Monday, December 18, 2006


JH: Now I'm even more curious about your novels! What is the difference between approving of something one has written and disapproving of something one has written? If, for instance, an author decides to write no more a particular type of poem, isn't that poem as untouchable, to the author, as a classic from centuries ago? If the poet, acting as a reader, does not identify with the poem's effect and manufacture, the poem is less of the human than previously. Wouldn't this make the poem more desirable, more worthy of preservation? What of a published body of work comprised of poems that strongly displease their poet, with favored poems consigned, unseen by another person, to the fire? It is inconceivable that this hasn't happened at least once, given the many years of the world and the many poets who have lived in it. Though this poet may have impeccable taste in poetry, and the destroyed poems would have won much and lasting praise, where does valuation enter into poetry? How could consensus enter?

AHB: you hit on some interesting points, and in fact I am thinking a bit lately of works that don't make it. when one judges one's own work, one sets it up against an ideal. ideals don't work, or don't exist, or can't be touched (whatever), so that's a tough basis to work from. it is interesting to think of works that the author did not support, not merely lost but consciously forbade being accounted. the work detaches from the author, in a way. in the exact opposite way that Allen Ginsberg = Howl. even if Howl wasn't Ginsberg's favourite poem he had to accept it as an extension of himself, because of its fame and influence. but what of the poem that seems unlike Ginsberg at all, which he maybe refutes or, worse, ignores? my novels were extensive experiments, I gave myself up, that is, quite completely to the exercise of their conception. two of them probably are worthwhile, if I could find them, and if I had the time to work on them in a final draft sort of way. where I had the most difficulty was preparing the ms to be seen. the first one did go to a publisher, and returned. in a sense, I didn't know how to present them as “me”, as important parts of my effort as a writer. this is at least partly a matter of maturity, which I decided to come by slowly, if at all. and since these novels weren't like others, they were hard to sell (I mean encapsulate). without sounding ridiculous, I throw the work to eternity. that's what we do, isn't it? what I think about my work little matter unless I actually effort so much as to destroy the work. in a letter to William Dean Howell, Twain posited a play he thought he might write, in which Tom and Huck appear as ratty old men. this is Twain's pessimistic morbidity speaking. it's a work that hadn't ought to be writ, being such a disappointment from the giddiness of the boys. and yet... just the idea...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


JH: I've thought of methodologies instead of poems a few times, and variations on these methodologies more than a few times. I consider this to be thinking about a poem (thinking about Poe's "To Helen", for instance), though the poem hasn't been written yet. This is to think generally, without specifics/quotations, about a specific poem. There is more to thinking about this unformed poem - a methodology is the willing of a poem that wouldn't exist without this methodology - than when one is not yet a poet and is thinking of the poem or poems that he or she would write: what lines appear to this nascent poet, what lines are these lines attached to in this poem that does not meet the page? But methodology may be a re-visiting, a re-reading, of the nascent poet's thoughts, the thoughts of a person who can be called poet only in retrospect. A poem without a poet is the wish of a poet without a poem, whether this poet has written a thousand poems or none. I've read Guy Davenport, and am an admirer of his essays and fiction. Speaking of fiction, can you tell us about your novels, please? How is writing prose-fiction narrative different from writing poem narrative? How is the conception of a novel different from the conception of a poem?

AHB: I perhaps should not have brought up my novels. I think of them, lovingly, as failures. I wrote my 1st 20 years ago. it emerged from a doodle and went on. it was a wickedly fast paced scifi parody in which I tried to wring every possible joke I could from situations. I wrote it with no idea where I was going, thus like my poetry. it was a great deal of fun to write. from it came a number of characters, and I got involved with these characters to the extent that I kept writing things with, or with, these characters. I didn't really care about plot. I did a great deal of rewriting, and as such these novels proved useful in terms of honing my writing talents. something like 8 years ago I wrote another novel which I still think of fondly tho I haven't looked at in years. a high concept thing, I saw the characters all as J Crew models, I means they looked like that. and they all were involved in some never specified mission that seemed crucial to the world. yet all they actually do is rush from place to place and drink cappuccinos. all these novel attempts owe to the novel by James Schuyler and John Ashbery, A Nest of Ninnies. I love how that book is so underinflected, and how so little goes on. Schuyler's solo novel Alfred and Guinevere is similarly wonderful. these works pretty much dismiss plot. novel plots (and movie plots) tend toward fakery. or more accurately, tend to serve motives of relief that I think can be pretty sententious. which poetic narrative eschews. the way Melville subverts the plot of Moby Dick with his varied ruminations presses the work toward the poetic. and, frankly, I see a similar effort in such like as South Park. the classic novel wants to replicate, um, nature. the poem's conception seems more integral to nature, as if it were the actual energy and not a use thereof. I think I'm saying something useful here but may not be clear. like the poem is the car whereas classic novels are the fuel that moves the car, which is the reader, and I guess that could be titled Egotistical Sublime. poems are things in nature, I think I mean, while novels are, well, made up. I love many novels but rarely for the happenings to the characters.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


JH: In "The Edward Gibbon of Phillis Wheatley", portions of poem titles by Phillis Wheatley are replaced by passages from Edward Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". A Gibbon passage replaces one letter or multiple letters which may or may not form a word. In TO THE KING'S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY. 1768., the word "the" is replaced with a passage containing the word "the". Some passages contain the letters needed to spell the word it replaces. In these cases, the passage does not replace the word, but the word in the title, being, in the passage, surrounded by different letters and words. The passages, in this manner, may mirror words from other titles. Titles may mirror words from other titles, and passages words from other passages. There will be more actions in more poems in this series, which is the same unnamed series that include such poems as

"The Wasps of Zane Grey"

"Shakespeare Sonnets of Francois Mauriac"

"The Seven Wonders of Max Beerbohm"

Phillis Wheatley wrote in English, not her native language, the native language of Edward Gibbon. To use a word in any language is to possibly use the word that has appeared in the literature of that language. To write a word is to use the letters that have appeared in the literature of that language. This is unavoidable, but why would a poet, or a reader, want to visit texts of the past? If this conscious visitation of texts is unavoidable too, wouldn't there be a minimum number of past texts to read, with a very few random texts thrown in according to a reader's interests and access? Why the desire to read widely, or to re-read? Also, why would an author wish to quote an earlier text -- "quote" in the sense of appropriate, as well in the sense of an epigraph occurring anywhere in the text?

AHB: I have found that when I'm walking the dog or otherwise separated from writing implements, instead of lines of poetry, I think of possible Google searches. do you, in similar circs, think up methodologies? and—here's the whizbang question—do you consider that idea a poem? When I think of Google searches that I might try, or lines of poetry, something extends infinitely into poem space, a perfect poem, say. I am not so adept that I can predict how a Google search may turn out, nor can I guess that ensuing lines that I think of will be as enticing as that 1st one that lightning bolted to me. but the potential remains. when younger, I read widely out of a sense of duty. I'm less inclined now to read that way. a for instance would be my reading Eliot, who I had a bias against from the start. I read him, and begrudged him this and that, recognizing the prejudice under which I read him. perhaps tabula rasa could happen enough so that I might dip in more amenably. in fact, I did do that with Ginsberg. quoting is an interesting matter. quotes often are the most poetic parts of a poem. by which I mean, the most self-contained. one quotes for the eminent solidity of the phrase. perhaps too for the allusion and collision involved, invoking this writer at this time. I've done a lot of embedding in the so called novels that I've written, slipping in quotes from here and there that mayn't in the context be obvious to the reader. it's not so much a personal allusion as an invention of a universe of connections. if you've ever read Guy Davenport, you just about get swamped with intersections of people, who knew who and what not. when Jackson Mac Low used a specific text to serve an aleatoric work, he expects some meaning from that text, even tho his random exercise could largely eradicate the original text. poem space, where poems are...