Welcome back to this edition of Lyric Essentials! Rachel Stempel has joined us today to read poems by the poet Joshua Clover. Join us for a discussion about poetic origins, searching for meaning, and artistic responsibility. Thank you for tuning in!
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you pick Joshua Clover?
Rachel Stempel: I tell my creative writing students that poetry (writing in general) is storytelling, and storytelling is the most fundamental mode of communication. I think it helps demystify what poetry is. Storytelling implies a narrator and narratee—a contract between writer and reader and text. The existence of those relationships require work, and I love poetry that makes me work for meaning. Image-heavy, allusive, disjunctive, and somewhat comical.
AH: Is there a story behind how you discovered Clover’s work?
RS: I majored in geology in undergrad, so it wasn’t until my junior year I even took an introductory poetry class, and I’m truly blessed to have taken one under a poet I admire—and whose work I’ve tattooed on my body—Crystal Curry. Whatever she told me to read, I’d read. She assigned “The map room” in class but it wasn’t until I was lurking around my MFA’s lounge for books to steal that I found the collection in which it appears—Madonna Anno Domini—that I really took notice of Clover.
AH: Do you find your writing relating to Clover’s in any way? If so, how?
RS: I think poetry takes on a weird classification that most feel all art is exempt from—i.e., responsible vs. irresponsible—when the reality is the opposite. Nothing is apolitical. The motivation to apoliticize is like an act of erasure—more nuanced, but in what ways, I’m not sure I can articulate. So, Clover’s critical background—not necessarily academic—crafts his work.
In his Verso Books author bio, Clover states he’s a communist before any other identifying information. As a white, neurotypical passing, able bodied, AFAB person, I’m constantly questioning whether what I have to say—the art I have to make—is responsible. A lot of my work deals in my identity intersections—genderqueer, immigrant, Jewish—but what part of my thematic leanings are performance for the dominant narrative? For me, Clover’s work is driven by this one-sided panic as a subject of capitalist empire and seeks to unpack it through critically-informed strangeness. That’s what I want my work to do, too—serve as an archive of my panic.
Also, I self-identity as a middle-aged white man with tiny glasses.
AH: What have you been up to lately? Any exciting projects you’d like to share?
RS: I’m grateful that my microchapbook, Craigslist Is A Place On Earth, will be a part of Ghost City Press’s 2021 Summer Series along with my friend, Robin Gow’s work (and yours!). I’m currently finishing up my MFA thesis—a YA novel in verse that contemporizes Slavic folklore.
Rachel Stempel is a genderqueer Ukrainian-Jewish poet and educator. They are a staff writer for Up the Staircase Quarterly and EX/POST MAGAZINE and a poetry editor for MAYDAY Magazine. They are the author of the microchapbook Craigslist Is A Place On Earth (Ghost City Press, 2021) and the chapbook BEFORE THE DESIRE TO EAT (Finishing Line Press, 2022). Their work has appeared in or is forthcoming from New Delta Review, Into the Void, Boxcar Poetry Review, Penn Review, Hypertext Magazine, SHARKPACK Annual, and elsewhere. They currently live in New York with their rabbit, Diego. Find them simping for Aase Berg on Twitter @failedcaptcha.
Click on the colored text in their bio to find samples of their work.
Joshua Clover is a writer and scholar originally from Northern California. He is the author of the poetry collections Red Epic (2015), The Totality for Kids (2006), and Madonna anno domini (1997), and has had three more books about cultural history and political theory published. He received the Walt Whitman Award and an NEA grant for his work. He currently teaches English literature and critical theory at UC Berkeley.
Read more of his poems here.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and poet. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com