Friday, January 21, 2011 a zombie version of the global village...

Questions for Lisa Hollenbach, the author of the upcoming What To Us chapbook, Speculum....

Some of the poems in Speculum seem to play with the notion of lexical entry. There is a lot of syllabic breaking down, and also suggestions to the potential of some words to reform, including others, for example, "sur - vi vr al." In your writing process, are you closer to the words as meaningful units, or to their sonic components?

I like that phrase: "lexical entry." I suppose the meaningful units are always changing for me, though in this series I really wanted to focus on multiplicity and on hearing and seeing multiple words in one and at once. In the past I've been more respectful of the word-entity, but from the beginning I thought of this poem as a little communication machine and I wanted to take apart its circuits and transistors.

This makes me think of the massive, dysfunctional, constantly repaired machine in the movie Brazil. Do you imagine that this text plays with the notion of dystopia?

I haven't seen that movie (though now I will!) but I do think that the poems engage with dystopia. When I started Speculum I was also thinking about utopianism/idealism in avant-garde writing, and about the utopian and dystopian discourse that surrounded the Internet boom and digitizing craze of the late 90s/early 00s. In contrast to the minimalist Microsoft aesthetic that dominates our experience with technology, I'm kind of obsessed with thinking about leaky, decomposing machines and bodies and online space as a kind of urbanized graveyard (like a zombie version of the global village).

For me, Speculum is a text that grows in presence each time I read it. It also seems dead set on reinventing itself, in a way. Do you feel that reinvention plays a role in your writing?

I guess I never really thought much of reinvention as a strategy, but I kind of like it; the idea of inventing again, of repeating an invention, seems like a contradiction. Which seems about right.

Yes, I see hints of this contradiction through out the work. Mostly, in the constant mention of the viral—the viral spread of flash images, ie the eye in front of the eye, the image of falling, the city-screen---lights, flashing and violent, and the body—both sick and fallen, and indestructible and suspended—these images haunt and reappear. You sure do know how to communicate fear in a poem, on a very subliminal level.

Do you have any silly or serious "mindfuck" viral fears that reinvent themselves in your life?

How about words or phrases that go viral? 

I don't know if this answers your question, but I am kind of sickly fascinated with what happens to the dead online. There have been a few articles recently about new businesses that are cropping up to take care of your online presence when you die by deleting or preserving blogs, pictures, profiles, etc. It's so weird to me that when new technologies appear no one ever seems to think about waste until all of a sudden it becomes a major problem (what will we do with all those ipods?). On the Internet this now seems to include a kind of human and archival detritus that threatens to one day overtake "living" online matter. I think I have a kind of minimal online presence relatively speaking because of my vague fear of the ghosts in the machine.

In terms of language, I love the spread of neologisms and buzz phrases and the way little communities crop up around insider uses of language. I actually just finished Ishmael Reed's classic novel Mumbo Jumbo so currently I have the viral spread of "Jes Grew" on my mind.

As a PhD student of literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, how do you balance the critical demands of your academic life, with the life of a poet? Does your poetry have its own space or time within your academic rubric?

There is no balance. I am a very slow writer in all kinds of genres and I find it difficult to work on multiple projects at once, so academic work tends to dominate out of necessity. Not to mention that sometimes I want to just watch Thursday night television and drink a beer. But I hope that poetry still has a space-time, even if it's on the move. Also, luckily, I find academic work to be generative of and connected to poetic thinking, so there is no feeling of competition.

Ah, yes, academic work and beer can both be generative to poetic thinking, right? There are so many good beers to relax with in Madison, and so many good places. Any favorites? What’s your ideal way to unwind?

Madison is a great place for micro-breweries and happy hours, as you know, and my New Year's resolution is to be less of a homebody and get out to more of them. I love Mickey's for its outside patio and living room interiors. My ideal way to unwind, though, is have a really long multi-hour dinner and good conversation with friends and/or my partner Lewis.

I think of you as detailed reader, who gets very close to her subjects when engaging with them. Speculum is a text that shows me that it is also possible for a writer to exhibit this same level of closeness to an unknown reader. Is there any poet whose work you are particularly engaged with at the moment? 

I sure do like Lisa Robertson and Leslie Scalapino these days. Also I keep reading and listening to Alice Notley, David Antin, Myung Mi Kim, Joan Retallack, and Jackson Mac Low.

Any chance you’ll come to the East coast and read some poems for us?

I'd love to.

Lisa, thanks for delving with me to these extremes. 
In my online heaven this conversation goes on forever.  


Steel said...

I like Lisa. Thanks!

Lesley Yalen said...

great conversation women. thank you!