Generosity as Method
An Interview with Myung Mi Kim

The following discussion took place in San Francisco in December of 1997.

Yedda Morrison: You mentioned in a recent lecture that "real change" cannot happen in opposition. I'm very curious as to what you mean by this. The popular notion of social/political/personal transformation seems to be that the friction and tension that opposition creates is fundamentally generative and change cannot occur without it. Do you have a model for social change which is not based in opposition?

Myung Mi Kim: To radicalize anything starts at a point of rupture; naturally, change can't just happen along a continuum that has already established itself, or it wouldn't be change. Likewise, you wouldn't have the kind of alertness about it being change, because it would be somehow naturalized or even perhaps neutralized in its potency-as if it's just part of something that has already occurred. Something I'm trying to work out in my own writing is this idea that change is neither strictly "oppositional" nor does it occur as a natural, linear progression. Even in the way we talk about how radicalization or change happens, we begin by bifurcating: does change happen this way or that way-even the in our desire to participate in that radicalizing process we can't begin to actually figure out the complexity of it; immediately we come to this either-or proposition. I'm interested in augmenting or complicating that model of change by opposition, by friction, by overthrowing the law of the father, in order to embrace a model of radicalization that doesn't solely rely on that kind of direct opposition.

Like any good conversation, you have to acknowledge where in that continuum the person you're talking to is located. Often I don't think it's a matter of disagreeing with someone's poetics, or someone's thinking about poetics/politics, but rather that we all come to this conversation about radicalization at different paces, and if we as writers, workers, readers, could agree to work really, really hard on recognizing where each person is in that trajectory, in that motion towards change or radicalization, then there is a kind of inclusiveness that is necessary for real change.
In a concrete way, partly what we're talking about is a historical rupture. Someone wants to insert and say that because there's been this elaborate system in history of oppression and erasure, the only way you can address that is to make sure that erasure doesn't happen, and this necessitates being very, very vocal, very, very loud, and very, very steadfast, which becomes this oppositional mode; for example, all those anthologies of, you know, "Forgotten Voices," or "Immigrant Women Voices," or whatever it is, and you can actually make an investment of a whole lifetime in that kind of oppositional, very loud, very focused, almost very separatist kind of activity, and it can be very, very meaningful. For me, the problem presents itself when someone, who for whatever personal or political reasons is invested in that mode and that mode only, can't honor something that doesn't resemble that oppositional model. It becomes very limiting when anything outside of this mode gets relegated to-"you're not part of the potential to radicalize."

I would like to propose that if we could simply acknowledge that any move towards radicalization doesn't always look like just one thing, that then we can begin to talk to each other. And then one doesn't have to make a decision about which way is the way. But there's this possibility for modulation and conversation around what oppositional looks like anyway. Because for me, I need to deliberate about how I am oppositional so that it doesn't re-enact and replicate those very things that we are saying we want to "oppose" or shed light on. To be vigilant, even hypervigilant to that tendency to replicate power structures, we need to recognize that we're all part of a machinery that moves towards some sort of balance. This balance demands that you strive for change in the way that this work has always been conducted, rather than some meaning of opposition that is an invention of how opposition happens.

To thematize opposition for me is a direct replication of the whole machinery of the narrative of empire making, the narrative of sense making, the narrative of power-making. I think of the last decade as a time of trying to develop some way of acknowledging that there's an arc along which people are at different points of understanding their own meaning of opposition. If we can respect this in each other, especially around issues of ethnicity and those things which are more thematically recognizable, they don't simply become part of a whole language of opposition.

Y: What you're saying makes me think about Raymond Williams' notion of oppositional vs. alternative stances. The whole idea of cultural inclusion and exclusion-what becomes appropriated by dominant culture, what becomes in a sense, co-opted by the system and therefore deflated in terms of efficacy.

M: Yes; so in a sense change can't act out its potential to be radicalizing or oppositional. In a way it's almost immediately used up as fodder for the machinery that maintains those limits and perimeters of what's inside and outside, what's different and what's not. So in a way, it hasn't played out its full course before it gets preempted and folded into something else. I think this has such huge implications for poetics, which is probably why you brought it up along with the whole question of what's recognizable and unrecognizable. Can you really effect change if the culture in which you're operating can't even begin to recognize the fact that your unrecognizability is making a contribution?

Can you follow through with some measure of conviction that by providing an example, however small, of your particular rendering, one makes a difference. I've come to a point where I have to believe that's true. I have to believe that any time authenticating work is taken on, even by one person-one poet at a time-it does become completely saturated with some kind of possibility. We are all indoctrinated into making choices about our work where we don't allow this to happen. There could be legions of us saying, I don't want to be unrecognizable, I don't want to be relegated immediately to this region of unrecognizability which seems to equal no potential for "social efficacy," to use Lyn Hejinian's phrase. Who wants that mantle of nontranslatability between their work and the world? I'd put a lot of pressure on looking at that equals sign-

Y: That brings up a lot of questions about audience, the insular nature of the poetry community, "preaching to the converted," etc., which are valid concerns. We don't want to fall into some sort of social realist model of writing in order to ensure translatability, we want to be true to our creative impulses, yet we want to be as broad reaching as we can, don't we? Nor can we make assumptions about audience because that's probably the most limiting thing one could do, make assumptions about someone else's ability to understand. Maybe it's enough that "authenticating" work exists, but translatability aside, who reads it? I think this ties in with the line of yours from Under Flag, "the widest angle of vision before vision fails to mean." How broad can something be, how much can a form hold before the form is compromised, how inclusive can a poem, a movement, a poetics be before its "aim" is completely diffused?

M: I think there is always some kind of invisible, constant, millisecond-by-millisecond negotiation between the form and its divestment, between the poem and the world, that you're engaging every time you decide to write anything. However, any poem having any kind of cultural translation in the Twenty-first century-frankly, it just isn't going to happen. I was in a bookstore doing Christmas shopping for my son, Malcolm, and I was noticing the way in which books are cast. That someone would buy Best American Short Stories 1997 and Best American Essays 1997, but not Best American Poetry 1997-when they're all sitting there right next to each other-you begin to understand on some real visceral levels this whole question of where/how poetry meets the world.

It's so problematic for writers in our historical moment. Again, I think that I would answer that concern by saying that there's some awareness on my part, different from even five years ago, that we need to do two actions simultaneously. The first task is undertaking the kind of devotion and conviction towards authenticating the work you must do, the work we each must undertake, and that forms the basis for a much larger vision for a mobilizing potential for poetry. If in this way we each meet our own liberatory potential in the way that we pursue our work, that has to make a difference. Because finally, it will no longer be a case of writer X or Y or Z in isolation, but that if enough of us take on the task of personal liberation, the task itself becomes meaning-making or meaningful. As a community of writers and readers and poets and thinkers, we're afraid we're in some kind of isolation, but maybe we can use this timidity and tenuousness and make it into something. Not that everything will be the same then, but that we have as a basic link the idea that we honor each other in the service of meeting our own liberatory potential. That's one arena. The second thing is to work out as many different models of where poetry can exist, where poetry can be inserted, can be read, experienced, performed; what are the various different ways that we can make poetry have contexts. We talk about community as if we knew what that meant, but really, we have such a limited idea. What if there were worker brigades and we all decided on five different ways that we could bring poetry to some place, or to go into a situation and see what poetry is already there. Poetry is simply how you participate in language, and we all do that. We go the grocery store and say hello to the clerk, and we've done something with language. I think that we can actually make a kind of intervention by proposing that poetry be experienced in the world, in the masses, culturally, even given the culture that we do have-it's something about really sharpening and honing what we mean by how we do our work, and of course that's going to feel like it's happening in isolation. But by finding some ways to keep translating your work, tapping into what you already know how to do and using it-because we each have places where we function best-so that if every writer could identify that place, maybe this would get other people to read, write, and think more about poetry. This sounds like an agenda (laughs), but I've been thinking about it a lot lately...

Y: So if we could just wave a magic wand and realize all this... poets pursuing their own liberatory potential through authenticating work and in turn, creating more venues around the city for reading and sharing their work-what would be your hope? What do you see this generating in terms of social change?

M: I think it would take a lot of the pressure off the demand that poetry be this efficacious thing. Because the social terms are so brittle, we poets put a lot of pressure on poetry to do something or be something, or enact something. I think the more that poetry can become part of a larger structure that supports it, the more it will take some of the edginess off of all these decisions we think we have to make-like, what is poetry for, or who's going to read it anyway. We'll just have evidence that it exists and it's real, and applicable to life, not not applicable, which I think is how we often experience it today.

Mostly I want to fight the overwhelming sense of isolation that accompanies the making of poems, and find ways to create community that aren't just "oh, we're such a happy-happy, joy-joy collective aren't we," but something that's real, not just a band-aid.

Y: One certainly sees this kind of pressure you're speaking of inherent within, and exacerbated by, the publishing world. There's so little going on in some ways, so few opportunities, that it creates this intense pressure, and consequently engenders this very closed way of dealing with each other and with the way that poetry intersects with community. You've talked about this, a group of women poets for instance, submitting a collaborative project to a book contest, that kind of practical subversion of the agreed upon procedure, which in terms of the publishing world is largely unheard of I would guess...

M: Well, that's partially what's behind my allegory of going into the bookstore. Making poems so easily gets jettisoned into authorship, or the commercial potential of authorship-and I don't mean commercial as financial necessarily-but even in the way that we each think of legitimation-and that there's only such a poorly and singularly defined idea of the meaning of publishing-that somehow publishing equals legitimation equals a certain kind of authorship or privileging of the single author. There's some weird way in which privilege enters, and in some cases it should enter. I'm not suggesting that we all create only collective books-there's the oppositional thing again! My proposition, then, isn't to counteract or demolish this notion of privilege, but to have multiple notions of privilege so that publishing isn't the only way you have a sense of work being greeted by the world. What other kind of constructs could support the idea of honoring someone's work? How else can we say, "your work is important, we want to read your work, we want to be in conversation with your work" ? How many multiple locations can we make that support our creativity and hunger for meaning?

Y: This seems to necessitate a certain kind of generosity, because it's an acceptance based on "I appreciate your work," not an acceptance based on the model of competition and external legitimation, i.e., commercial potential as you say. If we're all scrambling for a few spots, how can generosity exist?

M: That's right. Generosity doesn't exist, period. For me, where I can say politicize, I have to say that word generosity. Part of being political for me in this climate that we live in is trying to remember to have a human face. That's also where oppositional politics smack of a certain kind of patriarchy, because it's very unsubtle-as long as you oppose and you make it really clear that you're oppositional, then you can proceed. Of course you can be loud and convincing and forceful and forthright, you can persuade me, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with this sort of stance towards change, but it still has to be done with the human face, with attention to the implications of one's actions. We must track the meanings and residences of our actions.

So to be political or politicized, with that human face on, with the ability to read subtleties and nuances as to how you affect the systems around you, whether they are intimate relationships or professional environments, or whatever, how can we attend to that whole circuitry,, not just one corner of it, the corner you want to hit right now. My sense is that the work is so perplexing that it is never that kind of direct missile hit or direct translation. There's always the mistranslation, or the thing that didn't connect, or the people you forgot to say thank you to. How can we keep making wider the terms by which we politicize or radicalize? I think generosity is a possible mode by which we can tend to the business of listening and, ultimately, of change.

Y: I was thinking as you were speaking, that in this time of sensory overload and rampant consumerism, we're really trained out of listening or looking attentively and that this is part of the practice of poetry- to reinvigorate in ourselves the ability to listen beyond assumption, to retrain ourselves to listen to multiplicities and nuances-which seems political in and of itself.

M: Yes, absolutely. That's why when we were talking about whether it does in fact make a difference if each writer enacts their own liberatory process, I said yes, I think it does. If I can begin to occupy that space of tending and attending, of attention and of tracking subtleties, and to project out of that space with a kind of perseverance that's not just like determination but a perseverance that's in the service of tracking complexity, then I'm getting somewhere. I mean, if I manage this vis a vis my work, if this becomes a poetics, it has to alter the way that I take in the world and the others around me. In this sense, there's no separation between the kind of poetics one might try to occupy and the way that process develops you.
Of course, this can all feel a little too slow. I mean how long can I sit and be attentive when the world is blowing up? These are all questions we answer as they come up, you can't have an a priori answer because then it wouldn't be an answer, but a summary. Those uncertain and undecidable spaces of- am I making a difference?- will this contribute?- how can I know? Those undecidable locations are actually part of the work. It doesn't feel great, it's not that kind of exhilarated state, or at least not for very extended periods of time, but it is a lived state, and it's a true one.

But certainly these things are hard to reconcile because you feel with this kind of bearing in on your poetics that it has to, is bound to, translate into some kind of politics or activist stance in the world. You can know that, but it can still subjectively feel like you're doing nothing and that kind of disjunction or mismatch is hard, really hard. Sometimes I say, today, with this line, with this image, all I can feel is the mismatch? and I have to allow that to be true- which can be really depressing.
But again, I'm reminded that there's something really strange about oppositional anything-oppositional poetics, oppositional politics-it's like saying we're all just going to go for that high, we know we're making a difference, we see the evidence-here we go. To me that would be a really suspicious place to live for very long. I mean, I want that, who wouldn't, but over time, over the course of a lived life, or a long poem, that would be a really hard place to maintain-what are you cutting off in order to sustain that high? I can see in the ways in which we've been talking about it today as well as in my Long Poem seminar at San Francisco State, that it can feel and look like inaction. You have to take that anxiety and restlessness into account, into the formulation and sometimes you'll be able to convert that into action and actually do something tangible-but mostly, it will just be "a part of."

I was thinking too that sometimes it's easier to accommodate that restlessness inside a poem than it is to live it- there's some really different expectations about results. In a poem you can teach yourself to have a much more fluid idea of action and energy and how they have to be part of each other for something to actually happen, for real change to happen. But in "real life," whatever that is, I'm much more impatient. I don't think its a matter of reconciling it, but of being aware.

Y: So you think then that the practice of poetry over the course of a lifetime will train one to apply what is worked out in a poem to the lived life? That there's that kind of transference?

M: I certainly hope so! And that's one way to answer that sense of inaction which is to say that there's evidence in the work to support the notion that there is action-and that the writing process, however slowly, does convert to real action in real time.

Y: I'm interested in the relationship to narrative in your work. It's been such a debated issue for some time now in terms of History as metanarrative, "postmodern" deconstruction as practiced by the language poets, etc. You said once that Mei Mei Brussenbrugge attended one of your readings and said, "Oh, you do tell stories." You certainly include histories, erased histories, in your work; how does narrative factor into this?

M: I think my take on this has been the same for a very long time; none of us would be brought to language, none of us would desire to write, unless there was a deep urgency to say , and this deep urgency to say, is to tell, and to tell, is to narrate. Now, whether that looks like a narrative or not is something else entirely, but for me it's always the question of how can you get the closest proximity to how you must tell something. I think what I see being exercised now is that we have more and more variegated ways of telling something so this question of whether something is narrative or not is almost defunct. I think you almost have to say, there is a narrative, there is an urgency to speak, but the means by which we narrate are very, very different and must be different. Part of the meaning of being a historical subject now is that you really have to engage in how you're going to tell something. Maybe the tendency or the trend around narrative for me is constituted around how can you recognize what the narrative conventions and strategies are that you have a relationship to. What do you simply utter, and then what are the conventional notations of narrative that you actually can't digest, ingest, include. With this you have to refigure and reinvent and reoccupy the manner of telling. What's happening around narrative for me isn't simply the story, but the means by which the story is told.

Y: Under Flag is such a "story," an epic narrative, a telling. Perhaps that comes through for me because I've been trained to read in this way; but what about someone without the privilege of such an education-how does a text begin to translate if one doesn't have the skills to read in this way?

M: It's so disturbing for me that when the surface of the poem behaves in a way that signals no single, clear, traceable narrative strategy, the text suddenly becomes alarming. It immediately becomes an issue of "what are we being told?" or "I don't understand." Meanwhile, if the reader would simply remove that initial response and ask what is there to be understood, then there would be no impediment to receiving the story, because the story is larger than the issue of not understanding the strategies by which the story is being told. The story is there, it has a kind of enduring quality, a permanence and scale, a specific weight of history and experience which will be communicated. We need to get beyond the anxiety around not being told in the way were accustomed to and discover new ways of listening.

Y: Do you think this is in part due to the relationship we're trained to have with printed material? We've been taught to read as an almost passive activity, for a very narrow kind of meaning, while also desiring a cohesive story, which is then further compounded by the authority that anything in print tends to claim. Perhaps the reader doesn't necessarily want to participate in the ways your work, for instance, demands. This type of reading takes a kind of openness, for lack of a better word, and it involves work-the reader must participate in the creation of meaning, which isn't usually what we want or expect when we settle down to read a book.

M: Yes, I think because a lot of times one reads for that kind of epiphany, that kind of "aha" of recognition. None of these ideas or demands for the poem are suspicious in and of themselves-I mean, of course we want to see ourselves translated, we want someone to literally articulate our experience for us-to have the relief of seeing ourselves-that is the gift between reader and writer. Now, my worry is that due to the kind of histories and literary histories and commercial histories we've inherited, the place where that epiphany can happen, where connection and recognition can happen, has become so reduced. Unless your text follows a certain contour, we're resourceless to experience it, we say it has no meaning which is a very strange idea.

When we were talking about broadening and generosity before, here would be a good instance of translating what exactly I mean by that-how would it be possible to read meaning if you put a human face on every text regardless of what school, what poetics, what kind of aesthetic ideals it had. If you really listen for the encounter, how could you not know what made that book, how could you say it's inexplicable or devoid of meaning? You could say, "it's not made of meanings that I would make," or "it's not constituted of meanings I already understand," but beyond that you have to understand it because writing is simply that act of encounter and communication.

We can't keep playing out our personal investment in how meaning must be made-I mean, most of the time it's completely unexamined. It's not like someone even knows that they're participating in that way, it's just that they haven't necessarily unpacked the way that they're operating when they come to the site of reading. A lot of times it is sort of an unwitting, unexamined, stance.

Y: Also, if we're reading to find something of ourselves in the text, I might pick up one of your books and say, "oh, this is the experience of a Korean-American woman, there's little here for me-yeah, we're both women, but..." But when texts are process or experience-based like yours seem to be, there is a distilling down of the personal to reveal what's potentially universal in even the most specific of events. Do you think that that is true?

M- Absolutely, and that fits beautifully with this idea of the human face. If "I recognize you" can be one of the meanings of literature, then we've done a great deal of work. So yes, the particulars may differ, you may not be a one-point-five Korean American immigrant woman, but if there's something in the way I've been able to render my experience, that releases in the reader a way of speaking to her experience, then it doesn't matter that I'm Korean American and she's Chicano or whatever. It's the manner in which you're led into the experience, that either releases you or doesn't. But it has that possibility of connecting you to yourself, and hopefully to the writer's experience too, in some way. Ultimately it's the return to your own condition by something that you see another text take up that is so profound.
This was brought up in my Work of Silence Class-which is alot of what we were talking about-in fact the word "encounter" came into usage from the Celan essay "The Meridian." So what we're talking about is that moment of encounter between how the text makes itself and how the reader receives those actions. There's some sort of translatability that becomes part of the narrative if you will-the meaning of being able to read anything seems really important right now in our present moment where we've become inattentive to almost everything. To look at examples of texts that have come out of the near impossibility of speaking, texts that in a sense allow for the impossibility of speaking. To me this seems so unbearable and exquisite-

Y: Like Mallarme's "A Tomb For Anatole," which is really notations for a text he was never able to write.

M: And Paul Celan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. With these writers we are in the company of language that has been met with potential erasure; what happens in that kind of collaboration between the impossibility of utterance and finding the means by which to utter? That space is never a decided, resolved, fixed point, and part of the exquisiteness is that it is constantly in motion, constantly reshaping itself. I suppose any poem is that, and really is always on the cusp of coming into legibility-formally, psychically, politically. For me those works that keep re-invigorating that space of silence and erasure, the space of the seemingly untranslatable, are the ones in which you really feel some sort of endurance and power.

Y: That's interesting in terms of what you were saying earlier about translatability and effectiveness vis-a-vis the practical application of poetry and the incongruency of that. These writers, Celan, Cha, et al, have posited their "untranslatability" onto the page, and however many years later people in your classes are reading these texts and recognizing something in their own historical moment. Perhaps you might talk a bit about teaching, and if that feels like a way for you to ease some of the anxiety we were talking about earlier in terms of poetry's political efficacy.

M: I probably have to answer that question from lots of different directions. On the one hand, by teaching, I have intimate and intensive conversations with practicing writers which absolutely renew me. Conversations around how to keep further and further pushing into your art as a means of being a citizen, with awareness, with political conviction and insight, absolutely make me feel like I'm in a place where I keep seeing potential played out. Also, the more I teach the more I'm finding language to articulate my concerns.

But you're also immediately aware that you're part of an institution that perpetuates certain kinds of models and not others. Part of how I have to make sense of it is by saying-in producing and maintaining certain kinds of conversation in my courses, I am making an intervention. My teaching strives to address the very institutional character under which

I have to play these things out. So that's completely problematic and a sure formula for exhaustion, not only for people who teach, but for anybody associated with any kind of institution. Academia is a machine built around a certain kind of depletion; everyone gets tired very quickly. It is hard to take on the work of maintaining this intensive dialogue of poetics and translating poetics to the world, from inside the institution, but all the more reason why I feel I do and will take it on. This struggle, this contradiction, becomes part of the radicalizing potential which I've been talking about. The way that you maintain and foster conversation, even given the institutional character under which we're all captive, becomes part-perhaps tiny, perhaps not at all, but hopefully-of the radicalizing potential for how we think about art, poetry, poetics, and how we think about those things being applied.
So teaching is on the one hand a way to maintain certain kinds of contacts, but it's certainly not the fantasy of how to do that. There is also a kind of institutional amnesia-you're in a great class, and then in twelve weeks it's over and you have to worry about registration and fight for spots in classes and it's this horrible cheapening that happens. Everything is built on this model of consumption-you use it up and then it's gone-rather than there being something you build on. It's sad to teach in an institutional context where all the work you do is basically set up to be eroded by this "forward motion." This is why its very very important that if the person who teaches is a private conduit to the people around her, at a certain point that group has to maintain its own electricity without that person or that institution. I ask my students, or I prompt them to ask themselves, how does one become part of an enterprise which fights that sort of institutional amnesia, how can you take on and perpetuate connections between people that you had a genuine conversation going with. Finally, its very important that we teach each other-writers who are at work can educate each other and that's what I'd like to think teaching is about for me. Perhaps for me the meaning of negotiating all of these issues is just so like the meaning of writing a poem that I can actually do it. It is so exquisitely in that cusp between possibility and impossibility, of working with the knowledge that it's going to fall apart and yet you must do it anyways.

Y: So in teaching, writing and reading poetry you see the potential for community making?

M: Yes; you can no longer so easily participate in this kind of perimeter making that is perpetuated by the Institution. For instance, any act of reading releases you from a separate divisive place which we all occupy the more and more privatized economical conditions under which we live become. We have so few collective models left. Reading is almost the closest thing I can think of that alerts you to how to take into account a whole other ecosystem of someone else's being-everything that they are. What is the meaning of being so privatized? This a function of our economy certainly, but also more than that. At this point, psychically, you can't be returned to your own experience, let alone any one else's.

Y: Looking at reading then as an act of community building, the kind of attention that it takes to read someone else's work well is the kind of attention it takes to understand someone else well enough to embrace them.

M: Right. Now apply that to what we were saying in the very beginning about oppositional politics. This is precisely why I think for all the loudness of oppositional politics, which might make one feel as if something is being accomplished, ultimately, because it hasn't tended to everything around the opposition, it's going to have a short lived circuitry. In other words, there hasn't been a comprehensive gesture towards what made the opposition necessary in the first place. It's like reading a whole book and only choosing to pay attention to one aspect or trajectory.
Again, in real life you may only be able to do that, maybe you have to say that limitation can be empowering-you make a choice and you act and that's empowering. I understand that. I even would accept it probably; in certain situations you have to act, not deliberate. I mean you don't always get a choice historically to go home and read the book again. Action can and must be real but not if it's the only thing we do...

Y: As if action were necessary only because there's a specific crisis-as if ambiguity didn't necessitate action also?

M: Absolutely. The undecidability of whether I am making a difference or not-that ambiguity is part of the answer. Part of the work of answering the question of social efficacy has to include the ambiguity. If you actually had an answer, you wouldn't be taking in the whole full weight of the questions.

Y: Particularly if we're using the models of production that we've inherited to evidence something like social change. We have such a limited vocabulary in terms of what it means to be productive and to produce-what does productivity mean to us as "products" of consumerism-where change isn't an object or 10,000 bright and shiny objects on the shelf.

M: Right. We have such a poverty-stricken idea of the meaning of making, whether it's making poems or intimacies-there's this assumption that it has to look like something recognizable. There's a focus on the fixed, commodified exterior, rather than an internal, on-going experience which keeps renewing itself regardless of the external object. Once you start working on the notion of the poem emerging, the poem that's being pushed through to the surface, not a poem which you compose-once you make an allegiance to pay attention to that kind of process, there is some tremendous release. It's not immediate, but an ongoing process which you have to give to yourself.

Y: Which again takes the kind of generosity you spoke of earlier...

M: Yeah, and it's hard to have that kind of reading of it when no one else in a sense confirms it for you. There's so little externally that would confirm this type of "progress."

Y: And then compound that with being a woman or a woman of color or a low income woman or whatever and you have to prove somehow that you could be a productive white male if you just looked differently.

M: Right, if you could just adopt those ways of being and working you'd be validated.

Y: If you're one step or six steps behind anyways the need to be validated is further pressurized and compounded.

M: It becomes harder and harder to map some sort of internal experience of your relationship to making.

Y: Given this, can you talk about your work in relation to various established avant-garde traditions or other traditions you might feel connected to or not?

M: Clearly what has informed my work, and what I find myself responding to, is the work that signals with its very way of composing itself that it has no assumptions about what the poem is-that the poem is what is in fact emerging at that very moment of encounter, with your ear, with your psyche, with your body, with your historical conditions. When you feel like you're in the company of someone who is occupying undecidability, where things are in fact not known, you come into a kind of knowing or negotiation through the writing act itself. Those are the kinds of practices that have always made me sit up and pay attention.

A lot of work is being done by contemporary women writers that have as their basic allegiance the question of putting into some sort of motion everything that is one's subjective experience, everything that is one's historical condition. There's this amazing interplay between subjectivity, the world, your intellect, your cultural bearings, all the things you do and don't know-and then the practical question-how possible is it to maintain all those spheres as they come into the field of writing with no prior decisions about what the poem will be-letting that in fact completely alter and inform how the poem gets made every time you sit down to write.
I associate a lot of Objectivist writing with these kinds of concerns. George Oppen is very very important to my writing. A lot of the propositional character of both the Objectivists, and later Projective Verse, address what we've been talking about today.

Y: In terms of your own writing practice, if you're trying to have that kind of breadth of content inclusion without having some kind of preconceived notion of what is going into the poem prosodically, how does form function?

M: Form for me is absolutely the thing that carries my poetic speculation. Form is the body for speculation or form is where speculation about all those fears meld and merge even if they are contestitory. So form is not necessarily a shapely, elegant thing-it is the live kicking wire in anything for me-it's about balance, music, and about presencing contestitory forces. I'm always very curious when forms break down.

Y: So you don't have any preconceived notion of form when you go into a poem?

M: Actually it happens both ways for me. Often I see a visual sentence, something scrolling. For example, it could be the relationship of larger parts to smaller parts and I'll just have a diagram of something that I can get from my head onto the paper. Sometimes I'll know the architecture for something before I begin, but usually it breaks down, so in a way it doesn't matter what happens first. I have a visual sense of the form which I decide to act on or I start with an open chunk of writing and then find some kind of architecture emerging out of it. Either way, form is fascinating because you don't know until you've really negotiated with all parts of it what it is going to be. Even when you have a kind of foreknowledge it's probably, at least for me, going to fall apart. The more you live with a poem, there more it will ask different things. Form is probably the most invigorating force in trying to promote a conversation between different spheres of experience.

Y: Are you working on anything right now?

M: Yes, and speaking about architecture, this new book is going to be in two large movements or motions. I know a lot about the first half; the second half is just not there yet. When I started what I think will be this book, I ran across this word "metonic," which means cycles of nineteen years. I started writing it at the age of thirty-eight which is two cycles of nineteen. I already knew the work involved this notion of days and thinking about the lived life-something about a different way of organizing time in my life and how if you approach your life in cycles of nineteen, you don't get to do that many-five? maybe four? That acute awareness of having lived a lot of my life, but also not. And something about bounds and seeing different ways to organize the meaning of your life over time and how to see it with some other skeleton.

It's very hard to work with so little time allotted for my own writing. Of course if I just sit around and can't finish the second half I don't want to go into the third cycle of nineteen (laughs). There's all kinds of breaking down of this notion of nineteen years throughout the first half. The second half I think will completely dissolve that and mutate into something else. It's so serendipitous, I was literally looking up another word and my eye fell on "metonic." I felt like it was a sign (laughs).
Korean is coming into my writing more and more. It's an always evolving relationship I have to it as a language and as a system of thought, as linguistics, the grammar, the syntax, the sounds, everything about it is always being recirculated. I never know exactly where it's going to factor in or what kind of preoccupation it will provide. But in DURA for example, one of the procedures I was using was taking "western" texts and putting them up against Korean texts that were written at the same time. If I were to take something like Virgil and try to find something as ancient written in Korean, I couldn't, because written Korean as old as Virgil would have been in Chinese.

With written Korean I'd have to start in 1440 something which is really interesting to me because that's at the moment of the notion of discovering the new world, taking it over, and what are we going to do with it? I was trying to get these texts into some kind of completion when sometimes there would be literally two languages or I'd do a translation, a mock translation or a reverse translation; who knows. That's one of the procedures among many but it still interests me in terms of this current work as well-setting into some kind of concurrent motion two texts that are linked by time but separated, say by systems of language.

Y: As are you...

M: Yeah, right-I wonder where that came from! I feel like part of DURA for me was my rereading of western civilization in a very coded way. I'm very enamored with medieval grammar texts-how they developed, how they became codified and how they engender each other. The whole language of knowledge is fascinating I think. This notion of what you're supposed to know. I feel wildly out of touch with what I'm supposed to know; this also fuels my writing.