Poetry News

Brandon Brown & Claire Marie Stancek Begin at the End

By Harriet Staff
Claire Marie Stancek, Mouths, cover

Brandon Brown and Claire Marie Stancek started a correspondence in 2017, at first to discuss their recently published collections, and later to discuss the figures, concepts, and ideas that inform their work. To introduce their conversation, recently published at Literary Hub, they explain: "We initiated this discussion in the spirit of friendship and mutual admiration, having both been readers of each other’s works and living for the most part in the same place, the east Bay Area of California." From there: 

This experiment in correspondence was fruitful and provocative, leading us both into surprise, tangent, soft epiphany, about our own writing and each other’s. We are both students, in many senses, and our correspondence included the delight of sharing something we’ve learned as well as the pleasure of discovery. A series of e-mails over a season, two seasons, when we could find the spiritual and literal air to breathe led to this excerpted text, which we share with you—in the spirit in which it was originally made.

Brandon Brown: This may seem like a weird place to start, but I thought we could maybe begin our interview by talking about the end of the world. I was struck by Lyn Hejinian’s characterization of how an activist politics is at work (and play) in the text. In her blurb, she writes, “Activist art demands that we challenge the reliability of common sense.” The poems in Mouths seem to do all sorts of things and move in so many directions, including revolutionary politics. But I also sense an apocalypticism there, a material and embodied experience of the world ending.

Claire Marie Stancek: I love that you’ve started with the end. The spiraling sense of disjunction into which your question threw me perhaps speaks to how I understand apocalyptic forces working in Mouths, which involves wrenching time out of time, interrupting the end with the beginning, imagining graveyards weirdly awash with wet and disorderly life, or fantasizing about how a dance floor compresses not just sweating bodies, but also time. The apocalypse of the work comes through thematically, in fantasies of flesh-eating roses or moth swarms.

But even something like allusion can work apocalyptically: citation evokes a simultaneity of voices, a babble that reveals the lie of time. A promiscuity of reference in this book—from “canonical” writers like John Milton and John Keats, to contemporary poets like Lisa Robertson, Etel Adnan, Craig Santos Perez, you(!), to rappers and singers like Drake, CHVRCHES, and Rihanna, to friends and people I love—performs, in an obvious way, this sense of apocalyptic simultaneity. Mouth’s world is a world without time—“without” both in the sense of refusing time’s logic, and also in the sense of being outside time or after it. One of the most urgent questions in Mouths is, how should one be or act or sing at the end of the world?

Read on at Literary Hub.

Originally Published: June 25th, 2018