Symposium on Territory

ImageI traveled to Naropa University early last week to participate in this discussion with Craig Santos Perez, Kass Fleisher, and Juliana Spahr on territory. I was thrilled by the invitation back in the winter, since territory is one of the primary things I think through in a broad vein of my work. How is a space overwritten and transformed for us by the various, contentious, and overlapping histories and interests that render it visible to us? How do we participate in and move through these terrains?

The first night was the panel discussion, at which the four of us gave statements. I presented first on my relationship to KOREA as a diasporic subject. Juliana detailed the spaces she has written from/about/to across her body of work and some of her thoughts about her authorial decisions. Craig offered a rich historical framework for thinking about incorporation and the organization of spaces from a federal standpoint. Kass presented a spatialized framework for how different regions of the brain house and communicate trauma.

The second day, we each held workshops. I was very interested to see our various teaching styles at work. Our workshops were only 45 minutes long. I had struggled in my preparations for this workshop…it seemed short for me to get into a solid writing exercise, and I didn’t want to lecture. Without any shared texts or contexts for discussion, I worried that a dialogue might be too shallowly construed. I ended up deciding to treat this like an opening foray, an introduction to a type of writing practice.

I had asked my genius friend Sha LaBare if I could develop something from the ecography writing practice he designed, and he was incredibly kind and sent me some helpful materials that I pared down for the workshop attendees. I designed a parallel writing mode for the class, a terragraphy, which I introduced. My second book, Underground National, is a terragraphy (in hindsight).

During the evening, we each read. I was originally slated to read second, but there was a last moment switch, and so I opened the evening again.

I was introduced by one of the most generous statements by Angel Dominguez, a former UC Santa Cruz student now at Naropa. I remembered him from when I was in Santa Cruz a year ago. I have my eyes on him.

I felt stifled by the podium. I wanted to look into everyone’s eyes, but a spotlight made me feel as though I were speaking to a warm ocean churning softly in the distance. Am I alone? I felt my attention strive to reach out across the full span of the space, how it constantly collapsed back into my own body, the warm bright honey light on my eyelashes.

Kass read next. She shared from some notes. It was a free-style monologue describing in some detail a traumatic event that happened to her. She was agitated, upset. I mirrored these sentiments. I felt anxious, nervous, alarmed by her presentation. She was in a state of peril. She kept speaking. Several people left. I didn’t understand what had happened to us all. It was messy. The room was filled with an electric charge afterwards.

Bhanu rose with lightning eyes. They mirrored the alarm of what had just happened, streamed it back into a course of events.

Juliana read after a short break. She described her participation in several occupy actions in the Bay Area–actions that she brought her child to. Her work constantly reflected back upon her actions, narrated them with a flat-lined factuality.

Craig closed the evening with three pieces, two of which will appear in his forthcoming book. He drank a full glass of water. He was charming, he ventriloquized history, he cracked jokes. He glowed with good health. He described spam, it’s colonial and military arcs.

I learned a lot from my visit. I learned that I do not fare well in dry environments. I had a troubling dream my first night there. A friend was dying after having elected to transform their body’s interior into honeycomb. Everyone kept telling me it was too difficult to save them. There was nothing to be done. I felt without hope and small, crying before my friend’s seeping body.

I haven’t been able to sleep the night through since I’ve been back. Something is being set loose in me, maybe calving. I am restless. The other night, Rae Armanteout described restlessness as the impatience for what you don’t know will happen.

I saw how a community conversation could be infiltrated, filled up by one person’s preoccupations. I saw systems and histories break open to me but continue in their same courses. I saw myself blinded and speaking out of a body that limits my view.

Next Big Thing!: Jen Hofer

What is the working title of the book? 

The book is always books, practices on and off the page, physical manifestations of thought. A reaching toward.

My current books-in-process include:

Ah.Me.RICH.AH: Your Exchange Value, a translation of Amé.RICA. Tu valor de cambio by Uruguayan poet Virginia Lucas (to be published by Litmus Press).

Dolores Dorantes, A Bilingual Version of Books One Through Four of Dolores Dorantes by Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes (to be published by Kenning Editions). The specific titles of these books are: Poemas para niños (Poems for Kids), sexoPUROsexoVELOZ (PUREsexSWIFTsex), Septiembre (September), and Querida fábrica (Dear Factory).

Front Page News (currently out in the world in hopes of finding a publisher), one year of daily cut-up poems made from the front page of the newspaper in the place I woke each day.

Less Than One, More Than One (which I am in the midst of writing), the sequel to my 2009 book one (published by Palm Press).

Laws (to be published by Dusie Books), a sequence of (now very elderly) letters home from Mexico interspersed with horrified quatrains addressing the war in Iraq interspersed with musings on a book titled An Experiment With Time.

My most recent book is titled Shroud: A Piece of Fabric Sewn To A Piece of Paper By Way of A Map, a collaboration with Jill Magi. Jill wrote her “The Next Big Thing” piece about it.


Where did the idea come from for the book?

My books come from processes and relationships; insofar as these are made of ideas (alongside other things like inventions, curiosities, walks, meals, conversations and self-imposed limits) I suppose my books come from ideas that are in the world or ideas the world is lacking, which might be addressed by the book, though the book can never complete the idea. My books come sometimes from necessity, sometimes from will, sometimes inadvertently, and always with difficulty.


What genre does your book fall under?

My bio always begins in this way: Jen Hofer is a poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder of the language justice and literary activism collaborative Antena. My books are exist in the spaces demarcated by the activities I’ve just listed, and in the spaces between them.


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

The movie rendition (of any of the above) would be made by an experimental filmmaker who would have free reign to use any sorts of people, plants, animals or objects they might wish to include. There would be no actors. It’s all re-enactment.


What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 

Catch me in an elevator and I’ll give you the elevator speech for each of my current projects.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

My books always take years – 3-10 years, usually. Life gets in the way of life, I find.


Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

For any project, book form or otherwise, I am inspired (and also somewhat paralyzed) by how many forces there are in the world that are the opposite of inspiration. Writing and the various public manifestations of that practice, including books, are not a corrective, but they can be a crucial reminder, counterpoint, dissonant harmony and instigation to think differently, be differently, and build a different world.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 

I love the word pique, but that’s about all I have to say in regard to this question.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

About her book The Story Of My Accident Is Ours, Rachel Levitsky said: “I like to think that being published by Futurepoem is self-publishing, as well.” I’d extend this idea to publishing with small autonomous presses generally—it is a form of participatory multi-self-publishing that is community-based, externalized, non-vain (in the sense of “vanity presses”) non-monetized (or not efficiently monetized), and entirely effortful, where the effort reminds us that the how of what we do matters as much as the what.


My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:


An egg that breaks open. A golden spill.

Is one prepared to ride a wild horse across the moon when they open that neon radical break?

Is one capable of turning off solar storms, stopping magnetism’s charge?

A phenomenon opens and with it all else, too.

This is about a grown man’s scar.

This is about being hungry.

Are you making the most of all you have and hold?

What gets in the way of the bright rain?


I’m incredibly excited about this. Dawn and I had been having these on/off conversations last fall about starting a series here in Pittsburgh, and it’s finally happening!

We’ve titled the series POETRY ((PRO) (FANA)) and our first event is tomorrow, Sunday the 12th, over in Lawrenceville. Brenda Iijima from Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs will be sharing her work along with Sha LaBare, a post-doctoral fellow over at Carnegie Mellon’s Humanities Center. The conversation will twirl around ecologies, environments, language, and sentience. I’m SO THRILLED. If you want to learn more about it, run over to the new blog for the series:

I’m learning how to make a movie…but what the hell is an image?

So I’m taking a film class at Filmmakers in Pittsburgh. It’s a super basic course called “Motion Picture Fundamentals” and culminates in a final project: a short 3-4 minute film on Super 8.

To prepare us for this project, my teacher Mike has us shooting a role of 35mm black and white film to turn into a film roman, sort of like La Jetee...

I had all these grand ideas for staging a bunch of shots, but when I brought the camera home, I was struck by the fact that I have NO IDEA what constitutes an image. Zero visual intelligence happening here. It’s sad.

It dawned on me that my relationship to film and the visual image generally is a lot like constantly going to restaurants and being hyper critical about the cuisine, but then going home and not knowing how to hold a skillet.

Mike passed around this packet on “how to compose good photographs.” My initial thought was that it’d be great to bring in a roll of film that breaks every single “rule,” but I should actually learn how to use the light meter and adjust the aperture/shutter speed. And not just take a billion pictures of my pet cat.

I just wrote up my final project proposal … it’ll be (surprise) a science fiction piece. But without much science. Or even fiction (narrative). We’ll see how it turns out. I’ll post my results…

Korean Pizza

A friend of mine passed this along to me a while back, and it made me laugh until I cried. It’s by Gumshoe Pictures, based in Brooklyn. I LOVE the way it makes fun of some Korean nationalist tendencies, which I can see in my own family… I remember telling my father once that the bright colors of traditional Korean clothing were a practice brought down from Manchurian ancestors…my father’s response? “What do you mean it came down!? It went up!!!” indicating the peninsula’s supremacy as cultural influencer of the region. Sigh.

Fear of Needles

Whenever I’ve had to have blood drawn in the past, I’ve turned my head to the side. The idea of a sharp piece of foreign metal piercing me to siphon out my vital fluids turned my stomach. It was the notion of this metal object — stern, unbending — that distressed me most. The body is soft, made to give.

Today, I had some blood drawn as part of a routine set of physical exams. I had to go to Quest Diagnostics for this procedure. Quest is a private enterprise, one that specializes in blood testing, and they have many centers ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. I found that there was one in practically every neighborhood of PIttsburgh as I made my appointment online.

The woman drawing my blood did not greet me. I think she looked me in the face twice. She waited for me down the long, dilapidated hallway with the horrid brown carpet, in a small room with the door open, face blank. I noticed that she had very thin bangs, despite having very heavy, long hair that was held back with a headband. This gave her face an unusual contrast…it emphasized how fleshy and padded her features were. She looked like she might tan, or smoke a bit. She had that leathery quality about her cheeks and looked like she was in her forties. I noticed that Bon Jovi was playing tinnily over the radio.

“Have a seat.”

She indicated the chair with padded arms. It looked almost like a high chair, made from laminated vinyl and bad dreams.

I wordlessly handed her the papers detailing which tests were to be conducted on my blood.

“Insurance card.”

She kept looking at the computer monitor, her face turned away from me but with her arm held out.

I reached into my purse to find it for her.

She had me repeat my birthdate and address to confirm my identity, then looked me over.

“Right arm, left arm.”

It wasn’t really a question.

“Right, please.”

She stepped to my right where a small dresser leaned against the wall, expertly pulling on a lavender latex glove then reaching in the top drawer with her free hand to pull out several small vials and a needle.

She wound a large rubber belt around my arm and tied it.


I decided not to look away as the needle pierced my arm. It went in easily, like a casual lie.

She quickly snapped a vial into place. I was surprised by the force of my blood as it shot through the slim needle into this tiny chamber.

“Look at it spurt!” I couldn’t help but exclaim.

It reminded me of cow’s milk as it sloshed in its small glass. Dark blood, red black. Scarlet fugue, a storm. It didn’t make a sound.