. A rupture is about to take place in the lives of the characters; the dark heart of things will be revealed and their world will collapse. I am interested in rupture as a place of dark energy, dark knowledge. For example Almodovar’s film A Bad Education, in which a child is betrayed by a priest. The moment that happens, the film goes black. It’s a stunning and unforgettable moment. Innocence is lost, the edenic place we see at the film’s start is irretrievably lost, and the filmmaker plunges us into darkness. It’s interesting that you ask about the trance, the fever dream, because you have picked up on the nature of this work. All my books are precipitated by a kind of rupture, an extreme shift of focus. They acquire their own energy and weather, and the characters all have imperious voices. They demand to be heard. I think many novelists feel that they are somehow the vehicle for these imperious voices! But I am not speaking about madness! It’s something else. Simply the imagination gathering heat and momentum. We are, after all, wired to tell stories; it’s a function of our species!



I love that idea. It’s it is something like a possession ! One is the vealmost like a possession. hicle for the voice, a world unfolds; one must

assure that it holds together, is cohesive; that it’s consistent; one needs to do the research and if one is fracturing the facts, one needs to have a good reason. I like to work within the interstices where there is much room for the imagination. Such as Sade in prison writing an imaginary book. But I knew Sade well by the time the book took off, and I knew his world; I knew what his Paris looked like and smelled and sounded like; I knew what sorts of treats his friends brought to him in prison; I knew what he saw from his window; and I also knew the world of the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico—which is the world he was writing about in my book within the book. When one is writing about the horrors of the French Revolution, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, one is following a dark path that needs illumination. When Septimus de Bergerac, the French Nazi in my book Entering Fire, demanded a book of his own, I was living in France and had discovered that France was plagued by antisemitism; there was (and still is; this is an ongoing threat to democracy everywhere as you know) much irrational fear of Africans, Muslims and Gypsies, and all this informed Septimus’ voice. It was both exhilarating to lay such filthy nonsense bare but it was also taxing; the research was taxing, and the knowledge that just a few miles away there had been a concentration camp for itinerants who were sent to the death camps.


Rikki Ducornet


So on the one hand I was aware of the energy released in the exploration of such darkness and my own deepening understanding of the complex issues involved, and of my own vulnerability—being so close to such harrowing material on a daily basis. In other words I was on the twinned trajectory you evoke: the upward motion of accumulating knowledge and the book’s own gathering momentum, and the downward pull of the horrors of human madness. Writing Netsuke was similar; both books are dark fever dreams. Entering Fire took 18 months of daily writing; Netsuke just three weeks, with a final week of ‘polishing by the moon.’ It could have been a much larger book, but when it was ‘done’ I thought: Here it is. It’s very much its own animal.


You were just talking it s a mysterious process Septimus’ voice about research and having was strong; I’d heard it in the streets. To be a fever dream, or the characfully embraced by Sade, I read and reread all ter choosing you, and then finding the research after those terrifying books and I read his letters. that. How are you able to The distinction between Sade’s monster charlink and keep the same voice acters—the lethally corrupt noblemen, magwhen you’re going through the books and the research istrates, bishops, bankers, etc.—and Sade’s for the story? own voice became clear. He was messed up

and not a particularly savory character but he was a moral philosopher, perhaps a great one, and he was an 18th century dandy: witty, elegant, and very funny. He thrived on paradox. We became fully acquainted. Conspirators. When I was writing Netsuke, I counted on


the vocabulary I knew—that of contemporary psychoanalysts; I already had a vast amount of reading under my belt, everything from Freud to Alice Miller, passing by Groddeck and Ferenczi, Jung, so the voice came without a hitch. It seems to me the characters’ voices all have a distinctive music and that writing a novel is a bit like writing a symphony. When Lewis Carroll showed up early on in The Jade Cabinet, his voice was already clear and dear to me—I had read and reread him all my life. have you thought about lucid dreaming ? Because what you’re describing

when you talk about your process seems to be like lucid dreaming in the sense that you are in control of it still. You decide you’re going to read everything that the Marquis de Sade wrote, as well as his letters, but then limit yourself to this five hour a day work period and maintain this balance between family and relationships and the work, the art. It seems that you’re very much in control of this dream. That it’s a dream, it’s a dream state, and yet the reigns never leave your hand. Would you say that that’s true? yes . the intuitive and pragmatic intelligence are

in sync. I think that over time a writer develops this capacity: to write rigorously and imaginatively simultaneously. It’s like developing a special set of muscles. And I do think that if I say something like ‘fever dream’ to describe what the process feels like, it is because the mysterious place within the mind that engenders books is very like the place that engenders dreams—both are rooted in the wellspring of the unconscious. It is essential that the access to this wellspring is unimpeded. In our culture


Rikki Ducornet


the imagination is seen as subversive, a childish thing, self indulgent and so on; the dreamy child is given a hard time. But the imagination is the most precious thing we have; it is essential to the fulfillment of our destinies. It is the expression of the life force, the breath of Eros.



Aria/Paean: Fire Opals on a Forked Tongue Anne Waldman

Are you prepared for the wrench? -Mina Loy what I see remembers me to a woman in tempestuous mind Minoan, long ago, with three faces, numerous accoutrements bejeweled, intractable, gentle and wise as Prospero’s offspring of the dark-time world cheer as they release the mother of Myanmar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi beloved Burmese heroine-warrior-saint, her geometry a long calculation that her arrest might obviate in this end-time world you prostrate and bow O take back Burma, follow the weather as it shifts and changes one step behind what is to come in stranger patterns dangerous for humans at water’s rim as urban catastrophe moves in between canyons between juntas and juries you never saw tornadoes here before, must be the stardust irksome, causing demons in the weather dakini-shapeshifting hands on you


monk at the door of Suu Kyi’s compound, hands in anjali light changed with her weather, charged with it unnatural or pagan…weather tones, demon tones caught the junta generals on their forked tongues tell me your quotients, hideous ones and bow before her now come out of long arrest what I see remembers me to a red silk protection cord to protect from ego frayed and weary entering all gates although dharma gates are numberless and one vows to enter every one of them out of Babylonian captivity out of theism matrix vow to enter talk to me in an endangered language to an archive needing liberation talk to me as aspiration keeps the record books, tomes, communiqués, all technologies summoned to say we weren’t all just killing each other this time around worry the midnight oil and proof thereof, talk to me, talk to me imagine life without archive? what to preserve, remember? mother narratives! imagine you could talk me over know the patterns this way but you need a sure foot at dusk on Tantrika path and I, I was remembered to myself to wake to be wakeful, torch in hand remembers me in the Burmese of this message the resistance of this message the blessing of it and the struggling Tibetan of this message broken dream of it, say resist to the Asia of all messages, say resist


Mexico, South America, Africa, the dream is vocalized cracked visage US of A, breaking up in a universe 14 billions years old yea suffering more of it yea yea but resist remembers me to a barley divination in Nepal or phenomenology of little sister trickster pure thread in a dark time sow over the left ear, Vajravarahi who threads you treads you, reads you a map of plentitude she was seeds all the way, all about seeds in her self of enlightenment, eyes afire! what pushes the cosmos apart: dark energy they say… remembers me to a rattlesnake reinventing collaboration or throwing a snake into a pit that always sets up again throwing throwing, being thrown and old-she-snake sets up again shaking her rattle at dusk: chi chi chi remembers me to an ur-script in a text from Andalusia it mentions Sufi light, look here not kidding not holding back not, not kidding, never kidding about Sufi light magnetizes me to a sand clock that was once in that stilt house set in villanelle time, a theme of villagers come to gather come to eat Thailand we celebrate, kiss the Buddha’s footprint! you are threatened by mercenaries of the queen etcetera and need to rescue Burma but Daw Aung San Suu Kyi magnetizes me to fire opals at the periphery of the horizon as if dancing on a poet-activist’s tongue is salvation not forked, never divided gleam in a room, we’re in 21st century gleam of all rooms liberation for all, it’s time in the mind and in the room and at the horizon of Mars


Anne Waldman

esta noche, the gleam of udumbara flower magnetizes me to the little caracol, the truth tower where we circle from, Chi’chen Itza remembers me to how the years accrue lighting incense for her liberation volcanic eruption, unsung denizens of calamity various tidal waves that sweep a life or many lifetimes away remembers me to lava to compassion to the new Confucianism to the taste of fire water, always craving it, that high way of fire water settles in a glass at your side tipped over to the same latitude as consummate thirst as I sit here on canyon’s edge contemplating the same dreamtimes as a mystical proportion would calibrate stars and numbers, cells and drones are we in Yemen? and are we remembered as an intimate side of someone we didn’t hurt? don’t recognize myself in that stomping but remember me to it stomping around lava, stomp around lava it remembers, lava does, all that stomping all memory of a difficult time, of warning of death under colonial rule, a horrific time, waning time and out old power! you better be more alert with your new/old/blast/power, it’s obsolete life spans shorten, minds grow weak remembers me I didn’t own anything against the cold but a bohemian ballad, can you sing it my child, in the Kali Yuga? remembers me as if this is a bohemian ballad and how close or cold I get thinking our atavistic selves, selves as such and cruel dream of wild animals contained in nacreous shells hidden and safe (I had this beautiful dream, really I did)


as mellifluous as my friend Damian said it would be, or dangerous remembers me to her bittersweet allegorical dream opaline: a stone that fires many ways and now recount this for you coming upon an image of black lava as if in contrast obsidian jaguar in the house thought about this a lot, she said, a terrifying presence in the house jaguar in the house! jaguar in the house! wasn’t exactly stalking more benevolent a creature almost human tongued opaline light and something rustling never mute on the battlefield but warning and what to do! what to do! but root was poesis, making with sounds, and you heard these words now scribed and all to see OM AH DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI


Anne Waldman

on Obsession Marcus Lund

on this particular night , I’ve barely started on my second drink when I

ask my friend the question I’ve been asking everyone lately. Usually I wait a bit longer. We are in a dive bar in downtown Oakland and the place is nearly empty. It’s the type of dive bar that’s been reclaimed by people my age (I’m twenty-eight). The other customers are young artists with hip facial hair. The bar has a DJ spinning soul records for my friend and me and the other four customers in the bar. My friend is also a writer. We talk about writing fairly often. In fact, most of my friends are writers, and mostly we have no problem talking about writing. The conversations are lively, evidence that my friends and I care about what we do. I ask my friend who sits across from me and stirs his whiskey soda the same question I’ve been asking my other friends, because it’s what I’ve been thinking about and because I get such vastly different answers. I wait until I have a couple of drinks before I ask, because the question has led to heated discussions, discussions that occur in bars, living rooms of novelists and poets, libraries, classrooms, bookstores, even once in the backseat of a car cruising over the Bay Bridge. I swirl the olive around in my gin, and I go for it, take the plunge, dive right in. “Which of your obsessions find their way into your work?” I ask this question because I am genuinely curious. Obsession is something I think about frequently. I don’t have any delusions that tell me I’m the first writer to be interested in the subject of obsession. One doesn’t need to look further than most author biographies, interviews, or essays to know that most writers have been or are concerned with the subject. Despite the long line of authors who precede me who have been


inspired by and concerned with obsession, there are some who disagree with the entire notion of my question. My friend is quiet for a moment. The DJ fades into the next soul song, Marvin Gaye maybe. I asked a poet who is a friend of mine a similar question a week earlier and her response was enthusiastic. She openly shared her obsessions with me and offered to loan me a book she thought I’d find interesting. The friend who sits across from me now is quiet. He sips his whiskey. He gives me the look that tells me he doesn’t know how to answer the question, the look that tells me obsession plays no role in his writing. If he were to ask me the same question, I would have a litany of answers: gender, labyrinths, vanishings, kidnappings, multiple-choice tests, and the list goes on. I would fill up an hour’s worth of monologue on labyrinths alone, the way the daily act of writing is like a labyrinth. We trudge through each day at our desk uncertain of what’s around the corner, but trusting we’ll find a way out. I would share my recent fascination with multiple-choice tests and what it means to write a book that asks multiplechoice questions. But he doesn’t ask me the question. Instead he says, “I don’t know. What kind of question is that?” Why the hostility? Isn’t every writer obsessed with something? Hemingway obsessed over bullfights. JG Ballard, car crashes. Nabokov, butterflies. Vonnegut, some guy named Kilgore Trout. What about every modernist and cockroaches? In order to be a writer, there must be a persistency of ideas or subjects that pester and pester the writer until they get written about. I must add that whenever I am met with hostility, I can still pinpoint the writer’s obsessions for them. Either the writer is unaware of their obsession or they are simply in denial. I get it. Hollywood and Freud teamed up some time ago and ruined the idea of obsession for all of us. Hollywood tells us that obsession means we’re Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. We have newspapers wallpapering


Marcus Lund

our walls and magazine cutouts inexplicably linked to op-eds, strings of yarn spider webbing across our attic. And Freud? Freud taught us that we don’t need to worry about obsession. Why? Because we all share the exact same obsessions. We are all obsessed with our mothers and fathers and sex. In fact, we’re so obsessed with sex that we can’t look at a high-dive diving board without seeing a phallus. The two worlds collide when cable channels run specials on those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. So let’s be clear. When I talk about obsession in writing, I am not talking about the guy who lives next door and hoards broken toy train parts. I’m definitely not talking about the woman who flicks the light switch on and off ten times every time she enters and exits a room. I refuse to talk about the man who believes the government is controlled by a group of a hundred men who make up the New World Order. (The government doesn’t want anyone talking about him.) I’m curious as to what the driving force behind a writer’s work is. That driving force can (and often does) change. It changes from project to project and from day to day. Sometimes it’s an abstract thought; I’ve been thinking a lot about how light and gravity interact. Other times it’s a concrete idea or image; like I stated earlier, I’ve been obsessing over mazes and labyrinths. The word for this force that pesters us and makes us write is “Obsession.” Like many words in the English language, the word obsession doesn’t mean what many in mainstream culture think it means. The word is closely related to possession, as in possession by an evil spirit. But, it does not mean an entire possession. The body is left unpossessed, but the spirit is still present. Think of besiegement of someone by a lover. The lover won’t leave the object of desire alone, no matter the cost, but they are aware of their infatuation, their lustful obsession. These are our obsessions. Perhaps the best way to look at obsession is at its root. Beneath the surface it is a term for war. Obsession comes from the Latin word, obsessio.


Obsessio means to surround a city. Possessio (possession, but you knew that) means the city is captured. To me, this more concisely explains what occurs in a writer’s brain when an obsession begins to take over. I can safely take a step away from my self and recognize that I am becoming obsessed with something, whether it be the gap of choices that exists between generations or the idea that a labyrinth can make us feel trapped, while still directing us towards a way out. I am in the city of my mind, surrounded by my obsessions, and I am able to recognize that. However, my city is never seized. I let the obsessions sit on the outskirts, line up around the city walls, but they never completely get to take over. The idea of obsessions occurring without ever fully seizing the person is not new in western medicine. The idea of obsession in the world of psychology was first introduced as monomania. Monomania occurred in otherwise mentally healthy patients who experienced a slight insanity in regards to a particular idea or thought. The afflicted was aware of the so-called disorder but was unable to control it. If nothing else, writers should be able to claim monomania in regards to the act of writing. What makes us crazier than the thoughts of our stories, our words that plague us long after we leave the desk? The key to recognizing obsessions is to remember that being obsessed by a subject doesn’t make you crazy. Even the definition in the current psychologist’s handbook, the DSM IV, maintains the idea that the afflicted person must acknowledge obsessions. From the DSM IV: obsessions as defined by (1) , (2), (3) , and (4) : (1) recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress (2) the thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems (3) the person attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action


Marcus Lund

(4) the person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind (not imposed from without as in thought insertion) Don’t all writers have thoughts or images that are persistent? Don’t these thoughts keep us up at night, plague us to write? And these obsessions always go further than real-life problems. We try to write about them to appease them, to quell their persistence. Point number four is where many writers falter or at least, appear to falter. The person must recognize the obsessional thoughts as a product of his or her own mind. In order for this even to begin to occur, the person must recognize the obsession in the first place. After all, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So maybe this is what is going on in the minds of all of those writers who look at me like I’m crazy when I ask about their obsessions. If the obsession is never acknowledged then it never becomes an obsession. If the writer never gives into the idea that their obsession is theirs alone, that the persistent ideas are created within the writer’s own psyche, then they never have to worry about coming off as a crazy artist. Then what they do becomes simply work. They are then normalized. But what is to benefit from this treatment of our obsessions? There is something beautiful about writing into the obsessions, in acknowledging them and writing through them. JG Ballard is an author who wrote into his obsessions, who openly acknowledged them as a fuel for his writing. In an interview with The Paris Review he revealed why the practice of writing into obsessions was so important to his work: I would say that I quite consciously rely on my obsessions in all my work, that I deliberately set up an obsessional frame of mind. In a paradoxical way, this leaves one free of the subject of the obsession. It’s like picking up an ashtray and staring so hard at it that one becomes obsessed by its contours, angles, texture, et cetera, and forgets that it is an ashtray—a glass dish for stubbing out cigarettes.

There is a feeling of freedom that occurs when one writes about an obsession. Obsessions beg for our attention, and they pester and pester us until they get acknowledged and written about. Once an obsession has


been thoroughly considered, examined, and acknowledged, the pestering subsides, and eventually it makes room for another obsession to creep in. Elaborating on the paradox Ballard mentions, writers looking to free themselves of the “crazy artist” label should be writing into their obsessions, for that is the only way to free themselves of them. The denial of obsession exists, in part because we are scared of what we can become. The idea persists within our culture that once a writer begins to fall into obsession then all other things fall to the wayside: relationships, financial stability, social lives, sex lives, moments of relaxation. But as writers, we already accept the idea that these sacrifices will be made. No writer believes that writing and working will fit in harmoniously with the other aspects of life. Something always falls to the wayside, and our obsessions have nothing to do with that. Writing is to blame. So all writers (or an overwhelming number) acknowledge that writing is not easy and that sacrifices must be made, but a smaller number of writers seem to think that acknowledging their obsessions will make these sacrifices greater in number and severity. But the unwillingness to acknowledge obsessions does not make them go away; if anything it makes them more persistent. Moreover, the life of academia, and the life of the arts depend on obsessions in order to survive. Because of obsession, we are able to read Balzac’s “Sarrasine,” and because of Balzac’s “Sarrasine,” we are given Roland Barthes’ S/Z. Balzac obsesses over castration and gender and out of those obsessions grows the story of a sculptor who falls in love with a castrate. In turn, Barthes obsesses over the story produced by the great writer. And what a beautiful relationship that creates. It’s all possible, because the pair of writers were able to open their arms to their obsessions, embrace them, and let their writing dive directly into those obsessions. Barthes’ work plays right into Ballard’s ashtray analogy. He focuses on Balzac’s “Sarrasine” to such an extent that at the end of the critical book, what results no longer resembles the original story. In today’s world of academia, fields of study become so specific


Marcus Lund

and concise that I do not see any other way to look at the practice other than as an obsession. This essay is a plea. It is a plea that asks writers not to hide from their obsessions when they write. Instead they should investigate those obsessions, explore them, fall in love with them, write about them and into them. Obsessions are beautiful. And afterwards, when we are sitting across from one another in a dive bar, drinking straight gin and listening to soul records and getting drunk and talking about our work, let’s talk about your obsessions. I’ll talk about mine. And then, like a labyrinth, we can start to navigate through our obsessions and find our way out. It may seem like the further you go into them, the more lost you become, but don’t worry, there’s always a way out.


what do they know of suffering, who eat of pineapples yearround Julian Talamantez Brolaski

Lrsn, brute battlements of infamy cd not nor the former planet pluto, nor even those pulchritudinous characters who scape dame gagaz reach, the plumes, nor yet those fruits who are bred to be of uniform size, watermelons squard compliant papayas, I followed the norteùәs train to train, the field populates or the field was filled—what do they know of suffering who eat of pineapples yearround? & the edifices tho they scrape the sky were not so near as high as we down by that ridiculous stream, whos dappled mere the better part of me but if we make this our last moorings it were no burthen to me, friend who attend yr company this day


swine of the times

fingleur, like all artists must be treated w/ a firm hand why shd england even tremble? mere enfantillage, thir goings piece of silk in the offing gawd’s teeth! torpid fabrics yellowing wit embrigature intact that rank magnolia, so discourteous w/ the mails finded thir crush a mere pedant


zeppelin over zurich There are things that are not yet, but which cast their shadows before. -Hercule Poirot the psychology itself is at fault our professors take attendance and feetprints who valorise the cockbulge as the zeppelin looms who propose to clear an american plate of bangers and mash who fancies thir sideburns are uneven tempora myrto half as much agin dot and go one chasing the gravy around


Julian Talamantez Brolaski

astral travel w/ paranoia

like a balloon in the air evrybody’s got a pretty manuscript manuscritta, do your worst the alphabet fairy’s been sent in a hearse n es still speaking corse trying to get us into tha bizness not the sound of roiling computers not the cellphone cancer spreading not cameras masquerading as pigeons nor the ‘pigeon problem’ in nyc there are cameras hidden in knobs of trees around the mayoral compound in alameda, california there are fake rocks under which the gov’t hides stuff homer’s reason, hesiod’s t’upbrim, t’outtuppe, t’outmedium


the bridegroom Fowzia Karimi

the sun does not ache for the stars. Blinded by its own burning brilliance,

it knows nothing of the night and nothing of its brothers in the sky. But it knows of the grass that grows over pastures and in valleys, that covers lawns in a regular patchwork, and forces cracks in concrete sidewalks. The sun is drawn to the infinitesimal grass even as it draws the spinning earth to itself and keeps it there in deliberate and perpetual orbit. And with its far-reaching fingers, the sun travels across great distances of space to hear the song of the grass for which it pines, to find an answer to the grass’ apparent and uninterrupted state of ease, to probe into the soil of the living planet for this logic. the grass which seeks nothing but water from below and light from

above works diligently in both directions to achieve its modest stature, laterally making up for that stature by sending out roots, just centimeters below the earth’s surface, over distances short and distances long, roots forever evading the sun’s soft fingers, which cannot penetrate earth. And the grass’ own tough, green fingers, having broken through earth, humbly receive the daily offering of light. Knowing nothing of the sun’s hunger, it cannot give away its underground secret to the aching lover. And the sun, knowing no night, untiringly and without satisfaction, brushes the surfaces of the earth with its impotent fingers, petting the grass as a child, standing still, pets a running dog. The grass’ secret: an intertwining, forever-advancing network of persistent roots, nodes, rhizomes, and un-timid blades that toil to colonize the many faces and


planes of the spinning earth in a silent attempt to find and keep family. But the sun, blind, is alone in the heavens, its radiance obscuring its relation to billions of others like itself. Unaware that it possesses its own living network over spaces vast and cold, it delights itself with a nearer love.


an Interview with Bhanu Kapil Ivy Johnson

bhanu kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches through memory, the

monster and experimental prose at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She also teaches in Goddard College’s lowresidency MFA. She has written four  full-length works of poetry/prose: The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press), Incubation: a space for monsters  (Leon Works),  humanimal [a project for future children] (Kelsey Street Press), and Schizophrene (Nightboat Books). She is currently writing a novel of the race riot: Ban. The following exchange took place over email between November and December 2012. ivy johnson : lately i have been reading and rereading  Schizophrene and

I am struck by a theme of permeability. Right off the bat, it seems that there is a desire to make the manuscript permeable to materiality. Even before the book begins, you write: “On the night I knew my book had failed, I threw it—in the form of a notebook, a hand-written final draft—into the garden of my house in Colorado.”  And this is how the book begins, with something like a chance-based procedure, where you relinquish the book, which “ axis, a hunk of electromagnetic fur torn from the side of something still living and thrown, like a wire, threaded, a spark towards the grass.” I also noticed the fear of permeability communicated through a woman and her daughter, who were hospitalized for this fear. You say that if a spoon touched her lips, she had the terrible sensation it was slipping down her throat, or if one of her children brushed against her thigh, she felt as if she were going to swallow them. 


What are the risks of bhanu kapil the risk of permeability is psychosis, living a more permeable life? if the outside and inside are merged or flipped. That How do you make yourself more/ less permeable?  is the extreme state displayed in  Schizophrene.

For ordinary life, the risk is not being able to


stop yourself from doing something even you don’t understand. I think of writing in a cafe on a Thursday evening. Ordering the tiny fragment of wine in a glass the size of a small house. I sip that wine and drift further and further from what I thought life would be. When I was younger, I used to do this by walking. Stand up and start walking toward a church in the East, says Rilke. I did that. Permeability in this sense is the crux of longing and action. So, it could be the kind of risk that brings immense pleasure, a soft future. But what I write about in the book you have read is a serial account of what happens: when the boundary of the body is transgressed by the sensation that what is happening beyond the body is happening within it. The book is relinquished, as you write. And begins to stir, birdlike, icy, in the garden. Just as writing does, in the body of a person “still living and thrown.” Toward the grass. deleuze and guattari say in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, “A schizophrenic

out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on an analysts couch. A breath of fresh air, a relationship with the outside world.” Also, there is a beautiful passage where you write, “I lie down beneath the lemon tree then stand up, leaving an outline in the soft pink earth.  I refill my silhouette with glossy, bicolor leaves creased down the middle, their seams bulky with dust; lemons from the lowest branches; bunches garlands of marigolds from the sloped shelf next to the Shiva temple, emptied from a white plastic bag; and divas from the shrine, still flickering like cakes. And hemp. The hemp is pre-biotic, activated and repelled by the smoky flame.” This reminds me of the Earth Body Sculptures of the late Ana Mendieta.


Bhanu Kapil

Are these both influences so on Schizophrene?


d / g plus ana . Yes, the imprint or outline

structures and behaviors are inspired by Ana Mendieta: are devotions or homage to her work: a fact that comprises the last note of my end notes for the book. In 2005, I drove to Des Moines, Iowa from Colorado to see a retrospective of her films, installations and sculptures, including the one she was working on when she died: La Jungla. Charred runes, tree remnant. The long drive back through Nebraska became the end of my second book,  Incubation. The image of a charred rune glowing in the deep point of a jungle became a central motif of humanimal, my third book. And for Schizophrene, I simply did it: I lay down: an enquiry I’d been unfolding in classes at Naropa and by myself, on riverbanks, for several years. This is the description of a class I taught at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program in 2007: “In Iowa, Ana Mendieta, a Cuban immigrant, created  imprints of her body on a riverbank.   Excavating these ‘siluetas,’ she then re-filled them with something new: red flowers, mud, tempera powder, fire. Using her work as a radiant lens, we’ll investigate our own ‘emigrant idioms.’ We will build and film siluetas. Writing, we’ll generate bodies at ‘a kind of boundary between biology and society, between drives and discourse.’ Linking our bodies to a landscape, we’ll also consider the question of homage.” I think the quote is from Elizabeth Grosz, another theorist who takes up notions of psychosis in the public domain: the idea that is psychotic not to know


where you are, in a national space. And what helps that? What functions as proprioceptive: a boundary of felt sense? From crosscultural psychiatry, I derived the idea that light touch—impersonal, secular (not necessarily, that is, with a healing or spiritual intention)— can bring: a vestibular and psycho-social balance to an individual at risk of psychosis or in the incipient stages of a psychotic break. The studies I looked at, which I’ve written about elsewhere, don’t speak to acute psychotic states. That said, I’ve also brought therapeutic touch into hospital settings, to contact or perform a kind of contact with people in catatonic states. Who are these people? My mother is [has been] one of these “people”; I’ve also worked as a volunteer in hospitals, for Boulder County hospice and for my immediate community. Touch has a valence that I am still trying to understand; it’s not only, as I said, the activity of contact that has an effect. The catatonic subject makes a silueta too, on the hospital sheets: an indigo light pulsing or strobing the prone form. Catatonia is the end limit of psychosis, in some accounts. I am not sure if I have been able to do this as a writer, bring someone back—help them to come back—but it is part of what my life has been in other areas. Ana is important to me because she links her art to the trajectory of bodies in the world.  She wants to find a way to adhere to the earth.


Bhanu Kapil

Also, still thinking if the trigger for schizophrenia, in young Caribabout siluetas, have you ever bean men and middle-aged Indian and Pakistani seen this image by Francesca 1 Woodman? Her photo- women (in London) was found [see: Dinesh Bhugra graphs are amazing.  and Peter Jones’ ground-breaking studies of migraWhat about Capitalism and Schizophrenia? You tion and mental illness] to be not race but the race write, “An economy is a factor [ethnic density] then we are in the realm of system of apparently willing economics [urban housing] as much as the biology but actually involuntary exchanges. A family, for itself. Contemporary  epidemiologies of psychosis example, is really a shop link cultural and environmental factors to the body. front, a glass plate open to the street.”   Trans-generationally, I think about pre-migration

factors as well; violent societies but also poverty, in the case of my family, as motivating factors. A kind of non-desire.1 Perhaps this invented word or idea, “non-desire,” can bring us to the oily torso reflected on the floor in the photograph by Francesca Woodman—that I had not seen before but which links to Mendieta—to part of the discourse of outline, imprint, the body as something that presses against a surface in order to exchange life with a surface. Is that what it takes to feel like a person on the earth? In Chicago, on the windowsill of the Renaissance Gallery, I took a pencil and wrote: “I want to have sex with what I want to become.” There was a blizzard. I had to give a reading. It was my first visit to that city; the snow fell upwards into the sky. I felt awkward in my bridal trousseau, that I had chosen as my outfit. It was bright pink and covered with gauzy gold dots. 1 jpg_270x480_q85.jpg


Ethnic density is the idea that, for an immigrant, living in a neighborhood with few immigrants is worse—as a trigger for psychosis—than living in an entirely immigrant neighborhood. Just one or two other brown faces, if the immigrants are brown—which they are not, anymore, in the part of London I am from—they are Eastern European—Romanian, Croatian, Polish— is also not good.   My father was infernally poor. He dragged himself out of the sky to get to England. My mother took a bloody passage from Pakistan to India after [during?] Partition. I feel those effects are still omnipresent, fifty or more years on. How is that possible? Ancestral vibration is something I can work with directly in the book, because I am working with sound, phonemes, the light that words give off. That is one of my goals. My goals are noncommercial. I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.  


While we are on the no retallack has not been an influence. The subject of borders, what swerve, for me, is not a poetics; it is a moveabout language as a border? It seems that something ment—the condition, that is, of a reversible or about this is happening concurrent trajectory. Like a double life line. I in humanimal. Also, were think here there is a sub-question for me about you thinking about Joan Retallack’s Poethical Wager in experimental lineage: who do you read in order this passage when you men- to become a writer? In the U.K., I read—exclution “swerve”  which Retallack sees as being necessary sively—contemporary British, South American in a poetics to break us of and European fiction, for example. The swerve habitus, which she defines was the frame: Indian writing in English, for as culturally congealed thought? And again, in your example. Or writing translated into English passage, the habitus goes that did not begin as English. Now, my theory back to regulate the body.


Bhanu Kapil

people are: Elizabeth Grosz, Donna Haraway, Alphonso Lingis: people writing about biology and society in the same space. On borders. I know that I want the border in a book to match up, somehow—directly or indirectly—to the fact of the border in the world. I’ve written and thought about this extensively in other places, and I teach through this fact: the border is not a metaphor. I think this is why sentences and forms are the way they are in what I write: the place where the border is registered more than it is constructed or made visible. Syntax is primal, inherited, an ancestral vibration coded as movement: ease of movement but also restriction, refraction, abandonment, warfare’s bed. I think of the commas and semicolons, for example, as butcher’s hooks; sites of visceral comprehension. A way, also, to point away from the forward movement of time in a narrative; towards history. That meat shop. Writing a sentence is thus a way to think about land mass, colonial history and the body at the same time.   Looking at the sentence from humanimal, what I notice is the way that expression balks. I do not like to analyze my own actual writing. I like your use of the phrase: “regulate the body.” I definitely want to have that in my books—these immense forces that I feel, sometimes, have pinned me to the ground. As myself. What I write is not autobiography—or intended as such—but I seem to have accidentally written one.


The theme for 580 i am obsessed by public records into the enquiry Split this year is Obsession. resulting from Blair Peach’s death on April What are you currently rd obsessed with? 23 , 1979. I am obsessed by the protester. I

am obsessed by the anti-Nazi campaign that was intensely active in the late 1970s. And the potential need for one now. I am interested in the precursors to contemporary riots and revolutionary actions.

What haunts you? love lost


. .

Have you been following yes yes of course Re: following the rape, evisthe protests taking place in ceration and murder of the girl on the bus from New Delhi following the gang rape and murder of Delhi. Today I was wearing a kurta—a sort of the unnamed, 23-year-old short dress worn over jeans—that I bought in a medical student? It is horrifying. What do you think market less than five minutes away from where of the response of a crowd the girl and her friend were left [thrown]. In in Assam, India, who capJune. In December. I spoke about her body as tured senior official Bikram Singh Brahma, and publicly sacrificed, in some sense, in a public talk I gave stripped and beat him for a today—thinking of how some things, some rape accusation?  

events or parts of events will never be integrated. How sacrifice is most powerful when it is witnessed; I think in this case there are three sets of witnesses: her male friend, the group of people (including the police) who gathered around her bleeding body on the ground and refused, for over an hour, to help; and us—the protesters in India and beyond India, who are perhaps distinct from the women everywhere who feel, for an instant, the news of what happened to this girl’s body as a convulsion of the smooth muscle in their own. I haven’t followed


Bhanu Kapil

what is happening in Assam, but I have been writing about the protests in Delhi on my blog and hearing about it, accounts of these protests, from relatives there. I’d like to go back to what I said and remove the word sacrifice actually; it came up following the talk I gave, not during it. Still thinking things through. The talk I gave today was on narrative, trauma and the nervous system, with a particular focus on sexual violence—thinking, also, of Ban—who is caught by a gang of boys in the opening minutes or hours of a historical riot, the riot of April 23rd, 1979. I think I already talked about this girl in another answer to one of your questions, Ivy. Ban lies down on the ground because—in Agamben’s words—she’s “already dead.” I get that. The part of being an Indian woman or girl that is the enactment, over a lifetime, of a kind of social death. I want to think more about shame. with the playwright and graphic novelist, Susan Kim. She said: “Ban is eternal.” She said: “Ban is a stain that doesn’t wash off.” No matter how much a person was to write Ban, Ban never recedes— a persistence that resembles staining—the stain of a leaf on the sidewalk—but also, unlike a stain, never fades. Therefore, perhaps I am still working on Ban. At the moment, it [Ban] is being read by a publisher but I am aware—depth-like—that the publisher may

What are you working tonight i had a conversation on now?


say no. That is okay. It is okay to fail. It is okay not to be the most fantastic writer ever. What I care about is writing itself—that the magic is happening, when it does and can. I experience Ban’s magic most intensely when she reappears: when the slab of the sidewalk beneath her begins to tilt, the tree roots distending the concrete with its seams of northern European moss. Hang on. I am also writing an essay on Gail Scott’s “The Obituary” for Laynie Browne’s anthology on novels written by poets. My next collections are: “India: A How-to Primer.” And a book of urban-rural spa treatments co-authored with the poet-novelist, Douglas Martin. That’s a lot of name dropping. Can I just say that I think of other writers as unicorns, the kind of people who invert themselves above rivers and read the poems of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge in the bath?


Bhanu Kapil

Heart Murmur Elmaz Abinader

my mom loved them . All of them, and they loved her. She fussed with

their blonde hair, picked out beautiful outfits and pinned them close to their bodies. And those girls stood still and obeyed—no matter how one ached from a chip on her nose. Her cousin, who was missing a full arm, waited for my mother to show up on Monday. Their lives depended on her and she doted on them. They stood hours on end. Rosary patience. Didn’t slouch the way I did. Didn’t collapse into their ribs. Get a smack on the back. Whiplashed into straight. Their posture was perfect. Goddesses slender and flawlessly formed—skin pale and unblemished, hair, smooth and in place from morning till night. They were one size, the right size, one height and always offered a hand, if they had one. I walked along the sidewalk in front of our store, looking up into the windows as my mother hugged their bodies, yanking a sweater down a plaster torso. Girls were pulled apart and put together. No complaints. No hot oil on the scalp, hair pulled, face stretched into braids, no wincing at pain in the knees. These girls could take it. And more. I wasn’t the only one hypnotized by my mother’s wrestling match with her mannequins. Across from our store, on an island between Main and Market, the greasers at the gas station came out of the bay and hung out by the gas pumps. They watched. My mom and her nine girls and their plaster nakedness. Wiped their hands on red rags, stuffed them into the pockets of their coveralls, got comfortable. The Monday show. They didn’t notice how my mother had gathered colorful autumn leaves to carpet the floor with for her Harvest Festival theme.


Mother came up with ways of covering up their disabilities. A purse draping the missing hand, gloves over the four digits, tissue paper in the sleeve on the one-armed blonde on the end. It was not so easy for me and my bushy hair and large behind. Skirts lifted in the back; socks rolled down my stocky legs. I was no model and my mother declared how making me look neat was impossible. Large straightening rollers, hair spray, Vaseline along my low hairline, a shadow of darkness always framed my pale sunken face. These blue-eyed babes won over my mother; I was miles behind. i practiced their poses as I lay in bed feeling a slight breeze from the win-

dow over the yard. My sister moved around the room, but I didn’t open my eyes. In our new house, we had a bedroom that was big enough for three beds, and I was in a corner with a book shelf I could reach. I tried to shift, push a leg forward, modeling the newest Bobbie Brooks outfit with the orange skirt and the plaid vest. Nothing moved. My knee stiffened. I pulled the covers back and tried again. My legs would not move. I gasped. This time, this time more than any time, I pushed hard with all my might. Mother would not believe me this time like always. Doctor Peters told her I was pretending. I focused on the crucifix across from my bed, between the door and the closet. Help me get up. I needed a resurrection. The mattress sank as I pushed on it with my hands, just trying to sit, that’s all; that could be step one. Pain, not mosquito bite, not bee sting, not being hit with the belt, not brother’s punches, not slaps, not name-calling, not humiliation, not misspelling, not a B on the report card, not the look, not messing up folding towels, burning the potatoes, not clearing sticks from the lawn, not a run over kitten, not being ignored, not tight shoes on Sunday, not falling for practical jokes from Nora’s husband, not dropping glasses, not erasing arithmetic questions, not the taste of Milk of Magnesia when I was sick in the stomach. Pain, like the end of life, like the final confession, like repentance.


Elmaz Abinader

I did not want this. I did not want Doctor Peters lying to my mother again. Tell her I was a shyster, an actress, hated school. Not true. Not true. “Sally, Sally. Help.” “What’s wrong?” She carried large rollers she pulled from her hair. “I can’t move.” She turned to me. “Again? You can’t move again? Your legs?” I was crying and nodding, frozen in place. Selma’s eyes widened. She ran to the door and screamed, “Mom! Mom!” Mother’s steps were light as she rushed up the stairs. “What? Is something wrong?” Selma spoke to her in the hall. “I think Elma is paralyzed.” My body was closed, non-working, out of business. Any effort to move weighed on my body, made it heavier and more immobile. I held my transistor radio and waited in the yellow room. Mother came in and sat with me. “I called the doctor.” She wiped my face with a damp cloth to clean me a little bit. We straightened my pajamas and brushed my hair. She didn’t force me to sit; she didn’t pull out the bandages. When we moved into the house, we were allowed to decorate the bedroom anyway we wanted. My third of the wall was covered with a collage of fashion pictures I cut out of Seventeen and Mademoiselle— happy, hair swinging, brightly dressed American-looking girls. They were beautiful just like Hayley Mills. Blue-eyed and alive, moving. I wasn’t jealous of them and their prettiness or how blonde and American they were—they were ordinary, really, one looking very much like another. But they were like color and movement—spinning the room around as one kicked through a puddle, splashing toward me. Another jumped, her hair spraying out like tentacles. Unlike my mother’s mannequins who were stiffs, these models were breathing and kicking. on the other hand , I was inflexible and dark, eyes half closed in a living

world. The pose of prayer. Instead of my holt apparition that would save


me, the blonde girls whirled around me with their own power in spite. I did not beseech them—or believe they saw me. I was not the kind of girl they’d be friends with and I imagined in their own scouting troop. They hung out with other slender blondes who were also as neat as pins. Now everything was wrong. I was not dying, Sitti was. At night I did not get lost, did not fly through the air and land in a puddle of fright. Now I was frozen and afraid. Would the doctor make me walk? Would he bend the unbendable parts of me, the frozen statue of me, turn me from mannequin to girl, maybe a girl who could run and play volleyball, who could jump from the landing to the bottom of the stairs, who never tripped on the jump rope? I could see my mother giving in. Not just to my pain, but to all of it. Her mother in the hospital already and me lying here crying into the blanket. Her meanness was gone, quiet in the face, like when she was in the hospital. A blank lonely look—grief. The quiet was disastrous. I didn’t understand, tried not to think about it. A doctor comes into my room and it’s not Doctor Peters. Doctor Green was a large man in stature, but when he sat on the bed, he seemed very close. A mixture of cigarettes and soap rose from his jacket. He held my hand while he checked my legs. Then he placed the stethoscope inside my shirt, my chest shrunk away from him. The metal rested on a swallowed bird. He nodded. “Can you sit up?” I shook my head and bit my lower lip. “Let’s try.” He placed a hand under me behind my back and leveraged me forward. My mother steadied me while he slipped the instrument up my shirt and asked me to breathe deeply. He lowered me and pulled the covers up above my chest. “Now you rest here.” Doctor Green and my mother left the room. I was scared. The voices in the hall were not saying: lying, doesn’t want to go to school, growing pains. Although I couldn’t hear the doctor and my mother talk, I felt safe for the first time.


Elmaz Abinader

Morning brightened the windows but they did not shine, did not glow a beauty, a forgiveness. No one was there. The model faces plastered around me, their smiles, their fine hair were nothing like saints; they were beyond holiness. One model in high white boots grimaced up at a green umbrella. But it was not raining. selma came in and sat beside me . “You’re sick for real, you’ve always

been sick. Doctor Peters was wrong.” I flicked the leather case of my transistor radio dreading what the doctor was explaining, prescribing. Would they tell me? My ears strained toward the door hoping their conversation would filter through just like the light at night. Doctor Green’s deep tones flowed like Brother John’s commentary on loving the earth. But I couldn’t make out a word. Mother appeared behind Selma. “Honey,” she leaned over me, placed her hand on my forehead. “You have to go to the hospital.” I blurred. Not just my eyes, everything—my mind, my mouth, my sinking body. Tears rushed to my eyes, flooded them. I couldn’t even see her any more, or Selma or the faces in the room. “The doctor heard a heart murmur. He thinks you have rheumatic fever.” She smoothed my hair. “But we are going to take care of you.” My body slowed down and time sped up as if everything was happening at one time and I couldn’t stop the forces from moving forward. Selma was crying too. She and mother started to put my clothes in a small blue suitcase. How bad, I wondered? What did the doctor say? Maybe none of it was true. The only time I had ever been to a hospital was visiting my mother when she was sick, and we weren’t allowed in her room, only the lobby. I grabbed my mother’s arm and hung on. I couldn’t talk but I was sure: Growing pains, just like Doctor Peters said. I always, always, always got better, found a new energy in my legs. Could I take it all back like it never happened, pop out of bed and run through the house up


and down the landing? I tried moving my muscles, lifting my leg up, dropping my feet to the, they refused to move; I couldn’t even clench the muscles. Would I be like one of the kids in the polio posters leaning forward with their legs in braces as they tried to walk? it began inside the body, a sharing of fluids, air, heartbeats. It began in

the gushy somersaults of the pre-birth shelter. What one body could give to another: eyes recessed and searching, nose that curved slightly, an unsure walk—an entry into the world, loose and drifting in the January snows that blew in a crisp shaft of midday. Body and memory, speech and secrets, dreams and beliefs, trickling through the system, a slow IV dripping blue circumstance. All a stream carrying particles of life, moving along, a sweet murmur. they would take me to the same hospital as Sitti, who shared a heart

with Mother; maybe put me in the bed next to her like it was before, I would be able to overhear her moans and prayers. Together we would conjure the starlings from the attic, line them up on the hospital window with their alarming calls to each other and to me. Mother unclenched the radio from my grasp and placed it on the shelf. I didn’t need the music, I have a heart murmur. A murmur inside my chest, in my heart; like it had something to say to me that I couldn’t quite take hold of. What was it murmuring, I wondered? This heart given to me by my mother. My mother’s, whose own heart floated in a massive sea that had to be drained out of her. My heart was whispering to me. I must listen to it very carefully. Mother wrapped a rosary around my hand. “Why don’t you pray while we take you to the hospital?” The beads mingled with my fingers and I let it drop onto my wrist like a bracelet. Selma hovered above me while Mother went downstairs to call my father to come carry me to the car and drive me to the hospital.


Elmaz Abinader

Selma’s eyes were swollen with tears. “You’re gonna be okay.” I agreed, I thought. It was not really up to me. It was all up to this heart and what it had to say.


Cemetery, excerpt from King of Cuba , a novel, pub. May 2013 Cristina García

miami goyo herrera brought violets . They would wilt in this heat but they

were Luisa’s favorite flowers and he’d promised her when they were courting that she would never do without. In Cuba, violets had been a rarity—mysterious, delicate, otherworldly—and his wife had feigned similar airs. Now that she was dead, Goyo had vowed to visit her in the cemetery once a month; not often enough, he imagined Luisa complaining. Usually he came on a Tuesday morning to avoid the weekend rush and midday heat. He placed the violets at the foot of her headstone—a pink Italian granite engraved with gold lettering—then set up his portable folding chair and a battery-operated CD player loaded with Enrique Chia’s trademark boleros. Such “soundtracks” had heightened Luisa’s sense of self-importance and provided her with narratives adaptable to her own life. After she’d discovered Goyo’s early infidelities, Luisa had swooned and sobbed along to many a Julio Iglesias album. A desperate Goyo had considered (briefly) foregoing extramarital affairs altogether in exchange for his wife’s promise to banish the balladeer’s insipid songs from their home forever. The fluttering of offerings to the dead—balloons, silk flowers, the papery scratch of a birthday streamer—contributed to the cemetery’s serenity. The traffic on Calle Ocho was a low hum in the distance. The old-timers would be at Café Versailles holding court with their increasingly embellished stories. Goyo envied them. It was impossible for him to even remember a bad joke. This was a grave disability in Miami. That and his non-existent


dancing rendered him, in the eyes of his countrymen, a bogus Cuban. The exiles would be dissecting the latest news from Cuba, too. HIJODEPUTA.COM had reported this morning that the tyrant was planning to address the United Nations in the fall. It was supposed to be a farewell address, though no one was calling it that; more like a last platform from which to mock his enemies. To Goyo’s knowledge, nobody but him visited Luisa’s grave. Alina hadn’t attended the funeral and only a handful of his wife’s Red Cross friends had shown up for the burial in their Sunday finery, gossiping and winking at him. Poor Goyito had driven down from Jacksonville but he’d remained utterly silent and dry-eyed during the ceremony. To her dying day Luisa believed that their son wasn’t mentally ill but pretending to be crazy, as she’d crassly put it, for profit. “Aren’t there easier ways for a clever boy to make money?” Goyo had argued back. But his wife was impervious to logic. After he’d tossed the clumps of requisite dirt on Luisa’s coffin, Goyo was blindsided by a crushing, unexpected loneliness. Often, he dreamed that she still slept beside him. Luisa had been an agitated constant in his life for six decades—and damn it, he missed her. An eclipse of white moths converged on his wife’s grave. This would’ve horrified her. Among her many empty enthusiasms, Luisa had spent a great deal of her later years battling the inevitable mildew and moth infestations that came with living by the sea. Every now and then Goyo dug into his closet and pulled out a guayabera or a pair of slacks disintegrating with holes, and this made him miss her all the more. With her passing, Goyo had lost much of his own history. His wife’s memory had been highly selective—for his concrete failings and her imaginary triumphs—but also for their early, tender love. After she was buried, Alina told him a shameful story: that when Luisa was a little girl, her father would force her to watch him fondling himself in the shower, that her own mother would make excuses for him, telling Luisa that she needed to learn the ways of men. This had enraged Goyo. It also explained why his wife had struggled so terribly


to give herself over to him. For the first disastrous weeks of their honeymoon, she’d insisted that they merely hold hands when they went to sleep. It’d taken Goyo a year of loving patience to coax Luisa to permit herself the pleasure he was capable of giving her. Who knew what other secrets she’d taken to the grave? Goyo settled on his portable chair and pushed a button on the CD player. The sounds of Quiero Volver wafted over his wife’s grave and up into the shading tamarind tree. What is madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance? Goyo recited this aloud, picturing his wife’s puzzled reaction (he’d borrowed the line from one of Alina’s poetry books). Sometimes a man needs to go to extremes to test his convictions. This line was his, as was what followed: I can’t wait any longer, Luisa. I must face my fears and become the man I know I can be. En fin, I want to be worthy of a fine elegy. I want you to be proud of me, mi amor. Who knew if Luisa would believe him? The two had lied to each other as a matter of course. She would’ve categorized her deceptions as feminine necessities: checking Goyo’s mail and cell phone records; inspecting his credit card receipts. His wife hadn’t spied on his e-mails only because she didn’t know how to use a computer. She’d consulted santeras and fortunetellers, too, for advice on how to get him back. Not that Goyo had ever threatened to leave her—well, maybe once or twice over her treatment of Goyito. The real problem had been that Luisa had wanted, unreasonably, to have him all to herself. She’d been incapable of emotional moderation, or the stony tolerance expected of a good Cuban wife. In Goyo’s experience, American women were much more pragmatic about love, rarely exhibiting the melodramatic sensibilities of their Latina counterparts. Sometimes he longed for the strong, sensible girls from northern climes who’d understood the limits of his devotion. Goyo skipped ahead to the song Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado. Luisa had tried to get him to dance to it cheek-to-cheek, but Goyo always felt like a hapless turtle fighting its way out of a paper bag. Now he pushed himself to standing and swayed to the music, sliding one foot forward then back.


Cristina García

This is for you, Luisa. For you, I’m dancing like an old fool. He remembered the time his wife had shown up at his diner late one night and put on a recording by Olga Guillot. They’d danced their way into the pantry and made passionate love among the onions and industrial-sized cans of tomato soup. Luisa had been a great beauty once, before her weight gains and corset-like girdles disfigured her body for good. A small army of clicking beetles trundled across her grave. Goyo swiped at them with the tip of his cane. Last week his brother had told him that one of his grandchildren, the nine-year-old, was raising hissing cockroaches from Madagascar as pets. Cucarachas? This was inconceivable to Goyo. Couldn’t the boy get a hamster or a Chihuahua like everyone else? Goyo reached inside his shirt pocket for the cigar he’d tucked there. He lit it and watched as the smoke ribboned to heaven. Maybe if he killed the tyrant, he might go straight to heaven himself. Ay, but there was little justice in the world. For him true heaven was the precious memory of his youth, of the earthly paradise he’d lost. Cuba had been his birthright, his home, and it’d been taken away from him— brutally, eternally. What was death next to such banishment? Goyo considered the other graves, the statues of angels and gargoyles, the mausoleums and family crypts. So many heartbroken exiles were buried here, dreaming with their last breath of returning home to a free Cuba. At least Mamá had died in Havana, though nobody had envied her at the time. She’d only been fifty-seven. The doctors had suspected a heart attack, a family hazard. Above him, a pair of ravens drifted in the skies. The heat was growing unbearable. The sun bleached everything in its domain as it moved toward unforgiving noon. Goyo’s cell phone rang. Coño, there was no escaping his son, even here. “Rok-rok-rok . . . frahnk . . .” “Goyito, is that you?” “Rok-rok-rok—” “Is that molar bothering you again?” Goyito’s interminable dental problems frequently pushed him to unconventional expressions of pain.


“It’s a great blue heron.” “A what?” “That bird in the Everglades. It’s a mating call.” “Are you trying to attract a female?” There were no passports for parenthood, Goyo thought, nor for death. “Listen to this: Tsyoo-tsyoo-tsyoo-tsyoo-tswee . . .” “Mira, hijo, I’m here in the cemetery with your mother and—” “Guess what it is.” “I have no idea.” “A yellow-throated warbler. Okay, here’s the last one. I’ve been practicing this one all morning: ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta.” It sounded to Goyo like a maraca but who knew what the bird was called? “I give up.” “A belted kingfisher! The longer the rattle, the more aggressive it’s feeling. It’s very territorial.” Goyo laughed. He envisioned the kingfisher, still wet and chattering on its mangrove branch. “That’s very nice, Goyito. Is this a new hobby?” He didn’t care what the hell his son did to pass the time so long as he stayed sober. Goyito was his dark angel, unfit for this world. “Sort of.” “Ah, that makes me very happy. Let’s hear another one.” “That’s all I’ve got. I’m working on the black-capped chickadee and a ferruginous hawk. What are you doing at mom’s grave?” “Having a conversation.” “Two-way?” “Not exactly.” His son sounded good, cheerful even. Maybe his shrink had adjusted his medications. “Did you know that the entrance to hell is just a tiny hole in the ground?” “Is that so?” Goyo’s optimism sagged. “No bigger than the size of a black bean.” “And how do you know this, hijo?” Goyo tried to keep his voice even.


Cristina García

It wasn’t possible to imagine Goyito’s confusion but he could try to offer him patience. “I dreamt it.” Goyo heard his son grinding his back molars, the popping of his jawbone. “Life and death aren’t equal,” Goyito added. “I have to agree with you there.” Goyo eyed the pink and white bougainvillea cascading over a grave twenty yards away. “It goes against what the church says but I suspect that life is a lot better than death.” “Whoa, then I’m totally screwed!” “I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just—” “Can you send me money for my tooth?” Goyito interrupted. “When are you going to the dentist?” “Next week.” “Then there’s time. I’ll call Dr. Yamada and make arrangements.” “I’m hungry.” “Bueno, eat something. Don’t starve yourself.” Recently, his son had embarked on a modified fast and was subsisting on liquid protein. In this, unfortunately, he took after his mother. A cadaverous black dog nosed its way along the graves, limping on its back left leg. “Vete de aquí! Vete! There’s a dog here, hijo. It looks like a pitbull. I don’t want it digging up your mother’s bones.” The dog approached tentatively, its eyes on Goyo. Then without warning, it latched onto his mahogany cane. “Hijo de puta!” Goyo held fast to the curved end. “Fifty bucks. Send me fifty bucks?” “Twenty!” Goyo shouted. With a sharp tug, the dog got hold of the cane and trotted off with it, settling on some Cuban admiral’s grave and having himself a good chew. “I’ll call you back, hijo.” Now what? Goyo was sweating from the humidity and his battle with the dichoso mutt. A hummingbird flitted amidst the bougainvillea. It looked like a gleaming ruby with wings, its beak a perfect curved needle. Mi madre, why was it breaking his heart? Time was no more than this,


Goyo decided: a stray dog snatching your cane without permission or grace. Goyo wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. A drifting cloud gave him momentary respite from the sun. He stumbled after the dog but it stood its ground and growled. “Give it to me,” Goyo commanded, stretching out his hand. If he couldn’t get his cane back from this flea-bitten mutt then what hope did he have of killing El Comandante? The dog emitted a high-pitched whine. Goyo got a little closer. It sat upright and offered Goyo its paw. He shook it then reached for his cane. “Good boy,” he whispered. “You’re a good boy. I’ll bring you a steak next time, okay?”


Cristina García

Friends Rae Armantrout

1 Peace be upon the transparent maroon curtain and the chesty air-conditioning unit spilling yellow foam from between its ribs, side-swiped by sun so that shadows of the window bars around it in the shape of two Valentine’s Day hearts, one perched upside down on top of its mate, can grow sharp.

2 In the next seat a dentist tells her friend she is reading Rent Boy to the Stars and a book on reincarnation.


3 “I’m all used up,” I tell myself, “all gone” like that was some new kind of luxury — one I could afford!


Rae Armantrout

the Pull

1 Inspiration is 98% pulling a trope from one medium into another so that a drop of its substance is wrung out. We sustain ourselves on this.

2 Like a ventriloquist’s dummy, you told us that the young and beautiful should breed.


3 Each skittering in, thin and bright, across the length of its own ghost, which slides back, sighing. Breathe


Rae Armantrout

the Future

I know a woman who makes costumes Victorian futurists might have worn while sketching designs for fantastical steam-powered machines that would never be built. She and her friends wear these costumes to parties.


a Brief Interview with Felipe W.Martinez Creator of A Missing Book

describe your obsession ( s ) .

Fundamentally, I’m obsessed with the Book, plain and simple. Not a book, but the Book as an object and aught (fundamentally); then, within this obsession, I’m obsessed with the work and resulting world of words. Given this, I am obsessed with the idea that what can be said once can be said once more no matter the time, place, or language. My obsession with the Book could be an obsession with humanity. Something tells me it is. My obsession consumes every last bit of energy I possess outside of the work I do for a living. This obsession has never troubled me. how does it manifest in your work ? The manifestation of my ob-

session in my work is my work. I don’t believe my work is much like what you’ll come to find in most places, mostly because of my obsession; because, while my obsession is not unique, its manifestation in A Missing Book (AMB), I think, is. AMB not only documents, but thinks, asks, and acts, just as writer, reader, and the


hybrid (the translator) in the endeavor to perpetuate the Book…in this specific instance, yes, a specific book, one Grande Sertão: Veredas. what sacrifices have you made for your work ? I’ve spent a significant

amount of time, energy, effort, and money to create AMB, but I wouldn’t say anything was a sacrifice. I lost a little blood and skin to transpose the final character of the novel onto my skin, but that wasn’t a sacrifice either. I think when you’re obsessed, nothing you must do is a sacrifice to you. tell us the story of the moment you knew you would pursue your proj ect with a missing book . I was alone at home late at night or very early

in the morning thinking about João Guimarães Rosa, one of the most innovative writers of the twentieth century, and about how his work had shown up in America, and then vanished just as soon. Then I thought of the short story by Jorge Luis Borges in which he recounts the discovery of a book from another world, that had until his discovery been hidden, lost, missing. I thought, thinking of Grande Sertão: Veredas, that this very important book is missing (in North America). This idea became the first post of my project: “A very important book is missing in America.” That was more than two years ago, and the project sees no end in sight. what keeps you up at night ? Almost nothing keeps me up at night. I work

a forty-hour week, and then read and write, and of course try to keep up with the chores of life in my free time. If anything should keep me up, it would be the knowledge that if I wasn’t sleeping, I could be doing more.

felipe w . martinez studied Literature & Writing at UC San Diego. He is

the creator of AMISSINGBOOK.COM, an online literary project that aims to investigate the absence of the Brazilian author, João Guimarães Rosa, from English literary discourse. He lives in San Diego, California, where he works in public education.


a Brief Interview with Kevin Clarke Conservation Biologist

describe your obsession ( s ) .

I am obsessed with how systems work. I love figuring out how everything works in a cycle and is somehow related to everything else. This can apply to pretty much everything in life, including what I studied in graduate school—systematic biology. how does it manifest in your work ? I am constantly trying

to create a smooth workflow (i.e.: system) for the work I do. When there is one aspect of the system out of whack, then this impacts everything else. what sacrifices have you made for your work ? I have sacrificed a steady

income and most of my weekends. tell us the story of the moment you knew you would pursue biology . I

was working on Wall Street and pretty unhappy with my job and current direction. I always had a love of insects and wanted to get involved with it but didn’t know how. Luckily, I met a scientist at a concert who


had a friend that was an entomologist. The entomologist and I met, and she offered me a volunteer position at the California Academy of Sciences. Eight months later I was offered a job in Africa (which most people would not take as they had to drop everything). I took it and the rest is history. what keeps you up at night ? Supply chain problems. I have 100s of

working parts in my work and when I can’t get certain parts (like insect species, the frames I work with, miniature props) it impacts my work and my system.

As a conservation biologist, science educator and artist, kevin clarke ’s mission is to protect, explain and flaunt aspects of the natural world. As sole designer and fabricator at Bug Under Glass, a San Francisco Green Certified business, he hopes to restore a sense of wonder about the natural world that is fleeting in an increasingly urban and technology driven world.


a Brief Interview with Cristina García Author

describe your obsession ( s ) .

The nature of my obsessions tend to change over time but the fact of having an obsession never changes: I’m always obsessed about one or more things; I wouldn’t know how to live without obsession. It’s what fuels my best work, thinking, and movement in the world. how does it manifest in your work ? The underlying thematic

obsession of my work has to do with individuals navigating the fallout from huge historical events on the intricacies of their lives. How can an individual have agency in the wake and against the force of such upheavals as civil war, genocide, or mass migration? How do you construct identity from the shards of history and still maintain allegiance not only to self but to family, culture, homeland. In my world, this mostly has to do with Cuba and the ongoing dislocations resulting from the Cuban Revolution.


what sacrifices have you made for your work ? Two major things: I’ve

probably sacrificed reasonably healthy romantic relationships, and I’ve sacrificed a certain amount of living in the sensory world. With writing (and reading) you are in your head so much that you endure a fair amount of sensory deprivation for the pleasures of life on the page. But how else do you reach the sublime? tell us the story of the moment you knew you would pursue writing .

I think it was a slow accrual of artistic consciousness concomitant with a shedding of other notions of what I thought I should be in the world. I felt like I lived most of my childhood in hiding of my true self and it wasn’t until I was out of the house and meaningfully in the world that I began to have a sense of what I was capable of, of what might be possible for me. what keeps you up at night ? Mortality, mostly. Trying to figure out how I

can best harness my energies in the time I have left and that doesn’t necessarily mean writing for the rest of my life. I’m increasingly interested in collaborations, other genres, and even possible social entrepreneurship projects. If I could wake up tomorrow and be a primary care physician in a developing country, I would jump at the chance.

cristina garcía is the author of six novels, anthologies, children’s books,

and poetry. Her latest, King of Cuba, is a darkly comic novel featuring a fictionalized Fidel Castro and will be published in May 2013. Currently, she is University Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State UniversitySan Marcos.


a Brief Interview with Elizabeth Cook-Lynn Professor/Writer

describe your obsession ( s ) .

People who read my work probably believe that my obsession is in trying to ask and answer the question: What is the function of THE LAW on Indian Reservations and in a democratic society? how does it manifest in your work ? My latest book, A SEPA-

RATE COUNTRY: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations,  talks about the colonization of indigenous peoples in America. That is, surely, about THE LAW,  isn’t it? While I read the work of other writers who want to make excuses for America’s genocidal treatment of indigenous peoples,  I want to write that such excuses are unacceptable. My obsession,  then,  is about orthodoxy in the historiography of our chosen subject matter. what sacrifices have you made for your work ? First, I was born into two

languages: Dakota Sioux native language and required public school English. Secondly, I had the good luck to be born into a family that held language as a sacred thing. I briefly attended a religious boarding school. Even though we


were forbidden from using our tribal language, I found it a restriction that did not prevent me from thinking my own thoughts. I always knew that those who wanted to restrict the use of language were wrong. My grandmother would say: Dakotah iyapi tewahinda (we love to talk our language). To love language is probably the first trait of a writer and to move beyond that is to know that to use language is, after all, an experiment. It took me years to use English well and to become a lover of poetry, which I eventually abandoned in order to become a vehement critic of apartheid, genocide, and the history of colonization which has kept entire societies enslaved. I still write poetry often and read it almost every day, but I rarely send it out except to a few selected friends.  tell us the story of the moment you knew you would pursue your project with writing . My first chapbook was Then Badger Said This. A friend

and I put some money together and published it ourselves. I was almost 40 years old and an assistant professor of English at Eastern Washington University. That is when I knew that I could have an audience and that I might pursue a public voice for unorthodox ideas of what it means to be an Indian in America. It was a scary thought. It wasn’t that I knew I was a great writer, not even a good one, sometimes. It brought about the contradiction that I’ve struggled with since. Writing does not make you free. It’s a little like falling in love because love isn’t free, either.       what keeps you up at night ? Politics.—But, then, maybe it’s just something I ate. Or, maybe I shouldn’t read Joan Didion before I put out the light. elizabeth cook - lynn , Professor Emerita/EWU, is a member of the Crow

Creek Sioux Tribe, Fort Thompson, SD, and lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She is a recipient of an Oyate Igluwitaya award given by the Native American Club at SDSU to “those who aid in the ability of the people to see clearly in the company of each other.” Since her retirement she has been a visiting professor and consultant in Native Studies at UC Davis, ASU Tempe, and a writer-in-residence at several universities.


a Brief Interview with Eleanor Davis Cartoonist/Illustrator

describe your obsession ( s ) .

Humans, babies, The Apocalypse, big guys with beards, sex. how does it manifest in your work ? I draw a lot of post-apoc-

alyptic scenes of big guys with beards having sex and babies. what sacrifices have you made for your work ? Becoming a

good artist and making good art takes a lot of time. Making art can be isolating and it doesn’t leave much room for anything else. I spent most of my early twenties working. It’s a paradox: you want to make art about life, but you’re too busy making art to really live. tell us the story of the moment you knew you would pursue cartoons / illustrations . I was totally focused on making ‘zines and mini-comics in

high school. I only cared about drawing comics and bicycling, nothing else. So when it was time to decide where I wanted to go to college, I chose art school, even though at that point I didn’t think I would be able to make a career out of art. I was passionate and dumb. Thank goodness.


what keeps you up at night ? My parents getting old and sick and dying.

The looming environmental and economic collapse. My cats trying to sleep on my head.

eleanor davis is a cartoonist and illustrator. She lives and works in Ath-

ens, Georgia with her husband, fellow cartoonist Drew Weing. See her work at


a Brief Interview with Karl Blau Musician/Sound Recorder

describe your obsession ( s ) .

I think I pass the obsession test when it comes to recording sounds and music. But it’s possible that my MAIN obsession is thinking about recording sounds and music. It may also be that no clear line could be drawn between these pastimes. To record sounds on my Realistic 80s dual condenser portable cassette recorder stereo and then listen back on its speakers is pure joy. It’s not that I actually record each day, but I rarely leave my house without this machine on the chance that something might happen with vibrating air pressure. how does it manifest in your work ? I am a super-obsessive person. I fill

up art notebooks like a baby fills her diapers. Since I discovered a love for music recording and started packaging collections of these multitracked recordings, I’ve released 40 solo cassettes and CDs. Seems like a lot for a pop singer, but for an artist, it’s like having 40 different art shows. Which—for an obsessed artist—is just a matter of time.


what sacrifices have you made for your work ? With all the sound bytes

of the day running through my head at all hours I end up sacrificing a lot of sleep. At some point, the personality in my brain that is big boss needs to call attention to the room and put the clamp down on the internal sound system so I may relax, but that takes several gavel whacks. This past year I’ve re-entered fatherhood, so I’m lucky to get six hours in a night’s sleep. tell us the story of the moment you knew you would pursue music . As

a kid I listened to my older brother writing songs on the piano and he eventually purchased a dual casette synthesizer from his lawn mowing profits. Hence equipped with multi-tracking capabilities of recording a synth performance on the one side and then shifting that tape to the “play” side and putting a fresh tape into the “record” side again and so on and so forth, the original tracks drifted off into a basin of hissing faucets of tape noise. That and the songs that we recorded into our mother’s kitchen radio/tape deck were the first glimpses I would get into my future and by then I already took great joy in the process. what keeps you up at night ? As of this past year I am recording more

and more, and yet the joy is increasing. I am concerned with how to deal with all of the material. Maybe the function of it for me is more the practice of it and not so much the product.

karl blau —a native of the Skagit Valley now hailing from Anacortes,

WA—is a general music collaborator, poet, puppeteer, sound engineer, but perhaps most notably a composer and singer of songs. Blau has written somewhere around 500 songs, performed approximately 1,000 times and has recorded over 40 solo releases to date.


a Brief Interview with Scott Hutchins Novelist

describe your obsession ( s ) .

When I think of obsessions, my mind goes to tennis or the internet—small-bore stuff really. But I think you’re getting at what really drives me in my writing. The answer is limning a reality that is both completely contemporary but also in deep conversation with our historical context. Novels are the great exercise of accessing the universal via the particular. That, and sentences that please the ear. And chocolate. how does it manifest in your work ? My work often has a topic of sorts.

My novel A Working Theory of Love concerns itself with—among other things—what it means to be a person. The vehicle of this conversation is a slightly cracked Artificial Intelligence project. what sacrifices have you made for your work ? Relationships, money,

stability, self-respect and the respect of my family.


tell us the story of the moment you knew you would pursue writing . I

had always been a reader, and when I went to college I decided to try my hand at writing. My stories were constantly running into a roadblock— I couldn’t figure what good they were. Good, meaning socially or personally useful. This sounds funny to me now, but it was a crippling question, wondering what higher good my work might serve. One day I was picking at a new story—I was around 20—and I asked the familiar question, “But what good will it do?” The new, shocking, liberating answer was that I no longer cared. The funny thing is that since my first book came out a few months ago I’ve gotten emails from strangers saying how much the novel spoke to them on point A, B, or C. So I have ended up doing good—despite my indifference to that goal. what keeps you up at night ? Like many people I work too much and

have too many balls in the air. Busy-ness becomes a goal in itself, and I start to skim along the surface of life, a shallow existence. This, more than the usual anxieties, steals my sleep.

scott hutchins is a novelist living in San Francisco, CA. His work has

appeared in StoryQuarterly, Five Chapters, The Owls, The Rumpus, The New York Times, San Francisco Magazine and, Esquire. His novel, A Working Theory of Love, came out in 2012.


APRI / COT / JAM / JAR Robert Grenier

an Interview with Robert Grenier Ivy Johnson

robert grenier lives in a sometimes ecstatic state, but sometimes not, where he

extends the tradition of the pastoral poem in ways entirely his own. One of the most influential poets of his generation, Grenier has, over the past forty years, pushed poetry into constantly new frontiers of practice and utterance. Over the past decade, Grenier has created handwritten poems that cross the upper limit of inscription to be both writing and drawing. I sat down to speak with him on the telephone on December 21st, 2012, to discuss his drawing poems.




IVY JOHNSON: My first robert grenier no i would never say that question actually comes out of It’s not really a comparative thing. One underthe statement you gave for the Foundation for Contemporary takes it in order to do what the form seems metArts (FCA).1 You say that rically to be capable of doing. And so if I think the drawing poems exist in a crack between poetry and back, there was never any real choice to abandon the visual arts; they come speech, which is the thing in This magazine that from trying to envision a true everybody quotes: “I HATE SPEECH” . . . abanname for things, of which the physical agency of drawing is don speech. Nor, later, was there any intent to important. Do you think that abandon the typewriter. It’s just that something the physical act of drawing gives more agency than a was around the corner, which was another kind speech act? of capacity that one can move to attain. And

you will, of course, know that and find out more about it perhaps, as life goes on. There are certain 1 Grenier was a recipient of a 2013 Grant to Artists from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, for which organization this statement was written.


changes that one makes, and for me it was not really planned or intentional. When you look back, in retrospect, one can speak to these and inquire into them. More, the drawing poems themselves, to me, seem physically closer to that of which they speak. They seem to gesture toward it and move to incorporate and acknowledge more of what one is given to see. And it does really all come from, not so much inspiration, but from direct seeing of some funny things that show up in the environment that want to be known.


Is the physicality itself well it makes it more interesting and fun important for this? for me to write. That’s always the question. Art-

ists think that they are writing Something, and later on critics or connoisseurs note that they are making a certain kind of form that is a ‘personal gesture,’ recognizable as such. One can see what a Cézanne looks like from afar. But, I wonder, whether for the artists themselves . . . there are a lot of people, really, trying to move in some way closer to whatever it is that instigates the work and wants to be known. And then, because they’re looking at something or have some direct experience of it, in the writing or working in the medium they’re working in, while they’re looking at it, they, I, associate that work, that gesture, with the thing that they’re looking at. So, I think that these steps are ‘closer to nature’ than certain other forms that I’ve made, but that could just be because I associate the form with the time of the making and the vision that was occurring at

100 Robert Grenier

that time. I’m not a good ‘reader’ of my work, in that abstract sense of . . . And that’s why I’m interested to hear from anybody just looking at the text. Just the pure, simple, color drawing poem. When you’re looking at that, you can have a new imagined experience of something which is not the same thing as ‘what I was looking at,’ which is equally there in the world in some way. So there can be a loop back to experience . . . through engagement with the structure of the poem, and I don’t know whether that happens for anybody else. And as I say, for me, it could just be association; I remember that I was looking at the dog when I wrote the dumb poem about the dog. i remember the last time we talked we discussed the jaggedness of each line that forms the letters as a sort of line break, or line breaks in the drawing poems. I was wondering if you have more thoughts on that. The interesting thing to me is that it creates a pause in the formation of the letter itself, so it stops you.

what do you mean ? usually line breaks are breaking up different units of meaning that are brought together. Because the line breaks are happening within the letters themselves and there is no referential meaning linked to the letter itself, it is almost as if there is a sort of void or emptiness being conjured. But the fact that the letter exists in space, because you are writing it, is noted because of the jaggedness of the lines. It’s like you are conjuring the letter into existence.

well , there is that being done . . . but in that

statement for the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, in the second paragraph, let’s see . . . just reading it aloud, because it is new to me, “Whatever mark can come into existence here Entirely Depends on the capacity of the drawn shapes to cooperate (with perception of what


comes into the field of whatever’s ‘given’ by this ‘organization’/‘life’ of perception/‘thinking’/‘imagining’/‘feeling’), Feel-Like and volunteer their dream-shapes to Try to write-into-existence (by dint of exceptionally ‘athletic’ drawing into the paper, by virtu of the drawn letters) Something that seems to be obviously/radically different from, but absolutely (somehow) also ‘Part’ of whatever it is it’s trying to (salivates) Club only (?).”

So there’s something about the shapes themselves, almost . . . Now that really does seem kooky to me. The shapes of the letters want, ‘themselves’— apart from ‘the author’s intent’—to draw whatever it is into existence. That’s my experience. I follow where they go, wherever they go. I make some sort of determination. It’s as if the shapes themselves were shaping the thing that’s said.



Just to go back to some- well maybe i misheard but I thought that was thing that came up the last your phrase. Well, when I was growing up, you time we talked, is that what you mean by a “positive keep your ears open . . . writers learn from studying form in space?” and relating to other writers’ works and their state-

ments about their works. There was a thing that was current when I was growing up, that came from Robert Creeley through Charles Olson, and it was: “Form is never more than an extension of content.” Olson quotes Creeley in “Projective Verse” as having said that. I mean, these statements, what use are they? In any case, one can equally reverse that and say that ‘content,’ so called, is never more than what the drawn letters, as ‘forms,’ wish to say. And that’s crazy. These letters are invented by humans, and there are various versions of them, and there is no

Bob Grenier Grenier 102 Robert

reason on earth that the human shape should itself wish to create ‘content.’ But it’s interesting to speculate whether something of that actually does go on. It’s beyond the intent of the writer, you see. I’d like these shapes to shine and have virtuous effect in the real world. [laughs] Everybody who makes art or makes literature, I’m sure, wants the work to go out and have a life of its own somewhere. actually , that brings me to my next question that I have in terms of the

drawing poems as sculpture. You said something in a conversation with Stephen Ratcliffe on Penn Sound, that visual art objects have a rhythm in space and that rhythm is a form of counting. The way that you write the letters on the page has a kind of jagged rhythm where the letters themselves are interrupted, so on one level you are creating an object that can be thought of in terms of sculpture. I remember that you also mentioned that your dentist had asked you, “Why obfuscate what you are saying?” yes ! why not just come right out and say it?

That’s what we’re doing now. I don’t have to do that in my work, I hope! [laughter] My god, the power may go out, the wind is blowing mightily . . . Oh my, it’s dimmed again. Oh, wow—It’s the the telephone service Apocalypse!


may be interrupted . . .


What do you think oh sure yeah People even say Beethoven scores about visual art objects hav- exist as sculptural objects in space, if you want to ing a rhythm in space? Do you see the line breaks and the look at that aspect of them. I think that anything colors as creating a similar vi- that has ‘agency’ has to have some kind of crucial, bration to what sound would integral integration of its own shape as formal make in a voiced poem?

possibility. That’s what gets it done. It has to have a concentrated urgency of its own . . . well you


could call it ‘sculptural nature,’ formal nature. Everything exists; the chair exists, because it’s been put there in that shape. And if you look at objects . . . Larry Eigner used to say that he had x-ray vision, that was because he wanted to know more than the outside of something. He wanted to look into something and see what defined it as its formal fact of itself. It’s . . . what’s the word for that? It’s . . . uh . . . it’s . . . uh . . . Oh! It’s “form!” [chuckles] It’s hard, the word “form” is so abstract that it has no meaning. What is the better word for what allows something to gather itself together and exist in space, and have mass and weight and color? How does it . . . what is the integrity of the design of the object that allows it to be? Everything has to exist, or it falls over. It vanishes.


in this work. stuff like that, it was in the design of the letters produced by that machine. The machine produced such and such an image, and that image existed in space. It was quite a creature, the IBM Selectric typewriter. It created objects that weren’t there before, in that way, and people could do it at home. It was an elephant of a heavy thing, but it made its own kind of mark, and the mark had this kind of structural integrity that allowed it to exist as an object. Well, sculpture is the classic way to . . . Sculptures obviously ‘sit there.’ [laughs] Somebody made a mass of something that has . . . what’s the definition of an object that has mass

So you see the integrity it exists in the drawn shape of that sort of object as ex- And formerly, in Sentences and isting in the word itself?

104 Robert Grenier

and occupies space? I wonder if anybody uses that definition anymore . . . ? The definition of what, the ‘thing’? That was something I learned in junior high school, perhaps.

I’m struck by the i don t like the word “intuitive.” It seems to symmetry of colors in the cover . . . the answer covers over the question drawing poems. Could you speak a little bit about how with more mystery. The drawn shapes follow you make the decisions of a ‘lead’ . . . they’re using their ‘nose,’ and go the colors that you use in the drawing poems, or it is just forward. But they’re not just “intuitive,” whatmore intuitive? ever that is. It’s not ‘subjective.’ But the colors

. . . sometimes it’s just purely by design. You want to vary them, there are four colors . . . A form that I’ve been working in lately, it’s eight lines on two pages, and you just say it’s blue, black, green, and red. The opposite side is red, green, black, blue. And then you invent the next series, so that none of the colors repeat on any of the lines, either vertically or horizontally. That’s a structural decision I make in advance, in part just to make each color equal, so that there can’t be any particular meaning ascribed to any color. And they just light up like a Christmas tree. Oh, I went out in the woods as I have done many times, and found a tree and brought it home and put it up in the house. On that tree are only red, green, and blue lights with oldfashioned, large bulbs with no ornaments, but they all exist equally on the tree. As a result, the whole tree shines. They make a ‘gathering of the whole,’ which does the ‘work’ of bringing in the New Year.


Oh . . . now I’m talking about the tree! It relates to the drawing poems, too. They try to, in their space and in those books, to make a form, which has some kind of ‘efficacy.’ I’m making a crude connection with the pagan ritual, where instead of burning a newborn baby or something, you bring a green tree in from the woods. This is the winter solstice, and you burn the tree, and burning the tree has some ‘agency.’ It’s supposed to further the possible arrival of spring. That, too, seems kind of wishful. [laughs] Maybe the wish itself . . . Does a wish have ‘agency’? So, if you wish the forms of the drawing poem to bring about what they say, does that wish accomplish one’s purpose? It seems kind of unlikely. And yet people have been bringing trees into their houses for many, many years, far before the Christmas stuff, to try to accomplish something with the doing or bringing in of the shape. in your statement for the FCA you use the word “magic” to describe what is hap-

pening in the drawing poems, which seems like a conjuring of the phenomena in a way that has more efficacy than just typing it out. Can you say more about this “magic?” Do “magic” and the wish go hand in hand? What do you mean by “magic?”

oh , you have to have experience of it. You can’t

just set out to do it. You have to have experience of something or other, glowing with its own ‘agency.’ It’s really something. One sees that in other poets’ works. I saw it in Creeley and Larry Eigner and Charles Olson, and others. Somebody does something, and they assume

106 Robert Grenier

a ‘stance,’ and that stance is ‘effective’ in some way. You have to try, or have it demonstrated to you in some way—to see somebody do it. Or you can look at something, that lights up for you . . . and has a power beyond itself. It’s not, you know . . . I would hate to be characterized as someone who is farting around with the obscure. This is all the most literal way of knowing. Well, what is a name really? When people make up a word, they want to characterize what had happened in some way that preserves some aspect of it, so that when others hear that word, they know what you’re talking about. I think, for me, writing is essentially the same thing as naming. It’s an investigation of what naming can be, what it has been, and how it can be brought about. Once everybody has the words to use, why, we take them for granted. It’s just our normal manner of speech or writing. At some point somebody invented those. Those words were created. I’m interested in the point at which the word comes into existence. Why is it that word, rather than another? There are various studies of other forms . . . animal sounds in the woods that sound like the thing they’re talking about. Most of our words are invented, and they seem not necessarily to be connected to what they’re talking about. To me . . . if you look at a sculpture, you engage with it, and go around it, and see it and include it in your ordinary experience of life. And so it would be interesting if words could be thought to have these capacities . . . or


maybe we just use them to say whatever it is we need to say. To some extent, this is what we are doing now. But sometimes you can really make a thing. I know that from experience. And I wonder if anybody else can perceive that in my work.

I think so, I think so. You that s kind of cheap actually. It’s too easy. And seem to be interested in dif- to me, because it’s too easy, it’s funny. Like, ferent animal sounds and like to imitate them in your work, there’s the cowboy song that’s supposed to go, like in that coyote poem. “Ay yi yi, Ay yi yi, O” right? “That one coyote, aiee, aieee, weird, eh?”


Well, also, in the ci- right and the different sounds . . . but in that cada poem, you are writing one—actually, Stephen Ratcliffe and I talk about the word “cicada” but also it is the sound that the cicada that—it creates a sort of field of these bugs makmakes, right? ing their sound for each other and in relation to

each other. You could criticize this poem as ‘copying’ the four bugs in space. There are four words in space. If you read it across and around, you can hear the sounds of these four bugs in alternating pattern, which a reader could imagine. Which could be “too much like nature.” In William Carlos Williams’ “Spring And All,” there is a caution to the writer not to copy nature, and yet in the same text there is a statement that the imagination can create something, can make something exactly what it was before. So, the difference between imagining something, which is recreated to be exactly what it was, and copying nature is something I have been concerned about for many years. I don’t want this form of the cicadas merely to be a copy. I want it to re-imagine a field

108 Robert Grenier

in space where the drawn letters interact in some way that is the ‘same’ as the sounds and relative positions of these cicadas in a hot August night in Long Island. All that, too, is partially . . . I like to criticize my own intent, because I’m skeptical of most things I say, and so I think it would be fairly easy to say that these four writings of the word “cicada” are only that.



From what I remember yeah well the same colors Red, green, blue, isn’t there also visual symblack. In each one, actually, you ‘write a particumetry in that poem. What are the colors that you use? lar bug.’ [laughs] It’s nuts. On the other hand,

Audubon tried to sketch birds. What’s the difference? Maybe the birds that Audubon sketched looked a little bit more like the birds than the cicadas in my drawn shapes, the words that we have to use. But, what if we look at words as being almost literally the site and sound and shape of something? Why not experience words as being at least as ‘good’ as Audubon, as an Audubon drawing of a dead, now-extinct bird? Does anybody look at letters as having that kind of capacity to . . . at least portray what they’re talking about? It would be nice both to be able to portray it, you know, tell the apparent truth about it, and ‘give it life.’ Give the drawing ‘life,’ by making the drawing. That’s a Frankensteinian undertaking. It’s like Frankenstein. You think by drawing the thing ‘the way it is,’ you can bring it to life. That’s kind of creepy, I think.


It’s kind of magical, look what happened to Doctor I guess. wasn’t a happy experiment.

Frankenstein. It

in your discussions with Stephen Ratcliffe at Penn Sound2 you imitated

owl sounds for us and brought up the fact that animals can count and that there is a time signature in the way that an owl hoots. Can you talk about the connection you see between letters and numbers? Do you think that each letter measures something? i don ’ t know that I can speak to that, more than

to say that I think letters are the ‘same’ as numbers. There’s one letter, and then there’s the next letter, and if you look at numbers [laughs] they exist like that, too. I mean there’s one, and then there are two. That’s a purposefully foolish response to your question. [laughter] On the other hand, in some sense they are . . . some letters and numbers, like “l” and “1,” are the same in most scripts. What other examples could I provide, maybe that’s the only one? Counting is essential to verse, to meter, to traditional metrical verse. If you look at Emily Dickinson, at her quatrains, you can ‘count them out.’ I used to do it in bed when I was young, I would count syllables and stresses with my fingers or with my tongue . . . making a little snapping sound, not wanting to wake anybody up, trying to figure out and experience how a poem was organized.

2 See four conversations between Robert Grenier and Stephen Ratcliffe concerning Grenier’s color drawing poem project, gathered under the rubric of “On Natural Language” at: pennsound/x/On-Natural-Language.php.


Robert Grenier

Uh, huh. Rhythmically. number has a great deal to do with . . . it’s a word

that was the same word as “verse” in Elizabethan times. People would say “my numbers,” meaning “my poems.” Until you engage with poetry on that level, you might not make any . . . it might just be a ‘comment,’ I’ve just made a ‘comment.’ But if you’re working with words inside a verse structure, you develop an ‘innate’ recognition of number that guides the progress of the verse.


, ’


In your discussion of Pla- oh well it s interesting because letters move to’s Cratylus with Stephen at in space. When you start something it moves Penn Sound, you talk about divine wandering which around, moves around . . . so, yeah, there might is said to mimic the divine be a way of . . . that would be nice, instead of havmotion of existence. You talk about this in relation to the ing a static portrait of something, like a camera process of naming, how the image, an old-time photograph, you could have name catches something on something that was moving along with the thing the run. In that conversation, you said, “what if you develop being drawn. Is there anything being drawn, or is a form where the letters in it just drawing itself? I wonder whether the whole motion are what is happening?” Do you see the drawing idea of ‘something being drawn’ is just a kind of poems as catching something wish. Even in standard portrait painting, or in on the run like that?

still life . . . One remarkable thing about Cézanne is that during the time it takes for him to make a still life, he’s moved, or the object has moved, the perspective changes. You can have a ‘still life’ that is indicative of or evocative of passage through time, which is really great. So it can be a still . . . and still record times of numerous drawing sessions. In literature, in these works, you could say that time passes . . . and that by the time you get to the end, it is something else. I’d like that to be the case. It’s interesting.


I am learning how to be in my own body Cheena Marie Lo

I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to an unemployment rate of 7.8% I am learning how to be in my own body while working 10 hours a week doing something I really like with people I really like and 20 hours a week working for very little pay doing something I kind of hate for people I only kind of like and two or three nights every four to six weeks working for commission doing something I’ve grown to dislike for people I’m not sure I even respect and one day a week working for free doing something I am learning to love and the rest of the time doing work for myself I am learning how to be in my own body while a nonprofit group accuses Bank of America Corp of maintaining and marketing foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods much better than those it owns in AfricanAmerican and Latino neighborhoods. it is complicated

I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to people I love fiercely and people I really like and people I kind of like and people I don’t respect and people who I never even think about and people I’ve never met and people I’d like to meet someday and people who I see


Cheena Marie Lo

from afar or in passing and people who will show up in the important ways and people who will show up only sometimes and people who will disappoint and people who will leave eventually there are exceptions I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to the number of workers currently employed as a percentage of the work age population. I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to foreclosure and underwater mortgage rates. I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to 1 in every 730 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing in September 2012 I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to the general rules and the exceptions I am learning how to be in my own body while I apply for an income based repayment plan for my student loans I am learning how to be in my own body while I live the dream or more realistically try to figure out what the dream is I am learning how to be in my own body while I drink beer with the people that I love, talking dreamy eyed about the art that we love, how it is hard but that we are living the dream because we are making and doing the things that we love I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to 8.6 million individuals working part time because their hours have been cut back or because they are unable to find a full-time job.


I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to 802,000 discouraged workers not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them I am learning how to be in my body with the knowledge that the dream will never be paid and we have to find other ways to get paid in order to keep working on the dream and how sometimes it feels impossible and sad but we keep doing it because we still believe in this dream I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to community, and the different intersecting communities I find myself a part of. I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to poetry and community, to finding the language to work through it all with everyone else. I am learning how to be in my own body in relation to everything else I am learning how to be in my body while holding everything in the whole wide world

a body in relation it is complicated there are exceptions


Cheena Marie Lo

How to Make a Home (excerpt from the Walking ) Laleh Khadivi

lay the body down on the bed.

Sleep through darkness into day. At first this will be enough. If you have belongings, personal effects, unpack them but do not put them away in drawers or cabinets or closets with any immediacy. Let them sit out for an hour, a few days, so they can greet you when you enter a room and you can catch sight of that sweater your grandmother knit and you can relax, remember, remind yourself: yes. This is where I live. This is my room. Look! There are my socks! Relax on the toilet, take longer than necessary. Relax in the shower. Stand naked in the bathroom with the door closed until you are dry. If you have the house to yourself for some time, stand naked in as many rooms as you can. Let the house, which is getting to know you as well as you are getting to know it, see you as you are. Walk down the hallways, sit on the cold floors, and pose precariously close to the windows. Dress when you are comfortable with yourself. Notice the threshold every time you step over it. Lie down on the kitchen floor. Let things find their places. The shampoo and the soap, the small pile of shoes at the door, the butter, the spoons, the trash and the hook for the keys. Study the views from the windows. See the street, the small palm, the neighbor’s grill, wait for the cat that sometimes comes and goes from the grassy patch just outside the bedroom that you can’t get to. Study the views that have nothing to do with windows, the sights you


will, without wanting or trying, see every day: the ceiling above your pillow, your face in the bathroom mirror, the mark on the wall of the living room that looks like a letter in a language you are still learning. Decorate. Sew curtains or buy elaborate blinds. Draw them down, darken a room, keep out the world you don’t yet understand. When you can, stay inside, gather yourself, hold still for as long as it takes for the calm to cover you. Buy a thick comforter that will keep you warm regardless of the temperature. Hang pictures. If you can bear it hang photographs of so and so and so and so. If you can’t bear it leave the wall empty until new photographs are made of you smiling in the new here and the new there. Cook a rich meal, richer than necessary, of meat stew and a side of fresh greens—onions, basil, mint and radish—eat the living and the dead in your new home. Relish. Take a long mid-day nap. Buy a plant. Cut a limb from it and replant it in another pot. Let the severed bit grow. Yes, you will complain there is no garden and there is no fountain and no grandfather’s smoking bench and no grandfather. The balcony will have to suffice. Turn it into a paradise of jasmine and honeysuckle and impatiens, a lifted Eden of seeds you planted and watered; a collection of life that exists because of and for you alone. And no. No uncle and no aunt and no favorite cousin will eat at your table or grace your living room with their old silly jokes, take tea with you and nod as you worry and explain this or that passing trouble. Stay still. This is your home now. They will come. Find your way to the bedroom. Lay the body down on the bed. Let them visit you in dreams.


Laleh Khadivi

Lover, I’m Home Patricia Powell

i have two countries —the one where I was born and where all my novels

are set and a great many too of the dreams that haunt me at night—and the one I emigrated to at sixteen, and where I came of age as an adult, came of age as a writer. And yet I was at home in neither, for though I resided permanently in one, had even taken citizenship there, voted in their elections, marched in their protests, bought land in a furious attempt to root, it was for that other place I hankered, the one that loomed larger than life in my imagination, and which was really where my unconscious lived and ruled with great tyranny, though in actuality, I rarely visited. I also have two mothers—the one who gave birth to me, and the one who raised me from the time I was three months old until I was sixteen. Then failing health forced my great aunt to send me to America to live with my birth mother who had by then moved there. And within a year of my departure from Jamaica, within a year of leaving everything behind that was familiar, my great aunt died of cancer, and I was face to face with my mother and all the questions that had been haunting me my whole life. It’s not clear what happened between my birth mother, who was married to her husband at the time and with children, and my birth father whose nickname I came to learn recently is Happy. But there is a lot I imagine. I see him tall and strapping and broad shouldered and kind. I see him with a mouth quick to laughter, a mouth filled with big and beautiful teeth, a mouth with plump, brown lips. I see him as a man who could sit quietly with things, a man who could withstand long stretches of solitude, a man who knew his mind, liked his


own company, could give you the length and breath of his attention, the length and breath of his presence. My mother had never been seen in her entire life, as far as I could tell. Her mother did not see her, her husband had eyes only for himself, her children only had big huge needs, as children are wont, and perhaps her father was able to see her, but only on rare occasions and through sideways glances. Her brothers and sister were busy looking for people to notice them. But when this man Happy turned his long, slow steady gaze on her, she saw herself magnificent and bright, she saw herself lit up as if with an interior glare, and she loved the reflection that the pools of his eyes gave off; she loved how she looked and he loved how she looked as well, for she was pretty and she had nice big dimples and a sweet mischievous face and a large and sensual mouth that appealed greatly to him. He was boarding at my grandparents’ house for the few months it took to complete the bridge that the Public Works Department had sent him and a crew to build, according to my great aunt. It was a bridge that would join Comfort Hall District to Oxford District. I imagine him setting out at daybreak, every morning, a hard hat on his head, big, tall boots on his feet and a plastic bag with a thermos full of coffee that my grandmother woke early to brew. One day or maybe it was one night, maybe it was early afternoon, they were alone at the house, or maybe she went out with him to a function, or maybe it happened in the fields under the naked sky, the stars above cocked and waiting, maybe it was against a tree, her legs hoisted, his body a golden arch, pushing and pushing with all of his might, and there I was, there I was, running and running to meet them, there I was amongst the giddy stars, with a long bushy tail, racing and skidding and sliding and stopping traffic in the starry firmament, hoping and hoping with wide open arms that I would reach them in time until finally, finally we collided. My mother could not have been happy when her stomach started to swell determinedly against her cotton frock. I cannot imagine her


Patricia Powell

husband was anywhere near happy; he had been away working as a warden in a prison for the last few months; he had not been with her in some time. And I know my grandmother was not pleased. She had eyes that missed absolutely nothing whatsoever, and for sometime she had been observing how her daughter lit up like a storm underneath Happy’s gaze. My grandmother stepped in right away. Face had to be saved and all rumors had to be killed—my mother’s indiscretion had brought down great shame on the family, especially on my grandfather who was a Baptist minister. She dismissed the boarder at once, ordered my mother back to her husband and to her marriage to patch up things, and me, me, the new born, she dispatched to her sister, Nora, who had a penchant it seemed for unwanted children. Having birthed only one herself—a son who lived in England and from whom she was estranged—my great aunt Nora had already raised eleven of us by the time I arrived. I was the last child she took in as she was already in her early sixties; both her husbands had died, and her health, her shop and her farm were in serious decline. when she came to pick me up that Sunday afternoon from my mother’s

house in Spanish Town, she said my head flopped from side to side as if the stalk that held it up had been broken. They didn’t think I would make it. They thought it would only be a matter of time. Still she tried her best, she said, pouring cow’s milk on her nipple and handing the long flat breast over to me, and even then, she said, I would not open my mouth to suck. She tried everything, even chewed the food for me first and then produced her offering hoping I would eat. But time is a friend, she said, and before long I started to trust the world again, and to trust her, and I started to eat and to grow robust. And all the love that she could muster up from her chest, she handed over to me, she said, and gradually I accepted. My great aunt had a shop, which in its heyday was the lifeline of our little village and later on became the setting of many of my stories.


It was open all day and until late into the night and was flooded with men who came to drink and to talk and to argue with each other over politics and religion and love. Sometimes fights would break out, and men would threaten each other with cutlasses, or a ratchet knife would snap open, the blade gleaming in the lamp light, and my great-aunt like a huge bird would swoop down in their midst and soothe the steaming tempers. The annual street dance where winning couples received cash prizes was held right outside the shop’s piazza, and during elections the fork-tongued politicians would broadcast from their loud speakers promises they had no intention of delivering. Strangers from abroad wandering the countryside often stopped in for a drink dazzling us with tales of foreign lands. And on Easter and again at Christmas and New Year’s, the two merry-go-rounds in the field across the road would turn, and vendors would set up stalls and sell food and homemade ice cream flavored with rum and rose water, and the musicians would strike a tune and the ravenous dogs would be joyful again for there was so much to eat. And I too would be happy for there was no end to the bands of children available for play. My great aunt sent me to the best schools her money could buy and every time my report card arrived, she celebrated my success by opening a bottle of rum and calling in the men sitting outside on the piazza to come in and toast me. My days were divided up between school—taxi brought me there in the mornings, and picked me up again in the evenings until I was old enough to ride the bus on my own—the shop, which I tended after school once I had finished my homework and on Saturdays all day—and church on Sundays, a small stone building with a glossy eyed Madonna and Jesus in the stained glass windows, which my great aunt had built with her own funds and donated to the community. It was my job to dust the pews and pulpit, to neaten into piles all the bibles and hymn books before service and, on communion Sundays to cut up slices of hard dough bread into neat little squares and

120 Patricia Powell

to pour Wincarnis tonic wine into tiny glasses. This Wincarnis had a very tantalizing flavor, and I was never able to stop myself from drinking the remains, which meant that by the time service started, I was fast asleep and snoring heavily in the front pew next to my great aunt who kept rustling me awake. We had a housekeeper named Miss Ilene who was deaf in both ears and sang in a high-pitched voice these awful mourning songs that reverberated throughout the house. She washed and ironed our clothes and cooked our meals and cleaned our house and made sure my great aunt took all her medicines especially toward the end when the cancer brought the pain that blazed through her furiously. Every few weeks my mother would arrive amidst a flurry of gifts and exclamations. It was usually on a Sunday afternoon after the big dinner, when my great aunt and I were napping, the two of us curled tightly into each other like slugs. That was the time she would drive up unannounced, my mother, in a cloud of red dust stirred by their car, she and her husband and their other children, and it would just be the cry of the barking dogs that summoned us awake. Usually she brought jewelry for my great aunt, a broach for her to wear to church, clip on earrings, or a skinny wristwatch that glittered. Sometimes she brought money to help with my school fees, and for my dresses, shoes and books, sometimes new school uniforms. She was a teacher herself and I always had to bring my school books to show her, and my report cards, and she would open a book and ask me to read a passage and then a big fuss would be made over how much I had grown since she saw me last, and how nicely I was reading and how lovely I looked in this new dress or those new shoes. I was making everyone proud she said. Then after a few hours of this loud and elaborate fawning, they’d bid us farewell and drive away leaving the same flurry of red dust behind and a dreadful sorrow would overcome me then, a great emptiness like a void that lasted for days and which nothing at all could deter, no matter how much my great aunt tried to distract me.


Summer vacations, my great aunt would send me to spend a week with my mother. This didn’t always bode well as the siblings didn’t really know me; they didn’t believe I was really their sister, for why wasn’t I living with them then, they said, and I too wondered the same question, for it wouldn’t be until years later that I would come to learn the details leading up to my birth, which my mother to this day denies, though everyone in the family admits that they are true. During these visits, more often than not, a fight would break out over one thing or another —there were five of us—I would be caught in the middle and this would result in a severe trouncing. I hated going there. My mother didn’t have time for me; she was busy with school; she was forever taking courses at the university, busy with papers, busy with her husband, busy with her children. Furthermore, I didn’t have my own room. There were just too many of them, too much noise, too much bickering, no place to hide, no place for solitude; I couldn’t wait for the week to be over. These are my two mothers, and all through my life, whether with men or with women, I’ve moved back and forth between them, sometimes breaking up with one and going directly on to the other, sometimes straddling both of them at the same time. In one type of relationship I felt cherished and loved in the most awesome and satisfying way. And yet that was never enough. I was never truly satisfied. Deep down the young unfulfilled me was seeking the mother who had given me away, the mother who had rejected me. This love more than any other was the most desirable thing in the world. And every time I encountered “her,” there was always at the beginning and throughout the short intense stretch of our engagement an anxiety which I mistook over and over again for enchantment and love, and I’d let “her” in at once, overextending myself, tossing caution to the wind, swept up in the mayhem that “her” presence created in my chest, and she was here and never here, and I’d swing back and forth between elation and despair until one day, one day she would disappear, for my desperate clinging always drove “her” away, and I’d snap, and a great

122 Patricia Powell

longing, a great wound which would have just been waiting outside the door of my heart would barge in and take over. Years later, after I’d scraped myself up from the rubble that was me, I’d say to myself no more, no more, and I would fall into the arms of the beloved who’d save me again, who’d nurture me again as my great aunt had done, who’d make me solid again. But there’d always be such a feeling of guilt, such a feeling of betrayal because even though they had saved me, even though they were about to love me and give their affection and their care and their friendship to the best of their ability, I knew deep down I would never be able to reciprocate, because somewhere in my distorted mind there was the conviction that the mother would come again to reclaim me, and I needed to save my love for her. It was a self-betrayal of overwhelming proportions. But this back and forth, this back and forth, this split has been the story of my life.


winter Sara Uribe transl. Toshiya Kamei the last leaves of autumn play to tattoo their light on the sidewalks the trees play not to die and their inhabitants climb down the branches of time and seek shelter in other hideouts there is a voice calling them from the center of their bones there is a silence in the air that moves the crowd in the streets then the wind breezes through their corners slowly and no one is left to turn off the lights to say their names

invierno las Ăşltimas hojas del otoĂąo juegan a tatuar su luz en las aceras a no morir juegan los ĂĄrboles y sus habitantes descienden de las ramas del tiempo y buscan refugio en otras guaridas hay una voz que los llama desde el centro de sus huesos hay un silencio en el aire que aleja a la muchedumbre de las calles entonces el viento recorre sus esquinas lentamente y nadie queda para apagar las luces nadie para su nombre pronunciar

124 Sara Uribe / Toshiya Kamei


i haven't walked up here to be quiet I haven't wandered around oblivion during years and exiles to come here now to deny my name I haven't been an acrobat or a conjurer or a clown or a fortuneteller to have the immobile dream of sedentaries I haven't traveled the whole language in vain to baptize silently the migrating ashes of my steps I have walked up here so that the word wakes finally in my voice

juglar no he caminado hasta aquí para callar no he deambulado en el olvido durante años y exilios para venir ahora a desdecir mi nombre no he sido saltimbanqui ni prestidigitador ni bufón ni agorero para dormir ahora el sueño inmóvil de los sedentarios no he recorrido el lenguaje entero en vano para bautizar de silencio las cenizas trashumantes de mis pasos he caminado hasta aquí para que la palabra al fin en mi voz despierte


day’s journey

so long ago we were pariahs who extended our hands begging for words and received only silence so many deaths ago we built night in search of night and in pursuit of an untraveled language in the streets in the lonely cafés of a port without corners long days we spell before the mirrors before hunger that slipped through our hands like an empty and slippery liquid

jornada hace ya tanto tiempo que fuimos parias que alargamos la mano pidiendo palabras y sólo silencio recibimos hace ya tantas muertes que construimos la noche en busca de la noche y en pos de un lenguaje inrrecorrido en las calles en los solitarios cafés de un puerto sin esquinas largas jornadas deletreamos frente a los espejos frente al hambre que se nos escurría entre las manos como un líquido vacío y resbaladizo

126 Sara Uribe / Toshiya Kamei

the Sacred Ibis M农thoni Kiarie

from our center , one of us approached the cowering man, tilted the

plastic ghee jerry can, pouring its three-liter viscous contents over his head. The stench of the cheap paraffin almost choked those of us who stood close with its putrid smell. Yet, we breathed it in gladly, opening our nostrils and expanding our chests between our yells and chants as if to take in the fumes to fuel our anger. The man fell to the ground, crouching and exhausted from his fight with the fists and feet that had attacked him for the last hour. He lay on the dusty sidewalk, steeped in a mixture of his own urine, blood and paraffin. Yet even now, in his final hour, knowing it was hopeless, he still begged for mercy. He was almost naked now, bits of what were once his blue cotton tshirt and mud-colored trousers strewn around, trampled by those who scrambled to get closer to glimpse this unwilling sacred ibis. Our thirst for blood was whetted with each sniffle he made, each time we kicked his head or stomach or back or chest. His eyes were closed and swollen, and the rest of his face a mess of torn skin and blood. When he opened his mouth to whimper or scream, we could see the red, oleaginous gums where teeth had been just minutes before. A small car tire was rolled to where the man lay. With urgent arms we lifted him up, and stuffed the tire forcibly over his head, straining it over his shoulders as we grunted like tired warthogs with each tug. We watched him hungrily as he whimpered. His knees buckled as an audible pop sounded over the chanting voices and his shoulder jerked unnaturally forward followed by a jagged crack that tickled our ears. We observed as his collarbone snapped and the splintered edges cut mercilessly through raw, tough


muscle and tore into glorious view. Roaring in appreciation, we surged forward closing in tighter around him. Suddenly, someone lit a match and we hurriedly moved back, widening the circle, stepping on feet, stumbling over others but still not taking our eyes off our middle, watching the match, waiting on the small orange flame, seeing it as it was dropped, as it seemed to succumb happily to its attraction to the paraffin-covered man at our center. We greedily followed the match’s final, fateful, gravity-aided journey to the feet of the man with the tire around his chest. And the flames burst forth almost immediately, brilliantly orange. They voraciously licked and prodded at our sacrifice’s feet until he started to move with jerky motions, lifting himself to a sitting position with renewed strength. As he bounced around on his buttocks, we laughed and chanted our glee, joining in his death dance with our own echoed version and a chant that mobilized our bodies into frenzy. Ua, ua! Ua mwizi, ua! Ua, ua! Our breaths came collectively, almost hyperventilating in our excitement. In unison we urged the flames higher, up to his knees, higher, his trapped arms flailing at the elbows, higher, as he tried frantically to extinguish the flames that like a jealous lover stalked the path the paraffin had taken. We envied the tenacity of the flame and sang its praises in our chants. The women among us shadowed our rhythm with choruses sang in high-pitched voices, their breasts heaving, knees bouncing, hands slapping ample thighs. Our sacrifice’s gurgled screams answered our song’s call as the flames engulfed him, reaching his chest and finally his face. He threw himself onto the ground, trying to roll over. But the tire thwarted his every attempt. You could see his skin giving way, melting, as the flames licked hungrily at it, and quickly ate its way to the muscle it sought. But his flesh was stubborn, disintegration held off for as long as possible as the flames went

128 Mũthoni Kiarie

around and around in a whirl of dizziness, the taunting flesh forcing their arousal to a red-hot pitch. The ibis lay facing up, no longer able to fight, his frenzied movements reduced to nothing but involuntary quivers. But our movements quickened. We continued to circle him, chanting, smelling the end, waiting for that end. Around us, the evening traffic and activities continued; people filed out of office buildings with slightly wrinkled suits, children in their play-dirtied school uniforms and book-filled bags tried to get a glimpse of what was in our center, cars filled with families swerved slightly to avoid those of us who spilled onto the road as they continued on their way to prepare supper, buses and matatus with their horns blaring slowed down as they passed our gathering, their passengers leaning out of the windows to join us in one quick chant as they moved on to their destination. And then we got it, our release. Our sacrifice’s legs slowed to a tremor, his eyes opened past their puffiness as the heat consumed them and his hair surrendered, perhaps first, to the mad mating of paraffin and flame. The tremors finally stopped and we danced one final lap of victory around him just as the shrill report of a police whistle belatedly interrupted our ceremony. With one last lustful look at the thief who had paid with his life, we ran, scattering in every direction, forgetting for an instant how his sacrifice had for moments exonerated us from our own sins.


Daughters of the Dust Dmitry Borshch


an Interview with Erín Moure Brian Roth

Poet and translator erín moure has, over the last thirty-plus years, tirelessly probed and expanded the borders of poetic possibility through her own work and the translation of writers from the European continent and from Quebec. She is the author of seventeen books of original poetry, including the recent The Unmemntioable (House of Anansi Press), as well as one book of essays, My Beloved Wager (NeWest Press). Moure has translated the works of numerous French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Galician writers, most recently Chus Pato’s Hordes of Writing (Shearsman Books) and Louise Dupré’s Just Like Her (Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd). The following exchange took place over email between November and December 2012.

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BRIAN ROTH: Obsession erín moure no that s the short answer Obsession can be seen as a spectrum to me reads as a persistent idea or thought that is dependent on the individual and the interests out of proportion, the focus on it is “unreasonof the individual. Do you able” in that sense, and causes people to trip up consider yourself and your in ordinary ways. I consider myself disciplined, writing as obsessive?

widely curious, and persistent. And definitely willing to give up and change my ideas...

When you write, how the book as physical artefact is a beautiful do you consider a poem in thing. Amazing structure: bound down one terms of its reception on the page of a book versus its re- side (for the most part), has text that faces ception in the performative text and thus is all visible to the eye, hides text act of reading it aloud?

(when you turn a page or shut the book), and whose manipulation is under the control of the


reader, not the can be opened anywhere, read in the wrong order, read partially, and read spatially...and is not in fact a “book” until it is taken up and opened, and someone “reads” or looks. Reception of the page is multiple, moving, and collaborative with the reader... so I do many things with space, continuity, repetition and movement in types of texts, page placement of text, use of textual apparatus that is not text but is in Word such as lines, etc. The reader can spend time with the page and book in so many ways. Plus, paper smells nice, and inks. There’s a presence that my own physical being responds to. The act of reading work aloud, presenting the texts, and particularly, being the “writer” presenting texts one supposedly “wrote,” provides a world of different opportunities. Texts are written, produced, through physical bodies, and the performance as well is produced through the body. The listener doesn’t have the right to turn back or to hear again, so that aspect of reading is missing. But gesture, voice, timbre, movement, create a textual experience in a reading. The text is also “selected” from the book. So, in fact, the performance of a text is a different artefact. Lots is possible there... When I write, however, I just work with sounding things out loud and with the relation between the sounds, words, the look of words, the page and my own voice or those of the voices in my head at that moment. I don’t really

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consider reception except insofar that I too am receiving the I write. while reading your latest book , The Unmemntioable, I had the experi-

ence of rifling through a private travel journal that had somehow found its way into my hands. I think a lot of this experience, beyond the structure of many of the poems as journal entries, can be attributed to the scraps of handwritten text, photographs, and everything else you call the “textual apparatus that is not text.”


How do you view the mmmmm it is the journal of more than one person, relationship between the or constructed as such. I think, in terms of the visual and textual elements of your poetry? visual relationship between different parts of the

text, or movements, or apparatus, that I conceive these as a whole, keeping in mind the way the eye operates, the way it searches and moves in the visual field, especially if there is something unusual there, unexpected. The eye is drawn then to read out of order—as we read headlines in newspapers without reading articles, necessarily, or skim across magazine articles and catch on photos or ads. How is the eye “caught” by text or spacings? That is a compositional question for me. The dimensionality of a text, and how text is enacted through various dimensions, sonorities, refractions, is always a question for me. The relation of the left side of the page with the right, the fact that some text is “overleaf” and invisible for a moment: all these things are compositional spaces for me. The socalled “communicative function” of language is not transparent at all for me. I’m interested in so many aspects of text, noise, movement in language.


These sonorities, placements, echoes, also open up readings of the work, live.


I noticed you were it s actually not a first for me I’ve long concredited with both the tributed the cover photograph or image to my cover and text design for The Unmemntioable, which book covers and since O Cidadán (2001) have I believe is a first for you. prepared the design...the publisher’s designers What did this amount of (Angel Guerra and Bill Douglas, variously) have “control” allow you to do with this book and will this just executed my design...until O Resplandor be a model you return to for (2010), when the designer preferred not to your future work?

have his name on a book he didn’t really design. I think on O Resplandor there is no designer listed at all, and on Little Theatres (2005) the designer removed his name from the back cover (but didn’t see it was still on the copyright page)...The Unmemntioable is the first time I’ve been credited with the design, I think. In my contracts with Anansi, I have long had a major say into the cover, as for me I write my books as artefacts, from the top left of the outside cover right to the bottom right corner of the back cover. I have some training in design from way back in high school when I double-streamed academics with being a “commercial art” student. I’ve also never had blurbs on my poetry book covers (there are two on my essay book), just excerpts from reviews, on occasion, or, more recently, salient quotes that mimic blurbs just by being placed on the cover.

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You’ve called The there s a quick answer to that question: for me, Unmemntioable an poetry is a conversation. It’s about language “infected” text; in the book we see the return of Elisa and movement in language, openings, crossSampedrín and appearances ings, paradoxes, contradictions, sounds, layers by Chus Pato, whom you’ve and lairs (and liars too), and as such, not about translated many times before. On the cover is a “the author” or “the poet.” It’s about contributphotograph of Vida Simon’s ing gladness, curiosity, revolt to something that visual art, and she is also someone you’ve worked with ranges more widely than an individual can. On previously. What draws you another level, even “my” poetry doesn’t mean to these real and not-so-real very much unless it is in conversation with the collaborations?

work of others outside “my” books. One poetry means because another poetry is also at work nearby. As I work on the text of a book, my reading affects me, emails Chus Pato sends affect me, my translation affects me. Enters the text, torques or pushes it. The infected text, to me, moves in ways that I can’t direct or could have never expected. I have to grow big ears, and make myself small, and just listen. Maybe that’s what I do obsessively, listen (the sound of the refrigerator behind me, light off the table I receive with my “ears,” how and the way the fridge sets up a sympathetic whirr somewhere in the controls of the stove...).


So, would you say introduce chance yes (though can chance be collaboration is a way avoided?), and add to brain power and surto introduce chance into your work? prises. There are many invisible collaborations

as well, as in my walks in the neighbourhood with artist Lani Maestro (see the cover image of O Cidadán, and of Pato’s Secession), walks in France with Lisa Robertson, tea in Montreal


with Oana Avasilichioaei, translating texts for the Pierre Dorion exhibition for Emeren García, conversation and brunch with Daphne Marlatt passing through town. Just missing Vida Simon ( ). These also alter my writing and thinking at any given moment.



Chance, or at least intention by necessity because it is a focus the idea of probabilities, and elimination, involves blind spots, I’d say, seems to carry some weight in this work. For instance, acknowledged or unacknowledged. And lanthe table of contents in guage always acts beyond its user’s intentions. The Unmemntioable is As with reading, both chance and intention arranged by the decreasing odds of something being true (which are not opposites) depend on what and the recurring image of you do with them, and how you let them act casting dice reminded me of Einstein’s proclamation that: upon you, upon your own organism. The ball’s “God does not play dice with always back in our court, and what then? Grab the universe.” How do you the rope and risk falling, I say. Or, as I recall view the relationship between chance and intention? Simone Weil writing somewhere, “Untruth,

which is the opposite of truth, may not be a lie.” Sometimes, as in The Unmemntioable, the harder you try to be true, the more of an inky spill arises! The crisis of decreasing odds (of certainty, of truth) is perhaps the most perplexing paradox of conducting an investigation (or creating a text that purports to). Truthfulness (the last part of the book, outside the odds, is in the form of a true is it, though?) does not always increase the chances of poetry not being a lie. It’s all part of the wrestling with subjectivity.

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Other than that, the reference to chance and odds in The Unmemntioable is a homage to my mother (who was mathematical, and loved a good gamble and could generally beat the house) and is a tip of the hat to my own essay book, My Beloved Wager, the wager there being to bet my life on poetry. Poetry and reading. The risk of reading something that you do not fully “understand.” you talked earlier about “keeping in mind the way the eye operates” and

in many of your essays and poems you use the ideas and language of science (such as entropy from the second law of thermodynamics and the structure and functioning of cells in an organism). Does this language connect again back to mathematics and your mother or is there a deeper interest in those topics? And why set up some of your arguments using those more scientific terms?

i just like knowing how the organism func-

tions, and knowing some of the mechanics of perception. The scientific explanations of perception and consciousness are also necessarily limited, but they do support the ideas of post-structuralist philosophy, in many ways. Science and philosophy are just different prisms on “reality.” And they interest me as modes of thinking that can be brought to bear on language, on the poem, on attentionality and intentionality. Beingness, in other words. Though my mother was a nurse, and I did grow up with her textbooks and discourse (laughing here: she never asked you if


you wanted a drink, she always asked if you wanted some “fluids,” for example). When I read or hear i guess my thinking on these matters stems the word “organism,” my from feminist practice, as well as scientific mind travels from cellular to individual to community, interest. Stems from my readings early on of with each a constituent part people like Donna Haraway and Judith Butler, or building block of the next larger unit. In what ways Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon too, among are you thinking of the or- others. And more recently, from the critical ganism and the functioning examinations of identity and culture, tempoof the organism?

rality and place, of people like Edouard Glissant speaking about spaces like the Caribbean that are not theorizable in standard Western European ways, and of folks like Kirsty Hooper talking about Galician culture (her 2011 book is amazing). Culture is traversed by bodies and the movements of bodies are not fully explainable by one set of categories. Always, bodies are in excess of cultural constructs, something in them always is. This is why I speak of organisms at times. I sense myself as organism, responding because the organic capacities and discapacities of my own embodiment affect my position at any given time (I am not completely defined by “the culture” or “a culture”). My fundamental identity is probably that of an allergic person. My first job everywhere is not to die. And from my own organism, I postulate that others are similar. We are in community, and that is important (for my voice is never really “mine,” it is traversed by echoes and movements from those around me, who can include people I am

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reading whose realities are physically and temporally far from mine), but we are also groups of cells that behave both in common, and in utterly unique ways.


If displacement is a by position above i mean a more abstract consequence of a body in sense than physical movement away from the excess of cultural constructs, how does this correspond familiar territory...“position” being how I am to “displacement as tactic” situated and received right where I am, and (from “Poetry, Memory, and the Polis” in My Beloved how my body struggles with or against that to Wager) in your writing? deposition and reposition itself (which can be

slight...). We are ALL always subjects and actors of multiple positionings at any given moment: allergic, student, gay or straight, male or female, racialized or not from outside the person, from inside the person, cyclist, 8-year-old kid glad at flowers, etc. Which affects my relation to language too. “Displacement” in your question, and in that essay, refers to pushing a linguistic boundary in and through the working of the poem, to displace something in the actual language or linguistic movement of the poem (and see what happens then!)....In that essay, part of the argument was that displacement-as-tactic needs constant renewal, in order to avoid the fixity of categories that it sought in the first place to break down. Because terms and arguments reify into “polarities” if the terms are not constantly examined and pushed. (I see this situation happening in many instances of the “lyric” and “conceptual” arguments we read around us these’s comical.)


Between The Unmem- and my translation of Pato’s Secession came out ntioable coming out in 2012 in 2012 as well, in a tiny limited edition for the and the two translated works (Chus Pato’s Hordes of Rotterdam festival! Writing and Louise Dupré’s I always work on more than one project, in Just Like Her) that came out in 2011, it seems like you more than one city, and I try to save time to help my engage with more than one friends too. I’m working right now on Insecession, an project at a time. What’s Erín version of Pato’s Secession, which is a literary keeping you busy at the moment? What can we look biography and poetics. I’m translating my English forward to in the future? translation of Chus’s Galician into my own life,

in English; for each piece of Pato’s in Secession, English version, I shall write an Erín piece of the same length. With luck, they’ll be published together on facing pages in 2014 in Canada. I’ve just finished a long version of a play, Kapusta, which is a kind of sequel to The Unmemntioable, and hope to get into a playwriting workshop or development track with a theatre company in 2013 or 2014, and publish the book version in 2015 (as a book of poetry, of course). I’m also doing groundwork for a big multi-author, polymedia project that probably won’t happen until 2015... oh, and my and Robert Majzels’ translation of Nicole Brossard’s White Piano will appear in February 2013 from Coach House (http://www.chbooks. com/catalogue/white-piano ). And doing a zillion small translations of poetry (Philippe Charron and, with Robert Majzels, of Nicole Brossard for Aufgabe section edited by Oana Avasilichioaei; Nicole Brossard for The Capilano Review, etc.). Plus I have to make a living translating commercial texts. And I have a couple of residencies upcoming at universities in Canada. ‘Tis a busy life!

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mnemonic [1] E. Tracy Grinnell

most is land dear land can cause a pronoun to wander can case a cause to land

the fear of cause (dear bird two sounds):

is land

why I am to write thrush sounds vary most of land is wonder to mean the land can cause a good cause to morpheme


the land a part

to hold one’s nature to a more amorous number

to rhine against the grain, current

to neva

or timber, migrant garden variety

or seine


grass root

it takes one more to the streets

and to waterways bodies / no other way

rationed for sections of gray or simply impermanent



this connective tissue fissured (color theory

142 E. Tracy Grinnell



epileptic caught propheteering, by countless rivers severed what was plain to every eye:

taken by the wings or anywhere in it

whether planetary, or species-specific the act of drowning with a flicker a ballast

a bowline

discard this vessel for the climax who discarded me or passerine instead of flightless


mnemonic [2]

may in the frame of a refrain or how paler in duration the citizen times itself to recapture the tension of windows or how beyond looking to the accessible becomes in action its threshold its screaming raven or commoner

144 E. Tracy Grinnell


in actual fact, the sense I have of land

the base, the archetype, the actual void

common poorwill in the dusk in the road

word for word for word

or what this would mean in terms


it’s pretty country in the dusk see: actual fact or southern hemisphere eyes of a nightjar in the road dear signal fire taken at my word

see: how it’s signed depends on illusions of solid ground


mnemonic [3]

figures set aside


simple impermanence

a cup of paint a worn-out oath

only gray and black (ashen)

studied in section

and then, a canyon is actually hollow

for the dead, it’s a hummingbird perhaps

146 E. Tracy Grinnell



t t t t t


mnemonic [5]

dear reform candidate, these are things in flight, airs mirrored in gestures undermined by the uses of my nature companioned in the wings comrade, your domesticated livestock image your image of me, a diatribe is a helpful relation if anything, nothing comes first or before a round on the house

148 E. Tracy Grinnell

excerpts from Das Kapital Viken Berberian

he dreamt that the world was coming to an end, yet there was no sign

of a tumultuous ending, of the sky falling down, of screeching screams or sirens. He sat in front of a computer screen, Zen-like, watching the numbers fall. He knew by the size of their drop how much money he had made. He did not have to listen to the news to know this. The numbers said everything. He went deeper into sleep, resigned to an inner faintness. He rolled over in his bed, an oracular smile on his face, as if he knew all of this would somehow happen. He let out a laugh, unable to control his facial movements as one benchmark tumbled after another. Then someone whispered in his ear: “Shshhhhhhhhh. Sell, Wayne, sell, or you’ll be wiped out. Shshhhhhhhhh. Sell, Wayne, sell, you better sell now.” He turned on his belly and spread out his arms, his body covered in glistening sweat. His fingers twitched on an imaginary keyboard like a concert pianist playing a mournful prelude, an end-of-the-world elegy to humanity. An amber graph appeared on the upper left-hand corner of his screen, charting the big bang of the human heart. Then, without warning, the numbers halted their fall. A searing pain penetrated his lumbering body. When he woke up everything around him was just as it had been the day before. His loft was functional, almost empty. There were the requisite designer pieces: the pliable plastic bookcase inspired more by itself than by the ideas that it held; the hand-woven tatami in place of a back-friendly mattress; the Ingo Maurer lamp whose fragile frame suggested a home absent of children. The floor was cement gray, just as it had been yesterday. He looked out his windows across the Westside Highway. The abandoned warehouses were still there, remnants of a forgotten recession when he was still a toddler.


There was order all around him. His undershirts were stacked by increments of seven. His books were arranged by color. His furniture was mostly Nordic, linear. He woke up at 5:00 every morning, including Sundays, not because he was an insomniac, but because there was work to be done. He checked the weather forecast along the Mediterranean Basin; measured the tropics of terror below the 35th parallel; the corn yield in Kansas; the price of Brent crude oil at $70 a barrel; the cases of missing forests, wholly uprooted, whittled and wasted, unreported. Nature. He disliked its prickly stems, its bramble and bush, the obstinate precision of its cycles, its preconfigured calendar, the coded tapestry of its patterns, the singular and undeviating smugness of its hills standing stubbornly in the way of human progress. Before going to work he studied the atlas under a desk lamp, passing his magnifying glass over deltas, oceans and valleys. From Kabul to New York, always drifting from the periphery to the core, in precise concentric circles. At the office he stared into a luminous screen, into his precipitous and fateful future. He was chained to his Gloomberg, yet to him, the Gloomberg was more than a processor of bad news. It was a repository of the outside world; a guardian of numerical itineraries; a facilitator of greater wealth and its destruction. They called him Wayne in the financial community, though no one knows for sure if that’s his real name. There have been unconfirmed sightings at the Odeon, where someone claims to have seen him once eating with his hands, even of pissing on his plate. They are not to be believed. Rumors. They are there to be denied, or if the market is open, to be traded on. at the midtown offices of the hedge fund a heavy downpour drummed

on the windows. Then, all of a sudden, the rain stopped and a streak of sunlight broke through a cumulus cloud. Wayne looked outside. The surrounding landscape was a concentration of glass and steel, vertical gulags lost in the clouds below. Facing his electronic terminal he felt like he was in the cockpit of a fighter jet, a creature of pure movement and speed.

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Trading was like space-time arbitrage, the twisting vectors of a supersonic jet. It did not matter whose side he was on. He belonged to a society where transactions superseded human relations. There were no friends or enemies in the steel and glass towers, just transactions, best made in silence or against the neutral whirr of the air conditioner. Like a fighter pilot he was trained in quick reversals, though instead of dropping a bomb his trademark was to borrow and sell stock. He looked into the Gloomberg. Everything became clear again. There were familiar diagrams on his two screens. Each plotted point was the expression of a just measure. Each fraction was a clue to a hidden treasure. Each decimal lent dignity to a perverse pleasure, until a 24k bloc crossed the tape. The bids were relentless, growing bigger in size. This made Wayne neither happy nor sad. He took pride in dominating the odds, but when they turned against him he rarely complained, pretending to be immune to the market’s gyrations, to the occasional dirty tricks that life played on him. “It’s a hostile take over,” his trader said. “How’s it being financed?” “Not sure, just hit the tape. Let me call some guys and get a refresher on it.” “Forget it, just lose it. Let’s just fucking get out.” He felt triumphant at the end of the third calendar quarter. Most hedge funds had lost money betting on a rebound. Screw them. He had warned them of the coming catastrophe, but they did not listen. Whose fault was that? Last week he warned a portfolio manager about buying shares of Mickey D’s. “Dude, everyone likes a hamburger,’’ he shot back. “It’s like a noncyclical. I don’t know what the right price is, but if it pops up, God Bless America.’’ “But it’s not gonna go up,” Wayne said. “It has no juice.” “Trust me, it’s gonna rip.” “Rip my ass. It’s sitting on its ass.” “Whatever, dude.” as a terrible undertow swept the market, Wayne turned his attention to

another beleaguered stock. He entered the ticker of a Corsican timber


company into the Gloomberg. The Bustaci Freres Fibre Company was the only paper maker in the world located on an island. Most of the traders who bought and sold Bustaci stock did not know that Corsica was an island, or that it was the birthplace of Napoleon, or that the Corsicans spoke their own language, which was perhaps not as cryptic as Armenian, but was quite difficult to discern in its own right. All they cared about was whether Bustaci would produce more timber next year than last, or if it would increase its corrugated cardboard output, or if the stock price went up or down. On the global exchanges investors took a bulimic stance on Bustaci shares and their bouts of irrational buying were often followed by episodes of self-induced vomiting. No one knew the reason for this obsessive behavior. The stock made an effort to climb back at the start of the week following a Lehman Brothers upgrade. “I’ve spoken with the Lehman analyst,” Wayne shouted to no one in particular. “This is one brother who has his head up his ass.” “It’s up a buck,” his trader IM’d back. “It’s a fake out, sell more of it.” “You got it, boss.” A few minutes later the stock began to drop just as Wayne had surmised. “I knew I was right,” Wayne said. “This bitch is going down faster than a Ukrainian hooker.” And so he sat in front of the Gloomberg, frozen, watching the numbers fall, as if the world was coming to a quiet, civilized end. “Sell, sell, sell,” Wayne screamed at the Gloomberg. “Sell, or you’ll be wiped out.” Soon after this visceral outburst the S&P faltered and one benchmark tumbled after another. Nasdaq dropped the most since the bombings in Beirut. At the end of June, the S&P dropped twelve handles. Wayne instructed the trade desk to raise cash and prepare for a sharper fall. When the market closed he looked at the plant perched on his desk. It looked more uncertain than the stock symbols on his screen. He ran his palm over a leaf. It felt like an extraterrestrial tongue, viscous and velvety. This sensation made him twitch, this feeling of being affected by an alien world. He longed for something familiar, like the comforting pattern of an oblong distribution. He examined the plant for a

152 Viken Berberian

long time, before counting the recurring patterns on one of its leaves. There were five main lobes radiating from the stem. The sub-lobes were similar to the larger ones in outline, structured in overlapping spirals. They were arranged in a logarithmic Fibonacci sequence that moved toward the golden ratio the way n approaches infinity. It was music to his ears, a paean to phi (ø), which is the closest he ever hoped to get to perfection. wayne felt uneasy about his good fortune in the market. What joy was

there in making money from the misery of the planet? At least he had her emails to look forward to after she left. He went into his inbox to see if she had written to him. The market was about to open. For the first time in many years he did not care about the numbers. He did not care if Nasdaq opened flat, if it gapped up, or if it spent the entire day trading sideways. There was an FOMC meeting later in the day. He waited for hours for the anticipated reduction in the overnight rate. When the Fed dropped rates, he yawned. He fell into a lull. She finally sent him an email. He dug into it like an archeologist. He flipped each word upside down, searching for clues into the hidden meta-language of her mind. What would he find there? Steel pipe structures maybe, or the buckling load of an isotropic sphere, a mesh of almost equilateral triangles, layers of pipes tied by bridles, elastic instabilities, the meridians and parallels of a dome perhaps, the ponding of a flat roof following water accumulation. The day after she returned to Marseille she skipped her engineering class. Her mind was far from the finer points of force and form. She enjoyed answering his questions about wide-angled steel beams, but did he really care about her? “Mon cher gros bébé cheri,” she wrote. “I’m not sure when we’ll meet again, but I’d like you to know that I am on your side, thinking of you. Love, Alix” To which Wayne responded with budding signs of sentiment, while the stock market traded sideways:


Roses are red Violets are blue I keep rolling in my bed Thinking of you. There is this alkaloid girl Her name is Alix She is my little pearl Lost in the tropics. Her left eye is sleepy For some it may be creepy But I like the distance Between her pupil and mine. Roses are red Violets are blue The stock market is dead And I love you too. Minutes later, while he was selling Icelandic bonds, an Instant Message popped on his screen. “For a second I confused your poem for one of Frederic Mistral’s,” she wrote. “Have you thought about giving up stock trading and considered a career as poet?”

154 Viken Berberian

the First in Two Things Joel Tomfohr

perhaps , to speak of all things , this story begins with the Italian-Turkish

War in 1911 with an Italian pilot named Giulio Gavotti who was the first in two things: he was the first pilot to fly a night mission, and, on November 1, 1911 he was the first pilot to drop a bomb from a plane. He dropped his bomb (three, actually), a hand grenade the size of a pomelo and weighing four pounds called a cipelli, from a Taube monoplane. This plane was designed by an Austrian, Igo Etrich, so perhaps one sees that the whole innovation was really a group effort and not just the genius of one man. Gavotti was a pilot fighting for Italy, still a young country in 1911, less than fifty years old, not even one lifetime so. The Italians converged on parts of the Ottoman Empire, now in steep decline and including Libya (where Gavotti would drop the first bomb from his plane) where they thought they would be greeted as liberators. From below, the Turks might have thought the monoplane, the Taube, would have looked like a giant and flimsy bird and Gavotti had never dreamt of flying in this way, though he, like all little boys had dreams of flight and on that morning he made two passes, the first to read the lay of the land and the second to make what is now understood as a bomb run. Had the Turks known what the first and second passes meant, they might have been terrorized by Gavotti’s first pass, but they were not. On the second pass he pulled the metal pin from the pomelo-sized cipelli grenade with his teeth and lobbed it out the side of his plane careful not to hit his own wing. Then he dropped another, and one more for final and good measure. So, really, Gavotti dropped the first three bombs


ever in the history of mankind, or at least this is what all accounts report. Many accounts are exaggerated: for instance, the Turks claim the cipelli hand grenades hit a civilian hospital outside the contested area and caused great loss of life, claims revealed to be false. Well, a hospital was blown apart, but an artillery shell was found to be the culprit after later inquiry. Nothing is said of the possible dead, passed perhaps from 300 to 400 feet above, and so imagine feeling compassion for something that one can barely see or, if seen, see as one might see ants scurrying along a sidewalk in summer as a child. Distance in time, too, creates an inverse effect with one’s sympathy (just as physical distance from a thing). It has now happened so long ago and from the Western perspective, floating above at 300 to 400 feet, who were these people in the hospital and were they killed by anything at all except for their own failing health? Both sides claimed major damage occurred for their own reasons during the bombing, and it was publicly decried as barbaric by Western nations including Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States. Privately, however, the bombing was a curiosity that piqued the imaginations of politicians and generals alike, a subject of study and inquiry like Darwin’s findings at the Galapagos Islands. Upon examinations, they decided that the raid wasn’t as successful as the first reports had claimed—the cipellis that did detonate did so far from their mark in the vast Libyan desert, while the others that did not detonate fell to the sandy earth with an innocuous and anechoic thud. And perhaps the terror the Turks felt, terror which was later revealed to be untrue—the Turks were not scared—rather seized on the opportunity to zero in on the flimsy and slow Italian Taube monoplanes with their machine guns and shoot them from the sky, a technique they had perfected while targeting other Italian dirigibles floating by, it seemed, like clouds or like specters in a dream, over the battlefields of Libya. The point, the point is this, that theirs was the beginning of some kind of protracted terror, the unconscious kernel of fear that would haunt

156 Joel Tomfohr

mankind for years into the future and that is a result of automated wars conducted in the air, yes, the unconscious rumblings and soothsaying of the human psyche, the mantic collective that sees the awful end before it has arrived—the terrible logic of the human psyche kicks into overtime like a thousand gears and wheels spinning and spinning the answers and here we end up in the future, we end up at the end in 1911 with stories of demolition and destruction of automated air warfare. Enter the artist, unknown after all these years, to illustrate for humanity what inquiry after the fact, hindsight, could not. For instance, an article in The London Illustrated News depicted the scene from the ground, the retreating Turkish-Arabian troops being pursued by a flock of Italian Taube monoplanes like deathbirds, the background a silent and artistically rendered sky lit up by silent exploding bombs. But this was never actually seen, rather dreamed up by the special artist in the field. Or maybe he dreamed this up the night before or early in the morning that Gavotti dropped his bombs, while Gavotti was taking his coffee and bread, the special artist on the field dreamt and drew logic and reason’s preordained apocalypse, his one and only masterpiece before he slipped away into obscurity and, to this day, remains unknown except as a shadowy figure flickering dimly in the seemingly endless corridors of human history. Finally, Gavotti, in his letters home to his father, wrote of his anticipation of being the first person to drop bombs from planes in the naïve and vague way that reminds one of the myopic and single-minded vision of youths in college not understanding what they must do, but trusting that they must do it, and blindly setting forth in that way: It is the first time that we will try this and if I succeed, I will be really pleased to be the first person to do it. Of this, he wrote more: Today two boxes full of bombs arrived. We are expected to throw them from our planes. It is very strange that none of us have been told about this, and we haven’t received any instruction from our superiors. So we are taking the bombs on board with the greatest precaution. And, finally, this: It will be very interesting to try them on the Turks.


Perhaps Gavotti’s father wondered why it will be interesting and maybe he did not. Or maybe one can only hope he wondered at this vague word, a word filled with unknown implications and, to some degree, humility in the face of speculation, in the face of scientific experiment as if one was throwing an unknown element into a Petri dish and examining it under a microscope: interesting. Of this, more later.

158 Joel Tomfohr

July 24 th, 1997 Brenda Iijima

Of course i’m forever intrigued by Joan of Arc—she’s a solid person of historical importance. There are texts about her life, her achievements, it’s miraculous that her record survived in this male dominated patriarchal system that has existed before hunter and gatherers in leather skirts began to architect cities, etc. What’s more, Joan was defiant against all odds. Her rebelliousness was grounded and purposeful yet she also was governed by steadfast voices guiding her, in her head, still these voices didn’t diminish her functioning on a daily basis, defending her people, etc. She wasn’t thought of as mentally compromised or insane. One of the chief reasons for imprisonment was her refusal to wear women’s clothing. Much can be said about what seems a subtle infraction yet contains so much power and implication. Symbolic performances count and account for so much politically. Compliance from Joan would have meant she never left a trace in history. To wear the pants—presentation is loaded, even the garments matter. When she was in imprisonment at Marguy for five and a half months, the Burgundians held Joan while waiting for King Charles to provide a ransom of 61,125 francs. This offer fell through when the King failed to pay out the ransom; subsequently Joan was sold to the English, the invaders of France. It turns out that her country denied her rights and protection to invaders. A feeling heart! Along Broadway near Columbia, booksellers line up on the sidewalk selling paperbacks and hardcover selections. I purchased Saint Joan of Arc, the biography written by V. Sackville-West published in 1973 along this stretch for $3.00. It is written in a slightly stilted tone and the pages are the color of brown sugar—the book smells of the sun and burnt brittle paper. The brief biographical statement concerning Vita Sackville-West is quite interesting and it appears before the frontispiece. V. Sackville-West had


an unusual life and background. Her mother was the eldest daughter of the Spanish gipsy dancer known as Pepita, and Lionel Sackville-West, diplomat and later second Lord Sackville. V. Sackville-West grew up at Knole, one of the great country houses of England. In 1913 she married Harold Nicholson, a promising diplomat who later abandoned the service to become a writer. Together they bought Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, and it was here that V. Sackville-West lived and wrote for the remainder of her life. Apart from her great poems The Land and The Garden, and other poetry, she wrote novels, the most famous of which is The Edwardians, and many distinguished biographies.1 The events and circumstances of Joan’s story are complex. They concern geography, bloodlines, invasion, internecine battles, nationality, kingdoms, gender, sexuality, mysticism, neurology, religion, the law, concepts of femininity, punitive measures, fifteenth century rural French and English policy, communication, heretical action, affective undertone, fashion and ecology. Vita uses a strong, bold tonality in her accounts of Joan—it’s as if she was a member of Joan’s support staff—and she isn’t hesitant to point out where Joan was shortsighted or miscalculated her moves because of passion and conviction. She characterizes Joan as a victim of her own ideées fixes.2 She doesn’t assume intimacy or total competence of her subject: Joan, rather she develops an understanding that unfolds in the real time of Joan’s undertakings. We also get to know every little machination about every player, Kings, Dukes, Duchys, Bishops, Cardinals, Joan’s retinue, the peasants in the village she grew up in, and the myriad eye witnesses who encountered Joan. In chapter 17 Vita outlines the final trial and execution details relating to Joan’s sentence. The sound of these proceedings is as follows: A few formalities remained to be accomplished, and the next day, Tuesday, May 29th, was given up to them. Forty-one voices were heard at the convocation summoned by Cauchon to attend in the archiepiscopal chapel, and in all those forty-one opinions there was only one opinion:

1 V. Sackville-West, Saint Joan of Arc, Quartet Books, London, 1973. 2 Ibid, p. 203.

160 Brenda Iijima

‘Relapsed heretic.’ The first speaker, Nicolas de Venrères, Archdeacon of Eu and Canon of Rouen Cathedral, expressed himself in terms which might seem misleading to any reader unversed in ecclesiastical law: That Jeanne shall be abandoned to secular justice, with request that they shall act mercifully towards her. This phrase does not mean what its amiable wording suggests. It is a mere formula, devised by the ingenuity of the Church, a euphemistic way of saying that the culprit shall be burnt. These niceties were perfectly understood between the ecclesiastical and the secular authorities.3 Virginia Woolf addressed her dear friend Vita as “Dearest Creature,” a term of endearment bridging the animal and the human world. Woolf based her book, Orlando on Vita. Also, it is exciting to note that Woolf and V. Sackville-West once were lovers. No one remarked upon any of these details in school.

3 Ibid, p. 320.



elmaz abinader is a writer from Oakland who has published a memoir,

Children of the Roojme, a collection of poems, In the Country of My Dreams and has written and performed several plays. She teaches at Mills College and is the co-founder of VONA ( rae armantrout ’s book Just Saying was published by Wesleyan University

Press in 2013. Her book Versed (Wesleyan) won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She teaches at U.C. San Diego.

viken berberian is the author of two novels: The Cyclist (Simon & Schuster,

2002), and Das Kapital (Simon & Schuster, 2007). His short story, Le Plagiaire, was published in Revue DĂŠcapage in France (Flammarion/Gallimard, 2013). His work of fiction and non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times and Le Monde Diplomatique and translated to five languages. dmitry borshch is an American artist of Soviet origin. He was born in

Dnepropetrovsk, studied in Moscow, today lives in New York and exhibits internationally. His work has been exhibited at the National Arts Club (NY), Brecht Forum (NY), Exit Art (NY), CUNY Graduate Center (NY), Salmagundi Club (NY), ISE Cultural Foundation (NY), Frieze Art Fair (London).

julian talamantez brolaski is the author of Advice for Lovers (City Lights

2012), gowanus atropolis (Ugly Duckling Presse 2011) and co-editor of NO GENDER: Reflections on the Life & Work of kari edwards (Litmus Press/ Belladonna Books 2009). Julian lives in Brooklyn where xe is an editor at Litmus Press and plays country music with Juan & the Pines ( New work is on the blog hermofwarsaw. Originally from Ann Arbor, MI, christian fagerlund relocated to southern California and received his B.A. from the University of California Santa Barbara. In 2004, he received his M.F.A. from the New York Academy of Art, where he was a fellowship recipient. He now lives and works in Oakland, CA. cristina garcía is the author of six novels, anthologies, children’s books,

and poetry. Her latest, King of Cuba, is a darkly comic novel featuring a fictionalized Fidel Castro and will be published in May 2013. Currently, she is University Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State UniversitySan Marcos. andrew sean greer is the author of four works of fiction, including The

Confessions of Max Tivoli and The Story of a Marriage. His next novel, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, comes out in June 2013. He lives in San Francisco. e . tracy grinnell is the author of Helen: A Fugue (Belladonna), Some

Clear Souvenir (O Books), and Music or Forgetting (O Books). New and recent work is collected in the manuscripts Hell Figures, portrait of a lesser subject, and All the Rage. She lives in Brooklyn and is the founding editor and director of Litmus Press. brenda iijima ’s collection, UNTIMELY DEATH IS DRIVEN BEYOND

THE HORIZON, is forthcoming from 1913 Press. She runs Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs and lives in Brooklyn.

toshiya kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the Univer-

sity of Arkansas. His translations include Liliana Blum’s The Curse of Eve and Other Stories (2008), Naoko Awa’s The Fox’s Window and Other Stories (2010), Espido Freire’s Irlanda (2011), and Selfa Chew’s Silent Herons (2012). fowzia karimi was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and immigrated to California

at the age of seven. She draws inspiration from the visual and natural worlds, and invokes these to describe what is her central obsession: the interior world of dreams and memory. Karimi is currently finishing her first novel, Above Us the Milky Way, a fictionalized, illustrated account of her childhood, for which she received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for 2011. She lives in Oakland, California. laleh khadivi received her MFA from Mills College in 2006. She is the

author of The Age of Orphans and The Walking. She lives in the Fairfax Marin and enjoys jazz music and bourbon, separately and together. ˜ muthoni kiarie is a Kenyan writer living in Oakland. She writes fiction


based on Kenyan political history after the regaining of independence from the British in 1963. Her work uncovers memories small and large on the socio-economic as well as the ethnic landscapes that make up Kenya. cheena marie lo lives in Oakland, CA, where they co-curate the Manifest

Reading Series.

marcus lund holds an MFA from Mills College. His work has appeared

in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Nib Magazine, 34th Parallel, and Brink Magazine, among others. He is currently working on his first novel with the help of his pug, Iris.

Illustrations for Brief Interviews were inspired by John Cage and executed by a drawing coalition of Mills MFAs (Studio Art), past and present: barbara obata , jenny sharaf , kelsey thorne , nadja miller , ethan worden , simon pyle , kate rhoades , and dave young kim . Original instructions for drawing each portrait: 1) throw two dice 2) multiply numbers 3) draw that number of marks for each portrait of photo 4) move to next portrait and repeat. patricia powell is the author of Me Dying Trial, A Small Gathering of

Bones, The Pagoda and most recently, The Fullness of Everything. She is currently at work on a memoir, Lover I’m Home. Powell teaches in the MFA Program at Mills College. joel tomfohr lives in Oakland and teaches in San Francisco. In January he

attended a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, and an MA in English from University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This is his first publication. sara uribe was born in Querétaro in 1978 and since 1996 has lived in

Tamaulipas. She has written several books of poetry, including Palabras más palabras menos (2006). English translations of her poems have appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Gargoyle, Harpur Palate, The Journal, and So to Speak, among others. Internationally recognized and acclaimed poet anne waldman has been an active member of the “Outrider” experimental poetry community, a culture she has helped create and nurture for over four decades, as writer, editor, master teacher, performer, poetics scholar, infra-structure curator, and cultural/political activist.

580 SPLIT was designed by emji spero for Mills College, using Minion Pro for body text and Knockout for titling. This journal was offset printed by 1984 printing, womenowned and operated, on 100% recycled papers with soy-based, zero-VOC cmyk inks, recycled black ink, and animal-free book binding, 2013. oakland , california

580 Split Issue 15 - Obsession (2013)  

The Obsession Issue: Interviews with Rikki Ducornet, Robert Grenier, Bhanu Kapil, and Erín Moure. New work by Rae Armantrout, Andrew Sean...

580 Split Issue 15 - Obsession (2013)  

The Obsession Issue: Interviews with Rikki Ducornet, Robert Grenier, Bhanu Kapil, and Erín Moure. New work by Rae Armantrout, Andrew Sean...