Virtual Memories Show 423:
Leslie Stein

With her latest graphic memoir, I Know You Rider (Drawn & Quarterly), Leslie Stein reveals a piece of her life that she’d never shared with anyone: her decision to have an abortion. We talk about why she chose to tell that story, how her family reacted to the book, why she told the story in a direct, unmediated narrative, what it was like to have the book come out in the early days of the pandemic, and her one regret about the experience itself. We get into her pandemic life, and why her new comic (currently being serialized on her Instagram) portrays the exact opposite: touring the country in a van with a band and playing music in crowded bars. We also discuss her dream-book of a history of Green-Wood Cemetery, what it’s like to treat your life as content, and the one project that keeps making her run away into other projects. Give it a listen! And go read I Know You Rider!

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Leslie Stein is the cartoonist of the LA Times Book Prize Award-winning Present, as well as Bright-Eyed At Midnight and the Eye of the Majestic Creature series. Her diary comics have been featured in The New Yorker, Vice, and in the Best American Comics anthology. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Her new book is I Know You Rider, from Drawn & Quarterly.

Follow Leslie on Instagram (she’s serializing new comics there!).

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Leslie by Don Stahl.

Virtual Memories Show 422:
Anahid Nersessian

“I’ve never had a period of separation from Keats, like I’ve had with other authors or bands that I love.”

Let’s commemorate the 200th anniversary of John Keats’ untimely death with a conversation with Anahid Nersessian, author of Keats’ Odes: A Lover’s Discourse (University of Chicago). We get into how she read Keats’ letters to Fanny Brawne at WAY too young an age, how she’s lived with his poems since childhood and how they’ve changed for her over the years, and why it kills her that no one has disinterred Fanny’s final letters to Keats (which he never read and are buried with him). We talk about her relationship to the western canon, the implicit (and explicit) sexual violence of Ode on a Grecian Urn, her harassment by a Latin teacher in high school and how it affected her career path, Keats’ radicalist, proto-Marxist tones and the benefits of reading The Communist Manifesto in funny voices as a 7th grader. We also discuss what it’s like to have a couple of strict old-school Freudians for parents, why she doesn’t have time for social media (and why she didn’t go overboard integrating her personal experiences into the book), the thread of Keats’ Odes that has led to her next book on the Cato Street Conspiracy, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Keats’ Odes: A Lover’s Discourse!

“Keats and Marx share a horizon or an ambition for human beings, a horizon of freedom realized in social life.”

“For the personal material in the book, I told myself I wouldn’t self-censor, if something came up that seemed relevant to a particular poem or to an understanding of Keats’ life, but I also wouldn’t push myself to be more explicit about aspects of my life.”

“In the Romantic period, things were intensely partisan and politicized. We think that our public world of the arts is politicized, but you should’ve seen the Regency period.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Anahid Nersessian was born and raised in New York City. She attended Yale University as an undergraduate and got her Ph.D in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. After spending three years at Columbia University, she moved to Los Angeles, where she currently teaches in the English Department at UCLA on the unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples. She is the author of three books, Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse (Chicago, 2021), The Calamity Form: On Poetry and Social Life (Chicago, 2020), and Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment (Harvard, 2015), and has published widely in top scholarly journals as well as in the Los Angeles Review of Books and Public Books. She also founded and co-edits the Thinking Literature series at the University of Chicago Press.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Anahid by someone else. It’s on my instagram. Portrait of Keats by William Hilton.

Virtual Memories Show 420:
John Porcellino

“I’m very content with my little corner of the world. I started this ‘zine when I was 20 years old, it’s become my life’s work, it’s allowed me to meet and interact with the most amazing people on the planet, it’s allowed me to share my thoughts and experiences with people, and that’s pretty great.”

With Drawn & Quarterly publishing new editions of King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, and Perfect Example, what better time for John Porcellino to return to the podcast? We talk about how King-Cat Comics & Stories has evolved over the ~30 years (!) he’s been making it, how the refinement of his art and storytelling mirrors the battle of intuition vs. OCD, and how his newest comics (even those written before 2020) reflect life during the pandemic. We get into how Buddhism has helped him cope with life and aging, his lurking concern that he has an expiration date, what he wants to accomplish before then, and what it means to publish issue #80 and to look at reaching #100. We also discuss the joyfully awful band Flipper and what it’s like being Flipper for aspiring storytellers, the example Lynda Barry set for him, the influence John has had on my stories in recent years, his joy at seeing his name drawn by Robert Crumb, and why his new dog Arlo is A Good Boy even when he barks during podcasts. Give it a listen! And go read King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, and the latest King-Cat!

“There are two different things that happen to us in life. I think it’s a little harder to face the long, slow decline. From a Buddhist perspective, all life is change, and one of the major sources of suffering is trying to hold onto things.”

“OCD is a disease of doubt. It casts doubt on everything in life. It became tricky to separate the artistic process of making comics with this mental illness.”

“In the last 3-4 issues, I’ve gotten to the point where the spontaneity is present again, but I’ve got it on the fishing line, more conscious control over what I’m doing.”

“Crumb drew my name for a cover of Mineshaft, and I had this moments of, ‘I guess I can die happy now, because Robert Crumb took a pen to paper and inscribed my name on a piece of art.'”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

John Porcellino was born in Chicago, IL, in 1968. He wrote and photocopied his first zine in 1982, at the age of fourteen. In 1989, Porcellino began writing his celebrated King-Cat mini-comic series, which has been ongoing for more than thirty years, winning acclaim from Time, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Punk Planet, and the Globe & Mail. His work in King-Cat has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.

He is the author of Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, Thoreau at Walden, and The Hospital Suite. He lives in Beloit, WI, with his wife and two cats and two dogs, and continues to produce new issues of King-Cat on a regular basis.

Follow John on Twitter and Instagram, and support his work via Patreon and listen to our 2014 podcast.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of John & Arlo by him. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 418:
Sven Birkerts

“Rather than try to think of a book to write about, why don’t I try to think about where I am in the world, in my life, and my preoccupations, and see if an author announces him- or herself?”

Is it unhip to search for a meaningful pattern in life? Sven Birkerts rejoins the show to talk about his new book, Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked (IG Publishing), which explores time, memory, and those aforementioned meaningful patterns. We get into Sven’s history with Nabokov’s memoir, his own impulse toward memoir as he approached 50, and the challenge of writing about someone whose prose is as incandescent as Nabokov’s. We talk about larger questions of literary greatness, the nature of individuality in an age of distributed social networks, whether Nabokov’s best-known book will survive, and what other books and authors have become “unsafe” for undergrad readers. We also gab about packing one’s library, finding the perfect notebook, and what the post-pandemic world may look like. Give it a listen! And go read Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked!

“Rather than try to think of a book to write about, why don’t I try to think about where I am in the world, in my life, and my preoccupations, and see if an author announces him- or herself?”

“If you start to press down on Nabokov’s prose, that really begins to reveal that it’s not just, ‘Oh, that’s a nice sentence,’ but the sentence has an architecture, that many things come together to give it form and create that response.”

“Approaching 50, I isolated a very specific image that captured the impulse to memoir. Things no longer happened singly, for themselves; they resonated against things in the past. . . . Approaching 70, I’m more interested in memory, but I’m hardly interested in anything that happened after 50.”

“I believe if you find the absolute right paper and notebook, and pen, anyone can become Tolstoy. It’s just a matter of those two things.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Sven Birkerts has been co-editor of the literary magazine AGNI since July 2002. Among his previous books are Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age; The Other Walk; Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again; Reading Life: Books for the Ages; American Energies: Essays on Fiction; The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age; Readings; and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time. He was winner of the Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle and the Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award from PEN for the best book of essays. He was the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars from 2007-2017 and has been a member of the core faculty since its founding in 1994. His new book is Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked.

Follow Sven on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Sven by Mara Birkerts, photo of typerwriter & such by Sven. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 417:
Mark Wunderlich

“Is poetry a place where you want to be restrained, or is a poem where you actually get to exercise some freedom?”

A series of deaths and personal losses in 2018 hang over Mark Wunderlich‘s poems in his new collection, God of Nothingness (Graywolf Press). We talk about that writing, how living through it unwittingly prepared him for the past year in Pandemia, and how the current situation compares with his arrival in NYC at the height of AIDS. We get into the uses of autobiography in poetry (his editor refers to his poems as “fiercely autobiographical”), Mark’s queerness being tied to his poetic-self, the inspiration of James Merrill and his mentorship by JD McClatchy, the notion of a poem as a created environment permitting freedom, why his poems go from longhand to typewriter to computer, his experience conducting a Rilke course by snail-mail in 2020, his pandemic-adjustments as director of the Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program, and more. Give it a listen! And go read God of Nothingness !

“The thing that I love about poems is that they felt like worlds I could enter into. Reading a poem like Rilke’s First Elegy is like going into a house and knowing where everything is. They seem so alive still, but speak about things that are eternal.”

“It’s hard for me to think of any writing as being anything other than some sort of fiction. When we’re constructing a version of ourselves in print, how can the first person pronouns stand in as a representative of selfhood, with all that we are, all that we know, all that we have done and experienced?”

“There was certainly mentorship when I arrived in New York, and a bridge to another world, but it was a bridge that was on fire. That really marked my experience.”

“A poem is trying to fix something in time, along a kind of axis of the self’s movement through the world.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Mark Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award, Voluntary Servitude, and The Earth Avails, which received the Rilke Prize. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and elsewhere. He is the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars graduate writing program and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. His new book is God of Nothingness.

Follow Mark on Twitter and Instagram, and check out his more extensive bio at his site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mark by Nicholas Kahn. It’s on my instagram.