Angela Hume: Why so few words here? What’s the value of (this breed of) asceticism for you, in your time and place? Is this asceticism? If not, what is it?
Shannon Tharp: So few words might have to do with my cutting away at phrases and notes; they might have to do with being quiet; they might have to do with waiting. What I know: the poems’ figurations lend themselves to asceticism, but the poems’ guts do not. What’s to be said is said as plainly as it needs to be said, nothing more. Omission’s at work. And we all know that omissions are not accidents…
AH: Talk about Objectivist poetics (upon reading your poems, I’m thinking, of course, of Niedecker). What can it teach us in the 21st century?
ST: Louis Zukofsky said the poet’s purpose is “to make of his words a new form: to invent, that is, an object consonant with his day.” Objectivist poetics can teach us to look at and listen to words and the world (for a really long time if need be). I don’t know that the concentration required for said looking and listening is any different from the concentration required for many other activities. I’m thinking here of learning how to play an instrument, drive a car, walk. All kinds of things.
Anyway, would Objectivist poetics have us strive for perfectly wrought poems? No. But it would have us pay attention to how we respond to the world, and what we put into the world. You mentioned Niedecker: her “depth of emotion condensed” is something to strive for.
AH: In your poem “The whole scene comes before us,” you write, “there is // responsibility / in vision.” For you, what is this “responsibility”? As a poet who *sees*, what is your re-visionary work?
ST: The responsibility I’m getting at is fidelity to the real. I can only present what’s in front of me—what I think I do or don’t know—as best I can at any given moment. It’s difficult. What Gertrude Stein said in “Composition as Explanation” might help: “Each period of living differs from any other period of living not in the way life is but in the way life is conducted…”
AH: Here, in your chapbook Determined by Aperture, are gorgeously and painfully distilled seeing and hearings of “nature.” What kind of “nature” is this? What does distilled seeing and hearing do for the “natural” world these days?
ST: The nature you’re asking about, as I’ve felt it, is a combination of a) the nature some take for granted and/or assume—the tree, rock, water ilk, and b) the internal—what one sees, hears, feels, thinks, etc.
For me, there’s a lot of anxiety, dis-ease, and restlessness involved in nature. I’ve noticed that when obligations encroach, I read and write poems. It’s my way of closing out whatever’s closing in on me. Location’s a large part of nature, too. I feel at home in Seattle much differently than I feel at home in Gillette, Wyoming. And a city can be disheartening in a much different way than a small town can be disheartening. There’s a tension between urban and rural landscapes that likely affects what I write.
AH: When you’re “closing out whatever's closing in,” what are you doing to the “out,” i.e., to what’s outside? How do you read your own “closing”? Is it actually a “closing”?
ST: I’m ignoring day-to-day activities that take up a lot of my time—planning lessons, reading case studies, responding to e-mails, etc. I'm backing away from clutter. That said, I don’t ignore what’s outside of me. I’d really like to know what’s outside, what it is. Writing allows me to address that uncertainty and respond to it. My closing can’t be a closing if I ask (and want) the outside to come in.
AH: What is your project now? How do your poems look, sound, and feel different from the poems you published as Determined by Aperture? Where is your work going?
ST: I’m in school for library science, and there’s a lot of discussion about what, exactly, functions as information. (There are many answers.) That’s right up my cognitive alley, and not unlike reading a William Bronk poem. All this talk of making sense of things has lent itself nicely to writing as of late. There are longer poems, poems that’ve broken away from the good ol’ left margin, and prose poems at work right now. And I’ve been revising a book of poems, The Cost of Walking, for several years. Where the work is going is hard to say.
Shannon Tharp is the author of Each Real Bird (The Elliott Press, 2006) and Determined by Aperture (Fewer & Further Press, 2008). Her poems have appeared in The Cultural Society, Effing Magazine, The New Ohio Review, and The New Yinzer, among others. She is from Wyoming and lives in Seattle, where she is a teacher and librarian.
Angela Hume lives in Oakland. She holds an MFA in poetry from St. Mary’s College of CA and is working on a PhD in English at UC Davis. Her poems have appeared in cold-drill, The Portland Review, Flyway Literary Journal, and others.