Posted by: DéLana | August 18, 2010

Hossannah Asuncion on What’s the Word? Wednesdays

I was honored to be in a reading with Hossannah Asuncion almost exactly two years ago, in Brooklyn, in August at the Perch Cafe. I was freshly back from two residencies, and zipped down to join her and Taha Ebrahimi on the mic – all women, all cultural, all fierce. What I remembered most about Hossannah’s work then, was her ability to write about place in such a way that you considered it a character; Brooklyn was her estranged lover she kept coming back to, kept trying to get to know, who was ever-elusive, ever-present. What I also love about Hossannah’s work, in addition to her attention to place, is her poem-as-art attention. Once, at a reading we were attending, she handed me a little envelope about 2″x3″. I looked, and realized it was the subway map, specifically, Brooklyn. I didn’t want to open it. But you could feel some folded paper inside. Inside were poems from her project Small Fragments of Loss. And I thought: poetry should go back to this – the personal, the hand-to-hand exchange, the poem as gift. Here’s Hossannah’s words for Wednesday.

1. Tell us about your chapbook, Small Fragments of Loss, which just won a kick-butt prize. What is the prize? When will it be out, how can we get our hands on a copy? Etc!

Kimiko Hahn selected my manuscript, Small Fragments of Loss, for one of the Poetry Society of America’s National Chapbook Fellowships.  A friend of mine, Jill Jarvis, described the series that appears in the manuscript as this “poetic cartography of loss.” I love that, because there’s more precision in that explanation than how I would put it. The chapbook, along with three other selections, will be published in March 2011. They will be available at the award reading and on the PSA website.

2. Can you speak more about location and how it factors into your own work?

When I’ve considered location in my work in the past, I thought of location in terms of logic and gravity, what kind of poetic and imaginary laws am I creating in a poem that makes it work? Where is this poem? What is grounding and guiding me as a writer to do work in an amorphous reality?  For Small Fragments of Loss I was located in feelings of loss and how traveling through life, and specifically through the streets of Brooklyn, there are big and little encounters of grief. The series was inspired by reading Rachel Cohen’s essay, “Lost Cities” while I was just getting to understand living in New York, getting into the cacophonic rhythm of living in Brooklyn. The “Cities” section of her essay was such a guide; its address of those trickles of narrative that we peripherally see in transit that sometimes become part of our own stories. The essay helped locate me and helped me locate, in language, what is so compelling about leaving one’s home, which is to engage and see other people alive and living.

What I want to do now with my writing, which I’m scared to say out loud, and commit to, is to move away from that really safe feeling of knowing where I am. It’s kind of like letting go of the hand rail while standing on a moving subway, but there’s a nervous thrill to it.

3. I know about your interests in D-I-Y publishing. Let America know. What does this do for your writing? For your living?

I love handmade books. I love the gifting of books. I love writing when it also becomes object. Making chapbooks to give to friends has been consistently part of my writing process. I think it’s just another way to gather poetic aether into material; it’s one way to have a physical relationship with my poems. I get to touch them; I get to give them to others for them to handle.

4. What are your current projects with regards to writing? Who are you reading to help sustain you through these ventures?

A couple of months ago I started this series after seeing an exhibit at the Proteus Gowanus that featured images of anatomical Venuses. I started to research anatomical Venuses and it lead me to researching Venus—the planet, Boticelli’s, Hottentot—and trying to coax what they all mean separately, and together. I’m not sure how I feel about this project, I’ve liked one or two poems, but it’s not coming together in a way that is satisfying me. As far as reading, I am not consciously reading anything that will inform my writing for this project, but I generally think there are reasons why I get drawn to certain materials. I was researching on the Internet and on various databases (hello Lexis Nexis!), information, in particular to the Hottentot Venus. That being said I am reading Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and I’m rereading Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.

5. Tell us about Kundiman. How does being a part of Kundiman push you as a writer?

I don’t know if I would be in the same place as I am now without Kundiman. I think, for the most part, considering myself as a poet is a very private space. Writing poetry makes me feel vulnerable, and to say, “I’m a poet” is scary, it feels like I’m self-splaying. That being said writing words is only one part of the process to fully animate language. Full synthesis won’t be achieved if I am the only source of energy; someone else has to help make the words alive. However, that means sharing and giving away my words, and Kundiman plays so many roles in that process—as light source, as evolution, as discovery.

Hossannah Asuncion’s work appears in the March 2010 issue of The Collagist. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrance in 2007 and was also named a Kundiman Fellow that year. Her work has appeared in ShampooGhoti FishStoryscapeFoursquareTuesday: An Art Project, and Lungful!

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