Interview with Upcoming Breadline Feature Sierra Nelson

Interview conducted by Greg Bem.

Tell me a little bit about your writing self. What personal projects and collaborations have you recently completed? What’s your writing history in Seattle?

My writing life in Seattle has been wonderfully varied — I feel very luck for the community of writers I know here, doing all sorts of diverse work. Lots of collaborations, and lots to just be inspired by.

For over fourteen years (that’s a long time!), I’ve collaborated with Rachel Kessler doing “literary performance art” — collaborative writing, both on-the-spot and behind-the-scenes, with various multi-media performance elements, focusing especially on older analog technology (typewriters, overhead projectors).  We first began collaborating together as a trio with Sarah Paul Ocampo, founding The Typing Explosion (http://www.typingexplosion.com/), and in 2004 Rachel and I began exploring our poetry-scientist selves in the project the Vis-à-Vis Society (https://www.facebook.com/VisaVisSociety). Most recently Vis-à-Vis Society performed as part of the Mw [Moment Magnitude] Exhibition at the Frye Art Museum. A few of the things we were most excited about from that project — collaboratively written Scientific Method poems displayed on the bathroom mirrors, 12 Days of Pantyhose (poems written while conducting field research on wearing pantyhose, writing 2 lines/2legs per day), and poems written using a new poetic form created to mimic the structure of the giant light sculpture that was up at the Frye by Lilienthal | Zamora. (You can see the floorplan of their structure here: http://www.lilienthalzamora.com/ ) It was a challenging  form — including 0 syllable lines! The results were eerie.

I also received my MFA from U.W. in 2002, and my solo-writing has really been supported by writers and artists I met during that time or rippling out from that community. There’s a vibrant performance scene in Seattle, and a vibrant on-the-page scene in Seattle, having interesting conversations with each other, and lots of people straddling both worlds. I’m happy to be in this mix!

Last year was exciting, as both my choose-your-own-adventure (with poetry and art) book collaboration with visual artist Loren Erdrich was released in the spring from Rose Metal Press (I Take Back the Sponge Cake http://www.rosemetalpress.com/Catalog/SpongeCake.html ), and my chapbook “In Case of Loss” came out in November as part of the Toadlily Press Quartet Series ( http://toadlilypress.com/ ).

New writing has been trying to include more (actual) dream images/objects, and most recently colors. (I just started teaching a color-themed generative writing class at Hugo House — I like teaching these classes because it makes me write more too!)

I remember all your successes from last year! Congratulations, and I hope you appreciate busy artistry as much as I do. That being said, I’m curious. With what you’ve described, there is a certain density not only in the projects but in the lifestyle of the artist itself. I was going to be more straightforward and ask you easier questions, but I have to go a different route: when it comes to time, time management, scheduling, sense of being, sense of growth, and perception, how do you find yourself? Is the 21st century artist responsible for thinking about such things, about the temporal?

Similarly, regarding your happenings or situations, so to speak, and your material constructions, I’d love for you to talk about space. If you could touch lightly (like a cell phone screen) on the idea of space and place when it comes to your poetics, that would be quite lovely (and lively) too!

It does get dense! Whacking through the underbrush of artistry with my time machete. That sounds about right. The main trick (still learning) is remembering to whistle while I work. As in, to remember that I actually do enjoy all these things, and to let myself enjoy them, and not just panic about all the other things I’m not doing when I’m doing one thing.  To remember to enjoy some slow going sometimes, and even some scratches, and the weird along the way (which is actually the good part!) — like a bird that suddenly appears in a tree above you while you’re down below industriously, almost futilely, whacking. Poetry!

I don’t know if an artist has a responsibility to think about the temporal, but I think most artists do. Four dimensions, we’re in it, we’re living it, so we have to think about it. Balancing time for the work to cover basic needs (whatever way you’ve found to make money and have food and shelter that hopefully doesn’t drain you from art-making — and that can be different for different artists — and even at different times in your life) — with the essential art-making time.

Then there’s balancing the fruitful generative brainstorming daydreaming experimenting exploring observing playing around time with the time needed for honing, editing, preparing, practicing, problem solving, making tangible, presenting, performing — how much time to give each side of the creative process? Especially when each side in itself could expand into infinity!

And then the time inside time — finding the moments where you are IN IT and time moves differently from ordinary time (part of how you know, later, that you are/were IN IT), versus the times when you are just showing up and clocking in, keeping faith with the creative process, but maybe not that much comes out of it (tangibly), and time creeps in this petty pace. But I think that time is important too. The showing up.  Sometimes you have to fold laundry with the muse. And that has its purpose too. (Cue more whistling.)

The compartments of time, a word I thought of immediately when you mentioned the layers, is more pertinent in my life now than every before, but for reasons related to sanity and necessity rather than exploration, though perhaps it’s all linked.

When it comes to space, I wonder about not only your specific projects and how they’ve explored space, expanded upon space, and innovated with space. I know you’ve done all of the above, so don’t lie to me, Sierra! But more seriously, what does space DO with the temporal, what is the relationship with finding time within time?

Also, what’s the deal with space under the cloud blanket that is Seattle’s sky? Space is way different here than other places, and seeing that you’ve been other places, I think you’ll probably have an opinion.

Are there any spaces we should look for you and your art in the near future? Where do we point our cameras, our iPhones, our sensors and antennae?

That’s true, I do like to play with space in projects! Especially interactive space.  My choose-your-own-adventure book with Loren was a way to play with the usual page-space and trajectory of a poetry book, allowing the path between pages to jump around and move by the reader’s volition.And a few years ago I made what I called a Rune Library (Runasafn) during a residency in Reykjavik.  I wrote a series of poems inspired by Nordic Rune symbols and made it into an installation where readers could select (at random, or looking for when they liked) a rock with that rune, and then receive that corresponding poem typed on a card (and writing their name on a library card so I knew which poems had been “checked out”). I like thinking about the right poem intersecting with the right reader at the right time — something you don’t have much control over as a writer, but it’s something you hope for. Runasafn was a way for me both to encourage awareness of, and to record, that intersection. A reader or listener’s interaction and intersection in time-space with a poem is a necessary ingredient to the magic in any poem. I’m interested in ways to bring that ongoing chance/choice on the reader’s part back into awareness, making it more exciting for all parties involved.

And of course as the Vis-à-Vis Society we are definitely interested in taking poetry off the static page and into all different kinds of locations and interactive engagement with an audience. We want to invite people into the process, to inhabit the poem-experiment together.

One of my favorite time-space-inhabiting poetry we did (though not as overtly science-y as many of our Vis-à-Vis Society endeavors) was at the Bridge Motel as part of the Motel Project (http://www.motelmotelmotel.com/bridge.html).  (And when I say we here, I mean myself/Dr, Ink, my usual collaborative partner Rachel Kessler/Dr. Owning, and one of our favorite poetic-scientific associates Anne Bradfield/Dr. Eamer.) We wrote 100 original poems about motel rooms typed on old Bridge Motel postcards. The night of the one-night-only happening, Anne and I checked out room-poems and numbered keys to people visiting the Bridge Motel lobby (which we repainted an amazing Pepto Bismal pink). No poem was repeated. People were also asked to give us a small deposit in exchange for their room-poem and key, which could be anything that would fit in a small numbered plastic bag. By the end of the night we had a wild array of items people chose to leave behind in exchange (including poems written back to us on old receipts, a lock of hair cut on the spot, photos from wallets, and airplane bottle of booze). Someday we’d really like these poems and the corresponding images of the deposits people left to be published in a book form. We’re working on that manuscript now, in fact!

But now I realize maybe you weren’t actually asking about projects, and just wanted to get down to the SPACE+ACTION+TIME, what’s happening?

Living in Seattle, I think the rain and clouds really do affect our experience of space and time. This is a good place for dreaming (night dreaming and daydreaming) — is it the grey? The shifting cinematic light when the clouds do break? The large trees? Probably all of it. (This also relates to my theory about the peculiar Pacific Northwest driving style, so maddening to east coast drivers: slow drivers in the left lane. My theory: Seattle drivers move all the way to the left to avoid potential conflict from cars entering the freeway from the right, which then frees them up for more daydreaming and car singing, hence the slower, or erratic fast-slow, speeds in the left lane. Discuss.)

Plus the fact that film and books are so important here (excellent activities for rainy days) — we take it for granted, but that’s one of the fastest ways to experience time within time, as a viewer/reader. (Internet and TV feel less specifically like time within time to me because they are more pythony — able to swallow up the whole deer of your day. Handle with care.)

Plus space needle = time machine. Right? So we are pretty lucky living and writing here.

Regarding where to point your antennae in the future: First, Breadline on Thursday Feb 21 (of course!). And I am still working to secure a date and venue for the next Cephalopod Appreciation Society meeting — but I am looking at April. So keep the cephalopods in your thoughts and stay tuned!

IdeaofSierraNelson-photobyKatieOgle

Sierra Nelson is author of chapbook “In Case of Loss” (Toadlily Press, 2012) and her book collaboration with visual artist Loren Erdrich, I Take Back the Sponge Cake: A Lyrical Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, debuted from Rose Metal Press in Spring 2012.  Her poems have appeared in Poetry NorthwestCity Arts Magazine, Crazyhorse, Fairy Tale Review, and Forklift, Ohio, as well as in the anthology collectionsPinkThunder and forthcoming Alive at the Center: Pacific Poetry Project. She is a MacDowell Colony fellow, co-founder of literary performance art groups The Typing Explosion and the Vis-à-Vis Society, and president of Seattle’s Cephalopod Appreciation Society.

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Interview with Upcoming Breadline Feature Matthew Simmons

Interview conducted by Greg Bem.

Matthew, while I know a little bit about your writing background and your presence in Seattle, not everyone else does. Can you talk a little bit about your background as a fiction writer, and your activities in the emerald city?

I moved to Seattle—from Lawrence, Kansas—about a dozen years ago. Back then, I wrote, but I never showed any of it to anyone, and never really thought seriously about writing as a thing a person did and then shared with strangers. Then I got a job as a bookseller, read a lot, met a bunch of writers while working author events, found a bunch of venues, learned how to create a story with a beginning and a middle and an end, and realized that if I added that framework onto the whatever it was I was doing, I would be a writer.

Are you happy with that interpretation of “writer”? How has being a writer changed your life since the part of your life before you would consider yourself a writer? What kind of writers did you meet at those author events who A) you still remember and B) affected your future writing self?

I’m betting every time I stumble upon something, have some sort of revelatory moment where I learn something new about, or have some sort of new success at writing, it will occur to me to say: “Oh, man. NOW I’m a writer. Before I was just stumbling around in the dark with my hands out in front of me. But, now…” So, writing as a continual process of “becoming a writer,” maybe? How many avocations are there that allow you to continually re-become? I am mostly unhappy with, and also very happy with, that interpretation of “writer.”

As I’ve become more comfortable self-identifying as a writer, more of the people around me seem to have become more comfortable joining in. Which means more and more, if I’m somewhere with someone, and they are introducing me to someone else, they will become a part of my identity by using the word “writer” in the very brief bio of me they provide to the someone else.

I’ve met authors from all genres and at all stages of their careers, and I’ve learned all sorts of things about readings and the writing life and all that. I think—I hope—I learned how to read in public in a compelling way by watching people succeed and fail at it.

I remember lots of them. The first writer I ever introduced whose book I not only read but also really loved was Amy Fusselman.

I’d like to switch gears and talk a little bit about prose. Maybe you don’t identify with prose and maybe you do. Certainly you have written in prose before, and probably will do so again. What draws you to prose as the form? Have you attempted other forms before? Your language could certainly be described as poetic in some ways, and yet I would never refer to you as a poet, though I’m not sure what that even means! Also, can you talk a little bit about the writer as reader, and your history with reading your work out loud in front of an audience (and/or not in front of an audience)? I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to ask a fiction writer or nonfiction writer about that before!

I guess over the years I’ve tried to write poems, but it just doesn’t feel natural to me. Maybe I’ve got a fear of the “return” key or something. I just like to keep typing.

Not that I dislike poetry. I like it quite a bit. Maybe I’m afraid of it a little. Maybe I’m intimidated by it a little. I really like poetry. In the times when I’m most productive as a writer of prose, I find myself reading more poetry. I’m more inclined to it.

I guess in school I had to read things in front of people. Speeches and all that. “Convince an audience to think and act as you do.” I was always kind of afraid of speaking in front of people. When I started reading little weird fictions in front of people, though, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to be scared. Not in the same way, at least. I have no idea why.

By the time I started reading fictions in front of people—the first was at a Monkeybicycle reading at a coffee shop in Belltown, and I read with Ryan Boudinot and David Drury—-I had introduced a bunch of people, though. And some of those people had fairly large crowds. Maybe I had gotten used to it.

After the Monkeybicycle reading, Aaron Burch asked me to read something at a Hobart thing in The Jewel Box theater. I has a band backing me. I seem to recall reading a weird piece of Kirk/Spock slash fiction for it. Wonder what happened to that story?

I’m not sure I answered your question, though. I think I just talked about a few things.

Here’s another thing. Lately I’ve become sort of fascinated by battle rap competitions, especially the ones put on by the URL (URLtv.tv). Have you ever watched any of those? They break a lot of what they do down to categories. You have bars (these are usually the really serious things you say, the boasts and threats), punches (jokes, punchlines), name flips or other bits of wordplay, and delivery. I think over the last week or so, I’ve been mostly interested in delivery.

I think you answered the questions rightfully, in your own way, and look forward to seeing what folks have to say. I love the speech class. The speech class for me, in my undergrad years, was pretty inspiring, though it’s hard to say what gave me more motivation–the class or the drugs I was taking at the time. And I haven’t seen the battle rap competitions, but I guess I’ve got my Friday night worked out for me, so thank you. It’s curious that you bring rap up, though, and Star Trek. Whenever I hear you read, or whenever I see something created by you (interview? tweet?), I have this sense that you’re not afraid of confronting pop culture and culture in general. But I’m more curious about how conscious you are of those many worlds, many realities, when you write. I guess I’m trying to ask the boring question in a new way: what are your current main arteries of inspiration? What gets the juice or the blood or the ink flowing? I guess it’s more or less pixel-fill than anything else. This would also be a good time, or maybe even a great time, to talk about your current projects and artistic commitments. The Clout Sensor Device has been calibrated and is ready for sensing.

I think even though I’m not less inclined to confront or make reference to pop culture in a piece of fiction—as opposed to a tweet or in an interview—I’m less likely to. I think my brain follows all sorts of separate creative pathways, and the fiction pathway will sometimes stop off at, and grab something from pop culture—for example, Dungeons & Dragons and Rush both make appearances in stories in HAPPY ROCK—but not as often as the Twitter pathway, or the interview pathway, or the short HTML Giant death essay pathway.

I get most of my inspiration just from working. Whatever’s around me finds a way into what I write, but I don’t really write until I write. And then when I start writing, I’m inspired to write.

Right now I’m finishing a really long story. A novella, I guess. I think by the end of the year, there will be a couple more like that. I’m writing longer and longer. I don’t really know how to describe them beyond that, though. Beyond what they look like.

I still conduct interview for Hobart and have a few coming out in the next few months. And whenever someone/thing dies and I feel like the death is notable in some way, I write about it for HTML Giant.

matthew-simmons

Matthew Simmons is the author of the novella A Jello Horse (Publishing Genius Press, 2009), and the soon-to-be released book of short stories Happy Rock (Dark Coast Press, 2013). More about him at matthewjsimmons.com.

Interview with Ben Schmitt who was Published in Solo Novo Press!

When were you first introduced to Solo Novo?

The press had sent out a call for writers to submit work written in the last few months of 2011 and I answered that call by submitting some of my poems.

Talk about your attraction to Solo Novo and how you were first brought into the press/community.

At the time the call for submissions was sent out there were a lot of interesting things happening in my life and in the country as a whole. This was the heyday of the Occupy Movement in which I took part and was nearly arrested along with 30 other protestors as we all sat down together to block the intersection of 4th and Pike in Downtown Seattle. I liked that the press recognized this moment as something worthy of dedicating an issue to and so I submitted my work. Paula Lowe eventually reached out to me and I ended up publishing two poems in that issue.

Describe the poetics involved with Solo Novo as a whole and talk about how your own work relates (or does not) to those poetics.

The latest issue of Solo Novo is really dedicated towards the intersection of the personal and the political. The press is interested in both the internal utterances of Dickinson and the wide sweeping exuberance of Whitman, and it is most interested in the space where the two of them meet. This is a space that my work inhabits and so this journal is a perfect fit for my work. The two poems that I published in Solo Novo are both about how we as individuals respond to forces that are completely out of our control.

What do you plan to bring to the table the night of Breadline?

I plan to bring humor, energy, and my love of the written word.

Is this your usual way of presenting your work, yourself?

Yes, I have always read my own work.

What needs to happen to poetry for its relevance as we continue into the 21st century and how are you championing support for those needs?

For poetry to be relevant I think we as writers need to embrace new technologies and be adaptable to the myriad changes happening in the world. We as writers should not think so narrowly as to believe that poetry can only exist on the pages of a book, in fact for centuries poetry was passed down through the spoken word. On the other hand I do not think that this means we should shift our focus away from the written word, I love books too much for that and I do not think that the poetry slam movement is an adequate replacement to an already firmly established form. However, what I am saying is that tablets, smartphones, kindles, etc. give us opportunities to explore and innovate and we as poets should be actively seeking out those opportunities. I think The Breadline does a great job of this, and I am pleased to be working with them. This is one way that I am supporting these needs I have just identified, the other is using social media to call attention to readings like The Breadline and to poets that a lot of people might not know about.

Anything else that can help the Breadline crowd know you better?

I am publishing my first book of poems later this year. I am married to an amazing woman.

Ben-Schmitt

The Fine Line, Danse Macabre, Otis Nebula, Turk’s Head Review, Poetry for the Masses, Splash of Red, Subliminal Interiors, The Write Place at the Right Time, The Pacific Review, Solo Novo, The Write Room, and The Chaffey Review. He currently lives in Seattle with his beautiful wife. His first book of poems will be released later this year.