A Conversation with Christine Hume

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According to New York Times’ Book reviewer, Ken Kalfus, ” Saturation Project is sometimes elusive, but there’s no meaning in it that gets lost for long. When Hume’s thematic connections and redemptive insights arrive, it’s with the force of a hurricane.

(New York Times, 2/14/2021.)

By Christina-Marie Sears

Christine Hume is an acclaimed poet, essayist and sound poet. Her work, and the range of her work is exceedingly diverse, spanning critical pieces, reviews, sound poems, essays and poetic texts- her skill in all of these forms is certainly impressive. Hume’s voice is well-defined and distinctive. Saturation Project is packed with evocative nuance, sensory detail, philosophical interrogations of selfhood, woman’s identity, and cultural and material practices of generation, survival, and innovation. This writer has had the privilege of study with Prof. Hume for two courses while at EMU’s dynamic Creative Writing Program. In the course, Community Outreach for the Creative Writer, which is a degree requirement, we Graduate Students had the opportunity to soak in Hume’s broad and inclusive ideas about how to sustain a writing practice which includes sociability and interconnection with others. In the incredible Auto-Theory Workshop, we studied such fascinating writers as Saidiya Hartman, Kiese Laymon and Maggie Nelson. The conversations, book discussions and cozy informal lectures, along with Prof. Hume’s incisive and interdisciplinary articulations of literary theory, promoted scholarship and disciplinary knowledge for all the writers. The memories we made in Prof Hume’s classes will impact me always.

Cover of Hume’s new book of Essay/Memoir Saturation Project, Solid Objects Press, NYC.

Therefore, I am pleased and proud that we had the opportunity to discuss Saturation Project through email interview on February 26th. Without further ado, here are some of the key points of our discussion.

I notice that the prose style in your book is very poetic. It flows smoothly and there’s lots of detail (sonic, visual, proprioceptive) that feels poetic to me. Is this an essential component of lyricism, in your view?

I am fascinated with the sonic magic of language wherever I find it. Sound has privileged access to the nerves; it hits the skin, blood, bones, viscera, subconscious more directly than visual information or maybe any other kind of sensory input. Running our senses over and into language, existing within its rhythms and acoustic structures immerses us in a specialized intelligence. G.M. Hopkins thought that words were alive and sought out like-sounding words in order to enrich and perpetuate them. Their desire for permanence or their insistence on excess was palpable to him. Like Hopkins, I believe the sonic links in words are secret pathways that hold mysterious powers, occult resonances, and understandings we can’t access any other way. There are rhythms that hold everything we know and understand together and others that destroy orthodoxies and conventional thought. Memory, too, has an intense relationship to sound, repetition and rhythm that writing can mine. The sounds of language can lead us in unexpected and previously unknown places.

Do you consider yourself a poet who branches out into memoir and essay writing? Or vice-versa?

It’s a great question, and I just talked about this in a couple other recent interviews, for Pulp, the official blog of the Ann Arbor District Library, and for ZYZZYVA. Luckily, at EMU, the Creative Writing program does not require generic fidelity. We embrace experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to writing! We embrace fluidity among generic (read: gendered) labels!

When you are working with such personal material, how do you cope with difficulties along the way? Do you find your mood is impacted by touching such material, especially when there has been significant trauma behind the events?

One thing that surprised me about the review of Saturation Project in The New York Times is how focused it was on the trauma and more salacious aspects of the book, which to my mind are integrated into a larger story. It also puzzles me when people use words like “brave” and “courageous” to describe writing about trauma as though a normal person would have the good sense not be traumatized or would hide their trauma, stuff it down into dark “private” places and not publish it. It’s that kind of shame culture that greases the wheels of the traumatizers and locks everyone in their path in a private hell. 

How many drafts do your books generally go through before publication?

Countless. I have heard of writers who have a kind of base minimum number of drafts—one I’m thinking of particularly came to my class and talked about the 9th draft as being the crucial one—but the process of revising is not so distinct for me; it’s a constant wash of returning and experimenting. I think counting drafts would be depressing or at the very least a pointless form of accounting and accumulating. One of the reasons that this particular book had so many drafts and versions, that it required a lengthy process, is that I wanted the essays to do something together that they did not do on their own. I talk about this at Hypertext.

Do you have any writing blogs or books about writing essay that you recommend?

I think you learn best by studying the essays you love, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. Three classics that both perform and address ideal conditions for the essay that I love are Emerson’s “The Poet,” Adorno’s “Essay as Form,” and Cixous “The Laugh of the Medusa.” I usually begin my essay class with these along with Montaigne, who coined the term “essay” and brought a rich inner life to an intensely empirical sensibility. 

Finally, how long did you work on Saturation Project? Did you have times when it lay dormant?

By far the longest, most radically transforming book I’ve ever worked on. I wrote each chapter as distinct essays, but they longed to be together (see Hopkins above). The process was truly a saturation, where I tried to soak each piece in the language, ideas, images, off-shoots, sounds, and affective states of the others over the course of at least five years. The beginning was much earlier though: Seneca Review published a nascent version of “Ventifacts” in 2011—a full decade before Saturation Project saw the light of day. An interview that accompanied the essay publication shows clearly—though I hadn’t quite realized it at the time—that I was far from done with it. I also had a very extended version of “Atalanta,” which was really two essays—one of which became my chapbook, A Different Shade for Each Person Reading the Story (which I have revised, as part of another manuscript, since the chapbook came out!). I first had to break that piece free from “Atalanta,” a weirdly painful process. 

A Conversation with Rosie Stockton, Poet and Alum

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Rosie Stockton, (they/them/theirs) is Alumni from the Creative Writing Program, 2017 who is currently pursuing a PhD at University of California, Los Angeles. They (RS) take a few moments to chat with current blog writer/admin staffer, Christina-Marie Sears (BH). We discuss their work, current practice, and time at Eastern Michigan University. Proudly we share this news:

Rosie Stockton’s recent work: Permanent Volta won the Sawtooth Prize and will be published soon by Nightboat Books.

This conversation began via email and continued with a real-time interview. We had a lovely chat, and hope that you will find this post informative and as enjoyable as our meeting.

BathHouse: What is your daily practice like? Do you write in solitude or do you enjoy a community or peer relationship with other artists?

RS: I write alone and journal alone. But I love writing with other people.

Poetry is grounding and ritualizing for me.

One of my daily rituals is- I get up and I journal. It’s not narrative. Journaling for me is a stream-of -consciousness and image-focused practice. I have a really active dream life and I just wake up and write before I even look at my phone, but of course on some days that doesn’t always work.

We laugh.

BH: The vitality and somatic grounding of your manuscript is so vivid and engrossing. What kind of effect or reaction do you wish to stir in the reader? Or is that not a consideration?

RS: When writing, I’m not thinking about the reader at that moment.” They elaborate, describing some pivotal experiences with Professor Rob Halpern at EMU- Daily practice was kind of drilled into me.

They go on to share that this Poetry manuscript developed out of their Master’s Thesis project, with Carla Harryman, Language Poet and Professor, advising. However, the draft from the thesis was one of four sections of this final manuscript. And RS has made many revisions over the years.

Permanent Volta refers to a kind of eternal revolution.

Towards that end, I wonder:

What can poetry accomplish?
What does it do and how does it contribute to literature?
To society? To social action?

Poetry is a sensory organ.

RS: Poetry possesses… a different type of knowledge, according to Aimé Césaire, it’s poetic knowledge. The poem knows something that I don’t know. I ask the poem what it needs to teach me.

BH: Do you work with formal structures in poetry? Do sonnet forms and the like impact your work?

RS: I worked (for some time) on the form of the sestina. That was like a machine. The way it churned the language– defamiliarizing it. (Additionally, )

Putting two semantic fields together creates new content and obscures meaning and generates new meaning.

Deeply political and aesthetically innovative, while RS writes alone, she also enjoys community. RS co-facilitated Writers’ Bloc for several seasons. In this program, Professor Halpern and workshop leaders such as Stockton have a close, creative relationship with writers who are incarcerated at Huron Valley Women’s Prison.

RS: In terms of her work with the Huron Valley Writers: this work, writing (in community) tackling prompts with women in the workshop, allowed me to take vocabulary, cogent thoughts, different elements from disparate areas of my life, and create something new.

Additionally, RS notes the importance of non-conscious additions within their poetry. They express interest in accessing latent though and latent feeling. (Deconstruction and alteration) is an important process for my creative thinking.

Breaking sentences allows for new sentences.

Enjoy this excerpt from Rosie Stockton’s Manuscript, Permanent Volta.

“EXCESS”

Your sestina exceeds the bar and I sip. Windy with adjectives, my view of thunder. In
that notebook, what are you writing in that notebook. In the notebook, that book with
notes, which order are the words, which words slight the order.

You need a word for waltz, and I said breeze, breeze or slide, march or breeze or slide.

I sip your excess, your sestina in my notebook, the breeze it says be careful, be careful
with the sestina, the sestina in your notebook.

Where I wonder and I sip, where you got that sestina, what machine gave you that
sestina. You can write a sestina, I demand, you can really write a sestina. In your
notebook with thunder, I sip windily. I waltz to think of your order, the words in the
notebook, my careful sestina.

Your breeze is marching excess, it is slow and pauseful. Always with the pauses, you are
thunder in my bar, and I sip, all excess. All excess and pause. And pause and pause. Be
careful says the sestina, marching along, with all that excess in your notebook, with that
machine that waltzes on.

No pause for the machine, only windy prediction, be careful of that word, or that order. Excessive sestina, bent over the bar. It is writing, writing thunder and care. I sip excess, I
sip carefully, my excess. Windy with order, my excess.”

Rosie Stockton is a poet based in Los Angeles. Their first book, Permanent Volta, is the recipient of the 2019 Sawtooth Prize, and is forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2021. Their poems have been published by Publication Studio, Monster House Press, Jubilat, Mask Magazine, and WONDER. They received their M.A. in Creative Writing at Eastern Michigan University. They are currently a PhD Student in Gender Studies at UCLA.

Here’s more information on Writers’ Bloc

POETRY FROM INSIDE WOMEN’S HURON VALLEY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY

“Since 2011, The Writers’ Bloc has been nourishing personal and collective evolution through the writing and study of poetry inside Women’s Huron Valley Prison in Ypsilanti. Through the study and practice of poetry, the Writers’ Bloc has discovered that we can transform our relations to ourselves, to one another, and to the social conditions of incarceration. If social justice depends on creating new forms of solidarity, then the Writers’ Bloc writes for social justice from behind prison walls, turning otherwise negated forms of social relation into the stuff of living solidarities. In doing so, we make the prison walls porous, while imagining and enacting new horizons of social and political possibility.”

This statement, emailed to Graduate Students as an announcement of EMU Honors College Star Lecture in the fall of 2019, supports and contextualizes Rosie’s interview comments about the individual writer and the community and sociability of poetic writing. At this event, Prof. Halpern presented and discussed the work of The Writers’ Bloc, and included the project’s facilitators and past participants, as well as the voices of poets inside Women’s Huron Valley.

Works Cited

Received by Rob Halpern, TOMORROW! Star Lecture Featuring the Writers’ Bloc at Women’s Huron Valley Prison, 18 Nov. 2019.

Stockton, Rosie, “EXCESS” a poem selected from their book manuscript, Permanent Volta.

What we did on summer vacation…

Students, alums, and faculty were busy making us proud this summer and into September:

Joe Sacksteder‘s sound poems were published at textsound: http://textsound.org/index.php?ISSUE=13.  Joe also had a story published in Booth (Sept 7): http://booth.butler.edu

Peter Markus was named a Kresge Arts Fellow for 2012.

Elizabeth Mikesch, Gerard Breitenbeck, and Ned Randolph spent two weeks on a  cultural exchange and workshop in Lisbon, Portugal.

Brynne Barnes‘ children’s book, Colors of Me, won its third award: The Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award for First Published Work: http://www.gelettburgesscenter.com/2012_honors.php.

Kudos to everyone for their awesome achievements!

CRTW Faculty Releases: Ventifacts and Open Box

CRTW Faculty Carla Harryman and Christine Hume both released new book/CD combos earlier this year.  Check them out if you haven’t already:

Ventifacts by Christine Hume (Omnidawn)

 

Ventifacts begins the year Christine Hume’s daughter develops a wind phobia, but quickly blows into lyric investigations of the wind in art, politics, and literature, highlighting the currents between imaginary relations and physical conditions.

http://www.omnidawn.com/hume/index.htm

 

 

Open Box by Jon Raskin and Carla Harryman (Tazdik)

Three years in the making, Open Box is one of the most exciting and successful collaborations of poetry and music ever made. With meticulous attention to detail, Jon Raskin has set the genre-busting poetry of Carla Harryman to music ranging from rock and metal to jazz and free improv. As radical as the writing, the music is brilliantly arranged, and interacts with the texts in a variety of dynamic ways. Each track is a world of its own, and moves forward with a focus and direction unprecedented in music/poetry collaborations. Featuring Raskin’s all star west coast quartet, and the poet herself reading from some of her most cutting edge works, this is music-poetry at its very best.

http://www.tzadik.com/index.php?catalog=7639

textsound Issue 13 is now live!

The editors of textsound have announced publication of Issue 13.  Read on for more info…

textsound ISSUE 13 IS HUFFING AND PUFFING to knock your mouse’s sock off.

Featuring work by Joe Sacksteder, Judith Goldman, Mike Gould & Ken Mikolowski, Ish Klein, We Are Your Friends, and Audra Woloweic.

From the editor’s note: “‘I am committed to an impossibility,’ Laura said to Anna. Anna liked this. Well, she didn’t like it, but she understood it. She thought it had something to do with being compelled by imitation…” These are verbal scenarios for some of your walks in life.

We are currently accepting submissions for our upcoming issues. Please note our submission guidelines have changed.

Also, we’d love to know what you think. Email us at editors at textsound.org. Thanks for tuning in.

Yrs,

Anna Vitale & Laura Wetherington
editors, textsound.org

Now available: Sex in the Library

Sex in the Library is an anthology of nine provocative, text-based performance pieces by members of the Writing for Performance class at Eastern Michigan University (Winter 2012). These texts represent an extensive range of textual and performance strategies examined and actualized over the course of the semester. The texts are captivating on the page: visually, linguistically, syntactically, and in terms of their performative, textual presentations. Each piece further points to its own dramatic realization off the page. From a musical score to an improvisational divination, the work included here is smart and dynamic, serious and hilarious, and of the caliber and genre-busting spirit of great Poets Theater work. Sex in the Library is a textual event indicative of many further off-page events to come.

Contributors include: Emily Clarkson, Emily Riopelle, Kay Crawford, Melissa Bowling, G. Matthew Mapes, Matt Catania, Jonah D. Mixon-Webster, Jill Darling, and Miranda Metelksi.

To obtain your own copy of Sex in the Library, send $10 plus $2 shipping to:
Jill Darling
Frog Island Press
English Department 612 Pray-Harrold
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

or email frogislandpress@gmail.com for more info.

Get more details at http://frogislandpress.blogspot.com and http://jdnotes.blogspot.com/2012/06/now-available.html.

Cellar Roots 41 – read it for FREE online!

Cellar Roots 41, the 2012 edition of EMU’s own arts and literature annual anthology, was released last month.  The print form was limited to a 500-copy run, but the new edition is also available in digital form online at the new CR site (www.cellarroots.com) where you can download it for free!  Congratulations to everyone who has work in the new edition.

Also, Cellar Roots is looking for a new editor-in-chief for v.42.  Application deadline is June 13 at noon.  Contact Kevin Devine at 734-487-1026 or kevin.devine@emich.edu for more information.

Alumni news

Congratulations to Creative Writing alumnus Joe Sacksteder!  Parts of his 2011 grad thesis have been accepted for publication.  The Collagist accepted one piece for their February issue (http://www.dzancbooks.org/the-collagist/2012/2/8/scratch-where-it-itches.html), and Sleepingfish accepted a substantial portion as well (http://www.sleepingfish.net/Xi/Sacksteder.htm).

Additional congratulations go to 2010 almuna Brynne Barnes!  Her book, Colors of Me, won the 2012 Friends of American Writers Award for Juvenile Literature!  For more info about the book, check out Brynne’s website: http://www.brynnebarnes.com/

Way to go, Joe and Brynne!