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Photograph by Alexis Rhone Fancher

It’s the start of 2017 on Planet Earth. How’s it feel to be a poet right now?

Awful (it’s my job, not complaining) and awfully important. Not because I am so terribly important–I mean–I’m glad if I write work people find meaningful in some way, but right now, just attempting to feel the sublime moments of aesthetic arrest while coping with my fury and sadness concerning the political situation in America, specifically, the insanely fascistic douche-baggery operating in the White House and majority seats of the Capitol make bearing an authentic and carefree poet spirit through the world challenging, to say the least.

 

What’s aesthetic arrest?

Kind of like having a heart attack in the presence of a truly awesome poem, song, work of art. There are lots of ways to encounter such phenomenon. At the risk of sounding like the nerd I am: a state that expresses something Other, and is not shackled by loathing and fear associated with objects desired or intellectually defined by the physical universe. Buddha’s immovable spot, unmoved by desire or fear? To lose oneself in fixed contemplation of the luminescent object. Take your pick.

 

Elaborate?

How about like when through the tangible, sensual world of manipulated symbol we are seized or stopped in our tracks–elevated, transported even–to a new dimension that is spiritually transformative while entirely temporally bound? Emily Dickinson’s upper cranium lopped off with light… Kafka’s isolated individual leaned into the infinite life… Bob Dylan’s great line: The purpose of Art is to stop Time.

 

Like a religious experience?

You could say that, yes. The ecstatic, “Aha!” moment. That something-holy spirit-feeling. I believe that in the bible… (a fascinating, frustrating, gorgeous and mind-boggling read and no, I’m not religious in the traditional sense though I do love sitting in church, listening to the soul-piercing beautiful music, singing along, being part of the communal, human ritual–whatever the mythology you follow and practice–I will sit there at least once with you) ..In the bible, there are many descriptions: ”a rushing mighty wind” and ”cloven tongues like as of fire” to mention just two lovely ones, that might describe an elevated state of communication between human and spirit, apart from any religious interpretations of narrative or related dogma. More in terms of magical energy of illumination “present in its noblest exemplars.” Art as rapture. As release from the matrix of inherited social bondage. We could trace it all the way back to the Eleusinian Mysteries if we could ever really know what actually went on there.

 

You’ve pondered this through a mythological lens.

I try. There’s a fair amount of myth-y trope-tapping in my recent book from C & R Press: The Couple Who Fell to Earth, a book I’m very proud of, that came together rather suddenly and miraculously and has been described thusly: “Woven throughout her contemplation of the terrible beauty and struggle of family dynamics, corporeal desire, the injustices and revelations of life in the 21st century, thrums a vital connectivity to the mystic and mythological strains of the past, newfangled to the present in a way that ultimately sheds light on what it is to be alive and conscious of who we’re called to be.”

 

That sounds nice.

Thank you. I’m glad, especially if it’s even a wee bit true for you, Reader. We need so little to experience that life in adventure of an opened mind. There’s enough for everyone if only more would see it that way. Especially those with power to affect so many lives for better or poorer. My most important work is teaching others how to find and experience poetry, AKA aesthetic arrest, in themselves while I, too, attempt to clear some sacred space on the page and in my body-soul while I’m at it.

 

What else about this book might readers like to know?

As with all three (and the fourth in-progress now) there’s a lot of kneading together of family, marriage, sex, love, mothering, politics, philosophy and nods to various mythologies in hopes of creating some poetry that makes you halt in your tracks momentarily. Abundance. Radiance. Seizure. Intoxication. Luminosity. Emotion. Empathy…We can only hope.

 

In other words, a state of being that the presiding government administration has absolutely no interest in preserving or pursuing as it applies to every level of human existence in daily or long-term planetary existence?

Why, yes, exactly! First thing they did was kill the NEA and women’s rights concerning their bodies and health. They are mythology extinguishers (going on the definition of Myth as providing clues to the spiritual potential of life, of the experience of being alive and the stories of our search through time for truth and meaning) which is why the gross distortions of religion and history run wild in their legislation and from their mouths. It is such a heinous exaggeration of materialism and capitalism on steroids that has lost all contact with body, spirit, soul. Which is why the rise of The People, the coming together of neighbors, friends and strangers to defend and uphold human rights is such a sublime phenomenon to witness. It is another kind, another instance, of aesthetic arrest.

 

But then, this could only mean Poetry is needed more than ever, yes?

Poetry book sales and internet searches for verse are way up, yes. People are desperate. I’ve cried more in the past two months than I did the last two years. I see this as a hopeful thing.

Also, (for me anyway) it’s an exercise in schizophrenic mind-dwelling. Necessary compartmentalization in order to cope. I hate that. As a poet I begin the day charting where I can dream, where I can teach others about poetry and the dream and where I do actions that preserve the right to keep dreaming. The sanctity of the dreamer herself. Endangered species. Who woulda thunk it could come to this? Such fracturing normally wouldn’t be so bad (for a poet listening for the inner plural chorus) if the stakes (of our collective human survival) weren’t so high.

 

So poetry can save your life?

That is correct. You think that certain things could never happen. Safety nets, checks and balances in place, etc… But not so. We are all performing our interpretive post-post modern dances beneath multi-layered veils of delusion. And what we’re discovering as the current administration keeps dropping their legislative “shock and awe” bombs is that, in the end, the only thing that matters is LOVE. Is people coming together to uphold each other. Their bodies (which are not mere skin but bloody deep and complex)–bodies that are souls and singing out, saving each other. Life, mere life. As Blake says: “Go love without the help of any thing on earth.”

 

Sounds like a lot to manage.

While I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate and privileged to carve out the life I have, it has also been insanely challenging between raising a family with another struggling artist, dealing with an autistic son for twenty years, major health scares, roof leakage, dead brothers and pets… just for starters. Ha! I’m being silly now but believe me when I say more than once I wasn’t sure we were going to PHYSICALLY make it. That said, I count myself one of the happiest people I know. So weird, huh? I think when you read The Couple Who Fell to Earth you get a sense of the exquisite maelstrom of life I’m writing from, and in this collection, a lot of tapping into mythological and philosophical tropes I’ve been swimming in for the past four years. In his blurb for the book, Juan Felipe Herrera says: “In a multi-directional “one shape” of voices, time, people, spaces Bitting takes us in and out of her all seeing third eye poetics. We go into an orb of family, love, then we swoop out into the delight of humanity.” That feels pretty accurate and like what I was going for.

 

Favorite places and times of day to work.

Morning. Literati Cafe and Elysee Bakery in Los Angeles. My living room sofa.

 

Favorite films/shows of late?

The OA. Essential viewing. Also I LOVED Goliath and The Night Of. Mr. Robot and Black Mirror– OMG–harsh, true, necessary. Moonlight was sublime. I love Asghar Farhadi’s work.

 

Pastimes?

Staring out strange windows watching unfamiliar territory roll by, seeing what bubbles up from the tar. I spent some grueling years raising my kids alongside my darling actor husband. We went through some serious hell. It’s all getting so much better now and now I just want to relish watching my kids grow stronger and more mind-blowingly brilliant and beautiful (because they are!) and as I do, I want to fade and blend into the backdrop. Write my poems. Teach (and by that I mean midwife) youngsters and other writers of whatever ages into their own marvelous poetic discoveries. Also, I LOVE my students. They save me everyday. All this rage and anger swirling around that I feel? Just makes the diamonds we pass between shine that much brighter. Cut like a knife brutal. Brilliant. Fuck Donald Trump.

 

You talk about disappearing a lot. Like in that weird “I Don’t Want a Funeral Poem” from The Couple Who Fell to Earth. What gives?

Dissolve and coagulate. Die to self to become the Self. Merge with the miraculous physical world and sing it forth. The body. It’s all about the body. I got pretty tired growing up in the church listening to people go on and on about their very specific plans for their funerals. You know, that Judeo-Christian based obsession with Endtimes, Armageddon, and out of that, a preoccupation with one’s mortality, one’s legacy. Perhaps an underlying existential cynicism that yearns to drive life into the ground. In the minds of the wrong people, that is. Not saying it’s ALL bad, just kind of ironic. So much fear and so often an inability to live in the moment and be fulfilled with that luscious spirit of just being alive.

 

What are you working on right now?

Broken Kingdom, my latest collection-in-progress. I’ve neatly tucked poems written in the past few months into its fierce and trembling wings. Sadly, in terms of the times we live in. Happily, in terms of my art. I guess I’m in the place I’m exactly supposed to be. Life is meeting my art and the reverse of that. Maybe I can acknowledge that I’m a writer after all.

 

Dreams for the future?

We all survive the cosmic skull-cracking we’re experiencing right now and heal forward to a new place the youngster generations have been wiring themselves to be born and to be created into. We need clean water, skies, land to do that. Animals are very important right now. I feel. And yes, I would like to keep re-mything myself which requires a lot of self-erasure and hardcore, meditative “dwelling” in the glorious teeming world of things: “visible inclusions of the alien in the sight of the familiar” as a wise philosopher once put it. Oneness with, but without attachment. That’s where the trouble starts, THAT kind of “ownership” as opposed to owning the Self which is the collective We. In Art, what’s both ephemeral and transcendent. I’ll keep working on it! Thinking maybe some odes and elegies are in order. Rilke got it right:

With your eyes, which are almost too tired
to free themselves from the familiar,
you slowly take one black tree
and set it against the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made a world.
It is big
and like a word, still ripening in silence.
And though your mind would fabricate its meaning,
your eyes tenderly let go of what they see.

The Couple Who Fell To Earth Front Cover Bitting With Kirkus Badge

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Michelle Bitting MICHELLE BITTING’s latest collection is The Couple Who Fell to Earth (C & R Press, 2016), named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2016. She has poems forthcoming or published in The American Poetry Review, AJP, Prairie Schooner, Narrative, Diode, The New York Times, Vinyl Poetry, Plume, the Paris-American, Fjords, Tupelo Quarterly and others. Poems have appeared on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Her book Good Friday Kiss won the DeNovo First Book Award and Notes to the Beloved won the Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award and also earned a starred review from Kirkus. She has won awards from Glimmer Train and the Beyond Baroque Foundation and been a finalist for the Poet's & Writer's Magazine California Exchange, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Julia Peterkin, and Rita Dove poetry awards. Poems have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes, and most recently, The Pablo Neruda, American Literary Review and Tupelo Quarterly Poetry contests.

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