AHB: The idea here, to interview each other, in whatever manner that might mean. Jeff Harrison and I have been collaborating on something for three (3) years now, with no end in sight. I felt an affinity to his work, as seen on 2 listservs, Wryting-L and Poetics. I broached the idea of our working together, and he was amenable. He began the project, and we settled in. I have thus provided an intro to the current proceedings. The way I wanted to start, and Jeff may disagree: I wanted to ask some biographical detail. I note, Jeff, that you don't offer much biographic info to accompany your work. Are you in fact Thomas Pynchon, or concerned with the role of the author (an issue that Kirk Johnson for one has made much serious sport with) or are you just bored with with that sort of presentation? Is this even a good starting point for our inter viewing? I think I was more voluble about such facts when I was younger than I am now, both with myself and with other writers. I still like to read bios, and still feel my own facts are somehow important. What are your feelings vis-à-vis. I hope I have said enough in this paragraph to coax some sort of answer from you.
JH: I felt an affinity for yours as well, and first!
I was amenable to the collaboration, which is to say enthusiastic.
That I'm Thomas Pynchon has come up before, possibly because of where the V sits at the v of Virginia, but Jeff Harrison is not a heteronym or pseudonym, but is, pretty much, the name that appears on my birth certificate.
I too am very interested in an author's biographical data, whether it's a contributor's note or the fattest of fat biographies. I'm also interested in an absence of biographical data, especially when there's no real reason for this lacuna, as in the cases of Thomas Pynchon, Maurice Blanchot, B. Traven, etc. Why don't I give biographical statements? To give a defense, detailed or otherwise, of the willing absence of one's biographical data is in itself a biographical statement. Perhaps I should have used the term autobiographical
here, but this entire interview will be autobiography, poetics, apologia, and other such synonyms so I use biographical in the specific sense here of written matter presented, by an author or by an author’s biographer who is a different organism, as a statement of an author’s life that includes elements other than publishing history.
Why do feel you feel biography is important, or interesting,
a) to your presentation as a poet
b) to authors in general
I feel it's interesting in that comparison of biographies (and here I'm speaking of more in-depth, book-length biographies) of different authors allows me to see how people integrate their writing with their quotidian lives, whether, to take two ends of a spectrum, they use their life as fodder for their writing, or seem to partition the two experiences. There will almost always be clear splits and cohesions that counter their chosen (or unchosen) approach.
AHB: I'll never forget Kirk Johnson, or, more properly, KENT Johnson. Well, I got my 1st blatant error out of the way, and I knew Kirk sounded wrong. I don't really know why biography of authors is important. I've always enjoyed reading biographies. I can remember reading every biography available at my elementary school library, which is to say I even read Red Schoendiest's bio. He played for the St, Louis Cards in the 40s, thus a complete foreigner to me in the 60s in an American League town. Knowing biographical data can inform one's understanding of an author's work, and also misinform. Clues and miscues, and out of that confusion of detail comes this work that we associate with our lives, take seriously, that is. That's interesting. I've really enjoyed biographies written by Richard Holmes, especially his Coleridge, for in the process he confronts the work in an illuminating, integral way. Biographies provide a context for the work, bu,t as I've already mentioned, that context can either mislead, or lead to misconstruing. Maybe I'm just nosy.
As to my own work, I don't so much push my own story, I just don't deny it. Whatever my life story is, it must get into my work. It used to feel precious that I'm from Massachusetts, exactly from that place, but it turns out, tho I've lived nowhere else, that I'm not as rooted as I thought.
Still on the biographical trail (snoop snoop), but perhaps more tuned to the the art, let me simply ask when (and/or how) did you begin writing? I know a young writer who began writing at age 2 (he's 10 now, and very serious about writing), and a prolific poet who began in his late 20s (former musician).
JH: Richard Holmes is an excellent biographer, especially, yes, of Coleridge. I began writing in my late twenties too, though I'm not a musician. Maybe 27 years old. I've always been a big reader (insert anecdotes of typical precociousness here), but didn't really try to write until one day I just did. When I started out writing I wrote daily and copiously, and only poetry. I've never tried writing prose fiction, but who knows what the future holds. Snooping myself, how about you? When did you start writing, and what did you write?
AHB: Gosh I have the most incredible
story about how I started writing...well, anyway, when I was 16, I broke my hand playing touch football with friends. It was my left hand, not my pitching hand, but that still prohibited me from washing dishes at the convent where I worked afterschool (true), so I took a leave of absence. Instead of rushing off to work, I hung out more with one of the guys I played football and basketball with. it turned out he wrote poetry. It was a revelation to me that someone who played sports, liked the music I liked, and otherwise wasn't a teacher's ass kissing nerd, wrote poetry. I began writing poetry then, and with considerable dedication and poor results. I infer that you liked poetry when you began writing (did you?). I didn't. I'd hardly read any at the time. My writing models were closer to Robert Benchley and James Thurber than to any poet, tho e. e. cumming's typographical freedom was inspiring. In college and after I read pretty persistently, garnered an understanding of poetry. Olson and Williams are probably the 1st two poets whose worked excited me. I've written novels and stories, much influenced by A Nest of Ninnies (Ashbery/Schuyler) and its self-reliant lack of plot. For a period, a journal, somewhat like my blog Tributary, was my main writing. Sorry to expatiate so. In 1999 my dog died. This event, which keenly brought back my mother's death to me, shook me greatly. The combination of that shakeup and recent access to the internet (which brought me closer to the writing world (I probably hadn't talked writing with a writer for at least 15 years)) caused a breakthru for me. mainly, I decided it was OKAY to write in prose. Jack Spicer supposedly counted his age from the day when he likewise broke thru to the writing he felt he should do. I have little interest in the writing I did prior to 1999, of which there is an awful lot. I should add that I met my wife Beth, online in fact, and she has been important as a sounding board, interested reader, inspirer, encourager and so forth. So why did you start writing? Did you love poetry? Why didn't you begin writing earlier? Did you have other creative outlets? Did you know I can be loquacious?
JH: Loquacious is good! I always loved poetry - poetry more so than prose, once I found poetry. When did I find it? In some anthologies (Louis Untermeyer, Oscar Williams, others) that my parents (big readers) owned. I found these anthologies fairly early. I didn't know what the poets were talking about most of the time, and the strangest writing to me seemed the early anonymous lyrics. Since I discovered poetry early, I considered poetry anthologies almost as non-books. I considered poetry anthologies as more of a box of stuff that came in the shape of a book, I suppose, like when candy came in a plastic treasure chest. Books to me were continuous narratives (novels, histories, biographies, and miscellanea). I recall being baffled by Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, which at the time, not realizing it was a collection of short stories, I thought was the strangest novel I ever read. I couldn't understand why the characters disappeared never to return when they hadn't died or, in most cases, announced their departure. As a child I painted some, and today I sometimes build assemblages and otherwise mess around, but I feel it takes away from my reading and writing time. I didn't write at all, except for term papers and essays, before I started writing poetry. I didn't keep a journal, though perhaps I will one day. I don't know why I didn't start writing earlier - it may have had something to do with the fact that a poem is pretty much written in my head before I write it, though it looks like a grey shape (already on a page) with a varying percentage of words clearly visible as I start writing. More lines come or are revised as I write it. I had no such shape in my head before my late twenties - if I tried to write poetry (and there were a very few moments when I thought I'd give it a shot) I would just write a line or two that didn't go anywhere nor stand alone satisfactorily. How did your writing come about when you started writing poems that you felt happy with? Does it still arrive in the same fashion?
AHB: it's always tabula rasa for me. I might have a phrase in my head, or the vaguest 'direction', but nothing substantial or directed. Any time I have more than that in mind the writing is forced and disappointing. Funny, I remember my parents having The Thurber Carnival in the home library, and the cartoons therein baffled me the way that poetry baffled and intrigued you. I think that my early poetry was written as a weirdness, tho not abjectly so. Almost in the way of the Monty Python bit, Confuse A Cat (a team of Pythons exert themselves to enliven a bored cat), I wrote odd unfocused little doodads that expressed nothing except my wanting to write. I also wrote a lot of stuff that said stuff, you know, that racism was bad, war was bad, music is good, and I have feelings rising rising, oh yes. A breakthru poem was written while at Franconia College (1972). A 7 page poem written in 3 sittings one night. I showed it to my teacher Robert Grenier, amidst a sheaf of recent work, and he didn't want to read anything else. The poem (obviously) was expansive, and for the 1st time, my lines (I wrote in lines then), scattered across the page. God, I'm boring here, but see, Grenier published that poem in This 3, which puts me meekly on the map. the last time I read the poem, it seemed juvenile, but it read true nonetheless. It was perhaps the culmination (at age 19) of my Whitman/Ginsberg outflow. I kept trying to reattain, talk too much, become Olson, inscribe, etc, until, as I mentioned, I said (figuratively) fuck all, and write it in the pure sit down and be there. I decided that I could write in 2nd person plural, and mean intimate, or everyone. As opposed to 1st person, my life as exemplar. I feel a confidence when I am calmly at the effort, sip the source, unsaddled. I think it is maturity and artistic growth that has brought me to this stage of confidence. Not that I can write well all the time, but that I am not foreign to the moment of letting it arrive. Did you want to write like someone? Did you feel energized or oppressed by some writer? I wrote 'poetry' for 3 years without any model that I found inspiring except in the sense of cummings allowing me to screw around with format. How hard was it to shake off the influences?Also, did the essays and term papers you wrote betray the nascent writer?
JH: I didn't really want to imitate someone, because I thought that ultimately one poet is as good as another - the act of writing poetry, when it is a means of approaching something that has yet to be determined as above the human or within the human. I've only recently begun to play the ape, since I feel that now I know it's me beneath the ape costume. I'm not willing myself to be an ape, just whoo-whoo-whooing (those are ape noises) and making the appropriate simian movements to occupy the space I want for the poem. I've been doing this recently with 17th thru 19th century English poetry, and in the past I've done this with Surrealism (especially USA surrealists such as Philip Lamantia, Nancy Joyce Peters, Franklin Rosemont, Penelope Rosemont, Charles Henri Ford, and Mary Low) and the Language poets. It's not hard for me to shake off the influences, the challenge is to keep them. I want to emerge from an influence, and not bounce off and land on the same side I was on. I feel energized by many authors past and present, and want them to keep pouring in. My essays and term papers depended on the teacher - mostly the writing was functional; I rarely wrote an essay that aspired to D.H. Lawrence or Edward Dahlberg. Speaking of writing in the vein of someone else, do you sometimes do this?
Well yeah, in our collaboration I sometimes 'step outside myself' to align with your contribution. Not an imitation so much as a harmonizing. And I have learned, or extended my sense of, a certain type of telescoping phrase from you. I did a few collaborations with John Bennett in which I very much did it the Bennett way. Some writers get in my head a bit when I read them, Ashbery for instance, and that unintentionally gets into my writing. Oh god, I really love John Millington Synge's plays but when I read them, I'm after sounding like the great man himself, sure and begorrah. I don't think that I intentionally try to imitate other writers, because I feel my writing has a strong voice and to imitate others would seem like ventriloquism. I do try the methods of other writers, as experiment and exercise. You said earlier that you don't let doing visual art interfere with your reading and writing. I gather you read quite a bit. Could you speak about your reading? Are you methodical about it? What are your particular interests? Do those interests remain or come and go?
JH: Yes, I read a ton. I read mostly poetry. I rarely read novels - though I'm currently reading novels by Anaïs Nin. I read short fiction from time to time. I don't really read criticism or theory. I read biographies. Sometimes I read histories of literary movements, which is a good way to get bibliographic material and biographic sketches. I like prose nonfiction, such as history (I especially like reading about the French Revolutions and about ancient cultures). I used to read a lot of print literary magazines, but now mostly read e-zines and the Wryting list. I am methodical in that when I read an author I will read everything I can find by that author. For some reason or another an author will come to mind, usually by popping into my head, and off I go. Sometimes I can only find a few books by a particular author, and so I switch to another author. Often, rooting around for a certain book will lead me a number of books that I'm excited to find. I will either immediately read the discovered book, or set it aside for the the near future. How about your reading habits, preferences, and methods?
AHB: I have gone in phases. I use to read a lot of poetry, now I'm more selective. I can't seem to manage big blocks of reading time. I've read a lot of novels, which I think influences my writing quite a bit. I've read a lot of crappy or 2nd rate novels, in a somewhat methodical attempt to scope the landscape. There's that batch of great novelists--Melville, Woolf, Joyce, O'Brien (Flann), Proust, James—who I've read and reread, and will continue to do so. I love history (perhaps thanks to Olson). I am no methodical, definitely not scholarly, but I am earnest in trying to broaden my horizons. Have you read, by the way, Claude Manceron's series of books on the French Revolution? I've read a couple and was tickled by their charm and humour. Anyway, I used to read voraciously, now it is when I can. Even so, I think I write more than I read. When I got internet access in 1999, my reading habits changed considerably. Listservs and now blogs have proven of interest to me. I read these for the energy, I guess, active and today if sometimes insipid. I quite often react to what I read, I mean it sets me writing. Sheila Murphy is on record somewhere saying she posts to Wryting work specifically derived/influenced by the work she reads on the list. I guess a sense of collaboration inspires me as well. Late in life (I'm 753 years old now), philosophy and psychology have become important, which I owe to my wife's influence and to my getting older (more 'mature'). Now I wonder how you incorporate your reading. I inferred in your work your interest (which I share) in English poetry 16th-19th century. What's up with that? Do you seek these resonances? Also, have you a comfort level in languages and literature other than Anglo?
JH: I've yet to read Manceron's books, but now I'm looking forward to them even more. There was a time (which started in November 2004) when I deliberately aimed for an older diction in some of my poems. Before that there was a flavor of this diction in some of my poems, which got there unconsciously, doubtless as a result of my habitual reading of poets from the 16th to 19th century. And now I go back and forth between aim and happenstance. To me there's a invocatory function in the poems of this time, an invocation that addresses more than one ideal hearer at once and uses language that is designed to convince by a variety of means. The rhetoric and conventional tropes appeal to me as underscoring that the poem is a considered utterance/writing. This is found in poetry of other times and places, but to me it's strongest there. It's something I want for my poetry. I also like reading Spanish. I'm currently co-translating some plays by Elena Garro. That I'm not the sole translator tells you something of my comfort level in this lovely language. I've nowhere to go but up, certainly. How about you, any other languages? And is philosophy important to your poetry? Is psychology?
AHB: I noted that older diction right away. Susan Howe's work suddenly comes to mind, someone who obviously is well read in English literature. That's an interesting idea, addressing more than one ideal reader. Anyway, I was taught French in school from 3rd to 11th grade, which gave me a good handle on conjugating verbs, singing goofy songs, and little else. In my early twenties I made an effort with French, reading it. That scant knowledge made the other Romance languages comprehensible. I've noodled in lots of languages (I really love the sound of old and middle English, but I'm no scholar) but am unable to get far learning them on my own. I don't think either psychology or philosophy are important to my writing. I read both as a kind of poetry. Both are thick stuff to me; I like them for their mysterious coalescence. That's what I like about poetry, that it just builds up into something, by some poorly explained (or maybe we shouldn't explain) process. Do you have a daily writing routine? Has it changed over the years? Do you write by hand or with a computer or even, gasp, a typewriter? Are you interested in such issues? Thinking of Paris Reviews interviews, with manuscript samples. I do enjoy that stuff, so you don't need to ask. Oh, and are the Boston Red Sox important to you at all
JH: I write almost every day. I don't prefer to write at a particular time of day or night. I use a number 2 pencil and a spiral notebook, and always have. I don't use a computer for original composing except for emails and to correct any errors made in writing, though every once in a while I'll alter a line or title as I'm typing it up. I love the manuscript samples in the Paris Review interviews, and facsimiles of texts in general. My notebooks are filled with mostly poems, but also titles of books I want to read, random notes (though no pensées), and the occasional doodle (99% non-figurative). To write a poem by hand is to make a drawing. When it comes to writing poems, I prefer drawing to typing. I use a pencil because its movement gives me more control of the line than when I use a pen. Do you have a daily writing routine? How, physically, do you write? If you like the Boston Red Sox, then I do. I don't follow sports, so my team loyalty is up for grabs.
AHB: I've always enjoyed typing. Used to play with the typewriter before I 'became a writer', when all I could type were permutations of my name and address, even so far as galaxy. Typing allows me speed. I used to believe I needed speed to catch that writing glimmer. I use a computer altho I use notebooks an awful lot too. The thing is, I rarely look into the notebooks, so I rarely salvage anything from them. The stuff just builds up, for the Butterick who comes along in later years. I am a morning person. I often write when I rise and just before going to bed, but I can write any time. In the novels I've written, and several long poetic works, the daily grind was important. My longest manuscript and, I think, my best work, was written methodically daily over he course of 14 months. In fact it was a daily tension. Those days when I didn't get my 2 pages in early, I had to struggle to do so. Are your notebooks, then, crowded items, filled as it happens, or do you organize them somehow? Do you do calligraphy at all? I took a calligraphy course, where I learned that what one is doing is drawing letters and words. Does it feel like that to you? My own handwriting becomes illegible in the heat of composition (long ago someone asked me if I composed by hand or typewriter. The word composed struck me, a musical sense rising up for me) so typing is a reasonable way to go. mention of the Red Sox was facetious. I've followed the Red Sox, and other sports teams, since I was 8, but I'm not invested. In my heroic days, in my 20s, I did have a heroic pantheon that could include writers, artists, sports figures, etc That pantheon no longer exists in that sense any more. Do you have personal a pantheon of writers who, basically, kinda blind you
JH: My notebooks are definitely filled as happens. I try to keep the poems in order, instead of skipping around to any blank page. I sporadically date my poems. It feels as if I'm drawing letters and words, but I've never taken calligraphy. My handwriting is unremarkable. Writers who have meant a lot for me through the years are, in no particular order, Edgar Allan Poe, August Strindberg, Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, Louis Zukofsky, Gertrude Stein, W. Somerset Maugham, Sheridan Le Fanu, Emanuel Swedenborg, The King James Bible, Antonin Artaud, John Milton, Henry James, Honoré de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Paul Valéry, Stéphane Mallarmé, and many more (for here I stop to think, and I wanted to list those that immediately come to mind). These are authors who have contributed most to my writing and thinking. I had a book of Le Fanu's stories at an early age, and when I first read his story "Green Tea" struck me with a force that only poetry had. It was also the first place where I learned of Swedenborg. I then bought some of his books (ok, my parents bought them, but you know what I mean) and checked some others out from the library). I am not a practicing Swedenborgian, but his ideas stay with me. You'll notice that two of the authors I listed above, Strindberg and Balzac, were influenced by Swedenborg. Balzac's outlook on the world as evinced in his novels continue to instruct me. The ideas of Strindberg also influenced me, though I was around age 18 when I first read Strindberg. I read and heard the King James Bible for as long as I can remember, and the language and style may have influenced me somewhat. Valéry I admire as a poet, but his prose is what most appeals to me. Maugham is a writer I read at a young age, and who I continue to read. I like his prose, simple yet sure. Zukofsky first gave me a sense of play in poetry. Dostoyevsky I read and read in high school. Stein was the first quote unquote avant-garde writer whose works I read. I read (past tense, but also present tense) all I could find of her writing. Poe I don't think I've stopped reading. Ditto Shakespeare and Whitman, but I can't recall ever starting to read Poe, ever picking up a book of Poe's works for the first time. Edgar Allan Poe, for all I know, is a region on the map of the brain. I love Henry James, but prefer his stories and novellas. I read the shorter poems of Milton before Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, and read them repeatedly, putting off the Paradises for as long as I could. But I had no need to fear. Mallarmé and Artaud are authors I frequently return to for the images they conjure.
I don't know if any of these authors blind me so much as provide spectacles. Most of them I'll never touch, achievement-wise, but I don't let that bug me too much. What spectres amidst the ruins of your pantheon still haunt you? And could you list some of your heroic days pantheon?
AHB: an interesting array of writers, few of whom have I read, certainly not many in depth. Funny how one picks one's way. I'd been familiar with Poe's work since early on, but didn't get into it till later. He's labeled, in the cheap editions, as Master of Horror, as if he were Stephen King's stepfather, when in fact Poe is Mastered BY Horror. Likewise Lovecraft. I find a similarity of sensibility between Poe and Hawthorne. Poe has the more tweaked psychological sense, whereas Hawthorne is more stoic and careful, yet they both tread some dark ground. I like both writers. I like Melville, whose birthday I share, a lot. You interest me with Swedenborg, whose work I' ve only read smidges of. But I like him. I know he stands influentially behind Emerson and Blake. I have not been thorough in reading works in translation for I often feel I'm missing a great deal. I've read one or 2 by Balzac, and would be tempted to read his own series were I more fluent in French and I could find the damn books. I'm kind of treading water here in my reply because your list is so different from mine. I'll try to rattle off names that come quickly to mind as writers whose effect on me is apparent (at least to me). Charles Olson, Henry Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Robert Benchley, John Keats come quickest to mind as members of my early pantheon. Poets like WC Williams, Robert Grenier, Ron Silliman, Gertrude Stein, Robert Creeley, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery Ted Berrigan form the 2nd brigade. Then add novelists: Virginia Woolf, Flann O'Brien, James Joyce, Henry James, Marcel Proust. My head is full of slanginess and pop reference, which certainly comes out in my writing. I was an impressionable 11 when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. I immediately wanted to be English. The only obvious manifestation of this was my adoption of English spelling of words, like colour instead of color. No teacher ever called me out on this affectation so now it is done without thought. I approve of personal idiosyncrasies of such like, and will usually choose the less common spelling of a word. Your heroes remind me of those of a friend of mine in high school. He was reading Rimbaud, Kafka, Mallarme, Robert Duncan, Williams and just a wide assortment of writers that I didn't approach till college or after. I did not enjoy poetry at the time (tho I wrote it), read scifi a lot. I remember that the autobiographies of both Malcolm X and Lenny Bruce were important to me, I guess because they had (or were presented as having) as assertive vision to their work. Which my own lacked completely. After all that blab, I should circle back and remark on Charles Olson. O provided me a reading path. I followed the writers in his circle (tho oddly, I never caught up to Wieners till some 10 years ago), and the writers he read, like Carl O Sauer. He's been beneficial to me, but I noticed that his presence became heavy, and it wasn't like I really needed to write Maximus of Bedford, so I had to become more critical about the pantheonic influence. After that, the language poets performed a similar service, till I was able to define my writing by its own terms. If I sometimes sound crabby about Language poetry (I hate that term in its indistinct,comprehensive usage, like Impressionistic for any smudgy colourful painting), it doesn't negate how much I learned, and I think quite evidently, from the work of these writers. Particularly Bob Perelman, Susan Howe, Ron Silliman. How much reading did you do in a school framework? I imagine Swedenborg never showed up on a reading list. Do you own a lot of books? Do you make use of a library often? I get the impression from the way Ted Berrigan talked (in interviews) that he could consume books, maybe didn't need to be surrounded by 'his collection'. The friend I mentioned earlier was something of this way. I, on the other hand, have books up the wazoo...
H: I was assigned the usual amount of reading in school, but nothing off the beaten path. No Swedenborg on the lists, no. I own a lot of books, I think. It's been a while since I've bought any books. These days I stick mostly to libraries and print-outs. The books I own should be attended to before I start one of my purchasing rampages.
I used to spell words the British way too! I don't know why I picked it up. I was corrected fairly quickly by my teachers. They also stopped my habit of writing very brief paragraphs consisting of one or two long sentences. Which, considering the mention of prose that wasn't incorrect but was not accepted as proper prose, brings me to prose poems. You often write prose poems (while I, though I love the form, have written maybe a dozen). What is the sentence to you in your prose poems? Does it become a line (if so, how so?) - if so, does it do so consistently in all your prose poems (and if inconsistent, do lines and sentences often alternate within the same prose poem, as they can in verse poems)? You often use the word "sentence" in your prose poems, could you speak on this? How about saying something on prose poems in general, while you're at it?
AHB: funny that I got away with my Britishisms. Must be my basic edginess. I worked for a number of years in the wine business. The nature of which demands ability to 'express oneself'. Including writing. At the time, my poetry mainly used commas as punctuation, no periods. My journal then utilized mainly dashes, the purpose of which varied in context (sometimes like a comma, sometimes a colon, sometimes a period). SO (longwindedly expatiating) I had to relearn how to write 'good' prose. Strunk and White!!! it became more natural for me to write straightforwardly in prose in that I didn't need to worry about lines, which, using a computer, I've found hard to make (something about the speed of computer keyboards, even over typewriters). Somewhere in Moliere, as you probably know, a character is surprised that he has been speaking prose all along. an added influence toward prose poetry was a realization that I had (and still have) no good sense of what poetry is. That is, no crisp definition of it. Have you one that you could supply? I found that using the rules of 'good English' as a structural element worked for me. Plus my dissonances have something to dissonate against. I like the metric possibility of punctuation. I really like Baudelaire's Paris Spleen, which it seems was a sitch in which Baudelaire likewise said what the heck and proceeded with what was comfortable for him. Years ago, I saw Richard Grossinger read, and it really excited me. Prose, I realized, allows expanse. I like sentences and their plea for organization, which can so easily be tripped up by disjunction and telescoping. But as I said, I have no good definition of poetry, not one that pushes me forward, so here's your chance to wax eloquent on the subject.
JH: Poetry is writing that tells the story of poetry. What is the story of poetry? The story of poetry is the story of writing that tells the story of poetry. Is writing ever poetry when it does not tell the story of poetry? As much as a cloud is a rabbit: appearances only (this is the difference between poetry and verse, the difference between prose poetry and prose plain). Is all poetry writing graphic? I don't know, do you? I think poems and poetry are two different things. You can have poetry without poems, but not poems without poetry.
AHB: Olson certainly saw the poem in Moby Dick, and Keats saw Shakespeare thus, etc, etc, lots of examples, to which I agree. I concluded that I wrote poetry early on because I could not corral what I was doing otherwise. And not just speaking of my incompetence, but that the direction was always toward language in a charged state (however incompetently I managed it), as Pound would have, and as so much poetry fails to attain. Fails due to the condition of accepting received wisdom re what poetry is. I see wisdom in my plodding efforts toward an uncomfortable indeterminacy, that is to say, a challenge or surprise with every 'step'. My growth as a writer did not occur in a Minervan suddenness, but a tiptoeing into a dark place. I always liked Henry James because he would spend the longest time on the minutest, or finest, detail, then rush the ending. The ending being the de rigueur part of the thing called Novel, the stuff for the paying customers. Poems do seem like mechanical things, with definable elements and attributes. Discussion of said attributes has aft gang a-gley for me, because it is so mechanical, not poetic. So I agree with your last sentence. Poetry is what I write when I am writing poetry. But what about the crappy stuff? Do you consider your 'bad' work poetry? I mean the work you wouldn't show anyone, perhaps would throw out. How much of your work, do you guess, do you like? Or is that a ridiculous question?
JH: A great question! I like about a fifth of my work, but other people like what I would put aside. Sometimes they influence my final decision in sending work out for publication and even in collecting poems for a book. Once written, I read my poems as a reader and so dismiss some poems that are then fancied by readers whose taste I admire. TASTE! Isn't that what it all comes down to? Periwigged decorum lurks behind the most mouth-frothing rants about literature. So as far as mine, or anyone's, self-defined inferior work goes, one's person's trash is another's treasure. I'll give a second glance to a poem of mine that seems just a body of writing if there are voices in the poem, narrators named or unnamed yammering on about something. Though I don't understand or care what they're trying to communicate (when they're not just making noises in word-form), maybe I will someday or someone else will today. If I don't like a piece of mine and it doesn't have a character in it, I tend to snub it. What draws you to one of your own poems, and what disinterests or repels you? Do you change your mind?
AHB: I like the poems that sound new to me as I read them. When I notice a certain rattling on in a poem, I stop reading and put a mental X thru it. I'm sure I am not the only writer who notices a stream of words going thru the mind just about constantly. The poems of mine that I don't like seem to be of that undifferentiated stream, basically blah blah blah. When I like something I have written, it is because I sense a coalescing of that stream, or a focusing, into a 'meaning', particularly an emotional one. I am probably unclear here, or even confused. I don't actually read my poems often, tho I like my work. That's part of the surprise factor. I write, then immediately go back and clean up typos (my typing skills have declined on the computer keyboard) and tweak things a bit, then I save it. If the writing experience felt good, either 'technically' or emotionally, I'll post it to Wryting-L or to my blog. Otherwise it's just filed away until such time that I may stumble upon it again, often with no memory (or little) of having written it. It is true that people often respond favourably to different ones than I do. That input doesn't change my mind about the poem so much as make me recognize its general 'worth'. Do you work your poems much? Do you try to save ones that didn't work so well, I mean do you rewrite much? Also, do your poems occur within the context of a larger whole or as individual entities that you might introduce to other of your poems? And how did you know I wore a periwig?