Alana Siegel on Being Lured Through Substance to a Meaning Beyond it
Alana Siegel was born in Los Angeles in 1985. Her first book, Archipelago, is forthcoming from Station Hill Press. Chapbooks include The Occupations from the g.e. collective, Semata, and words from Ra Ra Junction. She lives in Berkeley, California, collaborating at the burgeoning Bay Area Public School. You can find an interview she did in Paranormal Poetics and read one of her poems in Mondo Bummer.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?
I say I am a poet — I bark poet quickly, brusquely as if I were throwing a bone to a beast —
Humbaba, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, is the Guardian of the Fortress of Intestines — a single coiling line like that of the entrails of men and beasts, from which omens might be read, is his face.
I take this visible animal/human spiral as my answer to What do I do?. I read and write the terror of the mirror of a world.
“What is most terrible about the world that men have made,” writes the poet Robert Duncan, “is that it so embodies the dreams, the soul and spirit, of mean and vain imaginations.”
It is this terror I face, of what I have not yet made. I feel larger than my form. I name this displacement of form and feeling “spirit” — vapor from which I orient risk — abstract action because action is abstraction; a circle we call literature; litter I letter.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
The seduction of substance — and the resistance, stick-to-itiveness, and stasis needed to write. By “substance” I imply a spectrum, from alcohol, tobacco, sugar and salt, to love, or the part of love, and the part in each element listed previous, that pre-determines, promises a pleasure. But it is not pleasure — it is the pressure of a predictable emission that obscures my relationship to the mystery of poetry.
The pleasure of poetry does not come immediately. It is not a machine. It is a mystery. There is a courting. Or is it a battle — for hours, with my doggedness to feel good from, or sometimes simply to feel from — what I’m doing? The fact that poetry is not a machine, does not do what I tell it to, does not give me what I think I want from it, evidences there is a will present that is not my own.
Aleister Crowley defined Magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” He later states, “A man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the Universe to assist him.”
What I think causes entropy, or creates the appearance of “unavailable energy” is the tyrannical dialogue of government, the workplace, and forms of family, where some people tell other people what to do. This is a loss of one’s own language, and one’s own energy, but poetry is the will that seeks to re-find it, refine it, providing, a welcoming access — oasis.
My struggle with the seduction of substance is my struggle with the language of command. The presence of chocolate tells me I want it — this fastness of attraction, this compulsion that for a moment overcomes all inner auspice. “Lust” is “lost,” is “us” displaced, though “ust” remains, a sign of “trust.” My struggle with substance is my struggle with glibness, cheapness, dependence — the easiness of this Eros, equally revealing the tricky wish of Psyche — to be lured through substance to a meaning beyond it — to keep talk taut, taught.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Patience paradox. Create a counter measure. Do not wait to be inspired. Go to the roar of the heart. Go to origins. Purge the ongoing. Write for hours, though not for them. Pour your body over paper. Submit to the trick of thinking. Enjoy the veil.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I consider myself “successful” when I am in step with “success” in the sense of “succession” — of one thing following another. I do not feel “success” when I fulfill a desired end. I feel satisfied when I’m continuing, not wanting this or that but riding rhythms.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Any scene from “Wings of Desire” by Wim Wenders. Here’s one:
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
Edgar Bondy, my grandfather, my mother’s father. The meaning of his name is “prosperity spear [Edgar] good day [Bondy].” He was a color-blind mechanic tzadik, one of the 36 legendary wise men who channel the flow of blessings into the world.
You could tell by the way he knew how things worked; or how he survived many rushes with death. An angelic shell surrounded him as he moved through a dangerous world. He often advised, “Keep moving.”
In his later years, bumblebees visited him on his backyard deck. When they came too close to his face or his children’s, or his grandchildren’s, he softly blew the bumblebees away.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
Poetry, a gauzy goal with holes for eyes, looking up old devoted passages of awe —
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
A tabernacle. Two women playing on one white piano. A thin slit of window thematically sworn.
A sun shower and a black helicopter inside a rainbow; the cruelty of a cop magnified by the miracle of color.
Ghost memories of a Gameboy Mother Earth recovers; her lost world of cartoons; of caricatured emissions.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils in Chinatown between the Peking ducks at dawn. My body is the world on the edge of distribution. Like Innana of Sumeria, I would not strip but the world would strip things from me:
Her hair swirls about her head like leeks.
When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My inside!’
Cry also, ‘Oh! Oh! Your inside!’
When she cries, ‘Oh! Oh! My outside!’
Cry also, ‘Oh! Oh! Your outside!’
The queen will be pleased.
She will offer you a gift.
Ask her only for the corpse that hangs from the hook on
How much money do you have in your checking account?
What’s wrong with society today?
Presidential memory theater, the heat of modern feeling, a national agony of straightforward syntax, an angel of anger who walks into traffic; blind moving of matter; inane shifting of data.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
How many times do you fall in love each day?
I don’t fall in love each day; jewel jowls; a fault of qualifying a jarring scrawl, of a woman legendary for her face that was a mirror; a carnal invisibility of an irritable town.
When I hear the words “falling in love” I think of “fallen angels” — angels as “watchers” and a watchfulness “fallen,” or absorbed into the beauty of another.
“Do you know what it’s like to be haunted by beautiful faces?” a friend once asked. I think this is why “falling in love” bears a tragic quality.
I believe in angels. I believe in moments of light witnessed by human eyes, and through every other door of sense — vividly arresting. I believe in lovers as artists working for and from these moments, of a barely knowable, unforeseeable place on the edge of being real.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Tenderness in the blackout of old time’s heart.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Text messaging spellbound repercussions of dying in the land of the dead —
Has the sunrise risen? Is sunrise an illusion of beginning?
In your buttercup dugout you have no wounds.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
I isolate “creation.” My lover is a loner, a loan over which I lay my flesh, sing original sin into the hum of “pro-creation,” change space and time through my lover’s moans, watch Plymouth Rock dissolve into the eyes of Joan of Arc.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on an opposite view of karma; against a hooliganish backdrop I am being drawn by the kingdom of paper into the inland empire. Every name is a fantasy of victory. I am watching the horses winning. I know the horses by name.
The bible is in the top drawer next to the bed in the way dreams are sublime; terrible, atonal — a faithless gallery; generational anxiety — The Maya Motel — stuttering prophets confused in the death of their own tongue.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
Incarnational, international, animalistic; worlds because of language; i.e. Joyce, Tolkein, Pound.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Conversations’ conversions — recrudescent neologisms strolling into the lungs of night’s engraving.
Strangers entering the blurry reliquaries of Dionysus we call bars, bards — the missing “d”. Patronless poets with no city to sing to, except to, themselves; oral history; of ritual madness and ecstasy. Paper trails swallowed by graffiti and neon — a futureless vivid, episodically flashing.
You have to say something.
A basic chord interrupted by a lamp of the heart. Absorption of reflection — tearing apart your body because it’s only temporary — black of the spectrum; concave wrists, heads leaning backwards, talking in stalls.
“Postulate a perestroika”; postulate a love body — a love handle — the sides of the body to hold to — to change the world by. “What is she doing?” “What did she say?” A night on the town means that isn’t my name. Words move out of the mouth like toy trains; of heaven unmanned, on heaven tracks, with hell paint.
A night on the town means the neck — confusion of instruments with flesh. Serendipitous serpent spent. The darkness of desire. High notes of old blood. Always alleyways of at least one person whose mind is not with them.
Jouissance; the dancers have gauze for faces — red and turquoise, membranous memory. Quick — identity. The old impersonator walks up the stairs. The dancers just sit there. A voice like a stairwell. The dancers have no heads, have no needs.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
Looking into a mirror suddenly my body froze and I at first became a woman with a black cloak, then a man in breeches with short blond hair. I was witnessing myself oscillate between these two people. I was in awe, terrified. I tried to smile to ease my fear, but I couldn’t move my mouth, or any other part of my form.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
You can keep 50 words for 50 years. You can lose 50 dollars in 50 days.
What are some of your favorite smells?
“I am broke, I am broken” — the scent of coins, of having drifted through stranger’s hands — the smell of cash, its dirtiness, its draftiness, fastness, its lust inlaid, erroneous. Loam, or when my mother came home after having been out to dinner with my father — I would run up to her skin layered from the evening in a faint auric wreath of garlic and oil accompanying the daintiness of gardenia grown to catch her wrists and neck, accouterments of death, for the sake of myself she hadn’t died, but returned.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
I would voyage around the world reading poems, by ship, by train, by hot air balloon. Everywhere I went, I would be greeted with the oldest text, as a gesture of good cheer and great hospitality. I would have a team with me, of archaeologists, linguists and translators.
I would be like a bird, but a bard who does not tell of the deeds of heroes, but instead how everything speaks. Poetry would become a wind of my movement, weaving the rhythms of different languages with me. I would become an eccentric orbit, an experiment in listening I could teach by moving.
I would drift from town to town and one night stay in a lovely thatched hut in the mountains, possibly in Ireland, and hear all the stories of the villagers, of the legends of the town, and their lore. I would sleep in the most beautiful bed of silk and down, and give poetry readings in local squares and schools.
After a while, I would no longer know the difference between waking and sleeping. The world would be a dream again guiding me forward.
And every child who ever felt hurt by the world, and every elder, or grown man or woman, who felt hurt by the world, could be healed by the gift of Poetry, which is always a gift, and always innocent.