Dana Ward In conversation With Mike Hauser
Mike Hauser is a poet and curates, with Karl Saffran, the Salacious Banter Reading Series.
Dana Ward is a poet, publisher, and custodian of intimate literary community. Of Dana’s work, Rodney Koeneke has written “[it] reminds me of that arcade game where you have to steer a grapple over a pile of soft toys. The object is to get the claw to drop on the prize you want, then carry it off to the chute. In the real game, the toy seems a little sad once it comes down the chute—it never looks as good as it did when it was part of that colorful assortment behind the glass. In Dana’s version, the claw never has to drop; you get to keep moving the grapple over a beckoning surface of feeling and detail and variegated cultural reference that doesn’t force you to choose between Jay-Z and Alice Notley, or Caravaggio and John Lydon.com.” The impetus for my conversation with Dana happened on the occasion of his reading for the Salacious Banter Reading Series here in Milwaukee. I wanted Dana’s thoughts about literary community, bi-coastal relationships, and the various forms of publication that exist. Dana’s most recent chapbook is The Drought, out this year from Open 24 Hours Press.
|Photo Credit Elaine Litzau
Mike: Do you think your work is affected by an “other”? By people in your life? The world? The poetry community at large (at small)?
Dana: Yeah, absolutely. As much as those things constitute a purely other, yeah, although much of what you have above are things I'm entirely of, leaving, of course, space to be fully with what's unknown or unknowable about those broad locatable/illocatable sites: the world, poetry, community. Those are calibrating figures and each one is hot with contention. That's where I hope my poetry is speaking from: the space of the problems we find in attendance.
I think those "locatable/illocatable sites" are what I wanted to get into. We've talked before about these, maybe trans-locatable, relationships with other poets who live in different parts of the country. I always find it interesting how different these engagements seem to be from twenty or so years ago, when there were only letters and the phone. I'm interested in what you would have to say about the location of these sites, the ones that are locatable, and if there needs to be an attempt to locate. We are two poets who live in mid-size cities (Milwaukee and Cincinnati), for example, and despite all the opening of a social space the internet brings, much activity among our friends and peers seems to happen on the coasts. Maybe poetry, socially, has not caught up with the Internet?
|Photo Credit Elaine Litzau
The idea that poetry, socially or otherwise, "has not caught up to the internet", or that it should in explicit ways attempt to, is an exciting one. It’s an idea that has had a pretty dynamic effect on some of the poetry that has meant the most to me in the past ten years. That dynamism has manifested itself in various ways, in micro-concentrations with inner-diversity like jewels—Flarf, or some Conceptual Writing , and then endless other things unallied to a named group formation. Stephanie Young's Picture Palace, for instance, draws on the Internet as both a social fact and as an almost emotional presence in the world (it's a stunning effect that I won't try to describe but read that book!). Or Ariana Reine's Coeur De Lion, where hacking her lover's Gmail account puts a whole multi-leveled lyric narrative in motion.
I realize I'm coming at your question kind of crooked. There is a lot of vital poetry that has been sufficiently (that's such a boring word), or astonishingly with the Internet, of and through it. But that doesn't quite account for what you're asking me, which is about community and the persistence of bi(coastal)-furcations. I would say they only work for me in subtonic ways, and that the major notes seem to be played out in this enormous crucible of the Internet, but that’s obviously a personal myopia. I feel like, as I write this, I’m turning the Internet into a sort of monolith, acting like it’s this ONE THING, when it’s not at all. Anyway, there is certainly 'activity', as you have it, in Milwaukee, in Kansas City (where Anne Boyer is another example of poetry catching up to, or exceeding, the Internet). We certainly have it here in Cincinnati and Oxford. The coasts will always have their magnetism, their deep populations of gifted and ambitious poets and thinkers, because of that indelible cosmopolitan life. The geographically local is as important as ever, exceptionally precious for its particularity, as it always has been. But the locatable 'we' of poetry is actually not exactly locatable. Not to be a Kōanist here, and bob and weave, but saying it that way feels true.
One thing Stephanie Young’s Picture Palace points to, and that you kind of referenced, is that whether we like it or not, for most of us the internet is just a part of life, and why not embrace all the capabilities it affords us. So there's that heightened awareness of its social and its, I don’t know, aesthetic/procedural/processual (stealing that last word from Michael Palmer) implications. And you mentioned Anne Boyer, who's also doing amazing things in this area. I think of a lot of poetry now is trying to articulate a kind of agency, constantly trying to situate itself in the Now.
But I also wanted to ask you about your poem “That Alice Notley & Jay-Z & Dana Would Speak Through The Imperfect Medium Dana”. Just how you wrote it, what you think in general about the idea of “speaking” in a poem.
It’s funny because I wrote that to exactly articulate “a kind of agency”, one that I was consistently hearing in everyday life, which is to say that Notley and Jay-Z are axiomatic for me when I think about the sound of the human voice, and what it's capable of in
performance. I was listening a lot to both of their voices--Notley from readings, and Jay-Z's records, back to back on my headphones. There was something about proximity, about the fact of those voices right in one's ear, both freighted with all kinds of biographical information. I had always loved that poem of Notley's: "That Jack Would Speak Through the Imperfect Medium of Alice." I wanted to do something with that,
explore the dovetailing of those two lives into mine. But as to how I wrote it, I tried to sink into the measure of Notley’s poem, and also to blend in some prosodic moves I learned from Jay-Z. So that’s the music, which is one part of its content. The other thing I did was simply smash biographical data together in the lines, from their lives and mine. Smashed may be too violent; blurred perhaps is better, integrated.
|Cover Art by Jonathan Allen
I want to ask you one more thing. I know we talked a bit the last time we saw
each other about the idea of the “full length” book, and how maybe it's not all that,
or maybe that one can have other ways of getting work out there. The books that you
make with Cy Press might be considered chapbooks but they are actually, as
documents of poetry, made with a lot of love and warmth and attention to the craft of
the book, as well as what it contains. Do you have any thoughts about why so
many poets see the first full-length book as such a milestone, and if it still means now
what it used to.
To begin, I want to say that I think of all books as real books, perfect-bound, pdfs, tied together with floss, stapled, whatever. One does not constitute something more real for me than the other. In the case of my own poetry, the things I’ve written, the collections I’ve written, have been short, so shorter books have been the happiest mode of making that work public in print. If I were to write something longer (as I am now doing), I’d have to seek out a different format. But a lot of this has to do with administered prestige—who’s publishing what, where and at what level of visibility. That’s bound up in both a “career” on the one hand and the desire for readers on the other. A first book as milestone seems like something related, but slightly different, in that it can be experienced as performing a threshold moment the way a wedding might, or my Sweet Sixteen at Bungalow 8 back in the day did. I don’t have a program in this respect, I might have something slightly resembling a theory, although it’s quite brittle. I’m mainly interested in modes of being public that are open to being critiqued as modes. People like to talk in apocalyptic terms about these things—‘the end of the book’, etc, and I don’t quite know what to say about all that. The anxiety about having a book, however that’s defined, will live on. People will continue to freak out, resent each other, and fall in love with one another’s work. But I don’t think it would be so bad if the idea of the book as the thing that, socially, bestows a final legitimacy on the poetry or the poet, were to change a little bit. Well, hell, it already has and maybe that will become more acute over time.
*For an introduction to Flarf and Conceptual Writing, as well as examples of both, see the July/August 2009 issue of Poetry here.