In spring 2016 I interviewed Carrie Lorig about her book The Pulp vs. the Throne (Artifice Press), and her now-published chapbook The Book of Repulsive Women (Essay Press). So much has happened since then, but Lorig’s ways of thinking and writing through “poetry / voice / space / life” is still very necessary to hold close and to fling wide. In addition to The Pulp vs. the Throne and The Book of Repulsive Women, make sure to check out the work Lorig has published since then, most recently at Black Warrior Review, and keep an eye out for her chapbook The Blood Barn forthcoming from Inside the Castle in spring 2019.
Meredith Blankinship: I was wondering if you could talk, first, about how this book came into being.
Carrie Lorig: The book, like many things, emerged from crisis. The first half of the book, which is a long poem (broken up into four distinct and individually named sections) called “Much Affection From the Bold Part of the River / it’s a Crisis of Movement,” states as much while trying to expand in / reel in the rich site of such a word. I was in Minneapolis doing an MFA at the UMN. I was trying to write a full-length book after finishing nods. I was trying to write a book while I listened and listened and listened to the male professor tell me my work / the work of any poetry by any body that wasn’t recognizable / comfortable / able to speak in 30 ‘musical’ lines or less was shit / deserved shit. YR POEMS R SO INTENSE / SO AGGRESSIVE / SO SAD / SO UNFUN / SO UNPLEASANT / SO EXHAUSTING.
Crisis is dangerous crisis is powerful crisis is confusing crisis is blossoming / I let it break me / My fucked / love for language and poetry / My love for the potential for a radical opening in language and poetry despite the fact that there isn’t space for me / for so many bodies in language that need and demand poetry / voice / space / life. There isn’t space for me to speak with the mud thrust racket shifting / transforming inside me. But I do anyway. I listened to it / my body. I wouldn’t disappear / it anymore. At the same time, that first long poem / and its sections, along with the second half of the book, which is called Public Excess Channels and is made up of four individually titled essays, was really interested in what it would mean for me to make a statement / a sentence which not only vibrated / screamed / throated, but perhaps, spoke. I wanted to know what it would mean for me to really speak with fear / but also without it / to recognize that maybe the people say No and Stop were afraid of me / should be (not because I’m interested in harm / but because I’m interested in movement).
Poetry / reading this book has helped me accept / move through the way the act of thinking happens and unfolds in me (I really don’t think we, as individual people, actually try to describe what it feels like for us TO THINK. I also don’t think we often recognize how difficult it can be to imagine / engage with the different way those around us think / experience thinking. I mean isn’t this one of the important things reading tries to get closer to?). It is intense / amazing / difficult for me to experience and process the world. My whole body is racked with it / is sore / exploding / vivid / sensitive. I wanted to explore that / to learn how to speak outside of the way speaking was prescribed to me (I wish she wrote poems the way she talks. I wish she would shut up / tone it down. Fuck you.) in order to give myself room to speak / write now and in the future. What choice do I have but to begin the book this way? What choice do I have but to learn to speak from elsewhere / otherwise?
To imagine something larger / with edges that flap and write letters to those I am trying to love / with edges that alter and shit and blood and cum on a cliff on a dangling jewel / WITH EDGES THAT MOVE. A river. A crisis.
The book also begins because I had to include / to move through / the radical scapes / scrapes surround me: Edmond Jabès, Bhanu Kapil, Etel Adnan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Lisa Robertson, Bernadette Mayer, Myung Mi Kim, Alice Notely, Raúl Zurita, Jackie Wang, Brandon Shimoda, Stephanie Young.
MB: There was a lovely moment on the Internet while I was reading this book: I saw that you had re-tweeted Bhanu Kapil quoting Sara Ahmed saying, “Citation is feminist memory.” Can you talk a little bit about how citation is important to The Pulp vs. the Throne?
CL: I love thinking about seeing that tweet from Bhanu / the tweet with the Sara Ahmed quote in it. Because witnessing that emergence in my TL was such a replication of that feeling I get when I read something I’ve been trying and failing to say! Suddenly you’re in that hot air balloon / above the woods on fire! Suddenly you are having that beer next to a waterfall!
Citation is often thought to be a rather rigid, academic exercise. Or, particularly in poetry, it’s often seen as a holy / reverent / kneeling or an act of penance to whatever writer you don’t actually believe you could ever “equal.” However, you try to make up for whatever that “lack” via admiration + a suggestion of proper acknowledgement. Strict versions of imitation also fit into this version of citation. Imitate because you’re not ready to speak for yourself. Imitate because how could you do “better”? #Goals officiated by swimming in a river of hierarchy and due paying. I feel like some version of a killjoy saying that, but like, reading has just never felt clean or religious for me. Ever. And if it was, I’m not sure I’d pursue it with the urgency and eagerness I do.
Reading, now, isn’t about becoming “better” than the writers I admire or about facing my inadequacy. Reading / Citation has always been about, to echo back to the last question you asked me a bit, about being actively inside what happens to me / what happens to you / what thinking does to the body / to the thought as it / _____ (lies down, fires, wounds, weeps, vibrates). Critical writing has always been poetry to me and vice versa. How to get closer to dissolving that line between poetry and anything else? How to get closer to dissolving that line between reading and anything else? I also really, really believe in listening to my reading instincts and honing my reading practice. Not in order to read “better,” but to read attentively. I do it in order to challenge language. I do it in order to read continuously, in the book / outside of the book / in my body / outside of my body. I mean, don’t you read / to see what you’re thinking / to see your being / animated elsewhere / impossibly / differently? Somehow / you’re alive and reaching for another. They can feel it / they can’t. You feel it for them / that feeling also goes / somewhere else / towards a future.
Feminist memory, as Ahmed uses it and Kapil celebrates it in relation to citation, is perhaps, interested in the chronic telling / in the chronic joy / pain of telling / the Woman Ironing, rather than in “chronicling” what occurred past tense / what must happen / in the imperative / in the command / in the Truth of the Word. I’m gonna say this and maybe someone can help me think about it / but (VOLUNTARY) reading is maybe?? could it be capable of being some kind positive?? form of violence (I’m thinking of mirror / chiral molecules here)?? Reading is so invasive (while the body engaging in such activity also welcomes invasive-ness), so impossibly real / so capable of upheaval that is intensely / deeply personal (PAINFUL to witness your similar feeling / your radically different feeling!!). Is reading a kind of trauma? I wonder / It must be. Parts of what it does to your body are purposeful / orchestrated. Parts of what it does to your body are entirely unpredictable! Language can’t help me explain this / none of this is entirely the words I’m needing or hoping for / but it’s something I’ve been oscillating around lately. There’s a progression / radicalism to thinking of reading as a on-going, oceanic, mysterious act rather than as a skill you perfected in school during one particular time of your life.
Reading as a “skill” I learned in school eventually brought me further away from myself / from what my reading experience really was. I think, as a skill taught stiffly and without breathing room, reading does that for many bodies. It brings them further away from their movement in the world. I also think if you come to the poem with that v. still / static idea of reading / citation, I think you’re poems are going to reflect that. They aren’t going to do much but regurgitate a kind of boring / coming upon the deer at the gas station profundity. Why can’t we include it all in the poem / our reading / our living / our movement? Why can’t that attempt to include it all / to fail at including it all / teach us more about what needs to be touched / read / considered? Citation within the “compact” form of the poem expands what is already prone to expansion (by expansion, I’m not necessarily talking about forsaking the familiar form of the poem, though I often do). Rather than laying the citation there as if it were a dead / stone President / General, let the poem eat the citation / let it blossom around it / let it flood it / let it join it. What does the poem do to the citation and vice versa? I don’t think I’ll ever know, but I’m always thinking about it / always practicing it / always feeling less alone / more alone because of it. How to show you everything / my notes / what happens to them when I place them _______ (in the snow, on the page, in my headdress, in my stinky pits). What if citation was a form of messy / genuine accountability that wasn’t so rooted in exclusionary tactics?
What if my citation wasn’t there to prove something? What if it’s space debris? What if I just picked up a book and touched? What if we could cite what was considered uncitable / something considered not worth citing? What if sometimes I cite perfectly / via footnotes and page #s and titles? What if sometimes I jewel thief and by that, I mean, I get so full of awe-force I can’t contain how much your words are fucking transforming me towards words of my own? (I love to find a loose citation / a brief homage in a sentence that isn’t necessarily cited but is v. visible / so hugely altered?) I wanted my book to capture all this / how generous and exciting and possible citation makes me feel. It’s why I insisted on including “Reading as a Wildflower Activist / Pt. 1” in The Pulp vs. the Throne. Because it’s a paper I wrote! For a class! (Thank you Prof. Leslie Morris!) It’s genuinely an accurate depiction of how stimulating writing about other writers (Jabès, Zurita, Kapil) writing about writing about blood / and merging that with writing about impossible wounds / their bodies movement through and on the earth / is for me. There’s so much desperate / incredible thriving there. A cliff! A dangling! A relief! A clench! Lisa Robertson’s Nilling begins, in part, by talking about a spot on the page / dirt in the archive. My god / that is one version of Beginning to me / one version of glimpsing the universe inside a flower / a purple bruise.
*your poems are going to reflect that.
MB: I’m interested in your thoughts on poetry communities. You’ve been active in poetry spaces in Minneapolis, and now here in Atlanta with the reading series Literature is Alive @ Emory, as well as in various internet poetry spaces (I’m thinking of the correspondence issue of Sink Review that you and Nick Sturm curated as one example). What does your perfect-world poetry community look like, online and off? What are you working towards in the(se) public sphere(s)?
CL: I don’t imagine perfect poetry communities or rather, I don’t feel we’re currently capable of even imagining them, much less ready to actually be present and a part of them.
I think the question many of us are constantly asking ourselves is: Do I feel safe at this reading? Do I feel safe in this space? Do I feel safe in this ____? And I think: 1) The majority of us would say *No* for a huge # of reasons 2) There are a lot of people that would feel very “attacked” / incredulous / uncomfortable if you tried to have a conversation with them about that. Every time I go on tour / Every time I am in a space, I’m genuinely amazed by how painful and difficult it is (for many people). I can’t even begin to emphasize how serious I am when I say that. And I don’t think I’m going to put a list here or provide examples of what happened because it’s right there in front of you. If you don’t believe me, I can’t help you, and I’m not here for you. We’ve all heard what’s been said to bodies before readings and after readings. We all know what’s possible when it comes to violence. If you don’t, that must be nice for you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to not believe bodies or tell them who they are. That doesn’t mean you get to talk about bodies / what happens to them / the way you do. I believe a body when a body tells me what’s happened / what’s happening to it. Or rather, do you know how to listen? Do you really care enough to listen? Or are you more concerned with what listening is going to do to how you see yourself? How you see your friends / the people near you? How you see your writing? I wish I felt sorry about the fact that maybe that’s hard for you, but I don’t. I do not. I have given my trust away and I have heard too many stories of women / bodies that have given (or not given!) their trust away only to have it hurt them / continue to hurt them. And women / bodies are the ones that are left feeling ashamed and stupid and lost and fucked. Men / bodies not deserving of trust continue to publish and edit and ask for trust / for love while knowing exactly who they are / while hiding themselves (or standing by with others / systems in place doing the hiding for them) just right. No, I don’t feel safe. No, I don’t imagine perfect poetry communities. No, I will not stop listening to bodies. No, I will not stop talking about it in my poems / in my love.
All that said !!: It’s also true that a community-like environment was and is very beneficial to my being / my writing in many ways. When I was living in Wisconsin / the Midwest, Minneapolis, Chicago, Iowa City, and Madison were all cities where I met writers and artists that I love / continue to love / who have contributed to my writing / my sense of language immeasurably. Jared Joseph, Feng Sun Chen, Sara June Woods, Amelia Foster, Cassandra Troyan, the Monsters of Poetry Reading Series (Kevin González, Lauren Shapiro, Adam Fell), Matt Hart, and many others. I emailed Lewis Freedman v. out of the blue one day, right when I moved back to the United States. He met me and was just like, you need to write to the people / the writers that move you. I did that without hiding myself / or wanting something specific / selfish from them. I didn’t presume to know them / I didn’t ask them to tell me I was a poet. I really just wanted / I don’t know / to talk about waves + pain + creation with bodies that wouldn’t turn away from me / that would give me some space to speak / respond / be. At this point in time (when I was 23 / 25), I was recovering from some (not serious / but difficult) health issues that really weren’t… / I really hated myself and was sort of quiet + fucked up / was learning how to write myself back to myself / to be, at least, open about exploring who I was / what future I could create for myself. Intimacy with many of those people really helped the leaves of that / burst FORTH / assert themselves in a good, on-going way. Being in proximity to those people really helped me say no to writers / not think of writers who I felt were violent / not good. Being in proximity to those people really helped me feel more comfortable being vulnerable with all kinds of bodies / lives as I traveled and wrote letters and exchanged work with new beings / new names. I mean, I met my partner / my husband (Nick Sturm) at AWP and our work / our road to being capable of love was absolutely as horrible / amazing as you can imagine / as you can’t imagine. I was also extremely close to the women in my MFA program (we called ourselves the Shadow School). Their support was a kind of reading / a kind of blood. It’s true that I’ve valued these encounters and continue to prioritize these happenstance + purposeful relationships much, much more than I do feeling accepted in a particular way by a wider world of poetry. I’m here regardless of that / reading / working / writing. These relationships (textual / in-person) are how I write, honestly. I need those connections to help me see language / speaking / my body / other bodies / other thinking. How I’m close to them / how I’m not. I’m here to feel through writing as a way to be a person who loves these people / who is capable of learning to love and listen thinking / these beings. I’m here thinking about poetry but also stretching beyond it / towards artists / towards an intelligence I’m growing / I’m still learning / a living I’m creating with.
MB: Congratulations on The Book of Repulsive Women! Would you talk a little bit about that work? What are you working on now/next?
CL: Thank you! The Book of Repulsive Women was, in part, born when I was a guest / a thief in a Modernism class at Florida State University (I was an adjunct at the time). I don’t know if it’s because of my education or because of a choice or if it’s a coping method (re: canon), but I’m not v. good at thinking of time + history in literature in a v. linear way. I’ve always read as purposefully as I have accidentally. I rarely value one more than the other. If I do, it’s because I’m pursuing a particular line of thought / study / urgency. Nick (who was a PhD candidate at FSU / has since graduated) suggested I sit in on this class with him / said it would be good for me. It was. The professor was v. open, kind, and challenging. Modernism, in this class, felt like a site to study rather than something we should sentimentalize and revere into vague, on-going law and / or trophy. I flourish when it comes to proximity. I soak it up. The classroom, as a student + a teacher, has always given me a lot to write about / in resistance of as well as in celebration of. That is a long way of saying we were going to read Djuna Barnes, and just prior to the class beginning, I found a copy of a chapbook of hers called The Book of Repulsive Women (1915) and bought it. Barnes’ chapbook is made up of drawings and poems about women in NYC / their intense pain / their deaths (the last poem is divided into Suicide A and Suicide B) / their bejeweled fabrics + words / their sexuality. I knew I would write it as soon as I was near it. The Book of Repulsive Women. I wrote five poems / five increasing rhythms called The Book of Repulsive Women. It’s about performance mainly. How performance is received, how performance can expand our notion of the page, how close performance is to reading, how close speaking a poem is to living / is to who I am / who I am becoming / what I am creating / an unfolding on the cliff. When I speak / When I perform / I am telling you who I am / I am wondering along that line between performance and autobiography in order to create sound / space / mouth / feel. Do you feel like people actually believe you when you perform / when you show yourself? I don’t / I do. I’m always considering how work is received and moving through that reception in order to continue working / in order to fight for work / an extension / mine / others / as it changes. The Book of Repulsive Women contains asterisks which bury the page in sky / in mud / in water. Which block and make larger. Which are shitting flowers. Take us out, shitting flowers. Take us out, UNMETRICAL AND FRAGRANT. There are arms on fire and up in the snow, there is Ana Mendieta, there are strawberry emojis / strawburies aimed at the Berryman (whose bust I looked at everyday at UMinnesota / whose death platform / whose bridge I walked over everyday), there is a devil inside me / there is a flower inside me, there is Virginia Woolf her painter / Lily, there is a corpse and what it knows / what is real, there is anger inside the girlbody, there is the Art so polluted, countless bleeding / All reading is blood / Filth. I am a body and it is easy for me to be repulsive / you keep telling me all about it / at the reading in the poem in the street in the classroom / I make it my power / it has always been / growing. I use it to be closer to my body / yr body / the cliff / the jewel / rather than use it to be closer to language. Tho I am always growing more explicit. The Book of Repulsive Women culminates in a sonnet which is not a sonnet which can only be called a sonnet about going on tour (which was called In Support of Repulsive Women / was with Alexis Pope + Mike Krutel) / about performing for a month with my first book / what happened. What happened is what always happens. Someone tells me they are worried about me. Someone tells me they want poetry to be fun. Someone says YOU’RE SO INTENSE three times. Someone is annoyed that a poem for me can’t be 2-5 minute length boxes / clean, emotion pastures on the left side of the page. While there was so much about that trip that involved love, there was also pain / an on-going confrontation / sight + knowledge / how it lodged + felt inside me. How difficult it is to move through the world / to describe your thinking. I’m not interested in truth / comfort. I’m not interested in clarity. I speak through the cliff / the jewel / my body / All reading is blood / She has no choice.
The Book of Repulsive Women is one section / the first section of a book / my second book. I’m about two-thirds done. The whole book is called Collection / Agency. It’s a title that, like all my titles, was suddenly there and an imperative / a site of decimation + exploration. I’m not convinced it’s a good title but it’s the right title. That title arriving helped me see why I’m still pursuing the backslash as speaking / grammar / presence. I thought the backslash might leave me as I continued to write but for now, it continues to alter incredibly. The second section of Collection / Agency will be called The Blood Barn which is a poem / five poems about a secret and a swell / visceral, intelligent reactions of the physical body / to stress and emotion / intelligent reactions of the body to poetry. A pain in my hip / The Blood Barn / which lingers after. Some years of starving / emptying the body as an attempt to provide evidence of knowledge / an ability to be near to / part of creation. How to arm the girl. How to speak / of what is wordless as it unfolds just as much now as it did then / when she was 19 about to be 20. All the questions are in italics because there is this stone that Alexis gifted me. I’m trying to write this without thinking of or ranking how a girl’s starvation / her obsessive-ness / her dedication is often written about. It is a letter / a chart / expansive / weird. The last section of the book will also be called Collection / Agency. I don’t know anything about what that is or will be yet. I know it will probably also be a poem / five poems. When it’s done I’m going to make a large, large list of books / writing that should be read and spend a year? or two years? reading them. Not taking a break from writing. But trying something.
Meredith Blankinship lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Author of Sexual Civilian (Epigraph Magazine), she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from NOÖ, Beecher’s, Heavy Feather Review, GlitterMob, Sink Review, and Finery, among others. She collaborates with the artist Dana Haugaard on Heat Rituals, a multi-medium project.