Ronaldo V. Wilson is the author of the cross-genre collections Lucy 72 (1913 Press, 2018) and Farther Traveler (Counterpath Press, 2015); Poems of the Black Object (Futurepoem Books, 2009), winner of the Asian American Literary Award in Poetry and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry; and Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man (University of Pittsburgh, 2008), winner of the 2007 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Wilson is an Associate Professor in the Literature Department and Creative Writing Program at UC Santa Cruz. With poets Dawn Lundy Martin and Duriel E. Harris, Wilson cofounded the performance-based Black Took Collective.
1. Soham Patel: Can you talk about the recurring impulse towards persona in your work? Has it always been there, how has it developed over time?
Ronaldo V. Wilson: Persona, to me, in some ways, provides a means to immediately contest the boundaries of racial and sexual designations under the sign of how many of us understand these to be fictions. Or maybe persona is a way to have always been there, as the fiction, that is, as a way of removing oneself from the act being in the zone of who one might have to be, from “the labor in speaking writing, being,” to quote Lucy. But I wonder, too, how persona might operate in some permanent relationship to loss, particularly to loss of language, somehow, or in working primarily in a single language. This is what I was thinking about one morning, about how loss, loss of language, must somehow be related to shame in being monolingual for those of us who were not taught our Mother’s Tongue, primarily, if being taught is learning in language beyond the shame of being so untucked from something in the ear or heart, like a sound which registers in memory, or maybe in a made-up-thing.
Even though I did study various languages through my life, Spanish, in primary school, high school and college; and French in graduate school (reading proficiency), and of course English—my primary language—there was always within this study, the sudden stress in needing to be proficient. But how does this relate, directly, or indirectly to persona? The bigger issue, for me, is that somehow persona pulls me, if even momentarily, into recalling my mother in Guam, in a room I don’t quite recall, but somewhere speaking Visayan, or Tagalog, or her teaching herself Japanese, which I do recall her speaking too, sounds of these languages, their music in my ear making a way through my body, and I am thinking, then as this moves in: who or what’s made up in these memories, what sounds resound now?
My latest work negotiates this question by “making up” language, making up for lost time, making up for sound, making and flirting with my Mother’s Tongues in lost time as a response to this fissure, the breaking and perverting my Father’s Tongue (English) which extends beyond poetry into performance and is always developing personas. Who speaks Mirinkai? Me! I used to think of this as my “secret” project. But I have been thinking through these works for some time now, so I can let it out, a bit, the projects, projected here in our InTraView. Here is a sneak peek of a book I am working on called Refuge Whimsy. A piece that begins to get at what I am thinking through here is called “Gibberish – yAH b*tch”:
Span a tanti. Lin ti—bulla bulla. Monica Lewinski is not a ho, but if I had that cock, some fag I know said it was 8 inches thick. He peed next to that president at some point. The stalls are blocked but at the Gate in Berlin there are monster uns the duts, and the Strasgge is the form torn, tulip my charcuterie, bam bam’s dad I’d hit.
Isbullshit, in fact, what you are going for? For it is “paid in full,” says eric b and rakim (Snapple in the Apple) Dal, I’m writing! Let in the voices, and the voz and the vox, ox-tail late to the party if in that pantry was the trace of your gluttony, so it should also be unclear, and the trace would be for sure—
In other words, my impulse in writing has to do with feeling persona inside of the space of language as it becomes something that may look like accretion, but enacts another way, and through other modes, and in that space, perhaps, is what produces what I am thinking through by way of persona.
In another morning, still, or later, I am drawing, and playing around in space, and wonder how to get further into character as a direction where the hand pushes the line forward into the gesture that is the self—no tale really—just an extension into whatever needs to release as I m/ask. ’m obsessed with the idea, too, of diagramming space as a vehicle, a way of developing voice, vox, voice box, that seeks to echo in the movement from what has been submerged into languages I can only now depict.
Here are more secret(ions)hots:
2. SP: In your videopoem “Grey,” the narrator says “in order to move a little bit more distinctively between one kind of seeing and another kind of seeing you have to think about pacing.” What is it about seeing one way and seeing another way that feels particularly important to our current moment?
RVW: Over several mornings, I am painting, projecting, and still working with masks. I have long since turned off Facebook, and turned off the news, and turned off everything with the exception of my drawing, and dancing in the summer months, a way to get away, and I am thinking about rendering, and feeling in a series of now painted masks, and working in the dark, away from the yelling, away from the incessant barking, and into another sound, or into shapes in the studio after working (out) in the garage, layering pieces atop one another, hanging out and hanging in there.
I am not working at what anyone else needs, so I can figure out what my relationship to life might be in the time of the narratives I want to make. I am thinking, in particular, about shadows, which I realize are often guides, which is to say that the relationship between what needs to be drawn (or what I need to draw myself into), and what might be captured—are often bound by chance, shapes that are only there to be captured if I can spot them. Where I have lost my Mother’s Tongue, my father and mother taught us to move—in tennis—to take little steps to get to the ball, to shift the weight of the body to the tips of the toes—bend your knees!—to distribute weight. Point your shoulder to where you want the ball to go.
This is to say that the relationship between what can be captured between the vectors of production can be found through the body, but sometimes also by placing netting into a space, one can gather what floats. Shadow/steps/ floating. These produce the coordinates, and positioning one mode next to another mode creates, perhaps the way of seeing. This is the succession, say, of the story, or the poem, or the performance, that is, what might avail itself is really powerful in the way perspective can change, build, as quickly as light. So too says the shadow.
One morning, I was working with pure graphite, and trying to get onto paper
a series of now drawn masks,
to represent them as fully as possible, but the mistake came
in thinking it might be better to work in pen.
The work was locked, and then I let it all go.
3. SP: How do you think about pacing?
RVW: I think, still, whatever this has to do with pacing has to do, perhaps more simply, with repetition. But in art, I feel, this can go in many directions, so one morning, I think I will use, if I can, sand, to capture the texture of the mask, the mask I see sparkling: sheen/substance/grit. I feel I can work into this over time—gathering whatever’s there to keep moving me along. Pacing? I am actually taken, on another morning, in the starting point of movement, as in how this frames the idea, and how this frame might shift, the way the sand bothers me in the brown bag, remaining and getting everywhere, and too, the bag has in it seaweed, dolloped here and there with bird-droppings. I wonder if pacing is really palimpsest, still, somehow connected to the question of the language I am trying to spit, and split—that is to say that the starting point could go any way from here, but as I said, then, or did!—the stutter step, the measured moves to get to any ball, however off balance…keeps you open…and moving through the point.
4. SP: Your work often returns to what I’ve heard you call aesthetic economies of: capitalism, fashion, the body, and promiscuity. How do you negotiate the reoccurrences of these four of your flood subjects?
RVW: See From Refuge Whimsy:
Fall 2010 Menswear: 0 Black Models
Latasha and Nathaniel Eric Smith, both accused of assault.
The couple, identified by police as Nathaniel Eric and Latasha Smith, were at the Quik Chick takeout stand next to U.S. Highway 1 in Baxley around 3 p.m. on Thursday when they complained to owner Jeanette Norris that their chicken was too cold and that they didn’t get enough fries, WTOC reported.
Jeanette Norris and her daughter both suffered black eyes in the attack.
WTOC / WOTC Dal Cannady
Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear: 0 Black Models
Fall 2012 Ready-to-Wear: 0 Black Models
Fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear: 0 Black Models (2)
5. SP: Do you [still] ever want to break out dancing in a crowded room? How is dancing and writing connected?
RVW: Not much these days, but funnily enough, I wrote this line, “Do you ever want to break out dancing in a crowded room?” at the Fine Arts Work Center while a Winter fellow in 1999, and recall being struck by the poet who read for us that evening, an older, established White Male writer with flowy white hair—I remember another’s name now, but not the poet, there, which is blocked, but that does not matter. I remember him on another morning.
What does it mean that this poet touched me, both by a compelling vulnerability and power, which registered as a kind of dance, the power of the lectern as a kind of leverage point, an anvil?
Here is the lectern:
And I was younger, and dancing a lot more, going out, etc., and it seemed to me, the way forward through dance was something I could not see this poet ever doing, and that this was him at the lectern—of course, I was wandering in some racist fantasy of him being all tight boody-ed and such, but I’d have done or been done by that poet, and had some plank-bang jump off no doubt while doing so.
But what occurred to me, and occurs to me now is that I have a radically different relationship to dance now, maybe because all these years later (almost 20 years now), I dance in performance at/as the lectern specifically, the urge to move as a dancer in space is a curious one when one lets it enter the space of the poem, and the body, and the line, the horizon of one’s unconscious.
Maybe this is what visions are about. Today, September 4, 2018 is the day in 2006 when Steve Irwin Died—I write about him in “Dream In a Fair” in Poems of the Black Object, and I was obsessed with: Irwin stabbed in the heart, the act of killing tied to the act of some underwater heroics, chance, then, the poem unveiled, but I feel instead, like dancing, and walking and singing, however I was led back to Steve Irwin, why?
—and I wanted to clip the article and place it here as a counterpoint to the collage I am working to answer your question.
6. SP: There is distinct tension between self-consciousness, the arch of consciousness, and unconscious flow in your work. How does your training and practice as a poet and performer inform these tensions?
7. SP: How does the site-specificity of your performances influence them? What do you wish for your audience(s)?
RVW: What is the relationship between what might be found, and what must be compromised? The space of performance is the space of the body which, for me, has become so open these days, or at least I want it to be. This morning I get to make some connections with The Black Notebooks by Toi Derricotte and some work by Sander Gilman, and others, Nell Painter, among. But I am so exhausted. I want to end now, because I feel it best to shift gears back to the image as it nourishes. I don’t have a name for these works, or this feeling, but I do think the work rises to the level of outstanding, I mean, here is my mom in a costume, painting me back into the only silence that counts: rendering. And me in one, dancing and painting into the language I can’t say, but feel, the m/ask/ seeks the performance, the site of the language forming in the moment. I want my audience to float, too, with me, or maybe I want us all to understand that floating might move the hand and the body to be un fixed, go mom! Fix Auto. Guard this work, hold out the moves in our studio as the wish, and maybe the audience will go from there into: