Catherine Wagner | October 12, 2012
1. Where are you now?
In bed on my back with computer propped on pillow. It’s midnight. Southwest Ohio. Crickets. Now I am rewriting this on a futon on the floor in my sister’s $100 house in Detroit. There is someone next to me who is not my cat or son and I can’t sleep and am feeling anxious about how boring I have made this interview. When someone asks me questions written for me, my narcissism is engaged, which is pleasant so I bubble-babble. With same-q-for-everyone interviews I feel as if I am the next item in [robot voice] “please scan your next item.” Like the others I am an item that requires ID to be shown; would the clerk do an override. Not yet. Shopper/reader watches annoyedly while I lie here “setting out the stall of myself…as advertising” (Denise Riley).
2. What are you working on and what have you got coming out?
I am trying new somatic writings that are like quickie versions of CA Conrad’s exercises: instant somas — for example I pull a hank of my hair really hard and hold my breath and when I think I’m going to have to breathe I pull my hair harder to distract me and when I really can’t hold my breath any longer I start writing. This is to get my heart rate up and feel wrongfully emotional when I write; I want to see what will happen when my body state does not match the stimuli in my environment. Similarly, I am putting myself in trance states (extreme calm happy) when in situations that are a little bit stressful with a lot of people present, such as airport security lines, and writing then. I have been making up melodies to go with my favorite medieval lyrics so I can sing them and hang out with them that way; I just wrote a country-and-western “Western Wind.” Also working on: a poem to go with Mel Chin collages cut from Volume 4 of a 1956 Funk & Wagnalls / a very-freaking-late-now essay for an website on the poetic turn edited by Mike Theune / a bunch of paragraphs about memories of encounters with what I have viewed as “other,” whatever other meant to me at the time — memories mostly from my early childhood overseas — this is maybe a poem maybe a sort of memoir, investigating my racism. My new book Nervous Device is coming out in October 2012 from City Lights.
3. Where do you write?
Whenever possible in the hammock. Or in bed or on the sofa. Or I walk around the room with a notebook, outside if I don’t think I’ll see anybody. Often take voice notes/text notes on my phone. Pretending to be secret.
4. What’s the last best thing you’ve read?
Probably Denise Riley’s essay in The Force of Language, “A Voice Without a Mouth.” Also while camping in Michigan I read a passage in the Penguin edition of de Tocqueville about his trip from Detroit to Saginaw, Michigan, which was then the westernmost white settlement in the States. He wonders how he has managed to see, in the space of a year, the ruins of a dead empire in Italy (the town of Hymera) and, in Detroit, the “yet empty cradle” of industry and empire: “these impassible forests will be felled…The din of civilization and industry will break the silence of the Saginaw River.” As prescient is his idea that on the other side of US empire someone will walk in post-industrial Detroit, as he did in Italy, “in a wilderness created by men” — parts of Detroit do feel that way, trees growing up through cracks in alleys and sidewalks. But also there are astonishing communities building new ways to live.
5. What journals, poets, presses have you discovered lately?
Lately-ish… Song Cave chapbooks, Claudius App magazine. Jen Scappettone’s translation of Amelia Rosselli (Locomotrix) and Peter Manson’s translation of Mallarme. Lisa Robertson’s essay book Nilling. Trying to find more recordings of Gwendolyn Brooks to see whether I can figure out/mimic the way she tautens and arcs her voice in performance. Her writing is incredibly data-rich and her voice activates alternative densities in it. Rob Halpern’s work, I should have been reading it more before, now I am properly reading it. Reading and rereading Denise Riley (I have loved her theory writing for a long time but her poetry is new to me).
6. Care to share any distractions/diversions?
My nine-year-old is on my lap now. This is what he is saying: “Tcck — pff — pcch — pcch — Pfff! That’s the drone. This is the good guy [Lego person wearing jetpack: he flies up to Lego airplane, grabs bad guy]. Get off me! Mffh. Pmh! Kkkkkkkphm. Oom. Kssh! [Plane crashes, bad minifigure brought to camp.] They wrap him up in his spinal cord. Then [jetpack minifigure] guards him.”
7. What are you looking forward to?
Going back to see the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Art today [now day before yesterday]. Going back to sleep.