Interview by Nicky Hyman
How has the world of poetry changed since you first became a part of it?
Poetry seems to evolve as it remains the same. By that I mean, the basic attribute we have as humans, language, will always be there…connecting us in ways we don’t know. What’s evolved is how ramped up those connections are now. Our brevity to get across information filters into the language we use. Poetry has always talked about the age it’s in. It seems, with the enormity of information available now compared to when I first entered poetry over 20 years ago…that the mystery and secret-telling that poetry is a master of, is what’s changed to me. With more information and quicker access to it, there’s less secrets…which maybe points to a new age of imagination that doesn’t rely on tweets to get across that first thought. Maybe that means our need for privacy has grown the more privacy is taken away, and poetry is an immensely private act…in the action of its transition from internal to external. Maybe there’s more of a need to know that poetry’s reach can suspend belief. There’s such a resource of text-matter available now, html coding, texting, social media, a trillion apps with their own lingo…where can one find intimacy? I imagine word-people like poets, are the ones who will decipher and encrypt every new generation…but you know, it’s hard to talk about something that’s changed when you use it everyday.
How has your personal relationship with poetry changed?
I now understand the vital life-force that poetry is for me. How it not only transforms my perceptions but those of the world around me. I don’t take for granted the ability that language has to affect the over-all narrative, the movement of people in their lives is affected by their sensory awareness. I don’t think I understood that before, I was always interested in playing with language and forms, while not always knowing what I was doing…which by the way, I’m a great believer in not-knowing. There’s a balance you achieve the more you invest yourself in your passion, you understand how much to use your knowledge and then how much to forget everything you ever knew — how to throw yourself off the cliff and land in the fall (how “poetic”). So I’m more comfortable claiming poetry’s DNA in my life than I used to be…however there are mega-chunks of history and reality that I remain blissfully unaware of.
How has the world of independent publishing changed? Do you think things have changed for the better or worse?
Ah, I’m not up on all the new presses, there are so many more now. I don’t know how much that affects the work being produced, but I’m glad they’re out there…I think? I can imagine the value of getting brilliant, unknown work out into the world…I can also imagine the flood of voices and how do you get heard. Ultimately, I’d rather have the flood, it seems like with more chances for distinct voices to exist for the world to hear, the energy of poetry can build and permeate the overall appreciation for language. To me, better or worse is not the point, that becomes a distraction…we get moved by our internal impulses, you know. We empower each other by presenting possibility instead of a certain competitive hierarchy, i.e. my worse could very well be your better, etc. But things do suck now! (haha, leave you hanging there, eh) When I compare the pre-iPad days…I know my awareness and visceral experiences were radically shaped by how I immersed my body in movement when I was a Rican Lad. I didn’t swipe across a glass screen in my hand, to connect to the other side of the world immediately. I think that sense of mystery and patience and waiting to discover an answer is a sort of investigating agent that’s gone now. Our need for connection is still poetry’s greatest strength, but I think the inner byways have been given a glossy makeover.
As a graphic designer, what kind of overlap do you see between visual art and poetry? How does the composition change from medium to medium?
My talking is my seeing, interchangeable accomplices! The head space that takes language and converts it to speech, has room for all the senses. My entry into graphic design paved the way for poetry — looking at letterforms, the shapes of their negative/positive allegience in the air they occupy — was a natural transition to imagining the sounds they make. While I see the visual world as another tool at my disposal, I still need my message, my communication. If something just looks cool on the page, or sounds pretty…what’s at the core of my communication? If you have a scene unfold before you which needs to be caught…the catcher can grab what they see and record it. Can you transform from catcher to sensory being with generosity beckoning, so that you can leave room for the reader/audience to meet you halfway and interpret the scene with their own history? So that’s where the other disciplines come in, that’s where you can use visual, sound, motion, to heighten the text…to bring it to life. But you still need your text. What am I saying — that the composition of your medium is dictated by your personal approach — that the text is what dictates the life of its existence in the world outside you, a world you didn’t create, a world that wants to know what you think. From medium to medium, how do you penetrate all that think with yours? You start with your tools and navigate with your guts, your heart — trusting that move between the disciplines, is revelatory, unnerving and vital.
How does your personal process change?
I’m constantly negotiating the myriad balances presented to me daily, in an effort to maintain my grasp on what I make. I imagine we all create something as a beast of its own reckoning, undoing the awareness of its master. The process between doing and done is lifelong. To keep in motion, psychologically, spritually, physically, is at the core of the process that chooses me. I’m giving you an answer within an answer without knowing the trajectory — a process in the form of its asking. I think the eyes need to be open, the back straight, the tongue fluid, the dexterity of technology reigned in, the material at the periphery of its possibility…before you, talking to you, about what it needs. Our daily process charges our giving…what we want for ourselves, for others, for whatever evolves the world. Process is my lifelong river, of sorts. My specific need for direction. I prefer the travel to the landing. I guess my work has purposefull openings that don’t connect, allowing for imperfections to trigger our own human misfires. John Cassavetes talks about making films that are not entertainment, that have scenes people love and others they hate…as opposed to a big production that’s trying to maintain the audience’s interest throughout, he’s more interested in the complexity of the human process. The dynamic mirror that doesn’t define. I think there’s something in there that I relate to. The tangent in the middle of a poem that suddenly brings the outside world in, or that scatters sense for sound, and then gets back to the action, back to the driving quirl. I don’t know if that’s something that’s changed in me, but I’ve always been aware that I am not in the center, not entertainment per se…but more of a creature on the edge, moving to the ebb and flow of what appears in the middle.
You’re quite well known for bending the medium of poetry, both on and off the page – cultivating a sort of multi-media performance, which, in addition to the written word, includes all sorts of vocal and physical improvisation, as well as complex experiments in sound and visual art. For you, personally, how do all these different mediums bounce off each other? How do you use them to express certain ideas or themes?
I sparked off on that topic earlier…it’s a matter of breathing life into the words, into the medium you use to get across your story. Listening to your heartbeat, your pulse around the internal refractions that guide you. Opening your portals, the ones you were born with, the ones you invent. When the messages share a source, a basic movement, it’s easier to find new ones. As a piece is created, I’m trying to be open to how it wants to move…in space, in body, in text, in sound, etc. As I’ve moved through my career, the essence of text has remained, the message, the story…as I mentioned earlier, is what will drive the process. Specific themes appear as I move through them…the thing gets created by being the thing itself. I’m interested lately in the notion of edge. The barriers we place on identity, geography, culture — the differences that make us who we are; the edges we claim, the ones that claim us. How am I expressing that? It’s an open field, just another way to say difference. So that you imagine a barrier between stage and audience, page and reader…the edge is apparent. The next step would be to penetrate, or acknowledge the pores that present themselves. To see how to conflate the metaphor into being by inhabiting its essence. Those themes are constant in all my work, I have a continual interest in connection and process…how the mediums travel to ease our entry. So edge has pretty much always been my theme without me knowing it was…until now. Until I was ready to focus in on my message. Complexity is a state of mind, I don’t see what I’m doing as complicated, just layered. My edges get layered as I move through them…so you see, I’m using language here to get through language — the thing becoming the thing.
What is that process like? Of formulating such a complex arrangement and performance?
See above…how great that each question leads to the answer before it’s asked! Our arrangement of what we let in, what we allow to claim our individual complexity, as humans, as poets, is what our process becomes. You start where you think you know — the word, the scene, the idea — and you let it grow limbs, wings, movement. Your powers of observation are what determine how you care for it. The more tools you have to water it, to steer it, to understand that you will never understand it — the better chance you have to create something truly unique. With so many more tools available now, so many more chances to magnify the shout — it becomes more and more important to get yourself rooted in your message…as I mentioned earlier. Layering the edges will determine how complex you want to make them, and then it’s a matter of practice — with those tools, your rehearsals, your craft…whatever you want to call your process. It’s like going into an interesting corner you’ve never visited before in the same room — your mind is the same room and the corner is the new idea — the more you’re in it, the more details you pick up. Before you realize it…that corner becomes an entire world, and even the simplest world is bound to be immensely complicated…just like this answer, refusing to land.
How have your performances evolved over the years?
I used to want to take the audience on a journey through their senses…I guess by now, I’m more interested in taking them through mine.