Rachel Zolf Photo by Brian Adams
Rachel Zolf’s poetic practice explores interrelated materialist questions concerning memory, history, knowledge, subjectivity, and the conceptual limits of language and meaning. She is particularly interested in how ethics founders on the shoals of the political. Her fourth book of poetry is Neighbour Procedure (Coach House, 2010). Human Resources (Coach House, 2007) won the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Zolf recently wrote a screenplay for a film that New York artist Josiah McElheny will show at the 2012 Miami/Basel Art Fair. She is an assistant professor in English and Creative Writing at the University of Calgary.
RUSTY TALK WITH RACHEL ZOLF
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Rachel Zolf: I wrote my first poem at a workshop with Di Brandt in Winnipeg in 1990 or thereabouts. Everyone else brought poetry and I brought a failed essay on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress that stopped short at the moment Christian became a travailer. The travailer part stuck, though. The point not to get somewhere, but to keep slogging.
KM: Why did you become a writer?
RZ: My dad hit me with his foolscap when I was a kid.
KM: What influences your work the most?
RZ: My menstrual cycle.
KM: Could you describe your writing/artistic process?
RZ: I read. I think. I gather things. I make.
KM: In your recent Jacket2 article you mentioned that your work is included in a conceptual writing anthology by women but you don’t consider yourself a part of the contemporary conceptual writing movement. How would you describe your artistic or writing practice or how would you attempt to define it?
RZ: Someone called me a conceptual-materialist, which may be mutually exclusive, or not. Like Lisa Robertson, I am a feminist writer, which encompasses a fair bit, but not everything. The label never fits.
KM: You often work with pre-existing or found texts. What draws you to creating work in this way? And is it ever a problem in terms of copyright and, if so, how do you get around that?
RZ: I am a gleaner (e.g., see Agnès Varda’s film The Gleaners and I), just am. Libel law has scared me more than copyright law so far.
KM: What writers would you recommended to an aspiring writer? Or what writers were influential to you when you first started out?
RZ: I make work from what I read, and it is a different constellation for each book. I don’t want to name names here because the list is always exclusionary. But I do name a lot of names in my books.
KM: What is the funniest moment that you've experienced as a writer or in the literary world?
RZ: The poetry world is unfortunately not that funny. It could do with a dose of levity.
KM: What are you working on now?
RZ: A book of poetry that looks at ongoing colonization in Canada, and a book of essays on philosophy and poetry and the poetics of witness.
RACHEL ZOLF'S MOST RECENT BOOK
Neighbour Procedure, Coach House Books, 2010
Description from Coach House Books:
Rachel Zolf’s powerful follow-up to the Trillium Award-winning Human Resources is a virtuoso polyvocal correspondence with the daily news, ancient scripture and contemporary theory that puts the ongoing conﬂict in Israel/Palestine ﬁrmly in the crosshairs. Plucked from a mineﬁeld of competing knowledges, media and public texts, Neighbour Procedure sees Zolf assemble an arsenal of poetic procedures and words borrowed from a cast of unlikely neighbours, including Mark Twain, Dadaist Marcel Janco, blogger-poet Ron Silliman and two women at the gym. The result is a dynamic constellation where humour and horror sit poised at the threshold of ethics and politics.
Rachel Zolf and Judith Butler read "Jews in Space" (from Neighbour Procedure)
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