The first time I came across a listing for the new Twin Cities-based reading series “Our Flow Is Hard” my reaction wasn’t too complicated: “I have to check that out.” Partly because of the witty and bold entendre in the collective’s name, but primarily because I knew it was a chance to witness a group of young poets developing into something new, something organic and public and interactive. I attended the first OFIH event (and wrote about it here), and my curiosity was only piqued: they do things a bit differently in OFIH, and the difference seems deliberate.
The five poets that comprise Our Flow is Hard—Chrissy Friedlander, Amelia Foster, Feng Sun Chen, Kristin Fitzsimmons, and Carrie Lorig—took some time to discuss what it takes to start a reading series, what OFIH aims to accomplish, and how the literary community in the Twin Cities influences those goals. Consistent with their one-for-all and all-for-poetry approach, OFIH answered these questions anonymously, and collectively, and unanimously…
Are there any local reading series(es) that you attend regularly? How did (or didn’t) the local reading scene inspire OUR FLOW IS HARD?
We’re influenced by a lot of different buttons, shapes, and cloth sizes—especially since there are five of us turning the gears in this thing. We are definitely influenced by the Twin Cities presence of Sarah Fox and John Colburn (of Spout Press), who are always hosting travelling poets and alerting us about such-and-such an event. A few of us got involved with a skyways reading this year through them: a bunch of local poets read pieces of Chris Martin’s poetry book Becoming Weather (Coffee House Press, 2011) in the skyways downtown. We also certainly admire MC Hyland (print maker extraordinaire) and the Pocket Lab Series, which has since deceased. We like what Lightsey Darst and Matt Mauch do around here. The Monsters of Poetry Reading Series in Madison, WI has been an influence, particularly in terms of the audiences they ALWAYS tend to have. There weren’t many distinctive poetry events outside of the UW in Madison and then BAM!, they suddenly started packing places full, full, full and with relatively large arrays of people. Some of us also saw this amazing reading at AWP in Chicago this year that just crushed all the other ones—a poetry reading that took place in the heavily grafitted alleyways and in the purple glowing bathrooms of a goth club on the Northside. (Swoons.)
Is this non-Twin Cites influence simply a result of the fact that you’re all coming from other places, or do you think there are practices in other literary cultures that we should adopt?
Some of us have been here for a while and some of us for less, and all of us have lived elsewhere. We wear lettermen jackets for this place, this city, but do we allow origin to affect/alter the weight we allow our influences to take within our process? No. That could be limiting. We don’t think the TC lack anything so much as we see that the space is available for us to try something. There’s lots of midwestern-style community feel here in the TC, despite it being a pretty big city, and lots of room for artists to be the kind of artists they want to be. That’s a rare combination. Also, are cities ever suffering from too many poetry reading series? Flow can’t really be controlled, nor would we aim to control our flow were it possible. Brita filters don’t work here, and we don’t mind being unexpectedly poisoned. Influence is dictated as much by direct seeking out as it is tripping and ending up in a greasy hole.
I really like the Midwest, and I think we have a very strong community of poetry that circulates through Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska. Poetry is great, in that, no one is very concerned about competing for “BEST POETRY IN AMERICA” or what have you. No East Coast vs. West Coast blah blah.
So when did you decide to start up a reading series? How long has OFIH been in the works?
At the fair in lower left hand Montana while looking at the wolf boy in 1922? In the middle of a whale stampede to warmer waters? At a noodle bar in the Roppogni neighborhood of Tokyo during the summer everyone bled gold and blue? It feels like we’ve been writing to each other for a long time. Our Flow is Hard, though, is a specific idea that has been a widening road in our conversations with each other since around last summer. At that time, it was a lot of “we should, we should.” This summer somehow we managed to get the balloon off the ground.
The “Inbogural” OFIH reading took place last month in June. How do you feel it went? Learn any lessons or anything you might want to change for future readings?
We think it went swimmingly. Or swampingly. We were all so pleasantly flushed by the end. The place was packed, the readers were great and there were dinosaurs and a dance party. We couldn’t have asked for much more. The inbogural reading was at a friend’s apartment and so the audience was somewhat fairly limited in that almost everyone there knew a reader or an organizer. Even though we had some great advertising prior to the reading, we knew the audience might be smaller—that “strangers” might feel uncomfortable ringing someone’s buzzer. Our next reading will provide the kind of landscape / atmospheric conditions that will bring more people bumping up against poetry. And we’ll take our caravan somewhere else for the reading after that and we think in this way, we’ll be able to cultivate many strains of poetic yogurts. This thing will morph and amoeba shimmy as we go along. It requires some patience, it requires some crash. We believe it’ll be good, though, that we’ll always be looking towards bringing in new kinds readers from here and here and coming across new locations here and here.
In your recent interview with L’etoile you talked briefly about the “in-your-face sanguinary moniker.” Because of this, the series seems to have a feminine/feminist slant—though half of the readers in your first event were male. How much does gender influence your mission with this series?
I’m not sure if we’re terribly concerned about gender, but we certainly have no tolerance for sexism or stagnation. “Feminism” is a broad term for us, and does not mean “woman-only,” though we would love to have more female readers all the time. Gender is grammatical. Grammar is annoying, conservative, and parallels the dichotomies in society that are unfair, meaningless, and boring, not to mention violent. In the whole, we’re more interested in queering poetry, or things that flow strangely in all kinds of broken grammar, that tap from alternative, potentially magical sources of power.
This series celebrates poetry pretty exclusively. Any leeway in terms of genre?
We like to think of poetry not so much as Poetry (with a stiff capital P) but rather as the point of artistic collision where electrons rub up against each other and make convectional magic. We appreciate and encourage cross-pollination. We remember our Punnett Squares from biology class and know that a work’s genotype may not resemble its observed phenotype. That being said, we gravitate more towards work that experiments without making claims of the dominance of one method (or certain methods) over another, especially when such methods have already demonstrated their dominance in the literary / political / academic world.
If you could describe your ideal MPLS/SP reading event, what would it be like? Where would it be, how well-attended and by whom?
We hesitate to settle on what the ideal is because “flow” is a purposeful bit of word choice on our part. We’re floppy and flexible. We’re into reaching out of the water and incorporating other air and animals into ourselves. There are so many places that are the best place on Earth. Ideally, we want places that are comfortable and spark people’s curiosities. We want venues that are invested in the well-being of the neighborhoods they live in. Dark and light places, stone and carpeted places. Art galleries, bars, abandoned spaces, green spaces. Whatever feels right. Maybe somewhere with delicious corn tamales for free and weird rock formations and a free bourbon spigot and spotted ponies that speak poems in their manes and hooves? Ha. As far as who and how many…anyone who thinks they might want to be next to us. We hope, as word of mouth travels however it does, we might get people of different age and food preference and sleep pattern and running form. We would love for any person who heard about our outfit to feel like they could come and try it on. We would like numbers to grow thattaway. Wouldn’t seventy be powerful? But variation there is okay, too, because sometimes small and close is just what happens, just like big and sweaty.
What’s next for OFIH? Another reading lined up? Who, when, and where?
We are whispering with Whole Beast Rag about doing a collaborative party / reading in September. In the meantime, though, we will be collaborating with a radically cool art gallery in Northeast called Tarnish and Gold on a reading at the end of July (this saturday, July 28th) called “The Rustic Volcano Reading,” about which you can read more here!