Susana Gardner generously tagged me for The Next Big Thing interview series, conveniently providing a framework and impetus for producing an inaugural post on this my first kinda flopsy little cybershack. Thanks Susana! 😉
What is the working title of the book?
The manuscript I’m currently working on is called Mother Substance, a term I lifted from a 1938 quote by E. Charles Dodds announcing his discovery of, in his own words, “the mother substance”—a synthetic estrogen he called diethylstilbestrol. You can also find “mother substance” in the OED’s definition for MATTER: “The substrate from which physical existence is derived, remaining more-or-less constant amid changes. The word MATTER is derived from the Latin word māteria, meaning wood. Māteria traces back to the word māter, meaning mother. Thus considered, matter is the mother substance.”
My second book, The First Flag, has just been printed by Coffee House Press and will officially release in April (currently available for pre-sale at coffeehousepress.org 😉 ), but I surmised that since it’s an “already” instead of a “next,” for the purposes of this self-interview (and, no doubt, by virtue of my Virgo ascendant, which for some can manifest as “wearing glasses,” and/or, to extend the metaphor, getting super literal — “seeing clearly” — “accuracy at any cost!”—when following instructions) I opted to focus on the thing-in-progress, which aspires to become my “next big thing.”
[By the way, if you google “history of ‘The Next Big Thing'” or “Who started the literary self-interview phenomenon ‘The Next Big Thing,'” the thing you’ll predominantly encounter is the word “tagged.”]
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea for the book sprang up in me during a semi-dreamstate I’d been encouraged to inhabit while participating in a “Delicious Movement” exercise with the performance artist Eiko Otake (of Eiko & Koma). I elaborate on this event in a “poem ;)” called “Naked” (the title of Eiko & Koma’s environmental installation performance at the Walker Art Center in 2010), which appears in The First Flag. “Naked” describes, in part, the circumstances of my in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES), while also asserting aesthetic tendencies—collage, multivalence, collaboration, dramatic dialog, transparency, the use of photographs and other images—that pretty much go postal in Mother Substance. The book will also include language from interviews I conducted with DES Daughters and Mothers, as well as doctors, Big Pharma execs, activists, and other concerned parties.
In a sense, the idea for the book has been living in my body since before I was born, and has been gaining momentum and illumination from a variety of helpers—scholars, poets, artists, activists, doctors, complementary healers, animals, landscapes, plant medicines, psychoanalysis, yoga, pregnancy and childbirth as well as bearing witness to others’ pregnancies and births as a doula. The increasing array of literary documentary projects (such as Joe Harrington’s Things Come On, Eleni Sikelianos’s The Book of Jon and The California Poem, Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, Bhanu Kapil’s Humanimal and Schizophrene, the oeuvre of Mark Nowak, for sure Dale Pendell’s Pharmako trilogy; along with the formidable Juniper Fuse by Clayton Eshleman (a formative text for me in many ways), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, and Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead, just to name a few), as well as an emerging practice of somatic poetics, and discourse around violence, contamination, excess, possession, and translation developed by comrades on Montevidayo, gave me access to renegade imaginings of how form and content might interact when emancipated from conventional genre boundaries.
What genre does your book fall under?
If I could assign a genre under which it falls, I would call it PSYCHOMAGICAL-ACTION-FOR-A-WORLD-GONE-WRONG. But probably Mother Substance will fall under the genre of poetry (viz. Norman O. Brown, Love’s Body: “There is only poetry.”)
Random recommendation: Anne Waldman via Jerome Rothenberg ❤
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Maybe Robert Polito in the part of Charles Dodds? (Do I have to choose literal actors? Are we not all actors on the stage of life?)
Ruth Lilly (deceased) could play one of the first casualties of DES. She’s perfect for the part because her grandfather, Eli, founded the company that was and is a major manufacturer, and beneficiary, of DES (marketed as “stilbestrol); and, Ruth apparently loved poetry 😉 . So much so that she bequeathed all her Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals inheritance to the Poetry Foundation, of which Robert Polito has recently been named President. (If interested, you can “Download full press kit, including press release, praise for Robert Polito from the poetry community, full detailed biography, a Q & A, and a press-ready photo.“)
I suppose Robert Polito could also play the part of my father, depending on our budget. Otherwise, probably Marcus Welby (deceased) would suffice, but he’d have to take it up a few notches when wrestling with (or not) his “shadow material.”
Most of you are probably younger than me, but there was a time when girls had this thing of “which Charlie’s Angel are you?” In 6th grade—among the absolute worst years of my life—classmates at my new school (St. Mary’s in Waukesha, WI, which then was run by Franciscan nuns), constantly humiliated me (who was already in a constant state of humiliation) by sometimes chanting, when I quavered past them, awash in cortisol: “Sarah, the girl with the golden hair…”, trickle-down-marketed from a Farah Fawcett television commercial of the time. Farah Fawcett was an original Angel, and died in 2009 from anal cancer. She could star in my movie, but she’s not playing me (through no fault of her own).
Anyway, my young 70s Mom could for sure be played by Angels-era Jacklyn Smith, her Angels avatar. (I always thought Cheryl Ladd was more “me” than Farrah Fawcett, but now I’m suddenly seeing Cheryl Strayed when I type “Cheryl Ladd.”)
The thing is, I am not really exactly a character in my next big thing. If I were, and took a poll among all the students I’ve had as to who should play the part of me in the movie rendition of Mother Substance, I’d bet good money Laura Dern would win hands-down. Students always note, usually on the first day, that I “look just like Laura Dern!” She wouldn’t be my choice, but if it comes to that I hope it’s the Laura Dern from Inland Empire, a fucked-up and magnificent film about which a reviewer in our local City Pages wrote: “possibly the worst three hours I’ve ever spent in my entire life.” 😉
DES constitutes a kind of “inland empire,” which makes me think that David Lynch could direct this thing. Catherine Breillat might be better-suited, all things considered, in which case we’d have to rewind and come up with some French actors (to flank Vincent Gall0)… Which we’re not going to do, so David Lynch it is.
[I’m bypassing the rabbit hole of actresses and other people I wish I were/were me because I totally have to make dinner and it’s already 9:17 P.M.]
I would do my best to find a part for Robert Downey, Jr., and OMG Ryan Gosling could play Howard Ulfelder! He was the first doctor to take seriously the possibility that in utero DES exposure could be linked to rare vaginal cancers that were suddenly and alarmingly appearing in very young women (early 1970s), and whose receptivity to the embodied knowledge of DES Daughters and Mothers helped eradicate DES from the Obstetrics pharmacopoeia.
It goes without saying that Beyoncé would play my daughter Nora, although the Full House-era Olsen twins could certainly play “young Nora.” Everywhere I took her in the early 90s (grocery store, library, my “Biology of Women” class at UW-Milwaukee, etc), people would say “I can’t believe how much she looks like those twins on that TV show!” (Not that the Olsen twins weren’t cute, but she was a lot cuter, and has turned out like a zillion times better, it appears, than have the ashcanista duo.)
I have to confess that I mostly watch documentaries and foreign films, and don’t really have actors hovering at the tip of my brain. Is Prince an actor? If so, I want him to be in the movie (as is, on cover of “Dirty Mind”). And Björk, as my doula. And Marina Abramovic, as God. 😉
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
“Mother Substance is a book-length documentary text applying poetic multivalence to the somatic, feminist, and political narrative of the DES disaster” (cut-and-pasted from an in-progress grant proposal one-sentence project summary).
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I don’t know.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Eiko Otake, DES Action Network, Claudia Llosa (her film The Milk of Sorrow), Sarah Caflisch, Marina Abramovic, Lucas de Lima, Alice Notley, Susan Bell, Simone Weil, Amy Goodman, David Woloch, Hannah Weiner, Hannah Wilke, my daughter, Asmaa Mahfouz, Ina May Gaskin, Raúl Zurita, the Gulf Oil Spills, Fukishima, Kathy Kelly, Regina José Galindo, Germany Pale Mother, mescaline, Nancy Spero, Tori Amos, Ariana Reines, Donna Haraway, Wade Davis, Megan Sharp, María Sabina, et al
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The book will include photographs of a t-shaped uterus, among other special images of teratogenically-induced female sex organs. 😉
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Make up a question you think is pressing in way of poetry today.
This confuses me, because both the preceding question, and question 4 (“actors”), led me to believe that “The Next Big Thing” was initiated by fiction people. Which is not to say that fiction people aren’t engaged with poetry, or assuaged by pressing questions about it. But, probably they’d care more about what’s pressing in way of fiction.
Also, “in way” provokes my Virgo ASC (is this like a case of Telephone? Did it say “in the way of”‘ originally?) (You’ve probably noticed that I stopped inserting links after the Farrah Fawcett commercial; maybe I’ve also gotten sloppy with spelling and grammar, or a tad frothy/insouciant/reckless/irreverent/”word-salad-esque” in my responses, but Virgo is, after all, a mutable sign, as is my sun sign of Gemini and my moon sign of Pisces. And–not to alarm anybody, but–I took a little toke during the “what actors can you think of” portion of the interview, and soon thereafter my due diligence with links etc bit the dust.
I’m a pretty big fan of questions in general, so it’s hard to make up just one, but if pressed for a question that is pressing in way of poetry, I’ll go with:
“WTF IS GOING ON HERE?”
Okay, congrats to me for finishing the interview! Now I’m supposed to tag 5 writers (but I’m cheating and tagging indiscriminately)—calling A.T. Grant, Chris Fischbach, Fred Schmalz, Katharine Hargreaves, Kevin Carollo, Laura Pendell, Lucas de Lima, Monica Mody, Paula Cisewski, and Sun-Yung Shin. XO