Interview with RE Katz

By Wendy M. Walker

Awst is glad to feature author RE Katz, and we'd like our readers to know a little more about her. We chatted with Katz to get her thoughts on reading, Twitter minds, mental health, music, and marginalized writers.

We’ll start with our traditional first question: What are you currently reading?

I am always reading 10 or 20 things at once because I like to curate every reading experience in a way that the books inform one another. I like to put them in conversation with each other, and I often choose books from different genres and different planets that might never get to hang out otherwise.

Do you ever not finish a book because it didn't suit you or whatnot?

All the time. It's not usually because it doesn't suit me—actually the opposite. The books I have the most trouble finishing are the ones that really move me. I don't mean in a "I can't put the thing down!" kind of way—I mean in a like I have to put it down because it is an intense and real experience and I have to go back to it some other time. It's like the projects you start with complete devotion and then abandon halfway through because they keep revealing holes in you that you need to work on before you can really be good to the project.

Right now I'm reading a book from the 33 1/3 series, which is a series of books each by a single author about an album that they feel romantic about. They're all phenomenal in their own way, but the one I’m into is Ethan Hayden’s book on Sigur Ros's ( ). I was fortunate enough to see Ethan perform with this local group of experimental musicians, Wooden Cities, at an essential Buffalo bookstore, Talking Leaves, and the book is all about silence. Or illegible language. Things we cannot conceptually access through language, and so must find a different way in. It's a beautiful book. I care a lot about silence and fragmented/inert language.

I’m also reading and rereading Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star, which is supervising everything I do right now, including writing but not exclusively writing. She's like the devil and the angel on both of my shoulders, and she's kind of like "march" and then she's like "never mind, ignore me."

Also I just got Nikki Wallschlaeger's book of poems, Houses, in the mail from Horse Less Press, and I am roaming those neighborhoods every night before bed and I am having these polychromatic heavily voiced wild dreams. The book is trippy powerful.

Based on what you submitted to Awst Press, it seems that you're into many different topics. What was the inspiration for doing the annotation essay?

I have always read nonfiction with a longing for that kind of craft and bravery and ability to separate the self from the speaker. My idols come through in the work, I think, by which I mean I'm bleeding my influences constantly. I am always trying to find ways to talk to Maggie Nelson. Her work is four-dimensional and I sit before it like a piece of mixed-media assemblage. Also that [annotation] essay is more like the way my brain actually works than most of what I’ve written.

Maggie Nelson was part of an impressive panel discussion at AWP15 with Claudia Rankine, Leslie Jameson, Eula Biss, and Fiona McCrae.

She's such a great speaker. When people try to interview her she'll take them down these unseen halls and the interviewers all try to recover and get back to where they were going, and she'll be like, no we're going here because it's more interesting. It’s brighter.

I’m a very scattered person, and more often than not it's a curse. I was diagnosed with learning disabilities but I don't buy into the medicalization of this way of thinking anymore. I can't stay on topic. I can't even stay on my chair. Sometimes I can use it, and that saves me a little.

The essay reminds me of a normal day of Internet travels—varied, sometimes deep, sometimes not so much. I wonder if it is how most minds are becoming in the age of Twitter.

I find Twitter really soothing actually for that reason. I know a lot of people are overwhelmed by it or feel left behind or feel over stimulated or underrepresented. I just like the rapids. I like getting thrown in all the ways people throw you 141 characters at a time.

But the annotations: The Shift was one of the first stories I ever completed. I was nineteen and working night shifts and day shifts and going to school fulltime, and I was completely drowning in my life. But I was a caregiver for these kids at a queer group home who needed me to be okay, so I was okay. But I was not more okay than they were. Those hierarchies of mental health—competency, normalcy—none of them are useful. They are tools to measure difference like all vehicles for oppression.

Dura Mater is something I wrote very recently, and the annotations were a way for me to sew these things together and make them narrative, but even my version of "narrative" doesn't look like narrative. It has snarls. I think annotations are an idealized form…for me at least

Why so?

Because they allow you to move across space-time in a way that feels like cheating.

As in shortcuts?

Or crystallizing. Marginalia is probably my most natural genre and anything that comes naturally feels like cheating to me. Because I like to hurt myself with rules.

You've published one chapbook previously, and now this collection with Awst, and a third, Pony at the Super, slated later in the year. Do you feel that you are reaching a new level as a writer? As in your work has matured and is getting more recognition? Or, maybe you've connected with enough people through readings that a demand for your work is developing?

I don't know. It's possible. It’s nice to feel supported in the community. I’m in it for the community to a certain extent. I love poets. I want to be among them. But I teach kids every day and they don't care how many chapbooks I’ve published. They’re still rude when they're having a bad day, and I kind of think that's more real. I don't get sad about rejections from journals anymore really—sure, I would love to hear that one of my favorite journals is into what I’m doing, but what really ruins my day is when I have a bad interaction with someone in real life and I have to go home and overthink it for about three weeks.

Where do your writing aspirations take you from here? More chapbooks? a larger book-length project?

I am working on a three-act play right now, as well as a film script and some book-length thing. The writing I’m most excited about from day to day resists genre and media-specific form in a way that keeps me on the outside of everything. Maybe that's a good thing, but I’m interested in the poem as a fetish object, as disposable, as utilitarian, as commodity, as board game, as synth video, as rosary. I’m into giving gifts. I’m into bedraggling irony with epic gestures of sincerity and then making them live together forever on the set of a reality TV show. I don't know what I’m making half the time. For that reason I often appear to make nothing for long stretches of time. I am learning to be okay with that.

I saw this question you posed in your last interview: What might appear on a playlist accompanying your chapbook? Also, when I was at AWP, somebody mentioned they had a playlist made to promote their book. I've been thinking that'd be cool to add to the Awst Collections. What do you think?

I was a musician eons before I ever wrote a thing, and I miss it every single day. I was also the geekiest most unlovable kind of musician—I played a renaissance instrument kind of well. I was a classically trained child bassoonist. I will be spending the rest of my life working on that playlist.

Does that mean it won't ever get onto the Awst Press website or that you'll be constantly tinkering with it?

The second one!

We’ll look forward to it! I want to switch to one of the topics I’ve noticed at AWP the last couple of years. There are more discussions happening about underrepresentation of various groups characterized by gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. The conversations seem to be identifying the results of the problem. I'm wondering if you have thoughts on what changes are needed.

The underrepresentation of marginalized groups on mastheads, in journals, in anthologies, in the canon, in academia, in the media, on and on and on: these are all mirrors of one another. Often the only people who really care about changing the way we experience these lacks are the people who feel personally implicated in them. The best way to advocate for ourselves and for other voices that are absent or forcefully silenced is to realize that we are all implicated in these issues. I mean implicated like our lives are at stake. This kind of conversation is constantly being undermined by this chill out kind of response—or like don't look at me. But I don't know. I have a hard time with this because absence is just this very thin layer over actual aggression and violence and lots of other things that would never fly if we were examining it. There is a very real link between the literary micro aggressions and the real-world bodily and actual micro aggressions. It’s not just who are we representing. It’s who are we giving agency and support and money and food and lifelines to. This is the conversation going on in conceptual poetry right now, and it's frustrating because people on one end are still insisting that when making work and publishing work and being artists it's important to be apolitical and make apolitical work. Meanwhile academia keeps making and then funding the same clone white male normative scholars over and over again and we keep seeing the same bodies in the magazines, and we are all out here just cowering in our minimum wage jobs collapsing ourselves in on our own ideas and our own poetry out of insecurity and fear of actual pain and actual violence. How can you write a book every year when you're afraid to walk down the street?

As we were gearing up the Press, the intent was to display a full spectrum of authors and works, but we had trouble attracting authors from marginalized groups to contribute or in some cases, to even respond to inquiries. “Diverse” is included in our tagline and it represents more than race, gender, or sexuality, but I thought it might signal that marginalized groups are specifically welcome. I realize there is a desire to send one’s work to the most respectable place that will accept it and the Press had zero reputation, so maybe that was a factor. 

I think that's a real problem, but part of it begins with the's hard to be both like we want writers of color and then to be like LOOK AT US PUBLISHING A WRITER OF COLOR. I think lots of presses do that. They’re like ok we're set because we have 30% writers of color in this issue. I think presses need to do some more talking and thinking and maybe even writing about why work from writers of color is valuable. And acknowledge writers of color as different writers with different talents and different interests instead of this lump category, which is part of the old problem. Inclusion or exclusion based on a single quality is pretty much the same thing. In one case it's tokenizing. In the other it's discrimination. It has to be about more than that.

Calls for writers of color are so important, as are calls for trans writers and calls for translation that does not prioritize English over the original language, etc. but they have to be about more than getting the writers in.

My thinking has been that authors in marginalized groups aren't going to come to the Press if they don't feel that they are welcome, appreciated, and respected but they might feel that it could be a good fit if others from various marginalized groups had come before them. I was looking for the cornerstones to build upon rather than tokens.

I think that's an important point. Presses making an effort to bring in diverse writers do look more accessible.

Since we are still so new and the approach is different, I feel compelled to ask about your thoughts so far on Awst Press

I think the Awst Press approach is so refreshing. Awst seems to care more about creating a good experience for writers than some other presses. I appreciate the intimacy, the inclusivity, and the boldness of publishing work with this model. This collaborative and permissive thing seems to be about spreading the love around a bit, and that can't be bad. It's very trusting.

I think that attitude comes through with the Press. Also, the way that it supports and reifies community by allowing curators to create the series—that's so many good things to give a writer. so many gifts in one book.

And being singled out for the Feature instead of one author amongst many within a journal?

It’s wild. I love the ways that I can be part of a series as well as spotlighted though—I’ve always felt strengthened by this kind of sharing an image (LK's beautiful covers), a thread, a new momentum. I identify with that.

Are there are any shout-outs that you’d like to make regarding your work?

Yes, Mike Young. Forever. That guy has done more for me in small mentions and kitchen chat than anyone. I guess the thing I’d like to say about him is how kind he is. And humble. Like I’ve watched someone insult him to his face, and he was like oops, whatever, ok guy. Mike Young is one of the only people I’ve ever met who has both a teleporter and a hot tub time machine.

We are especially thankful to Mike for offering up this series of authors! Thanks for sharing your work and now your thoughts with us.