Sandra Doller forges a new space for remembrance as she actively relives, revives, and revamps her own memories. With anarchic shifts from reverie to citation, from criticism to play, from Madame Bovary in a gold lamé onesie to Bob Dylan hanging out with a side of Science and Memory, Doller feeds us a slush of images and prose that she trusts us to properly mutilate and misconstrue
Sandra Doller, Leave Your Body Behind, Les Figues Press, 2015.
Memory is a faulty showcase, whether expressed as confession or nostalgia. In Leave Your Body Behind, Sandra Doller forges a new space for remembrance as she actively relives, revives, and revamps her own memories. With anarchic shifts from reverie to citation, from criticism to play, from Madame Bovary in a gold lamé onesie to Bob Dylan hanging out with a side of Science and Memory, Doller feeds us a slush of images and prose that she trusts us to properly mutilate and misconstrue. Construction and demolition become inseparable as we are brought to the realization that the child you were is the one you kill and the person you are now is never the one you once knew. Or did you mishear yourself in the first place?
Leave Your Body Behind may be a text “in between”—between prose and poetry, between remembering and the present, between the choice words of others and the author’s own insistent inventiveness—but there’s no chiaroscuro here. Sandra Doller’s idiom and rhythm come out swinging, somehow both sly and street fight. Her book contains everything from gossip to wisdom to humor to lament to literary & art criticism to pure, rollicking poetry. It is a seismograph ready and able to take stock of the stakes of being a writing human, a human writing, now.—Maggie Nelson
Sandra Doller refuses to feed the machine. She improvises, saturates, estranges, flees. Her gaze is everywhere and unabashed. An ecstatic. She is a synthesizer of the highest order, a wizard of the slipping-off word.—Noy Holland
Leave Your Body Behind is a beautiful cyborg of a book with lipstick dripping out of the wrong orifice, which is a problem. What is solid in this book becomes, more quickly than our ability to process such things, liquid, autonomous, real.—Bhanu Kapil
Is it a novel? A memoir? A poem? A book of aphorisms that liberate the words from their contexts but because there is no way two words can come close to each other, hold hands with each other, without becoming part of each other, maybe its a novel after all, a memoir about memoir, a story about story, or maybe its a mystery about the fluidity of words and the memory of words disappearing from and into themselves, only to reappear again as new memories and old friends and sometimes lovers.—Eleanor Antin
Sandra Doller’s most recent book is an open invitation. It is a request and also a set of instructions. It could be a poem, a collection of aphorisms, and a memoir. It could be a meticulous description of another life in another timeline. There’s a clear voice in Sandra Doller’s writing that compels us to tell the difference between waving hello and waving goodbye. The speaker is addressing us and telling us how to make this for form from scratch. A voice that is aware enough of its surroundings to state that Nothing moves. Except white SUVs. All over California. A voice that tries to seize an instant, the here and now, which is full of So many pastimes and also painstakingly mindful of its so little past. This voice invites us to say together with it now here now look here. There’s nothing sicker than a duck family on the dock. This voice is so proud of its genealogy that it states that Clarity is a distant cousin of mine. And that when they were kids they used to braid each other. The voice wants to make sure that we fully understand that America is the grandmother of all nations. The one with Alzheimer’s. And that Shortness of memory requires grandparents. And Shortness of history, breath. It is a voice that clearly knows the difference between a question mark and an exclamation point. That knows all too well that A dollar saved is a dollar. But that A Doller in the hand is worth two. And this voice is all about the body. About leaving the body behind. Your body. On behalf of the New Writing Series, hosted by the Literature Department and the Division of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego, please welcome Sandra Doller. - Marco Antonio Huerta
Last time I wrote about three badass books by three badass authors and this time I’m going to tackle three badass books by three badass authors, so obviously I’ve got a shtick going here.
At present I am eating butter toffee coated oven roasted almonds and drinking ice water out of a Styrofoam cup. I am listening to the new Migos mixtape, Migos Locos.
Interviewer: Are you interested in the multiplicity of possible readings?Often I find myself reading book reviews and wondering why the critic pretends to exist in a vacuum. By which I mean the critic seems so focused on the book that all other aspects of the experience are erased. Like the fact that I am eating almonds at present. Like the fact that I am listening to the new Migos mixtape. Like the fact that I am in my pajamas, sitting at my desk in our home office surrounded by piles of books, while my wife grades freshman composition papers on the couch in the living room, our son sleeps in our bedroom, and our cat runs up and down the hallway chasing imaginary prey.
Jasper Johns: Yes, it does interest me. Maybe not so much the readings themselves, but the movement among them.
— The More Things Change: An Interview with Jasper Johns (5/30/ 2014)
Unlike the vacuum critics, I exist in time in space. I read books under certain conditions: emotional conditions, intellectual conditions, physical conditions, etc. These conditions matter a great deal, because they both inform and influence my reading experience. I am also a specific body, and I firmly believe my embodiment impacts my reading experience. So without reservation I would claim that the conditions under which one consumes a book (and writes about a book) matter as much as the book one consumes. And therefore I think it’s imperative to include those (seemingly superfluous) details.
For example, recently, upon returning home from teaching I found a package from Les Figues Press in my mailbox. I took it inside and opened it in my kitchen to find a copy of Colin Winnette’s Coyote and Sandra Doller’s Leave Your Body Behind. Since I’m already familiar with Winnette’s work, I instantly assumed I would enjoy his book and decided to sit it aside and look at it closer later. Doller, however, was only a name I associated with 1913 Press — an amazing small press (currently running a cool fundraiser/pre-sale) responsible for publishing a bunch of kick ass books including Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker’s HOME/BIRTH: A Poemic, a book I adore as a beautiful feat of hybrid literature and as a book with great personal resonance because my wife — who does literary scholarship on Zucker’s work — gave birth to our son at home. Since I was unfamiliar with Doller’s work I opened it up and started flipping around.
Don’t turn on the box. Don’t order a sandwich. Don’t comfort it out in the middle there. Don’t middle. Get yourselves a real fine pony and just glance and glisten. Take off your shoes. Let down your hair. Cut it off. (pg. 105)
It’s not my job to explain. Messplain. I want to rub the internet all over me. Me all over the internet. Oh, nothing. (pg. 119)
“HOLY SHIT!” I said, audibly. My nineteen-month-old son stopped playing with his blocks and looked up at me to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself. “This book is freaking amazing,” I said to him. Unimpressed, he returned to his blocks.
I stood in my kitchen reading Doller’s book, so enmeshed that I ignored my normal ritual of drinking a glass of water, taking my dress shoes off, walking to the bedroom and taking my tie off, and changing into my around-the-house clothes. I stood there, thirsty, still suited up from work, mesmerized by her language.
The story is not about me anymore at all but about time. The time that this and that on the shore of the happened when it was all we could do to gather our and then. Shore shore shore a gypsy tendency for peaceful living the back of the caravan was calling and who should answer but____. (pg. 21)
It strikes all the right chords for me. Most importantly, it does what Marianne DeKoven describes in her book on Gertrude Stein (A Different Language) as the function of experimental writing, “the obstruction of normal reading [which] prevents us from interpreting the writing to form coherent, single, whole, closed, ordered, finite, sensible meanings.”
If I were to write a book review about the book, more than likely I would feel compelled to omit the personal narrative about my experience. I would stick to an analysis of the book itself and perhaps the social imbrications evoked by the book. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but the older I get the more I crave writing and reading a different type of review: a review that takes into consideration the critics’s embodiment.
Way back in the tumultuous HTMLGIANT days, I attempted to theorize ways of re-thinking the role of the critic (here), and elsewhere I’ve tried to implement my ideas to varying degrees (for example). What you are reading now, presuming you are reading this, can stand as an example of what I’m talking about: a review that isn’t just a review, a review that is itself a creative performance.
Part of what interests me about engaging with books comes from the ways in which my life plays out in time and space for the duration of the reading experience.
For instance, now I am revising this post approximately two weeks after initially composing it. Things have changed. I’m no longer listening to the Migos mixtape, for one thing. Now I’m listening to Ghost Bath’s Moonlover. I’m not eating almonds. I’m actually not eating anything, however I wish I had a packet of peanut M&Ms despite the fact that I’m trying to cut back on my sugar intake. Fucking sugar. (...) - Christopher Higgs
1) Do you think poetry is still important, relevant, and vibrant in today’s culture?
My answer to this question necessitates an engagement with the premise “still”—surely if poetry ever was these things (important/relevant/vibrant) then yeah sure, it still is. Whether or not poetry ever was these things, in some distant imaginary historical past, is another question.
And of course, that answer is super nit-picky and language-oriented, which is also important: If poetry is truly “verbal art” (I know some people hate that term, but I find it useful in thinking outside genre) and attentiveness to—presence in— language, then this is incredibly important in navigating messages, deciphering meanings, engaging in resistance to dominant power structures.
It also depends how you define ”poetry” and “culture” and where you’re looking/who you are… If you consider Maria Bamford, Bad Lip Reading, Turf Feinz, Stephen Colbert, M.I.A., Yvonne Rainer, Xenia Rubinos, and Supercuts “poetry”—and I do—then absolutely yes. I don’t see that much distance, really, between these examples and the “literary” poetry that I love—John Keene, CA Conrad, Feliz Lucia Molina, Bhanu Kapil, Bernadette Mayer, Abe Smith, Charles Bernstein…
Lately, I’ve been using this Lyn Hejinian quote for almost everything—from thinking about poetry & dance, to answering this question—so I’ll pop that in here. It’s from The Language of Inquiry...which bears reading/re-reading, yes/wow:
“The language of poetry is a language of inquiry, not the language of a genre. It is that language in which a writer (or a reader) both perceives and is conscious of the perception. Poetry, therefore, takes as its premise that language is a medium for experiencing experience.”
Poetry is so many things—political speech, resistance, music, comedy—and has different roles in different contexts. In Slovenia and Russia and Mexico and Canada, in my limited experience, poets seem to be treated differently than in the US, where to say you are a “poet” to a non-poet listener is like saying you’re an anarchist who lives in the desert in a tent made of decomposing trash, by choice.
But no, in the main, most people with disposable cash do not seem driven to run out and buy that hot new chapbook and would much prefer a free dental cleaning. But maybe this is what makes poetry, for me, important, relevant, and always potentially vibrant. Just because there isn’t a market for consciously “experiencing experience” doesn’t mean it doesn’t deeply matter.
2) What makes you want to write poetry?
I don’t think I do want to write poetry or have ever wanted to. That’s lame as an answer, I know. I want to make things, and the things I make often end up as poems, because I’m not tech-savvy, don’t have a dance studio or lots of space, can’t thread my sewing machine, or am just lazy. Poetry is all about laziness. I think laziness is as important, overlooked, and undervalued, as poetry.
Why do I want to make things? Because otherwise I’m just doing the dishes.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and thinker.
Gertrude Stein. Not sure what I can say about that, really. It wasn’t that I always loved Stein. I used to really dislike the repetition. But she’s definitely the writer whose voice is the loudest for me—her and Beckett, they’re the grandparents.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known poet who you’d like more people to know about.
I think all poets are lesser-known, or at least should be more-r-known. I’m also a publisher, so that’s partly what I do—put out work that I think is not going to get out there otherwise, or that needs to get out there in a certain format. 1913’s newest book, O Human Microphone, is by Scott McFarland, who should absolutely be known. He’s a stunning writer, a labor activist, a force.
5) How do you feel about poetry in the age of social media?
Seems to be trucking right along.
There are exciting amounts of possibility, though—like recently I videoed poet Ana Carete reading a poem in the backseat of my car while we were driving around San Diego. I’d like to do more of these car-readings—seems like a perfect venue actually, sort of Taxi Cab Confessions-ish—and social media would be the logical place to share these, whereas in the past that wouldn’t have been an option and we would have needed a more formal venue, invitation, or institutional structure.
So is social media our newest institutional structure, and if so, who’s running this joint?
6) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
Here’s a new poem of mine that recently appeared in the Thermos feature on Rescue Press’ The New Census anthology:
I recently co-taught part of a dance and writing course at Cal State, where I brought my Creative Writing workshop into the black box studio to meet with my colleague Karen Schaffman’s Choreography Seminar. We had a loose plan for the collaboration—mainly to get our students outside their own habitual spaces—and then we let it happen.
The dancers showed their works, with the writers writing on the spot in response—not descriptive or judgmental responses, but more loosely ekphrastic. I would occasionally call out a prompt to the writers—“write an impossible image” or “where are you now”—and Karen would call a directive to the dancers—“entrances” or “gathering.” The next week, the writers read prepared works with the dancers improvising embodied responses. And then the next week, the writers and dancers collaborated in small groups and “made” something.
I think it’s important to participate as much as possible when teaching, so I try to write when I have my students write. That way I know the experience from the inside and we share something.
So that’s the background for the Dance 390 piece here—I wrote while dancing was happening in front of me, around me, in that black box, while my students were also writing. The title refers to the course number—but I like how it sort of sounds like it’s saying dance all the time/365 days, or sounds kind of like Anderson Cooper 360. - entropymag.org/national-poetry-month-featured-poet-sandra-doller/
Sandra Doller, Man Years, Subito Press, 2011.
Poetry. "Sandra Doller is a pinball wizard, her attention to ricocheting through America's flashy dystopias where, as she points out, 'The award goes/to the inventor of the situation/we're now in.' We pose briefly in the 'trauma tutu we've toted' and then we're off again 'like a Bumstead falling down a stair.' If you're looking for 'rested totality,' you won't find it. MAN YEARS keeps you up and ready for anything"—Rae Armantrout.
Sandra Doller, Chora, Ahsahta Press, 2010.
Sandra Doller’s tricky, sly language comes at you sideways, full of coinages and puns, and is obsessed with lines: the highways and train tracks that cross deserts; lines from jokes and ghost stories; and lines of influence—Gertrude Stein implicitly and H.D. explicitly. Doller is not concerned with the complete or the perfect: she shows us the torn edge of notebook paper, “the american wastrel” in a yellow dress, and characters who plead, in a reversal of Goethe’s last words, for “no more light.”
“Intrepid Sandra Doller takes a train (hitchhikes) through the (mined) (mind of the) world, armed only with a spare language (think child’s primer, Gertrude Stein, ballads, pillow talk). Quick hits and shifts, the eye blinks and a different vista appears just as mysteriously as it hightails it into another landscape of the discontinuous present. Eros infuses the ordinary, makes it ‘wake up in make up.’ Sing song memories drift in and out. It’s about living a sensual life (mind) in prickly America. The music is as sharp as a knife pressed tenderly against the sun’s throat, as sweet and no-nonsense tough as the ‘core body of the girl with a yellow dress on . . . ’” —John Yau
“Chora plays synaesthetic musics, grows margins of vines. Her lines bring forth notes, an exacting, disjunct polyphonics, new music from out ‘silence.’ A how-to book of having hands, eyes, mind, a breathing body. Read aloud, a spirit level. It makes me want to know you.”—Lee Ann Brown
Sandra Miller/Sandra Doller, Oriflamme, Ahsahta Press, 2005.
The expansiveness of the poems in Sandra Miller's extraordinary first book requires a different page: one in which white space frames and shapes the physicality of each poem, title, and word. Among Miller's influences are the Russian avant-garde artists of the turn of the twentieth century; her poems are as sculptural as the page permits, in "packets" rather than stanzas that move visually as well as narratively through the work. Passionate, these are poems that are battle standards in the defense of art, poetry, and the intelligence of the ear. "Delicate and sure, spare and very, very precise," is how Cole Swensen describes them. "They haunt. They break your heart. They make you want to live. ORIFLAMME marks a new direction in American poetry. No one else is doing anything like it, yet."
pursuit of gravel skirt—
pursuit of grass—
an overbit bowl was also green enough—
still the distil—
chains laid on the sod—
grass like coin—
lay down for watering the back—
neck lace shirt twists around neck—
green stained knuckle stands up—
a house bout in the yard fell—
seen through armored window—
pruned & blind—shade from it kneel
in the stripped pasture—graze
over the hidden hill bones—
smelt copper shells for wearing & looking better—
this will match—we will burn up over it
the language of seed, forever.