Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer & Editor Juliana Spahr

In editors, poetry, writing on November 22, 2010 at 6:11 pm


Juliana Spahr

Juliana Spahr. Photo by Marissa Bell Toffoli (2010).

An introduction to the author of several poetry books, including The Transformation (Atelos Press, 2007) and This Connection of Everyone With Lungs (University of California Press, 2005). Juliana Spahr co-edited the literary journal Chain, and has published and edited a variety of essay collections. Currently, she teaches at Mills College in California.


Quick Facts on Juliana Spahr

  • Home: Berkeley, California
  • Top authors: Gertrude Stein, Kamau Brathwaite, Aimé Césaire, Inger Christensen
  • Current reads: All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang, Inferno by Eileen Myles

What are you working on at the moment?

For about ten years now I’ve been working on a critical study about the literature of the 1990s. I’m also working on a collaboration project with David Buuck.

What do you hope readers will take away from your work?

The idea (which I usually attribute to Lyn Hejinian) that poetry is a way of thinking, or of thinking about something in some way.

Where and when do you prefer to write?

I work on things all the time—a half hour here, a half hour there. I never bought into the idea of the reified practice. It feels more like a kind of everyday-ness that you exist in the world doing in some way.

Where would you most want to live and write?

I don’t really have a special commitment to the Bay Area, nor faith that moving somewhere else would be better. It feels like I’m here, and I need to stay here for a while. Although, if you move somewhere else, you learn new things and that would be interesting. I don’t have any particular new place in mind.

Do you have a particular approach to how and why you write?

I think reading is really crucial. And that might be it, other than the actual writing. I’m not convinced that going to school necessarily helps, or that writing exercises help.

How do you balance content with form?

They are so connected. It doesn’t even feel like a balance. The questions are all sort of tied up together and you have to consider them at the same time.

What do you find most challenging about writing?

It never lives up to what you hope it will. The questions that I’m constantly fumbling over and trying to negotiate are how writing fits into community practices, resistance struggles, how it enters the world in other ways, and what sorts of alliances it has. It feels like writing is such an old-fashioned, almost out-of-date art form that its alliances aren’t very strong—or they used to be strong, or have moments of strength and then are not so strong at other moments. There’s the question of balance for me; balancing getting the work done with building the alliance feels like an impossible-to-answer question. And, how to write that work and not have it be the lowest common denominator of what a political poetry is.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read. When I teach, I’m constantly talking to students about finding content, finding something that matters.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?

When I was an undergrad at Bard a poetry professor, Robert Kelly, came up and asked me why hadn’t been at the reading the night before. He said, “You have to go to the readings,” which I guess relates to what I feel about reading, and also, you know, showing up in some way.

What book do you wish you owned a first edition of?

Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I like to read books about native plants and go look at native plants.

About Juliana Spahr

Juliana Spahr is currently working on a slightly paranoid book about the literature of the 1990s. She co-edits Chain Links with Jena Osman. She often co-writes essays, mainly about gender (and this is thanks to the Noulipo and the Feminaissance conferences), with Stephanie Young. She is co-writing a book with David Buuck that tells the story of Demented Panda and Koki, two friends who are writers in a time of war and ecological collapse. And she co-organized the 95 Cent Skool, a week-long something or other, with Joshua Clover in July 2010.

Buy Spahr’s books, preferably at your local independent bookstore.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer & Editor Juliana Spahr.” Words With Writers (November 22, 2010),

  1. […] Newman, Denise (2010) Philipson, Robert (2010) Rogow, Zack (2010) Shurin, Aaron (2013) Spahr, Juliana (2010) Walls, Yon (2011) White, Hazel (2012) Wolpé, Sholeh (2011) Zapruder, […]

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