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Obscenity for the Advancement of Poetry

kathryn l. pringle


October 2017

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Obscenity for the Advancement of Poetry is both manifesto and tragedy. It carves up the shallow misperceptions of being [queer; female; human; other] and exposes the viscera of perpetual becoming that is who we are and what we mean to each other—as individuals, as citizens, as bodies. Sardonic and sincere, Obscenity questions your intentions—and your digressions—and hopes you do, too.

“Little truth happens.” Little truths happen. Sometimes little beauties happen, too. One name, maybe the best name, for such happenings is poetry, where careful emphasis on the littleness of these truths and beauties, on their fragile particularity, preserves them in musical dispersal so, critically, we can dance. “Each step is carpeted” by hesitation. “Trepidation. Ecstasy.” This is kathryn l. pringle’s vantage and advance. Pierced, piercing, she writes what it feels like “to care about humans.”

Fred Moten, author of The Service Porch

I am a devout fan of kathryn l. pringle and this is without a doubt one of the best books of poetry lodged in my forehead, “my skin a shoreline forever giving way.” pringle’s taut language is not only an absolute pleasure to read, it pilots the breath of self-discovery, quietly leaving you in the middle of yourself with a clarity and care that will surprise you. I was surprised over and over with its treasure map, and you will also love finding yourself in this book, it’s my new favorite promise!

CAConrad, author of ECODEVIANCE

Poetry advances against the feel-canceling effects of whiteness and our urgency to apply staging retroactively to scenes of chaos vertigo. Poetry advances through the crises of eco- everything, tolling its mud-and-wine-wild bells. In loss we are vast, no longer fear the lurch. Because we can sense pain, we wager we’re not dead. In this treatise, a limbic system swells and shallows in the mirror of antagonist and beloved just the same. It’s OK. Carefully set us back down on the splintered ground askew enough to apprehend movement. Bare foot greet splintered wood at the ecotone of toxins environmental and natural. Advancing, poetry sides with raw grit love and I’m not sorry to greet, also, the doomed sunrise with kathryn l pringle. That is: when I suffer with my sister I’m not only I.
as endorsement, I could just say:
This book is a saving fucking grace.

Danielle Pafunda, author of The Dead Girls Speak in Unison

About the Author

kathryn l pringle is the author of Temper & Felicity are Lovers (Lost Roads Press, 2014), winner of the Besmilir Brigham Award; fault tree (Omnidawn, 2011), winner of the Omindawn 1st/2nd Book award; and RIGHT NEW BIOLOGY (Factory School, 2009). In 2013, she was awarded a grant from the Fund for Poetry and was also a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Raised in So Cal and schooled in the Bay Area, kathryn now makes her home in Durham, NC.

A brief interview with kathryn l. pringle
(conducted by Rusty Morrison)

I remain honored that Omnidawn published FAULT TREE in Fall 2012, which won our poetry prize, selected by CD Wright. I miss her so much. And I am so grateful to her that she selected your work, and brought you into our community. And, now, I am so excited to be publishing your new book! I wonder if you would speak to what provoked this work’s instigation and the ways that it came into its own. Having watched it evolve in its drafting, I’ve been lucky to see the process of its foment, how (as you moved through revisions) you created a formal space, in the language of the poem, for what is normally considered the “obscene”, and for more than obscenity—for the unspeakable. I think of Calvin Bedient, on Kristeva, when he says that in speaking of the “semiotic chora,” Kristeva suggests that “poetry, in particular, subverts culture (when we thought it was culture), because it permits instinct to infiltrate the symbolic medium of language itself.” For me, as an avid reader of your writing, you are able in this work to carve into the actual of experience, to use the actual (which is fraught with what is often kept fiercely private, even unrecognized by ourselves) and crack it open, for yourself, for your readers. I’d love to hear you speak to any aspect of this.

I still can’t believe CD is gone. When I heard that she had selected FAULT TREE I was stunned, and immediately told Stacy Doris, who had been her student and my teacher. And now they are both gone. It is almost too much to sit with sometimes. Their absence.

Stacy is the one who instigated this book… she asked me to “write the obscene.” I was immediately put off by the idea. I had lofty literary ideas and wanted to be considered a “serious poet” and I didn’t think writing the obscene really fit into that plan. But I had to write something because she was my professor and I had to turn something in—so that’s where the “obscenity for the advancement of poetry” series came from. I believe the first poems in that series were written in 2005, but they are so current—it’s creepy. Then again, what’s political is often obscene so I shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, 8 years later I came across them again and saw a way to finally do what Stacy had asked. I started with my body—my intestines and bowels and everything that makes me grossly human. Then I added what was expected of me—by others and myself—and it took off from there.

I sense so many ways to answer this, but I’d love to hear yours: so I want to ask how this text is a departure from your past books, and how is it an evolution. I’m so excited by the formal design of this work, as well as by its content and contexts, and how it often uses the most direct, most candid diction to ask us to interrogate what can be spoken, what actually can be heard in human interaction. But there is so much more I could reference—when I consider how this work enacts your evolution, your trajectory as a writer. I’m curious to hear how you perceive the work.

It is a departure and a return, I’d say. I think I’ve finally learned how to marry my different writing personalities with this book. It is deeply personal and vulnerable and also abstracted and full of noise. It wants to be read and understood and also completely subverted and colonized by a reader. I think this is a book that readers can put themselves into and also pull me out of. In the past I worked very hard at hiding my private self in my writing but in this book everything is front and center… and it isn’t pretty. I was struggling and I didn’t want to be clever about it… I wanted answers. I wanted clarity. And I wanted to be understood.

I also wanted the government to crumble, conservatives to be raptured (so they weren’t here anymore), dogs to be worshipped… so many things.

I’d be grateful if you chose a point in the manuscript—perhaps a section of particularly powerful significance for you, or that was especially difficult for you—and then discuss why. What experience or convergence of experiences initiated any particular aspect of this work that might be fruitful to speak of? What did the writing of that part of the manuscript demand of you? Change in you? And/or you might focus part of the book that surprised you or frightened you because of what it demanded from you.

I have to say Civil Engineering was probably the most powerful and difficult poem I’ve ever written. It demanded that I be fearless and honest. And I was so afraid and I so wanted to lie! Believe me, I did not want to confess to or own up to a damn thing in that poem, but that poem would not allow for anything else. I made myself sit there and type and sob and tell my superego to fuck off… for weeks. A long time! It is a long poem. I think writing that poem gave me the courage I needed to make the big life decisions I did during that time. It helped me accept myself… the flawed human that I am. I’m curious about the poem’s reception—I say that but maybe I mean I’m curious about my own reception.

Would you tell me a bit about yourself? Anything about you that is not in the bio printed in the book, and that might give insight into your more personal relationship to this text?

I’m a bit of a hermit. I like to hide in plain sight. Or maybe not really hide… but I’d much rather observe than be observed.

I know you can’t list them all! But on first thought, on impulse, can you answer: Who are a couple, a few, of the authors, artists, thinkers, workers (in any mediums) with whom you feel a kinship? Who/What comes to mind, just at this moment: who are you reading, listening to, looking at, watching, visiting currently? (You could say something about some of them, if you’d like, which makes this more alive for our readers.)

Honestly, I am still stunned by the election and I feel like I’m so focused on the mundane—out of necessity—that I haven’t been able to have the reading life I’d normally have. Plus, I’m trying to write a book for tweens with my niece! I’ve been reading books by RJ Palacio and Marie Lu for tween book inspiration. I’ve been reading The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South by Osha Gray Davidson and The Third Reconstruction by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II for life inspiration—and some hope.

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Through her experimentation with form, Pringle attempts to engage with and interrogate the use of politically charged speech acts to appropriate agency and identity. By offering the semblance of pristine clauses, Pringle provocatively undermines the implicit logic of grammar, which she sees as a tendency toward master narrative, and the limitations it places upon thinking.

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The White Room

      The woman sought an explanation for her location. She fashioned her surroundings into a room. But she had no clue as to how she traveled to the place that she was in. She had no memory of where she was before that moment. Who she was before that moment. She was able to accept the room, staircase, and her own body draped in white and glowing light, but unable to accept that nothing but the future or the present was before her. Perhaps her reason for not bounding up the stairs toward the other light was reticence. She wanted to know who she was. What she would be ascending the staircase from. Some part of her wanted to know truths.
      The woman placed her right foot on the first step. The step felt solid and more real than her own flesh. She looked behind herself. All she could see was darkness. She listened for a sound that was not there. A sound that—for a reason she did not recall— she missed, not because it was especially lovely but because she had always known it to be there. Instead she heard nothing. It made her feel colder, somehow. Forlorn.
      The thought occurs to her, and she cannot dismiss it, that there could be anywhere now that here was anywhere. She knew she was in a new place. Could that place be so entirely new that she was without referents—all referents being applicable only in her former, forgotten-but-for-sound, place?
      She looked at her naked foot on the step.
      She lifted her foot and placed it in one violent motion.
      She felt the pressure of it.
      It made no sound.

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