Interview with Joyelle McSweeney

McSweeney Author Photo

I first discovered the work of Joyelle McSweeney through (as these things so often happen) the work of another author, Lara Glenum – which led me to Action Books (edited by McSweeney and Johannes Göransson). I have since devoured every word McSweeney has written.

CPR: What is currently inspiring you creatively?

JM: Extremophiles! Extremophiles are those insane organisms that survive at depths, temperatures, or chemical conditions which would be lethal to any other organism. They live in acid pools, seams of poison at the bottom of the sea, at high altitudes in volcanic craters, etc. They are also dandies, hoisting complicated plumes, flanges, divots, veils, skirts, stipples, etc. Extremophiles accept damage and come back from the dead. True role models for poets, so inspiring. They embody the “movement of language toward its extremes, toward a reversible beyond and before”.

Also: Catherine Mavrikakis, Kara Walker, Nick Cave (the artist who builds the sound suits), Yoko Tawada, Marosa Di Giorgio, Alice Notley, Bataille, Artaud, Baudelaire, Aase Berg, Fi Jae Lee (young Korean artist and sculptor), Jack Smith, Ryan Trecartin, Raul Zurita, Bradley Manning. Films, especially I Can’t Sleep and Trouble Every Day by Claire Denis.

Also: Al Jazeera.

CPR: Who was the first poet (or poets) important to you?

JM: Poe! Just like everybody else: Poe. Ravens, thresholds, mantles (architecture), mantles (hoods), dramas of de/reanimation, drinking, bad luck, bombast, poet’s hair, piano legs, forehead, Baltimore.
Could you talk a little bit about your process?

My process is to collect phrases and yoke them by violence together, forcing them into such extreme pressures that they buckle and release unholy noises. This creates a fabric of sound which conforms to the dismaying contours of contemporary life, and also splits at embarrassing moments to let still more sound and violence rocket through.

Would you make an observation about today’s poetry landscape.

Conditions are variable. I think the proliferation and variability are great, as long as this doesn’t drive different camps into defensive postures. Every poetic has to be open to re- and over-saturation. That’s the damage plan, the only plan that can work in today’s hostile-to-life conditions (see ‘extremophiles’).

What did you do today?

Ate soup, watched Al Jazeera.

Joyelle McSweeney is the author of five books of poetry, prose, and short plays, including the recent Percussion Grenade (Fence) and forthcoming Salamandrine, 8 Gothics (Tarpaulin Sky). She teaches at Notre Dame and edits Action Books.

Interviewed by CPR editorial board member Joseph Meads.