INTERVIEW I Rikki Ducornet

In her new collection of essays, The Deep Zoo, artist and writer Rikki Ducornet looks at where imagination, violence, dreams, and fairy tales represent the deep zoo at the core of humanity. Here, Ducornet discusses further the ways in which art and the written intersect in our lives and relations with one another, where the creative impulse lives within all of us, and ultimately, as Ducornet describes here, how “We come into the world wired to make art. The creative imagination is what drives us, nourishes us, gives us the taste and the capacity for life.”



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Chelsey Clammer: In the title piece in your collection of essays, The Deep Zoo, you write, “The texts we write are not visible until they are written.” At the end of this piece you state, “Writing is a reading of the self and of the world.” I’m curious, then, what it is you think our writing means before we actually sit down to write. In other words, what do you think about how we see ourselves (“read” ourselves) and the world before we are able to get our thoughts outside of our heads? Can we identify with them, or are our identities and conception of self not fully developed until we are able to write about them?”

Rikki Ducornet: I began as a painter and a printmaker. Writing took hold unexpectedly; it would surface in my paintings as lines of poetry. And then it began to pounce. It was very like being stalked! Stalked by a wild thing from the woods! And it was a wild thing from the woods! Because it was the subconscious that was stalking and pouncing. The first short story I wrote came to me in a bathtub. It was called “Aunt Rose and Uncle Friedle.” Sopping wet I ran for a pen and wrote it down. The stalker was imperious you see! I sent that story to my mother who was dying of cancer in another country and her reaction was: “Some nightmares are best kept to oneself.” But I knew better than to keep the nightmares to myself. And I also knew that my mother was impervious to black humor.
Later I came to see that all that stalking and pouncing wanted a home for itself, wanted a book. And I wrote that first book, The Butcher’s Tales, under the influence of an imperious need to begin to grapple with the world and myself within it. The pouncing had all to do with a longing for moral understanding, a visceral need to confront abusive authority in its many forms and to fully engage the beautiful. So, yes, writing became a way to actually see, on the page, what the questions were that needed my attention. And the fact of seeing my inquiry written down revealed to me my own inadequacy, as well as my own fearlessness and even capacity for transcendence. The stories often made me catch my breath because they were revealing me to myself just as they were leading me deeper into the world of ideas. And they made me laugh. They were subversive and vivifying! In other words, my own experience of being a person in the world has been extended dramatically by the process of writing. I don’t think writing is the only way, but I do think it is a real gift. And the marvelous paradox is that when we are writing from an authentic place that is uniquely ours, others respond. Because that place is the holding ground of the breath of Eros, the place of essential reveries. It is uniquely human. The deep zoo has deep roots within all of us.


CC: I have another question about the essay that opens your collection entitled “The Deep Zoo,” because I’m absolutely in love with this essay and could probably talk about it forever. Since we don’t have forever, I’ll have to settle on one more question. You present a great concept towards the end of the essay in which you say, “If a book is a place to think, it is a pragmatic place, a place of experiment.” Thinking about public and private spheres, where do you think the best place is to experiment with you thoughts? A room of one’s own? An encouraging mental space? On the page itself? Something else entirely?

RD: We need all of it. We need the public spheres; we need the sorts of friends who quicken us, who delight and amuse and touch us, who disrupt us, whose conversation empowers us; friends with whom to share waking dreams. Friends with whom we may dare be outrageous, ridiculous. Friends we need to walk away from, too.  We need the cinema, the stage; we need to be shaken to the core by ideas, by beauty unlike anything we have known before; we need rd quotethe silence and safety of our own rooms; we need the museums and we need the wilds. We need the wilds alive with the others, the creatures who are vanishing. Because they are imbedded within us, not only our memories and our dreams, but our very blood and bones and marrow. We have shared an impossibly long and complex voyage together, and as those many respirations are snuffed out, we are ourselves overcome with losses. We are about to find ourselves terribly alone with one another and we cannot bear it. The only animals left will be the ones who have been bred to be our food or our companions, and the neurotic few who pace the world’s many cages. In other words, we need not only our own book, but the world’s book. What will we have to say to one another once all the others are gone?

CC: What I believe to be one of the main driving forces of The Deep Zoo, is this concept of how the core of our humanity can be seen through art. The artwork included in your collection is not just complimentary to your writing, but I would say vital to the book as a whole. If art is where we become visible, and thus able to discover our “unknowns,” what aspects of our core do you think are discovered when text and image intersect?

Deep ZooRD: We come into the world wired to make art. The creative imagination is what drives us, nourishes us, gives us the taste and the capacity for life. The life breath is all about picture making, storytelling, singing, moving the body in experimental ways. All we need to do is watch our children! When I interviewed Linda Okazaki, she revealed the nightmare that fractured her childhood, but also the “powers,” the memories and beauties that never ceased to nourish her. Her paintings, informed by her dreams, are very strange and very beautiful; they are compelling. We do not need to know her story to be taken by them. But her story gives us vital keys to a greater understanding. For example, the animals she paints have a totemic significance; water is an expression of her own private mythic world. As Linda spoke, memories surfaced that she had forgotten or pushed away. So that her work was, in fact, informing both of us with new knowledge. She created new paintings in response to this.

I find when I am writing I am often thinking cinematically. And that when I am painting, the ongoing reverie in my mind informs the process, and that the process informs the reverie, but all this is somehow ineffable. It remains mysterious. My texts and my paintings are always all about revelation. I have no interest in repeating myself. I don’t want to know where it is I am going. If I could speak to Eros I’d say: “Hey! Take me somewhere new!” I want to astonish myself and I want to push on further into the wild.

CC: Nature is a reoccurring theme throughout The Deep Zoo. What types of connections between nature and text do you see as contributing to our core of humanity?

RD: In The Deep Zoo, I talk about the early Egyptian glyphs that contained a small world. The glyph itself had a sacred significance and a sacred power. To say the name of a plant, say, was thought to activate the plant’s medicinal benefit and awaken the sacred breath held within it. And the glyph contained medicinal information, too, as well as the name of the god who dwelled there. All that! Language was born of and in nature, and everything communicates! rd quoteDid you know that birds and whales have family names? And plants warn one another of predators? In the wild everything is communicating, reverberating; the world is alive with stories. The question is why all this is being betrayed, and irretrievably. It is interesting that the most repressive among us fear the bodies of wolves as much as they fear their own bodies, fear the wild as much as they fear the stranger. The most repressed and repressive people I know fear politics as much as they fear poetry, fear life as much as they fear death. There is a gnostic terror of the body in our culture and it is not serving us well.

CC: The Deep Zoo is a very intelligent and engaging collection of essays. I would imagine you did a lot of research and reading in preparation for writing these pieces. In the context of your researching and writing process, what are some of the successes, challenges and/or surprises you experienced?

RD: The essays had a way of leading me into places I could not imagine. How marvelous to learn that the male monarch seduces his mate with fragrance! That the Marquis de Sade found one of his own books to be so unsettling he could not, himself, read it! That Cortazar learned of his own mortality as an infant in his crib when he heard the crowing of a cock! That virtual reality is about to transform our culture, utterly!


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CC: What are you working on now?

RD: In a few years Bloomsbury Books in London is bringing out a three-volume encyclopedia of Surrealism, from its beginnings to the present. I just learned I am included among the many wonderful artists and writers who have been engaged in the Surrealist adventure, and I have been asked to write several essays for the volume devoted to subjects of particular significance to Surrealism: the Marquis de Sade, the Imagination, Gnosticism and Metamorphosis.


CC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

RD: Writing is exhilarating, demanding and lonely. But writers and readers are of the same tribe; we inform one another, we enter into a deep reverie together, we share a particularly exciting place in the wild wood, that place of far seeing and aesthetic adventure, of the unbridled imagination, of knowledge and transformation, of clairvoyance and delight! For me the journey into a book is no longer lonely because I know my tribe is there, has taken me in and I am really grateful.


The Deep Zoo is a part of the Eckleburg Book Club. Check it out HERE.


The author of nine novels, three collections of short fiction, two books of essays and five books of poetry, Rikki Ducornet has received both a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award For Fiction. She has received the Bard College Arts and Letters award and, in 2008, an Academy Award in Literature. Her work is widely published abroad. Recent exhibitions of her paintings include the solo show Desirous at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2007, and the group shows: O Reverso Do Olhar in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2008, and El Umbral Secreto at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende in Santiago, Chile, in 2009. She has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Coover, Forest Gander, Kate Bernheimer, Joanna Howard and Anne Waldman among others. Her collected papers including prints and drawings are in the permanent collection of the Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago Chile, The McMaster University Museum, Ontario, Canada, and The Biblioteque Nationale, Paris.

Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review (forthcoming) among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Clammer is also the Nonfiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, is forthcoming from Hopewell Publishing in Spring 2015. Her second collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Summer 2015. You can read more of her writing at:

INTERVIEW | Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

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Photo credit: Dr. Marie Alohalani Brown, UHM.

In her collection of poetry, Streaming, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke brings nature and our sensory experiences together in order to create a rich collection that speaks to our experiences with the world. The book welcomes the reader to engage with it, to think about and consider the meanings behind Hedge Coke’s beautiful and lyrical writing—so beautiful that many times it feels as if the poems are singing. Reflecting more on nature and the body, Hedge Coke discusses different aspects of how we experience the world.


Chelsey Clammer: Right from the start of the book, your poems point to and look at how our different senses and connections to both nature and our bodies brings us more into the world. As a reader, this facet of your writing brought me more into your poetry. How do you see the body fitting into your poetry?

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke: Thank you, Chelsey. The body may be all that remains with us, throughout our lives. Everything else is ephemeral, somewhat, right? Even parts of the body might not make it the full run. For me, I feel comfortable in my own skin, like it or not, I deal with it. So, oftentimes, people I have never met approach me and ask directions, tell me their troubles, ask me to make choices for them. The appearance of authority is perhaps made by self-comfort. It brings other people to rely on the person who they believe is set, true, or not.

To be comfortable with the skin we wear, with the structure we are given to move with, to limbs and digits we operate with, is essential to allow us to feel our way in the world, as well as to perceive beyond ourselves; insignificant, maybe, but a portion of the whole all the same. Our sense of the world is tangibly fulfilled, by the body we bring with us, to indulge with and to build our unique sense of perception, and, in some ways, each of our bodies may be similar to individual cells in the body of the world we live within. We are sensual creatures; sensory device is essential to our sense of beingness, or humanness. This same sensuality is necessary to bridge our understanding of empathy, , of knowing, and within these fields of some sense of being, our world exists within us, outside of us, before us, ahead of us, with us, and despite us. Our place within the world depends on our understanding of its immenseness and our smallness within and upon it.

coke quote2We are within the atmosphere of the world, always. Unless we venture beyond, and then what happens? We look back to it to understand the body of the world we call home from the universe, or multiverses, beyond this portion. We are like the minute cells, and the world is like the larger organism that is in the increasing and ever expanding space we exist within. Where does that take us? Back to the cells we work with, then their interaction with everything else – our own sensory devices, sensual awareness.

How lucky is that?

By motivating those connections, in a strategic manner, we begin to interact intentionally with our world. This is the beginning of active presence, of song, of dance, of the rituals of living. I find this necessary and fascinating. This also brings us to conversations of embodied or disembodied poetics, innovations, explorations with our own sets of knowns and unknowns in the field, in our worlds, and in the nature of our work, our attempts and gestures in poetry.


Nature, of course, is a key part to Streaming. At times it feels as if the poems themselves are leading the reader through time and nature, which encourages the reader to consider her own relationship with nature. And so, in a way, the poetry is creating new perspectives on how nature is woven into a person’s life. What does this look like for you in your own life? How does nature weave into your identity as a person?

AAHC: We are all creatures of nature. We are all in currents of temporal sway. How can we be/exist otherwise? An investigation of our relationship(s) with nature is something I am extremely interested in and often inspired by. Nature is a most simple thing and yet extremely diverse and rich with magnificent complexity. How do we fit within it? We learn to be human, mostly, from our engagement and understanding of our occupation or range within a distinct place and time and yet our synchronization with these junctures challenge us as a species perhaps more than many of our counterparts, as we constantly question it. Why?

streaming284And how is time something more than what leads us and marks our experiences? How we engage with time and with our familiarity of its ebb and flow, of its peculiarities, perhaps motivates us to seek to define its parameters and push them or to find some sense of comfort without our perception of it, right or wrong. Understanding the wrinkles, echoes, the motion of it, might give us the ability to more deeply conceive of how prophesy, how intuitiveness, how hunches work, or what gives nature its meaningfulness, for that matter. If, as my dad told us as children, we manage to do something phenomenal in this very moment, the impact of that is so great it courses throughout the fabric of time. That impression could then cause the idea to present in someone receptive on either side of the temporal flow. Insomuch a dream, a thought, a notion, a story, a moment of brilliance could then enlighten, so the person behind us (in time) who perhaps now receives a bit of clarity on what is to come, before it happens, in their time, while we impress away in ours, and on so. In our movement in time, our choices, our strategies, our approaches give us, perhaps, some malleable platforms with which to do significant work, if we choose to. I think that the closer we are, and the more comfortable we are with nature, and with our own natures, the closer we may come to delivering those possibilities as they present and are presented to us. I hope to seize some of the opportunity in the days and nights I meet and in the poetry and work that I commit to. In Streaming, I hope to build on those relationships and present some of the features of physics of these junctures and of our movement through them.


CC: Each poem in Streaming is enlivened by the imagery you create. In “She Shakes Chilies from Her Hair,” for example, you write, “She shakes red chilies from her hair, / wax black with slight red strands, thick enough / to stand, hold spicy seasoning until we fall.” The detail in just this snippet of one poem is powerful and rich with imagery, and really brings this person and what she represents to life. When you are writing, how do you incorporate images you have witnessed in life with ones you might be imagining? Do you see poetry as a place where “real” sights integrate with imagination? And how do you approach writing in such a way that it inevitably evokes these powerful and memorable images?

AAHC: Thank you for the kind words in all of this. The first two questions here seem to coincide for me. The integration is there upon witnessing and the composition is the attempt to capture the fleeting associations of image and to engage them in a way that also encapsulates the intention behind the perception of gesture. Here, in the flavored relationship of spicy and pungent swipes and in loosening of rista chili from random swings of passing heavy hair and that particular moment of surprise, in the mix of relationship, sisterhood, of memory, and of beauty called to mind in the moment passing – mesmerizing.

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CC: The language and pace you use in each poem is rich and delectable. Your poetry brings more than meaning to the reader, but a gorgeous and rhythmic sound rings through it as well. Lines like “Carcass kindled like a rucksack / jerky-filled snack for Crow & Beetle,” and “The Pendleton shroud bearing our braids, / her figure in flaming pyre,” are full of life because of the melody and beat you bring to them. How do you think sound plays a part not just in poetry in general, but in poetry that is about nature?

AAHC: Great question. I was taught, musically, very young and think in it, to a large degree. It is, perhaps, how I also perceive nature. Hopefully, like nature, poetry contains strategic placement of sound, and silence, so that cadence, rhythm, beat, all become intrinsic to form and to departures from form in improvisational leaps and bridges bound only by the reach of the poet and/or natural force. It seems to me that we move within nature, learn to do anything we do, we fulfill some form of notion of rhythm. Our songs surely come from our experiences in movement, motion, in work, in action, in connecting to and colliding with the tensions and challenges within our own living and our imagined sense of it, of what is beyond it. Everything, or most everything, has a sense of coordination or discord. Cultures perceive sound and the structure of it based in lingual and physical notions natural to, or suited to, geographic and spatial locations and our emic/etic navigations through the often-encoded realms of being. Rain falls with rhythm, water moves with it, birds move within already motion-filled thermals and deliver dances and songs to the listener, while the thumping rabbit keeps his own time, and on so and such is life. The orchestration of it is a huge composition, always improvisational and yet steady, too. How we intersect with it depends upon our own awarenesses and our willingness to engage.

The music of life is abundant. Poems that explore musicality perhaps give us the poet’s performance of witnessing in nature, or moreover perhaps give us the poet’s composition of the sense of the sense of it, or what it entails, demands to be engaged with. Nature demands the most of us, in engagement. Her vastness and sheer delivery, her forcefulness and gentleness all call upon us to reckon with ourselves to be with her. All of it in sound, inextricable, inescapable, unless, of course, we fool ourselves to believe that we can. We cannot.


CC: What are you working on now?

coke quote3AAHC: More poems, more songs, new stories, old memories, a film – In this exact moment, I am preparing for wherever I can do the best work and make use of myself, whatever that is. The most I want of life is to be useful within it and not so much of a drain upon it.


CC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

AAHC: The book comes with a full (free) digital download to the album of the same title with Rd Klā. The exemplary musicians, Kelvyn Bell and Laura Ortman are stunningly amazing and not to miss. I hope that in reading the collection, in hearing the accompanying album, readers can move into the range of the work with the freedom to give into it and experience the whole of it. This book is meant to be fully engaged with, cover-to-cover, as a unified experience, much as one might enjoy while attending a concert. It is shaped as an orchestration and the whole of it conceived for a journey, of sorts.

Like all of us, I hope the poems take the reader out of their own element, familiarity, and deliver the reader into new elements that they become familiar with, through the reading, as well. The book deals with change and change is a huge principle in all of my work, insomuch, I also hope the book brings us some sense of need to change, to protect what we have as humans enjoying this place, pace/time, on this planet now so endangered. The book brings poems to provoke understanding, along a journey through the everyday richness of life. The sense of our labors and work are a good portion of the book, multigenerational, familial and well as within travel and extended journey. Then, coupled with climate change devastation, with a sense of the beauty of nature, the horror of natural tragedy, often further compounded with human impression leaves us facing need for growth and the indictment on our kind, yet closes with a temporal sustaining natural balance, a place for the reader to retreat within, to rethink, reconsider, and hopefully go back for another round of reading through for more details of intention, device, openings, departures, portals, surprise. When it gets down to it, the human condition demands we care-take and support our planet and face our challenges and responsibilities of better treatment of one another, as well as of our sisters in the animal and plant worlds. I hope it is meaningful.


 “Streaming, is an elegant collaboration between poetry and music.”—Hawaii Review

“Each poem has its own rhythm that meshes into that of the collection overall, a body greater than the sum of its parts, an organism alive with language.”—AskMen

“Her poems beg to be read aloud, a jumble of hard sounds that wind their way into an effortless melody. . . Streaming is truly an accomplishment.”—Summerset Review

“When a book of poems contains the pleasure and adventure of a fine soundtrack it should be loudly celebrated. There are many ways to listen to Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s fine collection Streaming. The thing of it is, whether still on the page, or with an undercurrent of musicians and voice, the lyrics ring true. The poem always wins.”– Cornelius Eady, Miller Family Chair, The University of Missouri

“If the history of the Americas is a body of stories, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Streaming is most definitely its life-blood. This glorious book journeys through the bittersweet relationships between personhood and nation, nationhood and nature, and nature and culture, bearing witness to each entity’s determined struggle, each entity’s hard-won triumph: “colonization,/ construction, that morning, this day,/ every beam in balance despite horror /in the world. Streaming’s elegant verse will “sing you home into yourself and back to reason.” — Rigoberto Gonzalez


You can purchase Streaming HERE from Coffee House Press. Throughout 2015, book purchasers will find (across from the title page) a free download to the accompanying album, also titled Streaming, with Hedge Coke’s band Rd Klā. The band features Hedge Coke (poems/vocals) and two superior composer/musicians, Kelvyn Bell (guitars/sound art) and Laura Ortman (violins/sound art).

Streaming is a part of the Eckleburg Book Club. Take a look at it HERE.


Allison Adelle Hedge Coke books include: (poetry) Streaming (CD/book), Off-Season City Pipe, Dog Road Woman, Blood Run, (nonfiction) her memoir, Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer, of growing up as a mixed-raced laborer, and as second daughter of a mother suffering from chronic schizophrenia, and Icicles (play), and her edited collections of groundbreaking western hemispheric anthologies including multiple Indigenous languages and poetics in Effigies, Effigies II, and Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas. She is Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and is currently in-production with a documentary film, Red Dust.


Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, and The Nervous Breakdown among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, is forthcoming from Hopewell Publishers, 2015

INTERVIEW | Brad Zellar

Writing about loneliness and isolation, in House of Coates, author Brad Zellar makes intriguing and vital observations on types of character traits that defy cultural assumptions and stereotypes of masculinity. Combining vivid writing with photographs by Alec Soth, the novel becomes an enlivened testament to our complicated associations and relationships with the world and each other. Here, Zellar speaks more to these themes, as well as discusses different innovative writing craft techniques.


Chelsey Clammer: There is the stereotype in American society that men must be tough, ruthless, unconquerable, even. House of Coates, in a way, looks at what happens when these expectations are challenged and broken. I’m curious about how you think loneliness and the sense of being broken impact the social constructions of masculine gender roles. What do you think are some of the consequences of these gender stereotypes when they are instilled, but also subverted?

Brad Zellar: I wonder a lot about gender and coping strategies for things like loneliness and disappointment. It seems to me that most of the women I know handle isolation in a more constructive way, but I could be wrong about that. I do know, though, that there’s this ingrained thing with a lot of guys where they feel the need to run and hide, and to try to reinvent themselves as self-sufficient. It’s the action-male instinct, I think, the thing that drives survivalists and all sorts of men who maybe watched too many westerns or ingested a bit too much Thoreau or Kerouac when they were younger. Active isolation. Be a moving target, even if no one’s really gunning for you.

There’s no question that the masculine stereotype of the stoic—the cowboy, the mountain man, etc.—exacerbates loneliness, depression, economic struggles, and all manner of other hardships. And I don’t think American society and culture does a very good job anymore of preparing anyone for those stereotypical masculine roles (probably to its credit) and the result is that a lot of these lonely drifters are just soft, bad actors who don’t have a clue or an audience. Lester B. Morrison is a guy who is crippled by a very common strain of romantic and toxic mythology.


CC: The beginning of the book weaves setting and character together—the two bounce off of one another, then slowly merge and form a very stark and vulnerable story about Lester B. Morrison. What role do you see setting/place having in this story? Other than location, what purpose do you think it serves?

BDZ quote 1BZ: The setting was a very deliberate choice. And it’s a real place, more or less. I’ve always been attracted to John Ruskin’s idea of the pathetic fallacy, and if misery truly loves company than I think it stands to reason that somebody who feels desolate and fouled will seek out a landscape or an environment that mirrors what they’re feeling. It’s obviously not healthy, but I can attest from personal experience that it happens. The area around that refinery south of the Twin Cities—particularly in the dead of winter—is about as inhospitable a place as you can imagine. I’d spent a good deal of time poking around there, and when I was writing House of Coates it just seemed like the natural place to do it. I had no plans initially to set the story there; I was just looking for a suitable spot to hole up and work without distraction. But once I was hunkered down in a little strip motel up the highway from the refinery—and this was in the middle of a particularly dreadful Minnesota winter—the environment became a major distraction and a central part of the experience, and I started seeing Lesters everywhere.


CC: While the writing and content create that beautifully stark tone I spoke of earlier, I feel like the photographs are not just a part of the narrative, but a part of the actual writing of House of Coates, as well. How do you see the photographs interacting with the text? What parts, themes, and/or topics do you think come alive because of the mixed media?

BZ: The original drafts of the book were much, much longer, and there was much more in the way of description. The beauty of working with photographs—and Alec Soth (who took the pictures with a disposable camera) and I have worked together on a number of projects—is that you always know you have a lot of freedom to pare things way down. The pictures carry so much of the weight, and let you off the hook in terms of having to unpack everything. In this instance, they could not only show the place, but also reflect Lester’s point of view. And not only what he was seeing but how he was seeing it and how it was affecting him. So much of the book’s mood and atmosphere are established by those woozy, off-focus photos. When I’m working with photos my models are always the picture books that I read as a child; the great ones are such models of economy and collaboration, and I find that when I remember them I’m no longer sure which parts of my memories are related specifically to the words, and which to the pictures. You’re always shooting for that sort of a marriage.


CC: In Adrienne Rich’s poem “Song,” she writes:

You want to ask, am I lonely?

Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in.

Do you think there is any sense of freedom that can be found within loneliness? Or is it a trap from which we can never fully escape? And finally, as spirituality becomes a theme later on in the novel, how do you think spirituality fits in with this?

BZ: This is where it’s easy to get hung up. I think so many of the more romantic notions of “freedom” are fraught with loneliness once you actually try to make your break. The whole question is also, of course, much more complicated at a time when there are so many ersatz virtual communities in cyberspace. The bottom line is that I believe that most people, no matter how introverted or solitary, really crave some sort of connection and some sort of engagement. Real world connection and engagement. And a lot of that requires an assertiveness that many lonely people don’t have. Spirituality—or an even more old-fashioned term, faith—is a form of connection that can either lead people back into the world, or even farther away from it, and I’m not trying to disparage it by saying that it often worms its way into people’s lives when they’re most vulnerable or in need. Of something. Some sense that they’re not invisible and that their do have meaning or purpose. I’m all for it if it fills the hole, just as long as people don’t use it as a hammer or a wedge. 


BDZ quote 1CC: I want to provide some examples of how the language, pace and structure of each sentence in the novel is, well, astounding.

“Have you ever had the feeling that there wasn’t a soul left on the planet that remembered your name or face or the sound of your laugh? That was a Lester question, and his answer was yes.”

“The poisons were making their way through two or three feet of snow and creating swirling scarves of steam in the freezing air.”

“It’s not about light. It’s about finding a way to live in the darkness.”

There isn’t a question here—I just wanted to point out the lyricism and power of the actual writing in House of Coates, and also to thank you for bringing such beautiful sentences into the world.


CC: What are you working on?

BZ: I’m always writing fiction, but I do it mainly because it’s what I enjoy, and I have never really done anything with it, or at least not for more than 20 years. For the last several years Alec and I have been traveling all over the country and working on a project called The LBM Dispatch. It’s a shifty—and sort of shape-shifting—combination of documentary work, travelogue, and basic storytelling using words and pictures. We’ve pretty much wrapped up our travels (and have published seven newspaper installments of the work) and are in the process of putting together a book about the experience. I’m also finally trying to pull together some of my fiction to toss out into the world. It’s a giant archaeological project. 


CC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

BZ: Try to be nice to each other. There are a lot of people out there who feel insignificant and invisible. It doesn’t take much to make a small difference in their lives.


Brad Zellar has written and published fiction, and worked as a writer and editor for daily and weekly newspapers, as well as for both regional and national magazines. A former senior editor at City Pages, The Rake, and Utne Reader, Zellar is also the author of Suburban World: The Norling Photos, Conductors of the Moving World, and House of Coates. For the last three years he has been collaborating with the photographer Alec Soth on “The LBM Dispatch,” an irregularly published newspaper that chronicles American community life in the 21st century. Soth and Zellar are presently at work on a book documenting the experience.

Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and The Nervous Breakdown among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. Clammer is also the Nonfiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. She has two essay collections forthcoming in Spring 2015.