Category: Laura Moriarty

Laura Moriarty interviewed by Zoe Tuck



Part 1 of an email interview conducted with Laura Moriarty regarding her new book, Who That Divines (Nightboat 2014).

ZT: You begin Who That Divines with an epigraph from French feminist Luce Irigaray, who seems to be one of the guiding geniuses of this book. Could you talk about her influence on your work?

LM: As I was writing Who That Divines the project morphed from being called Divination and having to do with chance and with something like magic (in the cheap superstitious sense) to what became a find of feminist diatribe/fairytale. In the first part of the book, the section called “Divination,” I focused a lot on the collages of Bruce Connor as I was writing and I think there is some a feeling of surreality to it. I asked people for sets of words and composed with them (as I had many years ago with some words of Bruce Conner. This is explained in the book I think.) There was an emphasis there on my random encounter with friends and their choosing and sending words. As I was writing, I realized that a kind of feminism was coming out in the work and in my thinking and that I found I could experience it as intensely as I wanted without falling into a kind of speechless anger that used to come over me when I was younger. There was still a spirit of fun about the writing, though, and “Ladybug Laws’ is like femininst fairytale. Then I ran into a book called The Interval by Rebecca Hill. I think it was probably at an MLA and I was very attracted to the title. The book is about Irigaray’s sense of “the interval.” Here is the central passage, taken from the Irigary Reader (p. 167) (and is also p. 1 of Rebecca Hill’s book. )

“The transition to a new age requires a mutation in the perception and conception of space-time, our inhabitation of places and the different envelopes of identity. It assumes and entails an evolution or transformation of forms of the matter-form relationship and of the interval between (them): the trilogy of our constitution of place. Each age assigns limits to this trinity, be they matter, form, interval or power (puissance), act, interval-immediate.”

So Hill writes this whole book about the idea and I write some poems in relation to both writers and I feel , reading it again, like I could write a whole other book because there is so much there. In the event, after I read The Interval with great zeal and, of course, had to reread Irigaray, who I hadn’t thought of since the 80s and had only barely read then. In reading her I discovered I very much like the essentialism that troubled me back in the day or, at least, that people I trusted seemed to reject. Irigaray’s emphasis on the particularity of women, of the feminine, and her sense that “the fix is in,” to use Spicer’s phrase, is absolutely congruent with my experience. The problem for women (or anyone who is non male) is with language and even before language, it is with the foundations of civilization. It is both vexed and an incredible relief to realize that there is nothing you could have done or can do to change this except write against it and assert into it, as she is doing in her work (and, you know, change it.) The suggestion that this is even possible is just by her example rather than what she writes. I came across the phrase “who that divines” in reading her demand, in Sexes and Genealogies, that women invent a new divine, troubling for those of us who don’t believe in a divinity, but fascinating to me. I want to be “free, autonomous, sovereign” even while feeling tragically connected to everything and everyone who is not that. But then I lost the phrase or couldn’t find where I had read it and had urgently to read all around in her work to find it again. So my reading of her was more of a frantic search with moments of fleeting connection than a considered critique. Also, I think that in my response to Irigaray and experiencing this sort of divine hopelessness, I kept the sense of myth and fairytale which, after all, are often entirely tragic. Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market is as central to the “Blood Subject” section of Who That Divines as Irigaray.

ZT: Much of your work proceeds through epigraphs and recombination. With, after, for, and with words from make frequent appearances. What do you think of the idea(l) of a collective voice? Reading A Tonalist, I was struck by the idea that a “single author title” (to be clinical about it) could feel like a curated group show, or be public otherwise than an anthology.

From the Departures I-II/War In Heaven:

We obviously can’t know. We are changed pronominally. We into them and I. Especially “I” thought “I” am not what I was. What am I now? Absolute future. Getting our more or less alive. And what do “I” get? Do I get “you?” For a moment all of the physical assets are on the line. In the line. (92)

or the poem Identity on page 80.

LM: The poetry community and larger community of potential readers is something I am always conscious of writing out of and into. For me writing is very much a conversation or a proposition, a gesture meant to say something like here is this—what do you think? no? what about this? I am more interested in this kind of exchange than in any demonstration of virtuosity or plumbing my emotions or in telling my story–though recently I am interested in my story, partly because as an older person I have had so many lives and so many stories. But then these stories of love, death and politics are the things that we all experience so my desire there is to be common. There are many locations of the commons and the poem seems like one of the best sites to experience or propose commonality– if it is approached in that way. Lately I have been spending more time out in the commons, at the Bay Area Public School, and am fascinated by the possibilities. It is an enormous pleasure to share one’s insanely sensitive sense of language and events with others who are similarly inclined—either in writing or in meeting, teaching etc. The fact that this occurs in person makes it even better. But there is something “in person” about the poem. There are also historical moments of weird connection. “Departures” was written immediately after 9/11 during a time when one felt unwillingly included in a “we” regarded as dangerous by another “we” willing and able to do some real damage. Kazim Ali, my editor at Nightboat, encouraged me to include “Departures” and “An Air Force” in the book. At first I was hesitant, but then I realized why these projects were connected with the other sections and I think it works. “Departures” focuses on war and I grew up in the military during an endless war and was a young woman at a time when 70s feminism was very strong. Including this older material makes Who That Divines almost like a second selected because of the timing of the writing of the various sections over more than a decade.

ZT: What does it mean say “we speak in a human way,” when so many claim/wish to claim some variety of post-human existence? Is this human poetry?

LM: I do read that post human stuff and in my book Nude Memoir was interested in creating a kind of feminine golem who then gets up and walks away (at the time it was necessary for me to reinvent myself and luckily I was off work for a while and could really make a project out of it). And as a science fiction enthusiast I look forward to the singularity (when we and machines will exist in a kind of continuity (if we don’t already). But yeah, human, why not? Another part of that feeling of connectedness. I think “we speak in a human way” is meant to be cajoling, convincing, as if I am speaking as a used car salesmen of the marvelous (I am channeling Jerry Estrin with that phrase). You know, arm around shoulder, “you and I are just humans together and this is an incredible deal.”

Laura Moriarty was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Northern California. She attended the University of California at Berkeley. She was the Director of the American Poetry Archives at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University for many years. She has taught at Naropa University and Mills College and is now the Deputy Director of Small Press Distribution. She won the Poetry Center Book Award in 1983, a Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation Award in Poetry in 1992, a New Langton Arts Award in Literature 1998 and a Fund for Poetry grant in 2007. Her books include A Tonalist (2010), A Semblance: Selected and New Poems, 1975-2007 (2007), Ultraviolet (2006), Self-Destruction (2005), Nude Memoir (2000), The Case (1998), Spicer’s City (1998), Symmetry (1996), L’Archiviste (1991), Like Roads (1990), and Rondeaux (1990). 

Zoe Tuck lives, writes, and reads poetry submissions for HOLD: a journal in Oakland, CA. Her chapbook Terror Matrix was released this Spring by Timeless, Infinite Light. Recent work can also be found in Textsound and Dusie.