Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sub Divo, Super Soon (like tomorrow!)

Well today is the kick-off day of the BiblioBash tour, and Nadine McInnis, C.P. Boyko, and Norm Sibum are going to be rocking Collected Works tonight at 7. Then tomorrow they head up to Montreal, where we'll be having the hometown celebration for Norm's Sub Divo, about which we couldn't be more excited. 
The Burritoville BiblioBash:
2055 Bishop, 7 PM
Thursday September 20!
If you're new to Norm's but would like to know a little more, make sure you check out his website and blog, Ephemeris. And for your collective reading pleasure, Norm novitiates and veterans alike, I'm posting the interview that accompanies our press release. 

Sub Divo launches in
Montreal tomorrow at
Burritoville. Cover image is
from a painting by
Mary Harman.
1. The act of comparing America to the Roman republic is as old as America itself. Founding fathers, legislators, poets, and politicians of the eighteenth century all invoked Roman democracy as the model for US government, and not a few have speculated since that the arc of Roman history—from republic to empire to eventual dissolution—may well foreshadow America’s own demise. Why, in poems like “Renderings from Propertius” and “Tacitus in the Afternoon,” do you turn to the classical comparison now, at this point in American history?
Because it's all the more true. A proper answer to your question would require a proper essay, if not a proper book, and there's plenty of either around—but in any case, there's nothing original in my thinking about it all, just that I 'feel' it deeply and always have. There are a couple of moments in two poems in the collection that come close to explaining why, in the second verse of “Fluff and Tirade, for Foulard,” and in the concluding verse of the “Sub Divo” section (“Yankee Boy in Baseball Gear”).  
Also, one gets a powerful whiff now and then of wholesale decadence in the air that has nothing to do with sex or any other bodily need, but has a great deal more to do with matters of the mind and soul and a belief that nothing matters anymore—very little seems to. And while some historians may argue that Rome's collapse was purely a matter of mechanics, others argue that a spiritual collapse will trigger the collapse of the fundamentals or certainly affect what wherewithal there is in dealing with a crisis. Then again, Rome got its start in violence, as did America, and still others might argue that it comes around sooner or later, as in what goes around comes around. I don't know myself the extent to which I might believe in karma; it may be a delusion history's losers indulge so as to console themselves. In any case, the America I knew when I was young no longer exists, and those aspects of it which I loved have been too compromised by market forces and mediocrities the fortunes of which any kind of creeping fascism will always float.
2. A number of the women in your poems, like the “lovely girls” of “Sub Divo” or Frieda Sue in “Frieda Sue Vagolin,” are criticized for affecting a relationship to poetry that ultimately proves inauthentic. Frieda Sue is rather stupidly in love with a bad poet and a Stalinist, whom she can’t recognize as bad until he insults her openly; on the other hand “Sub Divo” excoriates the “liberal babes for whom poetry is just / One career option among others, the birds flying over flying dead.” How do the men in your poems reveal their artistic affectations? Do you see inauthenticity as a general problem in contemporary poetry, and if so, do the sexes manifest it differently?
I wouldn't dream of criticizing the 'lovely girls' of the Sub Divo or they might not talk to me anymore, but yes. It could well be that we all of us have gotten to a place that puts us in an inauthentic relationship with poetry. It's a suspicion, and perhaps we may have to wait a long time for the dust to settle before the truth of any of it (if there is such an animal as truth, as ‘truth’ as such is just another word in some song that Janis Joplin had a go at), becomes apparent. I wouldn't say that Frieda Sue was exactly blind to the shortcomings of her man, and she was certainly on to his insincere colleagues at the Palace of Pedagoguery. I'd say she is an example of persons I've known who may be slow coming to certain realizations, but man, do they ever know what they know once they know it, if you get my drift. And now: inauthenticity period? Bad poetry is authentically enough bad and yet, it is no crime. Everyone who writes poetry writes bad poetry at some point or other. Neither gender has the market cornered on what I call the phony stuff, but over the years it has struck me that certain women poets, beyond those women poets whom I know personally and by reputation whose love of poetry goes all the way down to the deepest part of their souls—have a political agenda (and if you wish to read ‘feminist’ into this remark, then read away) that has nothing whatsoever to do with love of the art, let alone service to it. Men, of course, write bad political poetry, too, but, save for a certain kind of chauvinist still defending the indefensible, they are not as a rule burdened by the moral ascendancy of being liberated.
3. In “Renderings from Propertius” you say Greek myths are like “poetry in its infancy,” while the Romans who salted the fields of Carthage you call “as modern as Agent Orange.” What changed between Greece and Rome? Which civilization do we most resemble?
Of course we most resemble the Romans, however queasy we might feel about blood sports. Has to do with the exercise of power. The Romans exercised a great deal more of it than anyone else, at least in their neck of the woods. The Greeks could never organize themselves into anything resembling political coherence, all cultural matters aside. Alexander was never going to be anything more than a blip, however spectacular, on the radar. It is arguable, however, that he had a ‘vision’ of that coherence, and that he saw it as a positive value beyond the rude exercise of power. We might enjoy the company of cosmopolitan Athenians but as for, say, the Spartans, we would find them intensely strange, if not offputting. We think we're well shot of all those hang-ups. The cynic in me doubts it.
4. If you could pick one thing you’d like your readers to take away from Sub Divo, what would it be? 
Feel free to take away what you wish. Poetry-wise, I have never fit into the Canadian scheme of things, and I am not by temperament one who wishes to impose. On the other hand, I have strong opinions, and the entirety of my life has been shaped by the desire to write poetry. If anything, take away the sense that poetry is continuity; that in poetry there is no time; that one can as easily chat with Homer as with one's neighbour. If postmodernism took that conceit and sullied it and ruined it with despicable conceits of its own, well, that's another matter for another time and place.

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