Friday, December 23, 2005


JH: I tend to dislike poetry that disappears when the meaning is deciphered (often a very rapid process). To me this is a quick definition of mainstream poetry. Also, I'm not too fond of poetry that foregrounds the formal, because then the form is the message that can be quickly processed. What is left visible when the meaning is received is charm, in the social rather than the occult sense. Sometimes a reader is charmed, sometimes not; it's subjective - in the personal sense of "subjective" rather than anything more complex. Yet, don't some of the words, such as images and syntactical disruptions, linger behind in the most decipherable poem, even when the obvious meaning is deciphered? (and what is the function of line break in such lingering?) All poetry is sneaky, yes? The sneakiest is the sublimest? Is the attraction of Babelfish (Babelsquirrel) in writing poetry due to the fact that words are sneakily hidden behind other words in such a way that is invisible - though some of the changes are apparent to the poet during the conversion? Babelsquirrel is fascinating in that histories of languages and translation-agreements (why "ciel" is commonly translated as "sky" and not "sun", "cloud", "outer space", etc) fly by at rapid speed, in the service of a poem.

AHB: Not big on poetry with a palapable design on you? Me neither. And the crappiest of mainstream would be such poetry as makes not so much the meaning readily decipherable, but the poet's intentions: look how sensitive I am. and you're right about foregrounding formality. I was reading some Elizabeth Bishop lately, and found myself disracted by her rhymes. and it need not be so. just the little tricks that Dickinson plays on rhyme and metre are enough to keep that formality at bay. James Merrill's long seance poem, tho it sparkles technically, suffers from the jouncing necessity of metre. as to Babelfish, you have it exactly. I love how an ur-text remains after translation. Jackson Mac Low was particular about the texts that he used in some of his work, because of the residuum. Babelfish misfires regularly in its translation, and it is fun to compound that. when I use it, I always always fuss with the results, riffing on the surprises. some 6 years ago I did a translation of the some of the Duino Elegies, simply going thru and replacing words and phrases with my own. I think some Duinoness remains, tho it's all rather silly. Have I mentioned being in Robert Grenier's class when we read Robert Lowell's poem "Skunk Island"? Grenier had us going to the syllable, hearing homephones and generally turning the poem into somethign Zukofsky might write. Whether this exercise had anything to do with Lowell's intention, I dunno (Grenier did study under Lowell, which I find amazing), but it was a fascinating re-envisioning. is a poem a net?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


JH: There are certainly sacrifices to be made initially, and sometimes an artist will superstitiously continue these sacrifices once the ball is rolling (it certainly cannot hurt one's writing too badly, though it may have psychological consequences of varying degrees). But soon enough a poet will come to love the lash, and poems become more important than yacht parties. Here's a poem of yours called "well..."

zeppelin plodding has been set up

in advance of falling across

themselves with new outlook

one floor down

stumblebum, thou art

some kind of wonderful

goal yew only you, will you still hire kidneys?

foam dash have lyric poetry,

rictus wavelength pose

made like poetry

darkened hopping stays like poetry

just blinking leaks news as poetry

stuffy glandular jumps dopey like poetry

surely stupid hoops like poetry

poetry frame word hopeful:

enter up to 1

This poem certainly tightens the reader's attention, with lines that have a base of three to six words apiece (though the "goal yew" line is nine words long, it can be thought of as two lines occupying the space of one line. it is also the only other line with a comma caesura). Could you speak about this poem, please?

AHB: I wrote it just a few days ago but labour to recall. Which is a funny sort of aspect, and I'll say a beauty, of posting to Wryting-L. because I posted it as soon as I finished. and by saying I finished, I mean that I thought it was 'of a piece' at the time. so, tho I could rewrite it, it has a life to it, having been made public. I something something then sent the piece thru Babelfish. I think with this one, I took my English text and translated it as French. Babelfish is so much fun to watch. I wonder where they get the squirrels that do the translating. perhaps I also did random spell check on the piece. and I always reshape whatever happens after such practices. I regard all this as play. I know the verifiable practitioners of flarf consider what they do fun--sometimes rude, sometimes satiric, sometimes silly--which does not cancel the seriousness of their work. now as I think a bit, the core text of this is a random portion of something much longer. the word zeppelin was preceded by the word led in the original. but why would I like the results? I don't look at the poem as a container of meaning particularly, as in 'poetry frame word hopeful' means... it's more a matter of sound,with intent in the sound. I think it is the Coolidge book Polaroid that I had the thought (years ago): it just seems like a list of words. I like Coolidge's work but I guess I didn't hear the sounds, and the conjunction of the words into meaning didn't ring for me. I haven't looked at the book in a while, I don't mean to say this expressed opinion is what I now think. I'm not the most absorbent of readers but I try to be kind to what I don't get. resistances are telling. people have foamed against LANGUAGE poetry, and recently flarf has been assailed. lots of that antipathy owes to political/personal issues rather than the work, but there exists as well the sense of aesthetic boundary. which we all have, of course. can you name yours? what resistances do you admit to?

Sunday, December 18, 2005


JH: Just in the sense of a poem's first few lines and the vague shape of the rest of the poem appearing out of nowhere. Is it a matter of being born a poet, or having one's quotidian thought-processes shaped into such a receptacle by consistent reading and thinking on matters poetic? Does this consistency come about because one is born a poet? Is the birth of a poet coincident with the birth of the person who is a poet (the human who comes to write poetry, as one is born blind, for instance), or does the birth come later in life - birth as in something new coming into the world? If the birth comes later in life, how much of the poet eats away at the person who wasn't then a poet? If one's thoughts are consistently bent toward the poetic, this does make one considerably different from someone whose thoughts aren't thus directed. Natal versus Intrusion is an appropriate dichotomy for this line of questioning?

AHB: I feel like I was born a poet, and I know that sound icky. but truth is, I was writing poetry for 2 years before I really started to like it. any poetry, that is, not just my poor effort. but poetry was the way 'it' came out. and study definitely made it present as a shaping. but I think you're speaking of something more marvelous than my Paris Review sort of answer. you sound alchemical here (by the way, a young writer I know, he's 10 or 11 now, has a character named Dr. Al Chemical Jones), or Jungian, perhaps. "How much of the poet eats away at the person who wasn't then a poet?" wow! without sounding too romantic, it does feel like poetry intruded into my life, possibly at the realization that I wasn't going to become the next Willie Mays. the director calls the shots. well, change gears, I treated myself to a recent publication event, the finally appearance of Ted Berrigan's collected. he seems like a born poet in that poetry seems so constantly about him. I don't want to typify him too much, he's gotten enough of that as it is (doped out wildman), but he certainly was focused on poetry. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. perhaps I should just setle for asking if you think there are sacrifices to be made as an artist?

Thursday, December 15, 2005


JH: Thanks! The poem just came to me one day, and I wrote it without hardly any revision. I don't think I was even reading Swedenborg at the time. Swedenborg and whimsy do go together at times - such as when a person who claims to have great knowledge of the Otherworld confronts someone with a slippery approach to asking for knowledge. What happens when a messenger like Swedenborg appears to you? What questions to ask - do any questions come to mind when witnessing the message-giving? If a useful question were asked when a poem appears to the poet, shortly (semi-seconds) after the instant it first appears in the poet's mind, would the poem be vastly better? One gets starstruck around a poem's appearing, and often (if not invariably) one forgets to ask a quick question or two, so these questions come about during the writing - which may be an integral part of what poetry is. What do you think?

AHB:That's right, starstruck by the poem's appearing. It often seems like the machinery aint of the best. because there's a startling glimmer of something, but then writing, even when wonderful, doesn't seem the same magic. for no reason, I have this impression of a book called Magic Mou ntain. I've read and liked Mann's novel, but that title makes me think of something, something... and I don't mean some fantasy novel sort of thing. and that's how it seems in writing. that initial impulse receives translation thru the writing process. I'm in awe of that moment. it's rather like Coleridge and Xanadu, tho not so articulate. and eventually if that man from Porlock doesn't importune, there's a kind of ungraspability. altho we all do our best. I'm in the midst of a course in art therapy, in which one is asked to witness a work of art. not in the aesthetic sense, evaluating, but as a thing in and of itself. because our every expression says something. it's an interesting perspective. as artists, we almost always fail, or at least come up short. because the goal is some manner of perfection, even that perfection is sloppy, uncouth or any other adjective...

I am going to make a sudden turn here, because I notice something in the writing here. I use the OpenOffice word processor (it's free on the web, an alternative to Microsoft). a feature of it is word finishing. you type some letters and the program guesses a word you might mean. if it guesses right you confirm by hitting a key. the space bar currently is the confirm key, and that's the wrong choice, it is used so often. so I'm getting all these interruptions of the wrong word. which I offer below. it reminds me of Hannah Weiner.

That's right, starstruck by the poem's appearing. It often seems like the machinery aint of the best. because there's a startling glimmer of something, but then writing, even when wonderful, doesn't seem the same magic. foregroundno reason, I have this impression of a book called Magic Mountain. I've read and liked Mann's novel, but that title makes me think of some, something... and I don't mean some fantasy novel sort of thing. and that's how it seems in writing. that initial impulse receives translation thru themselveswriting process. I'm in awe of that moment. it's rather like Coleridge and Xanadu, thoughtfulnot so articulate. and eventuallyif that man from Porlock doesn't importune, there's a kind of ungraspability. altho we all do our best. I'm in themselvesmidst of a coursein articulate therapy, in which one is asked to witness a work of art. not in themselvesaesthetic sense, evaluating, but as a thing in and of itself. because everyone's expression says something. it's an interesting perspective. as artists, we almost always fail, or at least come up short. because themselvesgoal is some manner of perfection, eventuallyif that perfection is sloppy, uncouth or any otherworldadjective.

do intrusions ever occur for you, positive mysterious intrusions?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


JH: I've never had the opportunity to read what a non-poet may have written about my work. And vocally, on the rare occasions a non-poet speaks of my work, it's just to say they liked a certain poem - I don't really get a lot of vocal feedback (even though one of my readers is a professor of philosophy, with an emphasis on poststructuralism). What do you say to non-poets who are heavy on the "non" side and light on the "poet" side when poetry, your own or otherwise, comes up? Here I'm thinking of people who don't read a lot of poetry.

AHB: I say little. Even when they 'get' the poem, it is often still as if the writer of said poem were somehow different. And I am, but only in so far as I've commited to this enterprise of poetry. I suppose I have the same feeling toward someone who makes their own furniture or knits on a grand scale, or whatever creative activity. That commitment to the work creates a sort of awe. Beyond that, it's hard to talk to people who haven't immersed themselves in poetry, haven't a sense of the extent. I hope that aint sulkiness talking. here's a poem from Fickleyes, Futilears, & WilliamWormswork, your book, that is:

The dead Sun is only a phantasy

the last time I spoke to Swedenborg
he said that in Heaven I'm represented
by what appears to be
the dental X-ray of a prehistoric beast,
which is pretty neat if you like
dental X-rays of prehistoric beasts
I totally forgot to ask him if "Jeff,
you're represented by... "meant
the dental X-ray is my agent of
some sort, or if that's what I'm
going to look like, because Emmanuel
always gets his times mixed up (as bad
as a kid hearing multiplication tables)
maybe by "prehistoric" he meant that's
what I used to look like at one time
and that's what I look like eternally
I always read a lot into my conversations
with Swedenborg, I'm still shy around
him, I guess, starstruck or something,
he never seems that way around me,
which I must chalk up to enlightenment

this is a funny, slippery poem, and it has this Jeff character in it. do whimsy and Swedenborg go together?

Friday, December 09, 2005


JH: I do the first few lines in my head, with an overall picture of the poem in my head, and the rest comes out in the writing. I do feel indolent when I don't write often - also a bit agitated. To be a poet and not write poems is like I'm already dead, with a body of work behind me and the inside of a coffin lid before me; I feel, for some reason, that my time, not as a poet but as a person, is running out. rtworks are offspring, but to me they're offspring I must feed from in order to create new offspring. Rather than the preceding sentences being an aesthetics, it's more of an example of the work ethic (American, Protestant, Modern, or any such variety), with marked characteristics of the literary. I've been wanting to read that Heidegger book, and your mention has edged me even closer to this goal. Anaphora is the term for the repetition of all, and I can't recall a term that could approximate your method of taking the last noun of a sentence and making it the first noun of the next. What are your thoughts on non-poets writing about poetry? Do they see more, or miss more? Does it all even out, somewhere in the Human?

AHB: Heidegger's thick but in slashes of whatsis one sees something original and strangely useful. he keeps talking about Rilke's valid poetry, which seems so totally, like random, and yet... note his nouns as verb, his willingness to speak of thingness. anyway... I'm with you on the work ethic, sense of guilt, whatever. that if you're going to say you're a writer, you had ought to be writing fairly regular like. as to your question, there are non-poets and there are non-poets. there's Harold Bloom, whose business is translating poetry into some heavy thing that is implanted in willing petrie dishes for the purpose of... self-replication? teaching the rules of literature. I can't say that he hasn't given me some insights but, aside from him being a crappy writer (good lord, what an oaf with the word! O Yale, ivy-covered dumpster, what's up with shitty academic writing???)), he seems to be creating from his own sputum a farcical dullness that lives on!!!. yoicks! but people read poetry who don't write it, tho not with the fever of Stephen King's membership. and from my own experience, non-poets can be quite sensitive in their reading, when no cowed by their ignorance or assumptions. which is to say, when people read with their attention, even if not 'trained' in poetry, they can give, well now, valid responses. what happens when non-poets confront your work?


JH: Baudelaire wrote somewhere (isn't it a red flag that I'm starting with a quotation? Or maybe it's just that, as Ezra Pound wrote, Americans are fond of quotation) of the indolence that comes with those who wait on inspiration. These days I write one or two poems a week, at best. It does make me crazy, as I'd like to write more. When I'm finally writing a poem, I always wonder what the problem was that prevented a poem from forming - it seems that my brain would take every opportunity to provide an activity that
I enjoy. But writing, especially poetry, may not have much to do with the brain (sorry, Paul Valéry). These delays of mine are psychological rather than worldly. But enough about me, and Baudelaire, and Pound, and Valéry. Lets talk about you, and Heidegger's moustache:

You Dirt of Thinking

all occult is Heidegger's moustache. all fuck off reminds of fur from before the apt phrase. all stuff is ignorant sorting. all stuffing is cooled inside wallop. all giving needs lost fragment. all sentences swirl after toasting. all toasting is example. all explanation dies in form. all hate is a choir after all. all finding needs a bleed. all giving up is just retarded. all retarded is a pistol formed from words. all words is useless. all useless is next day. all next day is famous. all famous is alone. all alone is malleable. all malleable wins the prison. all prison is mobbed. all mobbed says so. all says so lucks out. all lucks out is retarded. all retarded is expressly purpose. all expressly purpose NEEDS A HOME. all NEEDS A HOME waits here...

smother after all with you, dirt of thinking.

An excellent poem, and the final line perfectly fits with the form. "all hate is a choir after all" is a great phrase. Could you speak about this poem, please?

AHB: I remember this one. Most of what I've written the past month has been flarfy experiments. This sort of writing, playing with texts, has been easier to do (or comprise) in my current distracted state than 'making it up' type of writing. But this poem came out of some anger deriving from some attitides directed by some towards my son (he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-function autism). and I'd been reading Heidegger's Poetry, Language, Truth (not sure that's the title). I can't remember if the repetition of all is the anaphora you've mentioned a number of times. it is a conscious 'device', a rhythm maker. I wonder if there is a word for the sort of concatentation I employ thru much of the poem, whereby I take the last noun of a sentence and make it the 1st noun of the next. I don't really choose to use the technique, but I always marvel while writing as the terms link and link. I think I'm saying here that this is a rhetorical poem, in the good sense. As so often, I wrote this poem, sent it to Wryting-L, then moved on. I have to admit, not letting modesty prevent me, that the line "all hate is a choir after all" is a good line. The art therapist Shaun McNiff writes that one should regard an artwork that one has produced as an offspring. The work comes from the artist, but it isn't part of the artist, in the same way that child is not part of his/her parents. When I see something that strikes me in my own work, I say gee. it's a surprise to me, it is new. Do you do much writing in your head? Do you feel indolent in this state of your not writing much?


JH: I've used Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) in three other poems, and will use him again. I've read a selection of essays by Sainte-Beuve (translated by Francis Steegmuller), and know his life somewhat from the biographies and journals of various authors. I've also read a translation of one of his poems in a Penguin book of French verse. I assign his name to a character who comments on poems as they are written (as they appear on the page, rather). Once, when I needed a duet of critics, I brought in Hippolyte Taine (1828-93), whom I know nothing about, aside from brief summaries and asides. I use Sainte-Beuve's name because he's a distinguished critic, and because he's long-dead: there are the questions of is he a ghost, a trope, is this poem set in the past, is this a chronological hodge-podge? "All and more," I claim, wanting it all. My Sainte-Beuve comments on the poems, but his utterances also help to write them, since he's IN the poem, not just name-checked (so, is speaking what it takes to be a character in a poem, or to be spoken of - described or addressed - at length? Can a mention be enough to guide a poem? When does an allusion become a character?).

The creator of the photograph in the link is Joel-Peter Witkin.

When writing the poem, I thought of his photograph "Anna Akhmatova", so I included it as an illustration of a limb that's severed from a spectre by the break of day (read in the context of the poem, the statue by the grapes becomes a representation of a maimed spectre). The poem was built on the first two lines ("long phantoms on short nights, / thine prayers have mine as full heirs") which had been running around in my thoughts like a spectre with her head cut off. My Sainte-Beuve adds a main plot point with "the break of day severs limbs and portions / that were caught inside the daylight minute / when spectres vanish at break of day", and it's ambiguous, due to the stanza breaks, if he is speaking any of the rest of the poem. The "I, the author of this portion (words)" is, then, unidentifiable.

AHB: I like the ambiguity. discussions of author function become fuzzy for me, but avoiding the solidification of the voice in a poem, and that sort of direction, is a good thing. making use of historical personages bears a level of insolence, I suppose, because it consists of a superfical flickering of the name, being based on quick assumptions. yet it is also an honouring of that person's energy. I think an allusion immediately becomes a character. however one refers, the reference is to the life of that person. so, subject shift. I've been remiss in this interview the past month, being busy, distracted and the degree, in fact, that I didn't know where we stood with this thing (and with our other collaboration). is the world sometimes too much with you? I've never gone long without writing, and never felt blocked. but there are times when life hasn't allowed a lot of time or energy for writing. does this happen to you? does his make you crazy?