Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27, 2014 Eleni Stecopoulos

On July 27th, we played our interview with Eleni Stecopolous. She sat down with us in April to record an interview focusing on her book Armies of Compassion, (Palm Press 2010). Eleni starts the interview explaining the book's title, which was drawn from the language used in 'compassionate conservatism' and faith-based politics as a way to justify war; the poetry within is an attempt to treat this language. The contradictory element of 'armies of compassion' is foregrounded in our conversation. The writing is informed by 9/11 and post-9/11 politics. The poetry is grappling with expressing and healing the body; Eleni considers how "the culture and labor warp us." Towards the middle of the interview,  we examined how philosophy informs Eleni's writing. After the top of the hour, we discussed the Western idea of somatization, that the body and mind are separated, and that the ways in which the body expresses the self is pathologized, rather than accepting that "the mind exists throughout the body." Eleni investigates the "intelligence of the body." From this interest, she curated "The Poetics of Healing" (see info below), with the Poetry Center. Some of her poems include writing by Artaud, who incorporated neologism, music and esoteric knowledge. We close the interview with Eleni's investigation of "domestic bodies."

Click here to listen

Eleni curated a series with the Poetry Center called "The Poetics of Healing," which brought together writers, artists, health practitioners, scholars, and activists to explore how healing is imagined and practiced, from the subtle body to the body politic. You can find out more at

Eleni's book Visceral Poetics will come out later this year.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 6, 2014: David Brazil Part 2

In part 2 of our interview with David Brazil we continue discussing his first book, The Ordinary (Compline), and begin with David reading from the section "(economy)." The prophesied poems in this section (hint signs of Capitalism's collapse) are typed on binder paper and other found notepad-like neighborhood scraps. After hearing David read, we discussed the power of reading poetry aloud, the effects of vocalization, and using the voice as an instrument (citing Pound).

Sharing more on the overall structure of The Ordinary, David noted that each "section has its own determination" and as well its own character, especially where form is concerned. David then read from "(kairos)," the opening and most lyrical section of the book, occasionally breaking into song and Greek, "stasis is a state!" Next up a reading from the section "(vierges)," prompted by the curious line: "I am on my way to fetch the man..."

Reflecting about the importance of sound in his work, David added that the strikeouts appearing in some poems are there to "make the words sound right." In "correcting" sound, "lyric breakthrough" (song) is possible by subtracting/striking out certain words or phrases. The texts, with their strikeout inclusions, operate as visual compositions; the work is "laid bare" and as a result the reader feels witness to the poet's vulnerability and struggle. How do we make art from within this space? We then moved into Pound's concept of "vorticism"--vortex points/"patterns" or layers forming in poems that allow energy to flow into and out of the poem (suspending space/time) making things "fall into place." That's one way of looking at vorticism--maybe we'll follow up on the topic in a future roundtable show!

In the second half, we heard David read (sing) a poem that's not included in The Ordinary called "Belshazzar's Feast." Inspired from the Book of Daniel and/or maybe the Johnny Cash song, the "my soundtrack is Earth" poem was written "in one sitting" and is a polytonal/multivocal masterpiece--a documented array of the here-now and beyond: vorticism enacted! "Composed in one go" while listening to a certain piece of music and letting as much as possible in, David talked about being a "register" of the daily mundane while the "larger questions" loom above. This made us think of Zukofsky's "lower limit speech/upper limit music" and ultimately the question of making poetry accessible to everyone or only certain audiences: to be esoteric or not. Why not both? We concluded with David's service to the Bay Area Public School, where he's a volunteer teacher, and learned more about his involvement in this community-supported free school in Oakland. Click here to listen.

June 29, 2014: David Brazil Part 1

A few months back we met with poet David Brazil (previous guest Sara Larsen joined us!) who read from and engaged us with his extraordinary first full-length collection, The Ordinary, published by Compline last year.

Comprised of poems mostly typewritten and some with lines crossed out, that have found their way onto receipts, notepaper, and other found scraps, David described his first collection as a "reader" that brings together six different parts/projects/chapbooks: (kairos), (election), (vierges), (descort), (economy), and (to romans). Representing five years of work, each section has a "different contour," but a similar physicality. It's this "physicality" that makes The Ordinary a sublime experience both visually and cerebrally as the reader cascades into a series of poems that appear to have been caught in their acts of making! Poems are typed out, crossed out, taped up, or handwritten onto receipts; the objects that accommodate the poems dictate their "songs." Instead of "collaged" pieces, David likened the finished poems as "hybrids." Interspersed between the poems in the collection are other East Bay neighborhood finds such as lost pet posts and an announcement from the "Friends of Negro Spirituals" about a "Juneteeth Community Sing" at the West Oakland Senior Center and whose opposite page is "Reading Assignment #2," a translation of Genesis: 1:1-3 from the original Hebrew.

Addressing the potentially prophetic section called "(economy)," that was written prior to the Occupy protests in 2011, David questioned, "what can the poet detect that's actually going to happen in the future?" Summoning Shelley's "the shadows which futurity casts," we explored the possibilities of poetry as prophecy.

St. Paul, the "restrainer" (from the Greek katechon) and his writings occupy the central motifs and ideas holding The Ordinary together. "That which I would do, I cannot do and that which I would not do, I do," a quote from Paul, David shared, is expressed throughout the book. Using "scripture" as part of the language of the poem is something David has been interested in for some time--letting his studies of ancient language become a part of the prosodic flow in his work. We then heard a metered/poem translation of Romans I that's included in the last section "(to romans)." Asked about his interest in varied forms (form as law-giver!), David asked what is the opposite of form--of a non-governed poem? We explored whether it's anarchy or grace! In the second half, Sara asked David to elaborate on why he chose to translate the Romans and we then jumped into a discussion on the theological question of Grace! Click here to listen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

June 22, 2014: Tiff Dressen Live!

Tiff Dressen joined us live in the studio to read from and discuss her new book, Songs from the Astral Bestiary (lyric& Press, 2014). Many of the poems in her book are prefixed "Message:", and Tiff opened our discussion by reading a selection of these: Message: periodic, Message: I come to harvest light, and Message: a theory (song). Tiff's reading led us into a discussion of dreams and dreamscapes, as well as to a quote from the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard: "The great function of poetry is to give back to us the situation of our dreams." The conversation then turned to the topic of silence and an excerpt from an essay by Swiss writer Max Picard, who suggests that silence and words are of one texture. We then brought up the use of all-caps in parts of some poems, heard from Message:, and talked about language-creation myths, the act of naming, and poetry as a site where one can create one's own mythology. The conversation moved on to readings and reading out loud, and Tiff related an inspiring conversation with poet Hazel White about the poet creating a sacred space for the reader/listener.

After the top of the hour break, we talked about Tiff's use italics and the role of generative quotations from other writers in the creative process. We then learned that the Message poems were originally gathered together in a chapbook of their own, which led us to a discussion about the differences between the intimacy of the handmade chapbook and the more formal and persistent form of the book. With regard to her book, we discussed the extraordinary cover image, a painting by Fran Herndon. Tiff then read her book's final poem, In your hypoxia dreams, and touched on the lyric, dream imagery, Lorca, and Celan. We closed our discussion on the "we" that appears throughout Tiff's work.

Click here to listen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 15, 2014 - Roundtable on Appropriation: Tinker Greene Live!

We were delighted to have Tinker Greene join us once again this past Sunday. Tinker guided us through a kaleidoscopic discussion on appropriation, sharing his thoughts on collage, cut-ups, and using quotes (in several cases an entire quote becomes a poem) from other text sources, mostly prose/non-fiction. Tinker also "appropriates" from his own well of personal memory--his autobiographical past--forming poems with the disjunctive images of his childhood: a bale of hay on a scythed field that's "melded" with a stack of LIFE magazines in an attic during WWII in "My Vermont."

Tinker started off reading "Hoagy Carmichael Reminiscing about Bix Beiderbecke," a poem from his chapbook Funeral Sentences in which he "steals" the words of the "Stardust" composer Carmichael from his (ghost written) autobiography. Also a "photographic image-maker," he explained the process of "framing" prose as a way of forming the poem; every poem is "framed," set off on the page. Williams, Pound, and Eliot were cited as modernist poets who often re-framed found language.

While it's the Romantic period (Poe and Coleridge cited) that Tinker often returns to, it was during the 1960's that he first experienced appropriation while encountering Gary Snyder's "John Muir on Mt. Ritter," a straight quote from Muir originally a section in Snyder's long poem, Myths and Texts. Next, Tinker read from The Road to Xanadu by John Livingston Lowes, a work revealing Coleridge's "mind as a well," from "the shattered fragments of memory" to "snake-birds" and "footless birds of paradise and the fauna of polar and tropical seas." We explored what makes things collect inside our memory-wells, acknowledging that much of it is not (nor ever will be) new or original thought being human on a planet full of regurgitated language. "We are born into the world and start picking up and using language," Tinker clarified. "Poetry is condensation."

Next, Tinker read "Pouring Glory" from his recent chapbook, Your Thoughts Are Real. The poem is a direct quote or "made of the words" of astronaut Chris Hadfield's experience in space that is versified and "arranged" on the page. After the break, Tinker read (by request) "Blue Flame Ring," a prose poem "written the day before a reading" and retelling his sublime dread while hiking in threatening weather, getting lost and taking refuge in a small cave. The title alludes to a dropped passage from an earlier draft which remains as a mysterious fragment, a kind of cut-up.

Toward the end of our show, Tinker shared a quote from a book that had a big impression on him as a young poet, Ronald Johnson's Book of the Green Man--a hiking trip poem set in England, studded with quotes: "decayed literature makes the richest of all soils" (Thoreau). Self-taught, Tinker has allowed himself through the decay that begets other decay, reading one piece of writing and following its resources back. "Romanticism is a theme." Tinker then read sonnets LXVII and LXVIII from Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets, cut-ups of the poet's own work.

Closing with "My Vermont" (1, 2 and 3), Tinker's sonnet sequence, we were reminded that it's freeing not to tell the truth when appropriating from childhood memory ("like Wordsworth"); readers will garner some form of truth. "I was a horrid child, possessed by the to travel as an/ ectoplasmic wraith floating through the moonlight..." We are grateful that Tinker floated back into the studio to share with us more from his personal "well," however appropriated! His chapbooks are available upon request at Click here to listen.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 1, 2014 Melissa Eleftherion Live!

This Sunday, despite technical difficulties, we were able to air and record a live interview with poet Melissa Eleftherion. We spent the first half of the interview on her chapbook Huminsect (dancing girl press, 2013). Many of these poems originally appeared in her thesis, as she was graduating with her MFA from Mills Collage. These poems include many specific references to insects and their parts, juxtaposed to the human body and the human condition; she sought to examine humans through the lens of systems. The poems vary in form which Melissa explains emerges organically during the writing process. She wants to investigate the 'gaps in language' and this is often reflected in the form. Jay discussed how Melissa's poetry, like a lot of poetry, can use language in a way that is unfamiliar and confronts us with an 'opaque otherness.' From this point, Melissa talked about how she compiled 'a lexicon from the gaps in her education.'
After the break we discussed her latest chapbook Prism Maps (Dusie Press Kollectiv & Quarter Drink Press, 2014). These poems were created during a postcard poem project. The lovely cover has a removable postcard and each poem is on the page facing the image of a postcard (depicting flowers or a map).
Besides these two books, we touched on Melissa's other projects. She started, and single-handedly manages The Chapbook Exchange, through The Poetry Center, which allows poets to share their work online. At this time there are over 50 contributors.
At the end of the interview, Melissa shared new work from her manuscript auto/bio.
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Monday, May 26, 2014

May 25, 2014 Remembering Colleen Lookingbill

On Sunday we gathered an unprecedented number of poets at Lightrail Studios to celebrate an unparalleled poet and spirit, Colleen Lookingbill, who unfortunately left us on March 30th. Besides the Poet as Radio hosts, Tiff Dressen, Susanne Dyckman, Todd Melicker, Joseph Noble, Steven Seidenberg, Candy Shue along with Colleen's husband Jordon Zorker took part in a memorial show, which included a reading of Colleen's work and a discussion of her life. We heard work from both her books Incognita (Sink Press, 1992) and a forgetting of (Lyric & Press, 2011), as well as some other pieces published in literary journals.
After the break, the group shared anecdotes from Colleen's life and artistic endeavors. Jordon told us that she was influenced by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and she liked the term 'experimental poetry.' Colleen was also a visual artist and she created visual poetry that was included in a forgetting of. Colleen was an incredibly open and giving person. Tiff introduced Colleen's relationship to Buddhism and Jordon expanded on this, discussing her interest in different spiritual traditions. Joseph told us about his experience of book shopping with Colleen, where she gravitated towards obscure texts. One of her last projects was an anthology of women poets she compiled with Elizabeth Robinson, As If It Fell From the Sun (Ether Dome, 2012).
Thank you to all the poets who took part in this show.
And thank you Colleen for your poetry, your presence and the beautiful mark you left on this writing community. You are surely missed.
Click Here to Listen