Interview: Ben Segal

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Ben Segal’s story “Story of Eyes, appeared in the July issue of The Collagist. He is the author of 78 Stories (No Record Press) as well as chapbooks from ML Press and Publishing Genius. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications including Gigantic, Eyeshot, elimae, and the collection Tell: An Anthology of Expository Narrative. He is also the co-editor of The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature and is a founding contributor at Ghost Island.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for “Story of Eyes”? What was on your mind while you were writing this story?

Here are some of the things that kind of sprang the piece: the idea of sucking on glass eyes, the idea of mementos mori and bodily relics, of the shadows of dead love, my constant obsessions with (1) the way the body shapes the subject and (2) the whole point of art practice, and of course the name’s relation to every same name and the ghosts that there (ad/in)here. This was supposed to be an answer. What I’m saying is that I have these thematic preoccupations (and they cycle through repetitions and waverings in basically everything I write) and then there was this image of mouthed eyeballs as a recorded instrument. So I went from there and constructed something of/as a story.

2. The story unfolds in a way that pushes the reader deeper and deeper into this bizarre situation, this love obsession with physical peculiarities. The third section is where is first seems to delve further, getting personal with the background to how this situation started. The situation seems to push further with Ellie’s italicized recollections and even more with the descriptions of her interactions with the other Williams. Can you talk about this structure, and how this sequence developed?

I think it’s a matter of progression, I guess both back and forward in time, a filling out of narrative around an originary event. There is also the balancing of the parts that I get really excited about – the strange images, events, and emotional states- and the need to earn those exciting moments via something like plot and character development. This is vague. The structure uses section breaks and discrete units of text to kind of allow me to assemble a multifaceted narrative.

3. Much of the piece is written in a language that unveils itself phrases, even words, at a time. In that previously mentioned third section, when the reader learns more about the first William, sentences like “He was the kind of William who never abbreviated his name, tucked in his shirts, purchased aperitifs” and “There was dating, emotional intimacy, soft, tentative, vaguely unsettling sex” seem perfect for the suspenseful unfolding that this piece utilizes. Where did this sort of writing come from? Is this a part of your aesthetic or something you mold to fit the story you are telling?

First, thank you. I love how you describe the movement of the writing. I try to think about the rhythm and sound of the language I use, so I think this kind of unfolding description method is largely a result of feeling like it fit to or established or otherwise worked as/with rhythmic concerns. I also like the idea that a story is a kind document of textual accretion, so from a core couple of ideas or sentences others are glommed on that expand, complicate, and generally make story. Maybe this is a better answer to the previous question.

4. You are an editor with “The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature,” a rather unique online resource. Can you tell readers more about this project?

This is an exciting project for me. Erinrose Mager and I are putting together an anthology of blurbs/catalog entries for desired non-existent books. We are getting pretty far into the process now. One of the most exciting things about it is that we’ve been able to include many of our favorite text-makers from different backgrounds and fields. It’s a catalog of textual desire and though slim, it basically opens page after page into the most exciting ideas for books that I can imagine. I think is a pretty fascinating read. It will be available as a book from Molly Gaudry’s great press, which has up until now been called Willows Wept Press but is now being called Cow Heavy or Cow Heavy Press. It’s going to be a book this winter.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

As always, I am working on too many things. The big one is the academic one- my dissertation, which deals with contemporary fiction as a medium-responsive practice. Also, I am working this big experiment in multidirectional text as a sort of extension of the idea behind my book (78 Stories). Each page will feature paragraphs that can be read either from left to right or top to bottom, plus there will be a ‘tunnel’ – a readable direction from page to page through the book. There is a well-designed rule of construction that generates the page layouts and structures the piece as a whole, but I’ve yet to figure out a succinct way of describing it, so you’ll just have to trust me that it makes more sense when you see it. Plus of course I’m working through a bunch of short pieces in various stages of completion.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you’re excited about?

I’m hesitant to use the word ‘great’ to describe anything besides all-time favorite books, which means that things I just read really can’t qualify because I haven’t had time to know if they will stick with me. That said, in the last few weeks I’ve read and very much enjoyed Gordon Lish’s What I Know So Far, Ronald Sukenik’s Doggy Bag, and Thalia Field’s Point and Line. I’m currently reading Theodore Adorno’s Minima Moralia, Avital Ronell’s Crack Wars and Robert Lopez’s Part of the World. I feel pretty confident that there are people to whom I would recommend any of these books. As for new releases: I want to check out Amelia Gray’s new book. There are a punch of others that aren’t quite coming to mind.

Written by tgobble

September 9th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Fiction,Interviews

Interview: Brynn Saito

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Brynn Saito’s poem “17 Again” appears in the August issue of The Collagist. Her poetry has been anthologized in Helen Vendler’s Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology, 3rd ed and From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas 1900-2002, edited by Ishmael Reed.  Her work has also appeared in Pleiades, Harpur Palate, and Copper Nickel. In 2008, she was awarded a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellowship.  Currently, she lives in San Francisco.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for “17 Again”? What was on your mind while you were writing this poem?

A family friend of mine, Jim Chappell, is a pianist, and I’d just gone to see his concert.  He’s got a song called “Treasure at Seventeen,” and before he performed it that night, he prefaced it with a story.  My poem, “17 Again,” was inspired by his story: Jim was young and in love and in Michigan.  So, that first line, “Maybe you’re in a place I’ve never been, say Michigan,” came to me as Jim was playing the song.  The rest of the poem spun itself out of a writing exercise given to me by Traci Brimhall, a dear poet friend of mine. “Use the words: letter, bottom, gospel, force, and prey in a poem.  Name a Zodiac sign and a type of bird.  Repeat one of your lines three times.”  I had just emerged from a somewhat rough period of transition and change, and I was having a very hard time writing; Traci would send me short exercises to spark the flow of words.  Tan Lin told me once that every poem begins in an exercise—to not discount the power of rules and assignments.  I believe that.

2. In poetry, the use of the 2nd person “you” seems to affect the emotion of the piece much differently than 1st or 3rd person. There is an impactful quality in that direct address with “you” that is missing if the speaker is talking about himself/herself or about another person to a third party/the reader. What about this topic, this issue, made this poetic moment seem to be best suited for the 2nd person?

You’re right.  “You” summons.  It hails.  It engages the reader in a direct way.  In this instance, the use of the 2nd person seemed natural, as the poem began as a letter to Jim, a speaking to him about his own story.

3. The sounds are something that jump out at me in this poem. For instance, “her” is repeated often, even being used three times as the end word for lines. Also, in the fourth to last line, the rhymes with “prey” and “way” stick out. As addressed in the previous question, “you” is used often, even in a rhyming situation in the 2nd and 3rd to last lines. In this piece, what was the influence of sound for you during the writing process?

Two things about sound: first, as I mentioned before, much of this poem was spun from a writing exercise, and part of the exercise was to “repeat one of your lines three times.” That, if I recall the process correctly, led me to the repetition of the “her” lines.  So we can thank Traci Brimhall for that.

The other thing is this: a lot of my work contains both repetition and internal rhyme, and I think this is because I compose (and/or fine tune) many of my poems in my head, without writing anything down.  This is a trick I learned from Marie Howe, who urged us once to write 10 lines in our mind without resorting to pen and paper (or computer).  Rhyme, repetition, and rhythm become techniques of memorization in this model of composition.  Which makes sense, considering poetry’s origination within oral culture, during a period when knowledge was transmitted orally, through song and incantation, from generation to generation.  If you haven’t yet written a poem in your mind, I’d highly recommend it (perhaps while walking down a busy city street, and listening to music.  Or while hiking through a redwood forest.  If you get stuck on what to ‘say’ next in the poem, look to your environment for inspiration).  It’s surprisingly freeing (a form of free-styling, I suppose) and spontaneous.

4. You’ve been anthologized in From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas 1900-2002 and Helen Vendler’s Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology. Can you talk about your involvement with these anthologies: how it came about, what of yours is included, etc.?

Funny story, that.  Both of those “anthologizations” were somewhat random and quite surprising.  I wrote a poem called “Turkey People” in a college writing workshop that’s about my very diverse family, and the weirdness that occurs when we gather together.  Ishmael Reed, the editor of From Totems to Hip-Hop was my teacher at the time. He wanted to include student work in his anthology and asked me to submit poems for consideration.  “Turkey People” was chosen.  It was the first poem I ever got published.  I was 21 at the time, and thrilled.

Then I got a message from the Vendler folks, about a year ago, asking if they could include “Turkey People” in their revised version of Poems, Poets, Poetry.  I said, “You mean as an example of how NOT to write a poem?”  I was that surprised.  So many years have passed since I wrote that poem, and, looking at it now, all I can see are the flaws.  But someone over at St. Martin’s Press—perhaps Helen Vendler herself, who knows—saw otherwise. “All of the poetry appears in a positive light,” the publisher assured me.  Great, I said.  So there I am in the index, “Saito” right before “Shakespeare,” which is quite strange.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on my first book of poems.  I’m also working on a collection with the aforementioned Traci Brimhall.  We’re co-writing poems, which is another very freeing and spontaneous mode of poem-making.  It’s breaking me open, in a good way.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you’re excited about?

I’m so bad at keeping up on what’s-just-about-to-happen in the world of contemporary poetry.  I know Tina Chang’s new book is forthcoming, and I’m looking forward to that.  I’ve been jonesing to read Anne Carson’s Vox.  By my bedside is a book on Buddhism, Carl Phillips’ beautiful book, Speak Low, and Gary Snyder and Tom Killion’s collaboration, Tamalpais Walking, all of which I’m deeply enjoying.

Written by tgobble

August 31st, 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in Interviews,Poetry

Interview: Steven D. Schroeder

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Steven D. Schroeder’s poem “Everything Looks Like A Target” appeared in the August issue of The Collagist. His first book of poetry is Torched Verse Ends (BlazeVOX [books]). His poems are available or forthcoming from New England ReviewPleiadesThe Journal,diode, and Verse Daily. He edits the online poetry journal Anti-, serves as a contributing editor for River Styx, and works as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for “Everything Looks Like A Target”? What was on your mind while you were writing this poem?

My current manuscript project, where this poem appears, has a strong thread of American consumer culture and our current economic crisis. On the flip-side of that, I love Target stores and even go there on casual dates with my girlfriend. On the flip-side of that, I worked retail for a couple years and found it to be mentally and emotionally deadening. So I was thinking of all those things in harmony with the title lyric from Clutch, one of my favorite bands. (The manuscript uses all stolen titles.)

2. I had a professor that stressed how important outside of writing jobs are for writers to have, especially when developing one’s craft. This poem seems to back up that statement, relying heavily on what would seem first hand experience, marked with the first address of “Kid.” How much of this poem is a result of your own outside of writing work experience?

I was once a proud employee of Hollywood Video and Lightning Lizard Pizza, so the general weariness and wariness of customers comes from that, as well as how I regarded the chaos of the busiest times. The specifics of the poem are more a conglomerate of stories I heard from friends, things that happened to me outside the context of work, and an ending departure into complete invention.

3. The impressive thing to me about this poem is how it stays serious, keeping the poetic feel important. For me, a poem like this would be difficult to stay away from complaining or over-reflecting. However, this poem does a great job of showing the difficulties, framing them in a way that is both purposeful and poetic. Can you discuss how you managed to stay purposeful in your writing of this experience, whether personal or not?

I’d be much more prone to complaining than I would to over-reflecting. Here, as in many of my poems, I tried to leaven the bitter aspect with humor and soundplay. I also wanted to convey some of my genuine affection for the Target stores and their positives to accompany the more obvious negatives of customer service and consumerism in general. The poem needs both sides to be genuine to me and probably to be more interesting to a reader.

4. Your collection Torched Verse Ends recently came out from BlazeVox Books. How does “Everything Looks Like A Target” compare to the poems readers can expect in that book?

It’s hard for me to talk about the new poems next to the poems from Torched Verse Ends—my current writing is by nature closest to me, which isn’t really fair to the book. There are poems on similar themes, from one at the aforementioned Lightning Lizard Pizza to one about treating workers as if they’re pets or accessories, and I frequently use that humor-plus-wordplay-plus-darkness approach. However, there’s also a strain of poems in the book that the next project does not replicate: mostly wildfire and wild animals.

5. What current projects are you working on?

There’s this stolen-title manuscript, which loosely covers theft, lies, and other transgressions, and is currently called All But One Untrue. It’s set for submission to presses this fall, and I can tell my headspace is ready for another big thing. Next, it’s going to be lyric, fragmented fiction-ish, set in a city inspired by everything from Calvino and Machiavelli to China Mieville and the Civilization game series.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you’re excited about?

The poetry books I’ve enjoyed most recently are the From the Fishouse anthology and Dara Wier’s Selected Poems from Wave Books. And I’ve just started on The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry and Thunderer by Felix Gilman (another potential inspiration for the city project), but I’m pleased with both so far. Except for books by friends (and there are several excellent ones upcoming), I tend to be a late adopter who gets the literary news rather than gives it.

Written by tgobble

August 23rd, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Interviews,Poetry

Collagist / Best of the Web Reading

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Please stop by Café 1923 on Tuesday evening for a reading by writers featured in either Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010 anthology or The Collagist.

Café 1923 is located at 2287 Holbrook, in Hamtramck.  The reading is scheduled for Tuesday, August 24th, at 7:00pm and will feature the following writers: 

Written by Matthew Olzmann

August 22nd, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Interview: Mary Miller

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Mary Miller’s story “Cedars of Lebanon” appears in the August issue of The Collagist. She is the author of a short story collection, Big World, and a chapbook, Less Shiny.  Her fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly, Fiction, Black Clock, Mississippi Review, Indiana Review, Oxford American, and many others.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for “Cedars of Lebanon”? What was on your mind while you were writing this story?

The inspiration for this story was an ex-boyfriend who doesn’t read, thank goodness.  He would bring home these broken things that he’d gotten free or cheap and pile the stuff up everywhere.  I didn’t live with him.  There was no way I would have been able to live in his house.  If I had to say what the story was about, I’d say it’s about a couple that loves each other even though they know the relationship will fail, that they aren’t right for each other.  Despite this, neither has the strength to put an end to it.  As I was writing this story, I was probably thinking about relationships, in general, and how amazing it is that two people can ever really be happy and in love for longer than, say, six months.  I’m still working on this story, extending it and revising it for my manuscript.  It’s been pretty fun to write.

2. This story works without names for the two characters. What was the thought process behind this decision, and how did you think this enhanced the story?

It wasn’t really purposeful, to make them “anybody” or something.  I started writing it without names because it sounded better in my head, and then when I went to put some names in, they didn’t seem to want any.  They sounded wrong.

3. From the female’s perspective especially, it seems that the relationship works on a give-and-take set-up, even in unappealing situations, which seems to push the story, creating its tension. For instance, though she does not want to clean the camper, she does it anyway, as she loves that he showers with her and enjoys sleeping on his chest at the drive-in. In the end, she admits to making him play the Johnny Cash song over and over on the piano, “listening to his voice strain with feeling.” This set-up leaves me curious: how did these moments unfold during your writing process?

I think any relationship, whether “good” or “bad,” has good and bad moments.  These people wouldn’t be together if they were just steadily making each other miserable.  I’m trying to be more honest when writing stories, showing all sides of a situation instead of just the crap.  It’s easy for me to write about the crap.  Harder is trying to explain what makes us put up with it.  Most of us aren’t masochists.  We want to be happy.

4. When I saw you speak at Ball State University this past spring, you mentioned how much of your development and success as a writer has come from your involvement in the online writing community. As you’ve progressed further, with your book Big World and beyond, how does the online writing community continue to affect your writing career? Also, what sort of activities does this entail nowadays?

I play on Facebook a lot, talking to writers and editors and book-lovers.  I read blogs, online lit mags, the lit mag reviews at newpages, and just generally try to keep up with what’s happening, what people are doing.  I get solicitations on Facebook pretty frequently now, which is awesome.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a short story manuscript, which is nearing completion, and a novel that I’ve let sit idle for the past two weeks while I’ve been moving.  Now I’m completely intimidated to open the document.  I must do that soon.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you’re excited about?

I’m reading an excellent memoir by Elizabeth McCracken called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. I’m also reading Chris Offutt’s memoir, The Same River Twice. I love memoirs.  I’ve been thinking more and more about writing nonfiction.  It would be kind of cool to stop insisting that everything was fiction, to just be like ‘Yes, this is me.  Deal with it.’

Written by tgobble

August 20th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Fiction,Poetry