PW: While Descent of Alette seems concerned with poetic elements of fantasy rather than the details of life, Mysteries of Small Houses seems to go the other way, being largely autobiographical and directed toward social commentary. Disobedience combines the two. How do you view these books in relation to each other?
AN: When I began Disobedience, I wanted to see if I could combine all of the elements of my previous work into one work—that is, autobiography as daily commentary and daily involvement in politics (I mean politics by virtue of one's being oneself, and part of the world), along with fictional narrative, with characters, and fantasy and dream. So I see Disobedience as an outgrowth of Mysteries and Alette, and my earlier work, too. But I wrote Mysteries, and I guess also Alette, reactively: Mysteries reacts to the prohibition against the use of "I" that was so prevalent in the '80s and early '90s [avant-garde], Alette reacts against the prohibition against the use of continuous narrative in poetry. Disobedience reacts against everything, and is concerned with breaking down barriers, for example, the barriers that separate waking consciousness and dream consciousness, the barriers that separate narratives of real life, fictional narratives and dream accounts as genres.
PW: The long poem has been a central concern to American poets from Pound to Olson, but recently it seems to be a larger concern to women writers—Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, Lyn Hejinian, to name a few. Is your interest in it fueled by a need to redress a sort of hegemony of the form by male writers?
AN: I love to write long poems, to be utterly involved in a particular poem as a way of living a life. My initial interest in the long poem stems from the fact that I like to read long poems, but prefer as simple reading matter Chaucer, Dante, Homer etc., not the works of the Modernists. Though I've learned a lot from Olson and Williams for example, I've never sat around just reading their long poems. So Alette seeks to return the story to the long poem, and Disobedience goes for a slightly different kind of entertainment. The story isn't "hard"—by which I mean it isn't in clear relief, but there are fast-talking characters and a rapid, witty movement to the poem that push it forward in a way similar to that of a hard narrative line. But yes, my interest in the long poem also has to do with taking it away from men, though two of my favorite long works are Inanna's Descent into the Underworld—a Sumerian epic peopled mostly by goddesses—and Christine de Pizan's The City of Women, La Cité des Dames, so I also feel the pressure of a feminized tradition.
PW: How would you describe the book's "disobedience"—what are you disobeying?
AN: One is told constantly by anyone and everyone what is true and how to behave. Every transaction you have is founded on assumptions: what to say, how to dress, what a city is, a sex is, a human, the superiority of the human world over the animal and vegetal world, the rightness of whatever religion or atheism or philosophy or psychology is handy, the existence and superiority of American democracy, etc. Any other person represents pressure to be a certain way. One is left with oneself, then there is no one else thinking. One thinks, two together don't think. That is my disobedience, and the religious or spiritual solution I offer at the end is a religion of one, one in one's closet meditating in one's own way.