Indeterminate Variables in the Face of Danger: A Conversation with Lori Anderson Moseman

Lori Anderson Moseman is the author of the forthcoming OS print:document, “Y.”

Above: Cover uses Typography Design and original Digital Collage by Elæ (Lynne DeSilva-Johnson) sourced from details of a rendering of Y by Caits Meissner. (see below) [Image description: Cover of ‘Y’ with title and author’s name in red type mimicking found letters, over black and white abstracted hand-drawn dystopian landscape depicting outsized molars, refuse, and fragmented automobiles.]

Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?

Usually I introduce myself as a poet and publisher, but you can call me a creator and a collaborator. Over my life — six decades long now — my textual and visual play has become a daily practice like eating or exercise. The many communities I belong to all try to help others; some do that by providing material support (food, shelter, clean water / air); most offer images and words. As my friend, Dr. Virginia Wolff, says: “Not all healing is physical.”

Why are you a poet/writer/artist/creator?

Words appear in my mouth. Unbidden. That’s a lie. All utterances — even ones that seem to be gifts from the universe — are prompted by others. By reading, say, Meredith Stricker’s anemochore: “I am constantly aware that words are teaching me / that I am inside their mouth.” Or, by reading Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas: “Now / make room in the mouth / for grassesgrassesgrassses.”

I am a poet because I hear structures. Everywhere. Even in my dying mother’s rants. I mimic her broken syntax, her concision, her bluntness. I embody her need to be heard. As Audre Lorde writes, in her essay ‘Poetry is not a luxury,’ “the quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.” Poetry, then, is that light.

When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?

I delighted in writing poems as early as 2nd grade, I didn’t not call myself a poet. I earned undergraduate degrees in forestry and technical journalism while filling notebooks of poems, but I didn’t not call myself a poet. I became “writer” when I was a paid farm journalist. I called myself a “hog reporter” when I entered the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I started calling myself a “poet” after Jane Miller kicked me in the shin and said: “start projecting yourself as an artist.” Yes, she kicked me — shoe to shin. I became a poet when I started memorizing others’ poems, moving them in my mouth. Here’s the beginning of a Miller poem I committed to memory: “Seasoned with heart of black sheep and in our bodies the respite / the exiled black grape, fresh water for our face and our sex, // the threshold of a great coast to which who bear / poultices bear riches, who bear sweet-smelling leaves // the maggots of a tree, / and for those who dress in this field // the evening robes our precedent / with our own smoke, // where things can suddenly be held for known / ….”

What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway?
What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)?

After I read in Anne Gorrick’s Cadmium Text Series in Kingston, George Quasha interviewed me for his film poetry is (Speaking Portraits) Vol. II. I said lot that day, but what made its way into the film was: “Poetry is a practice, an addiction, a way of organizing patterns of behavior: I love looking at a text and seeing a visual pattern, hearing an aural pattern, making jokes with those patterns, discovering new things with those patterns, speeding them up, slowing them down, making sounds, solving problems.”

I admire poets who make grander claims in the name of transformation, redemption or revolution. But really, whatever poetry is, it is not what we say it is. Neither the practice nor the product of poetry can be contained. That doesn’t mean I don’t strategically align my poetics with particular cultural compatriots who fight for social change or environmental justice. My poetry needs collaborators to thrive.

On many institutional occasions, I have dutifully articulated an Ars Poetics via the theory de jour. But having just interred my parents’ ashes in Montana’s Bitterroot valley, I am now inclined to credit my ma’s ditties and my pa’s tall tales as my literary underpinnings. Add to that their sense of justice, their work ethic, their childhood poverty. I am still trying to subtract from that legacy their white privilege.

Talk about the process or instinct to move these poems (or your work in general) as independent entities into a body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?

Y is a tall tale created to cope with a medical diagnosis. Like YouTube’s phenom HoopDeeDoo, I bought a hula hoop to stave off osteoporosis. In trying to learn how to hoop, I literally had to make my body into a Y shape (legs together, arms up and overhead).

Many poems begin for me by moving an object (a physical prop) in space. That action jogs my imagination, and a new character is born. Storytelling begins as words appearing in my mouth. That is the way it happened when I was a child entertaining friends with improvisational tales about, say, the Bubblegum Man.

Y, my latest creation, is born when a middle-aged peacenik, Rusty, shortens her name. Anyone familiar with my earlier books has already met Bog Girl, Canoehead, Subway Bride, Pause, Half-Turn, Silversort and a host of others. My oeuvre is a flash mob.

Y goes on a new adventure in each poem. Some quests are math problems (e.g. Euler’s Ladder). Some book reports (e.g. Rust: The Longest War). Some contemplate chromosomes; other just link recurring orbits. Most adventures are outlets for political outrage. Y emerged as this country inaugurated the 45th puppet.

To give Y purpose and community, the book is populated with Beloveds. By telling stories of people I love, I invite readers to witness as humans struggle together. The aim is to hold my comic book character accountable for the material conditions of others’ physical lives. While I was writing Y, hurricanes ravaged the south. A flood survivor many times over, I am keenly concerned about climate change and the devastation it brings.

Did you envision this collection as a collection or understand your process as writing or making specifically around a theme while the poems themselves were being written / the work was being made? How or how not?

I compose in InDesign. I do that because I spent a decade designing and publishing other poets (I started the press Stockport Flats in the wake of a flood). Because I am used to thinking in the unit of a “book,” I immediately start grouping poems to experiment with a collection’s architecture. As soon as I position any poem, I begin thinking about what should be on the facing page.

Obviously, this means a lot of rearranging as I write. I never find the “right order” quickly. The conversation between the poems generates new work. An image, say the hula hoop, become a magnet calling other similar visuals to the page. Suddenly I am revising to intensify circularity, to introduce cylinders. Round and round, I go through an iterative process.

Y too is a study of the uses of the letter Y in language and mathematics. Obviously, the question “why?” reverberates more within dramatic sentences than algebraic equations. Over the course of the collection, Y becomes more of a dependent variable than an indeterminate variable. I first came to call Y an indeterminate variable after a poet friend insisted Y was a male chromosome. She, told me — as have other women have — that I am “too masculine.” Gender, to me, is not a constant or a parameter. Nor is it “an unknown” designating an argument. The poet-in-me did not Y to be a bound. I wanted Y to be free variable: “a notation in an expression where a substitution may take place.” Even if Y were just a place-holder for me, the mouthy writer, I would want readers to imagine themselves as Y.

After having some of these poems published in the multilingual literary journal, La Presa, I constructed a new ending for the book in which Y is the Spanish y. And And And. A movement toward inclusion.

Above: A depiction of the “Y” character from Anderson Moseman’s text, illustrated by Caits Meissner. [Image description; Five figures Hula-Hoop in a hand-drawn dystopian landscape, four of whom stand in canoes. A flood caries a car and the canoes. Buildings burn in the background, and drones fly overhead. A billboard with the text “‘Y’” and two waving figures overlooks the scene. In the foreground are outsized molars, small plants, and security cameras pointing at the fifth, non-canoeing Hula-Hooper.]

What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?

Y is a menagerie of formal experiments, many of which I can trace back to previous books. Double column poems such as “body politic | election blues” and “pilot boats on the mouth of a river entertain brew masters” use forms I experimented with in All Steel (Flim Forum). Such poems can be read as duets or as improvisational scores. The concrete poems are more akin to work in my forthcoming collection Darn (Delete Press). In those poems, trim-size of the book sets parameters. Y is not a serial work like my collection Flash Mob (Spuyten Duyvil) which limited prose poems to 130 words, but that work influenced “Backstories.” The mathematic fragments that materialize are spillovers from inquiries in Light Each Pause (Spuyten Duyvil). Because I have a life-long fascination with certain objects (e.g. ladders, boats), some poems use those images in ways I had not yet tried before.

Y includes extensive endnotes. Here’s a few inspirations: poets Peter Gizzi, Jane Miller, and Meredith Stricker; artists Jessica Baker, Meg Lipke, Katherine Umpsted; math buffs Leonhard Euler, Douglas R. Hofstader, Reviel Netz; journalist Jonathan Waldman; thinker Johnathan Gray; musician R. L. Burnside; yogi Loren Fishman.

I still use technical tricks learned from first teachers (Don Byrd, Jorie Graham, James Galvin, Judith Johnson, Bill Knott and Jane Miller). I mimic the experiments of poets with whom I exchange work (Esperanza Cintrón, Belle Gironda, Anne Gorrick, Brandi Katherine Herrera, Matthew Klane, Nancy Klepsch, Caroline Manring, Edric Mesmer, Laura Moran, Deborah Poe, late Marthe Reed, Robin Reagler, Sally Rhoades, Meredith Stricker, Brad Vogler, Sarah Wyman, Lisa Wunjowich). Artists I collaborate with teach me in ways I cannot name (Sheila Goloborotko, Caz McIntee, Nicole Peyrafitte, Karen Randall). These lists hardly scratch the surface of influence. I could list another 100 names of poets whose work I reread often (Ai, Jayne Cortez, Christian Bök, T. S. Eliot, Jean Follain, Michele Glazer, Mary Olmsted Greene, Joy Harjo, Brenda Iijima, Pierre Joris, Robert Kelly, Susan Lewis, Czeslaw Milosz, Erin Mouré, Melanie Noel, Antonia Pozzi, F. Daniel Rzicznek, Penti Saarikoski, Ema Saikō, Göran Sonnevi, Cole Swensen, Cecilia Vicuña, Anne Waldman, Rosemary Waldrop, Deborah Woodward, C. D. Wright, Katie Yates…).

Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.

As I mentioned, this book is a tall tale created to cope with a medical diagnosis. When I learned of my impending osteoporosis, I was reading Rust: The Longest War. Initially, the main character was name Rusty. Within in the first poem, the character changes names to Y. Voilà! I had my title.

I was also reading books about math, so I fancied Y as an indeterminant variable in an imaginary polynomial — a catalyst in cultural production. As I said earlier, I wanted Y to be a character anybody could play. But now I realize how Y is not very inclusive. Y expresses political views not everyone may want to adopt. Y does not want a gun range in the basement of the city recreation center. Y does not think high school students should play the game “assassination” to win money during their senior year. Y does not want a Y painted on a mountain that indigenous people called “Wahdahhekawee.” As a leftist, is Y a bigot?

After this book was accepted for publication, I found myself living in another city to help my mother through hospice. While she was dying, I was inundated with Y’s. An abbreviated acronym for an educational institution base on a religion I do not be live in. Y flew on street side banners. Almost all the cars had a Y bumper sticker. Not that Y, I would shout. Y is not that Y. But if Y is to be indeterminant, they Y is not not that Y. My mother’s death was a peaceful beautiful passing because believers/supports of that Y were by her side. I had to write a new ending for the book. Y and to acknowledge being a dependent variable.

What does this particular work represent to you as indicative of your method/creative practice? your history? your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?

What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?

I write to cope with life. Always have. This book is a coping mechanism. The Trump administration is a continual assault that shakes me more than any medical diagnosis or my mother’s death. I write in the face of danger. Creativity is my response to destruction. Creativity is my connection to community. This book keeps me alive. Hopefully, it can give others hope in the way that a zany joke can lighten a day.

What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?

This book has already allowed me to join a larger artist / activist community. Because of OS cohort model, I am meeting writers, discovering new books. I have opportunity to work beside folks internationally. Let’s see what collaborations unfold. Will we stop climate change? I doubt it. Will the machine overlords make cyborgs of us all before the human species becomes extinct? Who knows? Certainly not Y.

Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social activism. I’d be curious to hear some thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, privilege, social/cultural background, and sexuality within the community, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos.”

My creative practice is communal and always has been. I was raised in a pack. I always seek a pack. My parents were educators and athletes whose banked on the premise that humans learn / perform best in groups. The wisest path to inclusiveness is to participate in confluence of communities. When a reporter for AgriNews in Rochester, MN, I was active with Physicians for Social Responsibility as well as the Nuclear Freeze and Sanctuary movements. When getting an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I was the newsletter editor for the Women’s Resource and Action Center. When getting my doctorate in Writing Teaching and Criticism, I editing publications for the Sister of Color Writing Collective and Art and Understanding (a journal for AIDS awareness). When running the press Stockport Flats, I was involved in the anti-fracking movement in New York and Pennsylvania. These groups, and others that share their causes, have helped create healthier social relations.

One great place to read histories of creative communities that help us make “leaps in consciousness” is Edric Mesmer’s series Among the Neighbors put out by the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries at the University at Buffalo. This pamphlet series profiles non-academic and academic essays about literary magazines published since 1940. One such inspiration is Issue 5, Remembering El Corno Emplumado/ The Plumed Horn, by Sergio Mondragón and Operating System’s translator Margaret Randall. El Corno Emplumado begins in Mexico City in 1960s. The journal had “seven years of joyous, painful, arduous activity” in which a vibrant Pan-American community of writers and artists thrived under an increasingly repressive regime. On the night of Tlatelolco (massacre of Oct. 2, 1968), Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s government “unleashed the fury of death, exile, persecution, suffering, prison and terror upon so many people — a wound in Mexico’s heart that has bled for decades and may never close — putting an end to the golden dream of the Sixties and to …. El Corno Emplumado.” We need to look beyond our generation and beyond our countries’ borders to find models of resistance.

Image of Lori Anderson Moseman with small sunglasses and a clear blue sky. A statue stands in the background, two seagulls around it.

Creator/collator Lori Anderson Moseman’s most recent poetry collections are Light Each Pause (Spuyten Duyvil), Flash Mob (Spuyten Duyvil), and All Steel (Flim Forum Press). An avid collaborator, Anderson Moseman worked with book artist Karen Pava Randall to create Full Quiver (Propolis Press), with poet Belle Gironda to make Double Vigil (Lute & Cleat) and printmaker Sheila Goloborotko to produce insistence, teeth (Dusie 17) and Creation (Goloborotko Studios). With a nine-member team of artists and writers (Stricker, Herrera, Mesmer, Switzer et. al.), Anderson Moseman created Mar, an artist book/box of mar(k) postcards (Lute & Cleat). A former educator, farm journalist and forester, Anderson Moseman founded the press Stockport Flats in the wake of Federal Disaster #1649, a flood along the Upper Delaware River. Anderson Moseman has a Doctor of Art in Writing, Teaching and Criticism from the University at Albany, a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an Master of Fine Arts in Integrated Electronic Arts from iEAR Studios at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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The Operating System & Liminal Lab

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.

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The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. Join us!

The Operating System & Liminal Lab

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.