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The Afterlife of the Voice: An Interview with Peter Gizzi

March 16, 2015 | by

 Gizzi

Last year saw the publication of In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987–2011, a significant retrospective of the work of poet Peter Gizzi. Gizzi—who also has three poems in the latest issue of The Paris Reviewhimself selected and arranged In Defense, which not only samples nearly twenty-five years of his poems but finds a new order and a new context for them—both for Gizzi and for his readers. The titles of his earlier books provided points of location and navigation. His first collection, Periplum (1992), takes its title from an Ezra Pound line about a journey, and the notion of the poem as a journey is something Gizzi has carried throughout his career. The Outernationale (2007), his fifth collection, gives a sense of the landscape these journeys cross—at once internal and external, subjective and universal. In Defense of Nothing, which will be published in paperback in April, was recently named a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

I spoke with Gizzi by phone about assembling the volume. At the beginning of our conversation, I told him that we had met once years before, at an event, and that after our conversation he had given me the copy of Artificial Heart from which he had been reading. He couldn’t remember our interaction, but for him, that individual connection—between the poet and the poem, the poem and the reader, and the reader and the poet—is the heart of the poetic experience.

What does it mean to assemble a selected-poems volume, and how does a project like this begin?

It began as a conversation with my editor of fifteen or more years, and now my dear friend, Suzanna Tamminen. She has a good sense of my work and she knew there had been a lot of changes in my life, some difficult, and that I was taking stock, as it were. So she proposed that I do a selected poems.

Did you learn more about what that means over the course of the project?

I’ve discovered there are several versions of Peter Gizzi. Over the course of this book there is the Peter Gizzi who lived in New York City, the Peter Gizzi who lived in the Berkshires, in Providence, in California, in Amherst, and so on. I learned that twenty-five years of life accumulate, as does one’s work. And yet I found that there is an uncanny consistency to the variety and reality of address in my poetry in whatever form I happen to be working—small lyric, series, long form, prose poem. It was illuminating to me simply because my inner life can be a turbulent experience, and I live one poem at a time and one book at a time. Read More »

New Lovers: An Interview with Paul Chan

March 10, 2015 | by

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Paul Chan is best known as a multimedia artist, writer, and activist, but in 2010 he added publisher to his long list of achievements when he founded Badlands Unlimited, an imprint with a mission that embraced changes in the way books are created and circulated: “We make books in an expanded field.” Chan’s modest house boasts a list rich in writing and ideas. In its brief history, it’s published, among others, Calvin Tomkins’s collected interviews with Marcel Duchamp, Yvonne Rainer’s poems, Saddam Hussein’s speeches on democracy, and a monograph of curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s notes and hand-drawn diagrams.

This year, Chan and his Badlands coconspirators—Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand, and Matthew So—launched the first three titles of New Lovers, a series of erotic novels written by women for a new generation’s sexual imagination. In Lilith Wes’s We Love Lucy, a young woman throuples up with her best friend and his boyfriend; Wednesday Black’s How to Train Your Virgin tells of a queen in a colorful, fantastic realm who tries to win back the lust of her king; and in God, I Don’t Even Know Your Name, Andrea McGinty tracks a young artist’s worldwide sexual adventures after she begins using a new dating app called Bangly. In short, the books are intended to be colorfully hot reads for the thinking pervert.

I met with Chan to talk about New Lovers a few weeks ago in his airy, light-filled studio in Industry City, Brooklyn. He and his team were in the final stages of completing work for “Nonprojections for New Lovers,” Chan’s solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, organized in honor of his winning the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize. To my surprise, Chan was utterly cool and calm considering the coming storm.

Badlands Unlimited largely publishes art books. How does erotica fit into your mission?

From the very beginning, one of the models for Badlands has been Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press, which was one of the craziest, most vanguard presses out there. They funded themselves selling erotica. A year and a half ago, we published a political romance inspired by Michele Bachmann by the poet Trey Sager. It was called Fires of Siberia, and we had a lot of fun doing it. So we thought, Why not explicitly use the model of Olympia Press to do a series of erotic romance books? We’ll focus on women writers, publish them as paperbacks and e-books, and see what we get.

Why focus on women writers?

They write better erotica. We read some manuscripts written by men. We didn’t like them. Read More »

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The Right Kind of Damage: An Interview with Colin Barrett

March 3, 2015 | by

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Photo courtesy of the author.

There’s a moment in “Car-Crash While Hitchhiking,” a story by Denis Johnson that first appeared in The Paris Review, in 1989, when a woman learns of the death of her husband and unleashes a terrible scream. The narrator, instead of expressing the expected sympathy, leans out of the page a little to offer this unnerving confession: It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”

Reading Young Skins, Colin Barrett’s debut story collection, can leave one with a similar sense of disturbed gratitude. The stories blend moments of horror with moments of hilarity, shocks of joy with shocks of despair, and no matter how grim a given scene by Barrett can get, it’s a thrill to be alive to hear him. In a restroom, under a naked bulb, we find “a lidless shitter operated by a fitfully responsive flush handle.” In a field, “crushed cans of Strongbow and Dutch Gold and Karpackie are buried in the mud like ancient artefacts.” A “big brown daddy-long-legs pedals airily in the sink basin,” its movements ”describing a flustered circle,” and a character named Bat cannot enjoy his dinner because a clan of kids is “eyeing the bulky hydraulics of his jaw.”

The vitality of Barrett’s prosethe special intensity of attention he’s able to draw from details of small-town lifehas already helped win him the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. To mark the U.S. release of Young Skins this month, I talked with him about his allergy to “lethally competent writing,” the details of character and language upon which he builds a story, and how a work of fictionlike the community it describescan develop “its shibboleths, its customs and codes, its own way of talking to itself.”

Were your earliest efforts as a writer very different to the stories collected in Young Skins?

I wrote and drew lots of gory comic books as a young kid and as a teen. Then I discovered and wrote lots of poetry around college age. Awful, sub-Ashbery, sub-Muldoon, sub-Eliot stuff, but at least it was writing. Then I attempted a few novels—multinarrator, genre-splicing Pynchonian or Foster Wallace sprawlers, usually set in alternate futures, though I never got more than a couple dozen pages in. I only started really writing stories at twenty-five. The early stuff was all, obviously, awful—but awful in a vital way. The wonderful thing about being completely inexperienced is the impregnable purity of your ignorance. You are utterly insensible to any conception of your own crippling and patent limitations, and so you try anything and everything. Read More »

The Fabric of a Life: An Interview with Yasmina Reza

February 20, 2015 | by

Yasmina Reza. Photo © Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Last week, Yasmina Reza, who lives in Paris, came to New York to promote the American publication of her latest novel, Happy Are the Happy. I met her in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. As she pointed out, it looks a lot like a hallway, with doors on every side.

Happy Are the Happy isn’t entirely unlike that hallway: the book is a gallery of portraits, with each chapter opening a door on a new scene. Characters pass through each other’s lives—some connected closely, as, say, mothers and daughters, and others linked only casually, as two strangers in a doctor’s office.

Quietly glamorous in light makeup, her dark wavy hair undone, Reza looked slender in a plaid miniskirt and green mohair sweater. In conversation, she seems effortlessly poised and speaks as she writes, with elegant precision. We talked about the frivolous and the profound, what it means to be French, theater today, and Michel Houellebecq. 

We were speaking in French; the following is my translation.

Your American publisher, Judith Gurewich, warned me that you don’t like interviews.

It’s not that I don’t like interviews, I don’t like promoting myself. I don’t like the feeling of having to step outside the work in order to sell it. And sometimes professional journalists can be nightmares—they’re only waiting for you to make a faux pas. They have nothing personal invested, they’re not really there. It’s all business.

Like Charlie Rose?

Yes, I refused to go on the Charlie Rose show because he’s a perfect example of that kind of professional journalist, who just asks a series of smart prewritten questions and doesn’t bother listening to the answers. It feels like being faced with a brilliant question machine. It’s a horrible experience that I’d rather not put myself through.

In your play The Unexpected Man—a series of internal monologues between two characters on a train—an aging novelist describes his early works as so far removed that they might as well be someone else’s. At the time you were just starting out as a writer, so you had to be guessing. Now that twenty years have passed, does it feel true?

Writing is so prophetic—at twenty, you already know everything there is to know, you don’t need to have experienced life to be able to write about it. There’s an intuitive phenomenon at work that’s almost clairvoyant. I’m not only speaking for myself. Many other writers have shared this impression. Read More »

Intermittent Explosive Disorder: An Interview with Matt Sumell

February 17, 2015 | by

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Matt Sumell

In Spring 2012, The Paris Review published Matt Sumell’s short story “Toast,” in which the narrator, Alby, humiliates his girlfriend so creatively, and so often, that she ends the relationship. “Over the next few years,” Alby says in a typical passage, “I changed from a mostly passive prick to a mostly aggressive one, sexing a lot of girls and I’m pretty sure contracting HPV in my throat.”

“Toast” appears in Making Nice, Sumell’s first book, a collection of linked stories all told from Alby’s perspective. He’s a thirty-year-old having a hell of a time navigating the world since his mother died from cancer. Sumell’s stories are pugnacious, figuratively and literally. In “Punching Jackie,” Alby spars with his sister; in “OK,” he pushes his one-legged father over the side of a boat. Even when he isn’t taking anyone to task, the stories are full of fighting words: bitterness at the world, anger with fate, and misunderstanding of circumstance. Alby is lost. His outlets for self-discovery and definition are few and far between. Making Nice is hilarious in its prose, but painful in its nakedness.

Sumell and I met up to talk fighting, writing, and being named Matt on a freezing January afternoon. We ended up in Chelsea, at Barcade, a bar lined with arcade games where the tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces. When we walked through the door, Sumell took a quick survey of the room and jetted from my side, making a beeline directly to Punch Out!! Nothing could seem more apropos.

You just returned from a trip to Manila with your father, Albert, to whom your book is dedicated. Your main character is also named Alby—which doesn’t strike me as a coincidence. What’s your relationship with your dad?

Oh, we’re going straight there, are we? Well, the funny thing about my father having that name—I’m the first born, but my great-grandfather’s name is Alby, and my grandfather’s name is Alby, and my father’s name is Albert. Read More »

Ordinary Human Love: An Interview with Clancy Martin

February 12, 2015 | by

Martin, Clancy (c) Greg Martin

Clancy Martin. Photo © Greg Martin

I first encountered Clancy Martin’s writing in NOON sometime in 2006 or 2007. He became one of my favorite writers. I looked forward to new work from him, wanting to add to the world he'd created in my imagination—a world I found endearingly and distinctively full of vulnerabilities, awkwardness, psychology; bleak, funny, and extreme situations; emotional, considerate, out-of-control characters; and other things I enjoy. I liked his calm, detached, careful, slightly deadpan narrators, and the stories they told—in his novel, How to Sell (2009), and his novella, Travels in Central America (2012)—were dark and moving and, in certain moods, funny on several different levels. 

Martin’s new book, Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love, is moving and funny but not, in my view, dark. It’s actually very optimistic, though maybe not in the way one would expect from a book about love. “To choose to fall in love is, we might think, in some way to fabricate or even to falsify love,” Martin writes. “But that’s the very notion I’m combating. I want to challenge the idea that love forces itself upon us with all the strength of truth.” He expands his argument by examining Plato, the Kama Sutra, Nietzsche, Freud, Adrienne Rich, Simone de Beauvoir, James Joyce, and dozens of others, as well as his memories of his personal experiences with his wife, two ex-wives, and three daughters. I asked Clancy some questions about love and lies via e-mail. 

One of the quotes in your book is from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche—“Love is mutual loneliness, and the deeper the loneliness, the deeper the love.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche recognizes that we are alone, and that the need for love is a mutual recognition that we are alone. Both the desire for and the desire to love—giving and receiving love—spring from this profound, unavoidable, so often avoided fact about human life. We are alone. I can’t get into your head and you can’t get into mine. Many of my memories and thoughts and feelings remain entirely private to me. But it is precisely this fact that informs our need for love. In some ways, the more I love you, the more urgent my need to know you and to reveal myself to you, the beloved, becomes, and so our separation becomes that much more intense. In Freudian terms, it’s as though we all desperately wish to climb back into the womb. And I don’t think we should underestimate the profundity of Freud’s insight on these questions, even though it’s the tired, tiring fashion lately to take him less seriously than we used to do. Read More »