Sophie Seita is a poet, playwright, translator, and scholar, who has performed and presented her work in the US, UK, Ireland, and Germany. Her published works include Meat (Little Red Leaves, 2015), Fantasias in Counting (BlazeVOX, 2014), 12 Steps (Cambridge: Wide Range, 2012), and i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where, a translation of the German poet Uljana Wolf (Wonder, 2015). She is currently developing a series of plays in conversation with a number of Enlightenment tragedies and pseudo-scientific treatises, titled My Little Enlightenment Plays. The first piece—Don Carlos, or, Royal Jelly—was performed at Company Gallery in New York and long-listed for the Leslie Scalapino Award. The second piece—Les Bijoux Indiscrets, or, Paper Tigers—was recently performed at Issue Project Room (Brooklyn) and will be presented again at La MaMa Galleria in New York in March 2017. Other writing has appeared recently, or is forthcoming, in Bomb, Emergency Index, The White Review, Gauss PDF, Currently & Emotion, PEN America, and in Raphael Sbrzesny’s artist book Service Continu 7/7 (Spector Books, 2017). She has received fellowships and awards from Yale, Princeton, Buffalo, Cambridge, Columbia, Queen Mary University of London (multiple), NYU, DAAD, and Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (multiple), among others, and is the recipient of a PEN/Heim Award (2015) for her forthcoming translation of Subsisters: Selected Poems by Uljana Wolf (Belladonna, 2017). She’s the editor of a facsimile reprint of The Blind Man for Ugly Duckling Presse (2017) and is a Junior Research Fellow in English at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, working on her first monograph, tentatively called, Provisional Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines from Dada to Digital.
What do you suggest people might read in advance of hearing you?
They might want to watch this video recording of a reading at the Serpentine Gallery (May 2014); my reading starts about 2 minutes in: https://vimeo.com/96798920
Other recordings can be found here: https://sophieseita.com/readings-and-performances
A short excerpt from a recent chapbook: http://www.textileseries.com/meat-by-sophie-seita
My translation of a long sequence of poems by Uljana Wolf: http://www.asymptotejournal.com/special-feature/uljana-wolf-subsisters
Where can we find one critical (or other) response to your work that you have found provocative, interesting, insightful or generative?
Tears in the Fence, Ian Brinton:
Anna Moser’s drawings in response to my short play ‘Talk between Nudes’: https://talkbetweennudes.squarespace.com/tbn-drawings/oe70qva98zx7mdmch30psvw49dciej
Point us towards some examples of work in other media (art/cinema/music etc) that inflect upon your work, in any way at all:
Most recently, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Constance DeJong in New York and of hearing her perform at BAM/Wendy’s Subway. Her work’s fascination with sequence (as a formal concern rather than furthering story or character), seemingly autobiographical statements clad in high artifice, a compelling and rigorously seductive rhythm, and a pleasure of thinking into and as language materially, making language a continuous present, resonated with me very strongly.
Here’s a video recording of her 1977 work ‘Modern Love’, soon to be reissued by Ugly Duckling Presse: https://vimeo.com/104032082
Trisha Brown’s Accumulation with Talking plus Watermotor, in which she talks while dancing three of her earlier pieces. I love her careful and precise gestures, the accretions over a reiterated phrase, the idea of a dance that describes itself obliquely (Brown here uses autobiographical anecdotes not directly related to the dance at hand), and a text that consists of pauses and silences as much as of matter-of-fact explanations that work like a counterpoint to the gestural richness of the movement:
A big influence in many ways (theatrical structures not based on teleological development, ‘songs’, stylisation, the use of historical material, etc.): Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TF_jtz0kP9s
Also: this 1970 film of Oscar Schlemmer’s gorgeous and weird Bauhaus ballet Das Triadische Ballet (Triadic Ballet, 1922), for its abstract costumes, its mesmerisingly mathematical and mechanical choreography, its geometrical lines and perspectives, its absurd humour and minimalist elegance:
What readings or performances most shook you up, and why?
(see above) Most recently, Constance DeJong’s reading at BAM (in particular for her delivery: she delivered her memorised text exactingly under the guise of intimacy, as if this was made for the radio, or for listening through headphones, which it may well be).
Hearing Lisa Robertson read from The Men at a conference on the lyric at Cambridge in July 2012, for its joyous celebration of form, of sensuality, and of stating things, its superb prosody, and its gender politics (of course), but mainly because it was such a triumph to see an audience hanging on Lisa’s every word in what was then a very masculine and not very supportive poetry scene at Cambridge.
What writing (or whose writing) is exciting you now?
I can’t answer that question: I would either have to list all my friends who are poets or only mention dead writers.
What/who do you wish people read more of?
Politically: books/materials to do with animal rights.
Aesthetically: work in other languages, work in translation, pre-twentieth-century writing by not widely known figures, say, Margaret Cavendish.
What do you wish you read more of yourself?
I wish I could discover more really good novels; novels that do something that film or poetry or drama can’t do better.
What is your writing for? And what is it against?
I don’t want to instrumentalise my writing and I wouldn’t want to squeeze it into some kind of explanatory nook too firmly and too permanently. It’s also often difficult and sometimes necessary to separate the politics of the author and the politics of the work. But I would say that my Writing and I are against various kinds of political and ethical stupidities and horrors and most importantly against laziness of thinking.
The writing is certainly for my friends, for a community of people who care about being in this world, about politics, about poetry, about small-press publishing, and about experiments in various genres. But it’s also for anyone who cares to listen and pay attention to it.
Ask yourself a question you’d like to answer. It could be one of these from the questionnaire in the last issue of the Little Review or anything else at all you think might be good.
I’m so glad you suggested The Little Review‘s questionnaire which appeared in its last issue in 1929 and in which the editors ask their contributors (such as Emma Goldman, Eliot, Pound, Williams, H.D., Dorothy Richardson) questions like ‘Why wouldn’t you change places with any other human being’, ‘What do you consider your weakest characteristics? Your strongest?’, ‘Why do you go on living?’ My favourite one is ‘Are you a reasonable being in a reasonable scheme?’—it’s the kind of line I’d give to one of my characters in a play. I love that questionnaire because of its artificiality and cuteness, which reminds me of the girls’ magazines I would read as a teenager, but also because I know the magazine and the excellent answers people gave: some wrote in disbelief to Margaret Anderson and jane heap, chiding them for their apparent frivolity rather than recognising their irony that bespeaks a serious interest in art and in the politics of publishing. So maybe that delaying and associative preface should be my answer to your last question, which is rather apt for my practice: I love posing and answering questions through other people’s language and propositions.