Lynn Xu reads with Rae Armantrout on Friday May 7th at 7 pm at Studio One Art Center
JANE GREGORY: I think your readers are curious about your likes and dislikes. Can you choose from the following categories or from other categories and give us your favorite and least favorite things? (colors, words, feelings, ruins, outfits, structures, weapons, foods, sensations, transformations, monuments, pasts, futures, etc.)
LYNN XU: Colors: Ash. Feelings: Joy. Ruins: My own. Structures: Sebald’s. Weapons: Nighttime (nature). Foods: Rice. Words: You.
JG: Your recent poems take up questions about poetic influence and inheritance, the kinds of influence we choose, the kinds we reject, and the kinds we practice advertently or inadvertently. So that I don’t say too much here, can you say something about this?
LX: I will answer this question with a question you ask farther down—whether I, like Spicer, believe that there is a society of poems that socialize without us—and Yes, I do. I also believe, like Celan, that poetry is an Atemwende, a turning of our breath. When I put these two thoughts together, it is upon our breath-turn that one poem shakes hands with another.
It is not only the language of the dead that we speak with, and in, but the whole sensorium of the dead. We carry their smells on our tongues. So when we speak various perfumes are released.
JG: What do you think about form? As a practice, as an activity, as an effect, as a tool, as a problem, etc.?
LX: I want to say: form is a dinner party, and sometimes the host is a serial killer. But I want to take your question seriously.
I want to say: I am a formalist! (Is this an unlucky thing to say?)
I like the sonnet a lot. Each syllable has an equal deadline and it’s always a challenge to meet it. In the summer of 2007 and into fall, Josh was in Oaxaca and I was in New York—and for each day we were apart we each wrote a sonnet. A proper sonnet. It was romantic, but it was also a competition. End-rhymes were assigned ahead of time, and we’d try to make them as hard as we can, so the other person would fail to write the sonnet. Sometimes it took me a week to write one. I started to write sonnets on trains, in the Laundromat, on the street, in the shower, my thinking started to come to me pre-metered, though I still cannot scan a poem correctly, even if my life depended on it. So for me the sonnet will always be a form of love.
JG: How does your background as a visual artist affect your poetry?
LX: For example, if I were to write 10 syllables per line this, for me, is a dark line. Because the number 10, in my head, corresponds to the color black. Numbers have strong color correspondences and words have somewhat weak ones. In this way I am still working from an abstract but vivid pallet in my mind. I also tend to replace thinking with an image. Then when the image moves this thinking does too.
JG: Do you think language is a particle or a wave?
LX: From what I understand (which is very little), a particle becomes a wave when it passes through some competing material. This is light. Language is not light, but can shed it, like snakes, which are sometimes poisonous. In my poems these snakes are at once painted with somber colors and with neon. There can only be a handful of neon snakes however.
JG: I hear you play fantasy baseball. What is your fantasy baseball team name? And who’s your star?
LX: My team name is the Religious Radishes. And my star is Miguel Cabrera, who is having a banner year, with 22RBI’s (as of this writing)!
JG: As one of the editors of the incredible Canarium Books, can you say something about how editing influences your own work? For example, is choosing what to publish and send out into the world anything like what happens when you sit down to write a poem? How does being an editor affect the way you read contemporary poetry?
LX: I am relatively new to the masthead. I’ve only been doing it for 3 years, whereas Josh, who started The Canary way back when, has been doing it for 8, and Nick and Robyn for 6. This is our second season as Canarium Books, and (here I think I speak for all the editors when) I say we’ve been blessed to have on board authors who are luminaries in the craft. It’s the closest I’ve come to a poetry community. I am very thankful.
I write alone. I am often sad because whatever I am trying to befriend in the now of writing has no face. Often I will write to friends | have them in mind as writing. So the “world” I send my poems out into is on the basis of friendship. I hope my friends like my poems.
Being an editor of contemporary poetry has certainly increased my awareness of what’s out there, in bounty that is contemporary poetry.
JG: There is a lot of talk about there being a crisis in Poetry, sometimes this talk laments the tiny audience for poetry, sometimes it laments poetry’s institutionalization or professionalization. Do you feel in crisis about any of these things? Do you feel in crisis about other poetry things? Are you worried about Poetry’s present or future?
LX: So. I Googled “Poetry crisis” and this is the first thing I got, a Gawker article, which referred me to this article, a transcript of Charles Bernstein’s 2008 . . . speech? http://harpers.org/archive/2008/09/hbc-90003617
I really like Bernstein and agree with him here. A default of institutionalization is over-production, quantity over quality. Lament points to a decline in the quality of the conversation. And editing Canarium Books has become important with respect to this.
JG: Can you say something about the social dimension of poetry, both as it happens inside of poems and as it happens between poets outside of poems? Do you, like Spicer, think there is a society of poems that socializes without us?
LX: See Question [2.]
JG: What is your perfect day?
LX: I wake up at 9am with my dreams still intact. Josh and I go on a long hike up in the hills and I fall asleep again on the side of the hill. By the time we climb down the sun has set. We see a movie. We eat ramen or sushi or whatever, with close friends, this goes on deep into the night.
Jane Gregory's poems have most recently appeared in "Some Books," a chapbook published by The Song Cave. She lives in Berkeley.
Lynn Xu was born in Shanghai. Her poems have appeared in 1913, 6x6, Best American Poetry 2008, Court Green, Effing, Eoagh, Tinfish, Octopus, The Walrus, Zoland Poetry, and elsewhere. A chapbook, June, was published in 2006 by Corollary Press. She co-edits Canarium Books.