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No Filter: An Interview with Emma Ríos & Brandon Graham

August 9, 2016 | by

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Brandon Graham draws late into the night, so he promised me he’d set his alarm to wake up for our interview at ten A.M. his time. He was up when I called him by Skype in Vancouver, then we dialed in Emma Ríos in Spain, where it was already evening. “Let’s pretend it’s morning across the world,” Graham suggested. Ríos and Graham are the editors of the monthly comics magazine Island, launched last summer, which they have modeled as a kind of global conversation about the form. Printed in color and bound in an oversize format, each hundred-page-plus issue is a mix of comics, essays, fashion illustrations, and other pieces that approach the medium from diverse angles. Island has attracted significant talents—among them, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Fil Barlow, and Emily Carroll—whose work is published alongside that of lesser-known creators and recent art-school graduates. The anthology is currently nominated for a Harvey Award for Best Anthology. The tenth issue will arrive later this month.

Graham and Ríos balance their work on Island with other projects. Ríos is the artist on the best-selling, Eisner-nominated Pretty Deadly, with writer DeConnick and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Graham writes and runs the popular reboot of Prophet. Together, Ríos and Graham also edit another series, 8House, in which discrete stories take place in a shared fantasy universe.

Ríos and Graham founded Island as a platform for experimentation; they wanted to create a space in which artists could feel comfortable exploring riskier work. The first issue of the magazine opens with a short comic by Graham in which God bestows the “ultimate freedom to do whatever you wish with your time on earth,” adding, “don’t screw it up.” Island is about taking comics seriously, but, as Graham says, it’s still “a very serious joke.” 

INTERVIEWER

What was the response when you launched the anthology?

GRAHAM

It’s a risky thing, because anthologies are generally not thought of as a good idea in the comics market. But then, just as the first issue came out, Grant Morrison announced he’s taking over Heavy Metal. And suddenly people are talking about magazines again.

INTERVIEWER

Was Heavy Metal an inspiration?

RÍOS

Island is a product of nostalgia. Magazines from the eighties, like Heavy Metal and Métal Hurlant in France and Zona 84 here in Spain, came immediately to mind when Brandon proposed starting a magazine. Island doesn’t look like Heavy Metal, but it shares the desire to collect different story lines, include articles, and expand the medium as well as the viewpoint of readers. Those magazines are where I discovered artists like Moebius. I’d buy an issue to follow someone in particular and by chance discover new creators. In Island, we are bringing together artists from Europe and Asia—creators whose work we aren’t used to seeing on the shelves in the U.S. every Wednesday.

GRAHAM

We’re following the history but also working against Heavy Metal. That was a very “teenage boy” magazine, and we’ve been conscious with Island about making comic books for ourselves, as adults. We are trying to make inclusive work that isn’t just made for—no other way to put it—masturbatory fantasies. Heavy Metal was very high-minded when it launched in France as Métal Hurlant. The modern equivalent became a bit of a joke, an airbrushed Amazonian woman on every cover. If you were a woman or gay or otherwise didn’t fit into the minor slot of its readership, Heavy Metal wasn’t the ideal magazine for you. Island is for a bigger community—not just dudes who like sexy barbarian women. Read More »

The Role of the Poet: An Interview with Solmaz Sharif

July 27, 2016 | by

In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collectionLook inserts military terminology into intimate scenes between lovers, refashioning hollow, bureaucratic language from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms with a human touch. (Even the collection’s title has an alternate military meaning: per the Department of Defense, a look means “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of influence.”) At a time when the U.S. automates acts of murder, Sharif insists that war is still personal—perhaps today more than ever. In one of its most quoted passages, she writes, “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY OF LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you.” 

By simply placing words from the Defense dictionary in small caps, and deploying them in scenes of intimacy,” John Freeman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Sharif has begun the process of renaturing them, putting them in the readers’ hands for examination.” Look confirms what I’ve known since 2014: Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East. I spoke with her about her influences, the role of the poet in today’s world, and the stories behind Look.

INTERVIEWER

In an essay you wrote for the Kenyon Review, you said, “When I am asked to describe my poetry on airplane flights, at dinner parties, I describe it first as ‘political.’ Then, ‘documentary.’ And these two things seem to, for some, preclude aesthetic rigor.” There’s a popular conception that overtly political can’t have aesthetic value—that a political message degrades the aesthetics. Is your work a deliberate effort to rebut this notion? Read More »

You Are on Display: An Interview with Morgan Parker

July 22, 2016 | by

Photo by Kwesi Abbensetts.

Photo by Kwesi Abbensetts.

Morgan Parker has a long résumé—she teaches and edits—that somehow hasn’t precluded a prolific career as a poet. Her first collection, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night, came last year; her second, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, is due out in 2017.

A few months ago, Parker’s poem “Hottentot Venus” appeared in the Spring issue of The Paris Review. Her use of famous names and long, playful titles (“Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-shirt of Macaulay Culkin Wearing a T-Shirt of Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-Shirt of Macaulay Culkin”) suggests that she’s light of heart—but she is, as one reviewer put it,“as set on understanding the world as on changing it.” Race and femininism are central to her work, which explores ways to look at the present through the past, to examine ordinary life through pop culture, and to consider the events of her own life. We spoke recently about the joys of lengthy titles, how her many jobs intersect, and the process of crafting a personal mythology. Read More »

Beauty, Truth, and The Girls: An Interview with Emma Cline

July 19, 2016 | by

Emma Cline.

Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, may be loosely based on the Manson murders, but it isn’t really about Manson at all—it’s about the women around him, those attracted to life at the edge of the world. Though the book circles around the blunt facts of Manson’s crimes, it sidesteps the particulars, reducing him to a pitiful, failed musician named Russell whose only talent is tending to his wilting garden of devotees. Instead of dwelling on him, the novel follows fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd, who’s increasingly enthralled by one of the older girls in Russell’s circle.

Cline, a winner of The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize, writes with the kind of beauty the painter Agnes Martin once described as “an awareness in the mind.” “Marion,” Cline’s story in the Review’s Summer 2013 issue, opens with the line, “Cars the color of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways.” The Girls is set against a dreamy, at times abstracted, California landscape. Her descriptions shimmer on the page: trying to mimic a girl she admires, Evie stands straighter, “holding my head like an egg in a cup”; a teenage boy’s room reeks of masturbation, “a damp rupture in the air”; girls are “swampy with nostalgia.”

Though she’s encouraged by the warm response The Girls has received, Cline eschews the public eye. “I’m used to the isolated part of writing, the part where you’re doing a lot of work alone, in solitude,” she told me. When we spoke on the phone last month, she’d just landed in LA for a reading. I asked her how long she’d be out West. “Just another week or so,” she said, “and then I’m at large.” Read More »

The Mind in Solitude: An Interview with Claire-Louise Bennett

July 18, 2016 | by

Photo © Conor Horgan

Strange things happen when you live alone. When youre no longer required to eat dinner at a particular time, or to close the bathroom door to shower, your relationship to the space around you changes. All of a sudden it is things, rather than other people, that seem to direct your thoughts.

In the most literal sense, the twenty stories that make up Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut, Pond, record a series of moments in the life of an English woman living alone on the west coast of Ireland. The woman eats fruit, tries to replace a broken dial on her Salton mini oven, and wonders if the cows in a nearby field believe she is Jesus. What makes the book unique is the voice in which those moments are described—unfolding in a bird-like language that feels closer to thought than public address.

These are not stories in the traditional sense—neither are they essays, monologues, prose poems, letters or diary entries—but a series of improvisations on each. “Pond is the way it is,” Claire-Louise told me recently when we chatted over email, “because of the way I am, more or less.” Most essentially, Pond is an account of the mind as it exists in solitude. It attempts to engage with the universe at its fullest and not just the little portion of it we identify as human. I began our conversation by asking Claire-Louise where she was writing to me from. 

BENNETT

I’m in an apartment. And since I pay the rent on it each month and have a key to its door and the codes for the two entrance gates it’s reasonable to say it’s my apartment. I don’t feel much for it though. It seems thin, insubstantial, and often when I sit at the table, to eat, and at the desk, to write, I have the sensation the furniture and me are going to fall right through the floor into the thin, insubstantial, flat beneath. It’s raining, of course it is, it’s always raining. My dapper striped deckchair is swollen stiff with rainwater and will probably never close now. I can’t think why I ever opened it here, on a balcony on the west coast of Ireland. Read More »

The Hatred of Poetry: An Interview with Ben Lerner

June 30, 2016 | by

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What do we want from poetry? To read a poem is, on some level, to loathe it—both poem and poet aspire to fulfill a set of impossible expectations from the culture. In his new book, The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner argues that a disdain for poetry is inextricable from the art form itself. Earlier this month, Michael Clune spoke to Lerner at Greenlight Books, in Brooklyn. The exchange below is an edited version of that conversation. —Ed.

INTERVIEWER

One of the most striking things you do in The Hatred of Poetry is to reorient our sense of value. Your canon is “the terrible poets, the great poets, and the silent poets,” as opposed to the merely good or the mediocre. You write about the worst poet in history, McGonagall, and his horrific masterpiece, or antimasterpiece, “The Tay Bridge Disaster”:

Beautiful railway bridge of the silv’ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remembered for a very long
time.

LERNER

Wikipedia says that he’s widely considered the worst poet ever. Read More »