Ben: There are so many different directions to take here and many of them too big for a mere interview. I’m going to try to articulate a digestible question here, but if it’s too much feel free to narrow it down. Thinking about your comment on poetry’s relation to history, community, and tradition, one question that looms over me, especially when looking at the work and writings of people like Kenneth Goldsmith, Christian Bok, Kim Stefans et al., is where is poetry going if it clings too closely to the ‘traditional’? If, as Bok said in an interview, the extent of poetry’s engagement with the other arts including music, remains limited to a simple borrowing of other vocabularies and discourses, I wonder how can it really address social, technological, ideological, paradigmatic, etc. changes. That is, I don’t think that there is a need to entirely jettison tradition, but I wonder if we shouldn’t be moving away from the type of representational lyric and actually start to explore from inside. Although I have serious misgivings about his work and projects, I think August Highland’s persona spam is one example moving away from the representational into the repetitive (the apparent Geist of contemporary times), but on a very conceptual and abstract scale. So what I’d like to ask you is in which directions do you see poetry going and who or what are strong indicators of these directions? Chris: Ben, let me make clear, first, that I am no expert. I know well enough what I like lately, although I am always aware of how subjectively formulated my preferences are, even if formulated with infusions of education and experience. I think it a self deception to think that what we do with language by way of evaluation is based on a supposition of objectivity and/or objectively formed criteria. But with that said let me contradict myself to say that I also greatly value an emphasis on study, which are attempts to derive objective means of knowing. I guess the difference is one of noting that such things are never based in certainty. A big problem in aesthetic valuation--a fundamental epistemological problem in aesthetics--is that individuals and the judgments they create, as individuals per se, about art, are too minglingly dependent on a false hegemony attributed to the authorial “I”--ego and authority (she said, realizing that she is pontificating, the very thing she is criticizing, but that language is so porous, or perhaps the term is fluid--choose your fave analogy, indeed, choose any!--that this is unavoidable and so wags it’s tail toward proving the point in the end, that authority in language is crapola on yesterday’s front page daily). That supposed authority always seems to make itself at home on the overstuffed furniture in the living room of the mannered Cartesian I . Alas, poor I. We’re all affected by this. It is one goal of expository writers: to learn to wield this authority. That point somewhat laid out, then, I will say that there are some things by which I am most fascinated, and I will say why but not necessarily in that order. I am a great fan of John Berger’s, all of his work, but Ways of Seeing is a staple influence for me. The visual is important to my thinking, or I should say, it is important that sound and visual matters should be integrative and not segregated in the art of poetry. The opening statement to Berger’s text, “Seeing comes before words,” is one of our contemporary greats in terms of paradoxes to unlayer, so to continually learn. Roman Jakobsen would have a field day with it, structurating it two dimensionally, I mean. Imagine the great Venn diagrams that could balloon from that statement! “Seeing” is of course meant in several ways that do and do not pertain to vision, ways that are both obvious and eventually contradictory to the point of zero sum, very effectively demonstrating how ineffectual metaphoric (use and interchange of representational symbols) thought is--yet at the same time, metaphoric thought is fundamental, and is magnificently--well, fun. So that is also why it is the basis for the poetic, no? Poetry likes to be fun and we like it that way. So next in Berger we find the action term: “comes.” Hmm. Well. Let us now move on to some, um, modifiers. Then to the other ballast in this statement: “words.” My point is that once this seemingly simple statement is dislodged from its apparently conventional soundings, it becomes not only resonant but quite alien. It says many more things, mixing literal with figural pieces of implied meanings, things like, “Knowledge derived from vision or eyes (not ears) arrives prior to language.” And one could write volumes about the various ways this statement might mean anything. So, I’m conceptualizing poetic eco-systems, as it were. The visual, the auditory, and the poetic, do comprise a kind of system that can be conceptualized holistically, but only when the parts are understood to be so intimately intertwined that we cannot find adequate ways to separate them even to study with any definitive result, what they separately might be, or what they do alone. We may not want or need to do so. To do so might be overkill in the most literal sense of that term. These things are not discretely individuated--although we are taught from early-on to think of them that way because that is a useful way to negotiate learning about life and community. No, these things exist interdependently together in a kind of poetic ecological system, if you will. Language does that to and with things. So, that imagistic and philosophical kind of skeleton begins to sketch out where my interests are. Structure. and motion. Space and time. This is nothing new; it’s the same pie a la mode that most thinkers about poetry today are consuming and variously making use of, I suspect. And it’s happening in electronic poetic discourse more than anywhere else. I love print on paper. But I don’t know for how long it will last in the innovative climate fostered by electronic writing today. Print is more and more becoming archaic, unfortunately. There are some very good examples of electronic poetry working within something like an ecosystem that integrates modes of knowing (Berger’s “seeing”). You mention Brian Kim Stefans. I like his site(s) and vision. Along with that I will mention some others I find particularly compelling. I really like Alan Sondheim’s attitude: he’s continually tinkering and pushing poetic limits. The result is fun and often profound. And I really like what Jayne Fenton Keane does. Her emphasis on dramas of sound and image via her website, and in her poem writing, make good use of wildly combinant of lyric and then pieces of narrative with links to history and literature. This work holistically forms a kind of poetic ecosystem that will serve future readers who will be very adept at reading as an inter-activity, I think. Here is a clip from “Ophelia Becoming Moon”: 53,760 kilometres of apostrophes in her eyes. Mean velocity of abandonment. His eyes an exclamation mark of bird. Sharp, volatile edges of calling. She has a rendezvous with subtraction. Her madness, his madness.--Jane Fenton Keane, Ophelia Becoming Moon, Post Press Well, HD and Laura Riding would have loved to be able to do what JFK does here, with words, but also with words in space and time, her visuals and sounds that do invite a physical poetic response. It’s quite unnerving in its drama to be, and comprehensive yet its work is never complete. I do not mean to say parts forming a predictable, resolvable whole. By holistic I mean integratively open as a sign system and as motion, ongoing, though not emptily repetitive. It is just not possible to get to the same sense of holistic poetic in other venues, means, modes. Or if possible it takes a lot of unlayering of inhibited imagination--think of what it would take to do so in the privacy of reading a book, where physical interaction is severely repressed; one would need a stage, actors, or film or video, and orchestras instruments, producers, & etc. Yet here in one web presence it’s all there. What a reader does with that is another matter--dance anyone? But what I mean to point out is that the imagination seems, I think, a little more free in such use as Fenton Kean makes of poetics. Others to watch who work interestingly with sound/visual poetics but not only as web or web+text+image materials are Sawako Nakayasu with her collaborative performance work through Factorial dot org; Lanny Quarles with vast historical knowledge applied to thinking about and commenting on what I read as an integrative art of theory / theory of art(s); and Chris Sullivan working with basic textures, the materials and apparent discards of everyday life and place, in what he has termed “Language Photography.” They each have a great respect for traditions, yet are breaking our old used-up words and ways with words, out of the binds of semiotic-linguistic limits, finally and appropriately for this moment, and yet in socially aware and committed ways. Very admirable, in my estimation. A difficult and long overdue task of overhauling, thus expanding poetics via aesthetics and socially minded “... ideas... in things” (to cap it off with WC Williams). That only begins to unlayer the surface of multiple, integrated, forward-looking approaches to poetry/poetics today, though. And this has not addressed any of the intricacies of what is called “the poem.” In that regard, I will say one thing: in my opinion, the poem, not the writer, comes first and always should. My opinions on poems by particular poets vary, but I can say that the course I will start teaching this week at UTA, a seminar in poetry writing, is built off of a list of books by poets I find interesting in differing ways. For the sake of expediency, I here list poets names, but it is particular qualities of their work that I find compelling. This past year I find that I keep returning with renewed curiosity to the work of a few: Robert Creeley, Dale Smith, Hoa Nguyen, kari edwards, Chris Daniels, Kent Johnson, Stephanie Young, Stephen Vincent, Eileen Tabios, Mark Weiss, Brian Clements, Jordan Davis, Anny Ballardini, Guillermo Parra, Jill Jones, Patrick Herron. Added more recently to my list of faves are Hannah Craig, Clayton Couch, and Harry K. Stammer. And there are many others I also enjoy reading. Each on list list is very different in their own way, yet all doing things that continually interest my readerly senses. Ben: You mentioned that you raised your children while getting your degree. This issue of balancing family with academic and creative callings is very interesting for me, not least because I am in a similar situation. Mina Loy said that she wrote her best poetry with three children screaming behind her in a boiler room. I think that there is a certain amount of sense in that (I find the noise and odd insights from my three year old can get me writing), but there are responsibilities with kids and one can easily wear out and lose ones nerve with writing (Loy ended up leaving her kids in Italy when she went to New York). How have your children affected your writing and academic choices? Chris: I have to qualify this answer, Ben, by first explaining that I do not discuss my children much on line or in my work, or at least not without their prior knowledge. They do not like to feel objectified in the way that is necessary for expository language-use to describe who they are and what they do or have done in their lives with me. I respect that and refrain from details and from objectifying them. I will say they are my favorite joy in life; I have written with and around them all their lives; they are my first and best audience. They are my companions in life. It is good in life, I think, to struggle to find ways (again, this term:) to integrate what are potentially contradictory influences and elements, than to adopt a course that would segregate (correlations to the history of the U.S. south also intended here), compartmentalize (thinking here of Bachelard), abandon, separate, resist, or enflame (correlation to the usage in terms of web-based communication) them, which are all actions that lead to painful loss and often, irretrieval. Better, at least initially, to aim for integrating. I see the Loy description above as a situation where integration of differing elements could not be effected. I am lucky in that I have had enough stamina to complete my professional goals and desires even though my other responsibilities to persons loved have been a little unusual. Humans are actually very amazing and resilient--they can accommodate a lot of change and integration, perhaps easier than the alternatives leading to painful loss listed above. Though I should also say perhaps it was the best way for all concerned that Loy did not stay with her children--they may have been better off without her, much as I admire her poetry--though again, the loss must have been painful for all on some level that might have been avoided with a different way of conceptualizing the situation. I do not know, except, again, from my subjectively formed sense of it. Ben, thank you very much for this opportunity to think in writing about poetry. Best of luck to you in everything, especially in your fascinating blogging (did I mention how much I like your blog?--it’s way cool!), and in future interviewing endeavors --Chris Murray (19 January 2004--Martin Luther King Day--Dallas, Texas, U.S.)--

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