David Brazil – First Book Interview
Interview by Kallie Falandays with David Brazil, the author of The Ordinary
When did you start writing this book and when did you finish?
The Ordinary was not originally conceived as an integral book, although I think that the pieces form a shape and a trajectory in the gathering that has taken place. The perception that these works would make a book belongs to the publisher, Michael Cross, and I’m greatly in his debt. The pieces were composed between 2008 and 2011. The central piece, “economy,” was composed in the spring and summer of 2011, in the spiritual and civic tension of the period between the Arab Spring and Occupy.
Is there a particular way that you hope people read your book? Must it be read in the order that it is presented?
I’m glad for this question, which seems like one that the book imposes on its readers. How do you read it ? I don’t have any special wish for how people encounter it, and would rather that they come to it as seems best to them. At a reading I gave for the book at Green Arcade bookstore in San Francisco, I talked about how much I admired On Bear’s Head by Philip Whalen and used it sometimes as a book of divination, opening at random and seeing what I found, as used to be done with the works of Vergil (this method is called sortes Vergiliana, or sometimes the Valentinian chance). And then a friend, who wasn’t at this reading, wrote to tell me that he was opening his copy at random like the I Ching. So maybe something about the book suggests encountering it that way. The book says “this is the 1/2anoply of accident.”
The first two sections of your book look like journal entries. How were these composed? Can you speak to the process a little bit?
The first two sections of The Ordinary were the earliest to be written — both in 2008 — and were composed & published as chapbooks for specific readings (the first at Canessa Park Gallery in San Francisco, the second at The Smell nightclub in LA). Ever since moving to California I have kept up a daily writing practice in quad-ruled orange Rhodia notebooks, and both of these pieces are composed from a transcription out of those notebooks, which transcription was then redacted, basically for purposes of prosody. The notebook entries themselves are usually a mix of dailiness and copying-out of whatever I’m reading, and some of that texture remains as tone beneath or above the relentless cancellation of the particular. There was a particular sound I was trying to get and I didn’t know how to get it without deletion. Like Mallarme says, “Destruction was my Beatrice.”
In your poem “Economy/.,” you leave in the mistakes that were made during typing. Were these typing mistakes or were these purposeful? Why did you choose to do this?
“economy” was an attempt to dwell as fully as possible, over a period of months, on all the resonances of that word, and to reflect on the question of waste and the outcast which forms part of the orbit of any economy. A formal decision was made to compose the word on found paper — found in the large sense, those pieces of paper which came to my hands in this period. So there’s a lot of trash from the streets of my neighborhood in Oakland, and that’s a lot of what I think the piece ends up being about — civic archaeology and the histories at rest or tension within the very present moment. All this is a long way of getting to an answer to your question, which is that all of the pieces of paper dictated the texts I wrote out of their very materiality, and any error was just part of the composition. Also, as you observe in the framing of your question, whether something is intentional or an error is totally undecideable from the point of the view of the reader (an issue that I’ve come up against repeatedly in reading, say, Aeschylus, or the Hebrew Bible). When we encounter any writing, and particularly writing on trash, the quintessential orphan, we are left with no resource to decode it other than the speculative intelligence.
What is your revision process like?
The way I revise differs depending on the project, but all the works included in The Ordinary show the marks of their revision, if any — either as cancels with a marker or a row of exes, or handwritten inserts with a caret. Again, revision is usually in the service of prosody. It either happens directly after composition — as the word is cooling — or not at all. The exception to this is “to romans,” which I revised continually and redrafted at least three times over several months.
In the section titled “To Romans,” you take psalms and change them. Why did you decide to do this?
“to romans” is a metrical translation of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, which is usually called “The Letter to the Romans”. If you have a Bible nearby you can read it. (The handwritten notes in the margin indicate citations from the Hebrew scripture that Paul adduces as prooftexts for the dialectically intricate arguments of this towering document.) I have been thinking about Paul & Romans for years, ever since a conversation with the poet and critic Chris Nealon about the “Pauline turn” in continental philosophy (that is, the many books by writers such as Agamben, Badiou, and Zizek, and behind them all Jacob Taubes and his tremendous Political Theology of Paul, which is must reading), and I think I undertook this translation in order to try to work through the text as fully as possible and, maybe, get it out of my system a little.
How were the materials for your book stored before you compiled them as a book? Or did you work on each with the knowledge that you would join the other poems, diagrams, and images into a full book?
Most of the sections were prepared and published as xeroxed chapbooks, so that whatever sheaf of original materials I had composed were copied, hand-assembled, and then distributed as folded-and-stapled books. This kind of production was deeply influenced by the work of publishing TRY magazine with my partner Sara Larsen, between 2008 and 2011. TRY was a folded-and-stapled zine, identical in format to these chapbooks I was making, so obviously something about that way of presenting work had gotten under my skin. Of course, it’s also about the question of how you circulate work when you’re continuously dead-broke, which is a big part of where zine culture came from in the first place. “economy” is the big exception here — when I started that project I got a three-ring binder & started adding leaves to it as the project grew, as well as various other scraps and oddments that seemed to be part of the constellation. The result is a kind of deeply messy and grubby assortment that still lives in my house.
If you had to describe your book in 2 sentences, how would you describe it?
“A scored and wretched amalgam, through which something is hopefully seen. Written awaiting the Paraclete.”