Stephanie Barbé Hammer: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Stephanie Barbé Hammer
January 12, 2015
You have referred to Dada in your writing. Why, after almost a century, does Dada matter?
Greil Marcus makes the great point that the Dadaists were the first Punks. They rejected the idea of the “professional artist” and embraced instead being radically playful “amateurs.” An amateur is literally a person who loves something. I resonate with that idea: I love to make writing but I try to refuse – in a hopefully humorous and termitic way — the verbiage of artistic “greatness.” Because I think that language has silenced a lot of creative people ––
Wait a minute — Termitic???????
That’s Manny Farber’s term. Termite art can burrow into a thing, and kind of eat it up and take it apart at the same time. I see myself as a tiny termite writer who listens on a tiny iPod to tiny songs by various little-known bands while chomping away on those big important literary genres and forms. Yum!
What nursery rhyme or jingle from your childhood returns most vividly and often?
Tyger Tyger burning bright in the forest of the night!
What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Hey that’s not a nursery rhyme!
You’re right! But my mother used to recite that to me, when I was a kid and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. How could a tiger burn? But of course it could, because of its “symmetry” (a word I didn’t understand at the time, but that seemed powerful).
What household object has inspired you the most?
The toaster. It’s modest, it’s focused. It does one thing and it does it well.
If a composer asked your permission to set some of your poems to music, how would you react?
I’d say sure, but I’d hope the work would turn out to sound more like John Cage than Richard Wagner.
You’re proficient in several foreign languages. Have you ever been tempted to write poetry in them?
I think I tried that a long time ago. Maybe it’s time to try again. Il se peut… Es kann sein… Non so…
Who, in your opinion, has written the sexiest poems?
Paul Verlaine, for sure. He was one screwed up guy, but he made sensual, suggestive, luxurious poems. I remember reading “Green” in high school, and thinking “THIS is what a poem can be? If so, then I’m IN!”
You often read your poetry in public. Do you think about that when you write?
Nope. I dig sharing my work with audiences but the concern with performativity always comes later. When I write I’m just listening. I’m hearing the words enter my head and then I’m hearing the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard or the scratch of a pen or pencil on paper.
List five writers who have made you want to write . . .
1. Albert Camus — I read The Stranger in junior high with my mom and then I just kept on discovering new amazing work by him.
2. Pablo Neruda — a poet who, like Verlaine, made me ask, “Can poetry really be this bold, fresh, and exciting?”
3. Octavia Butler — I read Dawn Xenogenesis and then I MET her at one of the Eaton SF conferences in the early 90’s. I’ve read almost all her books.
4. Sandra Cisneros — Woman Hollering Creek = instant energy
5. Aimee Bender — Her writing helped me understand how Americans can work with the ideas brought to by the Dadaists and the Surrealists.
6. (bonus writer) Haruki Murakami
And five writers who, however briefly, have “put you off” writing.
4. Henry James
What is the relationship between poetry and the dead?
Haha! I think we’re often channeling the dead when we write. Or I am, at least. How Formal? calls back the people that I’ve loved and a few that I’ve hated so they can live just a moment longer. In that instantaneous visitation I can internalize something important or banish something bad that they conveyed to me before they turn their steps back to the underworld of my unconscious.
What if they don’t go back?
That’s cool too.
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