(coughs, wipes nose on sleeve) So tell me, Andrew – Night Chant, how did it all begin for you? A bolt of lightning, a vision of some kind?
Night Chant (Lethe Press 2011) began with the leftover poems that didn’t fit in with the tone of my first collection, Catching Tigers in Red Weather (Three Candles Press, 2007). Around 2009, I became interested in the idea of “hidden,” which logically leads to the idea of “discovery.” I was still experimenting with poetic voice and narrative in my work, (e.g. who is the speaker, to whom is the poem addressed, etc.) and playing around with burying poetic forms within line breaks. The poems in Night Chant all have very formal metrical structures and/or rhyme schemes, but the forms are embedded in the line breaks to conceal them. Once the true line is discovered, the reader can see that these poems are in the tradition of French syllabic verse. For example, here is the poem “Announcement” with its “true” lines revealed:
A baby’s pink squeal for the tit, its hunger*
insolvent, obstinate country. Or
the snarl of sated fox, the expunger,
after its banquet of rabbit femur.
Mountains open upon their dependents
a volcanic outrage. Magma aglow
like the mind’s light, orange-red, resplendent.
Over lifeless men, the screech of sea birds,
the fins of mermaids the drowning have heard.
*my sloppy division of syllables (count 11, the next line 9 = 20 for the two lines.)
The end rhymes are more noticeable this way and the ten-syllable lines become apparent. So began Night Chant.
I’ve heard a rumor that you’ve cut-up Sylvia Plath’s Ariel into tiny pieces and scattered it all over your iMac.
(Stares at ceiling, then at Swatch. Doesn’t make eye contact) Well, not really scattered, but I did tear out the pages, one by one, and cut them into word fragments.
Any reason for that, apart from the sheer joy of it?
The poems in my next poetry collection, A Birthday Present, are cut-ups of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel poems. I created these original works for A Birthday Present using the 1960s cut-up process that William S. Burroughs used in creating such works as The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express, among other novels. My process, however, includes additional steps: editing for meaning/subject matter/clarity, and the injection of poetic metrical count, and/or insertion various rhyme formulae. I was focusing on manipulating the “poetic voice.”
The idea came out of a “Poetry in Translation” class I took in grad school at St. Mary’s College of California. I wondered why it was that only voice and no other poetic device could be translated. What was so unique about “voice” that it remained when all other poetic elements have disappeared? Was it simply a matter of a poet’s word choice, or is there something else? To use an example from another medium: why was it that when I looked at a painting created by someone who tried to paint like Vincent Van Gogh, I saw only the “Van Gogh-ness” of the work and nothing of the actual imitator’s hand? My experiments with cutting up the work of other poets had provided many insights into the transcendent nature of what we call “the poetic voice.”
I’m sure Frieda Hughes’ (Plath’s daughter) lawyers will be contacting you soon…
I doubt it. These new poems are all original texts. There would be no way to trace them back to their inspirations. In fact you would never know that they were cut-ups unless someone told you. I promise you, this is a legitimate form of art, not a copy.
D. A. Powell mentioned to me when I saw him that you bake amazing banana bread.
The secret is sour cream, and that’s all your getting out of me!
But seriously, what influences you?
Right now: Florence + The Machine’s Ceremonials and Christopher Hennessy’s marvelous poetry collection, Love-In-Idleness. I love how Florence is obsessed with drowning and Hennessy’s lyrical stanzas are wonderful.
Chunky or creamy?
Smooth and creamy Adams All-Nautral, of course!
Lady Gaga or Madonna?
(Sits up, brushes hair from forehead, then pats it down again) You mean which is more annoying, or tired?
Or, over. Whichever.
Final question: Which book did you bring to the desert island?
The Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged). I can read it, build a hut from the 20 volumes, or burn it, if need be. Maybe build a raft from it, too.