Because of your fatal addiction to art: A Conversation with Chelsea Hodson


–by Julie Hart


I met Chelsea Hodson last July when she read at The Book Report, a reading series at the HiFi on New York’s Lower East Side. She “reported” on Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth by reading an essay about the boys of her own youth. I bought her chapbook, an essay called Pity the Animal (Future Tense Books, 2014), and read it on the subway home. This line severed me: “I was writing everything down as if I knew what I was seeing.” I almost immediately began my own piece beginning with, “I was writing down my opinions and calling them poetry.” This is the highest form of flattery I know.

Chelsea agreed to come over to my Brooklyn studio and let me interview her. We talked about her recently completed project, Inventory, a Tumblr blog pairing short prose poems with photos of every single thing she owns—all 657 of them. We also discussed her writing practice, Marina Abramovic, her favorite poets, the Tin House summer workshop, and our minimalist aesthetic.


Julie: First, I wanted to ask you about Inventory. How did you keep going for 657 days?

C: Well, when I started it, I didn’t think anyone would read it. But I liked the idea of it being on the internet, a public document. Putting it out into the world helped me feel accountable, so the longer it went, the more I realized it had to be completed. When I started it, I thought, “I’ll do it for a while, but I probably won’t do everything.” The longer it went on, the more I realized, “No, I actually do need to finish it.” But I didn’t realize it was going to take nearly two years to do. I thought it would take maybe a year. I don’t know why. I just started making an inventory, and I started in the kitchen. When I decided to do the blog, I began a narrative and just did whichever object I felt would logically come next. Something in the kitchen would remind me of something in a book, so I would get that book and quote that part, so in that way it became somewhat random. I wasn’t doing it by room; I was doing it by instinct, intuition, what I thought would come naturally in the inventory. Conceptually, it would not be good if I didn’t actually do everything. I just felt, what’s the point if I don’t do the whole thing? Continue reading

“language helps us hold the world and in doing so holds us”: A Conversation-Interview with Megan Burns and Laura Madeline Wiseman


Laura Madeline Wiseman: In her NPR interview with Terry Gross in October 2011, Marie Howe talks about mystery and the unsayable in poetry. In talking about one her poems, she says, “I think I was trying to tell a narrative or trying to tell a story or trying to explain something. I don’t know. I couldn’t, you know, every poem holds the unspeakable inside it, the unsayable, you know, not unspeakable as in taboo but the unsayable, the thing that you can’t really say because it’s too complicated, it’s too complex for us.” Can you talk about mystery and the unsayble in your new book the Sound and Basin?sound and basin

Megan Burns: Laura, I like this idea of the “unsayable” rather than language being unable to hold what we need it to; it transfers the onus onto our ability to give space to what the poem can do. And sometimes, we as the poet, need to invest a bit of trust into the poem’s ability to be a placeholder for these events that seem to evade a simple telling. My first book, Memorial + Sight Lines, dealt with post-Katrina New Orleans, and I struggled a lot with being able to find the right “words” to capture that experience. So much new language emerges from these traumatic events, and in Sound and Basin, this struggle continues as I try to bear witness to the ongoing destruction caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. My third child was born months before the explosion and I watched the Gulf being flooded with oil as I would breastfeed her, so the experience of this destruction of life and the preciousness of life is deeply intertwined in this collection. It’s strange to qualify disaster, but the Deepwater Horizon event felt to me so much more perilous than Katrina, because if we destroy our waters with such careless negligence than there really is not much hope for a future planet for in which my children can live. Continue reading

Work: Surviving the Arts

Exploring issues of sustainability in the arts.

~by Scott Pinkmountain

On Ambiguity


Below is a written conversation between the composer/songwriter Michael Zapruder and myself. (MZ in italics)


A week or so ago we were talking about ambiguity in songwriting (or the lack thereof in the case of a particular song of mine). It’s something we’ve spoken about at length in the past, and a creative principal I’m strongly committed to. And yet, for some reason, which maybe I’m still struggling to articulate, I intentionally avoided a high degree of ambiguity on some songs I recently wrote. I understand and cherish the value of ambiguity – its expanded potential for meaning and interpretation, its grounding in realism and the lived experience, access to a greater depth and resonance – but I wonder if it’s a necessary ingredient in all art. Can there be some creative circumstance that call for limited ambiguity or none at all? If so, what might those be? If not, is ambiguity the defining element that separates art from entertainment (or something else, some non-art expression)?

I think writing or music or any art is too contextual to single out one element, even something as important as ambiguity, as a defining element. I see ambiguity as having a special status, but your question makes me think of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, large parts of which consist of the annihilation of ambiguity, really. So there’s an unforgettable and wonderful book which emphasizes extreme accuracy and thoroughness, not ambiguity. That’s also an answer to your question above, about whether there can be some creative circumstance in which ambiguity is a bad thing.

As to your question about ambiguity in art vs. entertainment, I find it really hard to make any definite connection there. What does a pop lyric like Lorde’s “We live in cities you’ll never see on screen / not very pretty but we sure know how to run free” really give you, specifically? Not much. It might even be “bad” writing, since it’s so general (You can’t really judge a lyric without its melody in my opinion). Still, the vagueness really stimulates my imagination. “Cities you’ll never see on screen” reminds me of pretty much everywhere I’ve ever been. In my mind, that’s the power of ambiguous writing right there. Continue reading