When did you first think about talking to the dead?

As a child first without thinking, it seemed normal to have a cast of characters always in my head separate from the voices we all carry. They have their own languages. But with intention, not until my brother suicided; then I thought there must be a way to tune in and reach specifically, blood of my blood and coded the same as we are. I spent two years meditating while writing BASIC PROGRAMMING creating a visual narrative that involved walking 108 steps, one for each isolated inhale or exhale down a spiral staircase to the underworld where I could shed this coil and find him. If I lost count going down or my focus wavered, I would get up from the mat. And when I finally reached the bottom, I realized I didn’t know what to do at that point. You have to know how to get back up safely.


What is the program running in BASIC PROGRAM?

It’s a code I designed using Alice Notley’s Reason and Other Women. Her book rewrites women’s histories in the tongues of the dead, and my book takes on this question posed in another book by Notley (Benediction) that asks, “Is suffering worthless?” Each title of the poem has a line of code that has an algorithm in it that directs the reader to the line and words in the book Reason. Once pulled out these words build another poem that answers this question. Yes, suffering is worthless.


Is suffering worthless?

In a sense, we have created this human template that we are invested in. It goes like this: We, as humans, suffer and from this suffering we are able to transcend and find meaning in our lives. It’s just a story though. Suffering is no more necessary than taxes. We have yet to really comprehend the uses of consciousness, so we scratch the surface and call it living. BASIC PROGRAMMING is modeled after an old theory of consciousness that compares the human brain to a computer. We are coded from birth and destined to live out these codes unless we go through great pains to break these, and this catalyst to “enlightenment” or a “coming to the light” moment is often associated with great suffering. So we value suffering currently because it’s a bridge to more awareness.


But you don’t actually talk to the dead as much as use it as an artistic trope, right?

One of the things I do in my books is examine that thin line between where our imagination creates a story we call “art” and where we incorporate the body experience making it real in the world. I was both a poet writing a book about talking to the dead and a woman actually talking to the dead in order to write a book, and as quantum theory shares with us on a microcosmic level, observation changes reality. The dead don’t speak to me in words like a phone call. It’s sound based, so I trained in sound healing therapy and reiki as well as attended other shamanic practices while writing this book to up my sensitivity to these practices. Sound is the way in and out of consciousness and energy is the base foundation for all of existence, so to say we talk or don’t talk becomes semantics. We simply are one with everything, and we either choose to be aware or we do not.


What’s up with this section in the middle that’s all about Wuthering Heights and Bob Dylan?

I wrote a poem for every chapter of Wuthering Heights linked to a Bob Dylan song in the middle of the book because I was interested in attachment theory and family. I took the two biggest influences in my life as a young kid, and I imagined how in our brains we create these cultural templates that become guides, but often these are toxic in our current culture. The book is a snapshot of a fragmented brain in a way, so there is this undercurrent of patterns, toxic families, father/ son/ daughter triangulation, attachment patterns and my brother being named Dylan: These ideas compound on one another creating a picture of how we try to make sense of death, grief, suicide, loss. We hold on to anything to understand what we will never fully know.


What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory is a relationship theory that suggests we all imprint an “imago” from our early caretakers, so every intimate relationship we engage in is actually fueled by our subconscious as much as we would like to believe we like “tall” or “blond” or “successful” partners; the truth is our subconscious is scanning potential mates to see how they match up to mommy, daddy or whoever we first bonded with as an infant. I spent a lot of time while writing the book testing my attachments to people in real life, because I write out of my body and not just my mind. Online dating sites made this practice easy, and that’s why I acknowledge them in the book.


Is the brain like a computer?

Yes and no, it operates along some of the same principles, but it’s consciousness that really is the crux of how it manages to be self-actualizing and self realized. This is where quantum theory comes in, because we understand consciousness as much as we do why certain quantum theories hold true. Quantum entanglement can be shown to exist but we don’t know how or why it does and the same can be said for the way telepathy works among certain beings or how M-fields work in collective consciousness.


How does this apply to poetry?

Someone asked me once if you put the code from BASIC PROGRAMMING into a computer would it run an actual program. Yes and no, because it’s not designed to be run in a computer; it’s designed to be run in a brain. I think of poetry this way for consciousness. It’s sound that is designed to run collectively in humans, and it is where we store the best of what being human is. We carry inside poetry our history, our songs, our worship, our witness: It is a DNA of our existence. This is where I work as a poet geneticist, if you will, to introduce into the code sounds specifically designed with the intention to heal.


Don’t you think that’s a little far fetched to think poetry shapes humanity?

Not really, because again quantum entanglement shows that any action in an atom can be separated by time and space and still produce evidence of change to another atom. Likewise, regardless of time and space, poetry (its sound) creates a vibration, a very specific one in exact opposition to the low vibratory sounds created by war, violence, oppression, hate, etc. We think of power in this manifested space in terms of great action and great visible change, but we discount the reality that quantum mechanics proves. The smallest atom has the ability to shape another atom over vast differences. So we are naïve to discount any thought, any act, or any art’s ability to keep this world in balance or to even, if done with intention, to radically alter the way we exist. This is just science we haven’t figured how to fully prove yet.


How do we change the world?

We change ourselves. Everything in this world we need is inside of us, and the coda of BASIC PROGRAMMING is that there is no separation. When we truly begin to believe this, we will see that change of the self actually creates change in the world. Right now, we neglect the self in an attempt to change the world to meet us. We have it backwards, but we are learning. We have to give up our addiction to suffering, and yet we cling to it because it means giving up also the things that bring suffering like “falling in love.” But would you give up specialized love to create a world with no suffering. That’s a hard question to answer honestly.

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MEGAN BURNS is the publisher at Trembling Pillow Press (tremblingpillowpress.com). She is the co-director of the New Orleans Poetry Festival (nolapoetry.com) and has been hosting the Blood Jet Poetry Reading Series in New Orleans for the last six years. She has been most recently published in Jacket Magazine, Callaloo, New Laurel Review, Dream Pop, and Diagram. Her poetry and prose reviews have been published in Tarpaulin Sky, Gently Read Lit, Big Bridge, and Rain Taxi. She has three books: Memorial + Sight Lines (2008), Sound and Basin (2013) and Commitment (2015) published by Lavender Ink. Her recent chapbooks include: her Twin Peaks chap, Sleepwalk With Me (Horse Less Press, 2016), Beneath the Drift (Red Mare, 2019) and FUCK LOVE: I’m sorry someone hurt you (Shirt Pocket Press, 2019). Her fourth collection, BASIC PROGRAMMING, was published by Lavender Ink in 2018. Her forthcoming collection is called SERAPH.

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