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Flash Interview: Laura Mullen

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Lau­ra Mullen is the author of sev­en books: Endur­ing Free­dom: A Lit­tle Book of Mechan­i­cal Brides, from Otis Books /​ Seis­mic­i­ty Edi­tions (2012), The Sur­faceAfter I Was DeadSub­jectDark ArchiveThe Tales of Hor­ror, and Mur­mur. Recog­ni­tions for her poet­ry include Ironwood’s Stan­ford Prize, two Board of Regents ATLAS grants, a Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts Fel­low­ship and a Rona Jaffe Award, among oth­er hon­ors. She has had sev­er­al Mac­Dow­ell Fel­low­ships and is a fre­quent vis­i­tor at the Sum­mer Writ­ing Pro­gram at the Jack Ker­ouac School of Dis­em­bod­ied Poet­ics at Naropa. Her work has been wide­ly anthol­o­gized and is includ­ed in Post­mod­ern Amer­i­can Poet­ry,and Amer­i­can Hybrid (Nor­ton), and I’ll Drown My Book: Con­cep­tu­al Writ­ing by Women(Les Figues). Under­song, the com­pos­er Jason Eckardt’s set­ting of “The Dis­tance (This)” (from Sub­ject) was released on Mode records in 2011. Mullen is the McElveen Pro­fes­sor in Eng­lish at LSU and a spe­cial inter­est del­e­gate in Cre­ative Writ­ing for the Mod­ern Lan­guage Asso­ci­a­tion. She is also a con­tribut­ing edi­tor for the on-line poet­ry site The Vol­ta.


Please tell us about your
col­lec­tion, Endur­ing Free­dom. What
inspired your bride pieces, and how are they sim­i­lar to, dif­fer­ent from, or an exten­sion
of pre­vi­ous work you have done?

I began explor­ing the fig­ure of the
Bride almost acci­den­tal­ly, or so it seemed at the time (2008), when I found a
cheap wed­ding dress to wear to a colleague’s Hal­loween gath­er­ing. I went as
“Bridezil­la,” crash­ing mad­ly through the par­ty in my fin­ery scream­ing
“It’s my spe­cial day–and every­thing has to be PERFECT!” And I
real­ized I’d tapped into deep anx­i­eties (some­one who was get­ting mar­ried said
“Is this about ME?!” And a couple–recently married–had a mini, very
civ­i­lized, squab­ble about how much she spent on her dress when they found out
mine cost $13.95), anx­i­eties and ener­gies. That was the fall of 2008, right:
so…a cou­ple weeks lat­er we elect­ed the first pres­i­dent to real­ly have a body.
JFK was sexy, sure, and Clin­ton had not just a phal­lus but an actu­al penis to
play (around) with, but Oba­ma has not only race (with every­thing that brings)
but–in the first part of his first term especially–vulnerability, some­thing I
could iden­ti­fy with… I’d nev­er had that with a president–and (post what we
call down here in Louisiana the “Fed­er­al Flood,” you might know it as
“Kat­ri­na”) I’d been think­ing about the poet’s role as
“Rep­re­sen­ta­tive” with some urgency… Any­way, then I signed up to be
part of an amaz­ing pan­el on Cixous’ cru­cial “Laugh of the Medusa”
essay, for the fall 2009 Advanc­ing Fem­i­nist Poet­ics con­fer­ence, and…a lot of
things came togeth­er, so that I found myself putting togeth­er a mul­ti-media
per­for­mance about race and gen­der and fear and…part of it, in a homage to Yoko
Ono, involved let­ting audi­ence mem­bers cut me out of a wed­ding gown. There’s a
film you can take a look at, for a sense of the per­for­mance:

 

https://vimeo.com/46107108

 

Then the Bride mor­phed into a fig­ure
for protest and activism post-“Deepwater Hori­zon” blow out (it’s
Louisiana, protest is the­atri­cal, involv­ing car­ni­val ener­gy) and…somewhere in
there (I’m mak­ing this a quick sketch) I real­ized that I had found the way / a
way to talk about the war. Actu­al­ly, I’d sort of found that way in 2003, when I
was lis­ten­ing to com­men­ta­tors on NPR who couldn’t hear how immense­ly weird it
was to be wor­ry­ing (as they were) how the inva­sion of Iraq was going to impact
the Acad­e­my Awards cer­e­mo­ny! But it took years for me to under­stand that what I
need­ed to do was to use that mis­placed atten­tion, or that desire to mis­place
and deflect atten­tion. I real­ized that I could take what we don’t want to look
at (war) and project it on the white scene of that dress at the cen­ter of the
big expen­sive par­ty we DO want to look at (end­less­ly). And then…the minute I
did that some of the real over­laps between wed­dings and war (bride and sol­dier)
became appar­ent. Because, as Lucile Clifton says, the truth does come knock­ing.
All the empha­sis on wed­dings can’t hide the way the war not only goes on but
comes home…to us, with us, in us…

 

What genre of writ­ing do you
con­sid­er “Bride of the Bay­ou” to be: poem, prose, or prose poem? How
do you define and dis­tin­guish between these gen­res?

I’m not too wor­ried about the
cat­e­gories, the giv­en cat­e­gories. Cui Bono? Who do they ben­e­fit?



Your work spans many gen­res. At what point do you deter­mine whether a piece
will be prose or poet­ry (and what form the piece will take with­in these
gen­res)? Do you know before you start writ­ing what the form will be? How much
does the sub­ject mat­ter help to dic­tate the form?

Against the pres­sure (it’s fair­ly
per­va­sive, isn’t it?) to write what is rec­og­niz­able to oth­ers (as eas­i­ly
fit­ting with­in, or sell­able as, a par­tic­u­lar genre) I try to write the books I
feel need to be writ­ten. What must be said, in the way it must be said, as only
I can say it. And form is con­tent (or dis­con­tent?), yes: in the case of this
book (as with oth­er hybrid texts) you’ll see I was respon­sive to var­i­ous
impuls­es… My work is “hybrid,” mostly–meant to desta­bi­lize the
frame­works, not to behave. So…you know what a poem is? Now…expand that
def­i­n­i­tion: write to expand that def­i­n­i­tion! It’s my party…as the song says.
Seri­ous­ly, I love what Mark Mor­ris said: “I make the dances I want to
see.” I make the books…I make the nois­es, real­ly, I think need to be
made…



I am very inter­est­ed in how sto­ries and poems end. How do you cre­ate an
effec­tive end­ing to your pieces? How do you know when a piece is fin­ished?

Do you know D.A. Miller’s essay on
Broke­back Moun­tain? I want to rec­om­mend it, because it real­ly made me
under­stand the way craft ques­tions are always ques­tions about class, cul­ture,
his­to­ry, and–most of all–ideology. What is “fin­ished” (great word,
real­ly): what is “fin­ished” and is that what you think works should
be? Why? There are books to refer to, I know, but…they will tell you what HAS
been done, not (and Cixous is much in my mind as I write these words) what you
WILL do, what you can do. (What are you going to do with endings–I can’t wait
to see!) I love that you are inter­est­ed in how things end…it would be great to
talk about that, look­ing at spe­cif­ic works, but “poems and sto­ries”
are like peo­ple in this: each one has to find their dif­fi­cult way to a death
that is at once com­plete­ly com­mon and as lone­ly as it is unique.



Much of your work has a polit­i­cal or envi­ron­men­tal bent to it. Do you think
that we as writ­ers have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to address these issues in our work?

I’m a pret­ty big fan of
consciousness–but that’s a com­pli­cat­ed love, isn’t it? I should say that it’s
tak­en me some time to under­stand my own respon­si­bil­i­ties. I’d be glad if each
per­son who has access to the media was thought­ful about what it is they are
doing with that pow­er. For me it’s like the neces­si­ty of real­iz­ing that, as
Bren­da Hill­man points out (in a poem of that title) there’s no such thing as
“Cheap Gas.” You’re using resources and time and… Well. Yes. But?
And? The thing is–the infor­ma­tion is on the way. Real­ly. The work that is not
polit­i­cal is polit­i­cal even in that, and the work that turns away from the
envi­ron­men­tal con­text still is made in that con­text. The rela­tion­ship between
art and life is a lot like that between sci­ence and life, as Proust points out
(when he talks about how the artist is like an oculist who sup­plies us with new
lens­es for see­ing…). Artists and writ­ers make new and urgent­ly impor­tant
dis­cov­er­ies about the nature of real­i­ty, as that real­i­ty changes, and those who
ignore them…are just like­ly to find out about that changed real­i­ty in some more
painful way. Of course those with lots of mon­ey can–sometimes–just say
“I don’t need to see this!” and find ways to buffer them­selves, make
real­i­ty less imme­di­ate or appar­ent for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, and slow
(for them­selves) the effect of painful change, but the cat­a­stro­phe comes
any­way, and mean­while oth­ers pay.



When we first met, you were cre­at­ing and per­form­ing some of your bride
pieces in a trashed wed­ding dress.  (I will thrilled to be able to help
trash one of them!) To what extent is per­for­mance a part of your writ­ing
process? How does it help you along the way, and what advice would you give to
oth­er writ­ers about incor­po­rat­ing per­for­mance as part of their writ­ing?

Wasn’t that fun! That
“Trash” Bride per­for­mance was a one-off, done just for Naropa, but it
con­nects to the “Trash” issue of the Vol­ta (watch for it in Jan 2014)
I’m co-edit­ing and it con­nects with a lit­tle film called “The Veil”: 

https://vimeo.com/11405685

But, about the rela­tion between
per­for­mance and writ­ing, ah…I’m still work­ing this out–it’s an ongo­ing
process, as you can see by going to my Vimeo site. (
https://vimeo.com/lmullen). Still, as I’m in the busi­ness of giv­ing advice (I’m a
teacher), I’ll try to do so here. What I’d tell oth­er writ­ers could pret­ty much
be boiled down to two words, “Try every­thing.” 


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Mol­ly Laz­er is an MFA can­di­date in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Rose­mont Col­lege. A for­mer asso­ciate edi­tor at Mar­vel Comics, she cur­rent­ly teach­es high school, acts, and directs plays out­side of Philadel­phia. Her work has appeared in The Penn­syl­va­nia Gazette and Caesura. 

 

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