I have recently moved—homes, states, time zones. Many of my books, by accident or impulse, have changed residence as well. You see, I shipped my library to my new address via media mail. The boxes were searched, and then hastily repacked.
When I opened the boxes, I found about half of my original books, mixed in with a number of books belonging to other people. Gone was Lyn Hejinian’s The Book of a Thousand Eyes; in its place was a tome extolling the powers of a praying wife. (As if to prove this point, aforementioned prayerful wife has telephoned, having discovered my Hejinian.) I’ve acquired several analyses of business ethics and a romance novel. Kelli Anne Noftle’s I Was There For Your Somniloquy is nowhere to be found. The postal servant suggested I call the dead letter office. I was unaware such a place existed outside of a Spicer poem.
Tracing this literal movement and loss of text has been a near-perfect exercise in the normal paranormal, a concept that has obsessed us for the past several months, a phrase we coined while discussing Noftle’s poetics of (now literal) disappearance. Thus, for oona’s very first iinterview, it seemed fitting that we ask the luminous Kelli Anne Noftle to join us in a virtual salon to chat about cheesecake, surrealism, & sleep. I do hope someone will listen in.
SLEEP IS DANGEROUS: AN IINTERVIEW WITH KELLI ANNE NOFTLE.
Kelli Anne Noftle: Hi!
R: Greets! K.A.N., we are just star-struck & pleased as punch to have you here.
(r): This we are!
R: We thought we'd start with a round of introductions...what should we know about you?
KAN: You should know that interviews intimidate me and that I'm currently in bed with my laptop and a bowl of cheesecake!
(r): A woman after our own hearts.
R: I was just choosing my snack in fact...chamomile tea & dark chocolate are the order of the day.
KAN: Wow that sounds delightful. (r)...Where are you? What are you snacking on?
(r): Currently in a cozy apartment in Brooklyn, New York. In front of me are a cracked blue & white bowl filled with Ranier cherries & a postcard with a photo of Nina Simone. (& my laptop of course!)
KAN: Holy wow. That is poetry.
Someone just gave me a postcard of a hologram of a jellyfish...probably my favorite thing in the whole world right now. All I need is some Nina Simone and cherries on my cheesecake
(r): I'm imagining all three of us in a virtual salon in which are all of these things (chamomile tea & dark chocolate as well).
R: It seems quite fitting to begin by chatting about the normal, since we're hoping that you may be able to help us think about the paranormal, or the normal paranormal.
KAN: Yes, I was thinking about your "normal paranormality" and this idea of "domestic science fiction" - maybe you could explain that idea to me.
(r): I'm going to honor the charms of the ordinary by talking a little bit about where these terms began. Normal paranormality, is, of course, R's coinage but it comes out of the same matrix as domestic science fiction, which is something we've been thinking about for a while. The first time I can remember our throwing that term around was late at night after watching a very slight but appealing movie that took the search for romantic love & imposed this wonderful & ridiculous science fiction premise on that very tired old quest. The movie wasn't really concerned with being scientifically plausible but it was very concerned with being emotionally & socially plausible, which is why (I think) we both liked it so much. The science fiction conceit elevated the clichés of the romance; the best of the character stuff made you forget entirely about how ridiculous the "science" was. Normal paranormality takes the surreal, the startling, the uncanny as its premise--but it inverts it. It draws you always back to what is ordinary, usual, ingrained in habit.
One of the things that so struck us about your poetry, K, was how you managed to make the normal reveal itself to the paranormal (& yes, I think that's the right order of things).
KAN: Yes, okay, I recall you using the phrase "naturalization of mystery" which pleased me greatly.
R: The normal is the surprise. I think we were talking about coverings & un-coverings, obfuscations & revelations.
KAN: And of course, specifically, in relation to sleep.
KAN: Sleep is DANGEROUS.
R: Let's talk about sleep...I mean, it's the ultimate normal paranormal experience, right? It's a paranormal experience that happens every day.
KAN: Yes and it's also a loss of control...where we allow the subconscious to take over...Sleeping with both eyes shut is something relatively new (in evolutionary terms)- something only terrestrial mammals do, right? Most reptiles and birds sleep with half of their brain still fully conscious.
R: So sleep = vulnerability, an adaptation.
(r): But weirdly an adaptation that makes us, in some ways, MORE vulnerable.
KAN: Oh yes definitely - like I said, it's a loss of control and that's quite frightening...I'm obsessed with sleep - like you mentioned in your review I regard it as an observer rather than active participant. I feel like my reptile brain is still active during sleep - that split brain behavior you see in somnambulists - and I suppose this relates to how I approach poetry too - my writing process.
(r): Say a little about that, your process.
KAN: I think the minds are in dialogue. A friend and I were at a bar last night discussing what he calls "parallel poetics" - is that a real term? I'm writing about sea slugs and also describing my relationship with a lover but not drawing overt connections or metaphors. Not saying that one thing stands for the other, simply discussing them at the same time.
(r): I love this. The yolking together of one thing & another without over-determining the relationship.
R: It makes perfect sense...remember what Freud said about dreams...Something can be multiple things at the same time. It's a poetics of mutual inclusion. A sort of dreamworks.
KAN: Yes, I love that you mention Freud - I thought of his essay on the uncanny when you spoke of the reverse uncanny earlier and also in your review.
(r): He haunts us.
KAN: Back to your domestic sci-fi...I did live with a somnambulist many years ago and some of the parasomnias I observed inspired me to write most of the poems in my collection.
(r): Really? That's so fascinating.
KAN: His worst parasomnia was sleep eating. He would devour my Ben & Jerry’s and totally forget about it the next day.
R: How terrifying, not to remember. But at the same time, eating late night ice cream out of the carton--such a normal, almost banal crime.
KAN: Yes, and many people do it apparently. Waking up in a pile of candy wrappers with no recollection is pure paranormality.
(r): There's an element of terror there...
KAN: Speaking of, his night terrors were no fun either...enacting a nightmare, screaming, pointing to the window, all completely in his sleep.
R: It seems to me that we're categorizing the ways in which sleep terrifies--there's the vulnerability of the sleeper to the outside world, to the inside world, and to the possibility of one realm permeating the other.
KAN: I started researching somnambulism and parasomnia and the poems evolved from there.
(r): So you consciously thought about them as existing in some sort of constellation, as a sequence, I mean.
KAN: Yes and always with that element of fear - of the outside world but also of the internal, perhaps more so.
R: Can we talk about slugs for a moment?
KAN: I went to a lecture on the mating habits of sea slugs back in 2008. Basically, Nudibranchs know how to party.
(r): May we all have so satisfactory an epitaph.
R: Why slugs & sleep? I ask because we've talked a little bit about sleep & how different beasts sleep differently, & you referenced your "reptile mind."
KAN: That was actually something i struggled with - how do the slug poems fit with the sleep poems - how would it all become a collection? I believed I had at least 3 different books here, not 1...but I think readers make the connections necessary - like the "parallel poetics" - these 2 separate subjects working side by side but also in a dialogue together - under the umbrella of sleepwalking? I'm sleeping but a the same time I'm watering the plants and making pancakes - it's all happening in one poem or one collection...the mutual inclusions as you mentioned before...and there is the ocean - the ocean & the unconscious & sleep & when I wrote the slug poems I was also dating two people at the same time and believed I had fallen in love with both of them simultaneously, I was interested in a dialogue about the otherness of other creatures, this kind of complexity and multiplicity and polyamorous behavior seen in slug life (slugz4life) but coupled with intimacy and longing - how to navigate between these.
(r): The topics of sleep & slug life (not to be confused with thug life) might seem, at first, to diverge pretty widely. But what seems to me to link them is the way you've founded your poetics on these questions of process.
What is the experience of observation like? What do you do when the distance it seems to require collapses? What kind of processes (biological or otherwise) are left?
These all seem to me questions that persist throughout the collection. It makes me wonder if these are the same kinds of questions that animate your songwriting. Is there a continuum there or do you feel that your music takes place (parallel poetics style) in a separate sphere which ought not to be directly compared?
KAN: Observation is how it all happens ("exiled from the self" as I believe you put it so perfectly in your review)- the distance collapsing is just too frightening, like letting go of the control necessary to allow sleep (I'm an insomniac if you haven't guessed by now).
R: You mentioned your album-in-process, which is sleep-related. Can you tell us more about that?
KAN: This new album is more ethereal and ambient experimental stuff veering away from the verse chorus verse structure. There is a white noise (sleep machine) next to my bed with settings such as "waterfall" "rain" "summer night" "ocean" "rainforest"...currently I'm writing songs around the sounds, layered under and over those white noise sounds (or pink or brown noise, what have you)...so my sleep obsession continues in the form of music.
R: A wise teacher once told me, "honor your obsessions." I think it's a good artistic credo to have.
R: Thank you, KAN! This has been illuminating. I'd been thinking about the normal paranormal as a question of perspective, when perhaps it's a question of process--of organic processes, even. Now let's all go get some sleep, if we can face it...
Perhaps someday our virtual salon will be a real salon, complete with requisite cheesecake.
(r): Let us make this a life goal.
KAN: That would be grand. I'll bring wine too. And lavender for the chamomile. And sleep machines for the sleepless.