AN AVANTGARDE BAROQUE OF CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN POETRY, IMPROVING WHY POST ABSURDITY
I like to emphasize the tree poetries The Holy Worm of Praise (2002); Living in the Past (2004); Failure (2007); and The God of Loneliness: Selected and New Poems (2010). Before you write also. Is it to you any recognizable difference?
I’m making a distinction here between being a nobody and a failure, not a failure and success. I’m saying, somewhat ironically, that nobodies are forgettable but people remember failures. Since my father was a failure and I’m memorializing him in this poem and others in this forget I clearly find him memorable.
Can you describe the relationship between fame and poetry. Fame tries to destroy the beauty of poetry? How do you defend?
If you mean do I think fame affects my poetry (I can’t speak for others), then yes. It gave me a little more time and resources with which to write. It doesn’t in any way affect my writing process nor does it change how I see myself.
In your words, what is substantial problem of contemporary poetry? And society? Does poetry correspondent to reality?
I write, as you know, about real people and situations, about politics and nature, so reality is important to me. Good poetry mirrors the world, the real world. The beauty as well as the ugliness.
Now to re-erect Failure. How much time did you take to write this book of poetry?
In some sense I was writing Failure, both the poem and the book, most of my life. It took me a long time to understand how my father’s failures weren’t my own. That fact that in doing so I wrote my most successful book is of course ironic. It also took me a very long time to develop the craft necessary to express with any subtlety and persuasion the delicacy of these feelings. If there’s any truth in what I wrote, it’s for the reader to interpret that.
Did you write, simultaneously and other poems?
I often write many poems at one time, because I find discovering the meaning of one informs my understanding of the others. I was also looking at 9/11 and its affect on New Yorkers, the relationship between humans and dogs (animals) and how difficult and beautiful life in the contemporary city can be.
Absurdity in poetic sense. Otioseness of absurdity in new century. How to sing after after absurdity?
I embrace Camus’s idea of absurdity. The difference between what exists (reality) and the necessity of our having to skewer our vision of it in order to survive can produce absurd as well as tragic circumstances. I want to write my story in a way that others could identify with; to make my intellectual and emotional discovers interesting and moving to others too, knowing the very attempt is on some basic level absurd. Beckett’s hobo’s attempting poetry amid such intense self-obfuscation. The humor in such struggles may be the final answer to a question no one has asked of us. If what we write has any lasting value it may be in the absurdity of such a vulnerable and human endeavor.
American poetry, or Anglo-American, is the great mix, or compression, of influences. Migrations, Afro flow, Hindu, Jewish, then all those other influences. How do you understand impact of Jewish poetry to modern American verse?
There is most certainly an Hebraic influence on modern English poetry. The Five Books of Moses, or Torah, as well as the New Testament, enriched Anglo-Saxon literature, as well as all the Romance languages, in style as well as subject matter and story-telling techniques. Modern Hebrew poets, like Yehuda Amichai, work directly out of this tradition though are also influenced by American and European poetry.
Jewish lingual discourse has a fine sense for poetry. It is a language of ancient utterance. Whether you agree with me, that it is language with perfect structure?
But something special happened to American poetry in the19th century when Walt Whitman broke with more traditional English poetics and fashioned an American poetic style as innovative and imaginative as the new nation itself. He created a persona narrator whose ambition it was to embrace all the ideals and spirit of rebellion and revolutionary zeal of its history, while creating a language free of old world formalists constraints. His new music was influenced by the Hebraic bible in its use of incantation and rhythmic repetition, and his stories were also both biblical and innovative in nature.
His language combined raw ambition and traditional influences into a propulsive and incantatory style whose sounds were different from anything written before. One could claim all of modern American poetry comes from him and Emily Dickinson who in her quieter way engendered a similar influence.
Will you explain how, in your view, Jewish migration shaped great mainstream culture?
Contemporary American poetry is also highly influenced by jazz improvisation and blues and the rich cultures of so many layers of immigrants who have forged a musicality all their own. I became a poet in San Francisco in the 1960s when the Beats and Allen Ginsberg were creating their own cultural and linguistic innovations, which were blending into the rich intonations of Neruda, Vallejo, Pound, Machado, into the Japanese and ancient Chinese-influenced American imagistic styles of Robert Bly and James Wright. It was a great free-spirited time for poetry, a meet-ground for world poetry rekindled and inspired by a new generation of innovators and rebels. The Vietnam war and resistant movements against it provided a context in which popular musicians like Bob Dylan and Robert Lowell found common ground with Ginsberg and Whitman. I am without a doubt a product of that period of American poetry, as are so many of my colleagues.
How would you describe condition of Contemporary American poetry? Its diversity and trends?
There is a more traditional and academically conservative trend recently, but much of modern American poetry is still inspired by the politics of the moment, wherever that moment may be found and inclines to takes us.
Interview by Lepota Cosmo, February 2016