B.J. Soloy plays guitar, banjo, washboard, and suitcase drumkit in the anachronistic prog-yawp outfit Dear Sister Killdeer, whose album,This Is My Hand was released in 2013. He has poems published or forthcoming in New American Writing, Horse Less Review, Colorado Review, Court Green, CutBank, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and DIAGRAM, among others.
ALL ACCOUNTS AND MIXTURE: Interview with poet Bridget Carson
NOTES FROM BJ SOLOY:
I met up with Bridget Carson at the Union Bar in Missoula and we spent about four hours passing a notebook back and forth in pursuit of an “All Accounts and Mixture” collaborative interview thing. We conducted the written interview and then made an erasure of the interview, which is at the bottom.
“We” seems to be almost as present as “I” throughout many of your poems. In “Procrastination,” you move from “we” to “I” to “you” pretty fluidly, and the “we” stars in such moments as, “Because we are an internalized system,” “Because we are by now accustomed to our invisibility,” and, “Because the revolution means first the death of precisely this contained instituted self….”
In the spirit of subverting the “contained instituted self,” maybe we can do a weird hybrid poem interview mess here. In theory, we’ll conduct this interview entirely in writing, then—after a couple of beers here at the very important Union Club—we’ll erase, edit, and cherry-pick each other’s lines, ending up with a collaborative lyrical clusterfuck.
Sound good? Check
[ ] Yes
[ ] No
[ x] I don’t like boxes
If “Yes,” or “I don’t like boxes,” could you tell me a bit about the function of the “we” in your poems?
Why yes, I’d be happy to tell you a bit about the function of the “we.” First of all, not to be too reductive in an answer, but I contain multitudes. Also, the speaker of my poems—which I don’t really know in my ordinary carnal life, save for rare intersections—feels that she belongs to a community of others oppressed by the same system(s).
Would you consider the historical weight of canonical “male” poetry to be part of that system?
Such a good question. My short answer is yes. But to be honest, I spend little time thinking about that particular system in that way. I’ve found permission from other poets and poems to play with, fuck with, revise the canonical. It is material to use, similar to the way I can see (when I’m writing, not when I’m in my therapist’s office) my childhood as material from which to form my art.
“I Red” has two moments that I think are especially interesting, when you write, “And I am not male and half-bodied…” and, “I am not veiled by my own body.”
As the author of a poem that starts with an epigraph by Rimbaud and then strongly echoes his famous, “Je est un autre” (with lines like “I am an antonym of myself,” and “I am not me”) before referencing authority, “the author,” and Pavlov (all within four lines), I’m excited to hear (or read, really) your thoughts on embodiment, gender, and otherhood as relating to the lyric.
I found it interesting that I wrote those lines as well. My writing those lines, I think, indicates something about the difficulty of working in such a gendered language. In those particular lines, I seemed to have the impulse to more explicitly speak out from within the language.
I’m excited about what you noticed in that poem. I loved writing that poem, using some of Rimbaud’s alchemical process to “come out” of the language. A little like Mary came out of the Holy Trinity.
[I want to follow that up with another question, but choose to whisper in brackets as to let that last line linger and resonate just a trifle longer. It’s even resonating through the Union Club’s irresistibly dancingest dance tunes!]
I love how self-conscious your poems can be while still being awfully dang gutsy. For instance, you use the word “definition” as part of a definition of circular definitions. Also, you use “There is no way out of this pantoum” as a formally dictated, repeating line in a pantoum.
How do you use/wrestle with self-consciousness while writing?
I love how you notice things in my poems. I wouldn’t say that I wrestle with self-consciousness while writing. For some reason, I’m not even self-conscious about my self-consciousness when in the act of writing. So self-consciousness becomes this interesting phenomenon in the process that strikes me as belonging to the poem, as a further layering of the voice. I do edit as rigorously as the Surrealists actually edited their poems, but I’m not concerned, apparently, with editing out self-consciousness. I seem to even like it as editor of my own poems.
I hope that foregrounding the self-consciousness doesn’t fuck with the enabling, self-negating self-consciousless self-consciousness of your writing.
I do realize now, thinking of the self-consciousless self-consciousness, that we, as lesbians, do actually like boxes. In that other realm of boxless boxliness.
I should let the readers know that you just came back from the bathroom, looked at your most recent response, and said, “I had a self-conscious moment there.”
Queer Theory is, it seems, active and dynamic in the Lit. wings of Academia (population: future adjunct faculty).
I’m interested in your thoughts on “queer” being used in such an expansive theoretical way. Is there a danger in “queer” being too distanced from sexuality? Are there advantages in applying a sort of Kinsey spectrum to the disciplines?
I think Academia is a machine that appropriates the humanizing efforts of oppressed groups. It has a way of turning activism into still-life. This is not to say that the theory created by individuals in the academic machine is not valuable, or that individual professors cannot do meaningful work within Academia. But I do mean to call it a machine of oppression. But I haven’t really answered your question…
Who is queer theory for? The idea of queer is important to the idea of normal. It seems like an expansive sense of “queer” might be found all along to really be an expansive sense of Normal. What if through the blessings of Queer Theory, Normal people can know more about me than I know about myself? Will this lead to colonization of my Kinsey rating?
Can poetry, then, be an antidote to the still-life-ification of humanizing efforts? A lightning bolt into the static pond?
Yes! I can’t say it any better than you have.
“Formal Sentence Definition” suddenly wanders into Dan Savage’s precise definition of santorum (which, to be clear, is “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”), but the poem seems to use a more conceptual, formal engagement to address ideas of definition (and self-definition) with more sustain than a more traditionally “political poem” (meaning a poem that uses a rather standard narrative lyric as a vehicle for explicit political sloganeering) might be able to.
What is the interplay of political and conceptual?
Are such dichotomies dumb?
The poem itself says, “Without you, I am nothing, because I am not you”… “I am where I am unsettled, neither masculine nor feminine”… “a correct definition will mark the subject’s boundaries, edges, or limits….” This sort of subjective reciprocity seems at home with the mysticism of Martin Buber while evoking androgyny and miming the diction and circularity of computer code. How do boundaries affect your writing?
Your question, “Are such dichotomies dumb?” is what I could consider a brilliant self-consciousness, which interrupts effectively the status quo. I despise definition because it hasn’t worked for me, so in some way I think I want to use the natural boundaries inherent in any form of writing to speak about the failure of definition. Poetry’s boundaries, and sometimes its disregard for boundaries, are very useful. As a poet, I almost love them. Like anyone loves their captor after awhile.
So, you’re OK with being defined by poetry’s boundaries as long as poetry’s OK with you not really being all that discouraged at dreams of escape any day now?
I feel like you’re writing the questions and my answers at this point of the interview.
[interview commits ritual suicide]
The Poem as Byproduct
In the spirit of subverting the “contained
instituted self,” maybe we can erase. If yes,
can you tell me a bit about the function
of a bit of the ordinary, the history
resultant in that way? From similar therapists,
my form can say, “I am not, and half-bodied.” Also,
“I am not my own body.” I seemed explicitly out
of the Holy Trinity. I want that in brackets.
I love how I wrestle with the Surrealists; the self
came back from the bathroom a machine. A machine
has a way of meaningful danger, too distanced
from sexuality. I think the academics call it an antidote.
I can’t say. I am nothing.
Dumb because it hasn’t worked for the natural
boundaries. After awhile, I feel like my suicide.
There seems to be, specifically, an internalized invisibility.
I think I am not male and I am famous.
Come out a little like Mary, follow
that whisper and resonate, irresistibly circular.
Bridget Carson is a 2006 graduate of UM’s MFA program. Her poetry has made appearances in publications such as Kestrel,Pallaksch. Pallaksch., The American Poetry Review, and The Global Game: Words for Football (an international anthology of literature on soccer/football). She currently teaches writing at Missoula College, works with the Montana Writing Project, and dabbles in the marginalized genre of science fiction.