We’re continuing with our National Poetry Month interviews, and excited about our next featured poet, the wonderful: Sandra Doller! Stay tuned for more featured poets all month long.
1) Do you think poetry is still important, relevant, and vibrant in today’s culture?
My answer to this question necessitates an engagement with the premise “still”—surely if poetry ever was these things (important/relevant/vibrant) then yeah sure, it still is. Whether or not poetry ever was these things, in some distant imaginary historical past, is another question.
And of course, that answer is super nit-picky and language-oriented, which is also important: If poetry is truly “verbal art” (I know some people hate that term, but I find it useful in thinking outside genre) and attentiveness to—presence in— language, then this is incredibly important in navigating messages, deciphering meanings, engaging in resistance to dominant power structures.
It also depends how you define ”poetry” and “culture” and where you’re looking/who you are… If you consider Maria Bamford, Bad Lip Reading, Turf Feinz, Stephen Colbert, M.I.A., Yvonne Rainer, Xenia Rubinos, and Supercuts “poetry”—and I do—then absolutely yes. I don’t see that much distance, really, between these examples and the “literary” poetry that I love—John Keene, CA Conrad, Feliz Lucia Molina, Bhanu Kapil, Bernadette Mayer, Abe Smith, Charles Bernstein…
Lately, I’ve been using this Lyn Hejinian quote for almost everything—from thinking about poetry & dance, to answering this question—so I’ll pop that in here. It’s from The Language of Inquiry...which bears reading/re-reading, yes/wow:
“The language of poetry is a language of inquiry, not the language of a genre. It is that language in which a writer (or a reader) both perceives and is conscious of the perception. Poetry, therefore, takes as its premise that language is a medium for experiencing experience.”
Poetry is so many things—political speech, resistance, music, comedy—and has different roles in different contexts. In Slovenia and Russia and Mexico and Canada, in my limited experience, poets seem to be treated differently than in the US, where to say you are a “poet” to a non-poet listener is like saying you’re an anarchist who lives in the desert in a tent made of decomposing trash, by choice.
But no, in the main, most people with disposable cash do not seem driven to run out and buy that hot new chapbook and would much prefer a free dental cleaning. But maybe this is what makes poetry, for me, important, relevant, and always potentially vibrant. Just because there isn’t a market for consciously “experiencing experience” doesn’t mean it doesn’t deeply matter.
2) What makes you want to write poetry?
I don’t think I do want to write poetry or have ever wanted to. That’s lame as an answer, I know. I want to make things, and the things I make often end up as poems, because I’m not tech-savvy, don’t have a dance studio or lots of space, can’t thread my sewing machine, or am just lazy. Poetry is all about laziness. I think laziness is as important, overlooked, and undervalued, as poetry.
Why do I want to make things? Because otherwise I’m just doing the dishes.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and thinker.
Gertrude Stein. Not sure what I can say about that, really. It wasn’t that I always loved Stein. I used to really dislike the repetition. But she’s definitely the writer whose voice is the loudest for me—her and Beckett, they’re the grandparents.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known poet who you’d like more people to know about.
I think all poets are lesser-known, or at least should be more-r-known. I’m also a publisher, so that’s partly what I do—put out work that I think is not going to get out there otherwise, or that needs to get out there in a certain format. 1913’s newest book, O Human Microphone, is by Scott McFarland, who should absolutely be known. He’s a stunning writer, a labor activist, a force.
5) How do you feel about poetry in the age of social media?
Seems to be trucking right along.
There are exciting amounts of possibility, though—like recently I videoed poet Ana Carete reading a poem in the backseat of my car while we were driving around San Diego. I’d like to do more of these car-readings—seems like a perfect venue actually, sort of Taxi Cab Confessions-ish—and social media would be the logical place to share these, whereas in the past that wouldn’t have been an option and we would have needed a more formal venue, invitation, or institutional structure.
So is social media our newest institutional structure, and if so, who’s running this joint?
6) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
Here’s a new poem of mine that recently appeared in the Thermos feature on Rescue Press’ The New Census anthology:
I recently co-taught part of a dance and writing course at Cal State, where I brought my Creative Writing workshop into the black box studio to meet with my colleague Karen Schaffman’s Choreography Seminar. We had a loose plan for the collaboration—mainly to get our students outside their own habitual spaces—and then we let it happen.
The dancers showed their works, with the writers writing on the spot in response—not descriptive or judgmental responses, but more loosely ekphrastic. I would occasionally call out a prompt to the writers—“write an impossible image” or “where are you now”—and Karen would call a directive to the dancers—“entrances” or “gathering.” The next week, the writers read prepared works with the dancers improvising embodied responses. And then the next week, the writers and dancers collaborated in small groups and “made” something.
I think it’s important to participate as much as possible when teaching, so I try to write when I have my students write. That way I know the experience from the inside and we share something.
So that’s the background for the Dance 390 piece here—I wrote while dancing was happening in front of me, around me, in that black box, while my students were also writing. The title refers to the course number—but I like how it sort of sounds like it’s saying dance all the time/365 days, or sounds kind of like Anderson Cooper 360.
Sandra Doller’s books include Oriflamme and Chora (both on Ahsahta Press), Man Years (Subito Press), and two chapbooks: Mystérieuse by Éric Suchère (Anomalous) and Memory of the Prose Machine (Cut Bank). Her new work, Leave Your Body Behind, (forthcoming from Les Figues in 2014) is something else entirely. Doller is the founder & editrice of 1913 Press & 1913 a journal of forms. She lives in California, at the bottom.