March 10th, 2011 / 12:12 am

Interview Roundup Part Four: Place, Jones, Sneed, Dark, Means

“For about 15 minutes a day for 41 days I wrote whatever came into my head. I then began elaborating on these bits. Having a hobbyist’s fascination for neurology, I figured they would being to knit themselves into some sort of pattern, or narrative. They did, though not necessarily all interwoven. I had also heard repeatedly that it was impossible to write a Los Angeles novel about all of Los Angeles. This seemed a stupid challenge to me, and I very much like stupid challenges.” – Vanessa Place, in Examiner

“I don’t know. There are points in there—I mention the U.S. Census. I think what they are talking about is, I had—this is a real county. I just gave it a different name. Well, in fact, in addition to my intention of doing the research, I was going down to Lynchburg (VA) to visit a friend of mine and use his county as a setting for the novel. I was going to call whatever his county is Lynchburg County or something. But I never got around to visiting him. So I had to create my own place. In doing that I was sort of freed [up], because had I used his county I would have had to know every single thing there is to know about that place in case someone came along and said, “Well, you got this fact wrong.” But if I created my own Manchester County I can say the U.S. Census in 1840 said this many people, and this many people. I can say these three people in the 20th century wrote these history books about this county. And they said this, that and the other. It’s all out of my imagination. I was freed because of that.” – Edward P. Jones, in Identity Theory

“You can’t be afraid of what people will say about your work, otherwise you’re going to have a very loud invisible audience in the room while you’re writing.  And just like when you’re in the sack, you don’t want an audience.  At least I don’t think you do.  I don’t, in any case.” – Christine Sneed, in The Nervous Breakdown

“I don’t know if there are ghosts. I’ve had experiences, but that doesn’t prove they exist. I lived in an apartment in New York where there was a ghost, and I used that for the last scene in the book where Jane feels a presence in her apartment. But I didn’t make it clear if that came from outside her or inside her. I do think that people have those experiences, but what it is, I’m not sure. I also believe in more subtle experiences where people have the chance to communicate with dead people in all kinds of ways. It’s happened to me and to many people. There’s not as much as a barrier as we think between the living and the dead. Whether it manifests as a ghost, or a strong sense of that person’s spirit, even in your own mind, it’s a very powerful experience. I chose a ghost for the story because it’s the most extreme form of that experience.” – Alice Elliott Dark, in Beatrice

“I think if you’re really good at something you should keep doing it. One of the things that’s going on with a lot of writers today is that they get big contracts for two- or three-book deals, and they get caught in the intense need to fulfill that contract. They crank the novels out. As a short story writer, I’m under pressure to write a novel now, but it seems stupid to me to just make yourself work in a completely different genre if you’re already doing what you want to do.” – David Means, at Powells


  1. gavin

      Thanks for all of these Kyle. This a great way for me to find writers I haven’t yet read.

  2. Kent Johnson

      Speaking of interviews and Vanessa Place, the below, forgive me, is the conclusion to a recent one with me done by Mary, the journal of St. Mary’s College in California. I’m a bit upset by what happened, and I would like people to know. There is an underside to this Conceptual poetry stuff… They’ve set about denying it all, of course:

      [In media res]: …. One other thing about recent activity I would add: Over the past few months I was involved in a collaborative project that’s now come to an abrupt halt, at least insofar as my participation is concerned. There’s an interesting story to it all. Maybe you know of my book DAY, which was published early this year, or maybe it was last year, I can’t recall now. It’s a massive work, constituting a conceptual improvement on Kenny Goldsmith’s somewhat banal effort by the same title. Here’s a review, for those who don’t know about it.

      Anyway, after the small brouhaha over the DAY thing died down, Goldsmith and I began to correspond on some questions regarding “Conceptual Poetry,” a movement to which he somewhat plays the role of Breton, I guess you could say. Eventually, some other Conceptual and lapsed Flarf poets became involved in the conversation, and a sort of mini-listserv developed, of about seven or eight people. I was arguing there that the Conceptual (and the less significant Flarf) writers were for all intents and purposes totally blind to the ideological bridle and harness of orthodox Authorship, that the bondage of such tack was completely ridiculous. Why would they, I asked, “avant-garde” as they clearly saw themselves to be, agree to be boarded in institutional stable, saddled and led out to race on oval track every so often, or to prance around on a jumping course, or to be strapped to a sulky? Did they not see that the reified norm of Authorship they so blithely, so tamely consented to sport was to the institutional regulation and supervision of literature what horses are to the whole bookmaking industry, no pun intended? Could they not see the layered strata of paratext were as worthy of poetic exploration as the so-called text proper?

      Well, so you get the point. They snorted and whinnied, as you might imagine, even got a bit frisky and “kicky” about my equine tropes (for, granted, who wants to be called a horse?), but in the end most of them grumpily consented that maybe I had a point, and Goldsmith agreed with me that perhaps a collaboration, wherein the Author Function would be taken out for a practice lap, so to speak, might be one way of extending the conversation. So this was how The Rejection Group was formed, comprised of Goldsmith, Vanessa Place, Kasey Silem Mohammad, Christian Bök, and myself. Following some strict procedural rules, and a solemn collective oath that our legal identities would never be divulged, we wrote, then, our first poem, titled “Welcome Back,” which was published in the premier issue of Sous les Paves, a newsletter edited by Micah Robbins and inspired by The Floating Bear and other like non-compromised zines of the 60s, when innovative poetry had not yet become a professional career path to be pursued by those with no calling for practical and socially useful forms of labor. I’m convinced, in all seriousness, that Sous les Paves will come to be seen as an important intervention into the poetic field of our time. The poem is reproduced here.

      Well, this answer is clearly going on for way too long, so let me cut to the chase. About a month ago, I accidentally posted on a widely read blog a message by The Rejection Group (it had been approved by Goldsmith), but instead of posting it “Anonymously,” I posted it under my G-Mail account and name, thus violating the sacred rule of anonymity the five of us had taken. I was, forthwith, expelled from the group, and the back-channel vitriol that ensued was really quite spectacular: a vindictive unleashing of repressed anger towards me these four poets had all along clearly been bottling up. Some things have been said and done by them since that I cannot forgive, and it’s for this reason that I’ve chosen here to officially reveal their names for the first time. I know they have continued to write some things under the name of The Rejection Group (they seem to have grown fond of horsing around with authorship, much to my surprise, I have to admit), and so when these works appear under that mysterious designation, let it be known, heretofore, who is actually behind it. And let it be known that “their” experiment is a gesture that I conceptualized and proposed to them.

  3. Micah Robbins

      Micah Robbins here. The Rejection Group poem that Kent mentions is indeed published in the first issue of Sous Les Paves, which can be read, downloaded and printed for FREE at (as can the second issue; the third issue will appear when the mailing list is satisfied; to join the mailing list, email your physical mailing address to

  4. Jeffrey Ellinger

      “And just like when you’re in the sack, you don’t want an audience. At least I don’t think you do. I don’t, in any case”

      right, of course, you wouldn’t want to write about anything “embarrassing” or “narcissistic,” like admitting(to yourself as the interviewer) to not like the thought of someone else watching you have sex. that’s that “boring, diary bs,” and who would want to read that?

  5. Gus

      Also plus, also, Vanessa Place, as lawyer, is arguing to redefine the word ‘pimp’ in California supreme court this week you guys.

      Place argues that prison is reserved only for those who recruit innocent victims into the “game” and that would-be pimps can’t be convicted of pandering when they attempt to persuade a working prostitute to “change management.” Her argument turns on defining the word “become.”

  6. M. Kitchell

      oh my god you guys, why is the (small-press/avant-gardist) poetry world so much more dramatic than the (small-press/avant-gardist) fiction world? I’m seriously jealous, as a nerd who likes reading about the personal lives of avant-gardists throughout history, that this is happening outside of a realm that I can participate in. WHO WILL WRITE OUR GENERATION’S WOMEN? (as in the sollers book i guess). Is that what Houellebecq is doing? Should I move to France?

  7. jared schickling

      honestly, “horse” does seem the more distinguished moniker.

  8. Anonymous

  9. deadgod

      Jewel’s mother is a horse.

  10. Trey

      goddamn you. goddamn you.

  11. deadgod

      izzat what happened? tha prick

      how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other

      –Addie Bundren

  12. Melissa Klein

      Kent Johnson may be the most obnoxious personality since before the advent of Fox news. He radiates the perfect degree of smug authority, paranoia, and supercilious self-satisfaction.