Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ava Hofmann

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Annotation 2019-07-22 140644

Ava Hofmann

Originally from Oxford, Ohio, Ava Hofmann is a writer currently living and working as an MFA student in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has poems published in or forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, Fence, Anomaly, Best American Experimental Writing 2020, The Fanzine, Datableed, and Peachmag. Her poetry deals with trans/queer identity, Marxism, and the frustrated desire inherent to encounters with the archive. Her twitter is @st_somatic and her nausea-inducing website is www.nothnx.com

The Interview

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews – Ava Hofmann

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I really got hooked into poetry when I was a sophomore in a high school creative writing class. Like before this class, I was completely convinced I was going be a prose writer—I had been writing short stories and half-assed attempts at novels since I was in grade school. But then in that class I first encountered slam poetry and that was kind of the end of prose writing for me—reading and writing poetry spoke to me on a completely different level than what prose has ever done. And the rest is the disaster of my life!!!

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

So, the above is technically a lie, because the first “poem” that I ever wrote—more of a song, really—was written when I was in grade school, and it was called “The Grand Old Flag Bit Off My Nose.” Basically, it was about various U.S. monuments inflicting various injuries to my body. I would like to say that this was some kind of childly intuition about the way in which the government intervenes upon our bodies, but I really think it was just that when I was a kid I was really into the idea of all this Americana just absolutely going into me and ripping me to shreds. I think as kids we’re introduced to poetry through like nursery rhymes and shit, and we kind of intuitively know what they’re doing but don’t really understand that that something is called “poetry.” Then it gets disciplined out of you in grade-school, so you have to relearn what poetry is when you’re an edgy teenager or a too-serious college student or whatever.

Anyway, the person who taught that class that sent my on a poetry-trajectory was named Mr. Aerni, and I guess he was ok. He was really into the very hip, very sellable typewriters-and-coffee version of writing, which I just have always had a weird antipathy for. But I really appreciate the space he gave us to really write and explore.

The people who really showed me what I wanted from poetry and what poetry could really be were my undergrad creative writing professors—Cathy Wagner, Keith Tuma, and cris cheek. They all were so important for the development of my work, and for introducing me to the work of some of my major poetic inspirations.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I felt super aware of it, and still do. I remember thinking as an undergrad, when I was first studying poetry seriously, “where are all the poets who are under 30? Or at least under 40?” And this isn’t to like, knock older poets, but to ask a question about why there’s this weird thing going on with age diversity in the poetry community—there’s basically this grist mill of younger writers, and then the few poets who survive the grinder get to have institutional jobs and something resembling actual careers in poetry.

I think there’s obviously a little bit of an age bias in how an audience forms around writers, like—poets who have been in publishing for a longer time are obviously going to be more ‘established’ than younger poets, and so it’s more likely you’ve heard of an older poet. But this is also made worse by certain institutional structures surrounding the poetry “business”. Basically, to be someone with a full time job in poetry, you’re probably in the academy, which has a tendency towards seniority due to the tenure system. Meanwhile, some of the best poetry in the last 10 years or so was (as always) probably put out in random photocopied zines in editions of like 20 / posted to a deleted personal blog / published in now-defunct micro presses and then immediately forgotten, which makes accessible archives of this work which excites me very difficult to create.

All this creates this generational divide in the poetry community between these older and younger writers, rather than really allowing poets to approach each other as members of the same community. I think elements of the structural power imbalance between teachers and students might be a big part of it, that this imbalance in academia also gets played out in our artform.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Bold of you to assume I have a daily writing routine! I end up tending to work in obsessive spurts where I produce a large amount of work in a short amount of time. In the first four months of 2019 I produced the first draft for two different chapbooks, for example. In-between those spurts, however, I’m basically procrastinating on writing and getting nothing done. It’s awful!!!!

5. What motivates you to write?

1) gay energy
2) sleep deprivation
3) the perverse enjoyment of writing absolute weirdo homo-garbage

6. What is your work ethic?

Honestly, I think my work ethic is pretty bad! Maybe it’s because capitalist work/productivity culture has structured our idea of labour around “continuous” work (the pervasive idea of the “9 to 5” job), but my irregular writing pattern makes me feel like I’m wasting a lot of time.

If you mean ethic in a sense of, like, what is the “ethos” of my “work”, I really value the same kind of intermittent access to real life which already comes out in my ability to consistently work—basically, if it’s not obvious, my bad work ethic comes from a place of being a low-energy and probably depressed person, and so my work, too, is about a search for value in the midst of the ruins of a life, to find pleasure in lacunae. This is just a very pretentious way to say that I’m all about being tired all the time.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Wow, the books I read when I was young? Sometimes I feel like my life didn’t really start until my first year of college. I was a completely different person back then— religion, politics, gender, everything. That includes my taste in writing and art. I try not to think that much about my how I was back then.

One of the first poets I read and fell in love with was e. e. cummings—which, like, now is kind of embarrassing for me and there are a bunch of reasons why I’m not into him very much nowadays. But his work ended up being my first introduction into the type of experimental/visual poetry I personally value. I think a lot of his experiments into the visual dimension of poetry were kind of surface-level, but since I don’t think it was likely I was going to encounter any deep high-concept visual poetry living in an insularly Christian family in small-town Ohio, I owe a lot to that surface-level stuff kind of blowing open my mind about what was possible on the page.

I think another thing which is still maybe a big influence on my relationship to reading and writing today has been my process with understanding the text’s relationship to the writer. I grew up with my main exposure to textual analysis being through the religious study of the bible, which I was taught was an infallible text. So during my freshman year of college, when I first read Derrida’s writing on differance, and discovered that texts in and of themselves contain contradictory meanings which cannot resolve—that this imperfection was a fundamental feature of signification—it really changed my understanding of the world. Derrida was really the starting place for me to unlearn my religious indoctrination. And from that, I began to really value text as a place of irreducible contradictions, a space wherein resolution is impossible. This is probably why my writing is so concerned with visual elements and with gaps / revisions / doublings.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Gosh, there are so many writers who I absolutely adore:

Jos Charles’s historical bending of language towards the possibility of a trans future/past/present/resistance in feeld is work that I find really deeply inspiring. It’s kind of incredible it exists and is getting a lot of traction!

M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! is an incredible work which is perhaps one of the most incredible deployments of documentary form and content in poetry. It’s a masterpiece.

So much of Douglas Kearney’s work and process is so influential on my interests when it comes to form & the relationship to the reader/writer to the text.

I have to admit that Chelsey Minnis’s pseudo-ironic relationship to poetry and the poetic line is mega-appealing to me.

God, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Also shout-outs to Kinsey Cantrell, Never Angeline Nørth, V Conaty, Jayy Dodd, essa may ranapiri, and Mika, who are all people I really admire. There are so many others, but I don’t want to endlessly namedrop!!!!

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I mean, I do, in fact, do other things? A lot of my work is multi-medium. And I’m, like, a person, you know? I don’t want being a “writer” to overshadow that.

I know you mean, why do poetry at all? Honestly, this is an intractable question that assumes I’m able to confidently diagnose the causes of my own desires, which I don’t really think I can do. I mean, on some level for me, there’s an affective pleasure to assembling words together in poetry—creating synchronicity between language and its special arrangement on the page. Maybe there’s some kind of psychological or synesthetic attraction to poetry, but I don’t think I’m aware of my own cognition enough to know what that is. You could probably also pathologize my writing to be about my transness or being a low-energy person or the problems I had with communication when I was a kid.

If I wanted to assign a narrative to my actions, though, I think I would say that I’ve been writing stories, poetry, etc. ever since I was a little kid and so there’s just a little bit of inertia there. I think I’ve always known that writing is kind of a private passageway out of that which consumes and totalizes our lives, a place where I can find pleasure even when pleasure or happiness seemed impossible. When I was still in the cult-culture of my upbringing, poetry was a big part of both my devotional practice and my exploration of my gender. I could imagine for myself the possibility of being a woman, even if that woman was worshipping a religion that hated her. So there, I guess I provided the pathology for you. But even then, for me, it’s kind of the opposite of pathology—poetry is the site of my own personal possibility of desire.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

By writing. If you’re putting time into the artform, you’re a writer.

Yeah, I know that the person who is asking that question is really asking “how do you become a professional writer?”, but that question is really just another way of asking of “how do I make money by writing?” I’m pretty sure that’s a question which is plaguing and unanswerable for the vast majority of writers. I mean, almost nobody makes anything like a living wage from writing and selling copies of their poetry—it’s all from teaching, or doing talks, or some other institutional work which has coalesced around the medium. If you’re really wanting to do something poetry-adjacent as your job, you’re probably going to have to be lucky and/or have institutional favour in order to snag that kind of work. Oh, and you’re also probably going to have to be ok with these institutions being funded by money-laundering fronts for the bourgeoisie and/or the frantic workers’ nightmare of academia. Seriously! Actually look at who is funding like the four wealthy poetry institutions out there.

I know this sounds really pessimistic about the poetry business, but I actually find this is pretty liberating. I’ve been trying to “be a writer” since I first learned how to read, but my writing only really started coming from a good and genuine place when I stopped trying to “be a writer” and started instead trying to be a real person with a real life—coming out, escaping the cult-y environment which defined my entire upbringing, learning about the real world. Writing was and is the vehicle for my escape into a non-totalized life—for me, there’s something really valuable about poetry’s ability to be kind of secret and personal, even when someone else is reading it. It took me a long time to realize that I don’t need an artform I happen to practice to totalize everything about me.

This is why I answer the question literally: live your life first, write second. You’re still a writer. If you make your art practice all about institutional fealty or literary clout, you might as well just sell out by writing ad copy for some oil barons’ fascist propaganda wing or whatever, you know? Fuck that. Write to agitate. Write to organize. Write to discover new possibilities. Overthrow the ruling ontology!

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m working on a few different writing projects in different stages of completion:

Leech-book, the full-length manuscript that I’m working on as my MFA thesis. Leech-book is a collection of visual poems which concern themselves with the form of the medieval charm or spell as a site of the frustrated desire inherent to queer encounters with the archive; leech-book, is in a sense, a historical fantasy that one could find a source of radical-queer power within the scraps of our history, and also the elegy for the impossibility of that fantasy.

that I want, a more personal visual-lyric chapbook. the poems, which explicitly feature elements being crossed out / revised / added onto as a visual element, use this element of self-revision as a formal entry-point into an examination of my trans identity.

plastic flowers, a chapbook of explicitly Marxist prose poems which explore the ways in which capital-power embeds itself into the ‘personal’ experiences of daily life. it’s kind of a mix between a personal journal and a stand-up tragicomedy routine.

And finally, the woman factory, which is a series of sonnets written in the voice of a sex android.

There’s published examples of work from most of these projects up on my website, nothnx.com Hopefully at least one of these messes will be in print at some point!

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