Negotiations/Interruptions: notes on new chapbooks
by women

by Sarah Anne Cox and Elizabeth Treadwell

Sarah Anne Cox

Elizabeth Treadwell

Juliet Clark. The Art of Walt Disney: New Concise Edition
(Damfino Productions, Berkeley, 1998)

Rachel Levitsky. Cartographies of Error
(Leroy, San Francisco, 1999)

Camille Martin. rogue embryo
(Lavender Ink, New Orleans, 1999)

Carol Mirakove. Wall
(Ixnay Press, Philadelphia, 1999)

Susan M. Schultz. Holding Patterns
(Wild Honey Press, Wray Co. Bricklow, Ireland, 1999)


ET: I have a question about writing I'm seeing and maybe also doing now. I tend to read narrative into everything, I'll admit, no matter how loose or opposed. My question is: how does -- if it does, sometimes! -- the layer ofautobiography (or passion/efficacy?) stand upon, within, or as a disruption to the questions of language? At the How2 launch party, Bob Gluck said something about a big emotion held (or did he say carried?) by the tiniest iceberg– of language, or of play. Or, of its construction. And how does the writer and his/her story or the story he/she is making up or retelling stand upon that precipice of language that is questioning and deconstructing or at least decombobulating itself as it goes along?

I found this question answered and/or articulated again in the Martin, Schultz and Levitsky books. Schultz in her knotty phraseologies and tightly wound lines with a feeling of imminence/immanence; Martin in her sprung words and loosely set "paragraphs" a traveler across page, geography,(perhaps a) youth.... I was especially taken with Levitsky's strain of particular humor (in all its definitions), a pop humor, some kind of genX (god help me) thing I could (god help me again) relate to, which seemed the true rather than the commercialized version. Forgive me, Rachel L., for perhaps this is a sin. Sarah Anne, can you help me?

SAC: I totally agree with you about the Schultz. I really got the feeling while reading it that I was witnessing a struggle of someone trying to free themselves of the too many words/too many turns of phrase/ too much said in/of the world. It made me wonder if writing isn't just about expressing the desire to speak what can't spoken. Schultz' book (and Martin's too) reads as one long line with no place for you to stop or end. The words are relentless as though they cannot stop themselves. It keeps coming at you which makes it more anxious and less cozy than Levitsky's.

There is something about it that really gives me the side arm elbow as in: You are here in this diner, this party, this car, too. Which I think relates to your comment about relating to the "genX"-ness of it. I like the way her thinking about mapping expands. It feels like a journey, "They are searching for the masculine- told it will reveal itself in odd numbers;" That comes from the poem "Ithaka/Catorce" which I thought was brilliant. So many openings and different ways of thinking about cartographies.

ET: Along with my question is a worry and doubt in reading and writing that the questioning of questioning of questioning, frankly, nauseum (& surely I'm guilty of it sometimes) of language-story-history-pursuit/objective/subjective can be too present, overbearing itself and somehow static really then, not moving. Also I think it can or may be important to bring in languages that are not read languages, but heard languages, and to bring them in not as objects but as sounds, not as landscape but as bridges....

SAC: Can there really be a poem or more say, a body of work that has no narrative at all? It doesn't seem possible. It isn't necessarily autobiographical but it is some kind of narrative however loosely you might define it. And Clark's chapbook does present itself as an autobiography. It's very simple, bare language, illustrated. I mean really illustrated with Walt Disney drawings and designs. Here, the tension, the struggle, the question isn't in the language story but in the relationship between the pictures and the story. I'm thinking of the two facing pages with the dalmation dots and the starry night dots. Or the double page where Bambi's mother is whited out. "When I finally did see the movie, I was surprised at how quickly the mother deer's death was forgotten...." It sounds almost absurd to be saying this but there is a struggle to make some kind of new meaning there that I really appreciated. Part of what makes this rather kitschy subject acceptable is that while it is funny it's also kind of serious. I felt there was some investment on the author's part. It was really interesting to see a tracking like that of someone's relationship to a product or whatever you want to call Walt Disney.

ET: Which taken all together is an homage to the cinema of Walt Disney, a history of a particular time to have a childhood (70s California), and a thorough and funny and touching investigation into the construction of knowledge and persona, and world (view). And it's about reading or learning to read and her versions of Disney landscapes are central to that -- she had the book but didn't get to see the movies. (My parents never let me have Barbies, and now I'm so drawn to the messed up ones at the Laney Flea Market.)

I'm really interested in your comment on the tracking of someone's relationship to a product (or whatever!). Part of what I know has irritated both of us in some of ‘our generation's’ (product placement??) writing is the ambivalence to the world they try to bring in, so that it's not quite brought in, because the writer seems to have no investment in or feeling for the product or the story about alien abductions or whatever, except in some sort of anthropological stance which I have come to find frankly offensive.

SAC: Me too. I think a lot of these books are constantly negotiating with the outside voice. And that voice is kind of like a preexisting narrative in myth, or in Walt Disney, or in histories. And this narrative has its own language and is constantly imposing itself on the world. And that language has brought things into being, has made truths. Part of the work going on here it seems is finding a way to give these narratives new meanings or rather new possibilities for meaning.

ET: But somewhere in here I must mention Carol Mirakove's Wall in which she's charmed me by titling one of her pieces "barrette" and its not merely (demurely?) about cuteness, though that tendency has its place in her register, which strikes me as legitimate. (Especially as it's one of the languages that's deeply pressed upon/negotiated by females in their formative years.) And she writes in "navels": "on the surface they're just America/but they care deeply/down with the lint &/another mother/points to a museumed crucifiction/& says to her very young son/'that's Jesus Christ'/kid says/'dead/huh'/there is no cast of public navel/number one". And from Levitsky's poem "Attica": "We, suckers, still stuck/in the hallway/will have to watch/and watch again." In these lines (& I will teeter on the edge of grandiose) I hear these poets calling up, phrasing, contemporaneous exile, in a way that's both legend and realism.



NOTE: for ordering and other info on these and other chapbooks, please see also the Tiny Press Center at Since we don't think it's listed there: the address given for Damfino Productions is 1745 Curtis Street, Berkeley, CA 94702.

BIOS: Sarah Anne Cox and Elizabeth Treadwell are both editors of Outlet magazine ( Amid their separate projects, they are currently collaborating on a serial poem using/"translating" the fragmented writings of several ancient Greek poets: praxilla, for example.


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