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Sarah Suzor
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From Scene II of Barbara Guest’s play, The Lady’s Choice Christian: You like only myth, And so you would go riding, Greensleeves and all To where love’s hiding. Antoinette: I like you. Christian: Lady in the heavy manner Of kings, you do not please. Antoinette: Am I not pretty? Christian: Pretty a dash, but not To my tasting. Antoinette: And do I not please? Christian: You please yourself. Antoinette: You rock me. Christian: You rock all foundations. You are almost an earthquake. Antoinette: Your name? Christian: Christian. Antoinette: Than you’ve some charity. Christian: Enough to lend. Antoinette: Spend it on me. *** I am obsessed with well-written dialog; I find it to be one of the most intriguing aspects of a story. Here Guest serves us her characters’ attributes with little explanation needed. Antoinette is some version of a privileged debutant, and Christian is some version of a shining nobility who Antoinette thinks she has fallen for without even knowing his name (so it’s also clear Antoinette is severely desperate). Remarkably, these are assumptions Guest leads us to without having to write much at all. Today I am going to be featuring an interview with two fabulous fiction writers, Selah Saterstom and Elizabeth Frankie Rollins (who I will refer to as Frankie). They both speak about each other’s writing as operating not from what is explicitly written, but instead from what is implied within the writing. For example, from Selah’s 2007 book, The Meat and Spirit Plan (Coffee House Press): For my response essay I begin with the sentence: There are worse things than enduring sadness. The teacher reads it out loud. I shoot this girl Bitch Lisa a look like: fuck you, I’m deep (pg. 67). Implication: Narrator- 1, Bitch Lisa- 0. And this is an excerpt from the beginning of Frankie’s Origin, a novel in installments, where a husband and his pregnant wife are venturing off to settle an island: Paramon spoke saying, “You look pained. Are you alright?” He rested the oars against his chest, mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, which was soiled with two days’ rowing. His eyes, despite lack of sleep, surprised her with their shine. “Darling,” she said smiling, pulling herself up a little in the boat, straightening her damp skirts at her feet. “I was only thinking of tea in china cups.” He blinked and winced. “No! No reproach, Paramon. I was only making fun of myself. Not complaining. Just trying to make light of my homesickness." (From Chapter One.) Implication: the woman’s miserable. We, as readers, are often drawn into characters and scenes by what we can assume about the person, or the situation. It's really psychological; this way other people's stories can become our own. Selah and Frankie know that. They also win the award for Most Creative Dialog this week. (See Frankie’s answer to: What about your career would be most drastically different if you two hadn’t met?) As you will read, these two clearly display a real, and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Well, in limited space, yes! Thanks, Amy! Love your way.
From George Oppen’s poem, “Route” (1968): Your elbow on a car-edge Incognito as summer, I wrote. Not you but a girl At least Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful thing in the world, A limited, limiting clarity I have not and never did have any motive of poetry But to achieve clarity *** Oppen is often included in the Objectivist poetry movement, a movement (reluctantly) defined by Louis Zukofski as poetry exhibiting “sincerity and objectivity.” I bring up Oppen in conjunction with today’s interview because “clarity” is often a notion that’s counter to the popular assumption of poetry. As a poet, I frequently find myself in conversations with people who are insistent that poetry is riddled with hidden metaphors and secret allusions, or that it’s a category of private, encoded language, intended to be truly comprehended by only a select group of individuals. The collected bodies of work between Paul Vangelisti and Standard Schaefer defy the “encoded” assumption of poetry. This doesn’t necessarily make their books easy or accessible, it makes them clear. Standard’s 2005 book, Water and Power (Agincourt Press) is still one of my favorite books, and Paul’s recent release Wholly Falsetto with People Dancing (Seismicity Editions) is my latest greatest affinity. Wholly Falsetto speaks with certain straight-forwardness that, I’m assuming, most readers can find some sense of application within. For example: 5th November Because a tall man is a fool, says Aristotle, and traffic is unbearable, the days much shorter, your eyes often kind to me as the music too is lost at sea. Along the coast lights are going on and off, even if it’s too early to fall asleep and catch the leggy young blond walking off down the street spinning your fedora on her finger (pg. 22). And from Standard’s The Notebook of False Purgatories (Chax Press), I borrow my favorite line of all time: “Progress is progress / and never the other way around.” In their collaborative fiction effort, which follows this interview, Paul and Standard alternate chapters. They offer two different viewpoints on a small fishing community feuding over water rights. An avid reader of both Paul’s and Standard’s work, I can’t tell who wrote what chapter. I say that to instill this: the way these two approach creating— their intention— seems mighty similar. I think Paul says it best when he mentions that the best part of working with Standard is that they never have to explain much to each other. To me, this is a gift that is almost as difficult to come by as sincerity, objectivity and clarity. Anyway, read the goods. Then go catch that leggy blond walking off down the street spinning your fedora on their finger. In dreams, or otherwise. Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other? Paul Vangelisti: We met through my good friend and colleague Martha Ronk, who was one of Standard’s teachers at Occidental College. That would have been about 1994-95, almost twenty years... Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Umberto Eco, from his collection of essays, On Literature (English translation published in 2004): I have often asked myself: would I still write today if they told me that tomorrow a cosmic catastrophe would destroy the universe, so that no one could read tomorrow what I wrote today? My first instinct is to reply no. Why write if no one will read me? My second instinct is to say yes, but only because I cherish the desperate hope that, amid the galactic catastrophe, some star might survive, and in the future someone might decipher my signs. In that case writing, even on the eve of the Apocalypse, would still make sense. One writes only for a reader. Whoever says he writes only for himself is not necessarily lying. It is just that he is frighteningly atheistic. Even from a rigorously secular point of view. Unhappy and desperate the writer who cannot address a future reader (334). *** I didn’t use Eco's quote to debate or analyze its contents; I used it because I think it speaks to the tremendous importance of those who bring books to life: publishers. Presses are one of the most essential part of the writing community. And because “small presses” typically strive to publish work “beyond mainstream literature,” small press publishing houses are vital to poets, translators and writers of experimental fiction. Today I am featuring an interview between Rusty Morrison, co-founder of Omnidawn Publishing, and Gillian Hamel, senior poetry editor for Omnidawn and managing editor for the press’ online imprint, OmniVerse. In 2001, Rusty founded Omnidawn Publishing with her husband, Ken Keegan. Today Omnidawn is one of the most well respected, highly regarded small presses in North America. Omnidawn, with tremendous help from Gillian Hamel, has also renovated the press’ old blog into the zine OmniVerse, which has become one of the best contemporary online resources for interviews, new creative work and essays. Omnidawn Publishing’s website lists approximately 50 full-length poetry titles (many of which have won prestigious awards and prizes), and OmniVerse now credits over 100 contributors; a stunning achievement, especially when one considers Omnidawn’s short 12 years of existence and its small masthead of staff members. Interestingly, both Rusty and Gillian combined two of my questions: 1.) What’s the most difficult part of working in this industry, and 2.) What’s the most rewarding part of working in this industry? Says something, doesn’t it? Eco: “One writes only for a reader.” Me: “One writes (or reads [or lives]) only to experience the thrill of fascination.” In any case, these are two women who deserve a lot of praise. Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other? Rusty Morrison: Gillian is a friend of Sara Mumolo, who works for Omnidawn. Sara told us that she knew a poet who would be a perfect addition to our staff. Gillian has exceeded every expectation that I had; she’s become such an integral part of our team, I can’t imagine Omnidawn without... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for reading! I am honored to have these two contribute to the project. I hope all of our paths cross soon!
Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet (“Letter 8,” 1904): But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence. …How are we to forget all those myths at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about the dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps every terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants to help us (pg. 52). *** Whoa. I love these letters. They are such an incredible inside look at the indestructible positivity Rilke carried with him throughout his career. Here he’s basically telling his young correspondent, Mr. Franz Kappus, that there’s no need to panic; we are all, at times, stricken with torment and doubt (about our lives, about our crafts), and, although we can never alter the past, we can always alter our perception of the past as we move forward into the future. Rilke is instilling the next generation with realistic optimisim. “But only someone who is ready for everything… will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence.” Exhaustively. The word itself seems to tempt one into it; I dare you to draw yourself, exhaustively, from (into) your own existence. As I consider today’s interview between Elizabeth Robinson and Travis Cebula, I find Rilke’s haunting notion to be the perfect introduction. These two poets are some of the most inquisitive and prolific writers I know. The two descriptions – 1.) Inquisitive and 2.) Prolific – both require a certain curiosity that “excludes nothing.” Elizabeth is the author of 12 collections of poetry, most recently Counterpart (Ahsahta Press). She has taught all over the country: the University of Colorado Boulder, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Montana, and she founded (with Colleen Lookingbill) EtherDome Chapbooks and (with Laura Sims) Instance Press. Travis’ second full-length collection of poetry, Ithaca was recently released from BlazeVox Books. He has founded Shadow Mountain Press and in 2011 he received the Pavel Srut Fellowship from Western Michigan University. Travis also teaches at the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris (avec moi). I love how both Travis and Elizabeth make a point to comment on each other’s generosity throughout this interview. As Elizabeth says about Travis (and, in my opinion, about people in general): Confidence = generosity. With that, I gratefully share the stage. Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other? Elizabeth Robinson: Travis was a student in a remarkable graduate workshop I taught at Naropa University in the Spring of 2008. I looked forward to going to that class all week long and when I arrived, I’d just feel such gladness and affection for the students. As writers, they were so dissimilar, but they read and responded to each others’ work... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Jack Spicer, from his 1957 collection, After Lorca: Dear Lorca, …Things do not connect; they correspond…. Even these letters. They correspond with something (I don’t know what) that you have written (perhaps as unapparently as that lemon corresponds to this piece of seaweed) and, in turn, some future poet will write something which corresponds to them. That is how we dead men write each other. Love, Jack *** The irony here is this: in 1957 Spicer wasn’t dead and Lorca was. Now Spicer’s dead, and I’m not. So, either Spicer was psychic or this is the way things really do work: a ladder of correspondence. A creative profession, perhaps more than any other profession, is one built, culled and cultivated from groundwork that has already been set, hence innovation via (some kind of) inspiration. I know no writer who isn’t a living, breathing representation of the influences they have encountered. The future gains new ideas and models of creativity this way; we’re constantly marching up a long ladder of either intrigue with, or rejection of something outside ourselves. These things which one chooses to correspond to, or move away from, construct the notion of a “history,” a history that inevitably makes a creative career larger than simply one’s personal contributions. Sounds important, right? In many ways the story of Ezra Pound editing T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land makes the poem itself much more intriguing. In the annotated edition of The Waste Land we see the working relationship Pound and Eliot had refined. Indeed they were pals, but the friendship formalities go by the wayside when Pound stepped in as “editor,” leaving brash, “Bad- but [I] can’t attack until I get typescript” commentary all over Eliot’s written script, and cutting major sections and lines of the poem with the justification, “Too personal.” Some of Pound’s comments are extremely funny, especially when one imagines what Eliot­­– “The Old Possum,” as Pound called him– must have been thinking while looking them over. However, Eliot took many of Pound’s edits into consideration because he trusted his advice. And later in the annotated edition we see Pound return as Eliot’s ally by championing The Waste Land to other colleagues. This is a 1922 letter from Pound to John Quinn: “Eliot came back from his Lausanne specialist looking OK; and with a damn good poem (19 pages) in his suitcase…. About enough, Eliot’s poem, to make the rest of us shut up shop.” The rest is history. And that’s my point. So, I’ve decided to infiltrate the Best American Poetry blog with contemporary examples of “working relationships.” Each day I will feature two writers in a conversation that highlights the aspects of their lives and careers that have been enhanced by writing together, learning from one another, or publishing with each other. The most beautiful findings in each of the interviews are the descriptions of the lifelong friendships that have been created between these artists. James Belflower mentions he wishes he could bridge the gap... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 11, 2013