Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Final workshop project – Lana Domax, poet from and in this time

Born 1955 – Poet and translator Lana Domax has a reputation for working both in and beyond the boundaries of language. Her earliest book, a lyric collection inspired by her years on the rodeo circuit and her experience in the second wave feminist movement, was Pulling Leather (1978). Since then, she has published seven collections of poetry ranging from the co-authored long poem, Penelope tangled/embrouillé (1983), to the conceptual novel, Finger Jam (2006). In a review of her most recent book, 101 Proclamations (2009), the reviewer observed, “Domax is always on the move, attentive to the changing world and our changing relationship to language—she writes both from and in this time.”

The Early Years—

Domax was born on April 1, 1955. Raised in cattle country, she spent much of her childhood working on the family farm. At 11, a fire destroyed the family home. Without insurance to rebuild, the family, which included Domax, her parents and two older brothers, were forced to spend several months living in a network of remaining silos. At 13, Domax began attending the local rodeo and soon took up barrel racing. By 16, she’d won her first major competition. While Domax never had the looks needed to be crowned “rodeo queen,” she soon became a staple on the local rodeo scene. When she wasn’t competing in barrel races, she worked security outside the men’s locker room. At 17, Domax met Chuck Wagamese, a 28 year-old Cree cowboy known on the rodeo circuit as “Chuck Wagon.” Chuck invited Domax to join him on the circuit. Domax, notoriously elusive about her personal history, spoke openly about this time of her life in an interview published in a now defunct feminist literary journal, Coming Textualities, in 1979, shortly after the publication of her first full-length collection. Here, Domax recalled, “I remember filling a small green and red plaid suitcase with what I considered my essentials—all my books, one change of clothes! I met Chuck at the local Husky Station in the middle of the night and that was it. He was decent, easily distracted, but decent.”

Between 17 and 20, Domax traveled around North American with Chuck and his stags. This was also the period in which Domax started to write. Many of her earliest poems were about the rodeo scene. Working both in and against the traditional cowboy ballad form, Domax’s early poems were heavy with the imagery of the rodeo circuit but infused with a rising consciousness of the gendered social world in which she was living:

Fast pace stay on

Horses take her to the edge.
She—a circus of roses.
There there tongue-being.

Exit the forest of milk-sweating trees.
Horses and roses loom in ruby windows.
Silver crutches gleam in the fields.

She lands on the beach
singing of broomsticks.
Now I am a horse and I offer her a ride.

She turned my sister into a crow.
My lover became a horse.
Who will be the bear she puts in the sky?

The Gargoyles were clever enough not
to attack
her passion.

What you laugh at will make me cry.
In the graduate greenhouses
I imagine you a crow.

Your horse ...... your escape.
I approve but why bother.
You want to visit the ghost.

What kind of horse sleeps only at night?

A nightmare.

Fig. 1 Pulling Leather book cover

This version of “Fast pace stay on” is reprinted from Domax’s first collection, Pulling Leather (SysterType Books, 1978). An earlier version of “Fast pace stay on” appeared in Community Loop (a rodeo culture magazine) in 1971. In the Community Loop version, the line reading “My lover became a horse” read “My horse became a lover.” Another version appeared in Domax’s first chapbook, Hollihan (self-published in 1975). In the Hollihan version, Domax experimented with shorter lines; especially in the first stanza, the breaks open up alternative readings of the poem:

Horses take her
to the edge. She—
a circus of
roses. There
there tongue-

The Middle Years—

By the time Domax reached her early 20s, her interest in literature was trumping her interest in rodeo culture. At a rodeo in New Mexico, she met a group of young women studying at the local college. They invited her to stay in their communal household. Soon, Domax began to take courses, including Dr. Sally Pinchworth’s Radical Types—an upper-year seminar based on Jeannette H. Foster’s book, Sex Variant Women in Literature. Following the structure of Foster’s study, the course surveyed 2500 years of love and sex between women as depicted in literature. While Domax found Pinchworth’s and Foster’s approach rather quantitative and dry, the course gave her an opportunity to immerse herself in literature from antiquity to the twentieth century. Domax also took language courses in French, Spanish and German. During her time in New Mexico, she would complete a degree in English and French at the University of New Mexico and publish her first collection.

In 1980, Domax left New Mexico for Montreal, Canada where she started but failed to complete a higher degree in French literature at the University of Montreal. Despite dropping out of graduate school, she remained in Montreal for nearly eight years. At this time, she co-authored, with her lover Chantel Bissel, the bilingual long poem Penelope tangled/embrouillé (Le Quartanier, 1983) and Lackdictions (Coach House Books, 1987). After her breakup with Bissel, Domax moved to Europe. Her fluency in English, French, Spanish and German enabled her to obtain work both as an interpreter and translator throughout Europe. In late 1989, a feminist organization in Berlin invited Domax to work as an interpreter at a conference. In the end, the conference would be cancelled but Domax, now 35, found herself dismantling the wall that had long divided East and West Germany. Along with hundreds of other international artists, Domax chose to stay in Berlin, squatting in the sprawling housing complex and gallery space that would eventually be named Tacheles. It was here that she produced two books that marked her turn to more experimental approaches. Radiatoring Voices (Brecht Books, 1995), a book comprised entirely of snippets of conversation recorded through the radiator in her room at Tacheles between 1990 and 1995, and Fleece (Brecht Books, 1999), a text and sound performance released with a CD. In addition to exploring the performative aspects of her practice, during her time at Tacheles, Domax became increasingly interested in cross-disciplinary collaborations as she found herself sharing her everyday life with visual artists, musicians and performance artists from around the world. This resulted in the production of a series of artists books and visual and sculptural experimentations. During this period, Domax also translated several of her friends’ books from French, Spanish and German into English, including German poet Greta Fiedler’s Frauengespräch—a provocative and erotic text that had circulated widely in East Germany in the 1980s in various self-published forms.

To supplement her income during this period of her life, Domax frequently took short-term jobs at world exhibitions and Olympic Games. Most notably, she worked as an interpreter, translator and social activator (party coordinator) in a series of Olympic Villages, including villages in Barcelona, Albertville and Lillehammer. Despite her political ambivalence about such global events, these brief stints of work enabled her to sustain extended periods of time working exclusively on her writing and art.

2000 to Present—

Over the past decade, Domax has continued to write, publishing both a conceptual novel, Finger Jam (SiteBOOKS, 2006), and a new collection of poetry, 101 Proclamations (SiteBOOKS, 2009). Domax now divides her time between New York and Lillehammer. While she continues to travel, a diagnosis of diabetes in 2001 forced her to adopt a somewhat less transient existence.

Although her writing is a source of delight for some readers, and she is often cited as a major influence by younger innovative women writers, others find her work obscure, vague, difficult, hermetic, obfuscating, cryptic, offensive, pretentious, ambiguous, thorny, inscrutable, enigmatic and pompous. The following poem is from 101 Proclamations:

Their affective relationship to otherness

What’s yr ‘thing’? she asked.
That not yet sexualized between us.

So the answer was You’re the only woman in my life.
And together they tackled the documents.

There is no writing that is not in love
with commodity form.

Pilfered rhetorics track a genealogy of
“What is the status of your own text?”


unction affected us
a gift economy

open palm stories
through a semilunar incision

along the lower jaw
extending backward to the hyoid bone

Nevertheless, Domax has attracted a small but loyal following. In 2008, the University of New Mexico, where she completed her B.A., approached her about donating her papers. Unable to manage her own archive and in need of money, Domax parted with her papers. Despite the fact that she has rarely given interviews and has tended to avoid talking about her own life in the few interviews granted, her archive is a revelation. She has included all the documents she has managed to hold on to over the years…report cards, medical reports, edited manuscripts, letters, reviews, rodeo ephemera, baggage tags...

Ephemera from the Lana Domax archive—

Fig. 2 – Lana Domax’s report card from Grade 2.

Fig. 3 – Invocation

Fig. 4 – Fragment from Domax journal (1977-1979)

Fig. 5 – Fragment from early draft of Finger Jam

Fig. 6 – Lana Domax blood glucose count

Fig. 7 – “Paris Snake” (collaborative text art project with another former Tacheles resident).

Lana Domax in dialogue with literary theorist Katja Acorn—
New York, June 2009

KA: You’re funny, but people don’t usually see you that way. Do you consider your work humorous?

LD: In the public context what is referred to as being humorous is often an entry into the practice/practise…one’s own and others’. The opportunity to include levity is welcome as far as I’m concerned.

KA: Do you have a problem with being misread?

LD: My critique is with those who deliver the inaccuracies in spelling, grammar, and yes, facts, and with those who do not question the way “information” is presented.

KA: I’d like to talk to you about your recent turn to fiction in Finger Jam.

LD: This is no work of fiction.

KA: Oh? So then can we talk about the influence of travel on your writing. You’ve lived so many places over the years and often been simply circulating from place to place. I’m thinking about your early years on the rodeo circuit, your time in New Mexico, Montreal, Berlin, Barcelona, New York, your hopping from country to country to work at Expos and in various Olympic Villages. This must have shaped your work profoundly.

LD: I keep going to these places, “place” in the largest possible sense. I travel but I also push myself and my body in, through and around language and so on. And geography. And I struggle with that because there’s the irony, and maybe this comes back to some of the first passage you brought up – is it that the space of writing is also in some ways a space of arrestment or of suspension, if you will? The body that wants to be in movement has to stop in order to write. And if writing is movement, then there’s a sort of paradox there. But it’s also a remove. It’s a remove from a context, and at the same time, it brings me closer to this thing that is always deferred.

KA: This seems like a good segue to ask about your actual way of working. I mean, how do you compose your texts?… I’ll avoid talking about poetry or fiction since you seem a bit resistant to these categorizations.

LD: I’m actually playing between poetics and thinking about the overriding metaphors of production, reproduction and attachment and alienation, or detachment in terms of subjective identities. Largely, it’s about this relationship of the lyric and the anti-lyric and I have been trying to have these very naturalistic vernacular pieces that seem to emerge from what is an authorial voice, a sense of an authorial identity against pieces where that reliability is really shaken up and as a reader you have to figure out, who’s this? Is this me or is this some character she’s producing or is this manipulated text where there is this kind of trace of her voice or some sense of the source. It’s really very much about what does stir us to the surface and why we want this aesthetic experience of attachment, whether it be to each other or to texts or to art in general. Why do we desire? Why don’t we desire? I have some pieces that are love poems but they’re proceduralist love poems so they’re about being in language and hearing the difference and all this is evident in what you are wanting to call my “fictions” too.

KA: To what extent does your fluency across languages affect your writing in English?

LD: Grammar holds and expresses and shapes things in an utterly necessary way. For example, take the difference between languages. It’s so interesting that Germans leave the verb until the end, entirely different from the way we speak in English. But I love working in English because it is so elastic.

KA: In the 1990s, you released a book with a CD. How is performance integral to your work?

LD: When you read anything, even the most straight-forward mystery or genre novel, there are also going to be your own memories because your own memory lends images and sounds to the reading. What’s going on out on the street – ambient sound – all of that is going to shift everything. That’s what is foregrounded for me – the multiple possibilities, reading into whatever you find. Also, again, when you read things out loud, a different voice will often emerge. I never know what is coming up.

KA: But now, just recently, you’ve come up in the archive. What was that like?

LD: That was a very weird decision to reach. They asked me at a time when I was moving internationally and broke, so I sold my garbage for the same reason that most writers sell their garbage.


  1. honestly, this was great. Loved it. Camille roy.

  2. rachel zolf, the whole world is in love with you.

  3. Now that her 'garbage' is accessible at NMU, hopefully someone will do a masters thesis on Lomax and Geography, someone has to add something meaningful and queer to the Situationist stranglehold.

  4. Lana Domax. Couldn't help think of the poet Dana Lomax.


    Also, this is beautiful. thank you.

  5. didn't know of her work before, will look it up, thanks.