in Conversation with
Vi Khi Nao
Jessica Baer received their MFA from Brown University in 2017. Their work has been featured in Prelude Mag, Bone Bouquet, Pinwheel, Horse Less Journal, and other journals. Their chapbook, Holodeck One (2017), was published by Magic Helicopter Press. They love horses and live anywhere. In this interview, Jessica Baer talks about their Windy City, their Midwestern Infinity Doctrine, their beavertail beach self, their nonexistent umbrella, their eviscerating ecstasy. Please read our interview and their magnificent excerpt that led to this esoteric interview.
Vi Khi Nao: I appreciate your flexibility. How are you?
Jessica Baer: I’m feeling slushy, how are you!?
VKN: Slushy? Like cold and wet? Like a cocktail with rum?
JB: Slushy like runoff ice water sludge in Chicago, hehe, maybe a little rum.
VKN: I have never interviewed someone semi-rum(my)? before so thank you for giving me an opportunity to be a little bit buzzed. Speaking of buzzness (is that even a word?), your prose reads to me like a motorcycle swerving in and out of European cities indeterminately. How do you describe how words exit your consciousness onto the page? Do they move like a motorbike? Or something else entirely?
JB: Haha. Thank you so much for that beautiful image. Sometimes when I feel dislocated in spacetime, I find myself running up alley stairways in the Balkans but I never realized I was on a motorcycle until now. When I write I think of fluid dynamics, so like the eddies and suspensions of silt in a river and the breathless vertigo of the grace of being able to speak with myself fluently. I also definitely try to remain in proximity to death, like a stunt worker driving a motor bike.
VKN: Should your readers wear protective helmets or latex gloves when they read your work? What clothes should they wear when they open your prose?
JB: A hazmat suit would be sufficient, but better yet, an antique cosmonaut suit with an old diving helmet. Sometimes the air gets sucked out of the room of my body, is given to the movement of the piece and I want my reader and me to have a cosmic tether while we submerse and cyclically resurface. I wonder if the cosmonaut tether is tied to anything at all.
VKN: Cyclically resurface? Cyclically resurface makes me think of bicycle wheels drowning in ice, thawing out by spring, and then resurfacing for the summer seasons. Partly deflated, but ready to spin again if someone has the courage to re-pump.
JB: I like the quirkiness of this indomitable bicycle. If consciousness spins like a wheel then sometimes when you're moving fast, skids must be inevitable. I wonder if the bicycle ever changes positions or if it’s spinning in place, posthumous and subject to the mediation of the seasons. By cyclical resurfacing I think I’m describing sublimation, like the spaces where everything coheres and cocontaminates together so that it can be transformed. I think this piece passes through turbulence but is wrought into something that exceeds it.
VKN: How long did it take you to write the experimental piece “Mother Issues”? And where did you write it? Was it in sea-induced Providence or pre-slushy Chicago?
JB: That piece was written in feverish bursts of painful energy across about eight months in Chicago. I was intermittently soft homeless, so falling through space, so perpetually redefining and then losing the possibility of domesticity. For much of the time I was living in a diy space in Chicago converted from a gutted grocery store into a sort of curioso type open floor plan filled with Hammond organs, skeletons, and music equipment. It was also written in the vacillating sometimes painful interference zones of interpersonal intimacy.
VKN: I am sorry to hear the pain you endured. Livelihood hardship is one of the most terrifying conditions to exist in psychologically and physically. It’s a kind of unspoken torture and it seems endless. It warps our relationship to humanity and makes survival a perversity and not an adversity worthy of conquering. I understand and know what you mean. How were you able to shift out of it? What changed? What is your recent residence like now? Are you happy with your roof?
JB: Thank you for your very kind response; this is why I have so much difficulty with Bachelard’s poetics of space—it posits, like, a universalized unconsciousness of space defined without dispossession. I’ve spent my entire life rapidly transitioning between locations and I think this informs my work. Dislocation is a major issue for so many people and it’s important not to stigmatize the person who experiences its effects. I have privilege still in the spaces I’ve been given that might be wrested from others. I’m certainly still tempering my resultantly engrained wanderlust but for the next few months, am settled in a brick house in north Chicago. I think that my sense of temporality in my writing is reciprocally shaped by the velocity of my personal movements.
VKN: Would you like to accelerate the force of your velocity? What kind of temporality would you most desire for your work? What is the perfect piece of writing that doesn’t hope to take the shape of a tornado? Your thesis adviser, Carole Maso, talks about vortices in her classes a lot. Do you share her vision of vortices? And, what is your relationship to them, if any?
JB: I’m actually trying to paradoxically dilate and crystallize time because I am afraid of it, so I want to collect it in the ground and slow it down like amber. I think of pain as magnetic remanence that might shape a durable pattern in the materials we have. Often I feel a piece is finished only once I’ve reached the resonant frequency of my own body. If I set a vortex into motion, I would sound its eye.
VKN: What are you working on now, Jessica? Can you describe your project to us a little? Are you working on a novel? A poetry collection?
JB: I’m working on a piece called “Midwestern Infinity Doctrine” which is a psychogeographical study of the relationship between the flatness of the Midwest and different articulations of infinity, shifting between macro and microcosmic infinities. It’s about time and UFOs and conspiracy theories, sanctioned and unsanctioned knowledge, rhetorical paradigms, interpersonal violence, and what constitutes a “plausible” self. It shifts between numbers station broadcasts, manifestos, and auto fiction. I want it to be like a haunted radio for the drowning.
VKN: Your MID sounds majestic and scientifically enigmatic. We are in different geographical radio stations, transmitting rhetorical materials that look like an interview. Speaking of the Midwest—I am in Brooklyn right now and you are in the Windy City. I hope by conversing with a soul sitting in a red-curtained bedroom in Brooklyn doesn’t deform or skew your infinity doctrine. What was your experience in Providence like? Did you love it? I love its easy access to the ocean.
JB: What’s it like in Brooklyn right now? How does the weather feel inside you? When we met, we all talked about visiting the coastline. I like to pause before impossibly large elements. I constantly drove to Beavertail beach to find an immensity capable of more-than holding my feelings. I thought pvd was like the movie The Fog and I was Adrienne Barbeau in the lighthouse watching out for the flash of an ice pick through the mist. So, complicated impressions, haha.
I love this interview because right now I get to interact with you like a phantom typewriter. Infinity is definitely lurking behind the red curtain; you can find it mostly anywhere, I like to think.
VKN: Brooklyn is chilly, and so un-rumlike. I took three train stops and the weather inside me is tropical. I am a pineapple that has been roasting too long on a space heater, so to speak, though there is no space heater in this room. There is St. Germain inside me too, not the sofa but the elderflowers. What is inside you? I hope a bookcase or two and a fancy, silver wastebasket. I love wastebaskets. I am addicted to them the way one gets addicted to lollipops.
JB: My wastebasket is certainly unlined and small objects pass easily through. Thank you so much for transmitting your rich vitamin c to Chicago! In Mississippi, as a child, I would receive lollipops through what I called a spacetube at the bank, that peristaltic plastic tube that sucks up ur personal checks and delivers candy. How do you feel about banks with tubes? Did you ever go to the dive bar on Jewel Street in Providence with the juke boxes?
VKN: I love taking large and small bills to outer space. I think money is a better time and space traveler than Doritos. I think I may have given the bank tellers some by accident. I think so, yes. I didn’t dive very much and I didn’t bring any gold bars to the bar. I am not very good at listening to American music, Jessica. You must miss Providence very much? Did you ever walk on Wickenden? I used to live on that street.
JB: I used to chainsmoke in an alley off Wickenden and read Bataille a lot. I am so self-similar despite (because of) my viscousness. Oh wait! Also I was obsessed with the neon sign for the aquarium supply store on Wickendon which perfectly evokes slushiness. I took pictures of it everyeveryday. Have you ever taken a photograph of the same object repetitively and systematically over the course of time?
You really have to keep multiple denominations with you when you’re performing space travel. I miss everywhere; I’m a nostalgia machine, woof. Let me know if you need me to go get those Doritos back for you.
VKN: How many umbrellas do you own?
JB: 0. I have to borrow them. My car possesses two but it’s practically its own autonomous entity now, maybe my most enduring relationship. How many do you own and what color?
VKN: I own 1 beautiful armpit-held canopy, gifted to me by fiction writer Ali Raz. It is yellow and egg-colored and slightly psychedelic. Like most umbrellas, it’s inefficient—like it was designed for humans to frighten the rain or entertain the clouds or something and not to clothe our clothes from the rain, but I love it because it was gifted with thoughtfulness. This leads me to ask: what is your favorite piece of writing you’ve written? What do you love about it? And, has your writing ever clothed you from snow? From slushiness? From infrared light? From solar radiation? From indeterminate discourse with Foucault?
JB: That sounds like a beautiful gift and I hope that you have spooked the rain consummately. I want the record to show that I lol’d at being clothed from indeterminate Foucault discourses—what force could possibly protect us from him. Can I ask if you have a favorite book you’ve written? My favorite thing I’ve ever written is a poem called “Foreclosure Rodeo” which features many repressions which are done and undone by volcanic lava horses. Do you think writing can be protective or that it’s a conceit like an umbrella, or that the answer is both/and? I work through antiphasis a lot now so it’s hard to see writing as a stabilizing structure because I think as soon as I build something I unbuild it again? However I want as much infrared light to come in as possible.
VKN: My favorite is the one on its way to being born. I don’t think writing can protect anyone from anything. I used to think it could—that its gravitational center leaps outward and places you inside of a period, for X amount of time, and when the paragraphs walk away to take a shower or use the bathroom to leak, it sneaks back out to end a run-on sentence or two. I think writing, in this sense, is really lame. But practical. How do I stop my students from being writers, Jessica? What did you love about “Foreclosure rodeo?”—love those two words as a couple that shouldn’t ever get divorced. Please don’t divorce them even if you find excellent lawyers for them. All of those “e’s” and “o’s” in such tight vowel-inducing space and the “r’s” to disrupt them. Where did you write it? And, when? Were you young?
JB: I just saw Kim Hyesoon read in Chicago, which was a devastating eviscerating ecstasy, and I asked her about the sort of impossible geometries I think she animates in her work, where infinity hides in the corners (Derrida is digging it out) and the contamination between inside and outside, and she mentioned the eye as I think an interface that problematizes the in/out determination in a beautiful way, as well as her hope that the field of vision women are trapped in by reciprocating eyes will open and expand through her poetry. Like Alice in Wonderland style but much better than Carroll, I hope that writing will cause us to fall through portals that never cease opening out, which is not safe but unsafe and trans-safe. I want all bb students to be writers because I am gauche and sentimental. I want the erotics of confused diary entries and excessive revelation. I wrote it when I was a dreamy 20-something swimming in a pool of soupy infatuation. I like the idea of writing inserting pauses where you can rest from the world—a caesura to end time.
VKN: Your description of Hyesoon makes me want to read her—“eviscerating ecstasy.” How gauche are you?
JB: I know you’re not finished writing this question but omg South Bend. Gauche enough that I spend a lot of time in Hammond IN. (You can even dock your boat at the Hammond Horseshoe Casino on the lake).
VKN: Do you think writers should wear bras? I think writers, because they write, should be excused from this formal mundanity.
JB: I am so glad you asked this because I would like to celebrate the fact that I haven’t owned a bra in a decade. I don’t think I could even remember how to clasp it at this point and I think that this is what is right.
Here's the excerpt:
My abilities were bleeding
This gearshift linguistics as Blanche Dubois spins her web and Telemachus eyes the suitors all things come to suspension. I reside here with my ambivalence as the propulsive force of the sumptuary absence which animates my line, dangled to catch what? Until we catch the light, her haunted music, and I want magic—to be revisited by the language of the sphere’s harmonies. The felt revolution which unties the thread to perforate my speaking throughout-time.
I will myself forwards into the slipstream rendering a chasm between my feeling self and the desire to say it is texture. This antinomy does not resolve it does provide decoys in the form of internal tensions perceived as absolute ends I refuse my own promises. Once one was to love to love dearly and truly and absolutely, my own polestar and to guide be guided by light I lay down my instrument having woven the tune from which I can imagine no escape. This lingering marrow leaks out fulfilling my absence in the root of my being, to be weeded interminably struck out and erased radically from the ledger of all botany. I dismember myself because forgetting is a caesura. The mythics of an endless sentence and its intervals deployed ludically, without remorse. If it was an imposture to supersede myself in secession to the chase itself, then I am a counterfeit symbol, lay it to rest.
He hides in the orchard, removing his face from my vision like sloughing a mask. I find the porcelain artifice of his betrayal strung against the tree bark, where all masks cast down light and I castigated beneath its unseeing vision. It replicates interminably.
Here is the architecture for the artifice you were sewing and molding, kneaded with hands, the pressure lingers in the material: a dull heat throbs. As necromantics refrain from the living we cascade like water simply dazzling and without recourse to scission I carry my wound at my side, its hemorrhage makes the stakes made of our passing through each other, relinquished its autumn which dawn wound began. Dehiscence splinters the parcels where you packaged your fruiting, effloresce, its nimble occupation to fulfill the destiny of all plant’s nature, raggedly divulging the seeds of its wreckage to the impartial observer who held heaven with his shoulder. Staggering dust stirred throughout the vista. Did I summon him here? To look down.
All masks are their own desideratum to look out, and this contracts with infinity whose hilt I applied to your sign and the contours forgiven with my fingers parsing silences that rounded the gate, to chase quixotically from the crushed music of pastures. Its wreckage surmounted me where I watched the passing of light upon the ruins of a world that forgot me before I began to molder.
I came here to rust, I tell you with my gesture. It’s slower than patina, slower than the creeps of our own gardened delirium. How do I honor the dead who speak through my hearing them.
It was never yours? This injunction to compose it is music.
& we were dawn’s last word.
The radiation turns inwards toward the core dragged bed sky tug your claws out from me. Ousted in time’s jostling tracks. Shunted with Triassic chronology between us, escapes. Granular knowing your exit exit reason. Strategic deployments of mythology to luster through time. Scoured in the interior surfaces without losing reception. The cloud buzzed with cloud thoughts, overdrawn at the memory banks.
I wake up in the stall between times, in another ether body. On the table looking up eyes could not escape from mine. My mother says no, fractals. You were untethered when you spread your legs beneath space. The thermal pressure encodes when the crust reveals your secret weather. Its secret brain
You drag your memory out of me like an enclosed space for time capsules buried in the ground. We built a genital monstrosity out of earth. Shaft of dark antimatter and the revolving's soundless.
It’s so hard to keep going once you’ve left the continental shelves behind you must speak from the top of your head, cortices scramble for it, and click your heels once not again. You’re trying to freeze time and this doesn’t make you prehistoric, molasses, the screamcrushed insect means what? Your segments—busted.
Cleave to god cleave to rage cleave to rhythms in yr body Kristeva says I wreck ostracized death by turning. Swerves inside the body, dendrites bang to. The living around persona, in absentia, in a cigarette. You mashed your hand trying to.
I know you love me you sonofabitch just look at all these circles on your arm terminate in mud you burned holes through to dig your way out back in dirt. I ask you another question.
How long have I been waiting. To hear it ricochets echoes disclose nothingofthemselves. I have to creak, floor boards be reburied in earth, the tremors were subsiding mountains between you.
You came once if you ever came, come again and we all fall away.
The ladder stretches into in visibility, octaves lapse in the root, of what you were when vanishing.