Context Collapse: A Conversation with Ryan Ruby

by Andrea Scrima

Ryan Ruby is a novelist, translator, critic, and poet who lives, as I do, in Berlin. Back in the summer of 2018, I attended an event at TOP, an art space in Neukölln, where along with journalist Ben Mauk and translator Anne Posten, his colleagues at the Berlin Writers’ Workshop, he was reading from work in progress. Ryan read from a project he called Context Collapse, which, if I remember correctly, he described as a “poem containing the history of poetry.” But to my ears, it sounded more like an academic paper than a poem, with jargon imported from disciplines such as media theory, economics, and literary criticism. It even contained statistics, citations from previous scholarship, and explanatory footnotes, written in blank verse, which were printed out, shuffled up, and distributed to the audience. Throughout the reading, Ryan would hold up a number on a sheet of paper corresponding to the footnote in the text, and a voice from the audience would read it aloud, creating a spatialized, polyvocal sonic environment as well as, to be perfectly honest, a feeling of information overload. Later, I asked him to send me the excerpt, so I could delve deeper into what he had written at a slower pace than readings typically afford—and I’ve been looking forward to seeing the finished project ever since. And now that it is, I am publishing the first suite of excerpts from Context Collapse at Statorec, where I am editor-in-chief.

Andrea Scrima: Ryan, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to start with a little context. Tell us about the overall sweep of your poem, and how, since you mainly work in prose, you began writing it.

Ryan Ruby: Thank you for this very kind introduction, Andrea! That was a particularly memorable evening for me too, as my partner was nine months pregnant at the time, and I was worried that we’d have to rush to the hospital in the middle of the reading. But you remember quite well: a poem containing the history of poetry, with a tip of the hat to Ezra Pound, of course, who described The Cantos as “a poem containing history.” Read more »


by Evan Edwards

ScreenHunter_2616 Mar. 06 10.21Between the trailhead and where we stood, my son and I, there was a vast expanse of time and a very small amount of space. I’d carried him, with the dog’s leash on one wrist, from the parking lot, up through a small thicket of brambles to where an old railroad must have run, past the bridge, and steeply down the hill to the flat banks of the river where the path began. Here, thirty feet down from where the rest of the landscape lay, the water, in moments of heavy flooding, would rise up and wash out all the foliage on which we were now standing, leaving fertile silt behind as if in repentance. This periodic effect might have been part of the reason that this flat of land beside the water was so open and uncrowded by the thick of trees that dominated the landscape at higher grounds. With the land so leveled by the water’s irregular rising, and the foliage thin and unobtrusive, it was the perfect place to explore.

I had set my son, River, down on the cleared out space upon which we were supposed to walk and went ahead in an attempt to coax him more quickly down the trail. I half wanted to wear him out so that he’d take a good nap, but I also had hoped that by letting him walk on his own, he’d at least try to keep up so that we could do together what I love doing so much alone: walking through the woods. Of course, the same thing happened that always happens when I take him along on a walk without carrying him. That is, we ended up spending a significant amount of time milling around while he explored and pointed at things I didn’t immediately see.

In this particular instance, we spent about fifteen minutes near the trailhead. I had our Malinois’ leash in my hand, and a diaper bag strapped across my back, walking along the ground where other walkers feet had beat a path. I went back and forth, slowly, and sought a goad to move River along the water’s edge, against the current that was moving lazily in the cold, snowless and rainless drought of January. I could see where we’d “started” our walk, could get back there in a moment if I wanted, and couldn’t shake the feeling that we were wasting our time.

Read more »