Jan Clausen interviewed at the Kenyon Review

JanClausenKaren Malpede and GenPop Books author Jan Clausen are in conversation at the Kenyon Review.

Here’s the introduction to “Writing On: A Dialogue Between Jan Clausen and Karen Malpede“:

Although both had been feminist writers and peace activists living in Brooklyn, NY for many years, playwright Karen Malpede and poet/novelist Jan Clausen didn’t know each other very well until they spent a night in jail together following a civil disobedience arrest at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, after which they gradually became better acquainted with each other’s work. In the fall of 2014, Jan published Veiled/Spill: A Sequence, a lyrical hybrid text prompted by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster and European laws against the niqab or full face veil worn by some Muslim women. At the same time, Malpede was directing her play Extreme Whether. As both are works of poetic fiction based on hard news, the two entered into a dialogic reflection on what it means to create works of art in the face of our unfolding planetary emergency. Responding to Jan’s question about style, Karen referenced her three most recent plays each of which is primarily concerned with the moral choice-making dilemmas of characters caught up in contemporary historical crises. “Prophecy” set in 2006 is the story of the ways the Iraq war impacts the marriage of Alan and Sarah Golden. “Another Life” beginning on September 11, 2001, is a meditation on the misuse of language as the events of that day lead to the creation of the U.S. torture program. “Extreme Whether,” whose title is a pun posing a question, is based upon the struggle of U.S. climate scientists to speak truth about climate change while they are sabotaged by the fossil fuel industry, but set as a family drama so that the national political conflict becomes a struggle between twins.

Read the rest.

Jan Clausen interviewed at Tarpaulin Sky

JanClausenTarpaulin Sky Magazine interviews GenPop Books author Jan Clausen.

Here’s a snippet:

Jan Clausen’s Veiled Spill: A Sequence is one of the more important books of poetry published in the last few months, and Tarpaulin Sky is delighted to have the opportunity to interview its “hostile” author, recently praised and admonished in American Poetry Review and The Rumpus respectively (see below)….

TS: Veiled Spill has just been reviewed in both American Poetry Review and The Rumpus, and the two pieces offer an interesting contrast. Writing in APR under the headline “What to Read Now: Some Vital Books from 2014,” Arielle Greenberg praises your book’s “grave emotional urgency conveyed through playful diction; innovative structures devised to relay the kinetic assimilation of multiple levels of political concern; and a dedication to real-life activism that goes beyond the page.” Kelly Morse, in The Rumpus, starts out by, in effect, placing scare quotes around the literary category she thinks your book belongs to: “Don’t laugh or cringe, dear reader – political poetry still exists….” In addition to misquoting the text (where you write, “Dead reader/you can kiss/my veiled ass/,” she substitutes” “Dearreader”), Morse admonishes you for adopting what she considers a “hostile” stance towards both readers and yourself in the opening pages; she clearly prefers passages that she describes as “meditating inwardly on a subject” rather than “projecting [your] views outward.” For Morse, it seems the latter mode exemplifies why readers might “laugh or cringe” in the face of poems that display some urgency around “political” topics. Clearly, these two reviewers are picking up on common threads in Veiled Spill, but reading them very differently. How do you respond?

JC: I appreciate Arielle Greenberg’s approach: acknowledging that the work is “politically charged” while crediting its emotional urgency along with looking at how the text operates. That’s so much more useful than simply slapping on a label like “political.” Of course different poems, and poets, have recognizably different levels of investment in current events or social questions, but creating a monolithic category of “political poetry” seems as odd to me as it would to talk about “personal poetry” as a genre. I prefer to think of my own work as being obsessed with the fact that we live in history. Given that our choices as historical beings have now brought us to the point of radically diminishing our planet’s ability to support our own existence, I actually have trouble understanding how anyone can fail to be similarly obsessed!

In fact, the suspicious attitude towards so-called political writing—the sense that if you can identify an artist’s critical concern with existing social arrangements, the art must be inferior—is extremely familiar to me. I’ve been getting those kinds of reviews since the 1980s, when my work began to be read outside of the lesbian-feminist context of my first publications. Either the reviewer resorts to the kinds of patronizing stock epithets that Morse falls back on (“heavy-handed,” “earnest”), or he pays me the backhanded compliment of expressing surprise that my “political” text is actually rather artful. I think it’s important to recognize that this bizarre notion of art flourishing in a politics-free realm is peculiarly American—literary communities in the rest of the world just don’t think this way! I view this attitude as a symptom of the arrogance of empire; its roots lie in the cultural politics of the Cold War period, when values like “freedom” and “individualism” and a focus on formal innovation at the expense of radical content became watchwords of a U.S. cultural establishment that was in many cases actually being underwritten by powerful government institutions. (Frances Stoner Saunders wrote about this in her influential The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, and there’s a brand new book by Greg Barnhisel, Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy, that delves further into the topic.) The arguments are long buried, but the assumptions linger, further marginalizing many U.S. writers whose critical perspectives already greatly restrict their “marketability,” and hence the reach and resonance of their work.

Read the rest.

Jan Clausen’s Veiled Spill at American Poetry Review

veiled-spill-coverThere is no Arielle Greenberg review that we do not appreciate, but we are particularly appreciative of her review of Jan Clausen’s Veiled Spill: A Sequence (GenPop Books 2014) at American Poetry Review.

Here’s a snippet or two from Greenberg’s What to Read Now — Some Vital Books from 2014:

The veils and spills in Clausen’s book are myriad: Muslim niqabs, toxic overflows of radiation, suppressed desire, information leaking through redacted military documents, the fluidity of gender, sugar—and then poison—left out in the kitchen for ants…. As Clausen’s sequence cartwheels from found and collaged government documents to litanies to homophonic translations, it acknowledges the limitations of such experimentation in the face of environmental and other impending doom: “I can do what I want with form but not for long,” she writes.

Greenberg’s is a brilliant omnibus review that includes not only a discussion of Clausen’s book, but also work by Emily Abendroth, CA Conrad, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Katie Ford, John Gallaher, Lauren Ireland, Douglas Kearney, Hoa Nguyen, Claudia Rankine, and Rachel Zucker. Highly recommended. Read the full review here.

Huffington Post review of Alan Semerdjian’s In the Architecture of Bone

2014-06-25-AlanSemerdjiantempLR-thumbThanks to Christopher Atamian, Alan Semerdjian’s In the Architecture of Bone is reviewed at the Huffington Post.

Atamian writes

On the eve of the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, I was happy to revisit Alan Semerdjian’s fascinating 2009 book of poetry In the Architecture of Bone… [an] at turns powerful, at turns endearing collection of poetry. . . .

Read the full review at Huffington Post.

New: Veiled Spill


New: Veiled Spill

$14 includes shipping in the US ($16 in stores). Order online via PayPal (no account necessary) or by check

Begun in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster and European laws banning the full face veil, Jan Clausen’s Veiled Spill unfolds a meditation on the links and gaps between interior glimpses and sprawling histories, between the beauty of the moment and the terror of the plot. Bridging poetry and prose, lyric and documentary, sampling and improvisation, it tracks the brooding presence of brittle technologies, the obdurate contingencies of gender and race, the fate of religious questions in the absence of gods, and the desperate freedom of art at a time when conventional social action seems powerless to avert the wreck of the biosphere. Transfixed by the pressure of wildly cascading events that engulf the very possibility of narrative order, the sequence hints, as well, that in a world where “what is veined/is spilling everywhere,” we are already in the revolutionary situation.

Below the surface chaos of Clausen’s Veiled Spill lies a complex ecosystem of balanced binaries: between narrative and fragmentation, between spectacle and interiority, between linguistic playfulness and the major social and political issues of our time. Throughout, Clausen invents forms which perfectly place her poems at home on the page, each new structure appearing to arise autonomously and revelatory from its subject matter. Equal parts thoughtful, analytical, and passionate, Veiled Spill welcomes the reader with a handshake and a smack across the face.

—Amy King

Veiled Spill is a work of exquisite, evocative language, and frightening insight. Clausen has created a dire warning to all of us living on this planet of the dangers of extinction of life itself. Yet, somehow at the same time, she offers a lyrical tribute to the power of voices spilling over, breaking out of veils, speaking truth. Then, once again, we are warned — of the dangers of silence, the losses already incurred. I felt haunted by the imagery and musical repetitions, emotionally shaken by a sense of fear and rage at hypocrisies laid bare, the losses to which we are growing dangerously accustomed. Language itself is a metaphor — fractured and torn, then suddenly put back together, veiled and spilled, broken and gathered again. Jan Clausen is a poet I want to listen to and read as closely as I can, to understand, with heart and mind, what she has seen, what we are all faced with.

—Jane Lazarre

Jan Clausen in Veiled Spill writes of complicated vulnerability and feminist resistance and as she does this, she looks for allies and alliances with such a deep love, with such a lyric invocation.

—Juliana Spahr

Now available: Maleficae

bolden maleficae cover

Now available: Maleficae

$14 includes shipping in the US ($16 in stores). Order online via PayPal (no account necessary) or by check

Incorporating language from trial records to papal bulls to incendiary theological documents, Maleficae explores the intersection of forces that led to the witch persecutions – forces alarmingly similar to those operating in American society today – in a book-length series of poems that seeks to re-create the sheer terror of the trials, while also focusing one so-called witch: her story, her wail from the center of the flames. In making the dead speak, Maleficae gives the victims of the trials a voice.

In this incantatory series of lyric poems Emma Bolden finds a new way to write about an old (though still current) subject. This book speaks in many tongues, many vivid, and living tongues.

—Thomas Lux

Emma Bolden’s Maleficae is an ambitious and powerful accomplishment. Informed by historical records of European witchcraft trials, it is wholly contemporary in its layered complexity and poetic craft. Incantatory rhythms, shifting perspectives and voices, and vividly rendered dream/nightmare imagery make these poems hypnotic and haunting. The contrast between historical content and contemporary form—between fact and imagination—intensifies the dramatic impact and reminds us that the past is, in one form or another, always present.

—Eric Nelson