Eight discourses with Kim Rosenfield

Kim Rosenfield.

Discourse 1.

Divya Victor: As the epidermis opens a body, the epigraph opens a book. Your choice of epigraph to the first section of Tràma takes from Natalia Ginzburg’s The Little Virtues. Ginzburg is an expert taxonomist of the domestic remnants, the civil debris, the uncivil de-ballasting of National reconstructions, and an archivist of the things that remained buried after “we” rummaged through the debris of wars, of traumas, of losses great and small. In this, she is also like a gravedigger and her work is never done. Your Tràma, like her work, often excavates, devours, and inverts that pleasing Anglican claim “All things bright and beautiful, / All creatures great and small, / All things wise and wonderful, / The Lord God made them all.” In Tràma, the treatment of cultural memory, fable, mythology, and childhood appear equally invested in cures as in casuistry, in curation as in curiosity, in dreams as in demonology — the latter in the sense of Frankenstein warning Walton that what is created will become a myth, and thus more dangerous than the act of creation itself. What the Lord God made includes these things in the argument moving through your book.

The movements of Tràma’s body musculate, like all good physical activity, provoking the sphincters that emit and excrete — generating waste and wonder in the same convulsion by digesting and rehearsing the texts that are passed down from mouth-to-mouth to record the trans-historic journeys of “Poor Little One,” the “guys,” the various scoundrels, orphans, assassins, the “Beautiful Child with Turpentine Hair,” unnamed Little Match Girls and boys of fairytaledom, and the texts that are buried in the earth to form “History City.”

I read an archive of small things treated as if by a lepidopterist: spread, pinned, boxed, and gazed at — except the lepidopterist is also a mighty historian and an amateur storyteller with a terrible memory. The narrative Father, cultural memory, the “proper place,” are usurped repeatedly by an angry mob or miffed Möbius that twists and continues the tales. Even as the epithets march forward briskly (“Some people bust with violence because they are sensitive to rumor and take big breaths to fan themselves against persecution”), they are immediately assaulted by their own skidding on the banana-peel-syntax and prosody of these prose pieces.

Could you say more on the musculature of the book? What went in, what came out, and to what processes of appropriation and excavation did you devote your writerly lepidopterology? What of the species interests you?

Kim Rosenfield: First of all, Divya, I want to thank you and Jacket2 for giving me this opportunity to delve with you so deeply into my own work.

The musculature of Tràma was based on Winnicott’s idea of “the mysterious middle” in which the infant takes in nourishment, excretes it, but there’s this magical strange thing that happens inside the infant’s digestive tract that is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat — I guess one covered in shit! Tràma’s exists in an infant-like state in which there are fragments of a self and disjunctive experiences of self and experience, but coherence or how the world is navigated has to come from an outside organizing subjectivity: the mother, the reader. Also, there are no brakes on fantasy — fantasy is magical and terrifying at times. For adults and small children alike there are often many blurred spaces.

I wrote Tràma shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when we’d just moved to Florence, and my daughter was three and synagogues in France were being bombed and water in the Tibor and drinking water in Rome had almost been filled with poison, and trains were being exploded in Spain and my Italian neighbors said to me “welcome to the world.” I was like Poor Little One in a spoiled state of wonder, naïveté, and pure shock. Tràma moves like the larvae before it is caught as the specimen, before it looses hold on “potential space” — Winnicott again.


Discourse 2.

Victor: I’m enjoying the way you are playing with the metaphors of the questions. Particularly that of digestive processes and lepidopterology, and I must thank you for indulging my whimsy. The shit-covered Rabbit that represents the “mysterious,” “magical,” “potential” processes of an infant’s digestion — that space which both inundates the economy of the drives, but also floods categories of what is and is not abject and worth ejecting, and the larvae that pre-exists the lepidopterist’s fancy: these both, excrement and butterfly, are specimens par excellence. We’ve relied on them foreva to tell us more about ourselves. This makes new things, by the way, of Alice going down the Rabbit hole — something quite appropriate for how I feel when I read Tràma — except, the timelessness of Alice’s fantasy world is, in your work, something that resembles the emerging history of a subject in the context of (psycho)analysis.

This leads me to wonder about the role of speech, voicing, the circuit of listening in Tràma and your mutual participation as poet and psychotherapist. Consider the following:


page 49, snip snip, from Tràma:

I am speaking to you, Poor Little One. You who knows the sweetness of salt, who believes that money can be gotten from seminaries, and who recognizes the right to camp as a last Will and Testament …

I don’t understand you — said Poor Little One, who began to tremble with fear. Patience! I will speak better: Sapiens put all their errors into their Cities.

from “6 Valentines,” snip snip, from Object 8:

Sacrifices may not result from
recognizable diseases
The girl retains the figure of her
hears a noise: a tick, a knock, or a tap
A woman should protect herself
against the sin
of sexual exploration


The instincts and their vicissitudes
the genitals being one’s real self,
they must be protected
Two little girls in a closet
from the “boy struck” period
Didn’t you ever shimmy down a pole?
Or rupture that bubble? 

Dora the Oral Explorer, aka Dora La Exploradora Oral, is adventuring all over the Freudian landscape of the latter piece, and I sense too a working through of constructions of subjectivity around the mouth, the genitals, the orifices of edification, if we’re talking Old School. This seems to emerge later in Tràma as well — I recall, especially, one of the characters suffering a “night kaka” when he falls into a bear trap? In Tràma, it seems like the history of a subject, say Poor Little One, is a dossier or confabulation that builds around the kernel of an allegorical narrative between the ego and what he says — except, what he says is never clear, formally. The shuttle between speech and narrative forces a double listening, like an auricular double-take — as you say, because there are “no brakes on fantasy” — so, what moves us is the slip of the tongue. I am thinking too of Lacan’s reminder that the analyst “takes the description of an everyday event as a fable addressed to the wise.” This seems like a great and reversible description of some of the processes in your prose. I believe your work as a psychotherapist is in a different vein, but would you say there is a circuit between the speech-based work of psychotherapy and the project at hand? How does your own faith in a circuit between audition and vocality relate to how you work as a poet? 

Rosenfield: I really don’t think that we can ever express anything very well through language but it’s (sometimes) the best or only thing we have at our disposal. So much happens outside the aforementioned circuits that is transmitted “unwittingly” in both writing poetic texts and being involved in a co-constructed therapeutic matrix. Yes, emerging histories of a subject in the context of psychoanalysis, but psychoanalysis as its own “sobject”[1] is also one of the histories in the room. What reflects off what?

Like the discovery of mirror neurons that help us understand the meaning of actions as well as actions themselves — this is a neurological function, well outside the limits of language. I think, in my writing, I’m trying to channel my own mirror neurons or at least some collective societal ones. In my clinical practice, I’m trying to do the same while also incorporating someone else’s hard and soft wiring into what organizes me, them, and us. In my poetics, so much more of this can come through in a live reading.

I haven’t seen those Object poems in one million years. I hope I didn’t come across in them as Old School, although they feel very old. I was trying to illuminate the limitations of the Old School. I was trying to enliven constructions of subjectivity through orifices of thinking. Right now, if you were here, you’d see me tweaking my mouth and clenching my buttocks to illustrate this point.

Next discourse please …


Discourse 3.

Victor: The critique of Old School — what a strange phrase now that it also refers to a Will Ferrell movie! — is apparent in several texts in your oeuvre, Kim, from the older poems from Object to more recent work like 10 Perfumes put out by Belladonna, and poems featured in the Gurlesque Anthology, and so on. Your poems from Good Morning — Midnight —, like “Excelsior Reflector” and “Maximum Sapiens,” appropriate, cite, and mangle a wide range of cultural texts from scientific treatises and medical brochures to archaic now “bankrupt” biological theories of race, psychological case studies, pop magazines, cephalic indexes, anthropological texts, canonical literatures, and so on. In “Excelsior Reflector,” for instance, I spot references to William Langland’s Piers Ploughman. In 10 Perfumes, the thematic movements from the ephemeral fragrance of essences towards the putrid stench of political and materialist critique pulses with citations of/to F. T. Marinetti’s work. 

These citations suggest ways of reading and attention as classification — but of failed or partial classification, which is very compelling. The intricacy of the network of references certainly multiplies, as you say, “the histories in the room.” But these histories reject the total bankruptcy of some of the documents they are built around, while also eyeing them suspiciously. This is the position that echoes both the shock and naïveté that you referenced earlier — the potential, blurry space of encounter with texts that precedes ideological judgment/acceptance/dismissal that are the symptoms of a (ahem, ahem) “Proper Education.” The larval engagement with many of these cultural materials, prior to pinning them down in the lepidopterist’s archive, is routed so as to return us to questions of gender and the semiotics of gender performance within the contexts of reading. So, to return your question: “What reflects off what?”: would you consider appropriation a way of reading, or re-reading a gendered cultural education? 

Rosenfield: Yes, I would, but more as yogic counterbalance — moving opposing forces simultaneously in divergent directions engenders (pun intended) new flow (associations to this word welcome). Please see eloquent discussion above for a fuller answer to these questions. Also, I was raised with an extremely airtight and problematic relationship to authority — respect it at all costs, even if it might harm you, so therein lurks the tension or “blurry space” of my encounters with the Old School. Sadly, some of these archaic theories are not as “bankrupt” as they should be — think Sarah Palin or see Sue Grand’s essay on Sarah Palin — “Strange Vaginas: Us and Them.”[2]


Discourse 4.

Victor: Arielle Greenberg, one of the editors of Gurlesque Anthology, makes an interesting claim about your poems featured in the collection: “Here, as elsewhere in Rosenfield’s work, fashion is made central, adored and fetishized while criticized and deconstructed. The two attitudes coexist in ragged harmony.” I think she’s spot on in claiming this “ragged harmony” — it’s another kind of “blurry space” that we keep returning to in our conversation between the “fetish” and its “deconstruction”; it’s another way of thinking of those erotic zones posited by the difference between a hem and a sock, a sleeve’s end and the hand’s beginning, a lash line and an eyeball, a stiletto and the coy ankle. These raggedly (arbitrarily) demarcated zones of the imaginary body are flayed open as spaces of critique in your poems.

The work takes what we misname “superficial,” like fashion and the semiotics of gendered performance, to its critical end: as an absolute surface for social projection and identity formation in the citation of codes. These codes appear as commodities in your work to crowd every girl’s “own Blueprint for Heaven” as she performs the “unwitting burlesque of base female crime” as an “ever ready & waiting Xerox machine.” Could you say more about your interest in surfaces of projection — the fumus of perfume, the mirrors of fashion, the glad cladding of appropriated robes? How do you imagine the “unwitting burlesque” of the feminine and feminized? How does it relate to your participation in this anthology and your participation as a female poet? 

Rosenfield: The work featured in the Gurlesque Anthology is older and very specific to themes of fashion/gender that I was working with at the time. This “ragged harmony”(I really like Arielle’s explanation here) of toggling between both an adoration and critique of these topics was really being sorted out in that text, Good Morning — Midnight —. I was also working out my position in the community as a young female poet who was interested in all the complexities of fashion, makeup, perfume, adornment, and personal/physical aesthetics that I felt were somewhat taboo subjects in my community, or at least considered insignificant. Stacy Doris was the only other writer I knew at that time also investigating these themes. There was an implicit rejection — I felt — of the feminine then, and, being so femmy myself, I had to find a way to work through what I perceived as a gender barrier.

I’ve since shifted my thematic focus less on fashion and more toward science — see re: evolution — and a psychological, linguistic, yoga zone that I can’t really describe — see Lividity forthcoming from Les Figues in 2012. I’m applying the same ragged harmony in that work to blur up a dominant discourse or to carve out a more interactive field that has always been the organizing principle in my work, both as a writer and as a psychotherapist.

Lately I’ve been thinking about this structure as an “as-if” or “invitational” space. When language becomes invitational, posited as a “try-on” rather than “this is so and has always been so,” we begin to experience it as a realm of possibility in which we can consider our most cherished personal and cultural assumptions to be tentative — as if — rather than unchallengeable truths. The as if stance of language helps us accept responsibility for our own belief systems and assumptions. 


Discourse 5.

Victor: Kim, at the end of my interview with Vanessa Place, I asked her to ask one question of the next interviewee, and I will ask you to do the same when we approach the end of our conversation.

Her question to you was this:

Quel est le point de basculement? [3]

What is your response?

Rosenfield: Le point de basculement implique certaines conditions:

Le prix du petit déjeuner comprend un boisson (café, thé, chocolat) servi dans la chambre tous les jours avec du pain, des petits pains ou des croissants, du beurre et parfois de la confiture.

Il ne comprend pas le service dans la salle commune ou au comptoir, le breakfast à l’anglaise (avec oeufs, jambon, gruau …); il diffère généralement du tarif “voyageur” ou “courrier.” [4]


Discourse 6.

Victor: I enjoy the way you’re linking the tentative “trying on” and the responsibility that one does/does not/must/must not assume “for it,” and I am particularly fascinated by what you’re calling an “invitational space” — I was just talking to my students about gender roles and performing dominance, and we got to discussing the current obsession with vampires as upsetting certain ideas of sexual dominance (their argument, not mine) and the issue of the invitation, in which the so-called “victim” must invite (“let the right one in” etc.) the so-called “perpetrator” into a zone in which she can be nominated as such. New vamp/ire ethics. Though the analogy fails here because the reader and writer are more neck-to-neck than necking, imo … anyway. This is perhaps the fanged inverse of your notion of the invitation, but it’s the risk that’s interesting too — that difference between hospitality and hostility has, perhaps, “ne s’entend pas pour,” it is, perhaps implied as, a certain condition.

This praxis of “trying on” does lead me towards your re:evolution more directly — the dialectical somersault between adaptation and maladaptation of forms and “truths” towards the “as if” of creaturehood. There are fantastic mutations and malappropriations in this book, where taxonomic relations between art and the cosmetic are smuggled into Picasso’s studio in Helena Rubenstein’s handbag, where “molecules hang like dinner lamps,” where the exhibition of organs in formaldehyde with furs, bones, and skeletons conspires as a “small collection of deaths,” where vocality is troubled and everything speaks in tongues. The varieties of discourse cited and the types of address to the reader within the poems, as well as the multiple authors “present” in the form of the book, confabulate and fraction out polyvocally.

The book is part of Les Figues Press’ Trench Art: Tracer Series, and in keeping with the tradition, features an introduction by Sianne Ngai, an “analysis” by Diana Hamilton that follows your poems, and a “Research Paper” by Jennifer Calkins. But these genres are parodied even as they are mimicked — imitation as camouflage? These writers respond, collude, conspire, and discuss your work, but seem to do so in a temporality quite different from other book-forms that contain forewords and afterwords. They seem to talk alongside, or with, or over, evolving, mutating, and adumbrating the possibilities of the poems, rather than concluding them for us. How would you describe the process of putting together this form of the book? Do you see it as a collaboration? Other than these writers who are you presently colluding, conspiring, and in conversation with?

Rosenfield: The invitational mood has little in common with the vampyric coding of domination/ submission, victim/victimized, as I understand it (or don’t really understand it at all). But I like this idea from your students that permission needs to be granted, consent must be established before the ultimate takeover. It’s all so titillatingly S/M. I don’t think my work has that kind of direct play with power but is more blurry or muted.

The invitational mood is about this idea that language and ideas are a “try on.” In re: evolution I’m attempting to invite the reader in to formations of history, to shop theories of science, gender, etiquette to browse and see what fits or what doesn’t. My aim is to offer an invitation to break from inherited ideas of “truth and meaning” by offering multiple constructs of language and ideas. Language can thus become an open system of “accumulative fragmentism” (George Kelly) challenging ideas that language gives us access to the way things are. I’m very interested in Irit Rogoff’s work and her ideas of “without.” Without is a frame that encompasses knowing we have a vast array of theoretical models and histories to work from. But what happens when we’ve come to the edge of what they have to offer? We don’t turn our back on them but find ourselves in a new place that does not yet have a form or definition. Without doesn’t operate through lack, but rather through an active attempt to make way for something else to emerge. In re: evolution I was trying to work from that space.

Putting together re: evolution was a very collaborative process. Me, Teresa Carmody, Vanessa Place, Sianne Ngai, Diana Hamilton, Jennifer Calkins, Yedda Morrison, Ken Ehrlich, Susan Simpson — we each contributed a piece to shaping the book and taking it outside the nucleus of the text. Like literary lysosomes! The images and accompanying texts both articulate and mess up further the “authority” of the form and content of the text. Or as you so evolutionistically put it: “mutating” and “adumbrating” the text.

Currently and always, I’m collaborating, conspiring, colluding, and in conversation with my family, my pets, my patients, my study groups, my poetic community, my neighbors, my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country, my race, my gender, my sexuality, my socioeconomic class, my DNA, etc. But I would like to make something with the Mulleavy sisters if they’re listening, and the newly minted ghost of Benoit Mandelbrot.

Discourse 7.

Victor: A question sprouted up today: I was reading a new essay by Judith “Jack” Halberstam and was suddenly reminded of something you had said earlier in our conversation about authority and behavior, something that I too feel quite acutely. I know we are not talking about this, per se — but I am very curious about what you make of this.


We need to craft a queer agenda that works cooperatively with the many other heads of the monstrous entity that opposes global capitalism, and to define queerness as a mode of crafting alternatives with others, alternatives which are not naively oriented to a liberal notion of progressive entitlement but a queer politics which is also not tied to a nihilism which always lines up against women, domesticity and reproduction. Instead, we turn to a history of alternatives, contemporary moments of alternative political struggle and high and low cultural productions of a funky, nasty, over the top and thoroughly accessible queer negativity. If we want to make the anti-social turn in queer theory, we must be willing to turn away from the comfort zone of polite exchange in order to embrace a truly political negativity, one that promises, this time, to fail, to make a mess, to fuck shit up, to be loud, unruly, impolite, to breed resentment, to bash back, to speak up and out, to disrupt, assassinate, shock and annihilate, and, to quote Jamaica Kincaid, to make everyone a little less happy! (from “The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Studies”)


I was raised with an extremely airtight and problematic relationship to authority — respect it at all costs, even if it might harm you, so therein lurks the tension or “blurry space” of my encounters with the Old School. (Discourse 3)

Query: Is there a place in art, as you see it right now, for disobedience, for being a total and excellent bastard, for this claiming of the “anti-social,” for this examination of the fetish of happiness, for the “monstrous”?

Rosenfield: First of all, I love this passage from Halberstam and think her work is extremely important. What I gravitate toward here is the idea of failure, messiness, “disobedience,” as you name it. All these ways to speak of the “anti-social” in poetry offer an attempt to open a new window of discourse (most notably in Flarf and Conceptualism). There is some meta-overlap with queer theory (and we really can’t say this about mainstream poetry that is defined by a long history of lyricism and modernist tradition) in that both are not widely accepted discourses and both certainly do not aim to make everyone happy. I think my work attempts to create that space by fragmentizing subjectivity and trying to do away with the frame that values something as either inside or outside, high or low. I think claiming the “anti-social” always demands roughing up what is culturally considered smooth.


Final Discourse.

Victor: You said that your next book, also coming out from Les Figues, will continue your thematic interest in science as in re:evolution and will move in a “psychological, linguistic, yoga zone.” The title of the book, Lividity, is provocative: it recalls the centrality of the intersection between affective, ethical, and biological responses to the environment that is taken up throughout in your work. I’m thinking especially of “livid” stemming from “bruise” or that bluish blackening of the flesh that suggests both the stagnation and the circulation of blood upon psychic or physical crisis/impact. “Lividity” also suggests “vividity” — both stagnation and exuberance of life forms — and usually refers to expression either of the countenance or verbal forms. But I know nothing else of the project. Could you say more about it here? Is/was this book built around the collaborative model of re:evolution?

Rosenfield: I first heard the term “lividity” in a description of a murder trial in which a body was determined to have been moved based on an assessment of its “lividity,” or way in which the blood had drained and pooled in the points of the body that made contact with the ground. I thought this was an amazing way to think about language and I wanted to make a book in which it felt like blood was draining out of the text, hence a few words/lines per page. I’m not sure if I really pulled this off as I’m prone to excess, so we’ll see. I also like this idea you bring up of “vividity” or “exuberance of life forms” and “expression of verbal forms. The book also deals with language as acquisition, and as a transactional medium, like money — necessary and functional, imbued with power and emotional. I think of Lividity as more of a lone wolf and it won’t be constructed as communally as re: evolution was.

Victor: Kim, talking with you has been an incredible experience, and I am so grateful for the time you’ve spent with my questions. My only wish is that we had face-to-face conversations in addition to this.

Rosenfield: What a pleasure to talk with you vis-à-vis your astute interpolations of my work. I learned so much! Thank you for your unwavering attentiveness.

Victor: At the end of every interview, I request one question from the interviewee for the next interviewee, as a way of generating continuity and conversation between poets, and also as a way of constructing a series of questions that the interview process might have generated for you. Your question, should you choose to provide it, will be put to Myung Mi Kim, verbatim.

Rosenfield: Question for Myung Mi Kim: What is the role of poetry in your personal life and how do you see poetry’s function in the social/political sphere?



1.  For more on “sobject,” see Rob Fitterman and Vanessa Place, Notes on Conceptualisms, published by Ugly Duckling Presse.

2.  Sue Grand, “Strange Vaginas: Us and Them,” in Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society 2009.

3.  “What is the tipping point?”

4.  “The tipping point implies certain conditions:

The price of breakfast includes a hot drink every day (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) served in one’s room, with bread, rolls or croissants, butter, and sometimes jam.

It does not include: service in the common room or counter service, English breakfast (with eggs, ham, porridge …), and it generally differs from the “traveler’s” or “postman’s” menu.