LUNGFULL!: The poem you have in LUNGFULL!, “[I will foregrown]”, is a misheard song—how did you come to that?
Lancelot Runge: I listen to music constantly, but I wasn’t always listening to melodies or songs with lyrics in them, I would actually listen to noise rock, or static, because it would drown out all the things that were happening in my brain and I could pay attention to the gesture of writing, rather than what I wanted to say or having themes and characters and narratives. I could distance myself and concentrate on the shapes I was making and read it later. And then I started playing music, I learned how to play the ukulele, started singing and performing on the train, and started writing my own songs, so then it was a matter of what’s the difference between poetry and songwriting, what kind of folk elements do I want to include…Constantly listening to music is a way for me to one, have material to write, because I never have any ideas, ever, and two, to in some way give what I love about the music to other people, rather than just saying, Oh, you should look up this band or download this song, because some part of that doesn’t work anymore. I don’t think people remember the songs their friends tell them to look up anymore, or if they do, they just hoard them, no one buys albums anymore. So I love the idea of taking the sounds or duration from the songs and transforming it in some way and calling it my own, and having it convey what I like about that song to other people. And also experience it more for myself. I think I learn a lot about the music I enjoy by writing with it. The big thing is that I never have any ideas, so I need the lyrics in my head, need to hear people speak.
So that’s a point of stimulation, and it’s a social relationship too. You said people speaking, and that’s something I’m interested in, too, because I’ve read your work and I’ve heard you read, and it seems that there are so many different voices and different presences that come into your writing; I especially remember one poem that sounded like a radio transmission. There’s a lot of colloquial speech, and especially a concentration on your relationships with people, you mention people by name, or fictional people by name. There’s such a social network.
That’s true. The radio thing…I used to stay up really late at night and scan through the AM radio, and there were a lot of religious channels, sermons, preachers reading Scripture but also commenting on love and sex and drug use, which is always kind of bizarre. But there’s a huge disconnect between what happens when I listen to the radio and what happens when I’m listening to people. It’s easier to mishear people than it is with recordings. I force myself to push away from recorded mediums, but when I’m listening to people speak or I’m overhearing conversations, everything gets totally mixed up in my brain and becomes really abstracted, and crazy words and sounds start coming out. Also, I have to create my own meter in conversation. Even if people speak a sort of organic poetry, I have a lot more responsibility to organize it in a fashion that seems more organic to me.
So are you saying that you’ll have a conversation and then record it?
I used to do that, but now I can’t remember anything that well, so I’m actually writing conversations that other people are having with each other, I’m sitting there scribbling down as fast as I can go. I actually write on these scrolls a lot, too, this is my big thing now.
Is this receipt tape?
Yeah, I hang out at Project Parlor a lot, and they give me all of their old receipt rolls that don’t fit, or whatever, so I just have a big pile of them and I use these to record what people are saying around me, or interesting things I’m reading at the time.
Is it a habitual thing for you to be around people who are talking and constantly write about them, or do you suddenly hear something and realize that you have to channel that?
It’s really inconsistent. I’m naturally drawn to people, but I also have a tremendous amount of anxiety, and I’ll often isolate myself for days and I won’t produce any work. It’s just chance, it’s always chance operation. And of course I never feel that I have enough material or that I’m doing it often enough, but when it does happen I consider it a weird, small miracle. I feel, though, that I’m a fortunate enough person to have people around me who want to help me do my art and make my life rich and full and beautiful. Over at the bar, if they can see that I’m sitting there and there’s a look on my face that maybe I’m absorbing something but I’m too anxious to do anything, one of the bartenders will hand me a piece of paper and a pen and I’ll be like, Oh, yeah! Ok! And start doing it. It’s not just a matter of listening to people. I really depend on my friends and people who are around me to literally, physically interrupt my Whatever, and force me to make things.
Can you talk more about anxiety and its relationship to writing?
I think a lot of people want to say is that they use writing as a means to exorcise those feelings, or rid or relieve themselves of anxiety, but I’ve actually had the inverse experience, where writing in general is panic-inducing for me, and it’s really exhausting—I get so worked up. I used to say that I write because it calms me down, but…I remember that my dad, when I was a little kid, used to say that it’s ok to be nervous, because it’s the same type of energy as productive and excitable energy, so it’s a just a matter of your perspective. So: If I can induce anxiety and I’m at the point where I can control it, I can write and write and write, and that’ll build up enough energy for me to do a reading, I’ll jot down a bunch of notes before I have to do a reading, or before I have to perform. I’m trying to do a lot more performance now. And I think that the scroll project too, because the lines are so short, that feels to me like how it is to gather information but only get little fragments, which allows me to write fast. It’s a visual representation of anxiety; everything becomes extremely fragmented but also really necessary and inevitable.
It has that sacred connotation, as well.
That goes along with what I was saying about the sermon, the priest. The book that I’m working on now, actually, is about Norse mythology, and combining the images from a specific story about Fenrir the wolf, and a creation myth I’m making about the devil. I don’t have much to show for it right now, except for images, I’m doing a lot of etchings and drawings. So scroll is a perfect for that, too, and I’m trying to figure out if I can use that as a material way of publishing it, but it’s also going to be too big, too long [laughs].
Wolf imagery shows up in your poetry a lot, and in “[I will foregrown]” there’s a “wolf beat.”
It’s a thing that I’ve been doing since I was a really little kid. I collected wolf knickknacks, and then I read the Brothers Grimm and stuff like that. The beast and the monster, they’re vicious, but they have tact, they have rules and guidelines, and they’re just beautiful fucking creatures, they’re tied to contemporary hip culture while at the same time being part of the myth and the fantastic, which I think is interesting. I like them for aesthetic reasons, mostly. And I howl sometimes. And I was going to say something about animal medicine, getting my cards read and stuff, but I didn’t start doing that shit until a year ago. But if you read up on the Native American perspective on the wolf and what it represents, it’s really beautiful and fascinating.
To go back to performance, I’ve seen you read and it’s very performative, you’ve mentioned that you want to perform more, you’ve mentioned the physical energy of it and also a fascination with sermons. What I’m really curious about is whether when you’re writing, that performative aspect comes in, or if it takes form afterwards, or if they’re two separate modes of writing for you.
I think the process of writing poetry and of reading poetry are all a performance. I think they’re tied. And speech, the way you carry yourself, the way you walk and interact with people. My favorite thing about performance during a reading is when your body intervenes and does its own thing, but aligns itself with whatever gestures or motions you’re making that are intentional. So if I’m reading and I get really nervous and my hands start to shake, I focus on that, and I let it go crazy, rather than hold myself back from it, and then if I do that my voice starts to tremble, and it’ll happen at the end of a line just where it’s supposed to hit. And I can’t take that much responsibility for it. I think in some way I’ve learned how to hone it in or let it go…but I used to be a total fucking fake, I wanted people to think I was sick all the time, or tragic and hurt in some way, and I still feel that part of that is who I actually am. But I just read the work, and those little bursts of darkness and mystery that every poet really wants happen naturally. It’s terrible thing to try to perform. It happens naturally and you learn to take it as it comes.
In a way it becomes the absence of performing.
Maybe that’s what I’m saying, that that’s what I think performance is. It’s not necessarily putting on a mask or creating a persona, but more understanding how your body reacts to specific stimuli, and stimulating yourself with those things, in order to create that, to have your body do it naturally. And that’s again what I was saying about of course I do like writing, but it’s sometimes a scary thing, because I write to induce anxiety, because anxiety allows me to…stay awake, mostly. If I’m anxious, at least I’m excited, and I have some amount of energy.
You’re surrounded by artists, and you’re a visual artist yourself. How does that influence your writing?
The first thing I would say is that I am finally accepting that art and writing aren’t synonymous. When I got to New York, my biggest goal was to prove to everybody that writers are artists. And it’s a square is a rectangle but a rectangle’s not a square kind of thing, so that was frustrating for me, but now I’m understanding my own terms and my parameters for how to understand different media. And because of all these people, I actually finally consider myself a writer. Which is something I never wanted to do, but something that recently happened. Not that I’m not an artist, but I’m definitely a writer, whatever that means, and I still don’t really know what that means, but that was a cool day, because it made me feel like I wasn’t wasting my time. My visual work, though, I make a lot of books and I do sculpture; these jars are my latest thing that I’ve been doing.
What is this in here?
Those are crushed pills and handmade soaps with a rabbit’s foot…and this is busted windshield and toenails and a silkworm…but these are all assemblages, right? So I think I can directly relate that to the poems I write, because I’m collecting, and this is the work that I want to do now, I no longer want to be a painter, I’m not interested in drawing images, I just want to make these little visual poems. I think these are books.
Do you think there’s a way in which you as a writer influence visual artists?
I’m dating this guy, his name’s Kevin, he’s trained as a painter and filmmaker, and I think the most out-there example I can think of right now is he has told me that I have, as a writer looking at book objects and thinking about language and words, I’ve affected what he’s doing for his thesis right now. He’s a candidate for a master’s of fine arts, and for part of his thesis show, he’s making a zine. And this is really interesting, I think about this a lot. He’s also an assembler, he assembles trash and makes these monster installations. I don’t know if any of it is sellable or not, sellable as in if he wants to sell them, not if they can be sold, but he used to make flawless editions of the paintings and prints and want to sell them for a lot of money. But the idea he has with this zine is that he’s going to make 150 or 200 of them, and give them all away for free. And that was something he gained, he said, from knowing me as a person, and I thought it was interesting that maybe that was the byproduct of knowing a writer, because there’s something about writers that’s that sort of…is it selflessness? Is it frivolousness? But I thought that was really interesting that for the first time he wanted an edition of these things and make really nice copies but then give them away and not try to sell them. And also the fact that he’s using the mode of the zine. His work is already pretty punk-rock, so he’s getting into the book form. On his website, the text he’s using for the zine is all spam, all this weird, regurgitated nonsensical language that’s coming up in the coding of his website. He’s using all of that at poetry. He’s writing poetry. He never did that before.
You’ve mentioned a lot that influences you—any poets specifically?
It was actually film that got me into writing. I didn’t read a lot as a kid: I pretended to. I’ve always loved JD Salinger—he’s still of one of the only prose writers I can stand. I recently got into Cortazar. But that’s also not, to me, the experience of reading a novel. It’s very non-linear, and I feel comfortable navigating the work however I want. In terms of poets, I’ve always been really into the New York School, I’m sort of infatuated with Schuyler. I’ve been reading friends’ work and friends of friends and people who are writing in New York right now. Just recently I encountered Dorothea Lasky.—she was cool, she would talk about monsters and evil. Classics, too–I was always into French Symbolist stuff, I was translating Soupault in Christian Hawkey’s translation class, and that got me into translation. That was a huge springboard for me, listening to foreign languages, but also realizing that my language was foreign. Being in New York I’ve been reading the Berrigans and reading all the Beats again, and everyone’s always talking about Frank O’Hara. It’s always going to be here, that sort of energy. I think the classic New York writers are something I’m always keeping in the back of my head. But I’m hoping to check out the West Coast scene and see if people still talk about Spicer. Alaska, or the West coast, or South Africa…but I’ll probably just stay here, because that’s what happens.