An Entirely Different Immersion: Talking to Kathleen Fraser

This conversation, transcribed by Nicole Monforton, focuses on Kathleen Fraser’s collection m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE. After years of pioneering work teaching at San Francisco State University, founding the American Poetry Archives, and co-founding the feminist poetics journal HOW(ever), Fraser began regularly immersing herself amid the venerable Roman cityscape. Fraser took with her the supple linguistic register that she had cultivated during decades of writing and living in the Bay Area, and started developing with visual artists a series of poetic/typographical/collage-based collaborations shaped by the palimpsestic textures and tonalities of this new environment. The resulting m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE texts provide any number of what Fraser herself describes as “Stendhalian city moments,” filled with echoes, multiplicity, synesthesia. Talking to Fraser about her intricate, elaborate, often constraint-based yet nonetheless playful process for each project produces the same. 


ANDY FITCH: Given your generous characterization of Stephen Motika as “the editor one has always imagined,” could we start by discussing the emergence of this overall project, and Stephen’s generative role in that process? Many of these pieces provide their own personal histories, but how and when did they start to coalesce under the sign of m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE?

KATHLEEN FRASER: Before the book idea really took shape, it may have been perking during my early days of getting to know Stephen. Ours wasn’t a close relationship at the beginning, because I lived in California at that point; but he had invited me at various times to participate in his programs at Poets House in New York City.

I read for an event to celebrate Poets House as this new gathering place focused exclusively on poetry. It was a very fascinating reading that afternoon, across the curving road from the new building — with good weather and a spacious stretch of grass for dozens of us to sit and listen.

Stephen asked if I’d like to have lunch the next day. At lunch he let me know that he wanted to do a book of mine. I was surprised because during that time I wasn’t thinking about books as such but was writing and the writing was coming from discretely different emphases on specific projects, rather than working on a single-focus book.

I explained to him that I didn’t really have a typical book in mind as my next project. I was trying to imagine what he thought a “book” might be, what kind of tradition he was coming from. I still didn’t know him very well, but I thought he was an unusual and compelling person and I really liked him. The more we talked, the more I appreciated him. We had a very interesting conversation and by the end of this particular lunch the offer to publish m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE was on the table. I loved the idea but imagined that I probably had a somewhat different idea in mind for my next “book” — one composed of discrete sections, each claiming a unique center. Connective tissue was evident but this book-in-the-works was not gravitating towards a single-pursuit narrative.

These projects came from a point when I was released by San Francisco State University to teach for a single semester per year, if I agreed to return the following September. This possibility coalesced with a travel fellowship I’d received at the beginning of the 80s — a Guggenheim, thanks to someone suggesting me. I wanted to travel to Italy, to Rome. I’d never been there. My husband liked the idea and was available to come along, so we were soon on our way the following February. It was to be a one-shot thing. But once there, we became so embedded in the city and its culture that we wanted to return. For the first time in my life, I had time to work exclusively on my own writing; it would be an important part of this trip.

For 16 years, I’d often taught four graduate courses every semester, seating as many as 20 students per class. It was intense work and I could never find enough time for the next “book” I’d been leaning towards in my own imagined life. I had a young son to be responsible for and needed the paid career to support us. However, I was fortunate in that I had mostly terrific students who often taught me — in their own way — as much as I taught them.

My husband and I fell in love with Rome and have returned each spring since then. For the first three years, we sublet a place vacated regularly by an acquaintance who taught in Firenze. The fourth spring, we were fortunate to see a For Sale sign tacked to the outside wall of a large old apartment complex facing the Gianicolo hill, while taking a morning walk in the old neighborhood called Trastevere. The doctor who owned the place did not want to leave Trastevere but his wife wanted to raise their two sons in a fancier part of the city. Fortunately for us, he was eager to find good buyers and to close the deal as soon as possible. It required only a modest deposit and we were invited to become owners the next February.

You could never find such a place now, for what we paid for it. It was spacious and full of light. We each had our own studies, so were able to spend solid time focused on reading and writing. For the first time in 20 years there was no need to concern myself with student work. In its own way, that was the beginning of the writing that shows up in m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE.

I’d envisioned five or six smaller works perking inside of one larger book. Each of these was a project. Each was something I’d been thinking towards and writing versions of. But by the time I finished these, I did have a “book.” Clearly, during this period of time I was moving from writing the poems I’d always thought I wanted to write, to becoming more interested in typography and artist books — foregrounding what I called “errors” or “visual transfusions.”

I’m interested in error and what happens when it arrives and one tries to use it instead of getting rid of it, and the importance, in this case, of “the visual” as a carrier of language. Also, collaboration had come into my composing process over that period of time. During the following few years, I ended up composing five artist books in collaboration with painters.

All of this was new for me, “tried on” in unexpected ways. But unless one has a particular book in front of one, it’s difficult to explain. For instance, while attempting to describe the project to Stephen, I was letting pages of this book-of-parts fall through my hands, and two sections immediately stood out for me. In one of the parts, called “hi dde violeth i dde violet,” composed over Easter break, I used materials that I’d observed or heard — assembling them and then cutting them apart into varying lengths. There was a contrasting use of large and smaller typeface, and also the desire to introduce humor into it, where appropriate. I experienced a good deal of pleasure putting together that work — with its excess of larger type faces and words enjambed with overheard voices, but also the daily repetitions heard in markets and Roman streets, comments taken for granted there.

Certain attitudes become very clear as one’s understanding of a language increases. In quotidian Italian, there is a lot of friendly joking that goes on — the humor carrying its own form of information. In this section, that is what’s being paid attention to.

The section right after that, called “WITNESS,” began by watching people more closely than usual, noticing small “unimportant” things that I hadn’t seen before — for example, the after-effects of overwhelming shock that arrived with the September 11th attack.

For one particular page, a three-line section appears with the first line composed of many single words becoming one word: “runningfromoneendofspacetotheotherendofspace.” Then more space begins to appear between letters. (I was trying to catch visual signals as they arrived and to hear — or imagine — what people around me were frantically trying to make sense of).

On another page, we hear two men talking to each other.

One says: “We had become like wild animals. We didn’t care about anyone other.”

Then the other says: “But after the next attack, I will help an old man push his basket at the supermarket. He’ll say ‘Thank you, Sir.’ and I will say ‘You’re very welcome, Sir,’ and we’ll just go on talking.”

In the spring of 2009, I worked on collage poems at the American Academy in Rome, collaborating with the artist JoAnn Ugolini. The book we produced by hand is called S E C O N D LANGUAGE. The original version is housed in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University

You can see, in the background of its text, a kind of grey color. I was using shirt cardboards as background for pasted texts. I tried this with one poem and liked the way the grey “held” the language, so I began collaging more poems from the writing I’d done but hadn’t yet cut up, pulling language out of the existing text and making a new event of it.

You’ve described your initial discussions with Stephen, and the preceding experiences that shaped your conception of this book. I love, by the way, the m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE title, and love thinking about different ways that this title summarizes what the book provides. And then how did m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE physically come together, perhaps in relation to Kevin Mount’s role? Who made which design decisions? Which elements did you two develop together?

We were making decisions together, via email, much of the time. I’d actually never met him but that didn’t seem to present any problem. Kevin was in England and Stephen told me that he was a very good designer, and Stephen wanted to know if I’d be interested in working with him. That felt right.

I talked to Kevin quite a bit during the designing of this book and liked him and his visual ideas very much. We worked wonderfully together, in part because of his design capabilities. He was available to any suggestions I put forward. I’d already thought about the way I wanted the poems to look on the page, particularly the first poem. 

So do you have a specific way that you want people to approach the book visually? What do you want them to look for, look at, rather than “just” read? Or how do you want their visual engagement with this particular book to take place?

I think the book asks that of you. That is, you can’t read it as you would a traditional book of poems. It becomes difficult if you’re trying to do it that way, especially when one moves into the artist books that are made in collaboration, with a lot of “cut-up” going on — cut-and-pasting and making small poems or small sections of a larger, longer poem, where the type placement on the page is really very important.

As we’re talking I’m looking at a couple of pages focused on Trevignano, a little town north of Rome. When I visually composed this, I was visiting friends there for the weekend, but did not yet speak much Italian. So I had a unique chance to quietly observe the other guests — their children and their dogs. In Italy, the day immediately following Easter is called Pasquetta (little Easter), which is all about families going to the country, having picnics, running around, lying on beach towels spread over the grass, playing volleyball, etcetera. I was observing — and “being” — all of this and trying to get the quality of it into the poem.

So how did I compose a text for this happy chaos? If you look at the book, you will find a section with this text:

Heeling & woofing side-by-their / muzzlels at kitchen door / to side to track surface tension / anything (ears flat back) / to a littll whistll.

I’d made a rule that I had to use every single letter from the material that I was working with, adding in every letter that had arrived through the cutting-up process. It didn’t matter to me if it didn’t “make sense.” I was amused by the whole effect, actually.

On the next page, “wherever dog / give listen our lady hurls / mozzarella in equal parts” may read as a bit sacrilegious, from a Catholic’s point of view, but it seemed to be simple fun — this day-after-Easter-thing going on, where almost everyone was enjoying themselves outside, most of the day.

Meanwhile, dogs were trying to get into the kitchen and get the leftover mozzarella. Writing down this part of the day’s celebration seemed essential.

I’d love to parse a bit both your specific relationship to Rome, and the broader relationship here between visual design and autobiography. It interests me that this design-centric book contextualizes much through autobiography. I can, for instance, cobble together biographical scraps encountered in your notes, and in things you have said elsewhere, like in “AD Notebooks.” I can place m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE in relation to Rome though I’ve never visited that city. I can think of a palimpsestic text forever rebuilt on top of itself. I can feel the sensorial, historical, genealogical textures at play both in your book’s layered, graffiti-like, fading/emerging fonts — and in its syntax. So I can conceive of language here less as privileging one particular person or presence or statement, than as tracking durations, perhaps durations stretching beyond any single life, beyond any single statement or expression or understanding. So could we discuss type both as surface-oriented touch and as galvanizing force amid these elaborate, process-based autobiographical tracings? And here we don’t have to dwell solely on Rome. I’ve read elsewhere you describing your mother’s Alzheimer’s and de Kooning’s Alzheimer’s, and I can see how those lived experiences also might shape certain spatial patterns. Design elements like bubble letters floating across your text remind me of spacious late-stage de Kooning paintings.

We’re looking at poems that were written at different times, for different sub-sections of what have now been collected as one book. Each section is a kind of project, related to what I was thinking about during particular moments in my work.

In recent years, I’ve become more and more involved with typography, with what I call “visual intrusions” as carriers of language — rather than wanting to consciously make a point. But things do arrive. Specific questions have become increasingly important to me. When I wrote the group of poems called “S E C O N D LANGUAGE,” it was focused on my early childhood and the kind of curiosity with which I noticed things then — now appearing in the writing or collaging of a poem that arrives via language in a new way.

When you’re paying close attention, you can make fresh discoveries if your expectations are not over-determined. You can find more things you want to say, without knowing ahead of time what they’re going to be. For instance, I particularly like this small poem:

When I saw the blue tin hole
inside of her lunch
I admired its definite use and

the clean sock preserved in a little
metal stretch pale with no time ,

black ink points that no one could

In my mind, this poem refers to my own history as a four year-old, being at the beach with a tin pail and a lunchbox, before preschool, before being codified into formal school and planned classes (what one is supposed to be doing). It’s also summertime, still free of “should.” Recapturing these memories has been central for me because working in this way has freed me — during the writing process — to discover not necessarily “ideas,” but the fresh way words come up after being cut apart from an earlier text. A certain kind of truth arrives that I’d never have discovered otherwise.

When I think of other work happening at the same time in the Bay Area, such as language-centered poetries of various sorts, an explanatory theoretical apparatus often gets implicitly placed alongside an opaque syntax. With your work here, an autobiographical emphasis often seems to provide equivalent context. Could we discuss that point of similarity and of difference?

I could do a theory of “living in the Bay Area.” But, in fact, I haven’t been in the Bay Area for half of each year while living in Rome. Which is to say that I am always in my own experience, but not inside “my own language” much of the time. Of course, I do speak English as well, but Rome has provided an entirely different immersion in the new language.

I took chances “un-doing” Italian, because that was part of how I learned to speak it. At least one of the texts I made a collage from came forward from a much earlier culture. There I found visual ideas that I could pull up and put together, if I first cut everything apart. I liked introducing this ancient history, bringing it into a process of re-thinking that I found intriguing.

Along those lines, could we also discuss the forms of collaboration that m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE contains? Collaboration often involves dialogue of various sorts, two distinct voices dynamically playing off of each other. But I rarely find discordant tonalities in your collaborations. They don’t seem dramatically polyphonic. Voices blend, presenting a braided speech and silence, rather than any distinct voice A different from voice B. Could it make sense again to tie this back to Rome, to a model of coordinated craftspersonship, to modes of collaboration that gracefully elide any emphasis upon specific figures, erasing the individual in some ways?

I like that. This practice makes it possible for two persons to collaborate — two persons with all of their multiple experiences that they bring to it. As it’s turned out, most of the collaborating I’ve done has involved forms of collage, cutting up my writing and rearranging it. That’s interesting to me because it allows — in my own work and for those with whom I work — some basic, almost unconscious familiarity of a shared life and of how one has related to language, to being distracted, to being moved around.

It’s not about replacement. You’re not getting rid of “yourself” and moving into pure theory but, instead, finding a new way of engaging objects or ideas not previously dictated in any rigid way by that which has been deemed necessary or appropriate by another. Such bonding is involved deeply with the music of the language itself and the suggestibility of words. I don’t feel pushed around by this process, but more fully included.

In this case, I was trying to play off of your mention of certain poets in the Bay Area being very involved in the propositions of “Language” writing (methods that come from it), and to note that my work appears to have come more from what you’ve called an “autobiographical” experience. Actually, there’s a third option here, neither one nor the other, in how I’ve chosen to write. I’m really not interested in trying to get down my perceptions in some way that has been dictated as “correct” or in some way superior.

In a city such as Rome, speaking a non-English language — in this case, a Romance language — one is actively participating in a complex and often ancient history that dwells actively inside people who are living now, arriving at their daily lives from many different places, including a shifting class structure (some have more money, or go to better schools, and religious backgrounds vary greatly).

If you need your identification to come from a particular group of people who’ve made somewhat absolute aesthetic rules and judge other writing by those rules, then that can be difficult — not allowing oneself the pleasure or full depth of your own experience.

After finishing my education on the West Coast, I lived in New York City for seven years, and quite abruptly had access to a different practice of poetry there. My first genuinely affirming teacher was Stanley Kunitz, the poet with whom I studied in a nighttime class at the YMHA Poetry Center. His work and method provided a serious model that sharpened my ideas of “poetic language.” His presence was formal, critical, and lovable — quite a different model than Kenneth Koch, all fun and games, whose classes I took at The New School, before eventually learning of the writing of George Oppen, whose work I encountered just before moving back to San Francisco.

I’d met the Oppens and had admired George’s poetry, particularly after hearing a reading of his at St. Mark’s Church in New York. Following that reading, I sat next to Mary Oppen at the bar and we started talking. It was then I learned that they were about to move out to California. I was also planning to return to San Francisco, having decided the time had come: our apartment had been broken into and trashed, one Sunday afternoon while we were taking a walk. After that, I didn’t view with much hope the prospects for my young son living on the Lower East Side. I thought, Time to get some sunlight and water.

The Oppens invited us to visit them when we returned to S.F. It was then that George became really important to me as a writer. I wasn’t going to give up the fun I’d had in New York, but there was a severity in his work that met something I needed at that point. I hoped that I could remain available to what new perspectives might feed my work. I needed to find a way of speaking from what was yet unspoken.

In m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE, one piece sifts through the nuanced artistic choices that Bellori makes, then describes subsequent curation by Palazzo directors deciding how to display this work. And the work gets absorbed by present-day spectators, offering their own mediation. Similarly, your book seems to reach towards a poetics that need not fit one specific cultural moment or set of readerly expectations.

I’m encouraged by your response, for I noted that at a certain point many younger writers in the Bay Area felt a kind of shock, not knowing quite what to do with the newest “Language” poetry model that had been presented with what felt like absolutist attitude and divisive judgment.

I wanted to be elsewhere for a while. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I wanted to get away from the dominant poetics of the Bay Area. I didn’t want to feel so heavily judged by others’ terms of certainty about something that was, to me, full of potential, variance and exactitude…what was yet there, to be observed. I wanted to remain open and not feel the pressure ensured by the going judgments of “correctness” in poetry.

So does m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE seek to offer an equivalent open space for readers to explore? Do you wish to create an ambient, atmospheric experience, maybe sort of like a cityscape, or a Palazzo museum in which to wander?

I’m intrigued by your suggestions, but actually I don’t think about my writing in this way. I love words and always have been “a writer” since I was very young. But how I write has changed. If you saw the work that I did when I first moved to New York and was just entering formal writing seriously, this would become clear.

I was reading way beyond my usual curiosities, in a new and very sophisticated city. Many books were actively entering my reading list, but I didn’t necessarily know how I wanted to shape my own writing or how I wanted these new books to shape me. I didn’t have an absolute plan.

I just kept reading and looking at painting, because those were the two things that had become most important to me. My good friends were often painters.

My painter friend Hermine Ford (Tworkov), who did the drawings for one of my earlier books, ii ss, had a long-term effect on my work habits. We’d been friends in New York, when I was first living there, and I loved visiting her family’s summer place in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She and her painter husband, Robert Moskowitz, are often up there during the hot summer months and their devotion to painting made a serious impression on me that helped to shape my own work habits. It was an eye-opener, hanging out with friends so devoted to their painting. For years it has provided me with a serious model for my own writing practice.

They went to their studios every day and worked. That was very, very important for me to understand.

Here could we also discuss what the term “SCALE” means to you? m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE puts “scale” in all caps. You mention your interest in “typography — and SCALE.” Again “SCALE” seems to offer much room for echoes and multiplicity and synesthesia — without prescribing what my own role in this space must be.

 I used “SCALE” a lot in m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE. The piece “hi dde violeth i dde violet” is a perfect example. Things have been going along, but when you get to “Smattering lushness. Furry,” the SCALE is large, and a kind of echo happens there. This is my view, obviously, but the word “smattering” and the word “lushness” and the word “furry,” when they’re printed large, are present in a different way. One takes them in as material goods.

And sound — each phrase or line has its own big sound, rather than being jammed into same-size type in a paragraph or in many lines right next to each other. One wouldn’t begin to experience the uniqueness of language in quite the same way without this. Part of the fun is inventing how to re-experience words that have been around you all the time.

Silence and blank space seem equally important to your sense of scale. We’ve discussed the immediacy of larger letters, but also what about the silence?

This long piece that we’re looking at has a lot of silence in it, but not always

used “seriously.” Often silence is meant to indicate sadness or unspoken tragedy, but a lot of it in this poem is underscored with humor, as in the lines “ — thump, thump —  / z…’  — thump.” That entire poem is playing with misspellings because they are “dictated” — i.e., dictated by my law that says I must use every word from this text that I cut apart. “Slices of nowwhere” came from an extra “w” that had to be included.

Overall, I was foregrounding typography, trying to visualize it — not as a didactic comment, but more like: “Look at how this word changes, both when the typeface changes and when the size changes.” It’s a question of space, typography, and size.

In terms of moveable types at play, in terms of related typographical investigations, I definitely think of Mallarmé, Aram Saroyan, Joe Brainard comics, Clark Coolidge work with Philip Guston, Ed Ruscha, and also of a productive recent span of visual poetries by Jessica Smith, K.S. Ernst, K. Lorraine Graham. But what other points of reference among predecessors or peers most interest you in relation to this specific book? With your textured cover, I even thought of Braque’s early Cubist collages which bring, say, a rope and a painting together — similar to how your book deploys sturdy nouns, sturdy objects, but also this sweeping syntax throughout.

The cover of m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE features a collage by JoAnn Ugolini, a Bay Area artist with whom I’ve worked regularly since meeting her when our work was put together arbitrarily on a broadside — with her drawing and my poem — for a show that Stanford did of women writer/artist combinations. I liked her work, so I called her up and we got together. Since then we’ve developed a very close friendship. She’s a wonderful painter and collagist.

And what other relationships or experiences pushed you towards experimental typographies?

 When I was in high school in Southern California, I was editor of my school’s newspaper — back in the era when newspapers used linotype machines to typeset all printed items. I learned then how to typeset, so my experience started early with typeface locked into rigid forms. I’m sure they don’t do it this way anymore, but at that time there was a back room at the local newspaper office where only guys were working. One was typesetting at a big machine and the others were collecting the set texts and locking them into window-shaped forms, so that they could be ”put to bed” (printed).

Being able to participate in that process — with the professionals — became part of my “toolbox.”

Picturing you at the newspaper office picking up your toolbox reminds me of the piece “20th Century,” which discusses Rebecca Quaytman’s art, and in which you seem to invert classical conventions of how artistic meaning gets contained. You, and Quaytman, here place the artist’s studio or the artist’s person into the foreground — rather than some product that the artist makes.

You mean while looking at her works, in her studio in Rome? I mention her studio and the measuring of what goes on there because she took the time to tell me about it. That measuring was as important to her, at that time, as mentioning something already understood to be important.

Again architectural fluidities arise, space for bodies to move in and out of, and social currents too. Movement predominates, rather than some more stabilizing content.

Exactly. I didn’t come to this book with a theory, or develop it as a theory, but found that I had great satisfaction as a writer in trying on a different way of working. It provided me a broader canvas of language by doing that. The collaboration with Rebecca was a perfect poem in which to find that, because I became so interested in what she was doing that I used her terms: “the mother’s body not to her own height”; “that which is born, its height”; “that in the act of its height.”

These are three lines that all end in “height.” There is a kind of rhythm or music that comes off of that, from looking at the way Rebecca was working in a particular studio space. It happens all the way through this poem.

I actually think it happens all the way through this book. The “Ligature, for Mr. Coltrane” piece offers a related, autobiographically inflected ars poetica, in its last lines: “One night I imagined I could hear Mr. Coltrane thinking into the air and it occurred to me that songs could be like old alphabets, going back and back, and someone with a horn and his own way of thinking and sound could cut an old song out of the air like a new typeface finding its inner balance just at the place where a horn player feels something pulling and suddenly changes keys.” The same could be said for your m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE.

Thank you for telling me that, and for seeing it. In truth, I had ongoing pleasure writing/working on this book, but it’s hardly been reviewed…and I’m puzzled. It’s almost as if it didn’t exist. Part of this picture may be that I’m not out there pushing my career. I think that I had more desire to do so when I was younger. Still, I like to give readings and am always delighted when I’m invited.

You went to Seattle a couple years ago for AWP, right? You read at some event with a balcony, an overhang. I sat in the upstairs area, late at night on the last night. Everyone looked exhausted. A lot of writers I really admire sat up there. Lee Ann Brown sat up there. Laynie Browne sat up there and Jena Osmond sat up there. Everybody basically had passed out, so sick of AWP, and then the host announced your name. You stood up and I remember the faces of those three poets totally brightening, and everyone moved to the railing so that they could pay attention.

Thank you for the feedback. It’s really sweet of you to tell me that — I would never have known.

You wouldn’t have seen this dark room from below. And today you’ve described the pleasure you took in m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE, the fun in this book, this book’s humor. And I remember in the past you describing happiness as “a stubborn emotion to convey in prose.” Could you discuss how and why you have evaded that difficulty here? Or what about prose makes happiness so hard to achieve?

That’s a very complicated question. I don’t believe that I ever said I was trying to evade difficulty or to make prose “happy,” even though I did feel a unique contentment when things were going right for the work in this book.

I was always deriving pleasure from it, pleasure in moving obvious evidence out of the way and getting something new in there (i.e., finding new words or putting them in places where one didn’t expect them). Also, there is a kind of rhythmic thing, as in the Coltrane bebop piece — finding a new way of addressing material that has been around for a long time. I’m still looking at that final paragraph you pointed out to me…and glad I wrote it.

In that particular paragraph, “his” comes up. We haven’t talked much about gender, though the topic has stayed implicit throughout. That paragraph uses “his,” but seems to describe you at the same time.

That wasn’t intentional, as one thing or another, necessarily. It just arrived. I’ve always been extremely aware of gender problems from talking with my students, male and female — and have brought that into the classroom to think about together. As for myself, at this point in my life, it’s not a huge issue. I want to be able to be free to write what I want to write. I would wish that possibility for everyone, but I’m no longer sure how gender figures into the larger picture.

I haven’t taught for a while, but it seemed to me that over the last 10 years of teaching, my male students became much more supportive and interested in what women were writing and thinking about. The difficult part in each individual is bringing one’s own “issues” into the public discourse — or even into an intimate conversation where two people are talking and it’s not “just in your head.” If it’s public, as the classroom is certainly, then people tend to feel more wary or resistant to getting into problematic differences, because these issues became so predominant for a while. But they had to be. There was no way we could get into “it” without really facing our gender-related complaints and human positions.

In earlier books of mine, one can find that I’m writing about this fairly directly. I have a number of close male and female friends, both straight and gay. I have a terrific husband, with whom I sometimes argue…and he’s a trained philosopher, so I’ve had to learn how to listen carefully and to respond from my own perspective. It’s become less of an issue for me.

My thought is that more people are aware of “gender” — either as a problem or a condition — but that it hasn’t yet been fully addressed. In my life, it’s definitely not as problematic as it once was.

Finally, from your acknowledgement’s first sentence, coming first in m  ov a  b  le  TYYPE, you capitalize the phrase “Artist Book.” What haven’t we discussed about the liberatory experience you had realizing you long had worked with/on the history and future of Artist Books?

It’s been an incredibly rewarding stretch for me to work in this way. I love collaborating, first of all. It opens up so much more of what’s available for me to write about. If the person with whom I’m collaborating is a visual artist, that tends to be more challenging for me than working with another writer, simply because the medium is more surprising to me. Visual artists think differently. They’re thinking in color, shape, collision… tearing up and putting back together. This is all very intriguing to me. It’s something that releases more potential language combinations, in my case. It’s more of a mystery and an unexpected challenge.

But maybe “delight” is the more accurate word here. From my point of view, the more stretch and capacity one can release in the written text, the more one learns about it and the more interesting the text becomes.

Header image by Jeannette Montgomery Barron