The Rumpus Interview with Shira Dentz

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Shira Dentz is the author of black seeds on a white dish, nominated for the PEN/Osterweil Award 2011, a chapbook titled Leaf Weather, and door of thin skins, forthcoming from CavanKerry Press. Stacy Kidd conducted the following extensive interview via email.

You can read Ann van Buren’s review of black seeds on a white dish, the other half of our Rumpus Original Combo, here.

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The Rumpus: I’d love to start with your book’s title, black seeds on a white dish. The line comes from “Poem for my mother who wishes she were a lily pad in a Monet painting,” which I have been fortunate enough to see you read a few times. I stress ‘see’ because you often incorporate physical gestures in your reading to approximate, or translate, the poem’s visual emphasis on punctuation. Can you talk a bit about the significance of this line and punctuation in your collection?

Shira Dentz: Yes! I regard the visual aspects of all text as a construct in its etymology or definitions, along with various layers of referential meanings. Together with whatever else my poems are doing or are up to, they’re sites in which I probe language—they’re riffs in which I discover what I’m up to through language. In so doing, I take into consideration the whole body of a word, and punctuation is a sign with particular uses and therefore part of the text with which I am working. As a poem evolves, I take cues from what’s occurring on the page—a process that is not dissimilar to many poets’. In the particular poem you mention which has the line that I drew from for the book’s title, I wasn’t aware of the many uses/meanings of the apostrophe until I wrote one down in the context of developing this poem. Lo and behold (and I included this moment of awareness in my poem), as I deconstructed the apostrophe, per se, it became my poem.

For me, finding a visual form—or shape—that does conceptual work as well is the ultimate poetic satisfaction. All the pieces come together; I might say that I’m concurring with William’s idea of a poem being like a machine, although in a sculptural sense. Machines are usually utilitarian and I don’t necessarily view poems that way, but a machine in the way a sculpture is a machine: form locking into something approaching a tactile expression. In any case, in “Poem for my mother who wishes she were a lilypad in a Monet painting,” a triumverate ☺ of meanings displayed themselves through the apostrophe. Punctuation, of course, displays itself in other poems in this book, as it does in other poems I’ve written and I continue to behold new meanings. When I was looking for a new title for this book (I circulated it for many years with a different title), I saw lo and behold that “black seeds on a white dish” could also signify words on a page, and to my general approach of trying to decipher language since after all language itself is a symbolic construct. Plus seeds are germinating and it this dynamic movement that I wanted to convey in this book’s title.

It’s a challenge to read aloud writing that has a visual component, and so it occurred to me the first time I read “Poem for my mother” to use my body—sign language, I suppose—to convey, or translate, the experience of this poem on the page. Certainly when one is reading in front of an audience there’s a visual component to the performance, just as there is one on the page.

I’ve worked and continue to think of myself as a visual artist, and so it’s natural for me to see words as physical shapes in addition to their dictionary and idiomatic definitions. When children are learning to read they are particularly attentive to letter forms and how text looks on the page—letters are characters in a dynamic, imaginative sense. I like to conjure and use this subliminal space in my own consciousness, and to activate it in others’, even if they’re not conscious of its play. Some could think this is silly, and/or that I’m drawing upon subjective experience and therefore I cannot possibly hope for any consensus of meaning. It’s true that there’s something impressionistic in my approach. If I were to liken my poet-self to a photographer, I would say that I use different lenses as I compose my poems, and zooming in on their visual aspect is comparable to using a wide-angle lens. While I was growing up, I was very aware that language was very fraught, and I continually parsed nuances in my efforts to reach another’s interiority.

Also, I like to not take things for granted—I like to question norms and conventions, and so try to question all the conventions I use in making a poem, which includes spatial arrangements. I don’t like to overlook things, especially the easily overlooked. For instance, the focus in the poem “Ovule” is a tiny (sunflower) seed.

Rumpus: Let’s talk about “Ovule,” then, or all the really intricate ways that your collection— and perhaps your work in general— looks at small, seeded things. You were, for instance, recently featured in the Jan/Feb issue of Poets and Writers – the Inspiration Issue— where you talk about the social importance of assembling “a voice to express things that are barely heard.” I’m interested in both the social imperative you raise in the P&W piece and your idea of creating a voice that acts as a collage of the overlooked. How do you see this working out in black seeds on a white dish? In more recent work?

Dentz: Something I overlooked (!) in my answer to your previous question is the “obvious” relationship of black seeds on a white dish to ellipses. While this phrase in the poem in which it originated is not necessarily referring to ellipses, it conjures the image of this punctuation. Among the ways in which ellipses function, they point to language that’s not legible, to a presence that’s also absent. They may signify an ongoing text, perhaps not the “meat of the matter.” In any case, they signify a potential (analogous to seeds) that is dynamic, secret, and/or displaced, and on a purely material level they are black holes. In physics/space, black holes signify a density in which nothing visible can escape. I feel that I am working with many, if not all, of these connotations in this book and my more recent work.

One of the social imperatives that I feel is to try to articulate experiences that haven’t yet had much literary expression, and that includes realms of female experience. Female sexuality is among several recurring themes in black seeds on a white dish, and “Ovule,” a poem that began with a close observation of a sunflower seed, relates to that focal point in the book, along with loss. Eileen Myles was recently quoted as saying in The Awl, “the female reality is largely unknown.” Naming things can be generative, as in so doing one concretizes sensation that has remained vague and shapeless, and enables a distance that allows for perspective and therefore reflection.

I feel that part of a writer’s challenge “should” be to try to articulate realms of experience that haven’t yet been articulated much, that seem to be particularly incoherent; that one is speaking up for others, as well. Part of the reason I decided to try to become a writer is because of what I gained from reading, and I want to contribute in kind. In addition to the usual challenges that come with writing, when one is traversing such territory there are fewer markers along the way to help with validation, and also one wrestles with taboos that amount to a self-censoring. Some say that you don’t choose your material, and quite possibly I agree. Style, however, is an expression of choice.

What I am working on now is a multi-genre collection centered on female aging, and I’ve chosen a hybrid form in order to echo structurally the shift in female identity that loss of fertility entails and notions of beauty that are central to societal ideals of femininity. I’m working with visual elements, too, in these pieces, along with prose and poetry, as visual beauty is a major preoccupation in female aging, and I use visual elements—gestural, not literal illustrations—to compose a language where there is none: for instance, there is no female equivalent for “emasculated.” As if buttressing your parsing of my answer in the P & W interview, one of my recent pieces contains the line, “the body the collage seamstress.”

I draw also from visual language when constructing a site in which conventional language fails. While in my present work I’m experimenting even more with a visual vocabulary, I used visual elements, or language, in my book, door of thin skins, that’s forthcoming from CavanKerry Press, in order to shape a world in which muteness is a major component. Here also I tried to create a voice that acts as a collage of the overlooked, as you so eloquently put it. This book is narrated by a young woman who seeks psychotherapy with a reputed psychologist in his sixties, and the narrative doesn’t unfold in chronological sequence though recurring phrases, images, and events unify and deepen it as well as mirror the process of psychotherapy. I attempt to deconstruct the nature of psychological power through the deconstruction of language and traditional narrative, and the book alternates between the straightforward and syntactically disjunctive. Visual poems comprise another nonlinear layer, enacting a recurring theme in this book—the fracturing of the narrator’s sight and conflicting perceptions of reality.

I would say that creating a voice that acts as a collage is also at work in two finished manuscripts, how do i net thee, and the sun a blazing zero. In the former, the poems collectively aspire to draw a diagram of a voice, as does the poem, “Marsupium,” that appeared in APR and is in this manuscript. This voice includes a social as well as personal dimension, as it was influenced by my experience teaching in one of the most challenging public high schools in NYC—a very racially enlightening experience for me— as well as being a New Yorker pre- and post-911.

The way I see it, the latter is a particular zone of energy that I constructed with aural and textural aspects of language to compose the vibrations of a receding world that hasn’t receded yet. Primacy is on the present, including earth and animal preservation, the effects of war and climate change, as well as a vantage point on the cusp of aging.

All together, if my love of texture, variation, and contrast, were to be translated into a type of food, it would be Indian.

Rumpus: You mention the Eileen Myles piece in The Awl, “Being Female,” itself a response to Vida’s count of women writers published in journals including The New Yorker, The Boston Review, and The Paris Review. I’m curious about your reaction to the statistics in general, but also in how you see such issues of reception surrounding your own work. I know, for instance, you currently are a Tanner Humanities Center Fellow at the University of Utah where you’re working on a cross-genre project that concerns female aging, an often taboo subject.

Dentz: Well, I’m not surprised at the statistics—I know that some people believe that we’re living in a post-feminist (and post-racist) age, but I don’t. I think that much headway has been made, but there’s more to tackle. I also know that the term “feminist” has a negative connotation today to quite a few achievement-oriented women who have obviously reaped the benefits of feminist activism; it’s not considered sexy to be “feminist.” Why this is so can be analyzed, though whatever the reasons, the result is an historical amnesia. Growing up, I felt the lack of literary works by women that were equivalent to Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, or Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, for instance— ambitious works that express vital individuations in developing male consciousnesses. Whether these works have been written and just not been recognized, I don’t know, but some paucity remains.

Among others, Erica Jong, of course, can be credited with filling in some of this lack, and recently in a Saturday essay, “Mother Madness,” published in The Wall Street Journal, she articulated some very forward-thinking views, in my opinion, about ideas of femininity that have been constructed in tandem with motherphilia. Along with questioning current models of ideal motherhood, she questions the norms inherent in the prevailing concept of motherhood itself: “Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child’s home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers.” It’s important and great that listservs, anthologies, and literature by women writers about the experience of being a mother are flourishing these days and giving voice to a realm that has was previously deemed a taboo subject for art, and perhaps more work by women about the experience of not being a mother will follow too despite its ignoble status. Both are female perspectives that are rife for artistic expression, and I place my own writing in the context of this expanding movement.

Lately there seems to be more essays and online discussion among writers about the ideology of femininity as well as more journals devoted to writing about women. Maybe they’ve been spurred by VIDA, or it’s just a “sign of the times”… One last piece that I’ll mention in response to your question is Lydia Yuknavitch’s “About a Boob or The Hermeneutics of a Woman’s Body,” published right here in The Rumpus! An epigraph drawn from Hélène Cixous starts off LY’s essay: “Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write your self. Your body must be heard.” I know the truth of this precept from my own life and it underlies much of my earlier work as well as my present cross-genre project centered on female aging. When LY writes, “I consider the body to be an epistemological and ontological site. A place where meaning is generated and negated and where the terms of being and non-being are endlessly played out,” I feel relief at her articulation because I do too, big time. LY continues, “…it is apparently not OK to circumvent the sexually exploitative representation of female bodies so characteristic of television and film by presenting it as a speech act – as an act of representation designed to tease forth the relationship between signifier and signified.” But of course there is no way to circumvent a preset vocabulary of images signifying gender, one has to deconstruct (as Lydia does in this essay) in order to build a new vocabulary. One can’t shirk the female body even if one is tempted to do so because of the style of its ubiquitous representation, though in NOT shirking it one confronts a catch-22 that is similar to the one inherent in a parody wherein one might mistake its intention.

I find what LY says here to be fascinating somewhat in the way that one finds the optical illusion in which one can see either the old crone or the beautiful young woman, though not both at once. By the way, this particular illusion is probably the best-known image that illustrates this sensory limitation, and its popularity reinforces the necessity of my current project! In fact, I am trying to intertwine these two apparently incompatible perspectives. In keeping with beauty as a major theme in this cross-genre work that concerns female aging, I’m also challenging conventional notions of formal beauty in the works’ structure. I can’t speak to the issues surrounding the reception of my work because that would be presumptuous. I’m taking chances with form, experimenting, and in this particular project my goal is to straddle between aesthetic disharmony and pleasure. Where it actually ends up is a gamble, and part of my play is to risk ugliness. What I know is that female aging isn’t a hot/”sexy” literary topic and that the classic sense of beauty associated with symmetry is supposedly wired into us, so I’m certainly working out of (and at times, against) the mainstream. I’ve gotten and continue to get my share of rejections though have also been fortunate to receive enough acceptances that encourage me to continue my experiments. There are many zines and journals edited by people who aren’t interested in this type of aesthetic or subject matter, but I continue to get surprised by acceptances from places that I thought would find what I’m doing very uncool. On the level of the book, however, I’ve encountered more difficulty, and whether this is related to form, content, or something else—I can’t reliably say.

Rumpus: There’s a poem in black seeds on a white dish— “Patriarch Sky”— in which you write about the female body as a shape someone has scissored the sky into. There seems to be a kind of corrective to the blason at work here— one that maybe relates to your current project’s sensibilities? At least inasmuch as it challenges “conventional notions of formal beauty.” At the same time, there’s simply a sharp sense of the image and phrasing in the poem that’s both surprising and fresh. In your first few lines: “Just for the hell of it,/ you took out scissors/ and cut up the sky./ Mostly clipped shapes/ of the svelte female hip,/ water jugs,/ Cheshire leers…” And in “slip,” the poem on the next page, there’s the instantaneous start and imagery of “She thought they were accidents. The red peel next to the green avocado looked promising”… I’m wondering what your thoughts are on these poems— how you see yourself using imagery and phrasing and personal address… or even what your process was— if you remember— when writing them.

Dentz: Woody Allen’s segment in the film New York Stories in which the mother figure is literally projected from his unconscious into the sky above was in my mind when I wrote “Patriarch Sky.” Generally speaking, I love images that literalize metaphors, especially ones that are dark and absurd. I was struck by this image of a man dwarfed by his ubiquitous mother, and my impulse to create a corrective, or alternate, certainly had a part in initiating “Patriarch Sky.” My writing process is often similar to my experience, phenomenologically, to my approach to painting on a canvas. I’ll describe it as a germ/seed like a scribble, or energy, at my vortex, that wants, or that I want, to be externalized as something shaped; legible. Ultra compressed. I’ll say too that not infrequently this energy feels aggressive, bordering on violent in its chaos and pressure to externalize, and often I have no other information guiding me and have to release and simply follow it in order for its “code” to become apparent to me. For me, there’s a spatial component to writing. I never drew a still life in a linear way: I drew from multiple perspectives until I saw a form emerging to focus on. I think my images proceed similarly, as sketches and a trail, and the prosodic strategies I employ, whether personal address or syntactical structures/geometries, amount to perspectives in the sense that a visual artist chooses a perspective (or multi-perspectives). In general, I’m fascinated by overlaps between writing and visual art, from a structural point of view.

Back to “Patriarch Sky” for a moment—I felt that representations of the female body/sexuality that are all over our media, including billboards, seep into our consciousnesses and become our sky, so to speak, and control women through the conflicting responses these representations provoke in them. For instance, many women are twisted up with self-consciousness and doubt in terms of how they can be perceived as attractive women as well as not provocateurs. My rage at this condition was the initiating impulse behind this poem. I wanted to imagine being a female aggressor in reverse.

Rumpus: I’m interested in this relationship you bring up between identity and the visual, a sort of balance between form and content in your work. We’ve talked about some instances where your use of punctuation, imagery, and the page—where these reveal or complicate an issue of self-hood, where the metaphor, as you write, is literalized. One area we haven’t covered is your vast use of color: the litany of objects and naming of colors in “A Thin Green Line” or that fantastic line in “Blue Skies” – “I want to take the blue like it’s something.” Does color, for you, work in the same way as other visual components? Is it particularly tied to memory or identity? Or, more to the point, are there qualities specific to each color— blue, green— that you associate with the personal or the social, and explore in the poems?

Dentz: The relationship that I bring up between identity and the visual is similar to what one finds in Chinese calligraphy where the letters’ motion is part of the communication. Attending to the physical form of letters is a kind of mediation that, on a narrative level, has a correspondence in metafiction. While I’m not just fore-fronting my materials to call attention to the non-transparent nature of social constructions in an idealistic quest to arrive somewhere transparent (“truth”?), probably this is in operation. Also, I’m not ignoring the “body” of writing, and in this way feel allied with the early feminist poetics of Kathleen Fraser and Susan Howe in which the silence of the page evoked the present yet absent female. As far as the femininity and punctuation, well there is the period… Speaking of the body, there’s still a kind of squeamishness about incorporating words that denote female body parts in poetry, such as vulva; whereas in the visual arts, there isn’t a similar level of discomfort with equivalent images. Perhaps that’s because the female body is almost as much of a convention in visual art as the grid… In any case, as a woman and female artist, I think it’s impossible not to engage on a visceral level with the notion of the female spectator. My formal choices aren’t propelled by theory; it’s only when I analyze what’s going on in my writing process that I see this, and after all you’re asking me to analyze! ☺

I don’t know that my images work in any way that’s related to the way I use the visual components of writing. Images are thought of as visual, but they contain other senses as well. I suppose that images contain a certain kind of energy, å la Pound’s Vorticist ideas, and Breton’s magnetic fields in which the juxtaposition of unlike things causes a spark. I’ve always loved surrealist imagery and felt at home with the world-view expressed therein. A connection between my approach to the visual component of writing and to imagery is this attention to Energy. I can’t say why I’m drawn to do this. I’m not exactly an extroverted, upbeat person, but I seem to worship the sun, so to speak. Surrealist imagery can be viewed as the content equivalent of hybrid genres, categories blending.

I haven’t consciously explored colors. Pink and blue are obviously gendered. Holidays have different colors, liberation movements, flags. Colors are coded in nature; the possible colors of human hair are the colors of dying leaves. I’m awed by color. Where did color come from? You could ask where did smells come from, or sound, or texture… This may sound crazy but I never really noticed that I used colors a lot until people repeatedly said so. What makes sense is that in my pursuit of transparency (the elemental?), color is one path in a maze to follow to see where it leads… I don’t want to become too conscious of what I do because I like to begin with mystery. There’s also perpetual mystery in black and white: Is white a color? Black? There aren’t unanimous answers to these questions, only “white is the light of many frequencies and black is a combination of primary colors.”

When I painted, I used colors a lot, and I’ve always loved light… this reminds me of what I said a second ago about my attention to Energy in regard to my use of imagery and the page. Maybe I imagine color to be in contrast to the black and white of the legible page. A color, alone, is a language. For instance, in my poem-piece, “A Thin Green Line,” I rub on the color green in the quest to find out something more about the puzzle that is my father. This color means different things depending on one’s perspective and social and/or historical context. A color is like Blake’s grain of sand. I suppose I’m another person, among many (Goethe comes to mind), who’s into color though I have no interest in codifying them into a system. In “Blue Skies,” I roll out the color blue as if it’s dough, to see it. There’s the subjective and the socially constructed and are the two always entangled? (I know that to some this may seem like a naïve place to start from, though it’s a slippery one as is the debate about black and white.

Rumpus: Speaking of black and white, I’d love for you to flesh out another poem or two as we near the end of our interview. I’m thinking of the poems “spoke” and “takeoff,” which open the second section of black seeds on a white dish and notably incorporate color, sharing an imagery and sparseness, the use of the first person only implied. I’m wondering if the process behind writing these poems was different than that of, say, “Poem for my mother…” or “A Thin Green Line,” poems that appear in the collection’s last two sections. Is there a sense of difference or movement for you between the five sections, in terms of language or form or subject matter?

Dentz: Well, I don’t remember if I mentioned that it took many years for this book to be accepted for this publication, through many contests, publishers, and finalisms. My memory, therefore, of the processes behind many of its poems is dim, though retrievable. With “A Thin Green Line” I discovered something new—a different way of making whatever it was I called poetry—its strategies grew out of previous work and this piece is a significant link to my future work. I placed it towards the end because that’s where I felt it would be most accessible to readers: when they had established some footing in this book’s world. My decisions about the placement of poems were based on a mix of their content and form.

As one reviewer commented, this book contains an array of forms; I say that these shifts are integral to the book’s enterprise. One of my challenges, therefore, was to pace the pattern changes in an energetic and intuitively sequenced way—as opposed to a diluted effect. Sort of like a musical improvisation. I didn’t write this book with a sense of its overall architecture: it isn’t a project book. Historically, poets haven’t always composed their books with a “novelistic” eye, and there is no right way to sequence a book of poetry, albeit conventional ways. Many readers don’t even read poetry books in the sequence they’re ordered—a phenomenon that should indicate something about the role of beginnings, middles, and ends in poetry. In any case, I also needed to pace the poems’ content and resisted shaping a narrative arc. However, as these poems do contain narrative details, I had to decide how to let it unfold. For instance, the book’s first poem is an elegy for a lost sibling, an event that is this book’s initiation on the levels of both content and form. It’s the book’s first note and loss sounds again in the book’s final couplet which begins, “this is the robe of loss…”

Honestly, structuring this book was very difficult: I had to keep renewing an acute calibration of movement based on these two simultaneous aspects, content and form. Over the years I adjusted it numerous times, tried it all different ways to find a balance that felt right. I turned to not a few fellow poets for their takes. Funnily, it was when a minute detail—the visual element of the black seeds—came into play in the book’s structure that I finally felt I had it. Make of this what you will. Ultimately, I think the book is structured as a visual, or spatial, journey in addition to a narrative one, and ideally flows like a deck of picture cards that when flipped in a certain sequence turns into a story: a directed motion.

In answer to your question about “spoke” and “takeoff”—I remember that “spoke” worked itself out quickly, sort of like “Blue Skies”—it was for me to take dictation. The poem “takeoff” is composed of what were two separate poems; only in the manuscript’s final version did they merge (at a fellow poet’s suggestion). The act of arranging and re-arranging is a recurring theme in the book, and enacted on the manuscript level was like watching a cake rise. The sum of its parts became something other than its parts alone. A reviewer wrote that my “multiple selves come out of a desire to live in a world where decay is not the antithesis of birth,” and I agree that this impulse is the book’s vector.

Whereas “Poem for my mother” and “A Thin Green Line” are sustained through an attention to abstract language— the former through the deconstruction of punctuation, the latter through the deconstruction of the word green, “spoke” and “takeoff” are sustained through narrative and imagery. These poems don’t maneuver by going off in multiple directions with the hope of finding overlaps—they’re more like poems of witness, as is “Blue Skies” which I wrote shortly after 911. In my poems of witness the use of the first person is implied, as the first person is just that, an observer. Their sparseness reflects the utter lack of adornment in one’s experience of the world and its/one’s slow motion when one is devastated by grief. They have a kind of tunnel vision and are more stationary and quiet; more recessed, with a flickering tension between surreality and blunt sensory detail. The array of forms and strategies in this book I suppose coincides with a sort of physics of emotions that’s traced, not systematized. Loss can fracture one’s world and one’s sense of self, and recovery is about putting pieces of the puzzle together, like Humpty Dumpty once upon a time… One might say that the book’s movement is a correlative to this.

Rumpus: Thank you, Shira, for such a generative and generous interview! You mention that black seeds on a white dish was in circulation for a few years before Shearsman picked it up. I know, since writing black seeds, you’ve completed a handful of manuscripts— the sun a blazing zero, how do i net thee, and door of thin skins, a hybrid collection forthcoming from CavanKerry Press. I’m curious about how you view hybrid work in general— if you recognize an emerging tradition in which you can place your work— but I’m also interested in the larger arch between these collections. How has your poetics changed or evolved as you’ve written and structured each manuscript? Is there a common ground between them?

Dentz: Thank you, Stacy, for your very thoughtful, challenging, and stimulating questions! As you know, hybridity isn’t a new form—a lineage exists—Dante’s Vita Nuova, Williams’ Spring and All are two works that come immediately to mind in which poetry and prose are interwoven. Many past poets including Blake, Herbert, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Futurists, and Noigandres foregrounded the visual in their poetry not just for aesthetic purposes but also towards fulfilling certain social/political visions—as have many contemporary writers such as Susan Howe.

From the other direction, there’s a rich tradition of visual artists incorporating written language in art (Kruger, Johns, Ligon, Baldessari, and conceptual artists in general), not to mention medieval manuscripts and Modernist collage. I can associate hybridity with synesthesia, too, in which boundaries are ambiguous. Also, there have been and are many writers who are skilled in other arts and for whom plasticity between genres is central to their art-making. Of course, there are gradations of hybridity…

I don’t know if more writers are experimenting with hybridity now, or if we’re seeing something that’s always been around as new. Surely technology has had an impact both in easing the means with which one can combine media and through expanding one’s array of influences in its global reach. Last but not least is the way the book as an object is currently transitioning to a screen alone—that’s crossing mediums right there. Recently I’ve noticed an emerging tradition in which I might place myself and that is with a genre-crossing, or transgenre (as I saw it listed recently) writing, to articulate experiences of otherness for which the English language is lacking words, as well as negotiating the generic aspect of the printed word (the opposite of calligraphy)—perhaps these are related. One might say there’s a renewed poetry with ambitious social/political visions (a variant on the mythic and epic). Cecilia Vicuna, Doug Kearney, Paolo Javier, Jill Magi, M. NourbeSe Philip are among those with whom I might have an affinity. Hybrid experiments by poets such as Eleni Sikelianos and Susan Howe continue to excite as well. And as you’ve probably gleaned, I find artistic mates in visual art too.

My poetics have evolved a lot. I began and finished door of thin skins concurrently with the other manuscripts, and it had to consistently straddle genres because of its particular narrative, as I described earlier in this interview. Over time, I’ve been experimenting more and more with the materiality and grammar of language in general—opting at times to forefront sound and fragments of words—associations—rather than use pre-existing language, and working towards finding a vocabulary of visual gestures in my written work. As a writer, I explore my materials on all their sides, and like to discover/see conventions that I’ve taken for granted and challenge them.

Among the artists from whom I’ve found inspiration is Artaud, and his inspiration has surfaced more in my most recent work. At the same time that I chide myself for working in an amorphous genre, I seem driven to work this way more and more. Sometimes I view my form as adolescent—ungainly in its becoming, and neither here nor there. I’ve not completely abandoned narrative or traditional forms however—they continue to be paints in my toolbox. While I admire work that’s almost entirely about its materiality and hence sensation, I’m not laid back enough for that to be my genre. I can say that there’s a relationship between the way door of thin skins is structured and the way my present collection-in-progress may be evolving, and both could be termed project books. Many readers of my past and present writing have noted that the type of imagery in them is distinctly consistent, and that collectively there’s a formal ambiguity that’s also distinctly consistent. In an earlier poem, “Autobiography,” that appears in black seeds in a white dish, there’s the line: “Nothing to do but to let the form of things take over.” Clearly this conclusion is something that I continue to draw.


Stacy Kidd is author of the forthcoming chapbooks A man in a boat in the summer and About Birds. Her poetry has appeared in Boston Review, The Colorado Review, The Iowa Review, and Witness. More from this author →