WHAT TREES DO YOU PREFER IN THE CENTRE OF BOULEVARDS?
I would prefer a world in which the boulevards were given over to the slow, persistent, sensual uses of trees.
WHAT TYPE OF READING DO YOU DO ON TRAINS (OR AEROPLANES)?
To counteract the vertigo of sudden motion, I recommend reading very slowly, the same sentence over and over again. Or embrace the nausea and read as fast as you can. Either way, you arrive exhausted.
WHAT BUTTERFLIES DO YOU THINK GIVE THE MOST SATISFACTORY PERFORMANCES?
All butterflies are perfect and refuse, in their performance, to allow any commentary to adhere to them.
WHAT MOVIE DO YOU WATCH IN SECRET?
The Hunger Games lol
WHAT LITERARY WORKS DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST UNDER-RATED?
I spent a good part of the fall last year reading the work of Fulke Greville, in Thom Gunn’s excellent edition from the 1960s. Greville is usually known as Philip Sidney’s biographer and a minor poet. But his poems are so chewy and strange and delectable. In one poem, for instance, he describes a farmer who keeps layering manure around a dead tree, in the hope that, through an excess of fertilizer, the tree might spring back to life—loving you is like that, he says. In another he says, incredibly, “Change is nature’s rest.” I…think about that.
WHAT COLOURS DO MOST FOR YOU AFTER SIX P.M.?
In Madison, where I’ve been living for the last few months, we have become experts in reading the colors of the sky. White / opaque—the atmosphere is thick with smoke. We shelter in our air-conditioned apartment. Blue / clear—the smoke has traveled elsewhere. We and the baby travel out into the leafy streets, the twilight. I think we are all learning this new literacy—how immediate is the catastrophe today? Through what signs or colors does it write itself upon the sky?
WHAT ANIMALS DO YOU PREFER TO HUMAN BEINGS?
WHAT IS THE PRINCIPAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR STATE OF MIND (MOOD) WHEN READING FICTION AND YOUR MIND WHEN READING HISTORY?
I’ve been reading all of Toni Morrison’s novels this year, in order—an extraordinary experience. One thing I admire about Morrison is the way she brings the weight of history into her novels without allowing her characters or her thinking to be overwhelmed by that weight. She does not imagine a utopian break from the history of racism and enslavement. Nor does she imagine that the violence of that history exhausts the possibilities of being—there is space, still space, in her novels for joy and for transformation. She can think both things at once and, she suggests, so can we.
CAN YOU HEAR ANYTHING IN A SEASHELL OTHER THAN THE ROAR OF THE OCEAN?
Yes, but I promised not to tell.
WOULD WINGS BE AN IMPROVEMENT FOR THE HUMAN BODY?
Depends on their size, really. It would be inconvenient, for instance, to have a fly’s wings sutured to my wrist. But the broad span of a buzzard—that might be nice.
WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO MOST FREQUENTLY?
My friend Peter coined the term “uneventful music” to describe the music that we both like. A good example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy0b2WOYUrQ
It is the perfect music for the life I have led, which involves long stretches of time where I need to efface myself, to disappear into the grating numbness of a freelance job.
WHAT TWO HISTORICAL CHARACTERS WOULD YOU LIKE TO BRING TOGETHER?
I would rather keep historical characters apart. They have been together too much already.
WHAT ARTICLE OF CLOTHING DO YOU WISH TO BRING BACK FROM HISTORICAL OBSCURITY?
The ruff. The ruff is sexy and elegant. It makes your neck look like a delicate fancy snowflake. Why did the ruff go out of style? We should all be wearing ruffs. Personally, I think I would look roguish and delicious in a ruff. I would wear one every day; I would wear one in the bath.
WHAT BUILDING DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST BEAUTIFUL IN THE WORLD?
Beauty is the wrong category to use when thinking about architecture. Yes, buildings are beautiful, but so are snow globes. I want a building to be sublime, agonizing, erotic, indescribable.
WHAT SIZE CITY DO YOU THINK THE MOST DESIRABLE?
Small enough to be contained in a grain of sand; large enough that its suburbs extend into the secret chambers of the ocean.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE ESSENCE OF FEMININITY?
WHAT WORK FROM A PREVIOUS CENTURY WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE WRITTEN?
I mean, anything by Leslie Scalapino, especially her work in the ’70s and ’80s. But also, Paradise Lost. That “but also” is kind of my whole poetics.
WHAT FORM OF AFTER LIFE — IF ANY — DO YOU ANTICIPATE?
Me in the bath in my ruff.
WHAT ANIMAL WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE USED AS A MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION IN OUR DOWNTOWN STREETS?
We ride the Oscar Weiner Mobile like a bucking bronco through the streets of Chicago.
WHAT ARE THE MOST UNDER-RATED LUXURIES?
WHAT DOES WILLIAM BLAKE’S “INFANT JOY” AND “INFANT SORROW,” TEACH US, TELL US, MAKE US REFLECT UPON?
I’m working on this interview in the snatches of time between the daily tasks of caring for an infant: feeding, changing, cuddling. At points, as I wrote this, my daughter was lying on my lap; I have been typing slowly to avoid disturbing her. I would point to the space between the two poems as the most accurate and most interesting thing about them: they have a relation, but the relation between them is spongy, expansive, potentially infinite. That is what being around an infant is like. Time becomes soggy, strange, slow; duration expands and contracts unpredictably, like the breathing of a bog.
WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE ADDED TO THIS INTERVIEW?
What is the weather in paradise? Should nicotine be added to ice cream? How will insects read our masterpieces when the libraries have fallen into ruins?