Thursday, May 15, 2014

1/2 Dozen for Laynie Browne

You're in for a fascinating read. There are parts of this Q and A that I'm holding onto. Laynie Browne offers wisdom and depth to bring back to your own page. 

Here you go, a half-dozen with novelist and poet Laynie Browne ... 

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer? 

This is very dangerous.  To be avoided at all costs.  I recommend instead, falling in love with an idea.  Seriously though, in such instances it is important to ask, have I fallen in love with a writer, or with what the writer has written?  Or, am I in love with the possibility of language, the erotic possibilities of language? Poet Lyn Hejinian writes in her essay “Continuing Against Closure, “I would argue that one of the functions of art is to bring dreams and other works of the imagination into the space of appearance.”  Here is the place where I would happily dwell with no end. My advice to someone who has fallen in love with bringing dreams and works of the imagination into appearance, through love, is very different.  No harm can come to you here. Or I should say, possibly the harm that can come to you here may be a useful form of alchemy. This is why writers write. This is why painters paint. You create, exist, within a permeable dwelling. One in which every aspect of life can reach you and also you find yourself within the presence of some unspeakable power. Of love. If it doesn’t feel like a choice, that you have no other choice, than to love someone, to love what they create, then possibly you have arrived at something stunning. You need no advice. You are now in a position to offer advice to others. So I ask you, what’s your advice to someone who has fallen in love with _______ ?

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I've  been surprised, that as I’ve become increasingly devoted to contemplative practices, particularly meditation, I’ve learned that contrary to common belief, these practices often lead to precipitous chasms, tumultuous epiphanies, and hazardous states of mind.  I was studying Jewish meditation. I kept asking my teacher, rabbi Avram Davis, what I should read to further my practice. Every time he said “read psalms.” Then I read an article about parkour, which seemed the perfect metaphor for what I experienced.  Parkour, or l'art du déplacement is an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as efficiently and quickly as possible. As would a stunt person.  Stumbling across an urban landscape, above buildings with no net. That’s where this book began. With the question of risk involved in divining contemplative practice.

Research. We all have to do it. Sometimes it’s delicious, sometimes brutal. Tell us a tale from the research trenches.

My research for this book was of the experiential kind.  I wanted to write from inside an understanding of the form of the psalm.  Of form in general.  I was trying to find the limit or edges of the form, a range of possibilities, elasticity.  I read many translations of psalms.  I learned that psalms are not just praise, but that they contain every manner and mode of address. I found poet Norman Fischer’s translations of psalms, Opening to You: Zen Inspired Translations of Psalms to be very illuminating.  For one thing he does not choose to translate every psalm.  For another, he begins his book with an essay discussing his difficulty understanding the practice of reciting psalms- some very violent and brutal psalms.  He asks difficult questions.  I spent time studying Hebrew texts. Thus the line, in my book, about breaking one’s brain, in a foreign language.  But mostly I would say the research I did was in devoting myself to contemplative practice on a daily basis, meditation and prayer, and writing, and trying to note how these practices changed not my situation or circumstances, but how I perceived and reacted to them. I’d often felt that it is slightly taboo for a writer to delve into their own religion, the one we are born into. It always seemed more accepted, for instance for Jews to be Buddhists. This phenomenon was curious to me. I wanted to look at it carefully.  My research was to practice, not merely to study.  My research was to try, very humbly to extend that practice so that every act became part of that awareness. This research could also be called life. It isn’t limited to one book I have written.  But at the time I was writing this book I was in the midst of intensive study which encouraged me to see newly.  So I’d say, in one way, that altered perception was, and is, a research project, that goes on and on.
What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the Italian writer Elena Ferrante.  I especially loved her novel, The Lost Daughter.  Why?  She understands something about feminist identity, mothering, madness and despair.  She does not sanitize. There is a brutality in her writing. A brave honesty.  Also, reading all of the fairly new translations of Clarice Lispector, from New Directions.  No one is like Lispector.  The interior life of the word is a place I’d like to reside.  I mostly read poetry.  A few recent favorites include Hejinan’s The Book of A Thousand Eyes, and Cecilia Vicuña’s Spit Temple. I am usually reading one book at night, one by day when in transit, and several at my desk when I’m working.  Right now on my desk is a literary journal that just arrived, Music & Literature, with many essays on the work of Lispector, as well as books by Ponge, Carla Harryman, Lisa Robertson, CAConrad and Bernadette Mayer.  My reading life is also in attending many poetry readings, and receiving the live transmission of new writing. Talking to writers is a form of reading.  This past weekend I heard the Canadian poet and friend Lisa Robertson read.  She spoke about radical hospitality and I quote from one of the poems she read, “The body of the friend is commodious only.”  I’d say that friendship and hospitality play a large part in my life as a reader and a writer, and also that I aim to be commodious as a reader, to be always expanding my range and awareness.
Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

I don’t believe there is any difference between my writing life and anything else.  All aspects of writing are life and all aspects of life lead me back to writing.  That does not mean I know anything at all about balance.  Just that I try to always live with an awareness that writing is not separate from life. But on a more practical note, I try to do some writing every day, regardless of whether I have only five minutes or several hours.  I attempt to guard this time, whatever and wherever it finds me. I am never without a notebook and reading material.  And I welcome the challenge of writing in unconducive circumstances, such as standing in line waiting for a train, or in the dark, during performances or when it generally feels impossible.  “Writing is a form of thinking” writes poet Bhanu Kapil.  Walking in the rain I might remember something overheard or an image or a sound.  Sometimes my best ideas come when walking, or talking with my children, or sleeping, dreaming.

Are you a writer of place? Is place always one of your main characters?

As a writer who has physically moved, to a new place, pretty much every five years of my adult life, I have to say that yes, place is a very alive character for me. I’m not a writer of place but I am a writer always wondering where I am, and wondering how various locations form my writing with or against my will.  One discovery that I’ve made is that place is always, dominantly for me, about people.  I used to believe that it would be wonderful to always live in the location that is the most hospitable, the place where I felt most welcomed and at home.  But I’ve learned much by existing also in locations where I am strange to the environment. This experience had me asking, not so much what I might receive, but what I might offer, as a writer in an unknown land. Ideas of exile and hibernation and concentration also connect, in my mind to the character of place.  I think of retreat, and also The Poetics of Space, and notions of what is retrievable, from Bachelard’s words: “Each one of us, then, should speak of his road, his crossroads, his roadside benches’ each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows.”

Laynie Browne is the author of ten collections of poetry and two novels. Her work appears in the second edition of The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. Her newest collection Lost ParkourPs(alm)s was just published in France, in both French and English editions by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et Du Havre. Her honors include a National Poetry Series selection, a Contemporary Poetry Series selection and the Gertrude Stein Award of Innovative Writing.  She teaches at University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College.

Brief Introduction to the Book

Parkour, or l'art du déplacement is an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as efficiently and quickly as possible. There is no list of “appropriate moves.” Lost Parkour Ps(alms) is an investigation of parkour, or the art of displacement, as a way to divine and interpret the risks involved in contemplative practice.  This text is also an exploration of the psalm in present tense, as method of ambulation,  and as a poetic form.

The “To” series, under the direction of Christophe Lamiot Enos, is devoted to contemporary poetry in English from the United States. The selected works have not been pre- viously published in any language. Each work is characterized by narrative-like length—100 pages or more—and breadth.
Each work appears in two volumes: the English version and its French translation. Each volume includes a postface, the author’s biography and a bibliography.

Other works in the series: 
Laynie Browne, Psaumes de parkour perdus, 2014 
Alice Notley, Negativity’s Kiss, 2014
Alice Notley, Le Baiser de la négativité, 2014