Aaron Pinnix on Non-Spaces & Magic Realism in Poetry
Q & A with Aaron Pinnix and editor Joanna C. Valente
JV: Let’s forget poetry for a second. What else are you obsessed with? What would be a perfect day for you?
AP: My perfect day (cue Reed) starts with a latte, reading my most recent S.P.D. purchase, packing book and Adventure Beer in my bag, and setting off on a bike ride toward the various forts and forgotten places of NYC. This city is so layered with simultaneous histories and experiences, this neat abandonment, recycling and reoccupation of spaces. - Floyd Bennett Field, Staten Island and Sandy Hook, NJ are personal favorites.
My obsession? I’m really interested in interstitial or “non”-spaces. Places where use value is ambiguous or varied. For instance cemeteries: In the Victorian era cemeteries were romanticized and used as a place where families would have weekend picnics. Now they are generally ignored, many falling into a disrepair which only adds to their beauty. They still operate though as a sort of pastoral environment and sanctuary for birds and animals, thus are full of life. Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” is another good example of re-utilizing an abandoned space, here in order to make important claims about race, capitalist production, even gentrification. Of course one could argue that an interest in interstitial spaces, or spaces with ambiguous or complicated use value, also relates to poetry, which often operates within and between ambiguities.
How do you think magical realism lends itself to poetry?
I think magical realism (and science fiction, and utopic and dystopic literatures) point towards already existent latent, yet excised, alternatives within our own experiences. This ability to envision something in addition to (not infrequently capitalist based) models of reality allows for an ingression of new possibilities. As Derrida claims “The im- of the im-possible is indeed radical, implacable, undeniable. But it is not simply negative or dialectical: it introduces the possible.” (Within Such Limits, 361). Again, getting back to the ambiguities of poetry, poetry has this unique ability to introduce the possible. Magical realism is but one word/path for this.
Who are some of your favorite writers right now?
Heriberto Yépez’s The Empire of Neomemory is my jam right now. I’ve also been enjoying Lila Zemborain’s mauve sea-orchids, the work of Nicole Brossard, Bei Dao, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and Ladelle McWhorter’s Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America. Also, and always, the work of my friends, for instance Sarah Cook’s writing has been blowing me away lately.
What makes you uncomfortable?
Actually misogyny: I see so much gender based prejudice directed towards women here in New York City, at all levels- It’s pretty gross. Publicly (or privately) objectifying half the population, and then subjecting them to your fantasy, is a demeaning move for all involved. Uncomfortable may not be the right word. Disappointed in ourselves as a species may be more correct.
You’ve lived in so many different places. What were the poetry communities like? Do you prefer living in New York City? It’s funny to me, as poets, many of us choose to live in one of the roughest cities. Poets tend to be much more sensitive, and yet we put ourselves in a place unfit for us. Why is this?
I have complicated feelings about NYC, which is, I think, apt. I can say Frank O’Hara’s “Meditations in an Emergency” makes a lot more sense since moving here. Personally, while spending a lot of time in it, I often travel to some of the quieter places surrounding it (and within it). So NYC maybe means something different to me than to others. For me, it means taking the subway down to Jamaica Bay to see horseshoe crabs, or biking along the Staten Island seashore, as much as it does going to the MET or Broadway or poetry readings. And while poets may be “sensitive,” I think we’re also very curious. This means that a space as complicated and multivalent as NYC offers infinite possibilities for exploration and incursions, incursions which in turn prompt our own ruminations and writing. Like all people, poets crave stimulus, and NYC offers that in excess. We only must be sure to provide ourselves with the space and time to write (a required luxury).
Another thing I really like about NYC is its polyvocality. There are so many different modes and forms of expression.
This is not to gloss over NYC’s issues. For instance it’s so dirty! But I also enjoy watching rats on the subway tracks. Urban Pastoralism.
Various places all have their own issues. For instance, I am in some ways “unfit” for living in Alabama. Maine, while beautiful, is sparse (Oh! to have a coffee shop nearby). Ultimately though, my preference for where I abode is in direct relation to sharing space and time with my partner.
Listen to Aaron read :
Editor's Note: This appeared in a previous issue.
Aaron Pinnix is a graduate student of Fordham University’s English PhD program. Originally of Alabama, formerly of Montreal & Maine, he now hangs his hat in NYC. As a writer who’s fond of dystopias and magical realism, NYC is an ideal location for inspiration. His writing can be found in various places such as Horse Less Press’s special issue on typewritten poetry, ‘Carriage Return,’ the journal ‘Radical Philosophy Review,’ ‘The New Quarterly,’ and ‘Stolen Island.’
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (Operating System, 2017), Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, BUST, Spork Press, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente