questions for the egret
by Adrienne Herr & Vi Khi Nao
VKN What does a debt-free landscape look like for you, Adrienne? Livelihoodwise, poetrywise, prosewise, lovewise, etc.
AH Well to be debt-free livelihoodwise is really a particular politico-economic situation that would subsist on something that doesn’t even know what debt is, because of the way of conducting economy. The rich have the most debt, and also profit from it more generally. So it is self-sustaining. Would a debt-free landscape need to be antithetical to self-reliance, sustenance, the sustaining of the self? The individual? Poetrywise, I think debt could be a function or a state of being. Not to a person or a corporation or an institute, or even to a poetry school. But to the next line… to a polemic or to the history of a word. Even to the sound of a word. To be debt-free means to owe nothing, and sometimes that happens with a line break. One line doesn’t owe anything to the other, but they necessarily follow one another. To write like this is sometimes very exhilarating. Prosewise, I feel that my prose is indebted to my writing practice because it is something that I chose more so than I chose to write poetry. And so I think a lot also about how the prose I write is indebted to the novel, to character. My friend said she wished that the characters would be developed more, she wanted to know more about them. Which to me is a kind of debt to some idea of novel but also the debt to place. Because I think that often when a character is developed it is about place and the placement of character. Lovewise, the debt or debt-lessness I find could be described very similarly to ways I’ve just described poetry and prose.
VKN I still don’t know how to write non experimental writing. Do you find it difficult?
AH I wouldn’t call my writing experimental, yet. Or at least that is not the goal. Unless experimental writing is defined merely as a mode of writing that refuses to satisfy certain expectations of medium, in which case I think as writers we necessarily “play” with expectations, use them or antagonize them. But I tend to relate experimental writing (in poetry specifically) as a more extreme treatment of language as material, precisely this intimacy with language that you’ve mentioned, Vi.
I do seek to push my language further and further towards the material and indeed, the experimental — though the end goal for me is not pure experimentation. Of course language has a very complicated relationship with the material, even sound is not material unless the senses are material. Of course we are made of material, matter – is language material if it comes from us… what does it mean to materialize language, Vi? Is it something you believe in?
I don’t think that the materiality of language should be emphasized in the form of some kind of de-humanized language, sans author or history. On another thought, the active and foregoing – almost eternal process of mechanizing language (as in the written text, or as in the data-fying of language for voice recognition or AI) is necessarily a process of materialization. I believe the writer’s role is to work with and against this mechanization. So I think many other forms or genres (other than ‘experimental’) necessarily become more relevant to codify the work.
VKN I like for us to get away with slanted, reserved gazes, the restraint, unspoken, subtext within textual entity that push the boundaries of intuition versus deception.
AH This sounds like flirting. Is experimental writing like flirting?
VKN I like to think of language as dust, something easily blown in the wind and easily molded with water and spit. I am open to the idea of spitting on language to build another body of another language: woman, being, time. What the world would be like if God pulls a rib from Eve to make another Eve, how sapphically exhilarating it seems in coeval time. I feel like in western culture, we make art by spitting a lot. I like to think we could make things by swallowing, which can be a very Eastern impulse.
AH I have to say this idea of Eve creating another Eve is extremely exciting. The Eve in Paradise Lost looks around her world and sees no boundaries, so it is said that she has no language. It is Adam who looks around the world and starts to name things. But… It is Eve who is ultimately related to Satan, who is the poet in Paradise Lost. Swallowing, spitting… makes me think of Zeus eating all his children. They stay there until his wife tricks him into puking them out. Some kind of male birth aided by the feminine trick. Consumption and creation… we tend to believe now that the way we consume (as consumers) is meaningful and effective in itself. But we forget about the need for expulsion.
VKN Do you like the idea of Satan being the poet?
AH Yes. It reminds me of something I read the other day about how in germanic christianities, there was a god who created, and that god was evil, and a god who did not create, who never created, who “retired” from creation, and that god was good.
VKN Retirement isn’t a bad idea. I am no God, but I am ready to retire.
AH And what do you want it to be like? How do you think of your memory in relationship to death?
VKN I want to orbit out of existence and when you orbit out of it, does memory matter any more? Time? Distance? Intimacy? Satan being a poet? I’d like to think that each person on this earth is a sinkhole in themselves. There is no more realm of existence if one person, their own universe, is a sinkhole/blackhole. I like the idea of the death of one person is the death of all existence. Which in practical terms is not practical. But in metaphysical and nonlinear terms, quite definitive.
AH When my mom died it felt like the end of one universe, or maybe the birth of a parallel one. And that there was a bridge between the two, that I alone was left to maintain. The responsibility of memory. Then memory became more embodied, I realized her as being a part of my body in a very physical sense. Memory became like muscle memory, not something I could control. Do you think about your body after you have died?
VKN I just think how liberating it is. This ontological weight off me. This absolute nothingness. This great dust blowing in the wind. And, it’s exciting. I think death is the most exciting event in a person’s life. Much more exciting than marriage, though maybe less exciting than writing poetry. But who can compete with poetry? Even God is afraid.
AH I went to a cemetery the other day and saw a plaque sitting on top of a tomb that said “regrets”
VKN That plaque needs a daffodil. Place a daffodil in front of the first “R” to hide its remorseful breast.
AH The banana/flower was really what hit me after the initial shock. I google “egret” and see a photo of a white crane, a symbol for strength, patience, purity, long life.
VKN Do you want to be a mother, Adrienne?
AH I don’t know. When I am in love with someone, part of me does.
VKN What is falling in love? I don’t know what that is…or what it embodies. I see people falling in love all the time now and I haven’t been able to relate.
AH It is like the idea of sacrificing your life. Very important to do, very impossible to do.
VKN I don’t have any memory of its permanent feelings, its existence. I have loved: out of duty, out of trust, out of boundary, out of function….Are you in love?
AH Yes. But I think the best way I can think of explaining it is as a succession of disclosures. That’s how a book I’m reading describes narratives or testimonies of religious experience. “A physical and spiritual experience that is inward-turning and outward-moving at the same time.” Being drawn into and out of God (love), a downward and an upward movement or an outwards and a return journey, like a question and an answer. Like an interview that becomes a dialogue. Falling in and out of love, the first fall. It’s very easy.
VKN Like watching paint dry. Two people falling in love. Watching a baseball game, waiting for that homerun that never arrives. I don’t think love exists. I think there are lots of commercial transactions pretending to be love, which is fine for advertisement effect/defect. It’s like going to the superbowl, falling in love.
AH So what kinds of transactions does one expect when they fall in love?
VKN One that is always costly. Not business-like enough. Confusion between who is merchant and who specializes in wholesale: which is what polyamory is all about.
AH So this is when we can experience merchant/buyer confusion in the most all-encompassing way…
VKN Yes. Like I observed the first time I met you: I like how efficient you are. Maybe what I recognized was that there was no confusion in the merchant/buyer in you.
AH If you were to fall in love what would you want? To avoid exchange, of a certain kind?
VKN I would have wanted more subtlety, poetic license to be quiet, resilient, silent, to have the open space for absence.
AH I guess this goes back to debtless landscapes in love. In poetry, and in prose. I guess love is always a kind of exchange. Wanting to know more about a character, wanting to know more about ourselves in a certain place with another. Or lines that follow one another but owe nothing to each other. They happen to be next to each other, sometimes it seems even accidental. It reminds me of how you responded after I first sent you my poems. You wrote, each line may need the next line to anachronistically challenge itself or be less of what it is, and yet, each line could easily self-erase itself, making the readers not careless in the potential demise of language or the way one thinks or could disentangle in this world. You wrote that they are capable of making leaps without resisting. Failing to disembowel because failing isn’t death. And so, I guess, I see love very similarly. If the leap is from one to another, in an exchange, in the instinct to save and destroy ourselves. Love teaches me not to be careless, in the ways I could disentangle. It is also an opportunity to feel fear, because failing isn’t death. Or if it is, then what is being sacrificed is always already a product of this exchange.
ADRIENNE HERR is a poet who bases her work in multimedia presentations, audio recordings, and staged plays. Working with translation, found text and the mode of address, her work exists in tension with our desire to confess. Her latest series LIGHT WORKS or, POEMS FOR THE ANGEL is inspired by a gold angel coin she found on the street. “The Angel is in all happenings / I am going blind on him.” She has recently performed at Hotel Normandy, Paris, Shore Gallery, Vienna, Fine Arts Gallery, Berlin, and The Glove, New York. Adrienne lives and works as a language teacher in Berlin.
VI KHI NAO is the author of three poetry collections, Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and The Old Philosopher (winner of the Nightboat Prize for 2014), the short stories collection A Brief Alphabet of Torture (which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016), and a novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016). Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review and BOMB, among others. Vi holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.