Thursday, March 22, 2018

Building Book Movements, Not Fires: a Follow-up Interview with Michael Noll


If 25 people buy the same book at the same time, it creates a blip on a sales chart.
If 250 people buy the same book at the same time, the blip grows.
If 2,500 people buy the same book at once—or 25,000—an industry starts paying attention.
If 250,000 people buy the same book, the writer becomes a major figure.
If we all buy books twice a month, every month, a movement is built.

Last year, after the presidential election, writer Michael Noll began a project to amplify minoritized voices, to help America see itself in literature (as its mission statement reads), and to diversify reading and publishing as a kind of push-back to a presidency that would negatively affect the people whose voices were/have been, made invisible, historically underrepresented, and/or discredited by louder majoritized voices.

To achieve this, Noll created a website named Books are not a Luxury; every month he featured at least two books along with book-discussion questions, an essay about the featured book, and an interview with the writer. Enough books, certainly, to create a year of book clubs, from selections to questions.  

Last year, I spoke with Michael about this project: Building Book Movements, Not Fires. This year, I wanted to check back in as a kind of year in review. And that is the interview you'll find below.


Q1. Books are Not a Luxury has celebrated its one-year anniversary. What have you found most rewarding or successful about the series?
MN. A teacher in Austin bought a copy of Mychal Denzel Smith's Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, and almost immediately one of his students, a young African-American woman, saw the book and grabbed it. Then, she wrote a short response to the book—on her own, not for an assignment, but because she was so excited by what she had read.

Q 2. Can readers expect any changes in the coming year?
MN. I'm taking a pause from the project for the moment. I had some family issues that I had to attend to. When the project returns, it will probably take a revised form. I started Books Are Not a Luxury after the election, when it seemed so clear that half of voters had completely disregarded Trump's racism and misogyny. I didn't have any illusions that promoting books by the groups targeted by Trump's rhetoric would change anyone's mind, but it did seem like there were a lot of people acutely interested in listening to people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. At the same time, writers from those groups often face significant obstacles in getting their books published and in front of readers. So it seemed like an opportunity to do essential work on two fronts. It's still important work, but if I think about Books Are Not a Luxury in the context of all that has happened in the past year (calling reps, marching, getting emotionally overwhelmed, getting a second and third wind), I want to find a way to support marginalized writers in they're doing right now. That means writing and publishing, of course, but it's also become clear to me that, at least in terms of the literary community, it has been writers from these groups taking the lead in political resistance. This has meant time away from their work. So I think it's possible that supporting writers may also mean supporting the political work that they're doing.

Q 3. Are there any Books are Not a Luxury book clubs? Could a person start one? 
MN. I don't know of any formal groups, but I know that several groups have read some of the books and individuals have informally suggested books from the project to their clubs. People can absolutely start one. And, if groups have read a book that really spoke to them, they can contact me to let me know. Or, and this might be even better, they should reach out to the writer. It seems small, but fan letters can mean a tremendous amount to a writer.

Q 4. Has the mission of the series deepened, or developed in this past year? 
MN. You know, reading books by non-white, non-cis writers shouldn't be a special project. It ought to be just par for the course. For many readers (and publishers and agents and publicists) it isn't. I do think it's important to make a concerted effort to correct the gaps in one's reading, but it's also important to turn it into a lifelong habit and not a special project. One of the things you see, politically speaking, is people who were part of a political counterculture decades ago now suddenly finding themselves unaware of current issues and ways of talking and thinking about race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and ableism. These are not static issues. You have to keep learning and engaging with them. You saw this with Hillary Clinton at a rally where a young Black Lives Matter protester confronted her about her "super predators" remark back in the 90s. Clinton got pretty condescending in her response. I think a lot of politicians have been surprised at the ways that these issues have changed around them. So, I'm trying to find ways to listen to people from different backgrounds in all possible ways: through books, radio, TV, film, social media, in-person, in politics, however I can.

Q 5. How has reading these books affected your space in the world? 
MN. It was humbling. I think it's pretty easy to start thinking, "Oh, I'm woke (whatever that means). I'm an evolved moral, ethical person." Then your certainty about your own righteousness runs into someone else's experience.

Q 6. This is an excellent series, and clearly takes a vast amount of work. Are you doing this all by yourself? Are others involved? 

MN. I had a lot of help. Bookstores, especially BookWoman in Austin, have always been on the forefront of promoting diverse authors and books, and they continued to do so with this project. I also wrote none of the text associated with the project. Instead, I found great writers who could speak to the experiences or content or background of a book and asked them to write an essay in response or interview the author. My role was mostly project management. 
Q 7. Could someone donate to the series, or become a member? Surely, there are costs. Or, maybe I should ask, how can someone support this series directly? Maybe the need isn't financial, but a need for additional energy?
MN. The best thing that people could do is start their own version of Books Are Not a Luxury--online or in person. The project was never intended to be any kind of permanent structure. It was part of a larger response by millions of people to the presidential election in particular and the generations of bigotry and injustice that led up to it. There are a lot of ways to learn about great books by writers from marginalized groups. Here's one place to look: VONA offers writing workshops for people of color. Their faculty are amazing, and people ought to read their books. Another is the annual Tournament of Books, which is a good place to find great books. 
In general, though, I've found that I find out about most books through word of mouth—and by word of mouth, I mean social media. I'm either friends with or follow a lot of writers on Facebook, and I pay attention when they talk up a book. Obviously, most readers aren't going to friend writers on Facebook, but I do think it's a great idea to follow their public profiles on any platform and pay attention to what they're reading. Writers talk about books and tend to know about them before the general population does. 
Then, read those books and discuss them with others. That's the magic of books. They lead to conversations, and we need better conversations about these issues.

Q 8. What's the feedback like that you've been receiving from readers or writers, or both?
MN. It's been overwhelmingly positive. in particular, I'm always struck by how much it means to writers for someone to reach out and say, "Your book was great. I'd love to talk to you about it." I wish everyone would write the authors whose books they love.

Q 9. Do you have the books planned out for this year, or how does the vetting work?
MN. Not yet. I'm also doing a lot of the same work over at Read to Write Stories, the blog where I post writing exercises based on published work. As a writer and teacher, I've been frustrated by the ways that books by writers of color, in particular, are often discussed differently than booksby white writers. David Treuer talked about this in his great book Native American Fiction: A User's Manual. He visited an art gallery with an exhibit of Native American art, and there was a sign posted telling people to view the art with their hearts, not their heads. He took offense to the sign as it suggests that Native art can't be held to the same standards as non-Native art. I think the same thing is true for books. When craft gets discussed in writing classes, the models are often by white writers. Non-white writers work is discussed as important, which it is, but it's also well-written and a model for other writers.

Q 10. What do you like about reading itself? You're a writer, an avid reader, a director of a large community/state-wide writing program. What is it about books, words, the act of reading that you've made it your life? (These may be two questions.)
MN. Most of it's natural, not really something I've chosen. I can make intellectual arguments about why reading is superior to watching movies or TV, but the truth is, I can pretty much take or leave any TV show or movie, but I love reading. There's something about being utterly immersed in good writing, in a story or argument, to the extent that you cease to be aware of your surroundings. At its best, those stories are engaging and entertaining and immerse you in complex worlds that make you aware of nuances that hadn't known about before. It's like when I first started wearing glasses as a kid and looked off of my parents porch toward a far-off pasture and said, "Hey, those are cows over there." Without the right lenses, I hadn't seen what there was to see. Books function the same way, I think. 


Michael Noll is the author of The Writer's Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction (2018, A Strange Object Press). He's also the editor of Read to Write Stories and Program Director at the Writers’ League of Texas. His short stories have been published in American Short Fiction, Chattahoochee Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Indiana Review, and The New Territory, and been nominated for New Stories from the Midwest. His story, “The Tank Yard” was included in the 2016 Best American Mystery Stories anthology. He lives in Austin, TX, with his family. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Reading and Conversation with Ann Tweedy and Erin Pringle in Olympia, Washington

Did you know that there's a highly expected chance of rain showers in Olympia, Washington this Friday?

It's true.

So, I think, What better way to spend a rainy evening than at Last Word Books listening to Ann Tweedy read poetry and then discuss, with me, language, the body, grief, memory, and identity? I'll be reading, too.

I think rain and a bookstore will be lovely. And I look forward to the sounds meeting.

111 Cherry St. NE
Olympia, WA
Friday, March 23, 2018
7-8:30 PM
Free and open to the public

Erin Pringle

Ann Tweedy
Last Word Books, 111 Cherry St. NE, Olympia,WA

Fuse Spokane Diverse Voices Book Discussions: April 2018-November 2018 Reading List

Fuse Spokane Diverse Voices Book Club

(Meetings held at the Spokane Public Library, Downtown)


(Book titles below are hyperlinked to their pages on Auntie's Bookstore for easy shopping and holds.)

( June 13: Connecting Ideas among the books we’ve read ( July 11: Queer and Trans Artists of Color, interviews by Nia King
( August 8: Diverse Children’s Books and YA Books
Readers will bring in a diverse book to share and then donate to a local children/youth organization, library, or school.
( September 12: Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism
October 10: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
November 14: Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
( December 12: TBA


Who can join? You can! Also, join our book group on Facebook for announcements, discussion, and reminders:
What does it cost? It's free, friend. All discussions are free and open to the public. Everyone is invited and should come having read the selected book. Discussions focus on the book's contents: style, topics, patterns, intentions, questions, and connections to our community and lives.

Why is it called the Fuse-Spokane book club? What's Fuse? Fuse is the largest progressive, non-profit organization in Washington State. For more information about Fuse, please visit their website:

Where can I find this month's book?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rapid Review: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

"If a person of color is willing to talk to you about race, even if they aren't very friendly while they're doing it, it's a generosity." ~Ojeoma Oluo, Google Talk presentation
So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press/Hatchette, 2018) is a book that functions as a bridge between the lived experiences of people of color and white people to help, primarily, white people align themselves to people of color and Racism. She starts off early in the book by explaining carefully why you (white person) need to read this book. In sum, no matter how "woke" you are on the spectrum of "woke," you're not there yet. 
This is not Racism 101. This is not for people who haven't yet noticed inequality or racism. In fact, Oluo would argue that empathy has little to do with ending racism. Being nice will not stop Racism. Reading diverse books will not stop children of color being disciplined at much higher rates and with more severe punishments than their white peers. Holding the door open for a person of color will not halt the Industrial Prison Complex. This book will, however, explain why these small acts do little to counteract Racism and, thus, how to do much more.

Or maybe So You Want to Talk about Race is Racism 101 for the Twenty-first century and understanding Racism's disease and symptoms and how to identify those now. It's definitely the handbook for all people who have been living and working under an inadequate definition of Racism. Racism is not an individual problem but as a systemic one that infects all who live within the culture of White Supremacy. It is a system created by a culture that normalizes and romanticizes whiteness, typically through the oppression, disempowerment, and portrayals of people of color as violent/inhuman/alien/less-than/absurd/ignorant/stupid/lazy/objects/etc.

And from that definition of Racism comes not only the real possibility of taking part in dismantling that system, but also Oluo's purpose in writing the book: to contextualize this definition, help white readers witness the reality of this definition in action through various anecdotes, statistics, comparisons, connections to institutions and their relationships to each other, and then to provide white readers with suggestions of how to position their imaginations, actions, and understanding of themselves and others in relation to, for example, cultural appropriation or to the school-to-prison pipeline or to communication with people of color in the workplace. Intersectionality, microaggressions, the model minority myth, affirmative action, protest, equity versus equality, the trials of intercultural friendships--and so, so much more.

While reading the book, readers learn about Oluo's own life, from the experience of being a queer woman of color, to being raised by her white mother who didn't understand systemic racism, to the ways in which her body and voice have been censored by white people and institutions in ways that have deeply affected her life and perspective--experiences that are usually hidden but that Oluo shares so that white readers will understand.

For a better idea of all that Oluo's tackling, visit the publisher's page and read all the rave reviews. This is, without doubt, the most helpful book on the relationship between white people's imaginations and Racism and how to reposition that imagination in a way that will lead to effective action. The book also helps contextualize other systems of oppression, from patriarchy/misogny, abelism, homophobia, etc. The world makes much more sense to me now after reading Oluo's book and how to interpret what I'm witnessing, and past experiences.

Put this on the TOP of your book club's reading list, and definitely order it for your local library if it doesn't yet shelve a copy or two. And if you live in a neighborhood that has a Free Little Library, buy a copy for that, too. This is an excellent and NECESSARY read. Today. BUY IT TODAY!
"What we're doing when we're talking about race, usually, is we have people who are trying to come to their own personal goals, and usually people of color who come to talk about race are trying to get other people to understand what is harming them. And, very often, white people come to talk about race to try to make sure the person they're talking to knows that they are not the person who is harming them. Those are two completely different conversations that will never meet. Because you have one person whose lived experience says, 'You are harming me, and I need you to understand,' and you have another person whose lived experience says, 'I am not part of the problem, I am a good person, and I need you to understand.'
"Because we don't state what we're talking about when we talk about race, you can dissolve an entire friendship in a discussion, and if you were to ask why, of each person in that discussion, the reasons would be completely different. So we know it is tough. We know there's a lot at risk. And if you are a white person in this room, and most of you are, and you're thinking, 'What if I get called racist? The last time I tried a couple times, it ended really bad.' Trust me. No conversation about race has ever ended nearly as bad for you as ends for people of color. So, before we launch into why we have to do it anyways.
"If a person of color is willing to talk to you about race, even if they aren't very friendly while they're doing it, it's a generosity." ~Ojeoma Oluo, Google Talk presentation 
Ojeoma Oluo, author picture


Thursday, March 15, 2018

April 7: The Whole World at Once at the Casey, Illinois Library

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, you know how important the library is to who I am. The Summer Library Series is based on my love for the annual summer reading programs that my hometown library hosted. My interest in visual art started in the local library by sitting on the floor with my father looking through the heavy art books they had, which were mostly Renaissance art and Renoir.

In fourth grade, my first speech in 4-H was on Van Gogh, and all the books I used and spread out before me on the counter of a church basement were books I'd borrowed from my library and interlibrary loans. How did I read every book in the Trixie Belden series? They were in my library. AVI, Maurice Sendak, Janet Lunn, Arnold Loebel, Lucy Maud Montgomery? Writers I met at my hometown library. Choose Your Own Adventure books? Yep. Anne of Green Gables series? Yep. Sweet Dreams Romance series? Yep. Truncated versions of Edgar Allen Poe stories? Yep! The turning wire racks of my library. Where did I watch my mother become interested in genealogy and crouch over wooden tables tracing her family from here to there? Same library.

Could I go on? Yes. From mythology to mysteries to Stephen King and back. Records, computers, videos. Cassette tapes with picture books in plastic bags. Magazines. Books for sale in the entrance (paperbacks 10 cents/hardbacks 20 cents).

Where did I learn about Contestoga wagons and daring girls who dressed as boys to seek their adventures? Where did I learn to read? To find items in Richard Scarry books? To shelve books and file library cards? Those summers I volunteered in fifth and sixth grades at the library.

Why am a writer?
The library.

(I'm starting to feel a bit like the Cowardly Lion's song regarding Courage. Where did I find what courage I did have? THE LIBRARY.)

So you now might more wholly imagine how very pleased I am to announce that amidst visiting home for the first time in nearly a decade, I'll be spending the afternoon at the very library where I grew up. I'll be reading from my newest collection of stories The Whole World at Once, followed by a discussion.

The event is free and open to the public, and of course, you're invited.

April 7th, 2018
1 PM
Casey Township Library

Facebook event details here:

Friday, March 9, 2018

Erin Pringle on L.A. Talk Radio's The Writer's Block

Last night, I had the opportunity to speak with Bobbi Jean Bell, Richard Paolinelli, and Jim Christina, on The Writer's Block. We talked about the contrasts among darkness, silence, and beauty; if I ever experience writer's block; expression; why most all my characters move through the stories without names; and more.

It's a great discussion, with serious moments marked with the laughter that allows real human conversation to happen.

Thanks to everyone at The Writer's Block for having me, delving into The Whole World at Once, and the good thoughts shared on, and sparked from, this episode.

You can listen to the episode here:

The Writer's Block is a weekly discussion about books with writers, and airs every Wednesday at 7 PM (PST). You can tune in on your radios in L.A. or stream live via this link:

If you caught the episode live last night, let me know. :)
And if you stream it now, let me know, too.


Monday, March 5, 2018

I'm reading with ANN TWEEDY at Last Word Books!

Last Word Books, Olympia, WA
On March 23rd, I'm driving to Olympia to spend the evening with Ann Tweedy in a bookstore. And this time, we will meet having already met, and I'm looking forward to these new terms.  

Last summer, I was lucky to meet Ann Tweedy when we read at the Hugo House in Seattle. When she began reading her poetry, I experienced the jarring/intensity/yes that happens when art says, yes, here I am for you, between bodies. That disarming feeling when someone's speaking the truth about what has been made silent or turned into silences. About the body, about motherhood in terms of bodies, about feelings I had but forgotten because very little in the surrounding world has made those feelings recognizable as real or worth thinking about. 

Ann read this poem, "Flower Stalk," which begins this way:
 At a poetry workshop in the Sierras, a bunch of us gather for lunch
after the morning session. The workshop leader
tells us about the young niece he adores, says he's jealous
of children who pee their pants from laughing.
I look around and guess—no one else at the small table has given birth—
and I almost say once you have a baby, there's much more opportunity
to pee one's pants, laughing or coughing, you name it.
But there's shame in it, how the body becomes compromised,
makes its small refusals. Almost mournful
that you never understood its near perfection until then.
And it was at But there's shame in it, that I heard her speaking from a place I've been and felt lonely/isolated within. But that, of being amid a group to which I don't belong but pass within, and witnessing the the moment the group identifies with itself but I don't, and we depart, though not in body, in our ways of moving through the world . . . 

I'd quote the whole poem, but please travel to it yourself; the last part of the poem breathes so hard through my memory and experiences that I don't want to articulate that. Continue reading Flower Stalk by Ann Tweedy.

In sum, I so look forward to being with Ann Tweedy again, amid words and shelves of words and people who read words. I believe that we'll each be reading a bit, from our books and new works, but also moving into conversation with each other and the audience in a way that allows some examination of this world. Please join us.

Friday, March 23, 2018
111 Cherry Street NE, Olympia, WA
7 PM
Free and open to the public

More on Ann Tweedy (click to travel there):
Ann  Tweedy

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rapid Review: Uncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright

Last week, I discovered a copy of Richard Wright's Uncle Tom's Children at a used bookstore. This is the third work I've read by Wright, in line with Native Son (fiction) and Black Boy (non-fiction). Like his other work, Uncle Tom's Children does not flinch from the violent and impossible labyrinth that is living in the United States as a black person.

Published in 1936, the book begins with a non-fiction piece, "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow," in which Wright recounts his experiences learning the unwritten rules white people required black people to follow, from his first job in which his life is threatened because he referred to a white person in conversation without using "Mr.", to witnessing his white bosses beat a black woman in the back of the store--an event treated by his boss as a delicious matter of fact. After she wanders into the street, bloody, weak, confused, a white police officer arrests her for intoxication.

Starting the book with the non-fiction piece serves to authenticate the reality that all the following novellas take place in, and to establish Wright as the clear storyteller of the book. The reader cannot sink too far into a story without remembering its author and the first non-fiction piece, which is important since these fictions contain such vivid, awful violence many readers will shirk from it by trying to shrug it off as fiction. Nope. The organization of the book refuses this wish. Fiction is bound to reality, and any attempt to deny this reality is to be aware that Wright is watching and knows this impulse and will not have it.

Except the first piece, the rest of the book is comprised of short stories/novellas, each told in a series of small sections that typically culminate in a person trying to save his life, or her own, after breaking the white man's code which Wright illuminates as ridiculous, arbitrary, and impossible with a guaranteed violence built into it--not just violence committed to the body, which Wright shows, but also the violence committed to the soul, identity, relationships, and one's ability to grasp what reality is since so much of reality is maneuvering through illusion.

In the story "Big Boy Leaves Home," which might, from the title, seem like a coming-of-age story about a boy maturing into a man about to start a new life . . . is not. "Big Boy Leaves Home" is the story of a group of teenagers who skip school on a hot day and want to go swimming, but a white man owns the pond and will likely kill on sight. The teenagers go swimming anyway, which ends with a white woman screaming, a white man shooting two of them, and one of the teenagers (Big Boy) killing the white man in defense. Of course, as soon as the white man is shot, everyone, including the reader, knows that this is the certain death for the teenager. The rest of the story is the two surviving teenagers attempt to save their own lives, while white people follow in a mob that burns down houses and worse.

In the last novella, "Bright and Morning Star," a mother has raised her two sons to young adulthood. Now, she is made to witness the destruction of her sons, which coincides with the blossoming of their ideas and beliefs in a workers' revolution and unification of poor white and black people in order to gain any traction to better lives. Her eldest son has been put in prison for his ideas, and her next son is about to die for the same reason. And she knows it. And she tries to protect him and the group of people in the community who believe the same. This night, she summons courage to "talk back" to white men who come hunting for her son. "Bright and Morning Star" is an incredible story that, in little time, explains how religion had been used to quiet the woman to the tragedy of her life--and after her awakening to communist ideas, she begins to feel alive.

In sum, Uncle Tom's Children is a harrowing book full of beautiful lives caught in a wretched reality made by, and perpetuated by, people who control it and then claim ignorance about its existence. How I wish someone had taught this book, or any book by Richard Wright, when I was a literature student. But they didn't.

I don't wonder why.


Places to find Uncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright (click for links)
Reminder: If your library does not hold a copy of this book, you can request the book through Interlibrary loan, or request its purchase. Librarians are always looking to add books that community members believe will benefit the collection. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

It's Atmospheric, I Suppose: An Interview with Julia Drescher

Tramping through, hunting in, being hunted in the many woods (“dark” “Horrible”) that are the terrain of this book, Drescher finds/makes a clearing where a “gwhirl” is “breathing freely” and speaks in blood. Here she, who is at once many female-marked speakers, whirls, turns back on, turns her back on the usual tellers, or hunters, in order to open the epic.
– Susan Gevirtz, on Open Epic by Julia Drescher


Open Epic (cover) by Julia Drescher,
Delete Press 2017
After finding ourselves graduated from the MFA program at Texas State University, Julia Drescher and I spent the next two handfuls of years teaching there. Most every day we'd meet by the brick wall outside and talk. About the rain, about teaching thesis statements, about the state of the world, and words, too, sometimes. 

Once, I found her hand-stitching cover artwork for a book her press was preparing to launch. Another time, she showed me the wallpaper samples she'd gotten from Kiki Smith, and I ordered some, too, immediately drawn to the work.

For years our friendship went like this, sharing cigarettes, miseries, teaching tips, and jokes, before we each moved to states further north--her to Colorado, me to Washington. And while we've both left teaching, we're still connected, somewhat like telephone poles thousands of miles apart. From time to time, we remember and write. More often, we forget but then, out of our blue, we'll exchange interesting objects.  

Most recently, a package appeared on my doorstep containing Drescher's newest book of poetry, Open Epic (Delete Press 2017). 

It's a handsome book: cover, shape, and binding. And what lies within is a rattling play of thought and language, of fairy tale but not. Of anger but not. A hunt, torn apart. Like kathryn pringle and kari edwards, Drescher moves through the atmosphere of language and meaning, questioning--and asking us to question--where language and meaning intersect, deteriorate, and shift like so many pieces of earth in water.  

After reading Open Epic, I sent Julia a list of questions and asked if she'd answer them. She did. That is what follows.


What interests you about the edges of language and meaning?

JD. Right now I am listening to Julius Eastman’s “Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc” & I can’t tell if what word’s being sung is “said” or “sad”. It’s awesome.

It seems like the typical turn in poetry happens in the line, but your poetry turns within the collision of language itself, which isn’t made to seem like a collision but almost part of a stroke—the reader swimming from word to word, made to trust but not trust what the next word will do to the previous. The experience of reading Open Epic, for me, is like swimming underwater above sharp rocks.

JD. The trust-not-trust of language – I have never thought of that before (for myself) but I can see it as perfectly true. I must get this from my mother, I think.

I do sometimes think of lines in (my) poems as wrecks – sometimes what gets in the way of the poem one moment & then is the way of the poem in the next (the former having to do with my tyrannical tendencies, I think, & the latter is maybe when the poem can exceed these)…As a reader, I can’t help but be absorbed by misreadings/mishearings & interminable associations (polysemy etc.) & that makes its way into my writing.

Too, I guess the ‘wreck’ of the line is tied to sound & rhythm – like, I am always off-beat, can’t quite get the senses of the sound arrangement  to “come out right” etc. This happens, as well, in reading the poems out loud – the voice in my head is not the voice that comes out of my mouth (sometimes, this is very frustrating & sometimes I find myself super-interested in this ‘gap’ more generally).

“Hilda’s Hunting,” the first movement of Open Epic, reads as a mourning song to a heroine who has been displaced by a (historical) focus on the men and their doings while simultaneously examining-through-fracturing The Hunt as a traditional, patriarchal activity. Was this originally your intention, or did one appear as you worked on the other?

JD. I very much began writing this poem from the line “Hunting is about / Completing the sentence”—& then, in some ways the poem develops out of a refusal of that construction (i.e. the reliance on – even faith in – sound & the slippery-ness of language as the means for not ‘completing the sentence’ (&, therefore, not ‘hunting’?) — ‘Hunting’ being, anyway, not quite the word for not having a wor(l)d that speaks to what’s going on, where it’s trying to get to, get out of, etc.

So—displaced in a certain sense, yes, & anger/rage (mourning) about that – but more so, I think, about being angry at oneself for being angry about that situation of being ‘outside’ of some (heroic-historical –therefore “important”, “legitimate” etc.) focus– like, what’s so great about it anyway? & then, too, that it feels like you are forced to continually inhabit that anger because, you know, the very real effects of other people acting out/on this fantasy of “placement” won’t leave you alone…(&/but then doesn’t the position of “displacement (from)” provide some things that are vital to living, that are absolutely invaluable, that the “(historical) focus” won’t/doesn’t?)

I would say (& other people have said it before & better than I) that one of the insidiousnesses of any—particularly white, particularly western—“patriarchal activity” is the fact of my own varying complicities in it even as, let’s say, I never gave (& never could give) consent to it being in the first place— which is the situation of everyone to a certain extent,  just some are more invested in it continuing to be the normative situation etc.

& so, then, thinking about whatever benefits befall from that when my whiteness is added to the mix, the construction becomes also how to give away, or refuse, what you have but never wanted in the first place…

I think the Hilda poem doesn’t seem to actually present, let’s say, “Men” as a completely physical presence as such (or, if they are there, they have already been consumed) – the speaker & Hilda are saturated in & saturate the “traditional/patriarchal” violence, trying (& failing) continually to find an out-place from that.

Do you think that a questioning of tradition/history, without a re-examination of language itself, is authentic? Is questioning itself limited if language itself isn’t also part of the questioning? It seems you’re after both these questions in Open Epic, if not to answer them then to raise them.

JD. I can’t answer this directly, I think. (It would go into that too-much-&-not-enough territory).
 So how about this:
  • After the “election” in 2016 (& surely some version/the same version of this has always been around) I saw a sign that said “IF YOU DON’T VOTE, YOU DON’T COUNT”. & it made me so very viscerally angry & exhausted at the same time. While understanding (perhaps) where it’s coming from, I find it just a completely horrible & brutal expression – As the list could be endless (&, frankly, does include most who do vote): “illegal” immigrants don’t count, trees don’t count, children don’t count, mountains don’t count, refugees don’t count, oceans don’t count etc.etc.etc.( don’t count)… all of which is unbearably true, has been true, under particularly political modes -- & so, to *repeat* this ‘logic’ of *literal & figurative* value like it will get you anywhere close to whatever beautiful better world you imagine -- is just fucked-up-sad to me…
  • I recently sent a friend of mine who’s a poet/lawyer the following query:

There's a lawyer here who's trying to get the Colorado River (I think) legally classified as a person (much like New Zealand, or that guy who's tried with chimps etc.) & I wanted to know: Has anyone ever tried to get themselves (re)classified legally as, like say, a *river* (or something)?      
  • Just yesterday I heard a story on the radio about a “Southern Accent Reduction class” being offered to workers in Tennessee. Its purpose was to help them acquire a “more neutral American” sound in order to ensure that people would “pay attention to what you say, not how you say it.” Being from Texas (& being a person who sometimes “loses” my accent, sometimes “finds” it (&, unintentionally, others!) – usually depending entirely on what person or people I am around), I cracked my ass up all the way home.
  • I think I have been in love with the word “ain’t” since before I was born.
Without knowing whose body the ghost belongs to, would it be difficult to discuss the ghost? Sometimes I feel this way in trying to write about your work, ask you a question about it, though when I am not searching for language, I do not feel at a loss in the same way. Respond how you will.

JD. It is difficult to discuss! So here is a (perhaps heavy-handed) collage:

(From Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects): “A bird detects the quantum signature of an electromagnetic wave, not the wave itself, by means of a quantum scale magnet in its eye. Birds perceive not some traditional material lump, but an aesthetic shape.”
Is there a “quantum scale magnet” in our ears, in our tongues?
(From Barthes’s “The Grain of the Voice): “am I hearing voices within the voice? but isn't it the truth of the voice to be hallucinated?”
Ghost = guest + host?
The roots being ‘fury, anger’, ‘ugly’| ‘to wound, tear, pull to pieces’ | ‘to give up, give away’
How it feels what it means to love ferociously
(From an interview with Clarice Lispector):
                                                                        CL: I’m a little tired.
                                                                        Q: Of what?
                                                                        CL: Of myself.
                                                                        Q: But aren’t you born again and refreshed with
     every new work?
                                                                        CL: Well. For now I am dead.
     We’ll see if I can be born again.
     For now I’m dead.
     I’m speaking from my tomb.
(Barthes again): “(it is not the psychological 'subject' in me who is listening; the climactic pleasure hoped for is not going to reinforce – to express – that subject but, on the contrary, to lose it.)”
(From Baraka’s “Hunting is Not those Heads on the Wall”): “And even to name something, is to wait for it in the place you think it will pass.”
. . .
Part of the visceral pleasure in reading your work is the rhythms that the language takes in/falls into, often through repetition of fracture:

she holds like these her hands
she holds
these like
her hands
like is to
pretend as

& in her hand some shine & in her hand some bruise

So not just repetition, but using repetition to cause an expectation and then, once the expectation is formed, avoiding resolution by making the language blossom differently—but then the pleasure still comes from this, from being denied resolution of our (readers’) expectations as created by repetition. Do the conventions of poetry hinder or help the questioning of language? Or is questioning itself unable to be done as thoroughly in prose? I guess I’m wondering how the conventions of poetry limit even poetry, limit language—if pleasure is a limitation. Perhaps it isn’t. Or is pleasure what is used to move the reader through the questioning, as plot is often used in prose? Your turn, speak however you will to any of this.
JD. I am glad if it does what you say.
I think very interesting things can generate & move in limits (which are or can be shape-shifting things themselves).
In terms of pleasure, this recently came out of (seemingly) nowhere:

It is as if we live
with other words—true

pleasure is always disturbing. That feeling

a body gets wanting
to follow the eyes over a ledge – no –,

I could not write a poem
to save my life. But

poetry (what’s disturbing)
is not for saving life—

it’s for giving it away

For the past several years, when I write, I’ve been in conversation partly with Flannery O’Connor. This hasn’t always been true, but it has been of late. Is there a writer you are partly in conversation with in your writing right now? What writer, or work, do you return to again and again as the years pass?

JD. It really is quite hard for me to separate or delineate reading & writing so I combined two of your questions because of this & I thought it would make it easier to respond. However, because I could go on forever about reading (who what when where why), combining these questions doesn’t make it any easier! The works I return to again & again (i.e. the writers who, when I first read them, I knew I would be a reader of theirs forever), I think, would be who I am always in a “conversation” with (though most, probably, would want nothing to do with me!)

The people I quoted in the ghost question are the most recent writers I have been reading/returning to, but with a few absences:

Literally every day I am lucky enough to be in conversation with C.J. Martin & his work.

I have been reading Akira Lippet’s books & also re-reading Lisa Robertson (& pretty soon, Norma Cole) & then, of course, for the last 10 years I am always reading/listening to Fred Moten.

How would you describe your relationship with words?

JD. My relationship with words is atmospheric, I suppose.

Since writers often find themselves in a writing workshop, whether that’s in a classroom or coffee shop, and the workshop has the possibility to humiliate/harass/wound writing that defies/questions/wonders about language and how it moves, what advice would you give writers who are compelled to write outside of convention, or in unexpected ways? Ideally, the workshop’s goal is not to humiliate/harass/wound writing, no matter its form/path/appearance, so what advice would you give readers who come across such a writer in a workshop?

JD. Workshops are weird, at best. & who am I to offer ‘advice’!!??
I can only say that my experience didn’t happen to be as horrible as I know they can be, probably because:
  1. The teachers I had always encouraged us to read read read – which I interpreted as permission to continue to be interested  over & above being (or presenting oneself as) interesting. I still think this is something to “live up” to. Also, making friends with people who were interested in reading, learning constantly, treating other people with respect etc. very much helped.
  2. When I was a kid & visiting extended family (which we did quite often), the general rule was that my sisters & I were to be seen & not heard—which meant we had to remain present at the dinner table long after we had finished eating, listening to the adults talk. On the one hand, I think this was actually really good training just generally for reading & studying, & then, more specifically, for having my poems “workshopped” (…the on-the-other-hands, I don’t even have time to un-pack:)
  3. I am stubborn as fuck. This isn’t a brag – it has caused me lots of problems & it is a problematic characteristic etc. but it did, sometimes, help me—I guess, in terms of deciding what not to listen to or, better yet, how to listen to someone who might be using the workshop to “humiliate/harass/wound”. I mean, really, it just boils down to the fact that if the position you have taken in a workshop is to be the one to “humiliate” etc., it’s just beyond pathetic & not helpful to anyone.

[&, as a silly side-note: given the *academic* workshop set-up – wherein no one has a clue as to what they’re doing most of the time but everyone feels like they have to act like they know *exactly* what to do etc.—aren’t workshops kind of like (in their best & worst senses) parenting advice books? LOL.]

What projects are you working on in either your writing, reading, or press-publishing?

JD. Through Further Other Book Works, & in conjunction with Cuneiform Press, C.J. Martin & I just published a book of the poet Helen Adam’s collages  (The Collages of Helen Adam). I just finished a long poem I had been working on awhile, so I got about a day of feeling something close to satisfaction & then I am flailing again. So now I’m in some sort of hibernation pattern (which involves lots of reading & collaging).


Julia Drescher