Terry, you have a new poetry collection titled Ruin Porn. What’s the story behind that title?
“Ruin Porn” is a term coined by Detroit writer/photographer Jim Griffioen in Vice Magazine; he critiques the aestheticizing of destruction, which he saw firsthand in many artists’ responses to the devastation within the city of Detroit. By focusing on the “beauty” of abandoned and crumbling buildings and neighborhoods, we ignore the human and economic costs to the communities.
At the same time, we are in the midst of profound disintegration of our society and our culture—the dissolution of gender roles, fragmentation in social relationships and in the psyche, degradation of the environment and of civil society, and the decay of the spirit. I can’t imagine what else to be writing about. “I cannot turn my eyes away…”
You’re using a process to create these works that also involves taking things apart.
For the last several years now, I have been evolving a process I call “dis•articulations” in order to bring poems into being. I became uninterested in seeing myself as “originator” of poems and have been interested to see how poems evolve from a pool of language, how words and their meanings morph when they get next to one another. Looking at the language itself as the raw material leads me to ideas I would not come to on my own.
The book is divided into sections; do you see those as topics?
If a tone or a mood can be a topic, then yes, I suppose so. In the first section, “Time’s Canopy,” several of the poems explore the ways our reality is contained by the construct of time. But we don’t necessarily leave that notion behind when we move to the second section. There’s a section titled, “I Can Recognize Anarchy When I See It,” which is where some love poems are congregated.
“Woman in a Skirt of Weather” contains poems about women behaving badly, that is, not doing what society expects of them. “I’m Re-thinking My Halo,” examines spirituality from an irreverent perspective.
The book includes a number of poems about environmental calamity. Did you intend to do that?
When I began working with the dis•articulations process, I’d hoped I would end up with poems that were more humorous, lighter, playful. But the times are not playful; Nature is not playing with us. I often don’t even know I am thinking about it and yet it keeps asserting itself in the work.
What do you see as the purpose of poetry in 2018?
It’s not so much about crafting these perfect objects that can win a contest or find their way into some magazine. That commodified model of poetry seems pretty exhausted. I want to see poetry as a tool we use to make sense of our lives and the world we live in, the inside reflecting the outside and back again. I want to see poetry as a way we talk to one another when the culture is screaming words at us that make no sense, words that are intended to confuse and corrupt us. The poem, wrapped in its body of quiet, of hush, can sometimes take us back into ourselves.