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Interview with Stephanie Strickland

New York, NY on May 20, 2014 | Interviewer: Devin Becker

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Devin Becker: Well, let's put that right there. And that one, it has like an auto level, so that should work and I can see it. So that's nice. Usually I get really nervous about thirty minutes in. Is it going? One time, one wasn't going, which really made me anxious. That's why I have two.
Stephanie Strickland: So these are the questions?
DB: Yeah, these are the questions and it's pretty open-ended. There are sort of a couple of parts to it. The first part is the very sort of meant to be quickly going through your current practices for your digital files. It's a survey that I've done online with a bunch of emerging writers, and that I'm asking all the participants in this as well, and then we'll talk kind of specifically about your writing processes for probably the majority. There are questions about computing and computers. Usually we cover those, but sometimes, I go through those a little bit too if we have gone through those things and I want to ask a few more. Does that sound okay? Do you have to go somewhere or anything? Everyone has been an hour and fifteen to an hour and forty-five, right in there. So if you would please state for the recording devices your name and our location.
SS: It's Stephanie Strickland, New York City.
DB: Okay. In this section, I ask what you write and what you use to write it. This is about how you compose currently. What genres do you write in?
SS: I do books of poetry and I write critical essays, and I write—I make—usually collaboratively born digital works.
DB: Okay. Would you say you have a primary genre?
SS: Poetry.
DB: What kind of devices do you own or have access to for your writing?
SS: Pens, pencils. There's four computing devices in this one room. I keep an old XP machine going—with difficulty, these days. I liked Word 2003. I managed to get that and Word 2007 on that machine, and then I have a little small Acer, which is underneath there, which is actually probably the most advanced, but again, it's Word 2007 is on there that I write with, and it's for travel. And then since the last thing I made was an app for iPad, I was forced to buy an iPad—I had to show the thing on it! So that's over there, a mini.
DB: A mini? That's what I have.
SS: But I do not write on it.
DB: You don't write on it, right?
SS: No.
DB: Okay. So, the operating systems you're using are mostly Windows?
SS: XP and Windows 7.
DB: Do you work on the different devices? And how do you work between—I guess, if you have all these devices, what is your style for going between them?
SS: Well, if I'm generating new material, I will certainly do a certain amount of writing by hand. I capture, at various points, the material in a word processing program. The one I work with most intuitively is Word 2003. I'm annoyed at all the extra ridiculous functionality.
DB: At least there is no clippie, right?
SS: Yeah, I mean there's too much—it's not directed for what I want to do, and it doesn't handle other things—like Photoshop would—that it says that it will do.
DB: Yeah.
SS: But nonetheless, it's not supported anymore as with so much of the software that I once used. So I capture it at different points, certainly capturing it online is much better for sharing it and editing it to a degree, but it's not particularly good for through-line.
DB: What do you mean by that?
SS: Well, if you're writing something long with a complex argument, I think it's much easier to have it in front of you on paper and read it out, because it's very easy to go into a "collage-y" kind of style with stuff that's going to be published online. It's harder to get a really consecutive—long, consecutive argument made, I think, or a thought, and it's not fluid enough to do poetry. I mean, it restricts you way too much in terms of formatting compared to what you can do on a page by hand in terms of how you want to scratch things out or put something right in—
SS: there's no arrow, insert, none of that. So it's neither—so there's a loss from both perspectives, but obviously from the point of organizing it and sharing it and necessarily sending it on for publishing these days and everything, it has to be done in—yeah. Long, long ago, I got used to doing that. It took me a long time to get there, though, because I started on a manual typewriter and then getting an IBM typewriter was a big thing, you know.
DB: Yeah.
SS: Just like I've used many, many writing technologies.
DB: I mean that's really the impetus for this. I was just thinking about the thing I did earlier, then I started thinking about writers like yourself who have been writing over this course—this is a very interesting time for writing poetry.
SS: Well, I need those little balls on the IBM Selectric. That was like this huge thing that you could erase with an erase thing, that you don't have to pull the page out and start all over again. On the other hand, there was a discipline about that. So each technology actually gave rise to a certain kind of poetry and a certain kind of mistake. These characteristic mistakes people make in email or characteristic word substitutions that you do that you never did on the page—
—anyway, so I don't think that story has really been told because it shifts so rapidly, because you went from email to texting, to this to that, you know, and each one of those things has a different—and then Facebook sits up there and shifts its interface like monthly or whatever it does, you know, and that gives rise to a whole new thing. In the meantime, whatever a person might have wanted to do is kind of knocked out of their head because they are left wrestling with the interface.
DB: Yeah that's a good point. So in terms of going between your paperwork and going to the digital, what are those—what steps are—
SS: It's different. Every single project is completely different because I do a lot of—like, if I'm doing a conference presentation (there were a couple of conferences that we're going to do something with) I would tend to generate something and send it to my partner, what do they want to say about it, you know, and then we get together face to face and deal with that or whatever.
Like the last really big new book I did, Dragon Logic, the way I wrote that was, for probably six months, every morning, I had some paper notebooks and things. I was looking through old notes and things. And I would sit and I would write, every morning, for maybe three or four hours and at the end of the morning, I would go and type it up—I mean input it.
I did not look at it again. The next day, I would start completely fresh and I did that to the point that I had no idea how it had begun actually. And some—maybe six months later—I sort of came to the end of that, and then it was a matter of looking back and like—"what is it?"—you know? So then there was a long period of making a unity of some kind out of it. That shifted, that had made maybe two or three major shifts in understanding as I go through it, but I really liked it because it was very new to me to go back and look at—I mean, I really had no idea what it was.
DB: You don't know, yeah.
SS: It was a long period of writing and sometimes I've gone to writing colonies and written straight through for a long, long, long time, and not input it until I came back from there. But then there was a time when you would—I still had a car at that time, and I wasn't living in the city—and I put my IBM Selectric or whatever in, and would carry it out, or I would rent a computer to have at that place because I wanted the print out, and I still want the print out. It still looks different to me on paper than it does on the screen and you want to know both those aspects.
SS: And then there came the time when no one did that anymore. You couldn't really rent a computer or rent—it was the same time you would go to make presentations wherever you went. The university had a computer there in a room with a stage and you needed a technician to come and fix up all the, whatever—and then they didn't anymore because everyone was expected to bring their laptop and to have one and travel with it. I had a lot of problems with my hands from when I first started doing digital work and I travel really, really light so that made me really angry that I had to—
DB: To carry—
SS: And I wouldn't. I would borrow somebody's or something like that. So there was like all these phases of what you had to do, the way to do it, and so it was different for every book.
DB: When you're working—like, for Dragon Logic, when you were working on paper in the mornings, what were you working on? What were your materials? Was it just that notebook?
SS: It was a bigger notebook than that, probably, a pen with wet ink—wettish ink, not like ballpoint—that has a flow to it, but again because of my hands, to have the least effort of writing. I like a big, like, engineering notebook with graph paper. Often, I had bigger ones like this. It was like a green graph on it. Yeah, I don't like just lined pages. This makes an overall page better, but still—
DB: It has some sort of volume to it. That book has such interesting volume. So then how do you save that stuff? Do you just keep it and once you're finished with the notebook, do you store it somewhere or do you send it?
SS: Put it in a box.
DB: Put in a box over there? Most of your prewriting and your notes are all in notebooks like that?
SS: You would hope! But no, they are not. There's a lot of loose paper, there's a lot of, well, it can be anything because it's whatever I happen to pull up at that exact moment. It can be stuff I wrote down at different times and happened to bring it together. And there were so many versions for a while, and then you sort of drown in versions and then you get tired of that. And then came the time when I decided I needed to use the back of everything, for ecological reasons. I really feel sorry for the people that do [study this later], because now there's a version of a thing and you look on the back and you have no idea when that thing on the back—I mean, if you think the front and the back were done at the same time, they never were.
DB: No? Good, now we have that on record.
SS: But you know, and they have no relation to each other, but I can just see somebody—because they're on the same paper, and they are saying that it will, and I'm like... And the other thing I do that's crazy is that I have some notebooks and then sometimes I go through the exact same notebook again and write into it so that it's actually a palimpsest of two different things that happen and there's no way that you would know—from the outside.
DB: Why do you do that?
SS: Because I want to—I go back and see, is there, does it still have the pull for me that it did, the things that I wrote down at that time, because there are things that tend to be continually magnetizing for me. I like to see—like I've never kept a diary in the sense of a personal diary or like a diary of what happened with my kids' behavior or whatever. I've never done that kind of a thing. I have like a horror of that like I have a horror of lined pages—but I have, there's just—sometimes, something just gets to me and I just need to write it down, so it's just these magnetizing things sort of, right? Maybe some image or something that had a—
DB: That came back?
SS: Yeah, there's like a—I remember seeing once an image of a Viking boat that I actually did go get to see in Norway, but this was just on the cover of a thing and it was the keel and the shape of the thing, and it was just in a kind of turquoise blue kind of thing and it was like, you know, it could have been a company's annual report or something—the cover—it had nothing to do with what was in there but there's this image. It's just like, "Ah" you know.
DB: Striking.
SS: In a zillion ways, that was important to me, which I don't necessarily know how, you know? So I have pictures pulled off like that. No, it's not organized.
DB: Okay, good luck future researcher.
SS: Yeah, good luck.
DB: It sounds like you kind of write—in Dragon Logic, it isn't really individual works, it is a collection but it's also kind of, you know—and some of your other books as well—are not quite made of individual works, but then when you're working, when you move stuff over to the computer, do you—
SS: Well, what do you mean not made individual? I mean, there are individual poems, but they are related. There's a whole meaning to the book.
DB: Right, yeah and it just sounds like with your notebooks—I'm just interested in how you organize that once it moves on to a digital space?
SS: I'm really good at that. I do that for lots of other people's books, too. I see unities, I see structures. I think I think in structures. I wanted to be an architect at one time.
DB: That makes sense.
SS: So, do you know the sort of math side of things and beautiful side of things of whatever you work on are not different for me exactly—
DB: Right.
SS: — so that the structure is often what I see. Do you know? It resonates, there's some kind of resonance here. So I see that and then it becomes what's the best way in, but that's for print because then in a digital work, there's not an "in" in the same way, right? In other words, there's an access often to all parts of it at once, you know in some kinds though I generally provide a default path through as well as a more open thing. So I think that's probably why that kind of work was so interesting to me, starting with True North, which has those five integrally [related] poems—the True North poems are sort of used to divide up the book—but really, they are supposed to be at the center of a moving pole, like the sun going around, so...how do you tell where True North is? You're answering that one question and then the rest of the things would be around in a sort of spherical space, which really should be an installation.
DB: Yeah.
SS: Or true three-dimensions, which of course you're not going to get, but anyway.
DB: Someday there will be holographs.
SS: Yeah, yeah, right.
DB: Just in terms of the nitty gritty though, I mean like, when you have a file on the computer, what is it called? Is it called the title of the poem or do you have large files full of many things?
SS: Well, at some point it's the name of the poem, or it's a name that references the name of the poem. For a long time, I will do revisions within that file with the date at the top of what—of which revision that is. Though, sometimes when I'm doing many, many revisions in one day, that gets a little lost. Then, at the point of a manuscript, there's a whole file that's an entire manuscript and those will have dates or something, you know, called "1, 2, 3," or something. They will be distinguished in some ways to which version they are of the whole manuscript.
SS: I don't just put a whole lot of stuff together—I mean, that doesn't belong together—like in one file. I have kind of an elaborate folder system which, having worked in libraries, I'm pretty comfortable dealing with elaborate folders and so I know where I think—but increasingly, it's like, "Where did I put that?" because there are too many places to put certain things. Is it under the conference that I'm going to give? Is it under essays and talks? Is it under whatever—and the search capability within Windows is pathetic, so not better on Macs to my—though I'm not as well acquainted with them. That's a little annoying that I can't—and I mean, Google, I try to find—you know the book called The Burnt Book by Marc "hyphen" something [Marc-Alain Ouaknin]... . Anyway, I thought it was Kinin, I had O-U-A-K right. I had "Marc" right, I had "Burn" right, and I go on Amazon, go in "Books", say French, or Jewish, whatever—could not find it. Right? I mean, seriously! And then it didn't make what I thought was the obvious—do you know how it usually—"Did you mean?" It was terrible. Anyway, I finally got it in Bing after trying a zillion different things, but I mean like—
SS: it should be better by now, that kind of thing should be way better by now. Any published book should be in Google books. Give me a break! Anyway, I'm not happy with "Search."
DB: Okay. In general. And as a librarian, I think I can understand your problems with that. Just to be clear, when you are doing an individual poem and you put the date at the top, do you have like a version and then another version at another page with a new date, or something like that?
SS: Yes, so that could be fifty pages long.
DB: But it's one poem?
SS: But it's one poem, or whatever. Increasingly you're farther away from the one, and then you could just—"I can't deal with this poem anymore." What's useful is often a version really near the beginning, and then you pick something from the middle, it's under the end of the file, and then you can find your way, kind of, because you forget what you, you know, whatever. Yeah. I do it like that, and then eventually it's what you either call "Final Version" or "the version sent to so and so" or, you know, like that, to try and have a clean copy folder as well as the working folder.
DB: Okay, so you have the working draft and then you can push it into a different folder that's more finalized.
SS: More like "to send out," or something like that.
DB: Okay. During this time, are you printing out those to revise them as well?
SS: Well, you print them out. You don't print out everything. At a certain point, you'll print it out.
DB: Do you save any of the paper copies of those printouts?
SS: Yeah, but it's not big—right? I was very happy when Duke was willing to take [inaudible 00:21:53] but that's not easy either because of this thing of going back to the notebooks and things and what you do and you don't want to send out. I did send off things like the galleys and things, the manuscripts and stuff like that. Some of the time, it just seems crazy if there's just too many versions, and those all from before were all printed on very fine paper for the back. So I just turn them over and use them for—
DB : There you go. Oh man, that's going to be fun. How did you develop your sort of writing style, or that revision style, on the computer? Did you start out on the computer doing it like that? How has it grown into doing that?
SS: I don't know. It was always like that. I mean, I was extremely aware with every shift in software, every shift in functionality. It just kind of hits me, what I've lost and what I've gained, if anything. So, I always needed to see it both ways. So, I think from the beginning I printed it out and then from the time I had trouble with my hands—which was in 1995, when I first started using Storyspace in a beta version that erased all your links every eleventh save...that was the flaw. I didn't know! It was the first time I used software. I thought I must be doing something wrong. So, it was just terrible. Anyway, I couldn't keep doing it. I couldn't keep working—so there was a whole period of becoming sort of a little more ergonomically aware of working with computers and they've changed so much, you know, as many different ways as possible, you shift off to use different—you know, your eyes get really tired of being on a computer or your hand or whatever.
DB: Right. Currently how are you backing up your work?
SS: Well, I try to make that the main thing. I back that up onto a flash drive and then I have this sync toy stuff that Microsoft makes for its computers. So I have that on there, and so I sync that onto there. That works okay.
SS: Then I have a little wallet backup drive that I try to put from there onto that, but it doesn't work as well. It was working fine and now they just updated so I'm having trouble with that at the moment, but eventually that sort of works. So it's on there, and there, and there, and then the Acer
SS: I just kind of put the files on that I—I made one big copy from there, but I don't really keep it updated and everything because it's just the files I really need to work with when I'm travelling.
DB: Are there any sort of standard, I mean, are you like backing up like every five months or something? Is there sort of regularity to it or it's just sort of this—?
SS: I note on my overall "To Do" document when I last did it. I do it at least every two weeks, but if I did a lot of work I would do it. I mean, you know, if there was a whole lot of stuff that I wrote or something, and if I'm doing that, it will kind of be on little flash drives between the computers as I move, I like to work on it here or whatever.
DB: Do you ever email it to yourself, or anything like that? Maybe like a copy of the recent manuscript or anything?
SS: No.
DB: Okay.
SS: It used to be a lot of other ways. Do you remember those Iomega things, those drives? Do you remember those things?
DB: Like the zip drives?
SS: Yeah. It used to be zip drive—there used to be a thousand ways.
DB: On this trip, I went and visited the Beineke and met with their born-digital archivist. They have like a computer stack with all the different old things that slide in, they built it themselves. It was really kind of cool to see all that forensic material, to look at those things. What about your older media?
SS: I mostly just got rid of it. It just annoyed me! It was just so much to come between you and your work. And then, when I first started working and collaborating with Marjorie Luesebrink, she was using ToolBook. I mean, people don't even know about ToolBook. Inevitably, each new version of the software would be worse. I mean, there was more functionality in the beginning, right? And then they would just knock it down. Those of us who used Director and Flash, we've been hit hard.
DB: Yeah, Flash especially. But what's Director?
SS: Director is shockwave files. Do you know shockwave files?
DB: Oh, okay.
SS: Director was beautiful, most of the e-literature pieces that I liked the best were made in Director.
DB: So, is that sort of your ideal software environment for—?
SS: Well, it was, I mean, it doesn't produce stuff for miniature mobile devices, right? But yes, the work that I thought was really beautiful was done in that. And then, Macromedia was fine. Adobe—when Adobe bought Macromedia, it didn't—between Adobe buying Macromedia and Steve Jobs not—I understand flash is, and memory hog and all that when we moved to— but between those two things, those were very creative things, you know, and they haven't been really replaced. The HTML 5 and JavaScript doesn't do it the same way. I mean, people are trying to do it, so the thing is, they'll make an app. So, yeah—that whole thing just annoys me, that it's under the control of so few software, I mean, so few computer or software companies, you know, what you can do or what's supposed to be done and the way things are supposed to look. It was such an open—so much to explore and so much did get explored and has disappeared because of the inability to access it.
SS: We've lost like a generation of design intelligence is what you might even say. Because people were exploring that and there wasn't enough time for other people to see it or think about it or whatever before the thing had shifted and moved on. So that all made me very annoyed and it seemed to me that nobody cared about the exploratory side of it—which they should have! Google and Apple, they have enough money to care about the exploratory side of it, Microsoft too.
DB: I think so.
SS: Do you know what I mean? They should be running huge, like IBM did or like Bell Labs did, huge exploratory—right?
DB: Yeah. I guess a question from that—what made you stick with it?
SS: Well, it's just the architectural part—I mean, the possibilities are just so great with respect to time and performativity and— —reach, and it's an international art form, the last of which was maybe concrete poetry. You know? We need to communicate. The world's problems are global, whether climatologic or poverty or what have you, right? Water, whatever; resources, survival. So, you need to speak—you know, I can't speak to 500 people, you know what I mean?
SS: I just think you should explore what you care about in a medium that does have a reach, and there are difficulties with that. This generator that Nick [Montfort] and I made, which was translated into Polish—I never learned more about English, or Polish, or computation than trying to translate it. You know?
SS: It brings up aspects of your language you never think about, because you never think about how it's different than Polish, for instance. And then they're trying to read your thing, and they're trying to read, in this case, too, Melville and Dickinson, because the work Sea and Spar Between was based on that. They are trying to deal with that and if it's not a good translation of Dickinson in Polish and then what—how do you—you know? It's really intense. Not only is it international, but it's a very intense investigation and evaluation of your basic materials. What you are working with, too—so you get to know your own stuff better, and you get to know somebody else better. I think that's a minimum of what we are going to need?
DB: Yeah. That's a really good point. So when did you do the translation into Polish?
SS: Oh, we didn't do it—these two Polish people did it. It was done by last—last year, Paris in October, I guess? Early October, whatever; September, October. The ELO [Electronic Literature Organization] meeting was in Paris and it was presented there. They gave a paper on it and we gave a paper on it, which will come out in this French journal Formaroute in June, or whatever. And it had been—they started doing it pretty soon after it was published—I think they started working at it—[32:52]—and Nick had run into one of these guys, I think at a translation conference in Paris that [Inaudible 32:51] had run or whatever and so it would have been in the works, but it just was a long—that was a long email exchange. This is the question, and how would you answer it, and how would they answer it, and all that.
DB: Did they keep the JavaScript specifically and then sort of substitute words within the eraser?
SS: No. You have to modify the code as well as the—
DB: The whole thing because of the syntax—
SS: Yes, you have to modify the code as well as the—that was always so interesting, you know, because you think the code is international or something but it's not. It's very language specific, what you normally can do, and so it's interesting.
DB: Yeah, that's fascinating. I'd like to talk kind of more on a grander—or, not grander, but a longer scale about your sort of career as a writer and if you could kind of describe that arc. Like when did you start kind of writing really seriously—poetry—and then what was the move like from your first books into writing into born-digital pieces and stuff like that? If you could just give a kind of broad outline of that?
SS: My father was an engineer. He had absolutely no use for words. Words were used by con-men, lawyers and advertising men. That's it. Whereas the real world, right, was reliable and whatever, he could build anything or sail anything or fix anything or whatever. So, it was like that. Though, my grandmother was a great reader and so forth, so there was that kind of thing but in my education, I didn't have any. I mean, I read a lot of literature but there was no point in it that I had any creative writing, anything like that.
SS: So, I got married when I was still in college and I had three kids in five years, and putting my husband through graduate school, all that kind of stuff—or helping to put him through graduate school.
SS: So, I didn't really start to write until I was home with no money, taking care of three children, you know, kind of "I can't move." [My] resource is only the radio really, kind of. I started to write then, but I did not value it, really. Then, at one point I went home for Christmas and my brother had brought a friend—I remember I was sitting with this youngest child in my arms and this and that, talking late at night, only lights of the Christmas tree around—and it just all of a sudden became clear to me that this friend of his wrote poems and was not tearing them up. It was like, "Oh!"
SS: By that time, my older children were in school in Yonkers, and Sarah Lawrence had these writing programs. So I started to take programs there and in exchange, to pay for them, I worked in the library there—which I didn't have any library training, either, but that's all right. And eventually they wanted me to get the library training, and I got the library training by offering Pratt students—Pratt had courses in Westchester and all around, right and Sarah Lawrence had this computer, and this was really early computer lab stuff—I would teach the computer classes to the Pratt people up there to pay for the Pratt classes. And I was asked to—well, they wanted to automate—the librarian wanted to automate the library. This was a tiny little library, but a beautiful one. So, no one knew what that was—I mean, they had OC-LC, right? They had that, right? But it was like: get a catalog, get a circulation system showing that sort of list they may have here—so I said, "Sure." Why not?
DB: Yeah. That sounds fun.
SS: Seriously! And it was like, you're reading this stuff like—
DB: And this was like early ‘80s?
SS: Yeah, really early ‘80s. It was like—this is like "The Washington Library Authority System," or "Hennepin Headings" or—you know? It was like, "What's the right way to go?" You would do FTP downloads of ERIC databases and stuff like that. There were some digitized stuff to know, but it was really not—you know—
DB: Yeah, that was really early.
SS: So anyway, that's how I sort of became aware of those kinds of issues. Oh, and in the meantime, I had gotten my MFA and all that at Sarah Lawrence—but I really didn't send out sub—I mean, I had the children I was raising and a full time job and stuff like that. So, I was writing and then I somehow became aware—probably through Poets & Writers, you know—of McDowell, and Yaddo and stuff like that, and so I sent stuff off to there, and that was like the first time that I really had time to write at length, to do that. That was like amazing for me. That was very valuable for me.
SS: I think it must have been early '90s that the first book was published, I think? It might have been. And then, some of the next few won some prizes and things like that. I won a CAP—CAPS was like a New York State grant, the old name for New York State, I think—and I got this newsletter from them, and that's where I first found out about Society for Literature and Science, which is now Society for Literature, Science and the Arts. I thought, you know, that sounds like something I'd be interested in, that was Kate Hayles who had sort of founded that.
SS: So, I went—I started to go to those conferences, those meetings. And it was there that there was this notice about the NEH seminars—which, if you are not an academic, you don't hear about these things. But I looked, and it turned out—so Kate offered her first one of these in 1995. And it was about electronic literature but it was like
SS: Hypertext Fiction, or whatever, and I'm like, "What? Why?" Because that's all there was kind of, at the time, you know? I had gotten involved with founding the Hudson Valley Writers' Center—some friends, people that I knew up at [upstate]—which was a poetry thing. So anyway, I went and looked at the guidelines for this thing. It turns out that you could apply as an independent scholar for any one of these things—and I'm an employed person, right? My whole application was, "You can't seriously only be offering this to academics and fiction people. You really need someone from poetry and someone from the public arts side of things." So, that's how I got into that thing. That was international. We had two computers for—it was maybe 15 of us? We had one Mac and one Windows computer for everybody to do all their work on, so we were working around the clock. It was a wonderful course. We did MOOS. We did all kinds of stuff. No one really knows what those are anymore, but—
DB: Wait, what? MOOS?
SS: MOOS. Online—like, you build rooms and you enter it textually, it's all textual and that kind of thing and those kind of games. Everything was of course new. We went and saw wonderful digital art builders, a lot of wonderful art being made in Pasadena—the Art Center [College] of Design, that place? And we went to SIGGRAPH—SIGGRAPH was just mind blowing and all that stuff. There were a few things on CDs—Uncle Buddy's Funhouse and Judy Malloy, there was a few, and the Eastgate hyperfiction things. And he'd just done this beta StorySpace for Windows, which was made available to Kate.
SS: And I'd done—my first thing, my project, was supposed to be some bibliography or something. I got that done in one second; then she said, "Why don't you—?" Oh, and I had just written True North as a print thing, as a paper thing, and I'd sent it—I don't know who sent it—somebody sent it to Mark Bernstein, who liked it. He himself likes science and everything, and so he was really into like, "Let's make a hypertext file out of it." So that's when I started working with the [Storyspace software]—which was just—because it had this error, and I kept reporting errors. I didn't know if there were errors or I didn't know how to use it, or what. Then it turned out to be this really terrible thing, which—you know—you get nervous and you save more often and it's an awful feeling—
DB: Every 11th time, it just deleted the links?
SS: Yeah, it just destroyed your links. Anyway, we finally got it done and I sent it in, and that was great. He is going to publish it. Then he told me he had to make a version for Mac, which would—and the affordances of the Mac were completely different, I mean completely different. There were like two completely different things. Fortunately, Deena Larsen—who had been working with him in Mac forever—she and I got together at Marjorie's house in California. She showed me some of the stuff that you needed to do with that...but that was just traumatic, really. It was a traumatic way to go.
SS: But maybe Marjorie [Luesebrink] was not—Marjorie and I then did stuff together. One of the things—which doesn't work anymore, the only one of my things that really doesn't work anymore (unless you have Netscape or whatever, or something)—we made a version of a poem that was in True North, the last poem in True North. But from then on, I was just—that was it, and I wanted to do digital work, and so from the time I did V: Wave Son.nets/ Losing L'una on, a digital component was part of the vision of the whole thing. And slippingglimpse was just purely a digital thing, though it got included along with the—well, no, no, the very, very first piece I did was The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot.
SS: That was right after True North, because we had the Cyber Mountain conference that Deena [Larsen] organized the next year, and I had that ready for that. I remembered bringing it to that.
DB: In what form did you bring it?
SS: It's in HTML, a web thing. So, everything else except for the app—the most recent app, which I don't know if you have, but there is—
DB: I do.
SS: —Vniverse.
DB: Yeah. I have been looking at it this week, it's great.
SS: —it's for the browser. Not the same on all browsers, but pretty playable.
DB: The Ballad—didn't you win a contest with that one in print first?
SS: No—oh, yes, I did! That was The Boston Review's—yes, I had written that.
DB: Because I read they had that Heather McHugh thing—
SS: Yeah, that's the thing. But when I wrote it, though I wrote it in print, it was written almost as a response to the whole experience of the NEH session, because it was like—it was just a whole response to this silicon world, carbon based world. Like how they were clashing with each other or how not, or their attraction to each other, or whatever. It was prompted by my reaction to what had happened at a computer. I wrote it in print. It's the length it is because whatever font size or whatever I had, it had to be ten pages for The Boston Review, so ten pages in some format. So, it was sent off for that. But then it was a natural thing to do it, because I wanted to have the images—because there were so many things—
DB: What programming languages do you feel comfortable in?
SS: I don't feel comfortable in any. I mean, I work with—I collaborate with other people and in a lot of different ways and I've been through a lot of different things with them. My role is always to want something that supposedly can't be done, and then—that's why I like to work face-to-face, and almost always have, with the person. Because you need to just fool around with it and these glitchy funny things happen, and it's great. If you have a good collaborator or a very simpatico collaborator, you are both sitting there agreeing that it's great, or whatever. And I actually love that process. I'm trying to think, in the cases of working with Marjorie and Cynthia, I was doing all of the linguistic stuff. We were doing interface design together—I mean, basically that was it: "how can we make this happen? This is the effect we want to have happen." Marjorie had—before Photoshop—and again, it was so easy. We used to have these applets from Italy, this designer in Italy. It was so easy to look at things and put things together. We had just a wonderful time. She had been in this NEH seminar as well.
DB: With you as well?
SS: Yeah.
DB: Who are you speaking about?
SS: M.D. Coverley is what she writes under. Her name is Marjorie Luesebrink. She was president of the ELO for a while until she gave that up—Community College in Irvine, and lives in Newport Beach. So, we used to go to SIGGRAPH together. We still go to all these conferences together. We're still very close friends. But we were discovering—anyway, her ToolBook thing was so great and she was so great visually. We just had different things to contribute to it, and different designs, and if you look at stuff she wrote, her own stuff, it is a much different—you would never confuse it—but it's like, we each had an influence, you know?
SS: So, those were those things and then with Cynthia—with Cynthia it was great, because I went to IDP and Noah Wardrip-Fruin took me there, and I just said, "Were any of the students there interested in poetry, doing poetry?" and Cynthia was. She was very literate.
SS: She had an engineering degree from Colombia—in the country Colombia—and she's moved on to completely other things, too, but we did these two, we did the Vniverse and the slippingglimpse. So there were two people that wanted to, and it was really clear, Cynthia was the person, we were going to do this. And we had a lot of fun with Vniverse, and slippingglimpse came because I went to a talk on—Catherine Bateson, and Paul Ryan was there showing some of those videos, not the ones we actually ended up using but some that are sort of similar, water videos—and he used the word "chreod," which I had never heard, and went up to ask him about it, and I bought his Video Mind, Earth Mind thing, and I read through the book and there was a diagram in it that's wrong—and it turns out that he and Cynthia were both teaching at The New School—and so I approached him, and I said, "We can fix this up for you. We can make a little program that that will make this right and we'd love to use some of your—" So, it was great. I came to his house and we looked at the all the colored ones, the ones that I've used (though, those are ten of about fifty or so). But a lot of things—like, I had to become a lawyer and draw up a kind of contract for us to use it and stuff like that? And at one point he said, "Yes, you could use them"—Cynthia needed them in a certain form and he wasn't really processing in this digital form, there was this one guy working for him who was, and all that—and this guy calls me up one night about 6 o'clock and says, "Which ones do you want?" On the phone, right? So, you know, you look at those water things—it's not "the one with the water," you can't say "the one that's green," you know—so, I've often said that was the most difficult linguistic job I ever had to do was to describe—without any notes, without any—just a visual memory, ten of these things from fifty that look really similar.
DB: Yeah, that's funny.
SS: But then he loved it, he really loved that work and they showed—he died just recently, and in his memorial things they showed those things. He was a great guy. We both had that ecological—and Cynthia has gone on to do a lot of work educating people around the—she's part of Occupy, and this education for the 99% kind of thing, including she takes groups of students to South America and so on. So she does intend to make—and she also has a career as a photographer—so, I mean, people go off in these different directions from these things. Then the thing with Nick is that he had a sabbatical, and he wanted to do a lot of collaborations and he came to me, and I had never done a generator—generator was so different from anything I had ever done and I wasn't really sure that was such a good idea. But he persuaded me, and so there was a lot of—he would travel here, I would travel there. That was the hardest.
SS: Like with Cynthia, she's in New York, we could just sit down. Marjorie, I would go visit her and would just sit down and do it. Nick was a little harder to get together and do it, but we did it and then it was super—there's been a lot of interest in that, a lot of critical work about it, and people that wanted to translate it, and then we presented it—the Emily Dickinson Society wanted to do it, you know, we did it there—and we did this subsequent little generator called Duels-Duets, a collaboration. After that I worked with Ian, and then Ian is in New York too, so we've done a couple. We've done one about libraries, called House of Trust, which is going to be published in Volta in August.
DB: That's up though, right?
SS: You can go to House of Trust and see it, yeah. Have you seen it?
DB: Yeah. I was looking at it this morning. It's got the library.
SS: It's all about libraries!
DB: So, in these processes—when you are collaborating—do you have the kind of traditional divisions between your labor? Are you, like, pre-writing, generating like you do in a notebook, and then you move to like a place where you're kind of composing and then revising and then finishing? Are there those stages or is it different?
SS: Well, in some cases the poem pre-existed. So, we knew what we were working with.
DB: So, you had the content.
SS: We have that content, but that content is very small compared to how to design the interface.
SS: So, I usually have a vision, just like with True North. It's a vision that's impossible, short of an installation—though, at one point when I was at Georgia Tech, the graduate student who was doing the Techno Poetry Festival with me—we really were going to do it. We looked into—you know, we wanted to have the stars like sensors that came down, and you would move among them and it releases the text, and it would be mirrored—and there would be water on the floor, or Mylar on the floor...I mean, we thought about it, right? So I would have a vision about it, but there would be—it's a learning process. Like with Nick. It's like, "I want this ocean. I want you to fall off the ocean." So, okay, we can make a torus out of it, or whatever. In other words, it's a negotiation to find out what you would do in the programming to have the effect of what you need to have.
DB: Of what you are envisioning?
SS: Yes, of what you are envisioning. And then, he's a poet himself, and we both liked and, by chance, had access to the Lexicon databases for both of those poets—this is a post-digital humanities project. We were looking through what words are interesting, what are not, and then just generating the template phrases, do you know? We would talk about this and what do we want to put back and what order do we want the words to be arranged—so alphabetic mostly, but fast fish loose fish, because we wanted them close together, or at the end, you know—? So it's this whole understanding of the way you are doing this, and then of course going on from that: the cut to fit the tool-spun course, which was like a meta piece. So, getting into all those questions was like a sort of a different thing. And then, I wanted—well, he did it on Python, Nick works in Python first to kind of sketch it, and then it was put into the—Nick is, you know, if you see his other generators, he's not into color, he's not into—right? I had to fight to get the blue.
DB: That's a good win.
SS: I kept throwing all these metaphor things on it. So, I did all that stuff about the number of fish in the sea, and all that. You kind of get the blue thing, but you learn so much from—you learn about each program, but as well—it's different sensibilities that you bring, you know? So, Nick and I couldn't have been more different, and at the same time we will always love exactly the same things. They are mathematical, they are poetic, they are structural. The same things will just—and we both agree that it is not trivial whether or not there is a hyphen between Moby and Dick.
SS: You get far enough away, you say, "Oh my God! They're like identical, they're twins." But when you are right there it's very different. It's much more opportunistic than what you are suggesting. It's like, "What do we have access to? What can we do in the time we have? With the time that we have to get together, how would this work?" Like we both love Dickinson and Melville, so we just start out a generator—"What"—and then, like, with the Duels-Duets, there was a conference, an ELO conference, and the name of the panel was Duels-Duets, or something. It was people that work collaboratively, right? And so we had worked with—
SS: —it was like I was just aware of all the things that were different, because with Cynthia and Marjorie it was much more we were all doing the same thing as we went along, much more negotiation. Because generators—I don't think that way, you know? So, it was about the negotiations and stuff like that. But then we had that thing, and so—I mean—we did that on the train and over lunch, just throwing in those things and I wanted it really realistic. I wanted some of the things that actually do happen—you know? You run out of time, and that's the reality of these collaborations. It's not like some ten-year project where every detail—I might love that, but it's not a medium that—
DB: That rewards you.
SS: No, not at all. And so, it's how much can you get done in the time, and you hope to God that you think of the right thing at the moment that the person is able to implement it, and that you have this whole other thing that's really important to do, skip your mind or whatever and—
SS: People were brought into those discussions too, like the young man who designed the cover for the Spring Gun edition and so on. So it's different aspects of—do you know?
DB: Yeah.
SS: And since I don't love social media or mobile whatever, I definitely need to hear from people who are using it about the way it needs to be used. You don't want it to be—you know—
DB: Yeah. How did you develop your sense of design—sense of what you could envision?
SS: I don't know. From the time I was a kid, really, I wanted to be an architect.
DB: You wanted sort of a structural—from the beginning?
SS: I did, and I'm sure seeing my father build things and stuff all the time was like—it was just more—I don't know. And I don't know why that would particularly apply but I have helped lots of people put manuscripts together. I mean, if I see a whole bunch of poems, I just—some people have a sense for that particular thing and some other people are different; their best thing is at the poem level or at some other level, critical level or whatever, but the place that I seem to operate pretty well is that putting the structure together thing.
DB: What do you see at that level? What are you after?
SS: I don't know. It's just—I hear something as well as see something. Online it's often a visual thing, but in the manuscript it's like there's this leading tone—like, "How are we going to get in, what's going to lead to this?" and "Do not bore me by putting this next to this because I don't—"
SS: You know what I mean, that there's like a—it's not an arc. Do you know what I mean? It's not like a theatrical thing.
DB: Okay. You're not thinking of a dramatic arc or anything like that?
SS: No, not really, because that's not often what's the best—I've done a lot of editing, I mean, as an editor at Slapering Hol Press: "What is this manuscript really about? What does it really do better than anything else at the heart of it?" That has to come out. So how do you introduce the person to that—the reader? And then how do you complicate it in an interesting way, and how do you pace it so that the person—it's like a reading pace, right?
DB: Right, right.
SS: And will there be any use to divisions? Will there be use to the naming of divisions? Is it better to suppress that? I don't know. It's just something about the individuality of the work that will suggest—or will suggest, "This is great, but this thing just doesn't go there." And I always ask people to send me all the outtakes, too, because often those do go there and sometimes they took them out because it was too close to the bone or they didn't quite—whatever. Stuff like that.
DB: Yeah, yeah. When you're working on, say, your own poem—an individual poem—are you revising towards a sound in that way, too? Or do you hear a tone?
SS: I don't know if I revise towards a sound but I certainly read it out loud. It's certainly not just a visual thing. It may be conceptual, but it's not conceptual without reference to the other sensory modalities. So for sure it has to read right—in my mouth.
DB: Yeah, in your mouth. And has that been, like, the case ever since you started?
SS: I think so. I was trained on nursery rhymes.
DB: Yeah, right. So it's always the sound—
SS: Yeah, I think so.
DB: Well then, something like The Red Virgin which is indexical, right, in it's—how did you—did you put your stamp on that?
SS: Well, the thing is—when I was first reading Simone Weil I was very upset about the way people responded to her, because either they couldn't stand her religious side or they couldn't stand her political side, and they would name the other one as the whatever—you know—
DB: Right.
SS: No one would see her as like one person—that one person could have these sides, and she could come from that. And I read The Visions of Simone Machard—Brecht's play?—I think is the best work that has been done about her, as a fiction work. There were some other plays and things about her that I thought were unbearably reductionist.
DB: Yeah.
SS: So I did not want that, and so from that point of view I wanted a lot of materials. You know—some documentary materials, I wanted to cover certain things, and I wanted to use her language. So pretty much, stuff was named the way it was. But then, from that point of view—of how are you going to put them together—it was exactly the fact that there were so many people who had so many different takes on it. So yes, it's almost indexical because—and this was a consideration wherever you started—I wanted you to be able to start anywhere.
SS: The poems are written that way: so that, if her brother is named, no matter where you start, you'll know it's her brother in some way. Things aren't dropped in. You can make sense of it. It's written so you can make sense of it from wherever you start. You'll have a different impression depending on where you start, and that was part of the point, right? But I think most people will read it straight through. Part of the point was like it's just impossible the number—and again, this is seeing things in the round sort of, that you read and you read and you read, or you have people who are supposedly sympathetic like Robert Coles, you know? Which in his own way was just most reductive of all.
DB: Right, Right.
SS: And it was interesting to me that the Italian woman—her biography was so much less reductive—that Italian woman psychiatrist, than Coles, and stuff like that?
DB: Oh, okay, yeah.
SS: So is it the way a woman reads it? Is it the way that if you're coming from the political side, if you're coming from the religious side? All these people have too many irons in the fire, right? So I wanted to tell it the way I read it from the documents—I tried to keep it as accurate as far as I was able to. I mean, I didn't make stuff up. In fact, after I'd done it in the year—year and a half, whatever—of putting it together and I stopped reading about her, you know? And I'm like, "Somebody's going to publish some book that completely overturns this whole thing. They'll find out that whatever, this and that..." Right? That didn't happen actually, but I did have that worry for a while: "Let me go out and read all these other books—"
DB: Yeah.
SS: So and I didn't feel it was bad. But what I also realized was, like, I could get at a lot of things, but I couldn't really get at her thinking. So you have more of that in Losing L'una.
SS: You have more of that in-depth stuff where you try to talk about some of her thinking, and a long line of people trying to think in odd ways, you know?
DB: Yeah.
SS: So that was a return to that. But yeah, that indexical thing there in that sense that the book had come out of—
DB: Reactions—?
SS: —to this polarized assessment of her.
DB: Yeah, yeah, right. If you had, at that time, already taken the class with Katherine Hayles, do you think you would have tried to represent that in a digital fashion?
SS: Well, possibly, yeah, possibly. There is one little essay called "Seven-League Boots" where I talk—which is a hypertext essay from long, long ago, and she's in there, she's quoted in there in a way. Possibly, yeah.
DB: And had she just been an interest of yours for most of your adult life?
SS: Well it's very funny because I was—oh, I've lost the name. There was this bookstore in Midtown—a wonderful bookstore in midtown, now gone—and I was in the Philosophy section or something, looking at all brown and gray books—and one pink book. So I took this one pink book which turned out to be a biography of her, and that's how I got started. And then it turned out at that at Sarah Lawrence we had most of her work because there was a man there who was teaching her. I didn't know it at that time, I hadn't heard of her. I just loved the way she wrote. She was a woman who knew her own mind. She wrote with an authority. And I was really tired of—well, I mean, there would be these things: "Oh yeah for a woman, she's sort of a good philosopher." I mean, this was the whole timbre of the 70's and 80's, and I could not—
DB: Right, right.
SS: —women's minds were not well respected. And I just loved the way she wrote. I had a lot of trouble—I mean, again, she let the software pass through all these things. She was doing this political stuff, the factory work and all that, then all of a sudden that's the end of her life in her notebooks—which I think is totally unfair. I mean we judge her on basis of her student notes and notebooks that were never published, and notebooks that didn't include all the mathematics and stuff she'd put in there.
DB: Yeah.
SS: But you know, when she started going into folklore and stuff like that, I'm like "Whoa wait, you know—bridge too far right?" But then you know, then I eventually caught up with her. But no, still, it's just riveting. The way she writes is just riveting to me. I was just angry that people couldn't see. I just thought that the points of view that were brought to criticize her were just not adequate to what she was, and so that just kind of made me mad.
DB: Is anger one of the common emotions from which you write?
SS: I don't know. It's stimulating. It's like—anger with love, right?
DB: Right, right.
SS: I just loved it so much, I mean I really admired it so much and it just didn't seem fair—just hadn't been—
DB: Yeah.
SS: Anyway. Though a lot of people have told me that that's helped them write biographical or life or memoir things, you know—as a way to do that.
DB: Yeah. I was struck by how contemporary it seemed. In preparing for this, just reading it and thinking about, in the last decade, all the kind of focused, thematic books—
SS: Yeah, on people's lives and stuff—
DB: Yeah. And documentary, "Poetry of Witness" and all that, and I was like, "This is 1993."
SS: Long ago, yeah.
DB: And this is really, you know—that's good.
SS: Yeah.
DB: As I expected, you've totally blown up all my questions—but it's good, it's good. But I do want to get a little bit more at the revision, and sort of the prewriting and revision process for you—of your—
SS: I would never do anything I would call "pre-writing."
DB: Okay. Well that's—
SS: I don't even know what that is.
DB: I guess in like the compositional mode. So when you sit down with your notebooks, I would consider that sort of—
SS: You'll see there's not one, there's three.
DB: Yeah, okay.
SS: In fact, there might be a date—that this might say "14 May 2013" and the next date in it might be "20 May 2014." So it might be a year later, right?
DB: Right.
SS: And it's like, in the meantime, I went to these conferences and took notes, and they're like kind of lying around here. And do I have a chance to get back and look at them? No—because I started to read Meillassoux and I just wrote a paper about Simone Weil and Meillassoux. That was good. But why is it somebody writes something, or is solicited to do something or whatever—and this was religion or literature or, like, Fanny Howe or something—Fanny Howe and I will go to Simone Weil Society, right? And then, but Romana Huk is at Notre Dame and I published at Notre Dame and so I wind up talking to Steve Tulsa—something, whatever, right? I don't even know how I got on Meillassoux, I really don't. I guess—I can't remember, but I was talking to a lot of people about Meillassoux, and then he writes The Number and the Siren, which is like—my God, this book. Do you know this book?
DB: No I don't.
SS: It's about Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés and it's the best book of literary criticism I ever read in my whole life!
DB: Wow.
SS: It's so amazing! So then I'm reading this, and then I realize, "Oh my God, all of his philosophy comes out of the way he's talking about this poem!" So it's like the poem—it's Mallarmé' is driving Meillassoux, right? And in the case of Simone Weil, The Iliad really was driving—you know what I mean? And I'm like "Oh this is interesting. Everybody does it the other way, but you know? So yes, then—I do that, or I do some other part, and I still haven't gone back over the notes—from the conference from four years ago or whatever, right?
DB: Yeah.
SS: But there's kind of, a set of things which is where I'm about to start to write, you know; there's a kind of notebooks like that, and there's other notebooks that are kind of "math-y" or whatever kind of thing, and there might be some that are like "semi-philosophical-literary blah-blah," and I mean they just have different things and there's no real control over them, so at any given moment there's a list of things to do and things that I write at the back of it, or whatever. And they have to be small enough so I can carry around and write on the bus or wherever I happen to be, or if I'm at NYU or whatever.
DB: Yeah.
SS: I'm part of this program and I get access to the Columbia and NYU libraries, which is great—through the New York Public library, that's the program. So, you know, it's very opportunistic: where things are. I mean, it's like, there's a conference and somebody says, "Do you want to do—be on the panel about something?" Or, "Let's make this work," but then all of a sudden—or whatever.
SS: And you know, a third of those things never happen.
DB: Right. I guess I'm wondering, then, how all this "not-controlled-work" and note taking and everything then becomes a poem or poetry?
SS: Well, after a while, it just comes to a head or something. Do you know what I mean?
DB: Yeah.
SS: So it's like, obviously in the case of where somebody says, "Be on a panel or be a paper or we need to do this or whatever"—you know. Or, you do something, you make an app and then you talk about what is it to translate from one form of software to another, or something, but also to sort of kind of make sense—
DB: Yeah.
SS: Or you do this thing, like Sea and Spar, and then somebody wants something for a special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly and you say, "Okay, we're going to make a paper that's running code." Because that's what people don't do. They don't look at the code and we want to talk about this and that—but those things take time.
DB: Oh yeah, absolutely.
SS: So you're off doing that and so you get a little bit deflected from where you were with here, right? And then somebody does whatever. So, it's not completely uncontrolled.
DB: Yeah, not uncontrolled.
SS: Yeah, but—you see these suitcases. So, see this suitcase? This is like a Meillassoux suitcase, then there's a Karen Barad thing so the whole—there's a lot of stuff going on now in my mind where I'm Karen Barad.
DB: Okay.
SS: So that's kind of this thing here—
DB: Yeah.
SS: And then these are three talks that I have to be writing on—
DB: Oh man, you're busy.
SS: —remember including that archive, is a talk at the Beinecke in the archive. This is for a Slovakian magazine, and that's the archive. Oh yeah, I have to be in some kind of feminist cyber panel or whatever kind of thing.
DB: Okay.
SS: This is the paper I have to give in June, which I'm waiting for Ian to come and finish with—I mean, so, those are all the readings, like—so mostly since the two books came out this year I did a lot of readings. And that's it: when you're doing a lot of readings, you're writing the things for the readings, the script for the readings, and stuff like that. So, it's not—but see, these notes are still here from when ELC 2 came out, and we were talking about that—you know, which—I haven't cleared that out or anything. It's between controlled and uncontrolled.
DB: Right, okay, okay. But are there ever times when all of a sudden you're like "I need to write this book now."
SS: Yeah—and the trouble with that is, I had four grandchildren in the last ten years, and do a lot of babysitting in the first, the pre-school years. For my granddaughters—my son was teaching at Columbia when they were little, so I was going there, both parents working, right? Now he's at Duke, but now my other son has little boys who are almost 3 and 5, and my daughter has been ill for twenty-five years and her care takes a lot of time. So there's, like, things that just—yes. And it used to be that the colonies were the answer to that: to apply and go there. Now I don't have a car, everything I have to carry—and now I have to bring all these little piles I just showed you—
DB: You're not going to have a travelling filing cabinet or something?
SS: It's just, that doesn't work so well anymore.
DB: Yeah.
SS: And yet, if I'm right here, then everything is "on call," kind of, in a lot of ways.
DB: Sure.
SS: So that just gets harder, right? But definitely that happens, in trying to work out how to get the time to do that, becomes an issue and—what can I say?
DB: Do you have any new book projects that are closer?
SS: Well, one thing is—well, I have new poems. I don't necessarily know that they're a book thing. I've thought about doing a "new and selected" kind of thing, which I haven't done, right?
DB: I was thinking about that on the walk over here—like, what a "selected" for you would look like. It would be really fascinating.
SS: Yeah, because it's so weird, right?
DB: Yeah!
SS: It's just so different.
DB: Yeah, yeah. It really is. It's a whole—
SS: —it's very different, so—but whether or not that's a good idea, I don't know. I just don't know.
DB: Yeah.
SS: It's hard to know where is the best place to put your time. I mean, also, I'm on the board of the ELO and they're doing a lot—
DB: That's a lot of time.
SS: —a lot of stuff is going on with that, actually it's a lot of work. We are really expanding in a lot of ways and—so it's just—
DB: No.
SS: Yes, I'd love a whole—you know—if the day were twice as long?
DB: Then that day would be—
SS: Or if you just had a place to go, you know? But then again, the place to go is—in a way, I guess it's good to go and take nothing with you. But actually, I really want be in touch with these things. I do work off things, you know?
DB: Yeah, absolutely.
SS: And I do like the collaborative process. I think everything has to become more collaborative, really. I think that's the stuff I'm most interested in: how can we make our—not meld our minds, but have different streams of expertise and interests—we have to learn to talk better to each other, I think.
DB: Yeah.
SS: To solve something. And then, because I do have these grandchildren, it's like, "What is the most important thing?" And born quite late to my children, right? So I won't see them for such a long time—right?—more. So what's the most important thing for me to be doing with them, and all? You know? It's a question.
DB: Yeah. And then, so, were there times in your life where you weren't so busy that you would—?
SS: No.
DB: No?
SS: My mother had cancer.
DB: Oh.
SS: My mother had lung cancer and was ill for twenty years, and for each of those years we were told she had a year left to live.
DB: Wow!
SS: And my best friend had terminal cancer for the last two and a half years, and for the last year and a half of that she's in hospice and I was going out every month to spend a week with her because it was hospice in her home.
DB: Right.
SS: So it's been a lot of long term care things that I've actually been involved with, and doing a lot of things at the same time, but those times like the Yaddo, MacDowell, Djerassi, Ragdale—those were really, really wonderful times. I really have to keep that memory of an island of time, and how do you find it and how do you make it for yourself?
DB: Right, right. You know, I mean—this may be a bad question, but has the caretaking entered into your—I mean, like, have you thought or started to think about that?
SS: It's hard to know. I mean, there's one specific poem, it was in the Best American Poetry this year—"Introductions"—which mentions, in one of its stanzas, my daughter—
DB: Okay.
SS: And I kind of—in Give the Body Back there's a mother-daughter poem—my mother. But it feels exploitive when you're so up close to people who are really ill and you're dealing with it all the time. It's such a demand to be present to them when you are in contact with them that the writing demand is for distance. Do you see what I mean?
DB: Yeah, I do.
SS: And I don't find those compatible, but I'm certain that underneath almost everything I care about in the way I think about it is this understanding that there needs to be space for these people who don't have the same chances, and "this is all well and good but have you thought"—you know, that sort of thing, right?
DB: Yeah.
SS: And I think that's another reason that Simone Weil's thought appeals to me also, because she was always, always understanding that—where people were, really.
DB: Right. No, I think I can see that relationship, strongly. In terms of your correspondence and your e-mail and stuff like that, did you start out writing regular letters with your work and sending stuff back and forth, and then moved to kind of considering it via e-mail? I know this is an abrupt shift, but—
SS: You mean when you're sending poems out?
DB: Yeah. Well, I mean like in your revision process, do you have trusted readers? Do you have people that are helping you?
SS: Long ago, in the 70's—like, during the MFA program and stuff like that, there were some groups of people who were, like, we've known each other. So there was a little bit of that, not so much.
DB: Yeah.
SS: I have one very dear friend, Nancy Knutson who had been in the program with me, she also wrote fiction, and for a long time, every Sunday morning she was in—she moved to New Mexico—we'd call each other up and talk about poems back and forth. Rachel Loden is another person that at times we'd exchange work. She's doing different kind of work now, so—
DB: Yeah.
SS: It's been a long time. Sometimes I send stuff to Denise Duhamel who is also a dear friend, but mostly, after it's almost sort of done.
DB: Very close, okay.
SS: Yeah. So then, I have a friend in Ireland—I have friends that I correspond with but not in the sense of sending poems, which used to be in paper letters and now it's been mainly supplanted by e-mail.
DB: Yeah. And has that changed—has that made any difference to you?
SS: It hasn't made a difference in the friendships.
DB: Right.
SS: And the thing about the poems is that—you see, some people get Give the Body Back, and The Red Virgin, and so on, and then they're just not going to get parts of Dragon Logic and there's an even stronger divide amongst people who just don't get, and they don't want to get, electronic or born-digital literature.
DB: Right, right.
SS: And I'm pretty much really deeply in both worlds, and they just don't get it. I mean they don't get each other and it's very hard with e-literature because it changes so much that unless you're deeply in it, it's hard to learn it. You know what I mean? You have to really—it takes a lot. Of all the things—so if you're not already in the middle of a "net kind of life"—which, the younger you are, you are, right?
DB: Right.
SS: So it's like I talk to lots of young [people]—
DB: Yeah. That's great!
SS: But my old [friends]—you know what I mean? There's like this sharp division, right?
DB: Right.
SS: So it's not like you can really ask of these—if both these things are in your mind—there are not so many people you can go to, because they're not going to get half of it, one way or another, right?
DB: Yeah.
SS: Though I think that the younger people do get it much more. I mean, I feel like they and I are living in the same world more than—although, I do not have a cell phone, and I must be the only person that anybody knows (or very close to the only person anybody knows) who doesn't have a cell phone, and I get a lot of flak for it. But I just—there are some things I just take a stand against. The social media thing, I understand there are some uses for it, but insofar as these people—insofar as parents holding their children's hands or pushing a carriage are not responding to that child's face?
DB: It happens, I know. I know.
SS: That bothers me.
DB: Yeah.
SS: So I think that the way that face-to-face is cut off by the use of social media? I mean two people go to a restaurant and look at their phones? You know?
DB: I know.
SS: That seems a real loss to me.
DB: Yeah. It's very pronounced in New York City. I mean, I've been noticing it—I've only been here a day and I've been noticing it way more than I do out West, but I don't know. Also, I see a lot less people.
SS: Yeah, right, right, right.
DB: So, I just have a few more questions, and these are kind of about—not feeling, I guess, but—do you have, in terms of the media and the files that you've saved and created over the years, do you have sort of dear feelings towards those? I mean, what is the work? I guess, is the question. Where is it? And what do you feel protective of, or do you feel protective of anything?
SS: Well, you're glad for books. Books are going to last longer than almost anything else, in the last 20 years.
DB: Yeah.
SS: I love books. I do love books. I really strongly feel the limitations insofar as being a creative writer, because I do have some kind of a three-dimensional vision or hope or wish and I see it in digital art and I see it in lots of projects. And they can easily be literary to me, and they're not.
DB: Yeah.
SS: But I would never not want books. You could see that. The minute you start to do digital work, there's a certain way—in the same way that, if you're a theater person—that you have to let something go. Even more than you let a manuscript go. Today's performance was today's performance, and that won't come back. Even if you videotaped it, it really doesn't come back. That's what, you know, plus, videotape does not—so there's something like that: when you realize, and then you realize that in fact, no one may ever read it the way you meant it to be read because, at least for my generation, everybody made their own interface, there was no time to get canonical interfaces for various kinds of work or, you know, genres didn't precipitate out—not enough time for all that. So there's a certain loss there, right?
SS: I have no idea. I think that the best way probably at the moment to save digital stuff is to have some video or something of somebody using it, plus people's notes, interview them about what they intended or whatever, save the code if you can, and adding emulation migration. All of it is so burdensome, you know? It's really hard. On the other hand, I do send some email. There are a few folders that I've designated to go to Duke. I definitely don't want all my email to go to Duke, right? But it's very—because you don't even know—I mean, I also purge my email. Not that that does any good; but like I don't save, you know, but so I try to just keep working—only working stuff, and if it's done, it's gone. Now I pay a price for that sometimes because I might want to go back and look at it, you know, but on balance—like file maintenance is huge, and I want to be able to find what I need. You see, I do a lot of different things. So to find what I need is already a problem. So I don't want tons and tons and tons of stuff around and I'm not like those, you know, got to document every day of their life and their dry cleaning ticket and everything, I'm like, "Christ!" So I don't want that.
SS: I would hope that there's some place or memory or some collection—some server somewhere—that some of this stuff can be seen and saved in some form. This whole idea, the signup kind of erase history altogether, and like—what is history? We're just nothing but a moving front. I think that's a huge loss, and I think—I'm not invested in people saving every revision. I'm not. Do you know? In some cases it might be interesting to see some of the things, but basically, the books—
DB: Yeah, the books.
SS: The books and the notebooks between them I think would be more interesting than seeing every page of every—do you know? That seems very fetishistic to me, in a weird way. Yeah, it could have gone another, whatever—but it didn't. And I'm not saying the right thing turned out or anything. I think I've said "opportunistic" to you a lot. But I think you can way overdo it, and on the other hand, I'm not like, "whatever"...you know? I am invested to a degree. I don't think you could ever work in a library and not feel that way—
DB: Yeah.
SS: —and especially these things that got saved that nobody wanted at the time, and later you were so glad to find out that somebody saved? I really appreciate that about libraries, too. So people who want to do that kind of work, I really honor that.
DB: Last question: when you send stuff to Duke, like when you're sending digital stuff, how does that work?
SS: Well, there's a digital librarian—this guy.
DB: This guy!
SS: They both changed! Unfortunately, Willis is leaving to go to the Newberry, so the two guys I worked with so far—first the digital one left, and now Willis has left, he's the other one—but they've been replaced, right? So once a year I tell him which email files, right? And they go to do the email files. And they have my—I mean, they have the stuff online.
DB: Yeah, so they have archived that themselves.
SS: Yeah, they archived that themselves. And then I don't do a—I put a lot of stuff in a box. I sort of try to include a paper that says very roughly what's in there. But I can't—to do—to really go through and catalogue the stuff, or something, it's like it's that or see my grandchildren, or do my work, you know? And of the three, it's like—no.
DB: Somebody else will do that.
SS: It's like, I try to give a little bit of an indication, but it's not wonderful. But anyway, I haven't sent it off for a while. I was good for a while, I sent a lot of stuff out, but getting the two books out and the things out, you get a little lull from that to then send the stuff. The online stuff is really accessible in a lot of ways, actually, and my website—which has kind of stayed up in its form for a really long time. Again, I think the design was good.
DB: It is! That's an amazing part of it.
SS: 2002, right?
DB: Yeah.
SS: So I think it has held up, and I think you can get at quite a lot of stuff too. None of the Facebook-type stuff, like, "This is my dog or this is my lunch" or whatever. But the stuff about the work.
DB: That's the important stuff. Well, thanks a lot.
SS: Okay.
DB: I think we've got a good—
SS: This is something called a technical interview?
DB: That was a technical interview. Welcome to the technical interview!
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