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Michael Ruby interviewed in The Conversant

 SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

MARIETTA BRILL WITH MICHAEL RUBY

Photo of Michael Ruby 3In American Songbook (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013), Michael Ruby’s fifth full-length collection, Ruby responds to recordings of 75 American vocalists, each an homage of sorts. Many musical traditions inform the poems, including blues, jazz, gospel, country, folk, bluegrass, electric blues, R&B, rock, disco and hip hop. This interview took place both in person and by email.

Marietta Brill: What inspired you to write American Songbook?

Michael Ruby: I’ve always been unhappy with the political direction of this country, ever since the assassinations and Vietnam War of my childhood.  Carter and the slide to Reagan were very hard to bear.  In the late ‘90s, I could feel it again, the slide to George W. Bush and everything that came with it. I felt so unhappy about America that it somehow triggered an opposite reaction in me, a desire to find something beautiful about America. What’s more beautiful about America than American singers and songs? Isn’t that our most influential art form worldwide?

While my initial gesture might have been celebratory, I don’t believe the poems themselves turned out that way. My unconscious, apparently, isn’t a patriot. My unconscious probably went too far in some poems. It blasphemed. It was perverse. It was criminal. Language contains infinite blasphemy, perversity, criminality, when words are truly free to combine with other words. Language might contain far more monsters than it contains real beings.

MB: The songs are solely 20th century—some are very obscure. How did you select them?

MR:  It certainly isn’t the greatest hits of the 20th century. I’m sure there’s some ideal view of American songs in the 20th century that would pick out a better selection, from a position of greater knowledge of all the genres, and more singers, and obscure American singers. But I’m just a person who listens to music, listens to the radio, hears a singer they like and listens to a bunch of their songs and wants to work with one or two songs poetically.

It was the transport of listening that led to the transport of engaging artistically.

There are many singers and songs I wish I had used, and I hope to work with them poetically someday. Oddly, I didn’t use many of my favorite songs, or my obsessive favorite songs—you know, songs you play five times in a row. It wasn’t really about my favorite songs. It was about the songs I wanted to work with artistically. But I do hope to work with more of my favorite songs, too, someday.

MB: Are there through lines that connect these poems, aside from their being from the 20th century?

MR: That’s an interesting question. I have a book built on “through lines,” or “through phrases,” called The Edge of the UnderworldAmerican Songbook doesn’t have through lines as such. With one exception: “In the Good Old Summertime.” That poem, one of the last written for the book, was constructed exclusively from what I call “compulsive words” in the older poems in the book. Those are words that are repeatedly displaced from my total vocabulary during composition.  I suppose compulsive words are, overall, “through words” in the book.


Read the whole interview here

Check out Michael Ruby's BlazeVOX Books here 

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Kristina Marie Darling, Interviewed at the Conversant!

 

VIRGINIA KONCHAN WITH KRISTINA MARIE DARLING AND LIGHTSEY DARST

Darling and Darst
Kristina Marie Darling and Lightsey Darst

This interview focuses on Kristina Darling’s X Marks the Dress: a Registry, co-authored with Carol Guess and Lightsey Darst’s DANCE.

Virginia Konchan: In both of your recent books you explore the semiotics of fashion in different ways. In 1967, Barthes made the connection, in Elements of Semiology, between text and textiles, describing the text as an interwoven fabric of quotations drawn from culture, rather than from any single reading experience. Referring to textual production as a “garment system,” Barthes describes the act of speech as comprised by “all the phenomena of anomic fabrication” or of individual style—tracing the very origin of the word “text” to the Latin past participle texere, to weave or fabricate. The author’s successor, the scriptor, exists simultaneously with the text, not in a subject/predicate relationship, dislocating the text’s meaning to “language itself” and the effect on the reader.

From the punk band Glamour Kills to the relationship between fascism and fashion (a symbolic code too often replacing signification through speech or writing for women with a codified language—literalized through semaphores such as sex bracelets worn by middle-schoolers indicating what sex acts they perform, or a diamond ring signifying a woman’s unavailability as well as cultural “worth”), the idea that “clothes make the man” takes us to the metonymic conflation, in “polite society” between a well-dressed or spoken individual and his or her character.

Can you speak to the semiotics of fashion (as a signifying system) in your two books, which present female speakers with various degrees of agency, as well as to silencing? I’m especially curious how you relate the semiotics of DANCE, Lightsey (la geste rather than logos, as signifier) to female agency.

Lightsey Darst: When I went to make hell (the first section of the book), I turned to what I had at hand. I was interested in making an attractive hell, a seductive hell, a baroque and beautiful hell, and so I went for what makes me feel a really nasty appetite: fashion. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to think about fashion not as an inherently cruel system, but more as an amoral growth formed in reaction to other cruel systems. So fashion may be nasty, but also redemptive—as when a woman remembers what she wore for the last time that she saw her beloved, remembers how she concealed or revealed or altered her body, how she made herself appear. And appearances are realities. Local glamour. Alteration of air.

Kristina Darling: That’s a great question. When writing X Marks the Dress, my collaborator and I were especially interested in exploring the ways that culture is historically sedimented, particularly the various rituals and etiquettes associated with weddings. The book takes the form of a bridal registry, with each poem named for an item on such a list. Carol and I sought to evoke the myriad ways that contemporary beliefs, desires and sexualities don’t fit within such a heteronormative framework. Just as the book creates a discontinuity between form and content, the identities of the characters don’t conform to established gender categories, particularly since these identities question, blur and ultimately reject these categories.

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