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Interview Between j/j hastain and Danielle Vogel re Narrative and Nest (Lulu/Abecedarian Gallery 2012)


I am feeling very excited to be engaging with you re this little interview in support of and co-investigation (with you) re your new book Narrative and Nest (Pre-Natal Architectures & Narrative Rituals)


I wanted to conduct this interview after you spoke with me a bit prior to inviting me to the gallery where your “Nests” were being shown. When you spoke to me about how you feel the nests and “pre-natal architectures” you have been working with have been helping you move into your nexts (or so I call them) I thought you might have some useful insight to share re writing process and writing praxis.

Not only is Narrative and Nest a deeply thoughtful and (in my opinion) beneficial document about integration and self-shape consideration, about how we coil with and into ourselves. About how we can identify with our own congealing–I also feel that it is an admittance of sorts. The making of loamy ground. Yes, a thready bust or strange torso made of soil. Making soil. Always disintegrating and always materializing.

Having read the book multiple times I want to just say here that each sentence, fragment and curved phrase feels sculpted to me. Not sculpted as in, rigidity, but as in deeply felt. Followed through. The somatic experience of reading Narrative and Nest follows a strand-like quality that moves and moves, gently wafting and distilling as the shape of the book is made.

This book gave me an atrial fibrillation, seriously. Narrative and Nest affected Megan Burns as well: “I think of wombs. I put the book down on the seat next to the tub now. I look at those bare, naked vessels with their needy mouths and I think about wombs cut open to let babies out and then sewn back. I think about my body with its scars and how I say when I say I had a C-section, again, and again, and again, how I feel the need to justify it, how I feel somewhere what is that, like shame. But it makes no sense. The body does what it does, and the terrible love pulled out there, it’s complicated. The body eats and eats sorrow, it swallows love in days that flee from me. And then I put the book down because I can’t read anymore.”


After all of my blah-ing here I have some questions based on some of your amazing quotes:

First, this is such a gift—to be here in this virtual conversation with you. I thank you. I think back to our years at Naropa University. How we used to leave letters for one another anchored beneath a large rock on campus. I will think of this space like that space: private, but vulnerable. Before I move into your questions, I want to unfold myself into some of these lines. They are intuitive. And I feel as if they are somehow seeing some secret inside me. I’ve been thinking a lot about shame. The shames I hold and carve out of and into myself. How these nesting—or nexting—places that I create for my manuscripts-in-progress are vessels associated with learning a kind of shamelessness. I put them in the world—my nests, the manuscript not yet complete. These are open mouths and bellies. These second mouths might be the sex between my legs. Open and having voice—visible, brambled. I think I told you once… O, yes, I confessed at a reading in which we performed together that writing, for me, is closely linked to desire—the allowance of feeling, wanting. The giving in. It is sometimes terrifying to write. Sometimes it is painful. Sometimes it is near orgasmic. And then the shame associated with all of that. The shame of the body and its voice.  I want to learn a kind of shamelessness. These nests let me look at these things on the other side of myself. I can put them on the wall. Stuff them silly. Unstuff them. And then stuff them again. They have become what has made writing possible. Pleasurable.

That you said the reading of Narrative & Nest associated with these swallow-like nests gave you an “atrial fibrillation,” and that Megan Burns said, “I feel somewhere what is that, like shame […] And then I put the book down because I can’t read anymore.” That these things are said through an experience of the body. They are said in response to reading and seeing a private—made public—ritual of revision and of writing. These things are said in response to witnessing something unbuckled in me, but also in yourselves. That Elizabeth Robinson said these nests looked like breasts to her, that they were maternal and inviting. That Dawn Lundy Martin said, while looking away from them, that she felt as if she were looking at something she was not supposed to see. That Lark Fox said they were like live barnacles. That Yanara Friedland said that she wanted me to leave the room so that she might quickly, and in secret, remove the nesting materials and stuff them all back before I returned. That Brian Kiteley and Selah Saterstrom confessed that they were, in many ways, terrifying. What is this? This bodily response. This is something I’ve become interested in—how people move through texts, both the reading and the writing of them. I’ve come to wonder if a person’s response to viewing a part of my process—either through the reading of this book, or through the viewing of these nests—reflects their tendencies while reading and writing.


“Meditating with the necessary gestation period of a narrative”—do you think that this necessary-ness is inherent to narrative or inherent to your narrative? In other words, will you tell us more about what you mean when you speak of narrative in this way?

Narratives—and by this I mean all writing and reading—necessitate their own forms of gestation and midwifery. My friend and mentor Selah Saterstrom has said that each work arrives with its own blueprint—and by this I think she means that each work we encounter, either through reading or writing, has within it its own system of logics. Saterstrom—via C.D. Wright—explains that we need only learn to better see the constellation of logics within the thing we are encountering. We read the world and we write it as we move through it. As I move through these manuscripts I am composing, I am learning not only how to see these logics so that I might better serve the manuscript on its own terms, but I am also learning how I see—my tendencies as a reader and writer. I’m learning how to destabilize these tendencies so that I might see again. Seeing is encounter. It is a kind of gestation and midwifery and then a gestation again. It is also a kind of translation. How a thing reveals itself. And for me, that has meant slowing the writing process so that I might better understand what is happening there. This has meant that I’ve uncovered a kind of preciousness within myself. This secret, silent nesting place on the inside of my body where I weave the manuscript, where I nest it into myself before I can bring language to the page. By making these nests public, I’ve somehow subverted that. It’s changed writing for me. It’s made it more possible and pleasurable. I think of Carole Maso in her essay “Notes of a Lyric Artist Working in Prose,” where she explains writing as a “geometry of desire.”[1] It is exactly these geometries of desire that I am interested in bringing into focus through this work. I don’t think I’ve answered your question. I’m thinking through it. But in regards to necessary-ness. I believe it’s unavoidable: the gestation. But I also believe gestation takes on many forms. How a thing comes into focus. How it architectures itself within you, and then the often slow process of revealing that architecture through sound. What the body must undergo in order to let a sentence into the page.


“Already the thread and clay have revealed so much about my tendencies and hesitancies not only as a writer, but also as a human moving and writing through space”—will you elucidate for us more of what has been revealed to you re this? Is this private? Of strictly the personal, human sphere? Or are there things in these revealings that might be useful for some of us to hear? Do you think some of this has to do with coax?

I don’t know what might be useful, but I do know that this again has to do with learning to see. And maybe, more importantly, it has been about learning how to let myself be seen both in and out of language, intentionally and un-. Practicing a kind of public vulnerability. I’m learning how to bring myself into focus—also how I may not have as much control as I might like. I think about coaxing. And I think about birth. Which, as Megan reminded us is at once terrifying and beautiful. I’ve not been gentle with myself. I’ve not been gentle with the clay or my manuscripts. I manipulate the clay until it tears, I cinch it back together, I blow in the muddy mouths of the nests to fill them with air until they burst, I cinch them back together again. I roll my fingertips along the inside of their silty mouths until they almost tear. And while I do these things, I think about language. I think about the body. How they perform together and apart. I think about how hungry and terrified I am for intimacies of all kinds. I whisper to the nests, please let me.


“While creating these reliquaries, I synesthetically translate the flexing memory of each object to further divine their narratives”-can you explain more about the relation of objects to their narratives? What of you divining them? If you were holding your own organs up as the objects, then I could see how there could be a sort of purist relation between object you are holding and narrative you are divining, but I wonder how it works if you are holding an object that is not necessarily as close to you as your body might be? A pen? A page from the dead sea scrolls? The shell you peeled off of the back of your hermit crab? In other words, can you tell us more about how this divination (doula?) process works? I think that my question has a bit to do with this as well: “I hold this red clay pod, and it remembers me”—how? Can you talk about how this remembering works?

Maybe this is problematic, but I don’t see much difference between book and body. A book is an appendage of the body. The body, an appendage of the book. They are both architectures we inhabit, that we dream within, and that we grow. A book breathes through the prosthetic of the voice. A book can be a third lung. I sit at the divininatory lip of the voice and I see from there. There is an intimate and undeniably somatic relationship between book and body and voice. I’m thinking here of something else I’ve written in a companion piece to Narrative & Nest. In that piece, I write through ideas of the syntactic fields of language in relation to the synaptic fields within the body of a reader and writer. There is a direct relationship between the syntactic body of a book and the synaptic/nervous system of the writer and reader. Language engages the nervous system. Babette Rothschild, in The Body Remembers, a book concerned with bridging verbal and body psychotherapies, writes “somatic memory relies on the communication network of the body’s nervous system. It is through the nervous system, via synapses, that information is transmitted.”[2] It is through the muscle of the voice, and its own unique nervous system (syntax) that the body (also, the book) might suddenly recognize itself in the world. While reading Rothschild, and considering the therapies she is proposing, it became impossible to not exchange the word synapse for syntax. The synaptic patterns in our bodies, which create and recall activity and memory, are never fixed, but mutable. They have the ability to learn and yield, to branch and bend. Syntax is likewise mutable—a nervous system—linking the body with its book and reader. So you see, to me, holding up a book, any book, or holding up one of my nests, or even a torn piece of paper with my handwriting on it, is like holding a kind of organ. These sentences, their sounds, are altering my body’s chemistry. Just as they are now altering yours. You are creating synaptic patterns in response to reading. This page is latticed to my body but also to yours. I become dizzy thinking of this. And then all the outsourcing. Read hand again from above and a thousand synapses flare netting this hand to those.

I look again at your question and I just want to say that I am reading it. I see your having written “purist,” but I’m not interested in purity. I’m more interested in sedimentation. An accumulation of encounters. And maybe it is important to confess here that for most of my life, I have not felt close to my body. I’ve been disassociated from it. And only over the past five years, after being assaulted, did I find myself within it.

I want to say something about divination—the writer as diviner. Diviners unhook possible relations into composition. I think now of beginnings and desire. From where does the diviner—the writer—desire and dream? What shocks a text into becoming? What draws us to narrative in the first place? I think it has to do with vulnerability and a willingness to hold and to be held. Divination—and narrative—is a welcomed bewilderment. I think of the transfusion that occurs between the page, language, and the body. The erotics of this. The sensuality of relation is divinatory. All this at the threshold. And here I am defining threshold as the divinatory seam—the place at which narrative emerges. While reading and writing (which is divination) we become deranged. We desire. We transcend and exchange something with the thing we are encountering and creating.  

You asked me about: “I hold this red clay pod, and it remembers me,” and all this above is what happens in the exchange. I believe objects have a kind of muscle-memory. Language also possesses a kind of muscle memory. As we encounter an object something is conjoined and transfused between. This sentence remembers me because I composed it. Its syntax is my own. But it also remembers and recognizes you. There are an infinite number of yous stored within that you.  In relation to clay, I find myself attracted to it because for me it is a physical manifestation of language. I write a little about this in Narrative & Nest. Wet clay is malleable in a way that sound is. Manipulating clay, I can feel myself constructing sentences.


In the book you mention your work with “isolation, reparation, and proliferation” re the nests and their hanging on the wall of your home—I wonder also if you have any thoughts on translocation, transduction and/ or torque? What about bifurcation?

I think so much about translocation—though not often through that term. I think this is inherent in language—the act of languaging. I understand translocation as an action of fragmentation and then a re-conjoining of parts to create a new whole. What I love about translocation is that there isn’t a loss of materials, just a reconfiguring. I think of sound into sentence. I think of my hands silted with clay. I think of words passed between mouths. I think of the nests hanging on my living room’s walls. Also my nests that are right now suspended, hundreds of miles away, in The University of Arizona Poetry Center. I think of the nesting materials spilling from the mouths. I think of the manuscripts from which those nesting materials originated. I think of the maybe eventual arrival of a reader here within this sentence. What does this say about the book and the body? I’m not sure I can language it, but it is a kind of furcation—more poly- than bi-. I’m thinking of transduction now. Transduction as the act of encounter in which translocation occurs. If I understand transduction, it is the process by which energies—or materials—are converted into another form. A book is a series of transducers. And my nests incubate transductions.


You have also talked with me in the past about moving your writings out of the space of holding and into the world. Can you talk with me about how composing and living within Nest (and the nests, your architectures) has enabled this? Is it a bit like sending off your baby chicks to fly with the outstretched wings of empurpled eagles?

My nests, exhibited, are in direct correspondence with my manuscripts as I write them.

These vessels are gestation chambers for excerpts and earlier versions of my texts. They are also ducts of incubation where I nest a “problem” of the manuscript as I work through it. I arrived at my animal architecture research through investigations of somatic therapies in relation to language. Studying and practicing somatic therapies alongside writing manuscripts, in some cases, dealing directly with trauma, I suddenly understood that in order to fully recognize these manuscripts on their own terms, I had to take them out of my body and re-integrate them. These nests are residual energies, released, but contained. Through the physical contortion of language and clay, I recognized the somatic interdependence between synapse and syntax. Upon understanding this relation throughout my body, my private writing and editing rituals altered. I had to create physical bodies—outside of my own—to house the processes of writing. At first, I created textile nests composed of excerpts and failed sections of my manuscripts. Soon I began creating ceramic hives, nests, and pods into which I was midwifing these selections. And then the desire to have these rituals made public so that I might homage the contortion of writing through all its forms and not just the completion of a manuscript. These nests, made and then made public, are what makes possible the writing of these books. They’ve become interdependent. And each manuscript necessitates new forms. These darker, undulating nests are all in relation to one manuscript: Clasp, a hypnosis project, in which I “answer,” under hypnosis, a series of questions in relation to varying forms of incest. More recently, I’ve been creating a series of porcelain, near transparent, milk-weed-like pods which are all in correspondence with my manuscript Underwater Fragments.




[1] Carole Maso, Break Every Rule (Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 2000.), 32.

[2] Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.), 37.


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