Monday, May 24, 2010

Interview with Poet Stephanie Young Editor of Deep Oakland the Mills College Archival Project

Stephanie Young of the Deep Oakland website and archival project responded generously to my questions about archives, community, and the problematics of representing a sense of place. Firstly, the archival quality of Deep Oakland provides viewers with a variety of access points through which to find projects such as from geographic location/neighborhood, name, medium, etc. The detailed attention to archiving allows viewers to appreciate a wide range of photographs, text and chapbooks. A highly successful application of Young’s efforts is the scanning page by page of TAXT chapbooks allowing for the materiality of the text projects emerging from Oakland, CA to be preserved and accessed internationally.

An map of the Oakland is the homepage. The viewer returns again and again to the image of the neighborhoods, and, by rolling their cursor over specific neighborhood’s, projects from each are listed. The viewer enters the site from the visual and physical representation of the geographic factors of the community. According to Young, the goal of the Deep Oakland Mill’s College archival project is to generate dialogue “among groups of folks who enter the site sharing and some overlapping sets of interests.” While she is working to further develop and “facilitate more viewer participation,” Young is excited about the diversity of the poetry texts, “Deep Oakland Literary Objects” which is a recent reading, and Dan Thomas Glass’s project “880.” A reader may go to the Deep Oakland site for a specific poet’s chapbook and then find work from the women’s press collective, for example. This joining of disparate poetry groups also occurred at the recent reading, “Deep Oakland Literary Objects.” The reader’s ranged from Barbara Jane Reyes to Adam Cornford and Young says that “as someone who attends a lot of poetry readings in the bay area…I was enormously excited to see how this Deep Oakland reading operated totally outside of any one given scene. The crowd felt all over the place. I knew a small group of people there but there were many I had never met. Suddenly it felt like there was a conversation across social groups and poetries and scenes.” Young goes on to explain that the readers found common ground in “concerns about place, language,” and the representation of place. Just as the poetry reading gave a physical space for various poetry scenes to interact, converse and overlap, the Deep Oakland website aims to give a space for the art being created in Oakland to be archived and therefore a physical space for the viewer to go to experience the variety of work coming out of Oakland. Dan Thomas Glass’s “880” “physicalizes or performs or unsettles the way we experience place. These images are loaded randomly onto the main photo page and therefore it is highly unlikely that any one viewer will ever view each picture in the same context twice. That is to say that each photo is randomly sorted so that every time you click on an image the photos are rearranged and thus viewer in an alternate context. This speaks to the ways in which Deep Oakland is showing the physical space while also pointing to the constant evolution of place through community intervention.

In my two-part interview with Young, we also touched upon the problematics of representing a sense of place. Just as Glass’s randomized image collisions evidence, the evolution of place can not be simply linked to the neighborhood names. The privileged position of declaring a name of a place terrifies Young and she is in constant conversation with co-editors and interested participants on how to investigate and trouble the site’s use of neighborhood names. One idea may be to use street corners rather than names, or have several names, or the history of a specific locations past, present and potential future names. Another representational problem of which Young is acutely aware is the ways in which it is very easy to fall into a booster mindset. In a conversation with Brad Flis, a poet living in Detroit, they discussed the importance of place being “saved from the stories that get constructed around it.” Young is “interested in work that thinks critically about constructions of place, and investigates oppositional or hidden narratives to those constructions.” Since discussion and representation of place is never neutral, multiple modalities of representations are very useful in achieving the site’s central mission, without over simplifying, or creating a pep rally for Oakland, CA.

Stephanie Young is a talented poet in her own right; she generously shared her talents by engaging each and every one of my questions and answering generously.