Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Devil's Engine, No. 1

Welcome to the first installment of the Biblioasis interview series. The following is posted with a special thanks to Josh Trotter, who remarked that this question made him think of radishes (eradicate: to pull out by the roots). So thanks to Josh! And without further adieu ...

Is there anything in your own poetry that you try to eradicate?

Shane Neilson:

The means of eradication is editing. When I write a poem, I don't think: Don't Do This. I think: Try To Do This. If I were aware of tics, habits, predelictions, I'd be more likely, in trying to avoid them, to write a poem that did what it set out to do. Which is: to not risk anything. Zach Wells, my editor for Meniscus, framed my poetry thus (I paraphrase): that I am writing for the emotional uppercut, that I'm trying to make people feel. But in doing so, the poems can totter, top-heavy, whilst straining for power. He also gave me, during the editing process, a countervailing quote that I treasure: Pound said 'Only emotion endures.' I must agree with Ez. But I would! So, when the poem reaches first-draft completion, I inspect it. I look for sentimentality. I think of Alden Nowlan, an early hero, who also swung for the fences, but who often wrote poems that were whiffs. I then divest the poem of manipulation, of unearnedness. Naked emotion? Hardly. Raw emotion? Nope. It's emotion that I've refined, dressed, and dignified. That way endurance lies.

Marsha Pomerantz:

What I try to eradicate in my poems is my desire for the reader’s approval, or at least evidence of that desire. I was brought up to be a good girl, but writing, as we’ve been reminded here (March 24), is on the side of Satan. So I have a conflict. What better to do with a conflict than, even while reaching out across my own lines, deflect it toward the reader? Who are these hypocrites lecteurs, these semblables of mine, and why are they messing around with my poems? Ah yes, I invited them.

Sometimes my ambivalence toward the reader expresses itself as a false promise. “What Birds Mean When They Say That” leads a dance around a pond, with much visiting of flora and fauna and overhearing of “frogs in mid-blurt.” But regarding the intended explication, the poem comes up dry at the end. No clue about meaning, ornithological or other.

In a couple of other poems, the reader is addressed directly, in a tone that’s taunting or coy. “Turner II,” a prose poem, views the Houses of Parliament burning, does the laundry, visits political hotspots, reminisces about the childhood favorite Eloise, then ends with a tease: “Fun is not the word for it. But wait a minute, I’ll tell you what is.” In the ensuing silence I picture readers fidgeting in their armchairs, looking at their watches, wondering when the revelation will arrive. Those sitters in judgment, serves them right!

Then there’s “Table of Equivalents,” a pastiche of quoted and misquoted equivalents ranging from culinary to moral, which ends, “I give you that the sky begins beneath your feet. May I have a receipt?” Not asking for approval, mind you, just confirmation of goods delivered. Evening up the score.

I venture to address the reader earnestly only at a remove—for instance, through the mouth of a dead cow in a Damien Hirst installation. The cow, its interior exposed in slices soaking in formaldehyde, says, “Feed me, please / your possibilities, / and I will fatten you.” For me, this reciprocal feeding and fattening is how art works. For the cow, recalling Pharaoh’s dreams of fat and lean, fat is prosperity. But will the reader, in this age of the ultradiet, agree to take on girth?

I just remembered: I don’t care. But I’m sure the cow does.

Zachariah Wells:

Pound said to go in fear of abstractions. Frost quipped that when a poet is issued a poetic license the bearer should be entitled to only three uses of the word "beautiful." I don't try to eradicate intangibles from my poems. I simply tend to bar the door to their entry. If I try to eradicate anything, it's this prejudice against them. Occasionally "beautiful" is le mot juste. But three uses might be going too far.


If you have questions you'd like to put to our poets, please send them to tmurphy@biblioasis.com.


Anonymous said...

In honour of the season, and as a shout-out to Zach: this is one of Hopkins's three allotted times.


Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Zachariah Wells said...

Yeah, see, if I was GMH's editor, I'd suggest cutting or fixing that first line, as a redundant preemptive summary ;)