SAMUEL ACE Talks To JULIANA SPAHR + DAVID BUUCK

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Poet Samuel Ace spoke to Juliana Spahr and David Buuck about their collaborative new book, An Army of Lovers (City Lights), on the verge of its release and their subsequent reading at The RADAR Reading Series this Tuesday, October 15th.

SAMUEL ACE:  Juliana – back in your 2001 book /Everybody’s Autonomy/, you talked about “the communities that works encourage… ” Now, in 2013, for both of you, how have your perceptions of writers and their communities, changed? Do you see an evolution? Are you hopeful or discouraged?

JULIANA SPAHR: I don’t know. That book feels so out of date to me that I can’t stand to look at it. That said, community formations still feel crucial to me to understand how poetry and other than realist fiction circulate in the US. And I don’t think you can understand literature without understanding these networks. I’m neither hopeful nor discouraged about this. It just seems an obvious fact.

SAMUEL ACE: Who are the writers/thinkers who motivated your own thinking about community and poetry?

DAVID BUUCK: This would make for an impossibly long list, from Antigone to Marx to Stein to Cesaire, from third-world revolutionaries to European anarchists to Cultural Front artists to feminist performance artists to avant-garde jazz to Latin American novelists to postcolonial theorists to contemporary poets to our comrades in the recent political movements in Oakland to to to…

SAMUEL ACE: You both teach at the college level in California. And both of you have considered deeply the problematic relationship of the academy to the practice of poetry. Could you talk about some of the methods you use with your students to engage them and their work beyond the academy?

JULIANA SPAHR:  At the most simple level, I start each graduate class by having everyone share what sorts of poetry events they went to in the last week. I’m trying to suggest they should go to something without mandating it. It often doesn’t work. But sometimes it does.

DAVID BUUCK: I teach composition (and not poetry) but still use so-called creative writing techniques to investigate all kinds of questions both inside and outside the classroom.


SAMUEL ACE: The “What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry” chapter reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and his meeting with the writer Nick Green. As Green becomes more and more inebriated, he starts to make sweeping, negative and gossipy comments about the poets and poetic practices of his time. Orlando, hoping to be initiated by a ‘true’ poet, has most, if not all, of his projections shattered about the nature of writers, and the art of poetry, especially after his aspirations are cruelly (and publicly) made fun of by Green. In your chapter as well, poetry and the poets who make poetry (especially avant-garde poetry) are roasted and satirized by their own drunken attempts to find meaning in what they are doing. Could you talk more about these characters and the project/projections of contemporary poetry?

JULIANA SPAHR: We thought of this piece, which keeps the realist fiction form of Raymond Carver and just puts different words in the mouths of each character, less as a roast and more as playful investigation. We don’t hate the Carver, in other words. And we don’t hate the avant garde either. But are more fascinated by the limitations and possibilities of both Carver-esque realism and the avant garde.

SAMUEL ACE: I know that both of you are at Santa Cruz at the Revolution and/or Poetry Conference. What are your expectations for the weekend, or, if you are looking at this post-conference, are you energized or disillusioned or both and why?

JULIANA SPAHR + DAVID BUUCK: Cautiously energized. Somewhat in love. Hoping it will lead to new and better forms of transnational solidarity. Planning to fly over for the next big UK antagonism and follow Sean Bonney around. Planning to work harder to extend the work (both artistic and political) beyond the local scenes and movements. Planning to have a less  blinkered view of the world.

SAMUEL ACE: The collaborative process between Demented Panda and Koki is at the core of the book – their earnest meetings at a border land over an entire summer, their individual practices and stutters, their connection to their bodies and their own writing and/or art practices (and how those practices might literally be sickening them). In the title chapter at the end of the book, something fantastical (dare I say /transcendent/?) happens as the result of a spell they use in their last ditch effort to make something happen in their collaboration. That spell seems to owe much to CA Conrad’s somatic(s) practice, as well as other incantatory practices. Could you talk about what happens here in reference to all that comes before? And what is finally left here for poetry?

JULIANA SPAHR + DAVID BUUCK: This story might be saying, as most of the book might be saying, that as much as you talk about how poetry doesn’t do much, it does do some things. Although these things it does might not necessarily be nice or comforting. At the least the book seems to be saying that poetry might possibly fuck up your body. And it seems to also suggest that it might lead you astray and into the war machine, whether you like it or not. But yes to the debt to CA Conrad. For sure. I’d add that that chapter grew out of various hypnotherapy templates, which are an interesting form of language use, just weird and new-agey enough to befit our anti-heroes in their quest to find new multitudes with which to merge.

SAMUEL ACE: (I asked two writer friends here in Tucson what they would like to ask you both if they had the chance. Here are their questions):

What are the characteristics of an interesting work on-site? What makes a particular site worthwhile for attention? What factors go into a successful performance/ interaction on site – and what’s an alternative way of valuing an interaction in lieu of any kind of record?

DAVID BUUCK: Any site could be potentially interesting for art and/or intervention, though as we discovered (and is somewhat lampooned in the first chapter), this doesn’t mean it is easy, or that all site-work (writing, performance, actions, whatever) will necessarily make for *good* or interesting results.

Who is your /we/?

DAVID BUUCK: Our we is utopian, an impossible yet necessary aspiration (if it is to move beyond two friends to some kind of revolutionary collective) and in the book we hope that by the end this we becomes expansive and alive, if however unwieldy and unpredictable as any army of lovers would be in our time—

Samuel Ace is the author of three collections of poetry: Normal Sex (Firebrand Books), Home in three days. Don’t wash., a hybrid project of poetry, video and photography (Hard Press), and most recently Stealth, co-authored with Maureen Seaton (Chax Press). He is a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, two-time finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Poetry, winner of the Astraea Lesbian Writer’s Fund Prize in Poetry, The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and the Firecracker Alternative Book Award in Poetry. His work has been widely anthologized and has appeared in or is forthcoming from, Ploughshares, Eoagh, Spiral Orb, , Kenyon Review, van Gogh’s Ear, Rhino, 3:am, Trickhouse, The Volta, and others. He lives in Tucson, AZ and Truth or Consequences, NM.

Juliana Spahr + David Buuck read alongside Phoebe Gloeckner, Holly Hughes and Jerry Stahl at The RADAR Reading Series / LitQuake Edition Tuesday, October 15th at the San Francisco Public Library.

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