An interview with award-winning poet Ronaldo V. Wilson

The first visiting poet in this fall’s series of Holloway Readings and this semester’s Mixed Blood Project reader, Ronaldo V. Wilson sports several other titles: award-winning poet, professor of English and co-founder of the critically lauded performance group Black Took Collective.

His most recent book, “Farther Traveler,” exhibits his thoughtful and deeply lyrical verse. These qualities shine in his work on several scales — from reading the book as a whole down to the level of the line, even those as simple as, “Where did you get caught, / where you got caught?,” which appears in his poem “For the Sky, in Which You Will One Day, Belong.”

In anticipation of his reading Oct. 5, Wilson took the time to answer some questions for The Daily Californian in an email interview.

The Daily Californian: The Mixed Blood Project is described on its website as being particularly interested in innovative and experimental poets whose work also engages with important social and political topics; the reading series is “quite unusual in its emphasis on literary innovation and its deliberate and very aggressive emphasis on race and the languages of and about race.” As this fall’s Mixed Blood reader, how would you say your work engages with discussions of race, and how do you think the form of poetry shapes or facilitates conversations of race?

Ronaldo V. Wilson: For me, the form of poetry is elastic, in the same ways that all art is elastic, making possible the form and function of its expressive qualities insofar as they are always akin to the infinite possibilities of its subject matter whether dreamed, spoken, sung, danced. In these activities, the radicalized body is a body that does not ever escape its being, and as all of us are raced — across varying spectrums, political casts, urgencies — what better form than art ( for me often poetry, but also performance and visual and sonic art) to attempt to engage with this body on the move as it were, and is. I love the series title Mixed Blood, because it reflects the possibility of how we connect, against the loaded history of one drop of blood determining the static, caught, captured subject — Mixed Blood revealing the possibility of what’s possible in facing reality, and what can be imagined in our ever raced, and complicated connections.

DC: As a member of the performance group Black Took Collective, how do you expect your Holloway Reading to differ from (or resemble) this more improvisational kind of performance? Is there a way in which poems written for the page require a different kind of delivery? How does written form translate to performance?

RVW: My work with Black Took Collective is ever ongoing, as ultimately, with Dawn Lundy Martin and Duriel E. Harris, I learn so much from and with them in and  outside of our work, play, conversations, interventions, and various performances. The last time we played together was in the Maude Fife Room. Dawn was skyped and BOSE speaker-ed in & Duriel and I took a nap at the end, spooning at the ending of the show, but the feeling and intimacy continues.  Who knows what will happen when I get back in there on my feet, but I am looking forward to sharing new work, ideas! Speaking of which, I do not have hardened ideas about the existing binaries of Page vs. Stage or the Writerly vs. Performance. Instead, I have ideas that I am interested in around what’s possible in conveying my subject matter, often a very particular event, story, or experience of its telling — and often across varying registers, genres, and media — this is the performance, which is ultimately a translation of varying moments within various critical contexts.   

DC: In your recent book of poems, “Farther Traveler,” poetry, prose and memoir cooperate within the volume to form a meaningful and complex multigeneric whole, where the constituent segments seem to be so significantly tied to one another as to be inextricably related. Because selecting poems for a reading is a process of excerpting, how do you excerpt without doing violence to the body of the work?

RVW: Thank you for your astute thoughts on the book! As a student of art to include artists and writers like Adrian Piper, Cecilia Vicuña, Kalup Linzy, and many others, performance and performance art in particular requires an understanding not only the construction of the work (its forms and erasures) but also the construction of the space in which it inhabits. At “readings,” I am very far from the type of poet who has a usual set of poems, a sequence of deliveries, or sense that one work of mine does not speak to the larger thinking and being of the entire book’s performance. In “readings” I try to figure out from where I want to release the energy, pressure of the work most pressing at any given event, and to let it into the space of engagement between audience and viewer, listener depending on where and to whom, building into the varying contexts, spaces, and forms that the situation engenders. Now this does not necessarily mean the venue determines the performance; in fact, the venue often serves primarily as the context, the occasion for me to work out what I happen to be feeling and thinking, and how to move these within the presentation and its given form/forms, whether poem, essay, film, dance, sound, and/or their layerings.

Lindsay Choi covers literature. Contact her at [email protected].

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