Amanda Kallis: Speculating on the Speculative

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Author Amanda Kallis, who will be teaching Frequency’s Speculative Fiction class starting on November 18, tells us what excites her about this mode of storytelling. 

<– Amanda hugs a robot.

What’s a book that made you love speculative fiction? Do you still feel the same about it today?

The shortest list I can give: Frank Herbert’s Dune, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Also movies and shows (Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Blade Runner). With many classic works, there are elements I see differently now: Blade Runner‘s Deckard is violent and yet backed by a sultry saxophone, Dune‘s politics are (excuse the pun) a can of worms. I believe there’s still room for them, yet I understand why others would rather update the canon or toss out the idea of a canon altogether.   

What’s a classic of the genre that you think is important to understanding speculative fiction?

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, because of its influence, its placement right at the splintering off of the new branch of genre, and how it remains so surprising. To read Frankenstein is to see how modern it is. 

How about a recent work of speculative fiction that you’ve enjoyed? What does it have to say about the state of speculative fiction? 

Parasite is in theaters and I’ve been telling everything that breathes to go see it. The film is funny, suspenseful, and (while others might call it realism) I think it’s such a good example of how Samuel Delany described the speculative: a form “in dialogue with the present.” So I have to include it here. Director Bong Joon-ho’s speculative approach—taking a metaphor and literalizing it, giving it teeth*—is great satire, and thrilling. I also want to mention Alice Sola Kim’s “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying,” and Louise Erdrich’s “The Stone,” which similarly are wound by a speculative approach, but are more interested in personal desires and fears than societal ones. Both works are gorgeously crafted and stick with you.

*Check out Jia Tolentino’s recent article, which describes this turn (with reference to one of my favorite academic texts, “Do Metaphor’s Dream of Literal Sheep?”) while comparing another three excellent works of speculative fiction (Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and Yoko Ogawa‘s The Memory Police).

Do you always set out to write speculative fiction? Do you write realism as well?

So far my fiction has inevitably included an element that doesn’t fit our world as we know it, but it’s hard to say how intentional that has been. I read and love all types of literature. That said, the works that really excite me tend to have something speculative. I always tell my students to write what they’d like to read, so I do the same. Writing is too hard to begin with; it’s not worth worrying what other people want.

I also write poetry and essays, though I wouldn’t call either “realism.” Anyhow I’m suspicious of the term, which is a set of aesthetic assumptions huddled under a trench coat. It’s a genre like any other, but in Western literature it is saddled with the misleading and stuffy label of “real.” I tend to sit down to write because I was inspired by something sensory–an image, a setting, the sound of a string of words–and move from there. Where I think the genres diverge is that poetry and essays have an associative logic instead of a character logic. And they digest differently. I structure my fiction thinking about immersion, which means taking into account pacing, the rise and fall of tension (aka, plot). Poetry and essays can be objects, the reader can float on top of the words.  


Revising Revision: Getting to the beating, pumping heart of the page

Starting in February, Chris Kondrich will teach a four week course on the messy, necessary work of revision. He took the time to share some of his thoughts on what revision means, why it is important, and the importance of undertaking this work with others. This class is a great opportunity to get to work on all that writing you did in 2015.

Sign up today for Revising Revisions. The class begins Thursday, Feb 4, and is offered for $160.

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Frequency: Why is revision important?

Chris Kondrich: Those stories or poems that appear to us as if clouds were parting in our emotional-imagination — they don’t happen as often as we’d like. Much of the work of writing is, indeed, work. It necessitates extended attention and an openness to experimentation, to trial and error. But the ability to stick with a story or poem through this process can totally pay off. It can even help us in the initial stages of the next things we write.

I also think revision is important because it’s an opportunity for community, for sharing ideas, insights and struggles. It widens the scope of writing — which is often characterized by solitude — by allowing for connection over our insights and struggles. Maybe we help each other, lend our eyes, ears and minds to the revision woes of others. And maybe, in the process, we learn something about our own work.

F: What is your favorite revision strategy?

CK: Oftentimes, what happens on the page for me is more than what I end up with. I think this is the case for most writers. There’s the gearing up, the scaffolding to contend with. I mean, it can take pages for me to get to the beating, pumping heart of a thing. Ultimately, I wrest that beating, pumping heart from the chest of the page à la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This, inevitably, means abandoning some good phrases or lines, but the thing about revision is that you’re never done. You might be done with one piece, but revision also means recycling those abandoned bits into new pieces and allowing for that recycling to take you to unexpected places. In this way, revision can also be a strategy for generating new work.

F: What is the most frustrating thing you’ve discovered about revision?

CK: Time, our eternal nemesis, can occasionally be revision’s lone obstacle. There will always be poems that need to sit on the desktop as well as the mind, and we have to allow time, experience and the evolution of perception to work their unknowable magic. That said, sometimes revision can speed up this process or maneuver around it. Sometimes it can ignite new projects while we wait. Other times, like I said, we have to wait for that re-envisioning to happen and there isn’t a way around it.

F: Who (or what genres) should take this class?

CK: In the course description for “Revision Revision,” I left things pretty open. I sincerely hope fiction writers, poets, nonfiction writers and hybrid writers all join the course because I think the more variety in perspective, intention and experience, the more expansive the potential for everyone involved. My job will be to wrangle all this potential into constructive methods across all genres, into an energizing and inspiring discussion that one wouldn’t have anywhere else. I’m just really happy that Frequency has given me the opportunity to attempt such an invaluable feat.

 

Christopher Kondrich is the author of Contrapuntal (Parlor Press, 2013), a New Measure Poetry Prize finalist. He is the winner of The Iowa Review Award for Poetry (selected by Srikanth Reddy) and The Paris-American Reading Series Prize. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Cimarron Review,Colorado Review, Green Mountains Review, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, Verse Daily and elsewhere, while his criticism appears in Jacket2, Colorado Review and CutBank. He holds an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a PhD from the University of Denver where he was an editor for Denver Quarterly. Currently, he is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly and an instructor at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

Q&A with Susana Gardner

Susana Gardner will be teaching Found Poetics, or Appropriation as Textual Intimacy, an exploration of writing through varied utilization and use of found texts and practice; flarf poetics, erasure, lifting, omitting, centos and cut-ups. During the class, students will explore new methods of reading and writing poetry in a muse state thus culled. The class will be encouraged to upcycle vintage books, found texts and other ephemera to create new poems alongside weekly prompts that will explore new forms. Students are encouraged to purchase a used book from Ada Books with which they will creatively omit, erase or cut-up in poetic exercise and craft. The instructor will supply additional texts, in the form of emailed PDFs and paper copies. For examples of course material, check out Michelle Detorie’s Sin in Wilderness or A Humament by Tom Philips. Course runs July 16-August 20, 2015 on Thursdays, 6:30-9:00 pm. Register here.


Ben Williams: How did you decide to teach a class on found texts? What do you hope to accomplish through the course?

Susana Gardner: I love working among other works and ‘found’ poetics. This could be in the form of found text found virtually anywhere and thus be more of a flarfy gesture or through the art of disseminating found literature. This is an exercise that is reliant on process more than output necessarily and invites other mediums and processes than merely staring at a blank page. Dead authors and strange texts alike can aid our process in creation, get the wheels turning and produce strange and wonderfully unexpected creatures/poems.

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by Susana Gardner

BW: How does altering a text, specifically through erasure or censorship, change its meaning? How does the act of re-creation, even destruction, challenge the notion of authorship?

SG: There is so much to be found in existing texts— especially antiquated books hold much possibility in way of creating ‘new’ texts. The experience of working with found texts can be spiritual and meditative as well. One needs to trust and follow a certain level of intuitiveness when omitting the next word. Ultimately, new poems can be salvaged and lifted from the original texts with quite a different meaning. The process is as important as the outcome. The act of re-creation and salvaging alongside disruption and certain destruction of the original into a new work certainly challenges the idea that authorship exists in the singular ‘I’, as writers are constantly writing alongside our poetic influences as much as those forebearers are writing with us thus couching the idea of originality into the manifold and multiplicitous. Whether an original work is noted or not, we are all influenced and the circle thus continues. The art of altering an older poetic text is not new—yet can be bold and experimental in how we choose to altercate a text and this takes an amount of thought and is a gesture, sometimes ironic, sometimes a poetic tip of the hat of the greatest reverence or challenge even.

From EBB PORT by Susana Gardner
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BW: The physical presentation of your work–cutouts, pasting, bracketing, and imagery–seems very important to the experience of the text. How did you develop your style? What were your inspirations?

SG: For me, brackets are a way to measure time. The physical process of creation is definitely important to me. I always suggest that poets learn how to typeset as this gives the page the full possibility—there is so much more to the page than flush left! My ‘style’ continues to change to a certain extent with each project. I have many influences… I am interested in many schools of poetic thought and political art movements: DADA, Futurism, Modernism and the more recently Flarf and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry (my time in DC was well-spent)… but I also adore and return often to the Romantics. K. Lorraine Graham really got my literary heritages in her generous reading of my second book Herso.

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Not By With America by Susana Gardner

BW: What are you working on now? Is there any specific found text that you would really like to work with sometime in the future?

SG: I do have a poetry MS in process—the working title is Somewhere Upon a Time (that gorgeous raw) but lately I have been devoting a lot of time to my publishing pursuits as the editor of Dusie. I have erased Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets to the Portuguese several times, and often find this an interesting work and re-work with as a found poetical matter. I enjoy the process as much as the outcome and the variety the form naturally allows. Will I erase or ‘lift’ certain words similarly or will other words speak to me in the process of finding the new poem within? I enjoy the quiet meditation with Browning, and my reading and rereading of the sonnets adds to my understanding of her work as much as it illuminates meaning for my own. I have created many sound poems with DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. The Victorian vocabulary is intense and thrilling to work with as it is difficult. I never know exactly where I am headed when I begin projects like this one. I never intended to write sound poetry… but the page called for it and perhaps Lawrence calls for it…culls for it. This is a way for me to keep dead writers alive as much as it is to produce new work, to keep the conversation going.

From HyperPhantasie Constructs (Dusie) by Susana Gardner

 

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Susana Gardner is the author of the full-length poetry collections HERSO (Black Radish Books, 2011) andsusana [ LAPSED INSEL WEARY ] (The Tangent Press, 2008). Her third book, CADDISH also from Black Radish Books. She has published several chapbooks, including Hyper-Phantasie Constructs (Dusie Kollektiv, 2010) and Herso (University of Theory and Memorabilia Press, 2009). Her poetry has appeared in many online and print publications including Jacket, How2, Puerto Del Sol, and Cambridge Literary Review among others. Her work has also been featured in several anthologies, including 131.839 slög með bilum (131,839 keystrokes with spaces) (Ntamo, Finland, 2007) and NOT FOR MOTHERS ONLY: CONTEMPORARY POEMS ON CHILD-GETTING AND CHILD-REARING (Fence Books, United States, 2007). She lives in Rhode Island, where she also teaches, freelances and edits the online poetics journal and experimental kollektiv press, Dusie.