Five Questions with Nikki Giovanni

Didn’t Miles Davis once say to John Coltrane: Whatever you play, play the blues?
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, writer, civil rights activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni. I read her poem 'Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)' in a library once—or was it in a classroom? On a neighbor's book shelf? To the immigrant child of immigrant Muslim parents everything about that poem was a confusing shock to the system.  Paths would cross again. At 16 I entered The Washington Post's now defunct poetry e-slam†.  It turned out Nikki was the judge. The chosen theme was forks. She picked me as a finalist and wrote an evocative two-line reaction I committed to memory for awhile. That pretty much beat out anything else that happened that year, save for my best friend fitting tens of helium-filled balloons in her car and bursting into the house with them… Read More...

A Bandit is a Bandit

Maniacal evil has a face, and that face nearly always glints darkly.
In January 1969 a man named Carlos Lamarca, an officer of the Fourth Infantry Regiment based in Quitaúna, São Paulo, led a group of soldiers in a raid on the regiment’s arms depot. The officers, members of the clandestine Popular Revolutionary Vanguard (Vanguarda Popular Revolucionária or VPR), loaded an army truck with heavy munitions and escaped unscathed. Six months later, an organized armed group of men conducted an unprecedented mass escape of political prisoners from the high-security Lemos de Brito prison facility in Rio de Janeiro. These and other frequent, high-risk guerilla ops—during the roughest years of Brazil's rule by military junta—shared two strategies and outcomes: bank robberies, which provided a well-padded financial beehive, and military ambushes, which furnished a freer flow of cached weapons. The redeeming potential of rising criminal activity (whether it was 'revolutionary' is a related but… Read More...

Five Questions with Dan Beachy-Quick

When the breath was loud and long enough, I could simply cut out the section of tape and splice it back together. After 4+ hours of doing this, I looked down, and saw these ¼ inch sections of tape all of which contained this man inhaling for another breath. The ground was littered with his
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, critic, and professor Dan Beachy-Quick. Dan barely needs a formal laureled introduction, which I am never prone to giving in this space anyway. Instead I offer a personal one. When I was 22 I was accepted to an experimental writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a program Dan directed at the time. The enormous tuition and fee costs (during a period of hand-to-mouth existence) made me decide against going. Dan's response to my letter of decline was kind and encouraging. Though we did not stay in touch his work has often found its way into my self-made syllabus. His latest book centers on reading. If 'reading is a method of entering' and 'entering is a form of initiation,' what better knife-polishing apprenticeship than reading… Read More...

Field Notes on Fashion and Occupy (Part Two)

Women's Wear Daily: 'Graffiti lettering adds realism to the disheveled sign.'
    Soon the whole bridge was trembling and resounding. The uncouth faces passed him two by two, stained yellow or red or livid by the sea, and as he strove to look at them with ease and indifference, a faint stain of personal shame and commiseration rose to his own face. Angry with himself he tried to hide his face from their eyes by gazing down sideways into the shallow swirling water under the bridge but he still saw a reflection therein of their topheavy silk hats, and humble tapelike collars and loosely hanging clerical clothes... Their piety would be like their names, like their faces, like their clothes.        —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man   11. Women's Wear Daily picked an Occupy Wall Street demonstrator for their 'Man of the… Read More...

Five Questions with Lisa Russ Spaar

What makes a habit "bad"? A rut of overusing genitive-link metaphors. An addiction to certain kinds of low-end television, like The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet and professor of English and creative writing Lisa Russ Spaar. I came across her work after an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education called 'Eating the Days: Thoughts on Off-Line Learning at UVa.' A critical and personal reflection on the University of Virginia fiasco ('like children forced to wait in the hallway while the grown-ups sequestered themselves in the bedroom to squabble about whether or not to get divorced') through a close reading of Seamus Heaney's poem 'Oysters,' it remains the most evocative writing I have come across on the subject. Lisa's poems—like 'New Year's Eve'—are no less potent. What is your worst bad habit? Your good question invites me to think about what constitutes a habit [something done habitually, in terms of behavior or… Read More...

Iranophobia 2.0

One might come to cynically expect the trickle-down discriminatory treatment Iranians (including those with U.S. citizenship, which both Sabet and Jafarzadeh retain) from the government, who views Iran as its number-one enemy. Facing it while picking up an iPhone at the mall is disdain cut from an unexpected cloth.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La6ev1r_pjY According to a local news channel a woman was denied her purchase of an iPad at the Apple Store in Alpharetta, Georgia because of her Iranian origin. When an employee heard Sahar Sabet speaking Persian‡  he refused to sell them an Apple product. When we said 'Farsi, I'm from Iran,' he said, 'I just can't sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations.' Not only was Sabet's account confirmed by WSBTV's Amy Napier Viteri (who used an iPhone to film an exchange with the same Apple sales representative that denied Sabet her purchase, reiterating that Apple will not sell to anyone from Iran), but another Iranian had an identical experience. Zack Jafarzadeh tried to buy an iPhone at a mall in Atlanta: I would say if you're trying to buy an iPhone, don't tell them anything about Iran. That would… Read More...

Five Questions with Pierre Joris

Courage is whatever.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, essayist, anthologist, and translator Pierre Joris. Years ago, after the sudden death of a poet I admired I took a personal vow to translate his dense and difficult volume of poetry, spurring me on to find poets who had already wrestled with that beastly endeavor.  Pierre had arrived to discuss his legendary translations of Paul Celan. What really grabbed my attention, though, was a tattoo on his arm carved with the Arabic word hajara (??? to emigrate or relinquish, in the sense of exile). To this day I have not seen a more striking tattoo. Later, in the autumn of 2011, he came to the Woodberry Poetry Room for a reading. All the gates surrounding Harvard Yard were locked down per the administration's response to the Occupy Harvard tent… Read More...

Field Notes on Fashion and Occupy (Part One)

Fashion is endowed with the potential to inform a political reality because fashion comes from people. The way people self-organize is always impacted by the external expression of social and political relationships, between police/denizen, publication/reader, store owner/consumer, designer/industry.
  'The kids aren’t too bright,' he is telling me on this particular day. 'They’ll tell you then can always spot an undercover, they’ll tell you about "the kind of car he drives." They aren’t talking about undercovers, they’re talking about plainclothesmen who just happen to drive unmarked cars, like I do. They can’t tell an undercover. An undercover doesn’t drive some black Ford with a two-way radio.' —Joan Didion, 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem' The occurrence of appearance should come as no surprise. Fashion is endowed with the potential to inform a political reality—whether the point it makes is illustrative, illuminating, or impinging is a separate question—because fashion comes from people. The way people self-organize is always impacted by the external expression of social and political relationships, whether they be between police/denizen, publication/reader, store owner/consumer, designer/industry, and so on. The subject of… Read More...

In Defense of Spontaneous Contestation and/or Beauty

Much more surprising than getting pushed around by museum security was the realization that an institution devoted to procuring objects for people to look at was actively blocking their view of a live event, happening in front of our very living eyeballs.
'The Streets Are Dead Capital' Recently I went to a talk by Ricardo Dominguez, an artist and hacktivist I had the occasion to interview a year ago. To say that Ricardo gave a 'talk' is putting it mildly. What you get with him (a trained actor) is more a passionate and self-conscious oratory performance than a scripted dry-run; as if to underscore this point, tucked underneath his lecturer's day clothes was a Superman t-shirt, giving the unsettling illusion that at any moment the bespectacled stand-in for Clark Kent was going to transform into a caped crusader. His starting point: design is a marker and site for neoliberal markets. One might choose to read 'design' broadly as self-enclosed, highly produced spaces, ergo your basic mall, museum, amusement park, or sports arena. If design is a repository for obscured market power, Ricardo reasoned, then… Read More...

Five Questions with Eileen Myles

Genres for me are just a way in which we are controlled, protected I suppose but I'm not a writer to be protected at all.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet and essayist (and mighty fine blogger) Eileen Myles, who reminds you to imagine yourself loved when being judged. In everyday life how do you temper duty with desire, the menial with the resplendent? I don't temper much. I am overly dutiful, quite often but then I become deeply paralyzed, tired, overwhelmed and resentful. I don't want to live. I then go reverse things, take care of myself and wind up on a higher more bodily plane where most things seem quite laughable and I'm able to make better choices and included in this realm is pleasure but I often have a hard time getting there. I have to work hard to stop working. Do you agree with Walter Pater that 'all art constantly aspires towards the… Read More...

Avoid All Demonstrations as a Precaution

In lieu of alerts warning students from recently bombed or attacked sites in Baghdad and Kandahar or ongoing protests in Kuala Lumpur, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) just issued students a detailed alert about upcoming U.S.-based May Day general strike actions.
  Most major U.S. colleges and universities issue emergency guidelines to their traveling students. Often these are based on travel alerts from the U.S. State Department. In some cases, entire travel assistance programs for special 'SOS' medical or evacuation services are based around such precautions. The University of California (full disclosure: I am an alum) has an odd sense of timing, geography, or dark humor. In lieu of alerts warning students from recently bombed or attacked sites in Baghdad and Kandahar or ongoing protests in Kuala Lumpur, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) just issued students a detailed alert about upcoming U.S.-based May Day general strike actions via its preferred travel management program, Connexxus. Their list of sites to avoid includes a schedule of U.S.-wide actions in major cities, appearing to be copied directly from the New York-based May… Read More...

Five Questions with Jaswinder Bolina

Arabic always looks like rippled water to me, Hebrew like a city skyline turned sideways, Punjabi and Hindi like vines dangled from a lattice, Chinese and Japanese dialects like feathers and bones.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet and essayist Jaswinder Bolina. I encountered his work after an essay in Poetry called 'Writing Like a White Guy,' which begins, 'My father says I should use a pseudonym. "They won't publish you if they see your name."' As a devotee of words have you come upon any you can't bear to write? I think there are a lot of words I don't want to write, but I feel I make discoveries when my poems take on those words or phrases directly. A few years ago, I wrote a poem about somebody yelling 'sand nigger' at me from a passing car. Obviously, that's not a phrase I want to repeat, but then I did—about fifteen times in that poem. Forcing myself to confront the language offered… Read More...

Some Southern Maladies

'Let's drive south and never come back, never see the simulacra again...'
  By an observation, we found ourselves in the latitude of 30 degrees and 2 minutes south. Twelve of our crew were dead by immoderate labor and ill food; the rest were in a very weak condition. From Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, 1900.   I want you to savor that fear. The South evolved in fear. Fear of the Indian. Fear of the slave. Fear of the damn Union. The South has a fine tradition of savoring fear. From Cape Fear by Martin Scorcese, 1991.   She had gone off to join in the great battles that would end the worst of discrimination against black people in the South, and had become known for her bravery and her organisational skills. Threatened with the end of her visitor’s visa, she had married an American, ringing up Johnny to say it was only for form’s sake, he must understand it… Read More...

Drones are Paranoid Androids

There is an entire cottage industry of Bush-era movie-making. If a Michael Bay or a Spielberg were to concoct the spectacle of a drone movie, what would it even show?
BIRDS AND BEES Before they were raining down from a great height‡ as self-contained guillotines in aerial suspension, they had a noncombatant history. Archytus, the founder of mathematical mechanics, sent The Pigeon into the air in 350 B.C.E. The unmanned steam-powered object made a complete 200-meter flight, a self-propelled device channeling the programmer's ingenuity and intelligence and making them its own. Characteristically, neither device pleased Archytus' close friend Plato, who grumbled that God was the only true geometer. Aristotle did record a reaction to Archytas' inventions, fitting for someone whose famed dictum‡ concerned the promise of animata as a way to free Greece from the labor of human slaves. On The Pigeon, the philosopher of liberation robotics wrote: The bird was apparently suspended from the end of a pivoted bar, and the whole apparatus revolved by means of a jet of… Read More...

Five Questions with Anna Moschovakis

Coffee and chocolate or tea and toast?
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, translator, and editor (at Ugly Duckling Presse and elsewhere) Anna Moschovakis. My first entry into her work was this poem, situated as a conversation between Annabot and the Human Machine. Coffee and chocolate or tea and toast? I love all my stimulants equally. (And if you don't think toast a stimulant, you don't understand jam.) Which dream or cinematic imagery do you find more emotive, an apocalyptic desert landscape of ruin or the scene of a biblical flood? I was born in an apocalyptic desert landscape of ruin that I also deeply love. If you could download one skill into your brain without any effort, which would it be? Time-management, because then I could learn the others. Harold Norse's poem 'i heard evtushenko' protests against American writers: I think of… Read More...

Friendly Squirrels

A chain email forward from my father.
The source for these images (and dozens of others like it, not shown) is a chain email forward from my father titled 'Friendly Squirrels.' He has given me explicit permission to share them. I couldn't keep a thick batch of rodent file images like this all to myself, so here they are, for the world to view. Read More...