1. What is your sense of the poetic tradition? How far back does your particular historical sense range? What defines your tradition? Nationality, language, aesthetic posture? What aspect of your poetic idiolect or tradition most distinguishes you from your closest poetic collaborators?
Sometimes I like to think of time as fully simultaneous, looped around itself in countless points of overlap, however contrary this may be to common sense. Literary time is especially so, many-layered, oily, and frangible, like a filo pastry. The strangeness of old language is equally strange as the strangeness of new language.
My sense of “the” poetic tradition is fraught with doubt, however, because my sense of tradition is fraught with doubt. As a fifth-generation Jew so wholly assimilated and removed from any recognizable tradition that the concept of tradition itself seems not only irrevocably lost, but laden with injustices, the last thing I want to acknowledge is “the” tradition that any number of institutions have tried to make me accept.
That being said, I do come out of “a” tradition which is an eclectic tradition, a personal tradition, I suppose, woven of different, and not always harmonious strands. How far back? I hope as far back as the Fertile Primordial. What defines it? I define it, and then redefine it whenever I want to. Nationality, yes, although I detest Americana.
My nationality is the nationality firstly of the diaspora, secondly of the coasts, and thirdly of my erstwhile adopted country, Japan. My tradition has been heavily imbued with Japanese tradition, only because of my life history.
Language? Yes. English and Japanese-English and incipient-confused English – because of my vocation. Aesthetic posture? Yes. I do experience “writing” as a form of “vogue-ing” on occasion. I like posture – or more exactly, gesture. Works of verbal art are gestures, movements in emotion/thought and time.
I suppose my closest poetic collaborator is my husband. My poetic idiolect is more feminine, private-language, and nonsensical than his, although I notice, the longer we know each other, how our idiolects seem to be headed to closer convergence. He gets loopier, and I get talkier, with longer lines.
If I compare myself to close peers rather than my collaborators per se, I would venture that my writing tends to be more explicitly personal, campier, and possibly more vulnerably, impudently muscular. But I could be wrong. And it would depend on who I’m talking about. “Idiolect” may possibly be my favorite word, though.
2. How would you define contemporary poetic practice? (Say, the typical poem that would be published alonside one of your in a magazine where you are published.) How does this practice relate to the tradition defined above? Does poetry of the “past” (however you define the past for these purposes) occupy a different corner of your mind?
I would define contemporary poetic practice as procedural spat occlusion survivor contrast muse procrastinate violet antwerp pixy integrity scheme santayana isfahan accord brent trenchant fan
jackie waterloo meticulous perseverance backwater acid
petrochemical mobcap toothpick
or do I mean
conferee destructor affirm kind mckee barony
result nitrous frayed brahmaputra huckleberry bowman
densitometer flange emergent smug contestant barkeep
winnipesaukee launch citadel sikorsky agouti hayden
grammatic adele characteristic?
3. Whom, among poets you most admire, do you understand least? What is hindering a greater understanding of this poet?
I think I would have to say William Blake. I do not have the patience to read the Four Zoas. They are just too arcane. Hence, my understanding is hindered by my own laziness. I don’t think I could live without “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” though.
4. Are we over-invested in poetic “hero worship”?
Yes. Ugh! Blecch. Bitter bitter taste in mouth.
Is it necessary to have a poetic “pantheon”?
How does the poetic pantheon relate to the notion of an academic “canon”? Are they mirror opposites, rivals?
Neither. A pantheon is personal, a canon institutional.
5. Is “total absorption in poetry” benign? How about “poetry as a way of life”?
It is benign compared to, say, weapons manufacturing, yes. I am not sure about the positive social contribution of such a total absorption, though. It may be benign, but not benevolent.
Poetry as a way of life sounds swell, not merely “benign.” But it also sounds very luxurious.
6. Do you see poetry as a part of a larger “literature,” or is poetry itself the more capacious category?
Categories are pernicious. It’s all poetry to the proper receptors. The ideal state would be total receptiveness to the poetry everywhere in our verbal environment and imaginations. Literature is what’s on paper or digitized.
7. Are humor, irony, and wit (in whatever combination) a sine qua non? Or conversely, is humor a defense mechanism that more often than not protects us from what we really want to say?
Yes, they are a sine qua non. Humor engages the visceral. We laugh with all of our organs. To make someone laugh, even internally, even not physically hawhawhawing, is a tremendously powerful act. I do not believe that humor, wit, or irony are necessarily trivializing. When I hear of poets who do believe so, I feel a sense of frustration and even horror. Humor can create in us a kind of chemical reaction somewhere in between fear and love. I’m extremely interested in this. I don’t experience humor as a defense mechanism at all. I think there is a distinction, though, between humor, wit, and irony, and “comedy” (but not comedy, without the quotes).
8. Is the poem the thing, or the larger poetic project?
Neither. Poems are ashes, dust motes. “Larger poetic projects” are either affectations or encumbrances. Our receptiveness and combinatory excitations are the thing.
9. What is the single most significant thing anyone has ever said about poetry?
I don’t know. Maybe “work your ass off to change the language, and don’t get famous”? Or “just go on your nerve?” Nah. I haven’t heard everything that everyone has said about poetry, and I wouldn’t be able to choose, with my loathing of absolute superlatives, the “single most significant thing.”
10. Which of these questions asks you to define yourself along lines of division not of your own making, in the most irksome way?
Most of them, I’m afraid. I think it’s because they all ask for a kind of totalization that I just don’t find very interesting and also because they reflect this weird contemporary obsession with literary genealogy. Actually, I find questions, the question form, incredibly sexy. There’s something about questions – personal questions — that make me feel as if the asker is really genuinely curious about knowing more about me as a person, and in turn I always want to know more about them, and that leads to deeper intimacy. Gary, at a key point in our courtship, sent me a list of questions, on 11/17/98, that totally clinched my love for him. They didn’t make it into Swoon, but I’m taking the liberty of reproducing them here:
I wrote you a lot today, but is it
okay to write more? tell me
where do you think you got (or developed)
this novelistic impulse? and why
or how, can you remember maybe
when you first realized
you were drawn to written language
e.g., did you read to escape
did you read to create
did you read following some (then) un-
known drive, some experience of pleasure?
Since you have been drawing “perserverance”
what does that mean, really mean
to you? Is this what you mean by up-
heaval? An attention to things
not previously attended to? Asking
of yourself, or confronting
you used “confronting.” What, Nada
are you confronting? And why,
had you avoided it? (It is a gray day here
again, a “soup” day, I’m on my second
bowl. Yum-yum. It’s vegetable, I see & taste
squash, onions, green pepper, bay leaf.)
Tell my why love is a dog you send into space.
Did you ever see Dogs in Space? Did I
ask you that? What is the worst possible
thing that could happen to you?
The best? What do you most worry about?
What are you most concerned about?
Tell me three things you thought of today
that never occurred to you before. (I
realized how socially constructed love is
or do I mean culturally constructed?) (That
was one thing.) Do you use your journals
in your poems? And by that, I don’t mean
using the journal as a “first draft” place
but that you might go back to them
the journals, and find something, perhaps
an underlying structure, or theme or something
else you might tease out, for use
in a poem or series of poems? What is most
frustrating to you? How do you feel
inadequate. What things do you know, for sure
you’re more than capable of? What’s the
sappiest song you actually like? Do you consider
yourself an intellectual? A sociologist?
A psychologist? (Please do not use the word “artist”
or “poet,” but pick one of the above three
possibilities & speculate, please.) Nada,
why decorate an envelope? Why start a magazine?
Do you have any more copies of AYA? What
do you expect? (Very generally.) What do you expect?
(Of me?) Will you promise to tell me if
something I say pisses you off? Or makes you
feel bad? Or if you feel I’m not being properly
attendant? Or if you just want more? Or less?
Or something specific? What was the most
beautiful thing you saw today? The saddest thing?
The most mysterious? Tell me what the most
surprising thing that has happened in the last
couple days. Tell me the most frightening. Why
do things frighten you? Is it an issue of
“control” in one form or another? Is love impossible
in a “controlled” environment? Tell me about the
most intense experience you’ve ever had. The
most depressing. The thing that shook you up
the most. Have you ever seriously changed your mind
done a complete 180 about something you were
“convinced” about, prior?
How close do these questions come to the way in which you habitually think about poetry?
They don’t, really. Except that I do think about humor a lot.
What other question would you add to this list?
Any of Gary’s above, to start with.