Monday, October 25, 2010

6 questions with Joseph Ross

1) I understand that you are originally from California, how has the move east affected your work?

JR: I don't know if the move east affected it specifically. Rather, I think my work is always affected by my place. In Washington, D.C. my world is very diverse and that is reflected in my poetry. My relationship, my love of another man is certainly reflected in my work, not as explicitly as for some gay poets but it's always there. The "outside-ness" of that reality is always there. I think my move to Washington, D.C. was also a move into the unknown and that pilgrimage or search is very present in my poetry.

2) When did you start writing poetry? Who were your original influences?

JR: I began writing poetry in high school and it was awful, of course. I continued in college and it got a little better but not until I was in graduate school at Notre Dame did I begin to feel like I was truly taking it seriously. My strongest influence is probably the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. He's very traditional but his poems have mattered to me all my life. I have to say Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes are both powerful influences and have been since high school. More recently, Martin Espada's poems have affected me a lot.

3) You are associated with what I would call “witness” or “poetry of consciousness”, has your poetry come from your convictions?

JR: I think so, yes. I think some of my poetry comes from my desire to bear witness, to tell the story others cannot tell. My Darfur poems (a series I've written) seeks to do that. I think the poet in the world today needs to speak what he sees. When I look at the world, I don't see "roses and moonlight" as Langston Hughes said. I see a suffering, difficult world and so that is the world I write about.

4) How do you find time to write?

JR: I just make it. I don't have a lot of sympathy for poets who complain that they have no time to write. I might not write everyday, but nearly do. You make time for the things that matter to you and writing matters to me. I can't imagine going without it. I'm grateful that I don't have the deserts of non-writing some poets talk about.

5) What was the first book of poetry you bought for yourself (not for class)?

JR: It was the collected works of William Butler Yeats.

6)Tell me a little about your current projects, I understand you have a mss.

JR: Yes. I have a manuscript called "Meeting Bone Man" which is a reflection on mortality from a variety of perspectives: personal, political, spiritual. I am currently working on a second manuscript which uses lots of religious or spiritual images and themes. It is titled "The Gospel of Dust." I'm very excited about it because it takes me back to religious images whose meanings have changed for me. I deliberately had to go without them for a time but now I am comfortable with them again-- although in a new way.

6 questions with Jillian Bledsoe

1) So, you are married to a writer/poet. I am wondering if you both attempt to write at the same time in the same house, or if you relegate yourself to separate locations to create

JB : It’s funny that you ask about how the two of us write. It’s actually writing that brought us together in the first place, but once we hit grad school our careers took two very different paths. My process is incredibly different from Cort’s. He’s obsessive about writing – he feels like he’s somehow failed at life if he doesn’t write something every day, so he’s up early and keeps the peace with a mug of tea and his laptop first thing in the morning. I really don’t start to function until about 10 am, despite the fact that I’m in the classroom long before that, but that’s okay because I write in stolen minutes and always have, even when I was dedicating years of my life to the study of writing. I like feeling like there’s some element of danger – real or imagined – to what I’m doing while I write. I remember writing a poem while I was driving down 123 in Fairfax, VA at 4 am. That was a great poem, and one I shared with Cort years later, but that doesn’t always happen. Maybe I’ve got a little Dickinson in me, secreting myself away in a corner of the house while Cort’s out checking the mail, never to know that I’ve just written a poem or two. For me, it’s less about fulfilling a basic need than succumbing to a guilty pleasure. Cort’s a creature of habit, I’m a little kinky. It works.

2) Are there any topics or themes that repeat themselves in your work?

JB: I find myself writing about loss of innocence a lot. Not in the sexual sense, or even with a feeling of sadness at its passing, but it’s there, nevertheless. This “theme” in my writing happens to be incredibly tied in with a sense of place for me, especially a place that my mother’s family used to go to every summer until I was 18, when my Grandfather finally sold the house on Newfound Lake. In fact, my whole Master’s thesis is centered around the loss of that place and the subsequent loss of my own innocence. Weirdly, the memories that I have of being in that place with my mother’s siblings and parents aren’t happy, by any stretch (we’re a bit dysfunctional to say the least), but it’s the place itself that seems to call to me still. I have great memories of my own nuclear family enjoying each other tremendously, both in and out of the water, but somehow the sale of the house in New Hampshire became enmeshed in my own mind with the slow loss of sanity that my grandmother has undergone as a result of altzheimer’s, the breast cancer my own mother battled, the degredation of my father’s spirit by years of beurocratic bullshit and my own (rather late) separation from my parents as I entered adulthood and the relationship that would turn out to be my marriage. So yeah, loss of innocence on lots of levels pops up again and again in my work, especially since I am constantly surprised at the shit the world can throw at me, even after 32 years living in it.

3) When you decided to begin writing poetry, who were your influences?

JB: First, you should know that when I started college, it was with absolutely no direction, a complete lack of any sort of plan, and it was only by the grace of the GMU admissions department that I was there at all. I applied to one school, just ‘cause, after I “graduated” from high school with a 1.7 gpa and a 790 verbal SAT score (and a 400 math.) I had just stopped playing the violin after 8 years and had turned down early admission to another university, and I was sooooooooo lost. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that my advisor (having counseled me to try behavioral psych, biology, communications and journalism at one point or another, based on what I told her I liked studying) told me I could major in English. After that? Well, you know the saying. I don’t remember making the decision to write poetry, it was just always something I turned to when I needed to create something beautiful and I couldn’t bear to pick up my violin. My dad is an unbelievably beautiful writer, and I have always loved his words, so the natural extension of that love was simply to write my own. He used to say, and still does say “How do I know what I think until I write it down?” To discover that I could study words and play with them and write them and learn to make them sing AS A MAJOR . . . heaven. The first day of my creative writing workshop, I got to hear Marvin Bell read “Dorothy” to his wife, who stood with me in the back of the campus bookstore. Love at first word, that was. From there, I discovered Pablo Neruda (that was an awesome summer!), then Howard Nemerov’s “Window Pane”, Michael Ondaatje’s “Handwriting” and Margaret Atwood’s “Power Politics”, thanks to Jennifer Atkinson, my excellent teacher and mentor, and then it was on to Adrienne Rich’s “The Fact of a Doorfram”, Lucille Clifton, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder and still more.

4) I know that your husband, the poet C L Bledsoe, writes a good deal about his youth in Arkansas. Does "place" play a big role in your work?

JB: pretty much answered this with #3

5) I have witnessed a "team reading" of the Bledsoes. A little back and forth between the two of you as you alternate reading poems. Any chance of seeing some of that on November 5, 2010 when you read at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA?

JB: I would venture to guess it won’t be too hard to get my self-deprecating husband up on stage to have fun with two of the things he loves most in this world: Writing and Me (probably in that order, too!) If there’s cheese dip involved, the man might die of bliss on the spot. We may have something special to share . . . you never can tell with the Bledsoes . . .

6) What was the first book of poetry that you bought for yourself?

JB: I think the first book of poetry I bought for myself was this awesome Penguin Pocket Anthology of Contemporary American Poets that I have since made my senior English students buy in whatever edition it is currently available. The one I bought for myself has got a light green cover and really cute, swirly writing on it, and it has every poet I’ve ever loved in it, which tells me that’s probably where I first met them. I’ve gone on so many book sprees since then, it’s hard to recall, but all my heavies are in that one volume, and it lives on my desk with my dad’s thesaurus from junior high, a copy of Lewis Thomas’ “The Medussa and the Snail” borrowed from my dad, and my favorite Shakespearean play, Titus Andronicus. If I have those books, I can count myself as one among the human race. Without them? Highly suspect

Friday, October 22, 2010

October (after the fact)

Am conducting "after-the-fact" interviews with christophe casamassima and M. Magnus for their readings at the Poetry Lab on October 1, 2010. The entire reading is on our Plan B Press Youtube presence. Due to an illness on my part, I was not able to conduct my normal interviews ahead of time. So, we will attempt to recreate the anticipation and surprise of this event as it was M. Magnus's first reading of his newest book, Heraclitean Pride.

1) Congratulations on your new book, can you talk about it a bit?

MM: Heraclitean Pride (Furniture Press 2010) is a
re-creation/recreation of Heraclitus' lost book, based on the
fragments and bits of biography that have come down to us from this
ancient Greek philosopher. It is the kind of transformational
repetition best understood in accordance with his most famous
fragment, "You can't step into the same river twice."

Throughout history, Heraclitus' fragments - some popularized in
familiar phrases, such as "Character is Destiny" and "Expect the
Unexpected"- have had an incredible magnetism, and the philosopher
himself emanates a mystique that certainly I've been susceptible to,
and inspired by; on the way to Heraclitean Pride, I immersed myself
in the coursing vitality of his words and insights.

In terms of thematic or infectious force, I consider Heraclitus' lost
book to be a secret - hidden, invisible, nevertheless powerful -
contributing work to the canon of the Cult of the Free Spirit, a
precursor to all sorts of Gnostic shenanigans in Medieval times, and
to the subsequent philosophical-poetic shackle-breaking you find in
Nietzsche, Artaud, Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). So,
Heraclitean Pride activates the lost book in highly subjective yet
rigorous fashion - a TAZ of the mind, at least.

This last statement I think more flip than strict to the terms (from
Gnosticism to the famous Medieval Heresy to TAZ), but then all the
more in keeping with that thrust of liberation.

2) Your initial reading for the book was at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry on Oct. 1, 2010. You have had some readings since then, how has the response been so far?

MM: Since that initial reading for your Poetry Lab at the Soundry,
Steven, living with Heraclitean Pride in its published form - and
sharing it before its "official" release (it will soon be available
through Small Press Distribution) - has been like sitting next to a
lit fuse.

3) I seem to recall that you are originally for California. Has "place" had any impact on your work?

MM: I do not think "place" has a direct impact on my work. That is,
you won't find much more than some surface imagery of surroundings or
local color. This is probably more relevant to the decade I spent in
New Orleans than my youth up and down California, since much writing
out of New Orleans (pre-Katrina) was all about its local color - and
vampires. My environment and the events that impose themselves on me
tend to get internalized: they remain topologically congruent to the
external geography, but turned-inside out, and usually unrecognizable.

On the other hand, the basically hedonistic sensibilities of
California in the '70s and '80s - and, of course, New Orleans through
the millennium - are part of my bone-structure; although in my own
life I'm tasked with a literary mission best fortified by the Stoics,
I'm put off by Atlantic coast stodginess, the matching of intellectual
credibility with drabness, the gray palette... and truly take
prudishness, moralistic snobbery, artistic conventionality, and
illiberal religious complacency to be forms of life-cowardice.

Now if you had asked about community, that would be a different story.
Literary circles from the D.C. metro area up to Baltimore - esp those
consciously engaging key issues in contemporary poetics - have been

4) How long have you been writing poetry? What started you down this path?

MM: On my 20th birthday, I made a blood-vow level commitment to
myself to be a "real" writer, whatever that meant, and whatever that
brought me. On the principle Goethe uttered, that "at the moment of
commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you," within a few
weeks I started to hear what and how I was going to write. Those
early whisperings were indeed to become poems. Before that, I'd
groped across many a page with my pen, but nothing that gave me a
sense of knowing I was on task. Very New Age, I admit it! But, hey -
California again.

5) What was the first book of poetry that you got for yourself?

MM: Jim Carroll's Living at the Movies. I was probably 14, 15. 10th
grade. Maybe Patti Smith's Witt the same day. I still have the
copies. Yet, of course, there were books of poetry already in my home
- unread until I cracked them open. Leaves of Grass most
particularly. The Iliad. Rimbaud's A Season in Hell and The Drunken
Boat from New Directions had to come from outside of the home at some
point, same general time. "Je ne me sentis plus guide par les

6) You are the driving force behind Yockadot Poetics Theatre, please tell us about that festival.

MM: Yockadot is a wonderful memory. I absolutely cherish the
organizational camaraderie shared with fellow-initiators Bonnie Jones,
Ric Royer, and Lauren Bender.

The concept of "poetics theatre" continues to intrigue me, parallel to
Rodrigo Toscano's Collapsible Poetics Theater, which performed at our
Spring 2007 launch. The website for the festival easily provides an
idea of the excitement of our offerings over two weekends that April
and May: Toscano. Rare stagings of plays by poets
such as Lee Ann Brown, Thalia Field, Tina Darragh. Much more... I
can't believe it turned out to be one of the last times anyone would
see a performance by David Franks.

From 2006 through 2009 Yockadot Poetics Theatre Project also showcased Old Songs, the dance theater piece Melt by Jamie Jewett's Lostwax(incorporating texts by Thalia Field), 20th Century Theatre Classicswith Geodesic Gnome - a premier of a Kharms theatre piece included inthat - and more, along with the poetic bombardment that was the Rod Smith circus, hours and hours of outstanding poetry, Rod Smith himself presiding, appearances by Tom Raworth, Charles Bernstein, and Anselm Berrigan, just to name a few.

The name Yockadot, btw, came to us via Dan Gutstein.

Personally, I couldn't sustain Yockadot, due to structural
difficulties as well as some controversies with funding sources. The
experience did clarify to me what parts of producing such events I
enjoy, and what parts I hope to avoid for the rest of my life. To
that, I am close to decision regarding a new endeavor, with a new

In acknowledging my own work and interests as having always been sui
generis (even in relation to the quickly congealing conventions of the
avant-garde almost as a genre itself), I hope to develop some of my
own work as well as affinitive work by others meant for or conducive
to performance, with a baseline in "poetics theatre," yet not
restricted by definitions. So, if I pull the trigger, the new project
will be called SiGiLPAL: Sui Generis Literary Performing Arts
Laboratory. Like Heraclitean Pride, It too will be a TAZ of the mind,
maybe of a stage or of space or spaces, as well.

In any case, still along the lines of Yockadot and what I hope for
with SiGiLPAL, I'm working with Ward Tietz as co-curator of several
performance events planned over the next few years in association with
his upcoming word sculpture installation Three Recipes at Ben Brennan
Park in Alexandria, Virginia (pending a few more steps in the
development process on the city side). This project actually began
development in relation to the 2007 Yockadot festival, and is now in
the hands of key members of the Alexandria Arts Commission.

Plus, I'm directing my own work for the first time, a one-woman show
starring Lisa Hawkins, Portraits: Art of the Poetic Monologue, based
on my Idylls for a Bare Stage, forthcoming in 2011 from