Chris Nagler's Introduction to Jocelyn Saidenberg's Reading at Small Press Traffic November 21, 2008

Beth Murray & Jocelyn Saidenberg. Photo taken by Dana Teen Lomax.

Among many other things, Jocelyn Saidenberg’s work is concerned with the compacts we make, and laboriously maintain, between ourselves and the world; our mental and psychosexual magna cartas with the twin polyliths of Empire, and the Other’s Consciousness. Compacts, for which we are now (through some sort of darkly choreographed and bureaucratized dream logic) responsible for providing the terms, since the collective structures that used to supply coherence have maybe completely eroded, or, in the best case, have become “rotten with self-disclosure.”

What we are left with, now, to build selves out of, are dolmens of the gilded age, salvaged scraps of discourse. The ruins, not only of the psychological novel, of Stendahl, of James, as well as the psychoanalysts who culturally flanked them, but of the origins of the psychological novel, the impulse towards a cataclysmic complexity that finds its clearest illustration in our baroque and profoundly interrupted relations with each other.

These compacts are not formulated in a familiar beyond, where the author controls the contours of a human figure in the hopes that, finally, some secure border will hold between self and world. No, according to Jocelyn, the hope of this sort of unity foundered and began to die inward, and not even recently, but sometime in the late nineteenth century, somewhere out on the American frontier, our shamed rebirthing in mass inflorescence and mass solitude, which we are still oddly trying to rehearse our way out of, following the scent, by now almost alien, of some possibility of mutuality in the midst of coded boundlessness, of community in the midst of popularized exile.

From her piece "On Being Ill":

Mementos from the forest animals: thus I am summoned hence. Following along a resistant ear, hard-on wilted in hand, defiant known. I sew my limits.

But it is not only narrative she is interested in. Jocelyn also wants to perform the declamations of this self-system who stumbles, muttering and guilty, into and back out of the outposts of controlled relation. She wants the statements of a historical mind that has recognized in itself the open pit of the Legal. And so Jocelyn’s language often has the character of broken decree or metabolized legislation; broken, metabolized by the hyper-awareness of the fact that the self and the Law are two ways to move through the same labyrinth of transoms and partitions, a maze of convoluted judgments and hastily formulated regulations that are simultaneously petty, corrupt, and objective in the sense that they are utterly indigenous to us, natural, wild; and if we are to find some meaning, some species-wisdom, it will have to be, in Joan Retallack’s words, in “dubious prototypes of difficult processes.”

Dubious as they may be, Jocelyn’s ordering and framing methods are as careful as she is; perhaps Jocelyn would not define us as The Speaking Animal, or the Symbol-making animal, rather, we are maybe the nuancing Animal, or the Animal who proceeds by razor-sharp indecision, or the Animal who acts only by means of represented systems of triangulated desire. Like all animals, what we are gets us into bad trouble.

Like in this passage from "Immure," Jocelyn’s meditation on Stendahl’s the Red and the Black, and on Julian Sorel, the social-climbing protagonist whose animal-like absorption in others’ desiring systems makes him an unwitting pawn of empire:

Behavior’s rigidity. Due in a large part to mechanical associations. Controls me. Controls her. Who accuses the object of my affection. Our affection. Of stealing a small piece of thread. Which causes us to fall into destitution. But our depravity. Leaves us no room. The rigidity of her research.

Jocelyn’s version of the Animal is not a fetish, an ennobling, a nostalgia, a secret wish to be brutal, or a desire to be free from the bureaucracy of human affect. In her work Animality lies somewhere between the wilds of our neurotic and linguistic recursions, and our “morbidly irrational” cities.

A wilderness of signs, yes, but not simply, because crucially decanted with the involuntary bodiliness of our psychodramas, run through with a moment by moment captivation, which Giorgio Agamben has called “the disinhibiting ring of animal life” that is, the fixed chain of behavior that leads us from one incompletely apprehended little emergency to the next. The animal of us is most visible, maybe, in the stacks, where archival classification, in practice, takes on the fluid dynamics of phlegm and bile, where categorization and endocrine response start to seem indistinguishable.

The question then is: how do our natural rights, and thus, our natural definitions, reveal themselves when we are hypnotized by that most human of activities: multiplying dismal, boring shit out of control, and making it seem necessary.

It is a question that, for me, joins Jocelyn with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The suffragist’s 1892 speech, which shares a title with a piece of Jocelyn’s, Self-Sovereignty, deals with the natural right of each person to bear her bitter disappointments and sit alone in the shadow of her afflictions free from the suggestion that she will be aided or shielded by any other.

Like Stanton’s, Jocelyn’s is a misanthropy so deep we come out through the bottom into something resembling an ethics:

Forsaking all outer indulgences. She gives it all to the woods and the animals inside. A word forest under the spell of that which occupies her.

An ethics of continual, unhistrionic self-implication; a negative liberty consisting of the freedom to not be perhaps too vicious in our illusions.

We came pretty close, recently, to being saddled, again, with a nation that would pour itself; with imbecilic abandon, this time into the wilds of Alaska.
It is the kind of move that Jocelyn’s internal statecraft might have us avoid.

--Chris Nagler


San Francisco Poetry Happenings Friday Nov 21

First Up: Sally Doyle & Poetry in Public Display

Friday night at 6pm a group of writers gathered at Washington Square Park in San Francisco to celebrate the unveiling of poetry displays at 9 locations in downtown San Francisco. The winning poems posted in these locations came from a poetry contest called Poetry in Public Display, sponsored by the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Art & Culture Committee. The project's goal was to promote North Beach poets by displaying their work in public spaces.

The committee investigated billboards or bus shelters as possible display spaces, but these proved too expensive or difficult to obtain. When the company JC DeCaux offered prominent display cases on their public lavatories in nine locations around San Francisco, including Washington Square Park and Coit Tower, the committee moved forward with the project. San Francisco poets, Neeli Cherkovski and Stephen Vincent, and Nancy Peters of City Lights Books, were the judges for the competition. Jerry Cimino of the Beat Museum graciously offered the store as the drop-off location for entries.

Each poet could submit up to three poems. Submitted poems were sent to the judges anonymously, and the judges ratings resulted in the following nine winning poems. The display location for each poem was chosen by a random process:

Wendy Arnell Brophy, “Lost America” at Clay and Drumm Street
Sally Doyle, “Boundaries” at Larking and Myrtle Streets
Sally Doyle, “ Confetti” at Washington Square Park (see photos below)
Sally Doyle, “Nothing Adds Up” at Coit Tower
Philip Hacket, “Red Currents” at Pier 22 ½, Embarcadero and Harrison Streets
Candace Loheed, “Twelve Bells in One Mission” at Jefferson and Powell Streets
Joe Shakarchi, “On the Rooftop” at Market Street and Church
Joe Shakarchi, “Poets Walk at Market Street near Spear
Barbara Alexandra Szerlip, “Russia, 1931" at Grove Street at Larkin

The Poetry In Public Display Project is sponsored by John Perino/www.focusgallerysf.org and the Beat Museum.


Next: Beth Murray and Jocelyn Saidenberg at Small Press Traffic

From the North Beach event to SPT: Dana Teen Lomax introduced Beth Murray by saying that she was a mix of Walt Whitman and Pink. Beth, dressed in a lovely--I want to call it frothy--white sweater, read from her book, The Book as the Island. Her work builds through accretion and return, repetition and extension. The poems are haunted by animals, a dead boy, an island and “Magnetics” the latter two gendered female. Some of the lines I jotted down in my notebook include:

“magnetics carries you to the people you need to meet”


“I am writing to warn you what lies the other side.” Lovely work.

(yes, I know. I need a better camera! These shots include the backs of Wendy Kramer's and Tanya Hollis's lovely heads!)

Jocelyn Saidenberg (dazzling in those glasses and what cheekbones!) read the poem “Immure” from her Atelos book Negativity and then she read from an in-progress series of essays. Saidenberg explained Bob Glück had given her the assignment that spurred these pieces. Some consist solely of titles; others are more extended. Each of the essays (and I feel like I need to put the word “essay” in quotation marks here as part of the project is an exploration and extension of its myriad possibilities) begins with the word “On.” Some of the titles include: “On Ghosts,” “On Demented Self-Censorship,” “On Self Sovereignty.”

Chris Nagler provided a truly breath-taking introduction to Jocelyn’s work, a piece of art in its own right. I am hoping he’ll send me the intro and then I’ll post it here for all to read. Jocelyn’s experiment with these essays plumbs language and its intersection with the self, grief, misanthropy, mis/recognition, sex, relation. In the audience, everyone held his/her breath.


Part 2: The Modernist Studies Association Conference--Nashville November 2008

I should say that some of the people who attended our talk on Saturday at MSA included Meta DuEwa Jones, Jeannette Lee, Clint Burnham, Barrett Watten, Alan Golding, Matt Hart, Adalaide Morris and others. We were thankful that people were interested enough to come to our panel. So many other intriguing talks were happening simultaneously, including one entitled, “Crush the Assholetters Between the Teeth: The Grotesque in Modern Poetry.” Who could resist that?

The paper titles for this panel included: “Meat Puke Beloved’: Aase Berg and the Degenerate Body in the Swedish Welfare State” (Johannes Goransson); “Crush the Assholesletters Between the Teeth: The Language Grotesque in the Works of Gunnar Ekelof and Henri Michaux” (Per Bäckström); and “Lust Murder Sex Dolls and Other Weimar Monstrosities: Anita Berber, Sebastian Droste, and Hannah Höch in Inflation-Era Berlin” (Merrill Cole)

Other panels happening at the same time included: “The Artful Orientalist: Modernist Appropriations of Japanese Art” and “Anti-Humanism in Modernism,” “Interrogation, Confession, and Representation in Modernist Media,” “Paper II: Untoward Media,” “Beyond Cosmopolitanism: Late Modernist Internationalism and Realpolitik,” and “Mediation, Methodology, and New Modernist Studies.” So much to choose from! Plus, there were roundtables on “Global Modernism and Its Discontents” and “Who Speaks for Whom? Robert Penn Warren’s Who Speaks for the Negro?” This panel included Aldon Nielsen and I was sorry to have missed it.

The conference as a whole had a number of panels and papers discussing African American and Caribbean Modernism and just a few that focused on other writers and artists of color. Hopefully in the future there will be more panels on Latin and Asian American writers. And more global modernisms.

On Friday morning, despite having arrived late the night before, I was able to drag myself out of bed to make it to an 8:30 am panel entitled "Language Poetry and the Mediation of Modernism” and I was glad that I did. The panel was organized by Bill Friend and Tom Orange and included the following papers: "Language Poetry and the Teaching of Modernism” (Alan Golding; “ Language Writing, Nonliterary Language, and Modernity Critique” (Barrett Watten; “From Periplum to Blind Witness: the Musical Aesthetics of Ezra Pound and Charles Bernstein” (Robert Zamsky; “Between Sound and Sense: Clark Coolidge and Late Modernist Lyric Poetry” (Tom Orange).

Alan Golding’s paper looked at Bob Perelman’s IFLIFE in the context of Pound and pedagogy. Golding pointed out the many allusions to teaching in IFLIFE and the way in which Perelman addresses and identifies with the “neophyte,” the “philistine” reader. Golding suggested that Perelman is making a claim for a wide ranging and inclusive kind of teaching–“teaching should aspire to the avant-garde.” Very interesting claims. I haven’t yet read IFLIFE, but you can bet I’m going to get to it soon.

One of the things that Barrett’s paper argued is that language writing is a divergence from high modernism. Barrett worked toward outlining an historical approach to language writing that goes beyond the linguistic. This is something his paper at the National Poetry Foundation’s Conference on the Poetry of the 70s addressed as well. Also, in my notes I’ve written: Performance Events Interpretation: under which appear notations about poets theater. Barrett showed a clip from Carla Harryman’s The Third Man and noted how the inclusion of characters and props that ignore or don’t interact with Steve Benson’s character (so physically wily and tensile) serve to bring the outside in.

Robert Zamsky argued that Charles Bernstein’s turn to music is a strategy for critiquing Pound. Musical forms are mobilized for argument. Tom Orange’s paper looked at Clark Coolidge’s new harmonics, his emphasis on the phoneme.

I also attended a panel called “Modernist Obscenity: The Work of Art in the Age of Pornography.” The papers for this panel were interesting in their exploration of legal mechanisms for and arbitration of “obscenity” in various modernist texts. Fellow UCSC colleague Erik Bachman gave a paper on this panel entitled, “‘You just ache to get down and lick something’: Commonwealth v Gordon, God’s Little Acre, and Smut.”

Fredric Jameson gave the Friday afternoon keynote talk entitled “From Destiny to Destinies” and though he began by saying he had no idea how long his paper was, he seemed to finish it up in just the allotted time. While his talk was largely focused on other issues by way of a reading of the work of Alexander Kluge,(though he also discussed Godard, Musil, Balzac and others) one of the things that Jameson made reference to that interested me was the problem of narrativizing labor. Can labor be narrated? This proved to be a minor part of Jameson’s talk but something that has stuck with me and I want to say yes–there is a way in which some contemporary writing does attempt to inscribe (if not narrate) labor. Ron Silliman’s work does this. I’m thinking about Tjanting in particular......But back to the MSA.

MSA also features various seminars and roundtables. The seminars consist of a group of people who, prior to the conference, write and exchange papers on a given topic. I attended one of these and was the only “observer” until someone else came in near the end. It feels somewhat strange to be listening to this large group converse about papers that they’ve read but the observer has not heard. The session I attended was called “Recording Modernism,” and it focused on the ways in which various technologies interact with, impact and shape modernist texts and practices. The radio came up with regard to Yeats and there were discussions of various contemporary technologies as well–video games, second life, etc. This session stimulated conversation about the myriad ways in which technologies discipline and shape modernist practices.

One of the highlights of this conference was a trip we took over to Fisk University to see its considerable art collection. We visited the Carl Van Vechten and Aaron Douglas galleries and had a chance to see some of Aaron Douglas’s murals. Because the murals are in a building that now serves as an administrative site and because we were there on a Saturday, we didn’t get to see them all. I was struck by one particular panel in what used to be the reading room, a room that still has its card catalog drawers lining the perimeter. The panel depicts the Dramatic Arts and with its dark silhouettes it resonated with the Kara Walker art that Tisa discussed in her paper. I haven’t been able to find online an image of this panel of the mural, so I offer you a different image below and an example of Walker’s work, though this was not one of the images that Tisa included in her fabulous powerpoint presentation. Surprisingly, someone in our group asked our freshmen guides what kind of music the Jubilee singers perform. The Jubilee Singers are so famous!

Walker image from here.

Douglas image from here.

Overall, the conference was indeed a great experience. It is true that the MSA participants as a group are fashionistas. I was thankful that my daughter had convinced me to bring my new black pants with the wiiiiiiiiiide legs!


Modernist Studies Association Annual Conference in Nashville

Kathy Lou Schultz, Tisa Bryant and I enjoyed being on a panel together at the recent Modernist Studies Association Conference held in Nashville.

The panel was entitled "Diasporic Modernism, (Post)Modernisms, Afro-Futurism: Positioning African American Writers and Artists in the Global Diaspora." Through an exploration of poetry, film, painting, and hybrid texts, the panel explored diverse African American poets’, authors’ and artists’ use of what we are variously terming diasporic modernism (Schultz), diasporic fugitivity (Tremblay-McGaw), and Afro-Futurism (Bryant). Each panelist theorized her usages of her chosen terms in order to frame the global and aesthetic positioning of her texts, all of which explore diasporic subject positions. Texts discussed included the works of Melvin B. Tolson, Langston Hughes, Nathaniel Mackey, Harryette Mullen, Jenny Sharpe and Ana-Maurine Lara, as well as visual artists Jean Baptiste Carpeaux, Tracey Moffatt and Kara Walker.

The paper titles included:

Tisa Bryant's "Spectral Evidence: Atavistic, Archaeological and Visual Impressions on the Making of Black Texts."

Kathy Lou Schultz's "Diasporic Modernism in Libretto for the Republic of Liberia and Ask Your Mama:12 Moods for Jazz."

Robin Tremblay-McGaw’s “Diasporic Fugitivity and the Archive in the Work of Nathaniel Mackey and Harryette Mullen.”

The panel was a great success. There was lots of serendipitous overlap in our three papers, some of which extended to an interest in mobility/fugitivity and working with the problematics/potentialities of temporality--past, present, future--and their palimpsestic imbrication and spectral presence/evidence, the archive and the archaeological.

In this photo: audience member and valued interlocutor, Professor Meta DuEwa Jones of the University of Texas at Austin, along with Kathy Lou and Tisa, who is signing a copy of her fabulous book, Unexplained Presence.

Our panel's chair was Professor Gene Jarrett of Boston University. He has a book entitled Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature (2007).


Torquing the Erotics of Attention: An Interview with Camille Roy

RTM: You are from Chicago, yes? Tell me how you ended up in San Francisco. What was your entrée into the writing community here?

Camille: I got very sick of Chicago – the 60’s and 70’s were violent and grim. It was like living at the end of America. Nowadays places gentrify. Where I grew up there was this paralyzing fear of more decline, so the best you could hope for was to hold on and stay the same. San Francisco seemed like Europe, in that you could walk from one neighborhood to another and no one would try and kill you. It was cafes and fog and jazz. Also, it was queer. I first visited a friend who lived in North Beach when I was a teenager. That was before the cutesy colors, the whole city seemed composed of dreamy grays and whites. My friend used to complain that San Francisco was Sodom and Gomorrah unleashed, which sounded interesting.

RTM: How much were you aware of, engaged by and a participant in the "poetry wars" of the late seventies and eighties in the Bay Area? What was your experience of this time period? How would you characterize it?

Camille: It seemed weird to me that all the ‘Language’ experimentalism was overwhelmingly white and largely male. One good thing that was happening on the South Side of Chicago (where I grew up) was the jazz scene, which was Black and community based and so different in political spirit to the middle class whiteness of the experimental poetry scene. When Silliman claimed experimentalism for the white middle class men who hadn’t been distracted by oppression, it struck me as peculiar, to say the least. It was not obvious to me that formal innovation came from social luxury – in my context, it came from communities struggling to exist, marginal communities.

But I wasn’t deeply related to that project, the “Language” project. My work was more directly formed by New Narrative on the one hand, and the feminist poetics of Kathleen Fraser and the HOW/ever crowd, on the other. Both these projects it seemed to me were spurred to articulate themselves, and even to exist, partly as self-defense. Language poetry absorbed radicalism, so to claim your space, you had to argue theory with language poets. I had to gird myself by reading Kristeva and Foucault and the like. Not that anyone bothered to argue with me – I was arguing with the language poets in my head.

Anyway, I’m writing about language poets as an abstraction, as an historical relic, which is completely misleading. I was deeply engaged by the work of Carla Harryman and Leslie Scalapino. Where does that fit?

RTM: Did you find the contestation of this period productive for your own writing?

Camille: Language poets forced everyone to be smarter. Their ideas mattered, so our ideas had to be articulated. After postmodern theory succeeded in taking over the academy, ideas mattered less. But at the time, at least for me, there was the hope that these ideas might be levers for social transformation. Maybe they were – but it was a confusing victory, because after ‘queer culture’ came gay marriage, ‘Ellen’, assimilation. In any case, this climate of argument made me search more diligently for satisfying methods, practices, and theory.

My core influences were New Narrative (Bob Glück, Bruce Boone, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, Steve Abbot, among others) and feminist poetics, particularly of Kathleen Fraser. It was an interesting mix, both bracing and protective. What was terrific was that it drew in much of the complexity and confusion of my actual life. My writing took risks – erotic, personal, intellectual. The result was an oscillation between debased confusion and brief flashes of extreme delight.

RTM: You write software. How is this related to your other writing?

Camille: Sometimes I feel that it’s a mental deformity, all this technical thought. It’s mental gymnastics with formalist properties. Yes, it has aesthetic aspects. But it’s been swallowing up my whole mind for a little over a year, and I no longer know the difference between anxiety and determination.

RTM: You and Nayland Blake edited Dear World, a Queer Art & Lit magazine in 1991. Did you perceive a gap or lack in the venues of the time for queer art? The magazine had only one issue, how come?

Camille: Why only one issue? It was a freaky amount of work, putting out the money to print made me nervous (though in the end it broke even), and in the end it was large enough that there weren’t a lot of writers I really wanted to include that weren’t included. One issue did what I wanted to do, speaking just for myself.

As for why we did it… Queer art was still unusual. It was just breaking into the open. The great thing about the ‘emergent moment’ is that it’s tactile, gooey, personal, dramatic. You actually know people, you see them move through this moment of transformation: ‘Dear World’ was a document of that moment. In the 70’s and 80’s I knew dozens of bar dykes with interesting wit or sensibility or style, and they always stayed in our ghetto, culturally invisible. After the early 90’s, that type all went to art school. (Where they became the Judith Butler brigades.) It seemed that suddenly (on some day in 1991) all the non-profit arts institutions brought in lesbian programming directors, whereas previously there hadn’t been any.

The emergence specifically of lesbian/queer sensibilities in art was more shocking than what happened for gay men, simply because lesbian invisibility had been more complete. Gay men have long had a strong and acknowledged presence in art and literature.

RTM: In Dear World you and Abigail Child have a piece called "Sex Talk." In it the two of you write, "Among lesbians the story is a form of sex talk--a joint whereby the community and the couple are of the same body" and "The progress of tension through a narrative 'line' has parallels in the maps we make of our lovers bodies and the moments of exposure and vulnerability on the way to orgasm" (44-45). Throughout your work, including the plays in Cold Heaven, Cheap Speech, Craquer, the hybrid texts in Rosy Medallions and the prose of Swarm, there is this productive and intense engagement with narrative, the body, class, and lesbian sexuality. Recently at the National Poetry Foundation's Conference on the Poetry of the Seventies, Eileen Myles, talked about narrative and its importance for her and other queer writers. How is narrative connected to queer subjects and queer sexuality for you?

Camille: Good question. I think there is first a community of bodies and then as a writer you need to acknowledge that. But what would have been specifically lesbian about that? At the time I felt the buried alive intimacy of the lesbian queer world (eroticism plus invisibility) had the curious effect of removing the filters. It made me more present to my erotic and gendered experience. Being outside, away from the mainstream, at a remove from the filters and images and restrictions of hetero norms (and mainstream advertising), had that effect. There was a great sense of discovery and exploring the forbidden. In the 80’s, going to the strip shows that were a part of the lesbian club scene in San Francisco was going to a hidden separate world.

As the nineties rolled on, there was more and more lesbian presence in the culture. The effects were surprising. Lesbian became a new sort of norm, with teevee shows and rock stars and excitable journalists. It’s great in some ways. The life of the community is no longer stuck in bars. But the assimilation of the lesbian world has means that the quote above - "Among lesbians the story is a form of sex talk--a joint whereby the community and the couple are of the same body" – is less true. We’re less different. Not as emerged in a subculture ghetto experience. That paradoxically means that the most intimate experiences are more mediated by the mainstream. There used to be an urgency about sex talk because we were creating the world we would inhabit – otherwise, there wouldn’t be one for us. Now that’s not essential. A friend of ours who is about 15 years younger than I am was complaining the other night about all the lesbian butches she runs into who are not feminist. They don’t feel the urgency of identifying with feminism – it’s not a survival issue. So something has been lost. I think the ‘Gay Shame’ people are sensitive to this.

I liked the secrecy and intimacy of being stuck in this lesbian bubble with a somewhat random collection of people. You couldn’t be a lesbian in the wider culture but you had this bubble. Then, poof, the bubble popped, and suddenly we were separated and adrift in the wider culture. I have a hard time recognizing the ‘lesbian experience’, now. What I lived in and through has melted away. There is a superficial similarity of styles and identities but I think the core experience has mutated in profound ways.

Back to narrative: the way I understand narrative today is as a relation that torques the erotics of attention. It can be a lesbian or queer attentiveness. It doesn’t have to be.

RTM: In the "Notes on the Plays" which introduces the plays in Cold Heaven, you write, "An obvious difference between plays and other forms of writing is that they wait. Plays are porous, written to be entered." You also explain that your play Bye Bye Brunhilde was an accident, and grew out of a collaboration with Abigail Child. Tell me about how that happened, how you met Abigail, and more about the porosity of plays.

Camille: I remember strolling along with Abigail and talking heatedly about pornography, late 80’s, in San Francisco. It’s hard to remember now but the 80’s and early 90’s were a time of feminist battles about pornography and representation of sex. The subject was contested but also fresh. So we started a collaboration, a mutated exploration of terms and erotic sensibility. It was fun to do with her because I could drop the obligation to be comprehensible and take off into language with a relish I didn’t usually allow myself. Collaboration with Abigail was like compatible friction, in voices. It provoked me and I started exploring the conflict that was the crux of my first play.

Why do plays wait? They need to be inhabited, by bodies, by voices. They are often not an appetizing read, even being lifeless on the page. Because of this they have a different relation to the body. It’s like language as clothes, in that clothes simply hang empty in the closet until a body enters them.

RTM: How important is collaboration to you and your writing process? How do you engage with the writing community in the Bay Area? How important is community to your work?

Camille: Community has been very important, but has become less so. Not for good reasons: work, stress, money. Also, living through the Bush years has been nauseating. The Iraq war is a nightmare. And now a financial crisis. The stakes are so high in this presidential election that I’m chronically nervous. What’s next? Sometimes I just want to leave the country.

RTM: In the "Notes on the Plays," you also note how plays allow for division and collision: "Plays provide a frame for studying collisions. The elements of body, speech, and character are all potentially separated, precisely because they appear in the same place and time." This practice of splitting and dividing elements of language and form appears throughout your work. And as much as it might have to do with post-structuralist understandings of language and the subject, it also seems grounded in personal experience--being a lesbian, experimental writer and from a class background that is also split or divided (your dad comes from an upper class and your mom from a working class background).

Plus you use a pseudonym, another marking or enactment of division. How much are you explicitly working with division and splitting across both content and form--if I can use that awkward and arbitrary division?

Camille: I think my attention has always been drawn to incompatible experience and knowledge. Where one cancels the other out. There is mutual exclusion. But somehow it is never final, never resolved, instead there is alternation, a flickering in which nothing is extinguished. I think that’s reality, we (as individuals and communities) are constructed from materials that cancel one another out. The way I grew up, with my parents’ very different perspectives, was like being in the center of an incompatibility. Experienced but not articulated. So of course I can never stop articulating it.

Survival is another aspect of this. Not so much anymore, but I think division has been for me a survival skill.

RTM: There's been a resurgence of poets theater, a resurgence that you were partly responsible for, yes? What is it about poets theater that is so attractive again for writers in the bay area and elsewhere?

Camille: I think poets theatre is a break from the routine of readings (which are unfortunately academic, a talking head with sheets of paper and a podium, like a lecture). It also changes the relation of charged poetic language to audience. You have a range of possibilities for humor, conflict, and the body is on stage, a vulnerable place to be. I think this is invigorating for poets.

RTM: I want to ask you about audience and your writing. During the 70s and 80s in Bay Area writing there was a lot of discussion and contention about audience. Ron Silliman's article "Poetry and the Politics of the Subject" which appeared in 1988 in the journal he then edited, Socialist Review, is perhaps the most famous and contentious example.

There are writers who want a large audience and others who write specifically for smaller, real and imagined audiences. Jack Spicer might be an extreme example of a writer intentionally aiming for a small and local audience. Harryette Mullen on the other hand considers the relation of her writing to a possible but currently inaccessible future and its potential readers: "the context of my work is not so much geographic as it is linguistic and cultural. I write beyond the range of my voice and the social boundaries of identity, yet within the limits imposed on my work and my imagination by language and cultural significance....I write, optimistically, for an imagined audience of known and unknown readers" ("Imagining" 198-199). What's your relationship to audience and how might that relationship be political. What are the politics of audience as far as you are concerned?

Camille: Wow. Audience again. It is a vexing question. Who are those people?

How can we know them – and how can they know us?

Our culture is like a kitchen thick with a fog of cooking grease, the scum gets on everything. Can experimental writing ever rub away some of the scum?

I don’t know. I think it can. I think a legacy of Language writing is to try to do this by getting the critical mind active via various alienation effects. I think there are other ways, that are more intimate, but also dark. Lamentations. We have such hierarchies of emotion, the “good” versus the “bad”. I think in the space of privacy that is the poem you can move away from this dichotomy, into negativity (sorrow, vio, resent). It may not even be consoling, but it does cut the cultural grease.

My goal is always to return the materials. If I can freshen it up by slapping it around (the language, I mean) maybe the reader will catch a clue.

RTM: What are you working on now?

Camille: Negative poems!

Camille Roy is a writer and performer of fiction, poetry, and plays. She edited Biting The Error: Writers Explore Narrative with Mary Burger, Robert Gluck, and Gail Scott (CoachHouse 2005). Earliers books include CHEAP SPEECH, a play, from Leroy, and CRAQUER, a fictional autobiography from 2nd Story Books , as well as SWARM (two novellas, Black Star Series), among others. In 1998 she was the recipient of a Lannan Writers At Work Residency at Just Buffalo Literary Center. She is a founding editor of the online journal Narrativity. She teaches fiction at San Francisco State University.