Allyssa Wolf Interview

Allyssa Wolf is published in fascicle, Fence, Soft Targets, GutCult, LIT, Ribot, Green Integer Review, and more.

She co-edits The Black Economy.

Her first book is Vaudeville.

SK: Jon Leon wrote a fantastic poem published in Jacket Magazine about your first book Vaudeville. If his poem is really a book review, please tell me. Was it your intention, with the poems in Vaudeville, to rid the world of literary analysis? Perhaps viral poems that would grow to maim conventional literary analysis? If so, thank you. And thank you Jean-Luc Godard and thank you.

Allyssa Wolf: I'm glad the book provoked such responses as Jon's beautiful poem-review. Everything Jon writes is a poem, some people are like that.

SK: Which, if any, films have influenced you as a writer?

Allyssa Wolf: When I was very young I used to stay up and watch horror films on this late night show called Night Owl Theater, hosted by Franz the Night Owl. Films like The Organ Grinders and Let's Scare Jessica to Death. I was in love with Vincent Price. During the same time I was obsessed with Busby Berkely type Hollywood musicals, which would play frequently on PBS. During my teenage years Godard and Lynch definitely left deep fingerprints on my brain. Hail Mary, Contempt, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet. Recently I've been influenced by Bresson's A Gentle Woman and Ma Mere, a French film based on a Bataille story. I've been watching everything by Fassbinder and Von Trier. There are many ways in which Dogville is Vaudeville, the vision of humanity and exposed staging for instance, but Vaudeville was written several years before I saw Dogville. I've just begun collaborating with Standard Schaefer on a book using the film Hiroshima, Mon Amour as an undersketch.

SK: Please tell me about writing and editing this poem?

Allyssa Wolf: I started writing parts of M, The Dancer in 2000 or 2001, during an affair I was having with an art collector in Los Angeles. He collected a lot of what I guess you could call high kitsch--paintings rendered in the way of the old masters, with themes of childhood and carnival life. Terrifying versions of innocence and fun. Very American.

Also, during this time I had a dream about riding in the back of a city bus an angel next to me with huge luminous wings. He told me I was supposed 'to hold pain' for the people in the small houses we were passing.

I did this thing with periods. I wanted to slow down time, create what seem like obstacles but could actually just be joints that bend backwards and forward, hinges. I wanted to keep time and movement mechanistic and awkward in the way that Egytian art and early film is, so I placed the periods where there would be a little jump in time, or where the body would stop into a pose--sort of like when a breakdancer freezes or when a burlesque dancer contorts her body into an unexpectedly abstract and inhuman form, either athletically or languidly, and stops for a moment for the crowd's contemplation. So, the dancer is not dancing like abandon--the foxtrot or Isabella Duncan or Grateful Dead dancers or whatall. I think versions of this idea of dancing (kinds of breakdancing or kinds of burlesque, because some burlesque is very fast shaking flesh with no grace) lends itself to a need to continually stop time during the performance and peer into the audience in suspension then begin again. These performers I'm thinking of show what it's like for them to be alive with their bodies. They have constant little deaths, constant apocalypses.

So, I had these parts and several months later I sat in on some poetry classes with Leslie Scalapino. She asked the class to write a poem using some experimental process, with John Cage as our guide. I started writing something about the backsides of my eyeballs, which she liked very much, but a couple of weeks later, when she asked us to present our process poems in class, I brought in M, The Dancer, which I had been working on instead, finished under the influence of her presence. After I read it, a lot of the class seemed impressed or touched. Leslie calmly looked over at me after everyone else had spoken and said only "You cheated." It was great. She's the troof. I always cheat when I try to do those kind of experiments, I'm more a magician-type. I tend to misdirect to get at the truth, I tend toward the future and the past, I tend to go on missions like Houdini exposing spiritualists, I tend to put my whole body into it so that my "experiment" is my experience, but that body is often remebered, or another body coming through, I don't go into my work with a scientistic attitude, that a poem will happen organically by notation of the right now, or, on the other end of the spectrum, with rigid expectations, oulipo-style, I don't think that particularly works for me, although I greatly respect some of the writing that works that way. You see, I need to confuse myself. But a few practiced motions will often set the wheel turning.

SK: You co-edit The Black Economy (And edited an issue of Effing Magazine.) Have you written many rejection letters? Would you mind composing one just for me right now?

Allyssa Wolf: Effing Magazine was largely a family affair, and the rest of the authors were gathered without submission. None of the authors sent me anything that I had to reject. Jon sent all The Black Economy rejection letters on Christmas day. It wasn't planned, but that's how it turned out. I think he signed them 'Merry Blackmas from The Black Economy'.

SK: What will the second and further issues of The Black Economy be like?

Allyssa Wolf: On the remix co-produced with Lil Jon, the false minimalism of the original beat remains, but the playground touches are replaced with cyber swooshes, making it pointless to put Daytons on the Cadillac's wheels since they're just going to fold up before the car blasts off into hyperspace. In response to the beat, the newly revitalized Alexandra 3000 takes off in such a lyrical sprint that it takes a minute for the present to catch up to the future.

SK: (This question asked in a lisp.) Which writers were early influences and who are you reading lately?

Allyssa Wolf: Early influences include Lewis Carroll, Beckett, Plath, James Wright, Pirandello, Rimbaud, Acker, Spicer--then Barthes, Scalapino, Moxley, The Frankfurt School, Vangelisti, Sorrentino, Shakespeare, Notley, Houellebecq. Lately I've been reading and re-reading all Bret Easton Ellis and Lydia Davis works. Jocelyn Saidenberg's Negativity and Philip Jenks' My first painting will be 'The Accuser' are the greatest books of poetry I've read so far this year. They're great for any year.

SK: Could you describe any plans for future poetry videos like your feature at The Continental Review?

Allyssa Wolf: Oh, I want to visually capture the real monstrousness of the poet's ego-transitions in composition. I think I did a fair job of that in the first one, where I sort of fashion modeled The Power Museum--became the visual intersection between Paris Hilton and Adorno, flickering between total seduction and total negation. I amuse myself, but am doubtful it was caught. Anyhow, I'm thinking of doing a video project where I act out different shells of the poet, a la Cindy Sherman. I mean, it's truly obscene, but not as obscene as the accidental narcissism of the hundreds of poets photographing themselves obsessively on Flickr and whatnot. But I need equiptment for the project, like a real video camera!! (I used a webcam that only films a minute at a time for the first video. And no sound.) If anyone reading this wants to help fund this project, get in touch. I've got some things in mind that will flip your wig.

SK: Are you still working on Prisoner's Cinema (or Film of Dust) and Pure Waste?

Allyssa Wolf: Yes. And also Owl's Bible and The Abstract Empire.

SK: Are Sex and The Power Museum separate manuscripts or included within the above manuscripts? Could you tell me about them, what you’re working toward, phenomenology and being on and off stage in your writing?

Allyssa Wolf: Sex and The Power Museum are part of the project Pure Waste. These books may take a long time, even though I've been working on them for some time now, I'm just beginning. Things will change. I can say that Pure Waste is heavily influenced by the ideas of The Frankfurt School. I want to ressurrect the ideas that most people think just cannot fly. I try to make fly. See if I can, because I have to do what I can to show the things I see in the world. If I don't it's dishonest, and will lead only to further feeding the machine. It's a bit antagonistic, it has to be, because these ideas are not fun and seductive in and of themselves. I try to make the antagonism and seriousness like I said said fly tho, so we can take off, a bit like Suicide (Alan Vega's Suicide), I think. Owl's Bible is like an illuminated manuscript--I listen over and over to Joan Baez' Silver Dagger in preparation--cold passionate ascending stair. The Abstract Empire is prose, fiction. Prisoner's Cinema, I don't know, what I began with seems like a real disaster to me right now. All that up there, well, I would like to do something that is experimental in the real sense, in real time, but I'm not sure if I can make it work for me, because I have such an aversion to the philosophy that guides it. I'm not sure why I'm always thinking about a way that would be true to my 'spiritual style' to proceed with it all the time. Must be a reason.

SK: What opportunities did being in Fence Magazine bring? Much solicitation? You seem to choose publications wisely as opposed to Gatling gunning around.

Allyssa Wolf: None. I was in Fence almost eight years ago. It was important to me because it was the first time I was published, and only the second magazine I had ever sent work to. It seemed magical to be published in a literary magazine then, to be chosen, to be read. I think you're refering to my interview with Kate Greenstreet, right? I probably sound like a lunatic to say I wept because I was published in a fucking magazine. It wasn't because I was so happy that now I had a 'poetry career'! Oh boy. I just realized that it may sound like that since I was shy about explaining, and all the questions are so career-oriented. No. Two people I loved had died and one went mad in the recent preceding years. There. So it was more of a feeling that I had survived for something. That I could honor these people, that I had a reason to survive... The first magazine I sent work to was Conduit, and they rejected. I waited almost a year before I sent work out again, so gun-shy I was, and then poems were accepted to Fence, and, shortly thereafter, Ribot. I was twenty-six and had absolutely no ties to academia (I had just started college for the first time a few months before) or even any living, breathing people who were serious about literature (most of my friends were musicians or visual artists.) I had been hanging out mostly with dead authors. I felt like I was going to the pantheon in a panther party dress. I still feel the same about Ribot, not so much Fence, which I didn't know at the time would become more and more a place to excite people about their careers rather than a portal to eternity to live among the super-gods. Ha!

I only like to publish a few times a year. To be honest, there aren't many magazine that I trust. I haven't sent work to people who didn't ask for it in over two years (but for once--I recently sent something to a non-poetry magazine.) So, they are kind of choosing me, rather than that I'm making such screwd decisions. But it is happening, with the powers of mind, that I am happily attracting the editors that I do respect. Most of the people I know in poetry are or have been my editors. I don't hang out much beyond that. They are the only reason I am both here and there, since no large audience yet exists for my work.

SK: I’m ignorant(.) of the magazine Ribot. Could you tell me about them?

Allyssa Wolf: Ribot was a magazine out of Los Angeles edited by Paul Vangelisti and Uncle Bob (Robert Crosson), a poet who lived in the shed behind him. They created an imaginary institution to host it, The College of Neglected Science (CONS) and it's probably one of the greatest literary magazines of the last 50-odd years. Eight issues were published in 8-10 years, during the nineties and into the early 2000's, until Uncle Bob passed away.

SK: What was elementary school?

Allyssa Wolf: It sounded like 10cc and Wings but when I process those sounds through my memory and strip down the false elements, sounds like Syd Barrett's Opel.

I was in a Christian cult (Jehovah's Witnesses) (drum roll. cymbal.) and I didn't pledge allegiance to the flag in the morning or celebrate any holidays so it could be difficult. I was always off to the side by myself doing my own 'crafts', or reading, while the others were making glitter Santa Klauses or whatnot. My mom was really into health food, she cooked amazing things, and I actually liked vegetables better than candy. In kindergarten, when the other kids brought in cookies for treat day, my mom sent me with some carob jobs called "Goody Balls". My mom and I sometimes made dandelion stew, the neighboring city had the Tomato Festival, we went to a little old man on the farm next door to buy corn and strawberries. I went to public elemetary school in rural-suburban Ohio and there were no Black, Latino, Asian or Jewish kids that I can remember. Everyone was White, so because I didn't worship the United States and had different cultural/religious beliefs I often felt like the resident non-white un-american. I always felt I was leading a double life. Even though I was ripe for punishment, I wasn't teased more than usual by the other kids at school. I think maybe this was because I was pretty self-possessed. Maybe it was because my mother dressed me well and told me that suburbia wasn't real life. At school I would take up people that other people shunned, like a girl in my class who had thalidymyne hands (wings) and I would become a sort of protector-friend. I would have standoffs with teachers who were upset because I wouldn't salute the flag or make holiday shit. (I also had some amazing teachers. Mrs. Klein. Fifth grade. Recognize.) Once, in first grade, a teacher forced me to make a black cat for Halloween and I had nightmares for months that the Nephilim were coming for me. I was pretty good at track and gymnastics. I won a literary award in second grade which sent me to a "Young Author's Conference". In my neighborhood, I had this gang of friends. I spent all summer one summer directing and choreographing about 10 kids, boys and girls, to do a song and dance number to "There's No Business like Show Business". I preached the good news door to door. I was looking forward to the apocalypse. I'd go hunting for arrowheads (that were everywhere & also burial mounds) and go catch crawdads at the "crick". I am German, Jewish, and American Indian by birth. What else, I wore corrective shoes until sixth grade. I called them frankenstein shoes. Then, in sixth grade, I practically dropped out of school. Then, I wore non-corrective frankenstein shoes.

SK: How tall are you?

Allyssa Wolf: 50 ft

SK: How tall is Leslie Scalapino?

Allyssa Wolf: About the size of a wolverine.

SK: What kind of arm would you take up if you took up an arm (human or gun)?

Allyssa Wolf: I was just reading this in the new issue of Soft Targets: "He who does not take sides and take up arms in the time of civil war will be deprived of his right to politics, and have no part in the city."--Tiqqun Collective. I think this is true, & this is what I had in mind when Kate Greenstreet (I assume this is why you are asking me this) asked me if poetry could change the world and I said that to change the world I would take up arms.

SK: If you were going to kill someone like how you begin a poem, how would they die?

Allyssa Wolf: Heart attack following orgasm. Immediate resurrection.

Reverse Interview

Allyssa Wolf: I read in your author's bio that you were studying to be a forensic psychologist, how does that study inform your poetry, if at all?

SK: I wanted to work with people I could identify with, so I went to council the dead with photography. If you’ve seen workers assembling food at McDonald’s, you’ve seen a cold room performance. You’ve observed the demeanor with which the workers approach their subject and you’ve seen that subject manipulated by assembly, the obstruction of ribs within the meat cracked and lifted, using bolt cutters, the torso sculpted into an inside-out orange, a pigmented and cunt-like gape, the autistic weighing of everything pulled out like some first-date-bouquet in backward regurgitation, big syringes, filled with piss, holstered in the thigh’s meat, a funny makeshift table, to be recorded and sunk into the lineup’s bladder – and to know that being alive is worse, I begin to write, and, not generally withdrawing from everything fast enough, fail.

Allyssa Wolf: You seem to publish a lot of work, in a lot of places. It's completely different from my publishing practices, but I've noticed that it is particularly men who seem to spread their poetry seed as far and wide as they can, and these are authors whom I respect, so don't get me wrong--what are your thoughts on publishing?

SK: I think it might be the little toss of ejaculation men mess out in some contradictory defiance of their own self-imposed submission (consciously or not) to most things. I’m supposing that there’s a reason magazines call it submission, and here come me and others toward it like a safe neon Vegas mutilation, only to be continually, mostly, electrocuted by our unreceptive jissom, and like how dogs can be trained, but are not smart, instinct propels the repetition of this act. Submission, having nothing to do with writing the same way anal sex has nothing to do with the act of writing, is more business to me, though I do pepper my art with anal sex, and plaintively include other forms of submission and am largely ignored, probably for the best.

Allyssa Wolf: Could you tell me about your first book, which is slated to be published soon?

SK: I wanted to name it Vaudeville, and this is how I discovered your book and obsessed over your work, and immediately changed my book’s name because you used the title much better. I’ll use something less stunning to steal from. I’m just calling my book a failure for now. It’ll be on Amazon.com before 2008. Six Gallery Press.

Allyssa Wolf: I like your work because it seems very authentic to me, I'm not sure why, and I know I'm getting into some hairy territory with the word "authentic", but I feel it comes from your life's mind rather than as a simulated specimen removed for study. There seems to be a line forming waiting to get the Artaud award, and I think your work is the most reminiscent in its spiritual style, an unnameable thing. What life experience has born your work?

SK: Regrettably, I’ll never approach Artaud’s level of insane – he went so far as to become religious. His insanity was his method, and did not often impede his output. He was in The Passion of Joan of Arc. He wrote plays wherein a woman pulls a block of cheese out her cunt. He was amazing this way.

I’m barely authentic enough to hate the idea of truth and find truth only in the idea of hate. I am overly sensitive to the unprovoked hostility of every experience I have upon leaving the house. This has provided a strong obsession with the idea of the 1980’s, Dadaism, a constantly fluctuating self-sickness, facial hair enthusiasm, and a violent impatience for pragmatism, common sense, political correctness, politics, etc., especially piety. I enjoy anachronism because it is perverse. I follow a sort of disjointed lollypop idiocy. I can somewhat discern as my one originality the innate eschewal of meaning from my art and the assertion that my impression of meaning in literature is something haughty, to be avoided and stylized away from. Even Ionesco, in his essays, becomes too cerebral for me. By cerebral, I mean he was born with a brain. It’s hard for me to identify with that, though I worship his plays. If you write an amazing enough piece or even sentence, you could castrate my house with an army of jaws and I would swim in your piddle. Being in love too much, beaten, jailed, and hospitalized, helps.

Allyssa Wolf: Do you know many poets in Detroit?

SK: Very few. I don’t know if I like that or not. Sometimes great poets visit. I took a girl to see Philip Levine read and begged him to sign her over-sized breasts, so that they might shrink somewhat out of fear. I’ve been taught by great poets like Christopher Parks, Chris Tysh, and Ron Allen. I know one or two other poets. I don’t know how much I’d socialize if more poets I admire lived here. I would probably try to and end up not changing any plans for suicide. Slam poetry is very prevalent. So is AIDS.

Allyssa Wolf: Do you tell people that you meet that you’re a poet? I know I often try not to, because responses can be hostile and condescending out of academic atmospheres (& in as well, sometimes). Do you think it’s impossible to be a poet, is it an impossible thing?

SK: If I’m forced to meet someone in person, I’d rather not. Calling yourself a poet is immediate self-deprecation. If one explains oneself as a poet, one is partially masochistic. If one goes home and spends time alone working on poetry, one is largely masochistic. And if one then excels in the industry, this version of self-foreplay sometimes leads to orgasm, mostly blue balls. There is no bathtub in my house.

Allyssa Wolf: What writers brought you to write poetry?

SK: The beats lead young people into poetry very well. Some stay there with the beats, rightly molested for their own betterment and read, but never grow talent. When the child moves on in search for the beats’ influence and the influence of what came before and after and in between, the disease is irreversible. The child is stuck in the most unwelcoming industry and a good escape is the traditional poet’s suicide. I think writing is the cleanest misanthropy.



Blogger Moby Dick said...

Interesting, thanks!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just bought vaudeville at a local bookstore, never heard of AW before, just getting into poetry -- really amazing interview. loved all the detail, the words, the reversal. thankyou.

Blogger scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.


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