Posts Tagged ‘Les Figues Press’

Mathew Timmons’ latest book, The New Poetics ($15), published by Les Figues Press as part of their TrenchArt Maneuvers Series, topped the Small Press Distribution bestseller list for poetry in December. As an admirer both of Les Figues’ TrenchArt Series and Timmons’ work, I was excited to read The New Poetics, and because of its unique nature decided an interview might best showcase the work. Following the publication of our below conversation, Molossus will print an exclusive addition to Timmon’s New Poetics, titled “The New Craft.”


What is The New Poetics? How did the project come about, and how does it fit into Les Figues current series?

I began writing The New Poetics in the summer of 2006. At the time it seemed like I was often talking about the new narrative and the new sentence with various writing friends, Harold Abramowitz being one person in particular. It was a very warm summer in L.A., which tends to push me towards insomnia, and that summer I was in the bad habit of driving around downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the night, between say 3 and 5 AM, roughly. I wasn’t sleeping all that much and would come home from driving around and work on various projects in the early hours of the morning. At some point I thought I’d google “The New Narrative” and see what the internet could tell me about the subject. I liked the odd repetition and rephrasing of what came up, so I took the first three pages of google results, put them in a Word document and started moving things around until I liked what I saw on the page. I did the same thing with “The New Sentence” and afterwards I felt like I had actually learned something about both The New Sentence and The New Narrative that normal research wouldn’t offer. Then I started keeping a list of News, things that would come up in conversation or I would overhear, The New Something-or-Other phrases in people’s work. For example, “The New Debility” is dedicated to Will Alexander, because in his play Conduction in the Catacombs—which I worked on for Betalevel here in Los Angeles, ATA in San Francisco, and 21 Grand in Oakland a few years ago—one of the characters uses the phrase “The New Debility.” In the case of “The New Motherfuckers,” I was at Amoeba Music in Hollywood and on one of the end-caps there was a CD by the band The New Motherfuckers. I listened to it and really liked it, so I wrote “The New Motherfuckers” for them, and most of the material is actually about them, which means they had great google presence back in 2006 when I was working on the book.

I sense a sort of poking fun at schools and movements in The New Poetics. Can you comment on that?

It’s true, I’m not so much into writing schools and movements, or I have a healthy skepticism for them. Kurt Schwitters, one of my favorite artists and writers, created his own movement, Merz, after he wasn’t accepted by the Berlin Dadaists. Schwitters was closer to the Zurich Dadaists and dabbled a little with the surrealists. He wasn’t easy to pin down. I myself don’t like to be easy to pin down, and I don’t need to follow the marching orders of the movement at whatever moment some movement wants to get on the move. I also find that movements and schools should be left to the 20th century avant-garde. Movements and schools require a solid identification and tend towards an Us vs. Them mentality. I’d prefer to recognize mutual affinities between artists and writers around me. I’d prefer not to be limited by what may or may not fit into a perceived or constructed regimen of any school or movement. Yet I love manifestos, the typical founding documents of any movement. I love the didactic voice of a manifesto, always ridiculously self-assured. In my aesthetic statement for Les Figues TrenchArt: Maneuvers Series, which I very appropriately titled, “The Old Poetics,” I bloviated on and on for about 5,000 words about the old poetics. It read like a manifesto for the old poetics, while I am of course, obviously all about the new.

What’s happened with the PARROT series and Insert Press since we last talked?

PARROT 4, 5 & 6 came out: But on Geometric by Joseph Mosconi, Loquela by Allyssa Wolf and Viva Miscegenation by Brian Kim Stefans. We sold out of the first three issues during that time and we ran into a bit of a printing snag that caused a few months delay. I’m happy to say that the printing snag has been dealt with and PARROT 7 On the Substance of Disorder by Will Alexander will be out for the new year and we should get back to getting them out in quick succession again after that. In the meantime we published a booklet in collaboration with MATERIAL about artists’ communities, The Futility of Making Salad. The publication includes texts from Harold Abramowitz, Stan Apps,
 Marcus Civin,
 Ginny Cook,
 Dorit Cypis,
 Robin Dicker, Bradney Evans, Nicholas Grider, Dan Hockenson, 
Peter Kirby,
 Elana Mann, Melanie Nakaue, Julie Orser,
 Adam Overton, 
Putting On, 
Declan Rooney,
 Kim Schoen,
 Charlotte Smith, 
Jesper List Thompsen, Mathew Timmons, and
 Jason Underhill.

Looking ahead to 2011 we’ll be continuing with the PARROT series and working on two books, Bruna Mori’s Poetry for Corporations and The Ups & Downs exhibitions catalog as well as issuing the last two volumes of Vanessa Place’s trilogy, Tragodía through our print-on-demand wing, Blanc Press.


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© 2008, Jona Franks

Right: Portraits from the Evangelical Ivy League, Jona Frank. (Chronicle Books) $35

© 2008, Jona Franks

Life as a student at Patrick Henry College is far from the images of beer pong and late morning snoozing that most of us conjure in recalling our university days.  Patrick Henry is a school on a mission to return what they see as a lost America to the conservative evangelical fold.  Its students are made up primarily of home schoolers and already its vast network of influential Americans has landed many of its graduates high powered jobs where they intend to carry on their alma mater’s mission.  Their rising influence alone is enough to cause curiosity from those on the outside, but the cool-headed ease with which they engage the secular culture and maintain their own subculture is puzzling.  It transcends the escapist nature of most religiously conservative groups. Jona Frank takes readers on a journey into the DNA of Patrick Henry College. Through a series of student interviews, portraits and personal assignments that Frank has compiled, the reader glimpses into the lives of the students: where they come from, where they hope to go, and what it means to be a part Patrick Henry.

© 2008, Jona Franks

Frank personalizes student portraits by publishing alongside them personal assignments or notes.  Jeremiah, a 22 year old government major who still exudes a pubescent air, is pictured with a practiced half smile resting against a long desk in immaculately empty classroom.  Next to this scene is his own handwritten list of heroes.  Lacking a proper title, the list is headed, “If God can use them with their weakness, flaws, and sin… I praise Him that He can use me.” While list members are diverse in occupation and renown they all hold in common two essential characteristics: Christian beliefs and an ability to overcome the odds to achieve greatness—the very same virtues found among most of Patrick Henry’s student body. It is what makes the school’s mission and the students that attend it so interesting: they’ve found a way to engage the culture while still clinging to conservative practice.  Frank collected these thoughts from Justin, a 19 year old government major on the subject: “Academic institutions have either rejected Christian principles or the other extreme: Christian institutions have rejected culture… Patrick Henry equips us to take his [god’s] name into whatever work we do in the world.” But the kind of careers that these ambitious students seek and their superiors encourage are just the opposite of “whatever work.”  Most are positioned for high-powered jobs in politics, entertainment, and the media, a fact which school founder Michael Farris touts as one of Patrick Henry’s best selling points. Government major, Elissa, is featured on the school grounds’ sprawling lawns in a khaki overcoat, wedding ring displayed prominently, emanating a pleasant maturity most college seniors have yet to develop.  At only twenty-two she has already interned for politician Karl Rove.  Readers will discover in Frank’s chapter titled “Interns” that she’s not alone in her exceptional accomplishments. Her Patrick Henry peers have—even before graduation—managed senatorial campaigns, worked for the White House and at the assignment desk for Fox News.

From Frank’s perspective though, Patrick Henry isn’t just a breeding ground for America’s next top senator.  The atmosphere lends itself to a personal moral code much more Victorian Era than twenty-first century.  Vices like alcohol, drugs, and premarital sex are shunned, and respect for authorities, honesty, and biblical conflict resolution are endorsed according to a proposed honor code that Frank includes.  Delving further into the collective psyche of the student body, Frank visits and photographs students’ families. Eighteen year old freshman Juli, an education and classical liberal arts major is pictured with her family during Christmas break.  Aside from the family portrait, the girls dawning long prairie-style jean dresses, Frank photographs the bare walls of her parents room—the area used for school study. Unlike many of her classmates, Juli doesn’t aspire to an influential job in the secular world, she hopes to be a home school mother and to support her husband.  Don’t be fooled though, Juli’s no dummy: she loves philosophy and studying the greats like Plato, Nietzsche, Kant, and Kierkegaard, and being exposed to ideas she didn’t encounter during her education at home. She says,

We learn the ideas that are going around today and influencing the world today… we are learning about them in a scholastic manner, which means these are legitimate thought positions.  They may be absolutely wrong, but they are not foolish, so we can’t just mock them… There’s a broadening of the mind, and with all the reading we get to do, I am getting such a wide base of knowledge.

On the opposite end of the spectrum Frank discovers twenty-one-year-old Kimbell.  She’s pictured lying leisurely on the grass with her boyfriend Caleb.  The pair represent the more liberal faction on campus. In an interview with Frank she says, “…some conservatives are still living in the prairie days, with jean dresses, when women shouldn’t speak in chapel. And then there’s other conservatives who say, ‘Hey, this is the 21st century—we can still be God-honoring and love him with all our hearts but be more acclimated to society.’”  Together with Caleb, who is struggling with cystic fibrosis and diabetes, the two would like to see the student code changed—for rules like “no alcohol” to be changed “no abuse of alcohol.”  Her parents, who sent her to Patrick Henry, have since encouraged her to leave for a more “normal” college experience, but she seems to have found peace both with the school and in her relationship with Caleb.

Frank has creatively used fold-out pages to great effect, featuring, for example, all eleven family members of Patrick Henry student Nathan, side by side in a spliced panorama, as if at a Last Supper-style table. Hannah Rosin (author of the non-fiction God’s Harvard, also about Patrick Henry) and Colin Westerbeck’s essays accompany the photographs well.  Along with Frank, the three commentators approach the school with a generosity afforded only by the truest of curiosities—one deeply invested in the humanity of their subjects.


© 2008, Jona Franks

From JBAD, Lessons Learned, Danielle Adair. (Les Figues Press) $20

Printed in a limited edition of 100 signed copies, From JBAD is a facsimile index of notes taken by Danielle Adair during her exploration of the US Army’s involvement in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. One component of her multimedia project First Assignment, the journal is beautifully designed and manufactured in a spiral-bound format on lightly translucent paper, printed in Adair’s own hand. Portions of the journal read like poems, with occasional—and appropriately serving as reminders of the project’s purpose—interruptions for military terminology:

Dear Soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan,

If I give you some lemons you will make lemonade

people are like, ‘oh here’s some lemons, make

the military does “lessons learned” well

to get to the bottom line

we made a b-line back in there and started returning fire

we’ll call on the nipper line

AFGHAN LOGISTICS: we can give you the number

Logistical Ressupply  [sic] in Combat Logistics Missions

you’ll hear the ground guys say, hey, do you guys
have any mail in there?

From JBAD is a skeleton journey through a traveler’s Jalalabad, an eery and suggestive contribution toward Adair’s project goal. It’s a worthwhile if unconventional book.


© 2008, Jona Franks

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Sonnet 56, Paul Hoover. (Les Figues Press) $15

Hoover’s exploration of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 56” (“Sweet love, renew thy force, be it not said/Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,…”) inhabits the experimental space between Peter Davis’ Hitler’s Mustache and Christian Bök’s Eunioa. Though I originally approached it with some skepticism, I quickly came to appreciate its Oulipian exploration of form. In Ian Monk’s brief introduction he frames the work well:

[Hoover’s poems] range from standards of the Western repertoire, such as the villanelle or the limerick, to more exotic examples such as the Arab qasida or the Japanese haibun, while also taking in such recent inventions as the web-inspired flarf. In this group, I would also include such versions as “Free Verse,” written in unrhymed couplets which are rather reminiscent of much of what now passes for “standard” lyric poetry. What Hoover succeeds in doing by adopting this approach is to present us with another important insight: there is no poetry without form, and a failure to think this point through simply leads poets to adopt the prevailing forms used in their place and time while mistaking them for something natural and inevitable.

Indeed Hoover’s collection does just that. It manages to question the naturalness and inevitability of free verse in the most elegant mode of criticism, art itself. Like Bök, the work demonstrates an Oulipian rigor unusual in contemporary poetry. Like Davis, the work is simultaneously humorous, self-conscious in the best sense. The collection includes classic Oulipo exercises, translated into English, like Noun +7, in which every noun is replaced with the seventh noun following it in a chosen dictionary, as well as more contemporary and playful forms, like Class Description (“Formalist readings are not allowed. All papers and class discussions must relate to the historic collapse of dominant systems of sense making in the post-Soviet period.”) and the Workshop, set at Skyline Community College.

Instructor: Anyone else? Come on, don’t be shy. Nobody? OK, let’s think it through. We all know that love can lose its force and begin to grow dull. The edge of the knife grows dull through use and has to be sharpened again. Right? So love is like a knife in constant need of sharpening.

Randy: Love’s not a knife. That’s stupid.

Instructor: Have you ever been in love?

Randy: Don’t think so. But I always keep it sharp, if you know what I mean.

Instructor: That’s enough, Randy. To class: And when you’re hungry, you can become irritable and sharp with others. So it’s not as inconsistent as it appears.

Sonnet 56 is a great addition to the Les Figues Press TrenchArt series, available by subscription only. The 2009/2010 series, entitled Maneuvers, “explores the possibilities of re-ordered time and content, framed with the understanding that one cannot separate content from time, and that to shift the form or the order is to shift the subjectivities of the text.” Hoover’s collection of 56 poems does just that, while raising other important questions for contemporary English-language poetry. It’s intelligent, well-humored, and refreshingly unnatural. In the end of his poem “Preface,” which explains the genesis of the project, Hoover writes that “Nature has forms, but culture is replete with them.” Contemporary poetry culture is a perfect example, with form less inevitable than we tend to think, and Hoover’s exploration of the theme is exciting and worthwhile.


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