Trevor Calvert: Hey Eric,
I read Tuned Droves again and this time made notes! So you'll be reading at the Studio One Reading Series in August, so I think it would be good to chat a little bit about your writing in context of Tuned Droves, your current projects, antecedents, sensation in your poems, multiplicity, audio recordings, and maybe helix owls...
To start, would you mind speaking a little as to what writing has helped form your poetics? I recall from when we met you were really into French Surrealism and poets like Nate Mackey and George Kalamaras—how have these writers influenced you?
Eric Baus: Hi Trevor!
Sure, no problem. When I went to college in the mid 90's in Indiana I met George Kalamaras, who was one of my first poetry teachers. He was incredibly generous and encouraging and gave me some reading leads to follow up on. George actually brought Mackey to my school for the visiting writers series and he taught Eroding Witness and School of Udhra a few months before he came to read. When Mackey read I bought Bedouin Hornbook (the first book of epistolary fiction) and that opened up a lot for me.
TC: Wow, so Kalamaras introduced Mackey to you initially. That's great! Would you mind, talking a little bit about how these two influenced your writing and do you see threads still existent that you can trace back to them today?
As I recall, didn't you work collaboratively with Kalamaras later on after you graduated? And since then you've worked with others as well—how important (if at all) do you think it is to work in this way with other writers?
EB: Well, in a very direct way the phrase "Dear Birds" which starts a lot of the poems in my first book, The To Sound, is from Mackey's novel Bedouin Hornbook. I only noticed the phrase after I'd had the book for a while and I ordered an SFSU Poetry Center recording of Mackey reading from it. The phrase "Dear Birds" appears briefly as a description of how a musical instrument (a flute?) sounded, what it seemed to "say" during a performance. I loved that recording and would listen to the tape on repeat. One time I was walking into the room and that phrase stood out, literally stopped me in my tracks. Hearing it helped me to start thinking about how to merge intimacy with distance/dispersal.
That recording is now available on Pennsound:
George and I are still close friends (actually I plan on spending a few days hanging out with him in Colorado in the next week or two). After I graduated we've kept in touch, including the collab you mentioned. George's influence is so persistent in terms of his own writing and work he showed me. His writing feels like it's always talking to me every time I write.
I think it's been helpful to work collaboratively. I haven't done it as much lately. It helps me to shake off some of my tendencies and talk through another person's logic, especially their syntax.
This might seem a little off topic, but I remember coming across Juliana Spahr's first book in Cal State Chico's library right around the time you and I met and became friends. I didn't know her work but I'd just read Lyn Hejinian and saw that she picked for the NPS. It was so exciting to track down new writers and magazines at that time. I think we were together when I bought a copy of Chain magazine and Hambone at Cody's too. Thanks, by the way!
TC: Yeah, I recall when you bought those too. I was very excited to discover writers who were writing poetry that, for me, was so vastly different from the poets I had been exposed to up until around then. I remember you showing me some of your poems which had been published in Key Satch(el) and being really thrilled with a lot of the poems; really your writing has always been the same for me--I always am surprised with what I discover in your work!
Actually, I'd like to ask you a few questions about your own writing. I recall Burroughs once stating something like words are microorganisms whose meaning only exists because of gradations of order. When reading your poems I kind of get a similar feeling--that over the course of pages a sort of syndetic structure begins to emerge. That is, your poems seems to have emergent qualities thanks to its structure over the course of a series. I am curious if you'll speak a little to the way your poems come together structurally and become the "haunted house of Eric Baus" that Andrew Joron mentions on Tuned Droves' blurb.
EB: Yeah, I want the poems to have some level of illusion of being autonomous but I'm also really interested in dispersing and distributing little echoes of sound and image. I've always liked reading work that takes into consideration the ways poems blend and bleed into one another. That sense of being haunted by a feeling of recognition but not necessarily being able to place it is something I am always trying to work with.
When I go to write a new poem it's often taking some small part of an earlier poem I've written and trying to tease out new threads, new vocabularies, new sound variations. There's a lot of clipping and grafting that happens. Often I end up with the beginnings of 2 or 3 new poems with a similar tone, vocabulary, length, etc. to them, then I go back to them individually at different points and finish them by trying to push them away from each another a bit. There are usually a few major features that get repeated across the space of a manuscript, particular figures that I'll try to work in from time to time in order to give a feeling of continuity within the different textures.
TC: So as you are working on a collection of poems, do you feel a tension between them? the frission between creating a echo and trying to pull away from the generative original?
EB: Definitely. The longer I write and the more I know my own tendencies and instinctive gestures the more I try to work kind of myopically or microscopically at first. Now when I begin writing a new manuscript from scratch I try to let in as much dissonance as possible, then I stand back from it and try to find the elements that could be carried across several poems. I want the poems to keep their strangeness so I try not to force them into a superstructure right away.
EB: But I'm always thinking about echoes. A long time ago (late 90's) on the Suny Buffalo EPC site, I listened to a linebreak interview of Jena Osman by Charles Bernstein. Osman and some other performers read her piece The Detective which literally echoes the same or similar pieces of text while it's being performed to create these variable waves of language. She used the phrase "echo system" to describe that and it's always stuck in my head as one model for the book.
TC: Terrific. Thank you for the link!
I like that--echo system. That's great. It seems to take Stein's idea of insistence, and then derange it a little and make it more complex.
EB: Yeah, Stein is always in the background too.
TC: Eric, what starts a poem for you? I mean are there key ideas, methods, etc that you use when beginning a poem? Tell us your secrets!
EB: There are a few ways it happens. I can give one super specific example. So, I recently wrote this poem called Negative Moon. I'm not sure that it's done, but I wrote it because of a mishearing by Michael S. Hennessey (Pennsound's Managing editor) of the title of my earlier poem Negative Noon. He did a Pennsound Daily post about my recordings recently http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/daily/201005.php#26_19:20
where he heard "moon" instead of "noon" in the recording. "Negative Noon" is this weird palimpsestic poem that I wrote on top of the language of the poem "The Continuous Corner" which appears in Tuned Droves. I thought it would be fun to write this poem "Negative Moon" that Michael had accidentally imagined. So, there's something about mutation and palimpsest that's usually at the start of my writing. Here's Negative Moon, by the way:
Minus magnetized his story’s satellites to form a negative moon. His echoes unearthed a hidden gong stored inside the core. The cloaked tone spread. Impacted kites released. The boom’s dust circled above the sky until its sails were cinders.
Negative Noon appears in this issue of the Ixnay Reader
EB: I like the idea of bigger poems having a kind of gravity and that there can be these little blips, these little satellite poems made out of detritus.
TC: [referring to a technical glitch with google] okay sorry about that--i had to log out and sign back in...
EB: now we are as one!
TC: Heh. Yes we are a synced wave.. actually, that kind of leads me to my next question--how do you see technology impacting poetry? Not just in terms of cutting and pasting, but rather in how electronic media (online journals, clients like wave, blogs, etc) may be affecting poetry. Has it affected your's in defined ways?
EB: First, I want to let you know that there is a pretty intense squirrel fight outside my window now.
Um, you know it's subtle but huge. I actually feel like electronic journals have taken off in a way that seems exciting. A few years ago I think there was more of a sense of an implicit hierarchy between print and online journals and now that's broken down.
I also think that my assemblage-oriented way of writing is mirrored in the way I read content online. Reading and writing feel a little closer somehow.
TC: That was probably causing the de-linkage in the interwebs...
EB: My computer has rabies.
TC: Yeah! I mean how many bookstores even have print journals of poetry anymore?
EB: I know. I'm not dissing the print journal or anything, lots of amazing ones, but the ones I tend to pay attention to now are more handmade, homemade, small scale journals by friends or acquaintances or friendly strangers. I think the hugeness of the internet has changed the print world of poetry into something that was unpredictable. It doesn't feel like the internet is annihilating print so much as it forces print to rethink itself in ways that can be exciting.
TC: Moving from the digital to physical--how has Denver been treating you? Has it had any affect on your creative process (besides ruining your baking)?
EB: Let me begin by complaining that it takes water like a month to boil here. Now that that's out of the way...
I like Denver. It's a very easy place to live and write. I sometimes miss Philadelphia because as a place it was so insistent and present. There's a great community (or series of overlapping communities) in Denver and Boulder that keeps things going.
TC: Eric, do we have time for a few more questions? I keep forgetting a bout the time difference...
EB: Totally, I'm not in any rush. I'm actually not meeting my friend for lunch today so I'm free free free to write.
TC: Excellent! One of the ideas I wanted to chat about with you is what role sense, as in the five senses, plays in your poetry. When I think back on your poetry it feels very cinematic--lots of images, lots of light, that sort of thing--a very visual recollection, but when I started going through Tuned Droves with this idea in mind, I noticed a lot of poems that included taste, touch, sound. How important do you think the senses are to your poetry?
EB: I think more and more I'm interested in mixing senses or collaging different types of sensory experiences. My poems tend to tune into the sensory world first and then bounce around until ideas get generated. Tuned Droves consciously stepped back a little bit from the exclusively visual and worked more with sound. I mean, it's a slight difference I'm sure but I think I had a different kind of ear when I wrote that book.
TC: How do you see your writing changing in the future? If writing at least in part is connected to the physical body, then it's changing all the time in small ways. Can you speculate on how you perceive your writing changing?
EB: The manuscript I'm finishing now, Bee-Stung Aviary, is even more sound driven than Tuned Droves. There's a lot more dissonance, sonic play, homophonic and homonymic stuff going on, even though there's plenty in The To Sound and Tuned Droves. Actually living in Philly for a while maybe did that, made me want to get noisier and slightly more agressive with the language. I think of these new poems as similar to my old poems but "prepared" like a prepared piano or like I'm putting all sorts of stupid effects pedals on the language. I'm trying to kick the language around a bit more. Does this seem weirdly macho or something? I hope not.
TC: It does make me concerned for language's well being. Actually, it makes me think of one of your poems in Tuned Droves that ends with "I hear her hands are calling. They say ding. Or what it gloves" which is really plastic, in the sense that it takes meaning and sound and denatures them to a neat effect. When you are kicking language around, how conscious are you of language "gloving" meaning?
EB: "Plastic" and plasticity are great words for me to think about what I want to do with language. I tend not to experience language as gloving meaning but as meaning emerging from language's ability to stretch, snap, extend, and permeate. I like the way language can be clipped and shortcircuited. I like building meaning out of elements that seem like non-meaning. That's maybe what's happening more and more, I try to generate threads but I also try to generate little shavings of things that don't have obvious "meaning" at first and then I try to work with them until they resonate.
TC: Like you are using syntax and word choice as a tuning fork of sorts...
EB: Yeah, or maybe I'm setting up a bunch of different tuning forks in the same space and hitting them at different times with different materials. I think my metaphor just got unwieldy, but you know what I mean, it's less about a stable center for me and more about creating a reading environment that is kinetic, more constellated or like a magnetic field you can throw different chunks of metal into.
TC: I like that! Your clarification here is really perfect and prophetic as it is a perfect lead-in to a question I had prepared before this interview got started. Would you mind talking a little about the concept of multiplicity? swarms, droves, waves, rain; perhaps it's just me but it seems like there are a lot of collective entities/objects in your writing...
EB: I think you're right about collective entities, they're everywhere in the writing and there are probably tons of different ways I could answer that question. One way to answer would be that it hopefully bounces between individual somewhat identifiable subjectivity and something beyond that. So even though I use "I" a lot in the poems there's an emphasis on taking in the relationships between figures, objects, landscapes, etc. rather than focusing on the wisdom of the speaker or author. I guarantee that I have almost zero wisdom to impart. BUT hopefully the poems can enact a kind of experience the reader can participate in.
Also, I just love the experience of proliferation of seeing things explode and multiply. That seems like a pretty fundamental thing humans like. I love watching one branch of my tomato plant turn into seven. It's about pleasure in some ways, the pleasures of experiencing unexpected shifts, the pleasures of feeling overwhelmed.
TC: There is a pleasure there for sure! I hadn't thought of the pleasure of multiplicity in this way before--thank you. And thank you for this interview! Do you think we should talk about convex vultures and helix owls, or shall we save that for a later conversation?
EB: Thanks so much Trevor! Convex Vultures have delicious tentacles and I make a mean Helix Owl soup. I will prepare this stuff for you when I'm staying at your new apartment.
TC: Sweet! We can wash it down with a Chinese herbal tea.
EB: Yeah, the tea my acupuncturist gave me yesterday looked like it had a blond Fraggle wig in it.
TC: So you'll be at the Studio One Reading Series in Oakland on Friday, August 6. Will you be reading from the new manuscript?
EB: Yeah, mostly I would imagine.
TC: Eric, thanks again for chatting, and I look forward to seeing / hearing you on the 6th!
EB: Thanks, I'm really looking forward to it. Wooooo!
Eric Baus is the author of Tuned Droves (Octopus Books, 2009) and The To Sound (Verse Press/Wave Books, 2004) and several chapbooks, including Bee-Stung Aviary (Further Adventures, 2010). He lives in Denver and thinks about audio recordings of poetry here: To The Sound http://baustralia.wordpress.com/
Trevor Calvert is a poet and librarian living in the East Bay. He is the author of Rarer and More Wonderful (Scrambler Books, 2008), and has appeared in Bay Poetics (Faux Press 2006), Mrs. Maybe, Weird Deer, and others.