Poetry News

Diana Arterian & Andrew Wessels Talk First Books at LARB

By Harriet Staff

Poets Diana Arterian and Andrew Wessels are in conversation about their first books—Playing Monster :: Seiche and A Turkish Dictionary, respectively, both published by 1913 Press last year—at Los Angeles Review of Books. "Andrew and I only began to know one another after meeting randomly and agreeing to exchange our first manuscripts," writes Arterian in her introduction, "and, even while reading an early draft, I was thrilled by the engines of the book, its lineage — and where it might lead. It reminded me of Barthes: 'Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? […] it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.'"

Wessels writes about Arterian, too. "So often, we talk of how much we like and enjoy a book. Arterian’s work demands that weightier conversation as each page investigates the fallout of our personal histories and traumas, the possibilities and boundaries of confession, and the ways that we can create, heal, and recreate ourselves through writing and reading." ​From this interview:

Forgive me, but I’m in the middle of watching the new season of Twin Peaks, so I’m thinking a lot about Americana and how America is both filled with highly unique locations due to its geography as well as this uniform Americanness that blankets the country. How did you see location and place while writing this, and how did you let it embody and inform your poetry?

In terms of location, the events in the book take place in central Arizona (“Playing Monster”) and upstate New York (“Seiche”). These two regions felt and feel to be, in many ways, polar opposites from one another. Playing Monster :: Seiche has a “uniform Americanness” not so much due to the physical landscapes within the book but rather because abuse has happened and is happening everywhere in this country. The events in the “Playing Monster” poems took place at a time when that fact was receiving more and more attention — divorce proceedings began to include information regarding abusive spouses and parents in the 1990s. Prior to that point it was considered a private affair of the family or — particularly in the height of heteronormative 20th-century America — a father’s appropriate means of running his household. This is not to say that abuse is an American phenomenon (in the least), but rather the “Playing Monster” poems are an attempt to give insight into the abusive American household that is domestic, middle class, very educated, and white when it is otherwise often an experience ascribed to the foreign, poor or working class, less educated, and/or families of color.

Beyond this, to include the “Seiche” thread in this response, the overarching aim of the book is an attempt to document the ubiquitousness yet simultaneous invisibility of the patriarchal oppressions in the United States, and the many forms in which those oppressions manifest themselves.

Find both interviews in full at LARB.

Originally Published: March 1st, 2018