February 6–12, 2017
Anna Gurton-Wachter is a writer, editor and archivist. Her poems have appeared in Elderly, 6×6, No, Dear, the Boog City Reader, the Organism for Poetic Research, Publication Studio and elsewhere. She was a contributor to the digital book Radio 11.18.16 put out by Essay Press and has written the chapbooks Blank Blank Blues (Horse Less Press, 2016) and CYRUS (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2014). More writing is forthcoming from Essay Press in the spring of 2017. Anna is an editor for DoubleCross Press. She lives with the poet Ian Dreiblatt in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where she was born and raised.
from Blank Blank Blues
I am humbled by my decision to disembody. The great poet Blank Blank once said ‘to disembody is not news.’ I loved that he said that out loud and could care or not if gravity had yet to be introduced. Invented.
No, the great poet Blank Blank needs no introduction. Character A might introduce nostalgia and be hated pretty quickly. And then Blue was introduced and everyone who had been longing for a new color was momentarily sated.
I was the last one to wait. I never saw a color arrive. Hank Williams is singing about it and I might give him a penny. Here is a penny Hank Williams. You deserve something shiny, you are next in line for our attentions. My hula dancer self cries, can’t be neglected for a second. Today I remembered how I promised I would fulfill someone’s sexual fantasy and never did. And he said, it won’t happen. And I said, of course it will. And maybe the promise is part of the fantasy. Shout out to all the suppressed gods of my old life.
It won’t happen. It won’t happen. Of course it will.
The sexual fantasy involved a pedestal covered in flowers trading dimensions with us large and small, important and not. Every thought I had today was there watching, waiting for my clothes to come off and form their own narrative. Today I thought about the twins and how I showed affection in front of them, to spite them. Look at how great my affection feels and is transparent and once again I am so small. Decidedly not a new feeling. The twin told me I would hate her and I hated her.
Blue was just emerging then in the color spectrum. We were just lovely molecules dancing in heat. What were our fucks producing on that color spiral day? What couldn’t be got rid of? If it gets any more crowded in here I am going to write a poem about it. You can’t refer to the poet Blank Blank. He is not yours to invoke. And if I had stood on the large and small pedestal and let him see, what then could I say about it? The junkyard reestablishes resistance, lets me see from a new perch. I grip the sink. I grip the wall. I wish the earth would swallow me up already and then volcanoes would shoot me out like sperm.
–From Blank Blank Blues, Horse Less Press, 2016.
Tell us about the making of these poems.
Even though these poems were just published by Horse Less Press, I actually wrote them about two years ago. I had been talking to the poet Laura Henriksen about a prompt that she had gotten from Eileen Myles to write through shame or lean into ugly feelings. Then I also started to think more about this film that I had seen by Su Friedrich called Seeing Red in which she explores her anger within a fractured narrative. I started thinking more about how the writing process can often feel both solitary and communal at the same time and how this space might hold ideas of relation that are sometimes ugly and unresolved. To me they are about all the kinds of reaching out we do, sometimes to our inner selves or past selves when there is nobody around to rub up against.
What are you working on right now?
A few things. Right now I am shaping a full-length manuscript called Abundance Acts. Some excerpts from it are available in the new 6×6 and some will be out as a digital chapbook from Essay Press in the spring. It deals with my fascination with categories and naming, scientific observation and wildness, topics I think most writers are turned on by. I wrote another piece that was published in an Essay Press collection of responses to the post-election nightmare, and I’d like to expand on some more writing in that style. I’ve also been working on a plot-driven novel loosely on the topic of memorabilia and the end of capitalism. This is all to say that I think all of us writers are still figuring out how our writing practice might be changed by changing levels of fascism and fear, activism and resistance.
What’s a good day for you?
I love watching old movies and dancing. Sometimes I camp out in a sleeping bag on my living room floor. Camping indoors is highly recommended by me. If I get to see my nephew, that is a special bonus. He is amazing.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I have hardly ever lived anywhere else. I have enormous respect for people who navigate areas far away from where they started out. My parents both also grew up in Brooklyn, so we used to visit their childhood neighborhoods of Canarsie, Flatbush and East New York when I was a kid. Brooklyn is gigantic so even after all of these years there are still areas that are new to me. I sometimes have felt sorry, like I should have had some exploratory desires to cocreate new creative centers in cheaper areas. But I stuck it out here.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
This is a fun question for me because I just recently moved from Sunset Park to Park Slope. I was born in Park Slope on 10th Street in 1984 in my parents’ bedroom. I now live a few blocks away from that spot. I wonder about the kind of energy that emanates from one’s birth spot. Although people nod knowingly to me about how much it has all changed (and obviously it has), I also like to notice the things which have stayed the same. If you go inside Smiling Pizza on 9th Street it is like stepping into a doorway that opens up inside the year 1987. People rightfully have so many negative feelings about gentrification and change, and Park Slope being so expensive often garners many negative reactions. When I focus on the parts that have stayed the same, I start to see not just businesses but people who to me look like they never left the old New York. I love these ghost figures. I recently went out to get coffee in Park Slope and bumped into the poet Karen Lepri. I grabbed her arm and started crying on her shoulder because I was so upset about the inauguration. To me, in that moment, we were occupying a bit of the old New York, a specter where there is actual space to cry in and to talk about our feminisms for hours. In the new New York there isn’t any time or space for that, so we have to keep fighting for traces of the old New York, making space for our feelings to fit in amongst the crowds.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
There have now been a few times that I have been in the same place at the same time as Parker Posey (a person I do not know personally but whose acting I am familiar with) and each time she will just start talking to me as if we are old friends, asking me how her pants look or if she should buy something or saying, “Isn’t this place great?” I feel like that is very New York, like we are all kind of in it together and anyone can be whatever you need them to be at any moment, if you just start pretending.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I wonder if there were communities like the poetry community centered around something other than poetry, like centered around picking blueberries, if I would then gravitate towards whatever that other thing was and become a desperate blueberry-picking fanatic. But it isn’t an arbitrary thing, this morphing collective of ours, it revolves around a real thing, poetry, and that matters. I recently hosted a few readings with magical poets Asiya Wadud, Claire Donato, Jeremy Hoevenaar, Camilo Roldán, Ashna Ali, Marisa Crawford, Caolen Madden, Chana Porter (and more) and it was just the best feeling ever of getting to hear all of these people share their work. Oftentimes I am talking to poets who are smart, strong and engaged and I think to myself: I am so lucky I get to know these people. I work with MC Hyland and Jeff Peterson to make the small press DoubleCross happen, a project that has greatly impacted my sense of community. All of the Brooklyn-based authors whom we have published, Matt Longabucco, Jennifer Firestone, Krystal Languell, Citron Kelly, Paige Taggart (and more), are all people who feel like family. When we publish authors who are not based in New York it is a real treat for me to be able to share their work with the community here.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
There are way too many to name and what is important to me sort of overlaps with many whom I just mentioned. I live with the poet and translator Ian Dreiblatt. I often get to see people’s faces the first time they realize the beauty and magnitude of the treasure trove that is Ian’s brain. That is fun. Ian’s poems, like him, are silly and serious at the same time, a quality I adore. MC Hyland’s poems that are each entitled “The End” are fabulous and I have learned so much about myself and about poetry through knowing her. Some other poets that come to mind are Adjua Greaves and Nicholas DeBoer. They both have a warmth and openness that I gravitate towards in all humans. When I met Adjua she was just beginning her unschool MFA project and when I met Nick he was still referring to himself as a potlatch discordian. I appreciate the boldness of those kinds of projects and outlooks. Recent conversations with Alex Cuff, Thom Donovan, Anna Vitale, Tony Iantosca and Dan Owen about poetry have helped me to solidify my sense of what I mean to be about. I recently went to a reading and heard Callie Garnett, with whom I grew up in Park Slope, reading alongside Matvei Yankelevich, both of whom were so excellent and whose work I admire. Stephon Lawrence, who also has a Horse Less chapbook recently out, is a killer reader and her chap excited me about the future of poems. I could really go on forever on this topic but I’ll stop there. Oh, did I mention all of those DoubleCross Press authors? I’ll just reiterate that they really define what is important to me.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
When I was a kid I had a camp counselor named Olu who used to give me poetry writing prompts. When I came back to school after the summer I started a poetry club where I basically just gave other kids the same prompts that Olu had given me. I was pretty young, so I feel grateful that Olu treated me like my ideas were important and my writing was something to take seriously. When I got to Bard College, Robert Kelly was very encouraging and he used to do this thing where he would tell me that my poems reminded him of someone, like George Herbert for example. Then I would go to the library and find a poetry book by George Herbert and think to myself, What the hell was Robert talking about? But I came to think it was a really good lesson, to look at things that you might not automatically notice the similarities between and find alliances. It stretches the mind, like a really nerdy version of taking drugs. Later on, knowing Brenda Iijima has influenced me a lot. I really admire her attitudes toward publishing and community as well as her writing. I took a workshop with Anselm Berrigan that made a big impact, particularly his approach to thinking about the relationship between visual artists and poetry. I have been heavily influenced by some amazing visual artists, particularly the filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh. I think there are many people who would name Peggy as a mentor and influence. She really has an amazing quality and I can trace many of my interests back to conversations with her or things she has shown me.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I adore everything that Renee Gladman writes so I was not surprised that I loved Calamities so much. So good! I’m still thinking about the absurdist joy of Beckett’s Murphy—another recent read. Right now I am reading a book of oral histories given by doctors who were heavily involved in the AIDS crisis. It is very intense and interesting. I’m eager to read Christine Shan Shan Hou’s new book Community Garden for Lonely Girls. I’m also really looking forward to soon-to-be published books by Julian Brolaski, David Larsen, Leonora Carrington, Simone White, Eugene Lim and Jess Arndt. See, I’m so excited about what comes next I can barely focus on what is already in front of me.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I just finally read The New Jim Crow which I had been meaning to read for so long. I went through a phase of reading a lot of George Eliot books and then I stopped myself so that I would have some left, so there are some still on the docket, thank goodness. One of these days I’m going to dive in to Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I only read physical books and I do a lot of underlining and circling of words or phrases. I usually have a stack of books that are my “these books are next” pile and often other books seem to enter my life and take the place of the pile before I ever touch the pile. When it happens I sometimes look at the pile and say things like, “I’m sorry pile, I know I said I would but —, you gotta understand, it’s not every day a book like this comes into one’s life!”
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Lately I’ve been wondering about trying to incorporate more stage directions into my writing. A few years ago, I went to see a version of Gertrude Stein’s Pink Melon Joy that blew my mind. I also really liked Ariana Reines’s Telephone play and Kristen Kosmas’s Hello Failure. Maybe I’ll get Camilo Roldán to collaborate with me on an opera. Maybe Bethany Ides wants to join in the fun too.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Most of the time I am writing in my head and then there is a long pause before I ever make it to a computer or pencil and paper. It’s probably better writing the less time I let it live in my mind alone, but alas, I sabotage myself sometimes.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
My roof. The Brooklyn Heights promenade. The view of Brooklyn from a boat or from the top of Sunset Park. Greenwood Cemetery. Interference Archive. Melody Lanes. There is this place in Bay Ridge where I like to get falafel called Hazar. Berl’s Poetry Shop. The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, BAM, Unnameable Books. And I love to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Nostalgia and newness in the vast sprawl.