Looking Up Harryette Mullen: Interviews on Sleeping with the Dictionary and Other Works by Barbara Henning
(Belladonna Books, Brooklyn, 2011)
I have a special interest in interviews with poets. A special interest in interviews of substance and depth. Looking Up Harryette Mullen is right in my sweet spot.
As Juliana Spahr points out in her excellent contextualizing introduction, “Looking up Harryette Mullen is a friendship-based explication of Mullen’s work.” In the first of the book’s two sections, “Snail Mail: From Coast to Coast,” Henning and Mullen exchange postcards and letters concerning Trimmings (Tender Buttons, 1991) and Muse & Drudge (Singing Horse, 1995) The second section, “From A-Z: Conversations on Sleeping with the Dictionary,” goes through Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California, 2002) from beginning to end, discussing each poem in the order in which it appears.
What emerges in this rich volume is a braided portrayal of Mullen’s methods of working, her historical and political insights, her generosity and humor—and much, much more.
Mullen is a fascinating figure of new writing. Frequently using anaphora, Oulipo procedures, lists, puns , and collage techniques, she is, as she says, “asking the reader to trust me as a human being who is not trying to trick you, and as a poet who might break the normal rules of discourse to find other ways of making sense.” (103)
Tom Beckett curates the ASK/TELL Blog which focuses on interviews and conversations.