Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Aesthetic Turn: Interview with Aleathia Drehmer


Aleathia Drehmer originates from a small New England town which served as the home base for an extensive amount of traveling across the country before the age of 10.  Her parents were not in the active military nor were they gypsies, but most likely unsettled in their identities and spent much time searching for them in far off po-dunk towns.

 From this, Aleathia learned the distinct importance of human connection in her life.  She had to learn to extract whatever lesson was given to her by each person she met very quickly before moving again.  This type of life made it easy for her to fall into the lap of poetry.  She would become a collector of small moments in her life, an observer of other people’s lives, and develop a keen eye for things left in the shadows.

 As an adult, she has been married and divorced and left with a darling child to show for it.  Her chosen career is Emergency Nursing, but her love is art and writing.  This dichotomy, though seemingly unrelated, has proved the best platform for writing and editing in the small press.  One job affords the other.

Aleathia Drehmer started her journey in poetry in 1983, but did not find the small press until 2006.  Prior to the small press she had won several awards for poetry and fiction at her local community college.  Since 2006, Aleathia has been published widely in print and online for her poetry, fiction, and photography.

 She spent a good amount of time being one of the many editors at Outsider Writers before landing a co-editor job at Zygote in my Coffee where she was the sole editor of the book, “The Beards”.  Aleathia was one of the original founders/editors of Full of Crow where she managed the poetry department.  In 2009, she branched out on her own and created Durable Goods.  This print microzine has been her crowning jewel since then with a vast readership that employs a grassroots method to distribution.  In 2010, Aleathia created the online flash fiction website In Between Altered States which features 300 word flash fiction that knows few boundaries.

 At the present she juggles home life, work, a relationship and several publications in her rural upstate New York apartment.  She continues to publish her work in small press venues and do readings when she can find them.  Aleathia has many projects on the horizon just waiting to be born.

Skepoet: As both a poet and an editor, do you find your aesthetic commitment similar in both roles or is there some divergence between them in your criterion for your own craft and for selecting others work for an audience?

Aleathia Drehmer: I have had to really contemplate the idea of “aesthetic commitment”, because to me this implies a certain amount of education in the philosophy of art and beauty in order to give a critical reflection of the arts.  Most of my observations and judgments about art come from real life experiences and a more emotionally charged place.  So maybe my commitment to writing and art stem from esthetics, which bases its ideals on a sensorial-emotional model.  Having differentiated between these two studies of art, I can honestly say that there is a certain amount of divergence in my criteria for my own work as opposed to the work I chose for others to enjoy.

When working on my own poems, fiction, or essays I come from a place of deep feeling.  My work is entrenched in my personal life, because it is what I know best.  It would be near impossible for me to effectively write about subjects of which I have no knowledge or viable connection.  Much of what I produce is an attempt to capture the essence of a moment or experience, and translate it into a piece of work that the reader can relate to despite its personal content.

I have a great understanding that the darkest, most moving times of our lives are not singular and significantly our own.  We, as people, don’t own emotions due to their abstract nature, but we feel them uniquely based on what we have seen and felt in our lives and the people that have intersected our paths.

One of the most influential things ever told to me about writing was that as a writer it is my job to show a person the scene I am creating through words rather than tell them flat out.  This makes the reader active and invested in the piece.  It allows them to create their own visuals and place themselves in that space they have created which might be totally different from what the writer saw or intended.  So every poem I approach is internally edited with this ideal in mind.  It doesn’t always work and some poems escape to tell the reader exactly what I want them to know.  At the top, I hold myself responsible for maintaining a depth of imagery that is often laced with metaphor.  I hold myself responsible for creating a brief space where the reader knows it is ok to feel something intense about words.

As an editor, it depends greatly on the magazine I am working on or the people I might be working for.  In my print microzine Durable Goods, I am more relaxed on the work I will choose.  The mission of this publication is to connect as many humans as possible.  The work will not please everyone, but with each one it does, the magazine spreads its circle just a little bit farther.  When choosing work for Durable Goods, there must be at least a line or two that grabs me enough to contemplate the idea beyond reading it.  I want to be transported for just a moment.

For many writers, Durable Goods is a challenge because of its short form and I enjoy being a part of this uncomfortable place.  I believe it is these spots that we learn the most about what our writing can be and how we can learn to shape our own voices under pressure.  This zine is a gathering of writers around the campfire. It is a place writers come to feel comfortable.

When I used to edit for Full of Crow, I was under a more stringent criteria because I had to conform to the overall vision of the magazine and deliver a certain type of poetry which I felt lent itself to intelligence splashed with a great amount of international flavor.  Sometimes I had to alter my own personal criteria for choosing work to consider all of these components.

At In Between Altered States, I look at the work completely differently because it is flash fiction.  These pieces aren’t based on emotional values as much as they are geared towards stretching one’s comfort zone and expanding the boundaries of the mind.  Many of the topics used to theme these episodes are ones that I might not morally agree with, but I have learned that it is of the utmost importance to maintain a tolerance for the differences in intellect, writing style, and content.  I believe in the power of free speech even if it cuts into my core belief system.  I find it much easier to “edit” these types of stories than I do poetry.  I have more confidence to suggest changes that would tighten and improve the work.

I believe as individual writers we hold ourselves to an extremely high standard and keep ourselves accountable for what we produce.  We have to be able to stand behind it without hanging our heads.  This ideal cannot help but spill over into how we judge another person’s work.  I do my best to leave room for understanding that each person writes from a unique perspective and voice that I may or may not understand.

S:  Do you think poet’s have a particular social role to play in the larger culture?

A.D.:  This is an interesting question because I believe the standard answer from most writers or artists would be “yes”.  What creative person doesn’t want to think that their art or words have an impact in the larger culture?

We live in a world where there is little honest feedback, especially on social media where most of us present our pieces to the world or link our work up for viewing.  Circles of people are created based on a person’s likeability and it is my experience that people give criticism based on how much they like the person and not the writing.  Sometimes this perpetuates a lower quality of poem, because the writer believes his or her writing has a significant impact on the larger culture they have thrown their words out to.

In the small press, it is greatly apparent that many of its writers aren’t looking to improve what they do and they don’t take constructive criticism well. I would believe those sorts of writers are present to make themselves feel better and to have an impact in their own personal culture.

I have been lucky in my life that despite having swum in the same circles where I get patted on the back for substandard work, I have also met a good solid few writers who are willing to put my feelings on the line and tell me the truth about my poems.  This is painful in many ways, but it is from this pain that I have grown.  It keeps me working hard to achieve a higher level of writing that will allow me to possibly have an effect on the larger culture.

It is general knowledge in this day and age that most people don’t read poetry except the classics and maybe the Beats.  I am not especially sure the poetry of my generation has made enough of a stand to significantly impact culture and society.  I am not sure the work is honest enough yet.  I include my own work in this.  I haven’t reached the full potential of my craft.  I have a long way to go.

S.:  Which poets do see as being most influential on your editorial process and what superficially did you learn from them?

A.D.: I am going to have to be very selective with this question or the answer could go on forever.  I tend to learn something from each poet that I meet or at least I try to.  When I first popped onto the small press scene in 2006, I met poet Zachary C. Bush.  He was very energetic and had an uncanny ability to think outside the box which I was not doing at the time.  We exchanged emails often and he would offer ideas on how to shape poems or things to write about that would help me push out of my own comfort zone.  I began to look at the world from a different perspective after this meeting of the minds.  I still us my experiences with Zach today.

A year or so later after meeting Zachary, I had the pleasure/displeasure of interacting with poet Ed Churchouse.  I respect his work immensely.  He is a true lover of the word and intensely passionate about the poem.  He was by far my hugest judge and jury.  He was so critical of my work that many times I cried.  Other writers found this to be barbaric, but they were all patting me on the back saying my work was great when it really wasn’t.  Ed was willing to risk friendship in order for me to be honest with myself about what I was writing.  In a previous question I mentioned a person that taught me the “show, don’t tell” tactic, this would be Ed Churchouse.  His influence shows up every time I write and even affected my process as I no longer write down everything I believe MIGHT be interesting.  I let the important images linger in my head a long time before putting them on paper and I find I am more personally satisfied with the work.

In 2009, I met poet and all around great guy, Carter Monroe.  This was a chance meeting at a festival in Kansas City that proved to build a fine friendship that would involve an education in poetry, music, and the art of laughter.  Carter was engaging and often sent me links to articles via email about writers and the history of poetry.  After reading the article we would email back and forth our thoughts.  He was also helpful in guiding me towards great established writers I’d never heard of, all of whom would go on to shape how I attack the poem. The influence he provided me has been profound.  If I had to name someone as my mentor, I’d name Carter Monroe.

Lastly, I feel that Amanda Oaks gave me something so very important.  I was a part of a test group for one of her teaching modules that had very little to do with creative writing and more to do with being honest with yourself about nearly every emotion or feeling you have.  Within this process she sent me a book by Brene Brown on perfectionism and how it serves to drag you down and remove the opportunity for moments of real life from your day.  Learning this allowed me to go deeper into my poems without any sort of regret.  It let me loosen up my grip on my life in order see and feel more so I could translate it into the poem.  I’m forever grateful for that realization and grateful to Amanda for having one of the kindest hearts in the business.

All of these poets moved me in different ways and I can’t really say that I learned anything superficial from any of them, because what they had to teach moved me enough to use the tools they’ve given me every day.  I believe in making my human connections as deep as possible even if I never cross paths with a person again.  They have come into my life for a reason even if it doesn’t make itself apparent until years later.

S.: Do you think poetry has any necessarily explicitly ethical components?

A.D.:  I think in this generation of poets everything is explicit.  I see more in your face type poetry that comes off like a rant rather than a poem.  These poems often speak loudly to ethical or political situations which carry heavy weight.  My problem with much of it is that the writers use the “poem” as a soapbox and much of it leaves me feeling as if there is little craft put into the work.

If you look at poetry from other heated cultural times like the 60’s you will find that though those poets were in your face, their language wasn’t explicit to the point of vulgarity as it is today. LeRoi Jones comes to mind.  The work was electrically charged and active.  It stood up in a room, but in reading it I never felt like the language was misused or vulgar.  Some poets are able to get down and dirty and use explosive language because it works with their voice and style.  If they can manage to do this in a smart way, I think they still can capture an audience.

In my opinion many poets lose sight of what a poem is supposed to be and in all truth maybe the parameters of poetry cannot be seriously defined anymore.  I do believe you have to know the rules of writing to break them and create a stunning poem that is both moving in its word flow and its ethical content.

I think we do need some poetry with explicit ethical content.  I think it will always be part of our culture because in every era there are those whose voices are louder than others and who are willing to make waves through art and literature.  The ones that can do this in a crafty way are the writers we tend to remember and admire.

S.: Do you think there is an ethical component to refraining from polemic in poetry and trusting the reader to draw such conclusions?

A.D.:  The problem with polemic in poetry, for me, is that the writer can begin to have an argument for or against a particular topic and try to drag you (kicking and screaming) to their version of the truth, but that is all it is—their version of truth.  Most poetry tends to have an emotional component which is close to the writer.  In poetry that uses polemics I feel this can often be amplified because subjects that people want to rant about are usually ones of significant social tone or have an ethical nature to them.

It is difficult for me to say if there is an ethical component to refraining from using polemics in poetry because each person is raised with a different set of values that draw from their parents, their environment, and the region of the country or world in which they live in.  For me personally, I don’t enjoy argumentative poetry.  I am for bringing up topics in a palatable way.  I want finesse.  To me ranting on about a piece of culture that irritates you isn’t really educational unless it is based in fact and let’s face it….overly factual poetry isn’t easy on the eyes.

I do believe we have to trust readers to make their own conclusions.  If anything, polemics in poetry could start an internal dialogue in the reader to ask more questions about the world and the society they live in.  In art of any kind, we must remember everyone’s opinion is subjective rather objective based on the fact that creating art and poetry is a very passionate and personal process.

 S.: Are there any trends in contemporary poetry that really worry you?

 A.D.:  This can be a bit of a tough question because in some places I have seen the list of contemporary published poets (those well established and known to many) upwards of 280.  This would be poets still living in my time or recently deceased.  I cannot confidently speak to any trends in their poetry, but I can touch on my own generation of poets in the small press.

When I first came on the scene in 2006, I noticed that in order for most women to get published they had to write in a very sexual way, they had to be objects of desire.  This idea that you had to be your most salacious self and be deeply in touch with what our masculine counterparts wanted to read really bothered me.  Did I have to do this to get published?  Would I be willing to write this way?  The answer to both questions was yes.  I dug into the darkest parts of my life when I didn’t really care about myself and looked at the ideas that would let me portray myself in the most disparaging ways.  These poems got published.  These poems allowed me to make a name for myself that I quickly wanted to change before it was too late; before I was labeled as a one trick pony.  I only had so much sex that I wanted to sell.

I see a fair amount of women who make themselves out to be sleazy and who use very shocking language and images to get published and read by peers. This is greatly enhanced by the insurgence of social media in the poetry scene.  Women can add a sexy picture of themselves to go with a sex filled poem and rapidly it has more “likes” and comments than it’s worth. It is quite possible that some of these women have lived these types of lives and this is there true personality, but it is hard to believe they exist in that state all the time and that sex is the only thing they have to write about. I notice that once they get caught up in this expression of poetry they rarely leave it.  They tend to not grow outside the confines of sexuality. We have to really ask why this happens. How do male publishers perceive these women?  Why do they get published over and over again?  What do female publishers think about how these women portray themselves? As a woman and an editor, I look for something genuine and real from all the writers I publish, but especially from the women.  I believe we can prove our equality without degrading our standard of writing and ourselves.  I think giving readers something they don’t expect from us is what changes the tide.

I also find the lack of growth in general to be disheartening.  Retaining your voice and style is one thing, but never challenging yourself to achieve more or to better your craft is pretty relevant these days.  It seems odd to me to still be reading the same poem rehashed from a writer six years later.  As a generation of writers we have to be willing to take it to the next level.  In much of what I have read about the poets that came before us, texts mention a competitive nature between them; they often had meetings to reveal new notions. They took ideas from each other, tried new things, and expanded on them to make them their own.  In these exchanges new forms of poetry were born.  We are competitive beasts by nature.  We are innate achievers.  I see a huge divergence from that nature in today’s poetry.

Lastly, the trend that bothers me the most is emulating a writer so much that the person’s work sounds almost copy-cat.  I wish writers would have the confidence to speak their own voice.  There are many poets I love, whose work I keep by my bed, but never once did it occur to me to want to write just like them.  Their lives were full of things I could never know deep enough to be able to write about from an honest and real place.  As writers we can acknowledge skills in other poets that enhance our own styles, but the writer should retain their own clear voice that is all together separate from those they admire.

S.: What advice would you give a new editor of poetry?

A.D.:  All advice anyone can give has to be taken with a grain of salt, because as you go through your career you learn to create your own style by trial and error.  You have to find your own comfy seat on the couch.

I can impart the things I have learned:

Always take chances on new writers that you see have potential.  Your acceptance could be the thing that pushes them forward and allows them the confidence to get better.

Be an editor.  This doesn’t mean just run a magazine by taking submissions and choosing poems haphazardly.  You have to hold writers responsible for spelling and errors of space.  These days with experimental poetry space is sometimes considered part of the poem, so be keen enough to ask if they meant to do it.  We are all human.  We all make mistakes, but writers should proof their work before they send it and it is the editor’s job to call them out when they don’t.

If you are editing for a magazine in which you are not the managing editor, be sure to understand that you are choosing work that fits the reader’s scope of interest within that magazine.  Continuity can be key to making an issue of a magazine run on all cylinders.  If you are editing for your own magazine make sure you stay true to the vision of each issue.

Never, ever, ever choose work based on how much you like a writer as a person.  Readers may not know the writer like you do and taking substandard work because a writer is nice is a death nail in your respectability as an editor.  This is hard to do in the beginning, but your career and reputation will thank you for it later.

Don’t be afraid to change your tastes in writing.  As we grow and learn and are introduced to different styles of poetry we find our palate changes.  Don’t be afraid of that.  Don’t care what other people might feel about you when you like work that doesn’t fit the trend or the societal mode.  Don’t be afraid to discover new talent that could inspire the rest of us.

Stick to your deadlines.  This is so important, because when you let them slide your audience begins to doubt your credibility over time.  This may start subconsciously, but it will roll into something they attach to your name in all your future projects.  Keeping deadlines is establishing a line of trust between the writers and the readers of your magazine.

Above all you need to continue to be excited about what you do.  When editing becomes a burden that makes you want to clean the house rather than go through submissions or produce the magazine, then you should think about changing venues or taking a hiatus from editing.  This is important because when you lose your gusto for editing then the work you put out falls seriously flat for the readers.  You owe it to yourself and your readers to find a certain amount of joy in the work you do.

S.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?

 A.D.:  I don’t think so.  It all seems covered.  Thanks so much for the opportunity.

The double consciousness of the former rightist turned left, but who is still critical of both

I was listening to Doug Henwood interview David Frum, and it hit me that it was like listening to two parts of my brain speak to itself: there is the part of me that is a former right-winger and is still a communitarian, and there is a part of me that looks on to some right-wingers as essentially alien and outside my experience even though I was one of them in my mid-twenties. I am alienated by most left-liberals and left as them as largely motivated by lifestyle or by issue-based critiques, but the right in the US and abroad with only a few exceptions seem to be from a differing set of values from most of mind, and ones that are mainly seeming about reinstating lost institutions (far from the Burkean managerialism).

I have logical critiques of many things “leftists” say and methodological and epistemological issues with many Marxists, and I tend to balk on the patronzing empowerment of the bourgeois state of most liberals that hardly seems in their own long-term interests, but I do share many communitarian values and virtues with them, but I share a concern and contempt with a lack of flow through and a certain hyper-intellectualization among the left and the managerial tendency of most liberals and the ideological purist (even if incoherent ultimately) of left liberals.

A friend of mine, Aaron D. Ward, put it this way in response to me complaining about the conflation of systemic racism and personal racism by both liberals and conservatives, and how many of my left-liberal friends just assume I don’t know Tim Wise or Keynesian economics:

Binary thinking is a problem here. A simple “left-right” construction leaves out a great many ways of seeing such as right-libertarianism or green anarchism, or red anarchism, or communism, on whatever.

Secondly, the ignorance of both the different and similar values of the other present a picture of ignorance in the other. So, our political/ideological understanding of the other is mired in a false consciousness. For example, yesterday I was watching a doc called “Anarchism in America”. Karl Hess, a right-wing speech writer for Nixon and Goldwater, after being thrown out of the GOP, started to read our lady Emma Goldman, and was shocked to see his beliefs and values reflected there, but argued better than the right-wing libertarians had been able to articulate. So, what I think I learned was that our ignorance of the values that other’s ideologies are grounded in generates an opacity regarding their argument and leads us to conclude that they are are fucking idiots and are not educated on the issues, or facts, or whatever. So false consciousness generated by ignorance of the other is the problem.

But I think what you are experiencing with “liberals” be they paleo or neo, is that they VALUE management, power over, and domination of others, and more importantly, they value systems and bureaucratic rules over others. I tend to think this is a bastardization of what 18th C liberalism was all about, ie. freedom, and after years of social democratic theory, sociological analysis, and the lessons learned from “hard-authoritarian” ideological application (Germany, USSR) they have come to see “soft-authoritarian” methods as the “best” method toward their primary fetish, “growth”. This growth is not limited to economics for liberals. They also fetishize “progress” and want to see growth in all the sociological metrics; literacy, life expectancy, “standard of living”. Thus, for liberals, if the numbers a moving in the right direction while people are forced (even through “nudging” or coaxing”) individuals within society move closer to that Holy Grail, freedom.

I say fuck their management. I want Total Freedom now! But I see freedom as illusory, only glimpsed at an angle, and only attained episodically and temporarily. And because I don’t think we can have freedom as a permanent condition, I don’t think it can be attained through management of society, its institutions, and others. But liberals do. But I don’t think the liberals are stupid. I think they are dangerous and that their notions of “how to freedom” is contradictory and come from that pedantic and pompous position that “everybody else is stupid”. They ain’t stupid anymore than George Will or David Brooks are stupid; they’re just dicks.

On the original point about racism being “power + privilege” and “only whites can racist,” I suppose I will share that here:

When it comes to privilege, I have never understood the deliberate conflation of racism as individual animosity and racism as privilege, both are valid definitions of racism, but one is newer and specialized. In popular parlance, it is expressed as “only white people can be racist”, but this is a reference systemic racism, which is what racial (gender, professional, etc) privilege is, does not involve any individual agency beyond those who set up the system. When people are complaining about personal animosity, this is an equivocation. No one is systemically racist unless they have total dominance or primary dominance in setting up the system, the average privileged individual only benefit from it. They may or may not be individual racists (racism definition A), but that is irrelevant. Therefore the conflation in only white people can be racist is strange, because if it systemic then the average individual’s personal belief is irrelevant and so then is there consciousness of privilege, because only changing the structure would matter. Holding people of lower class accountable for a system that exploits them is problematic, particularly from people generally higher up on the privilege scale chastising them (such as white, left-liberal graduate students). Now the denial privilege seems to be particularly empowered by the conflation of racism A and racism B, because the equivocation is just inverted by the conservative or the whomever. Privilege is real: It may suck much less to be a rich and black than a poor and white, but poor and black is a shit deal. So when comparing like to like, the privilege issue is clarifying, but when making blanket derailing statements, most people intuitively see the equivocation problem and then racialists can exploit it. Liberal answers to the privilege problem is generally fixes that neither fix the structure nor addresses personal animosity, but look to dis-empower people on a declining scale and, of course, this would lead to reactionary tendencies among the working and middle class.

Furthermore, I like Malcolm X prefer the wolf I know, give me an honest Tory instead of left liberal who lives in a gentrified neighborhood lecturing people on gentrification. So in the end, I end up like with devil being like David Frum and the other like Henwood. Being mugged by reality in this day and age doesn’t lead to becoming a neo-conservative, it leads to wondering what the hell happened to the political spectrum in the first place. Why does all of it seem so disconnected? There is no third-way, but the existing ways don’t look so hot these days either.

Review: Hayden Carruth – Collected Longer Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1984)

Carruth is an interesting poet, and his longer poems seem to straddle the same lines that two kinds of modernists poets that were famous during his lifetime: the observational strand of Auden meets with the regional ironies of Frost then deals with the personal demons of Carruth’s contemporaries like Robert Lowell or Wendell Berry. Yet it is easy to regulate a “poet’s poet” like Carruth to a list of names of that he mirrors, so I should not do him the disservice. The flora and fauna of Vermont always appear within the book, but never in a way which alienates those from outside the region nor dropping into a kind of generic pastoral that formal poetry can be given too. Much of this book (three key long poems) is written in the near-sonnet paragraph that Carruth mastered: rhymed, myraid metered, fifteen-line stanzas that form narrative and thematic units. “The Sleeping Beauty” is among them, and this poem alone would be worth the cost of the book. The over forms in the book are various and show the lie to the accusation that Carruth was a stale formalist. Carruth is not without his unevenness, his uncanny use of adjectives is freshing, but all the more problematic with a slightly purple adjective is seen in the page. Still few poets then or now could maintain longer reflective poems like these and illustrate a mastery of a variety of techniques without it seeming forced or obvious or ostentatious. While I was familiar with Carruth’s work, finding this book in a used book shop in Seoul, South Korea was a strange bit of luck as it reminded me of the beauty of much of the late modernist American poetry that we can sometimes lose a perspective on in an age in which the two poles of poetry tend to be more glib or in the vein of light verse or more alienating in its experimental posture. While I enjoy these elements of contemporary poetry and acknowledge the craft in today’s hybrid verse, Carruth reminds us that the formal, regionalist verse can be just as challenging, even “experimental,” without depending on the prestidigitation of language poetry or break-beat of slam poetry or the ironic methodology of flarf, etc.

The Aesthetic Impulse: Interview with Tyree Kimber

I am starting a new interview series on aesthetics and ethics in literature and art. In conjunction with the Marginalia on Radical Thinking on philosophy, theory, and politics as well as Marginalia on Skeptical Thinking on philosophy and science, all of my interests are covered. It will be moving the Loyal Opposition away from it’s nearly completely politico-philosophical focus to something that more reflects my interests and background.

Tyree Kimber is the author of From the Bedside Diary of Brisins DeMar and Apocalypse Woman both released by Dark Roast Press His work could be described as low fantasy, with magic being accomplished through considerable effort and only at crucial times. The stories themselves are largely set in the realm of Malanas where everyday life is heavily bound up with the Church of the god Aratricon: a faith which is genuinely benevolent, yet capable of the dire protective measures that only the truly benevolent are. Tyree and I have been in dialogue for a decade now, and he is person who reminds me that genre fiction can have an artistic flourish and somewhat serious ethical concerns. We also argue about religion and politics a lot. In this interview we discuss the theology underlining his fictional church, the ethical considerations of erotica, and Milton.

Skepoet: What do you do think is the moral core of your fiction?

Tyree Kimber: Asking if Apocalypse Woman has a moral core might amuse some fans of the work. It is, after all, a story full of explicit and unapologetic sexuality. To that end, I can simply say I am a fiction writer who writes entertainment. But to leave it at that would be disingenuous because the hallmark of the series is women and men who forsake conventional morality to forge their own path. I think the moral core lies in that nebulous place where the spiritual and the carnal meet and co-exist without anger. I think the stories admit the possibility that there are pure and wholesome things to be found in the desires of our bodies, and likewise that there are primal, fecund things to be found even in the unbending structures of dogmatic faith.

S.: Is it important for it to have a moral core?

T.K.: Do I think it is important for my work to have a moral core? I think it is important for me as an author to allow for the possibility of it for the reader. I want to encourage readers to ask questions about the issues the story raises if they want to, but to also be able to enjoy it just as a fun, sexy thrill ride if that’s more where their tastes lie.

S.: Are any of the problems of your characters seeking out a new structure on their own rooted in any of your own moral or personal developments?

T.K.:  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with organized religion. I believe in the reality of what it says exists but nevertheless balk at many of its claims, particularly at how sex-negative it can be when I am by nature a very sex-positive person. Apocalypse Woman was a fun way to explore tropes in religion that have been personal stumbling blocks for me and imagine what their effects might be in a world where they are not just matters of faith, but can have real and immediate supernatural consequences.

S.:  What do you think is the root of organized religious sex-negativity?

T.K.: I think during the Axial Age – when much of the Bible was taking written form, Greek philosophy was on the rise, and Buddhism began to change the face of the East – people began asking necessary intellectual questions about religion. We are still asking these questions today. But it had the unintended side-effect of creating the impression that religion is more pure when it comes purely from the mind. We got into this mindset of mind = good, body = bad that has ebbed and flowed over the years and throughout various sects. It’s left us with a lingering abhorrence toward our own bodies and the things that are most natural to them.

I don’t hate the religions that have come down out of it by any means. I try to approach them with reverence and respect wherever it is due. But I’ve come to believe that their understanding of the truth isn’t as perfect as they claim. “God is too big for any one religion” may be a silly bumper sticker slogan, but I have come to believe that it is true.

S.: Why do you think that dualism has been maintained despite changing historical impetus because religions do shift, often quite dramatically, over time?  Both Buddhism and Christianity are quite different now, almost entirely different, than they were a 1000 years ago, and we have almost no legitimate knowledge on what they were 2000 years ago.

T.K.:   The cynical answer to why dualism is maintained and enforced would be because it empowers the authoritarian stance. “Do what I say or else end up like these guys who I don’t like.” While it has certainly been used for that, I don’t think it’s what lies at the core.

Historical impetus changes but humans have not changed much. We look to religion because we want something better. We recognize there are things in ourselves that can be quite terrible and it’s our natural inclination to personify. It’s hard to imagine a god that’s all-good. Even the most loving god gets accused of cruelty. But we can easily imagine gods and monsters that are all-bad. Our gods that oppose them often look more like us with all our flaws and vanity. But they oppose them in our name because someone has to, even if we don’t make sense of the job they do. How can they? It’s not like most of us can make sense of our own lives half the time.

Dualism is inevitable because we need to believe our choices matter, even if there are only two of them and one is obviously wrong. The Haborym, the fallen angels of the Apocalypse Woman world, rebelled because they were outraged at mortals being given free will. It suddenly made them stop trusting all the positive feelings they had toward their Creator because those feelings were not their own. They’ll tell you up front that their intentions toward the human race are not good but but they think they have honesty about it that Aratricon lacks and thus are the better guys. Abryax is the main Haborym we come to know through the storyline and he is very much a Miltonian satanic figure who would rather choose to reign in hell than be made to serve in heaven.

S.: How much Miltonic theology do you see as lingering in your work?

T.K.:   I think it speaks volumes to Milton’s skill as a fiction writer that he wrote a work of entertainment and people think it *is* theology. Milton’s work asks some great questions and really challenges the reader to step out of their spiritual comfort zone, but so do Anne Rice and Clive Barker and there’s just as much of their influence in my stories as well. Milton makes too great a starting point for a fallen angel’s potential mindset for me to not use it. But I tried to just use it as a starting point and not let it overshadow the work.

S.: What do you make of Milton’s attempt to undo the “infernalism” in his Paradise Lost in his later books?  It seems like Mitlon was out of his own spiritual confront zone.

T.K.:  He might well have been. It’s a common pitfall of artists, writers in particular, that you create something that’s a smash hit but isn’t representative of your usual work or gets you accused of advocating something personall that you don’t, and then you spend the rest of your artistic career trying to downplay it. Or he could genuinely have had second thoughts about it after the fact. Paradise Lost is a work that’s challenged a lot of people. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t challenge its creator as well.

S.:  Have you written something that hit you in your own moral or political gut?   By that, I mean, have you ever scared yourself?

T.K.:  Apocalypse Woman has brought me two types of scary moments, the ones that come during and after the fact. The after-the-fact ones are pretty wild. In communicating with readers I’ve been surprised to learn that frequently they wind up wanting Abryax to win. In my mind I thought I’d made it clear that he was the bad guy and not someone we should want to emulate but readers completely love everything about him. That leaves me to wonder if I failed completely as a writer or if I in fact succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

The moments I genuinely scare myself during writing are fewer. They can be pretty harrowing because you’re having that scared reaction yet you don’t stop doing the thing that’s making you have it, i.e. writing. There’s One particular scene in the first novel where Abryax sets up the notion that God has tricked people into thinking that desire is like sharp rocks that you break yourself on, and later, how miracles are actually God panicking at doing something God himself didn’t expect. I had to stop for a moment while writing that scene. I was like “Whoah, this is some dark stuff. I didn’t know I felt that way!”

S.:  Has dealing with such theological issues let to any backlash?

T.K.:  Honestly I’m not big enough on anyone’s radar right now to have to deal with it. In the years since I began this story I’ve had a negative reaction from exactly one person. Keep in mind that the genre I’m classified under has already seen its share of sexy angels and demons alongside the sexy vampires and werewolves. Erotica is finally edging its way toward the mainstream but I think the general public still doesn’t really know what to do with us. So they just kind of shake their heads and go on. Right now I’m fortunate enough to be in a very selective niche and the people who are likely to take an interest in my work are the kind of people seeking the same experience in erotic writing that I was when I began my work. I’m okay with that. If someone wants to take me to task for writing about carnal lust in the setting of a fictional church I’ll meet them head on but it’s not what I got into this to do.

S.:  Do you think your work in erotica will have any affect on other creative output?

T.K.:  I don’t think it has any kind of effect on my creative output personally. I can switch gears pretty easily to topics that are nothing like erotica and that’s an ability I’m glad to have. Professionally I’m not too worried about stigma. Erotica is a long way from being “respectable” but I think genre authors have a lot of leeway with it. Then you have novels like those of George R.R. Martin or Richelle Mead with her Dark Swan novels where the sex scenes are frequent and graphic enough that it blurs into erotica territory without actually donning the name. What’s interesting for me is that now that I have the erotica outlet the love scenes in my other stories are less graphic.

S.:  What do you think are the moral considerations an erotica author must consider?

T.K.:   I could easily answer this with an accurate-despite-its-blandness statement like “just be true to yourself.” But when we have “Fifty Shades Of Grey” out there serving as erotica’s most successful push into the mainstream while simultaneously raising an outcry over inaccurate depictions of the BDSM subculture I think we could stand to evaluate our moral imperatives a bit closer.

A friend of mine once said she preferred erotica to porn on the basis that she likes naked people to be happy, not exploited. It was a statement that has stuck with me. The moral imperative that I follow in my erotica writing is that I want there to be joy and intimacy between people. Yeah, I write about some really dark things but at the heart of it all I want sex to be a thing of joy and wonder for the reader. I wouldn’t feel like I had behaved morally if I’d sent the message that it’s okay to go out and bone whomever you like and not care about them. But if I get lovers to engage each other and become more comfortable in their own skins, then I’ll feel like I have.

S.: Do you currently have a writing project?

T.K.:  I have been working on the Apocalypse Woman sequel forever now. I keep getting distracted by short stories I want to tell in that universe, and I may just wind up letting the continuation of the story gel in that format for a while. Either way, there will be new Apocalypse Woman material of some for before the end of this year. It will most likely be a short story or two.

I am also working on a mainstream science fiction project that deals with the resurgence of Nazi-ism in a post-apocalyptic setting. That’s been my baby for a while now. You might say I got sidetracked from it with erotica, but I do not regret the diversion at all.

S.:  Any thing you’d like to say in closing?

T.K.: Just that I think the erotica writing community is an interesting place to be right now and a fun one. It’s exciting to be involved in it during a time of such growth and opportunity. I don’t where it’s going to go next. I don’t even know where I’m going to go next within it but I’m really looking forward to finding out.

Philosophy as poetic composition? Wittgenstein and the veil of mystification

“I think I summed up my attitude to philosophy when I said: philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition.” – Wittgenstein

Why did Wittgenstein say this?  For a man whose primary obsession in philosophy was the bewitchment of language, it seems odd that he thought philosophy should only be written as a poetic composition.  In a way, this can seem like obscurantist move, or to say that philosophy itself was nothing but the same kind of mystification that Plato would have kicked the poets out of the republic for.  It is implied in that statement even in my reading, but I don’t think Wittgenstein was being solely ironic or dismissive here also it is that poetic analogy allows types of experience in language with do not rely on basic proposition statements: the topic of a poem is bracketed out, not said, because saying it would not render the matter justice.

Now one can take a mystical approach to this, and perhaps that is the essential tension that let Wittgenstein to reject his conclusions in the Tractus and turn to natural language philosophy, but the implications are in the ways poets, more explicitly than other word artists or logicians, acknowledge family resemblances of arbitrary games.  The danger of the mystification of poetry is there, and, as Zizek is fond of reminding us, most of the nationalist butchers of the last two centuries have been poets or inspired by poets, but the same could be said of philosopher-kings. For example, how many bodies have been made in the name of Lockean property distinctions or Fascist readings of Hegel?  It, however, is also those who understand the dangerous mystification of poetry who can see through nationalistic dreams and romantic bewitching of language.  So the same with philosophy.


Ghastly Jargon: Why I learned to quit caring about who is or isn’t “left”

I have, increasingly, stopped writing about “the left.”  This hypostatization is almost meaningless now:  the idea of utopia have little pull with most of those who call themselves leftists be they Marxists, primitivists, anarchists, liberals, progressives, or whatever.   The arch-liberal jeremiad writer, Chris Hedges, has picked up the a title that one could have attributed to Edmund Burke, “the myth of progress.”   Nor can one easily say that there is no left without committing akin to a etymological fallacy:  a word means in the current how it is popularly used, and its current context should be that.   By “left” is almost an empty signifier like “God” in mentioned in the public square without a coherent theology backing up the reference.

At the end of the day, the political praxis I want does not yet exist and it is my goal to work towards it:  I suppose this is always the goal of both the cynical and the idealist, who are two manifestations of the same notion of critique.  So I may talk about “the left” as it is, as people use the term, but in reality, the term means little to me.

As such I no longer am particularly worried about political purity tests for this praxis nor do I want to superficially disavow the idea of “Left” like Occupy Wall Street did to create an inclusive moment.  Furthermore, despite the relevance of understanding Das Kapital to the current crisis, I also don’t think “Marxist” does the trick either.  In the game of family resemblances that is Marxist discourse, we who have been influenced by Marx have never had more influence on academic and activist critique since the 1970s, and yet politically we have never been more utterly irrelevant.   In countries with explicitly Marxist parties, no where does “Marxism” or even “Marxist-Leninism” or “Marxist-Leninist-Maoism” really dominate a school of thinking, and while Marxists will never stop disparaging “Liberal concessions to reality” as reactionary, Maoists will make the same arguments for contradictions between theory and praxis in Mao, Stalinists for Stalin, and Trotskyists for early periods of Trotsky’s political development, although Trotsky having been marginalized by Stalin and Trotskyist parties have almost no success historically in leadership have spared them such later hypocrisy in practice.

What I am interested a “left”–or more specifically emancipatory–virtue ethics mixed with a knowledge of material conditions and class relationships in one’s life and the structural critique of various social forms outside of this.  By this I mean to acknowledge the tension between collective identity formation and individual agency, and to reduce that tension and the systemic limitations to it.   I expect this will continue from the failures of the historical socialist tradition in both social liberties and in acknowledging the structural necessary of systemic blocks in our means of production, social relations, etc.   But this can only be based on a clear set of axioms, and understanding a clear set of family resemblances, it cannot be based on any a prior political mystification.

So chattering endlessly about the existences or pure form of the “left” is a waste of time, and now is largely semantic almost to the point of re-defining if a one-eyed monster in Dungeon and Dragons is a cyclops or a beholder:  It’s an imagined form now anyway.  In the battle to fight the bewitchment of language on the matter, I learned to stop giving a shit about “the left” and to start caring about the political and ethical praxis that let me to be a part of “the left” in the first place.

In this one must abandon hope in order to find it.   To all others, I give simple advice:  do not care about your political nomenclature so much as having meaning and coherent political axioms in the first place.  Incoherent axioms will most likely lead to incoherent results.

Now, gentle readers, I have some poems to write.


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