by Juleana Enright
Whole Beast Rag and Our Flow Is Hard, two new, provocative literary collaborations, have set out to reinvent the local scene, push the envelope of cultural relevance and own the phrase “not for the faint of heart.”
Armed with a monster love for poems and an in-your-face sanguinary moniker, Our Flow is Hard is a local collective of “sticky and feathered girlpoets” hell-bent on mutating the definition of poetry. Their venture in experimental poetry launches this week with the “Inbogural Pink Swamp Reading,” the first installment in a radical reading series that challenges the concept of a traditional poetry reading with recalcitrant rebelliousness.
Conceived as an private outlet for founders Kat Hargreaves and Grace Littlefield to write erotica and record conversations on eroticism and sexuality, Whole Beast Rag slowly evolved into an online mag and printed zine where the sacred and profane unite. Its first issue – which launched earlier this month – tackles fiction, poetry, critical theory, art and culture review under an experimental, free-expression umbrella.
I caught up with Our Flow is Hard co-founder Carrie Lorig to talk about the inaugural reading, experiments in poetry and the group’s menstruation-friendly handle.
l’étoile: That’s a pretty evocative name. Tell us about the collective.
Lorig: Our Flow is Hard is a group of moss lipped, swill cheeked girlpoets that want to write and publish and have poetry performed along the lines of that blood brother ritual. You’ve got to keep working at living, and we want to keep working to have more living poetry in the Twin Cities. We believe in poetry, in the act of reading, and we want to see what seeds we can push inside and turn into abandoned Yugoslavian sculptures. Grey is difficult, but that’s how we carve beautiful limbs or shapes around others.
l’étoile: Who are some of the poets involved with the first reading, Inbogural Pink Swamp Reading and what can you tell us about them?
Lorig: We asked three fantastic poets, Aaron Apps, Lucas de Lima, and Natasha Kessler, to be involved in the first reading. There is also one glob we have decided to call Mystery Swampbeast. We asked poets who we thought would be strong, compelling performers, and whose work we believe is doing something that shakes us. We hear that Aaron Apps can write poetry using science equipment. We know that he has the most handsome cat we have ever seen and is about to release a book on BlazeVox with a title that goes: A Carnal Shitstorm of Affections. Lucas de Lima is about to go back to his native Brazil, and you should see him read before he leaves Minneapolis. He’s amazing and feathered. He is one of the contributors on the collaborative blog website, Montevidayo, and a founder of the poetry movement, the Potato-esque. Lucas’ chapbook, “Ghostlines,” will be out on Radioactive Moat Press soon. Natasha Kessler joins us from Omaha and co-edits Strange Machine, which is a lovely poetry journal. A collaborative chapbook of poetry by Natasha and poet Joshua Ware is forthcoming from Alice Blue Books this summer. Mystery Swampbeast is Mystery Swampbeast.
l’étoile: The Our Flow is Hard mantra talks about experimenting with poetry. How do you think changing setting (i.e., making location the variable) will help shatter former misconceptions about poetry and expand the definition of poetry as a genre?
Lorig: A big part of poetry, or at least what we think we can say there is to love about it, is that it lets you fight the page with what you feel and see. That’s what enjambment is. That’s why we have the ability to toy with all these different forms or un-forms. Poetry aims to do language another way. It stretches across some part of language and the body and the voice in an ineffable, wonderful way. What’s significant about that endless pawing at mystery and fog is that, if nothing else, it brings a little breathing room to your reading experience. So, why not bring this sense of the play to the performative experience of poetry? If you change the shape of the room, do the poems still fit in there? What if some of the audience is expecting poetry and some of the audience isn’t? All these things give a reading the potential to grab at that sense of unexpectedness that poetry revels/reveals/reliefs in.
I still experience great poetry readings. I went to one in the bathroom of a goth club in Chicago not so long ago that was made me feel like my whole life was falling out the other end of a megaphone. Many poetry readings have fallen into an easy habit, though. It’s the same grey/white room with the same number of chairs and the same snacks in the back. We are always faced towards the poet in neat lines, and we are all silent out of reverence (the anti-reveal/revel/relief). We listen as an array of awards and publications are listed. We don’t participate much except to clap. Question time is often sparse, and there’s always this feeling that people don’t feel comfortable enough to talk. That’s not the poetry Our Flow is Hard knows and lives. Poetry should feel welcoming! We want to woooooo! or fist bump or shimmy or something. Is there a chance that this will do something to the way we are absorbing and observing poetry? Then it’s worth trying. Then it certainly deserves our attention and energy.
I also gabbed with Executive Director and C0-Editor-in-Chief of Whole Beast Rag, Grace Littlefield, about the mag’s inception, their first issue and the future of the lit scene.
l‘étoile: Tell us a little about Whole Beast Rag and how it started.
Littlefield: Whole Beast Rag is a literary magazine based in Minneapolis, and we focus on publishing more provocative work (this definition is intentionally vague) in almost any genre contributors can dream up, as long as it is identifiably related to the theme for each issue. We publish a full online and print mag quarterly, and (crossing our fingers) will publish our first anthology in January. A Kickstarter is underway for the anthology now.
The magazine was borne from a rather dirty conversation between Kat and me back in 2009, when I was living in the broom closet of her quadruplex in south Minneapolis. Whole Beast Rag has evolved to become a magazine that’s still provocative, and sometimes delves into the obscene (whatever your definition of that is), but that hopes to encapsulate the broader spectrum of not only sexuality and eroticism, but broader issues that face us continuously. Although it’s almost impossible to separate sexuality and eroticism from everyday experiences – in my opinion – these undercurrents aren’t always as overt as in other moments, and we want to capture it all, as the name implies.
l’étoile: What sets your mag apart from the heavy stack of local literary publications?
Littlefield: We’re very content-heavy, not super design-heavy, and we are – first and foremost – looking for content that catches our eye, not names or McSweeney’s-esque writing and design hooks. WBR also runs on themed content, which brings together these otherwise extremely dissimilar pieces and brings it all into focus in an otherwise disconnected, sometimes ego-driven writing arena. We’re (Kat and I) both lit/crit theory nuts, as well, and so more and more theory will be integrated as we go along.
l’étoile: The theme for the first issue was “HUNGER.” How does it reoccur throughout the issue and what were some of the artists’ interpretations of the theme?
Littlefield: “HUNGER” was manifested in every piece in the issue (including the accompanying artwork), though in very individualized ways; even my Letter from the Executive Editor and Kat’s Letter from the Artistic Editor took completely different perspectives on the theme. To go from one end of the spectrum to the other: Coop Lee’s poetry, which is quite focused on erotic yearning, to Henrietta by Adam Moorad, which focuses on the birthing of a baby cow, among other things, to a poem, Antarctic Expedition, by William Reichard, which is a more traditional poem, but one that still fits in its own exquisite way within the general flow of the magazine.
l’étoile: You celebrated the mag’s launch party earlier this month in the North Loop. How was the turn out? What were the party’s highlights?
Littlefield: We did, yes, it was amazing. We had performances by acclaimed cellist, Randall Holt, readings by Ticky Sowdenham, John Pistelli, Kevin Hedman, AD Fischer, Lightsey Darst and Jonas Specktor, and a performance by Tony Schreiner and Adriana Lisette (she was also our emcee for the evening). All of the readings and performances were amazing, though I really loved Ticky’s. We also had a couple of party buses with drag queens show up later in the evening, which was awesome. Sean Anonymous slunk around with me for a bit and we oohed and ahhed at the rooftop views.
l’étoile: You’re stationed in Bemidji, Bernd is in Kentucky, and Katharine and Aaron are centered in Minneapolis. How do the logistics work in terms of distance and creating the magazine?
Littlefield: Kat and I call and text one another about a billion times a day. She’s currently on a road trip, also, but the flow is the same. If something needs to be done, it just happens. Quite naturally. And oftentimes, if something needs to be done and neither of us has identified the issue, it’ll get done anyway, almost telepathically, which is convenient. Bernd (Sauermann, Poetry Editor) and Aaron (Bickner, Art Editor) are given deadlines and they’re sports at sticking to them.
l’étoile: “HUNGER” includes pieces from What Light Poetry alum Lightsey Darst, an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, C.K. Williams, original work from 20-plus writers and art from local illustrators. Are there any up-and-comings featured in the issue that we should keep our eyes peeled for?
Yes, absolutely. One piece that’s currently in the works is a loosely-critical collaborative work by Andrew Marzoni and Joe Hughes, who are in the English Department at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and who are big fans of Roland Barthes (the theorist and writer whose quote we’re using as a prompt for the “EDGE” September issue). Maria Teutsch, editor of Ping Pong magazine and who recently put out her chapbook “Pussy,” has a collection of poetry as well. We’re still accepting submissions through August 1, so we’ll see what comes in other than that and some exciting interviews that will be announced later this summer.
l’étoile: Tell us about landing the C.K. Williams interview.
The C.K. Williams thing was something that I really did not expect to happen. He rarely does interviews, and if he does, they’re usually for very well-established mags, like Poetry or The New Yorker. I sent an email directly to his Princeton faculty email address, though, with a kiss and a prayer, and heard back from him two days later saying he’d be happy to do an interview during AWP (the Associated Writers and Writer’s Programs Conference) in Chicago back in March.
I wrote the questions, Kat did the interview while I attended a panel. He was so cordial, so handsome, such a total stud. He kept patting Kat on the lap, laughing lightly. Old dog! Then he acted completely uninterested and annoyed with the woman from Poetry magazine who interviewed him for his “big” discussion in this huge room at the Hilton during the conference. He ended up stopping her halfway through and reading one of his randier poems, giving a shout-out to Kat in the audience.
l‘étoile: It feels like the local literary scene is witnessing an interesting makeover. What once might have been seen as a mature branch of the arts is attracting a younger, indie, even underground audience in the form of Literary Death Matches, Online Open Mics and submission-friendly pop-up zines and blogs. What are your thoughts on the revamp and what do you see for the future of the local literary scene?
Littlefield: I think it’s been a long time coming. We have big book publishers, Coffeehouse, Graywolf Press, Milkweed, et. al., which have been around for a bit and who are loved by Vanity Fair, and which were kind of the pioneers of the larger scene.
But it’s been the zinesters, the writers who self-publish, the book-obsessed, those who are excited and passionate about writing – those are the people who have built the scene from the ground up. And there are now a few key people who are wanting to take that excitement and that passion to the next level – a larger, connected community with regular events and writing both online and otherwise – and who are leading Minneapolis and the Twin Cities on the whole (not to toot our own horn) to achieve this. This sort of thing has been happening with the visual and theater art scenes for some time, and we are catching up beautifully. I think it’s one of those things that the Twin Cities has been ready for, yearning for subconsciously, and now it’s coming to fruition. And we are giddy to be part of it.
Check out Our Flow is Hard’s first poetry reading “Inbogural Pink Swamp Reading” Thursday, June 20th at 8 pm at 3220 Garfield Avenue S #105, Minneapolis.
Note: This interview has been edited for content and length.