Monday, March 28, 2011

Cassandra Smith Interviews Nik De Dominic for the Studio One Reading on April 1st.

me: we chat?

Nik: YES


me: "Nik is busy. You may be interrupting."


Nik: so, you've never done this before? gchat?

ok, well this is the part you imagine me in my underwear -- mostly because i am.

me: your underwear should be a lot more impressive.

Nik: YES


me: how's your new orleans?

Nik: i wouldn't mind owning a motel.


me: so uh, so nikdedominic. you’re my favorite writing poet. tell me about that.

Nik: baha, i don't think that's true. but thanks? i wish i wrote more. it's been difficult lately. i'm not sure what a poem is anymore. how to make one. i've been thinking a lot about professionalization lately. and how in some ways professionalization counters the process.

me: so off the record:

hi rusty,

i like the first one best. it looks simple but small and elegant bits. oh, so in love with his poetry. want it to be something i could court, sans person. "i bought your poems these flowers but they aren’t for you. could you find a way to give them to words please&thankyou?"

Nik: wow, that's lovely and thank you. that poem, i think you're talking about 'on translation'?, came from a really weird place. i was trying to translate czech poems, you know, with knowing czech.



me: every groucho, but the best mustache.

Nik: any club that would have you reference?

me: course

Nik: nice.

me: shucks

so. the offending adam.

tell me about that

Nik: HAH

Nik: TOA is a journal, online, that was started by several folk about a year ago -- andrew wessels, cody todd, ryan winet, laurel richardson came on a little after inception. We set out to do a couple things. First, we want to make an online journal that took advantage of the online medium, as opposed to mimicking a print format (i.e., something that would look like a journal, just on yr screen, and that would come out every couple of months, &c). So, we constantly update content, usually a couple poets a week. We believed there was enough work, interesting and innovating to support such a concept. I think we also believed in the idea of editor as a person too, that when something was chosen, there was a reason it was chosen; we believed that reason was important for our readers to know. I think the official language is something like serving as a bridge between poet and reader. I can't speak for the others on the team, but for me, the process of reading is deeply personal (is that too simple minded?). Reader as author. And that was something I wanted to be transparent to all. When I read something, I rewrite it, usually according to whatever's going on in my life at that moment. Many of my intros start with me in a particular coffee shop in the french quarter that I steal away to write them. Beyond that however, and rather than the whole thing being an exercise of ego for me, I want to showcase the work in a way that, again, is deeply personal. This is why I reacted to it, this is why I think it's important, this is why you should spend ten minutes reading, as opposed to updating yr facebook status, or scrolling through gawker, or whatever else myriad distractions there are on the internet. As far as how the things are formatted, we decided that they'd be short enough to not take away from the work. But other than that, we didn't put any other restrictions on them. And I think that's one of the nice things about the site. All of us are writing poets. But all of us have completely different personalities and aesthetics. There's not one person dictating the direction or vision of the journal...

Nik: Andrew Wessels may be perhaps the hardest working man in show business, and he and Cody Todd came up with the initial concept; they had a workshop together at USC where Andrew was finishing up his ugrad and CT was beginning his Phd (I may be a bit off here -- fact checker?). Andrew then recruited Ryan Winet and me. Andrew, Ryan and I all went to USC together and met in workshop but all ended up at different mfa progs (UAz for Ryan, Unlv for Andrew, Bama for me). Once we were on board, I think we spent about six months putting together the concept through emails and phone conversations, and then finally launched. And we're sort of still constantly reevaluating the mission/concept. We do a couple chapbooks a year and will be working with a press to produce a book.

there's a bunch of stuff? are you back outside, is it too cold, should we reschedule?


from: cassandra smith

to: nik de dominic

re: interview


reread google chat.

cut and paste was mostly cut cut cut.

rewrote interview.


i am reading your manuscript.

i am trying to remember nik de dominic the stack of paper, who is a different person from nik de dominic in the marigny.

I had a prof in grad who used to talk about page person and real person. That page person isn’t the same person who can’t park a car in a tight spot at the rite-aid, that’s real me. They are different. I don’t know if I buy that altogether. Page me is pretty close to real me. I think there’s more posturing in real me. I went on a date recently, got a bit drunk, and talked a little bit about XXXXXX. That wasn’t a good idea. Page me gets to talk about that stuff. But real me shouldn’t tell that stuff to people who just showed in my life. Real me always wants to do that, to be like, HEY BARISTA, I HURT, DON’T YOU SEE THAT – SOMETIMES WE ARE NOT GOOD AT LIFE. THAT’S OK. I don’t get to do that though; they’d lock me up? Or I’d be shunned? Although sometimes I already feel a bit shunned.

I don’t read friends’ work if they’re someone I don’t know professionally (or thru poet world). If they are friends who sell insurance, and they write poems, I won’t do it. It fucks up the relationship. I can’t help but to think bad things about them. How were page me and real me different? Was it a good or bad thing?

how is it coming?

have you realized yet that there is something so still that happens when the first two sections are entwined?

Do you mean that blending them in makes it still? Still in a bad way, like the thing lacks engine? I always thought the intermixing, the one essay throughout, drove the book. I want the book to not read like poems but like a novel. That sounds silly. I always thought of that as a narrative engine. Like I read these poems, these poems are informed by this weird thing throughout. I want someone to read those fifty pages like fast, in one sitting. It’s for story telling and not meditating.

that there is death, and there is poetry,

there are the days that move through them, and there is a classroom.

there is something, unspoken, that can only be written.

there is how do you touch things.

that that’s what it means when you called it “not here, not dead”

NHND I think is about memory construction and narrative in memory construction. Stuff that doesn’t exist but exists through utterance. Exists in the inbetween. But all of it. Yes.

you know we are only friends because you are a good poet.

I like you. I am happy that you are my friend. If my only redeeming quality is my poetry, so be it. I got you out of the deal. You say this. Some other people say it. Some one once told me that I was their favorite writing poet. That when my name shows up in a journal it makes him psyched that he gets to read me. This came from someone – and you too – that I greatly not only respect the work of but also everything that he does in the poetry realm. I don’t understand. I don’t think I’m always very good at it. I don’t even think I really understand it.

are your visions actual visions, seeing this, when you write, or are they mostly words?

i mean this:

Backyard, A Photo

A rusty wheelbarrow turned

on its side in brown knee-high weeds and dead

grass. It looks like it grows there

and the rotting carcass

of the raised redwood pool sits,

collects rain water, stagnates a fertile ground

for breeding. I have never seen a mosquito

just the welts grown fat from harvest.

They’re memories not visions, some imagined but all real, and all have actively been contrived. I see it all. Then I try to push on the language/construct of it.

52 Girls Sing, Texas

is not a good poem.

it rushes over itself.

it doesn’t know why it is there.

it is the poem part of how this is perfect.

You’re right. It should go. I don’t know why it’s in there. I think because I like the idea of sexual exploitation and ruining. Here are ruins. Everything in that book is about ruin.

are you the kind of person who falls in love and gets things done,

or falls in love and everything stops?

i am not sure if stops means better or broken.

Falls in love, everything stops. When the love stops, things get done. I’d be much happier fat in love with nothing ever getting done. The production comes in fits in the aftermath.

do you type the sounds or the words.

i think this is what i mean.

Sounds. Then words. Mostly associations. I think of the book as talk. All talk. Always my work as talk. I’d be happiest if I could just steal away in a dark room with reader and talk to them.

what is the difference between the stack of paper and the marigny

Stack of paper nik and marigny nik? Or stack of paper and marigny? For the first, see the first. For the second, the smell.

what is your holy

I was talking to someone tonight who was charged with writing something on the transformative ability of art. And I got stuck on that. This idea that art transforms. I couldn’t get around it. Like, I read something and I become a different person afterwards? Sometimes that happens, but it’s mostly aggregate. Of course, as an artist, everything has formed me, every piece I come across. But with that talk, we got to the sublime, a word I don’t know if I understand in every one of its senses, especially the philosophical. But my holy is whatever that is, the subliminity of beauty. XXXXXXXX. The thing that keeps me going is beauty in things, and that sounds fuck all stupid. But when I say beauty, I don’t mean a rose, but rather the power of an act, or a thing, to shock us out of our every day. I was telling this person I was talking to, the two most transformative music events I’ve had were once when I was 18, after a long week of acid and booze and walking on hot coals, I randomly stumbled across two guys playing ‘paint it black’ on their violins. It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. The other time, again when I was in my early 20s, was walking into a Chinese rest for take out – one of those small dingy places that people only get take out from – and four women in their late 40s were singing karoke. This beautiful woman began singing house of the rising son and she had the most amazing voice I’d ever heard and it was the saddest thing ever to witness and it was the most beautiful thing. That’s holy.

there is a difference between the stack of paper nik and the drunken boat recording.

i swoon when you say lever.

I want to talk all my poems to you. I want to talk all poems to every one.

there are so many books in this one book.

interwoven seems too literary a word.

the abbot, the highway. the girl, boy,

when it is a word problem,

when it is another kind of word problem.

All those books in one book are the same book. They’re me playing dress up. Me running through trauma. Me taking on disguises.


is a lot like 52 girls,

but now the language, the stumbling over,

is a turn. memory.

It’s supposed to be a hangman/abbot poem but a poem that explains how one would come before them. That book, it’s about sex, it’s about trauma, it’s about childhood. It’s about death and defying it. I like priapism because I like that in death, the hanged’s cock stands still hard in opposition to it.

it is raining, the branches.

i have a blanket that i call the ocean.

there are sirens and the curve in my neighborhood under a rain is the ocean.

i like how we are california, then alabama,

and met first as a mess in new orleans.

i am not sure which of us was first to cry.

i on the walk home.

i am not sure i will keep this question.

These words I thought could’ve been mine. That was transformative. I lost myself in you, the page, the other. Keep it or don’t. It happened.

this is why i like your [ ] poem best.

I want to make wendy into a book.

Apologia, Louisiana

Here is the sound. It is the sound of water. It is the sound of

rushing. It is the sound of being surrounded. It is the sound

of innumerable helicopters above, around us. The sky

blackens in blades. It is the repetitive whir of a ceiling fan off

balance, improperly hung, threatening to loosen itself through

its own motions, its own undoing and behead us both. Until

then, we will be cool and forget the wet in our skin, the way it

crawls. It laps around us, this sound, this water, our skin.

Here our bodies converge and separate. Here it will begin and

in beginning it will end again.

this is how you touch things.

Thank you.

it is like an ocean.



doesn’t hurt as much at the end when it is right justified.

Ok. I will re make?

when you write,

it is a knowing or a forcing,

is it because you have to or should?

I force myself to write. But that’s not the good writing. The good writing comes from the knowing

where are you in a document

In the talk. If it’s a poem in voice. It’s all me. If not, if there’s blocking//description, wait until someone says something.

i wonder if i should mention, to readers,

that there is love and death and holy

in what and how you write.

It’s what I set out to do. I think. It’s what I want. It’s how I think of the world.

that i am sending you flowers.

My poems will never cum first and will never hit you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

April 1st with Nik De Dominic, Amanda Nadelberg, and Geoffrey G. O'Brien

doors 7
reading 730

Nik De Dominic is a poet and an essayist. Recent work has appeared in Los Angeles Review, Fairy Tale Review, Harpur Palate, DIAGRAM and elsewhere. He is an associate poetry editor for the New Orleans Review and editor for The Offending Adam. He lives in New Orleans and teaches writing around town.

Amanda Nadelberg is the author of Bright Brave Phenomena (forthcoming from Coffee House Press) and Isa the Truck Named Isadore (Slope Editions, 2006) as well as a chapbook, Building Castles in Spain, Getting Married (The Song Cave, 2009). Her poems have appeared in Conduit, 6x6, Boston Review, No: a journal of the arts and Vanitas. In 2008, she received a grant from the Fund for Poetry. Originally from Newton, Massachusetts, she is a graduate of Carleton College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Geoffrey G. O’Brien is the author of Metropole (2011), Green and Gray (2007) and The Guns and Flags Project (2002), all from The University of California Press, and coauthor (in collaboration with the poet Jeff Clark) of 2A (Quemadura, 2006). He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at UC Berkeley and also teaches for the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison.

donations welcome!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kate Schapira talks with Bronwen Tate

Bronwen Tate and I have been friends since 2004. We’ve cooked together, written together, knit together and gotten our MFAs together. I love being friends with her and talking with her about teaching, writing and making.

Kate Schapira: Can you talk about the relationship that making physical objects has, for you, to making poems? I'm interested both in things like making chapbooks, with its more obvious and direct connection, and things like knitting which may seem unrelated but I suspect are not.

Bronwen Tate: I often see physical objects as a kind of ballast. They provide me with draft and stability. I love the fact that with making a soup or knitting a hat, time and patience are adequate. Struggling with words and language (both in writing poetry and in trying to write about poetry for my dissertation) can start to feel like a lot of abstraction and of uncertain value at times. There's something comforting in turning away from that and towards making an object that will be of clear use to someone. But now I also read criticism while knitting sweaters, and the physical object with a clear sense of progress (two more inches on the left sleeve!) gives me the patience to stay with whatever I'm reading and keeps my mind from wandering. And sometimes the objects send me back to language. Earlier today I felt compelled to look up "purl" in the Oxford English Dictionary and the eleven different definitions are so verbally thrilling to me that I want to write a poem using them. Making chapbooks (as we both do) brings that physical patience, the meditative repetition that slowly adds up to something [missing word here?] into the way the poems reach a person and I like that too.

KS: I've been delighted and honored to be around to watch your writing process over a number of projects, and one thing that always strikes me is your use of structure. How have different structures and constraints (formal, procedural, even collaborative) served you at different times? What do you think draws you to these?

BT: Structure and constraints vary from project to project, but are always there in some form or another for me. With my manuscript The Probable Garden, I read Proust in French, looked for words I couldn't make a confident guess about and then guessed at them anyway, later using the alignments and failures of alignment between my guesses and a dictionary to write the poems. The constraint here came down to starting from language rather than from the thing to be expressed. There was a lot of freedom for me still – I didn't stipulate how I had to use what I gathered, but usually a spark or provocation would occur and from that, the beginning of the poem. That problem or where or how to start is a lot of what draws me to this kind of thing.

My most recent group of poems, the ones in the chapbook the loss letters, use a very different kind of constraint or structure, but again one that helped me each time to make a beginning. This chapbook was a collaboration with Ming Holden, in which we decided to send one another ghazals, pantoums, villanelles, sestinas and sonnets, always in that order, with no more than 48 hours elapsing between poem received and response poem sent, and with no communication with one another other than the poems themselves. The constraint here was multiple: the time was short for each poem so we couldn't spend too much time obsessing. In each poem we had to grapple with the various fixed forms and the kind of thought that each form asked of us. And then the fact of having only the poem to convey whatever we wished to convey at a time when a lot was going on put a curious sort of pressure on the poem.

This is connected to the problem of where/how to start: What makes you want to start at all—do you want to always be working on poetry, do you like to have something always going? If you don't work on poetry for a while, but you do work on these other things (making things, reading, doing scholarly work), what draws you back to it?

BT: Not to torture you, but I really wish this interview could include you eating a piece of this butterscotch pie I made yesterday.

KS: Believe me when I say that you don't wish that as much as I do.

BT: I would like to always have some kind of poetry going on, but sometimes gaps of time go by when I don't. The question of what draws me back is sort of the question of why I write poetry to begin with, right? The answer is multiple. For one thing, I really enjoy the feeling that can come from a total concentration on the material, a moment when I'm seeing and mouthing and hearing words and feeling for their resonances and rearranging them and shifting and moving them until they feel right. The feeling is a sort of dissolving of time awareness (I have far too much time awareness and time anxiety much of the time) and an intensity of being active, of being alive. Another part of it is that sometimes I look back on old poems and I don't hate them. When I can read an old poem and say "yes, that's what that was and it's still here in the poem," it feels worthwhile and I want to be doing it again, to have a crafted remnant of things. And then, of course, sometimes someone reads a poem of mine and responds to it and tells me, or sometimes I read someone else's poem and respond to it, and the desire to be part of this kind of conversation motivates me. Yesterday I stumbled across a scribble in a old notebook just after a list of camping supplies (head light, potato salad (make), apples, etc.), and it reads: "poetry: an exploration of language between mind and world, self and others, self and self. how/what do we tell/say about/around/between/inside?" It's a bit incoherent, but I think that's largely what draws me – the language between all these forms of relation is important, and it's infinitely fascinating to me. In poetry I try to map some of it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bronwen Tate talks with Matthew Henriksen

Bronwen Tate and Matthew Henriksen read together on March 4th at Studio One Art Center.

I've been thinking, reading your book and just in general recently, about how words name things that exist in the world (bees, the moon, a table), but also are constantly in play with other uses of the same word in other writing. And poetry is sometimes trying to slough off those allusions and make the reader actually see a moon (not a symbol) and at other times relies on allusions to make meaning or create depth. Can you talk a bit about how this works in Ordinary Sun? Do you see your writing moving in one direction or another? Is a knife ever just a knife?

A knife is never a knife as long as I cannot say for certain what a knife is. What does a knife do? I can say that it cuts, but I have not been cut by a knife. Therefore, I have no intimacy with knives. I know what a person is because I know what a person can do. A person loves, and I have been loved by a person. I am a person because I have inflicted my love intimately upon another. In poems, I am not comfortable with "knife" as symbol or as word. If I believe in the holiness of poems, I find holiness in the literal presence of the image, which is neither of the word "knife" itself or what "knife" suggests. The image is the event of a group of words flashing upon the brain and creating a "place" where shapes, colors, and sounds--conceivable sensations--occur. The act of impression, not merely the result, defines the image's presence. If a knife gets into my brain as an image I know what it is. The image is always intimate, inflicted by another and leaving a scar of memory. In "Copse," I do not talk about a knife but my friend's table, "where knife-gnaws never healed." I can't make the reader actually see that table, but I can try to impress the knife-inflicted damage on the brain of another. The image does not come from the actual table or the moment when I saw the table but from the scar of memory that coincided with writing that line. Images are more like ideas than facts, which is lucky for us, because we cannot posses a fact as intimately as we can an idea. The idea of my friend's table made me sad, and the image contains rather than symbolizes that sadness.

BT: I agree with you about the poem being a point of encounter where an experience takes place – both for writer and for reader. What I was concerned with, maybe, was the question of while you can say that "if a knife gets into my brain as an image I know what it is," how much do you care if/that your reader knows or receives the same thing? You say that you have no intimacy with knives, but I could say that I have a great and lasting intimacy with the knife I've used to chop hundreds of onions or that I've known the surgeon's knife, though I slept through it.

I think that some of the power of your poem in "Copse" comes from the recurrence of knives in the poem: "the floor dull as knives," as well as "where the knife-gnaws never healed." If a floor can be dull as knives, it's dull in the way that a knife can be scratched and worn and blunted. The scratched and blunted knife of the first couplet is still in my mind when I read of the knife-gnaws and adds violence to it. It takes more force to make a dent with a dull blade.

But talk to me about holiness or the holiness of poems. Ordinary Sun seems to me to make its way through the impossibilities of various offered kinds of holiness, of "dismantled catechism." I would venture that your idea of holiness might be linked to grace, be it a "disfigured grace" or the act of "hazarding grace" or the "grace [that] disturbs our sentiment for violence."

MH: We don’t share our minds: we share the world. Or, more exactly, we share the experience of experiencing the world. We cannot transfer that experience through language, imagery, art, or science. The experience belongs to the perceiver. When I write, the reader I consider belongs to my experience. Once a reader takes the poem, “Matthew Henriksen” gains an identity determined by the reader. I do not think it possible to share experience, though art allows for convincing imitations. Of course, I don’t know. Maybe someone sees “knife” just like I do, with all the same connotations. My poem “Parkway and Bennett” describes the lawn of the corner house where I grew up. My brother and sister can certainly recreate a similar image and set of connotations, but the three of us will never look at it the same way. I’m resigned to that loneliness and create poems out of that void. My poems are psychic space probes that will never return. Sometimes grace overcomes that distance. In spite of our definite isolation, we experience closeness. I think everyone, myself included, cheapens that closeness through short-cuts, by naming ourselves avant-garde artists or Libertarians or Christians. We assert that familial bonds are unbreakable when the grace of familial love resides in the difficult fact that our love for family, even our children, is ultimately conditional. I need not give examples. In my experience, grace always arrives through the dismantled, disfigured, and disturbed. I see the world as irrevocably flawed, and art is a failure that imitates that flaw. The physical world veils much of itself; I can barely sketch a picture of a tree in my mind, much less convey an image through words. But I try to make a new experience out of words, an echo of the original that ultimately has no connection with the tree but with the impression the tree left on me. I make poems so I can see the impressions myself, so I can see the experience apart from the world. And I send them back out into the world because I made them from what I gathered there. I get everything I need from poetry in making poems and letting them go. But sometimes they land with someone, and a reader comes back to me and says something about the poem that resembles what I thought I wrote. That proves to me that grace exists elsewhere, but I cannot say that it is the same grace. If I knew, I wouldn’t need grace.

BT: I've been thinking some about this question of trying to convey an experience vs. trying to convey a response to an experience (especially in regards to haiku which I've been reading and reading about recently). But your mention of sending poems out into the world brings me to another question I'd like to ask you: how has your work as a small press publisher effected your work as a writer? If you'd like, maybe talk a bit also about the difference between the online format of Typo and the endless folding-and-sewing of chapbooks.

MH: Editing hasn't influenced my poems, other than introducing me to many writers I would not have otherwise read. Of course, that was hugely important. I didn't start any of the poems that would go into Ordinary Sun until after Adam Clay and I started Typo. Through the Typo inbox I found out about Alex Lemon, G.C. Waldrep, Anne Boyer, and Graham Foust. Through the first few issues of Typo, Adam and I were still in the MFA program in Fayetteville, and our professors hadn't shown us much contemporary poetry. We'd found Ben Lerner and Joyelle McSweeney's poems, but that was far from the type of work we'd been encouraged to read. Suddenly through Typo I found people trying to do things I was trying to do, and also I saw some work that went beyond what I had imagined. As we put together the first five issues, I definitely learned in my own writing to trust the impulse I already had, particularly from reading Frank Stanford and Theodore Roethke, to trust the velocity of language.

The main difference between Typo and Cannibal results from the way people access the work. Cannibal tied in closely with The Burning Chair Readings. The joy came in handing people something gorgeous and rough-looking and cared for that was about to burst with poems that leaned on the wilder side but still had the same qualities as Typo poems. Cannibal brought more intimacy or closeness, because people could see how we made it and most of the copies we sold or gave away in person. If we published someone we didn't know in Cannibal we usually got to be friends with her at some point. People saw the amount of work that went into making Cannibal, though most probably did not realize how much. We'd fold, collate, and poke holes in two to three thousand pages for each issue. The insanity of that labor resulted though in an equally amazing response to the finished product. The other beautiful aspect of Cannibal's history is how collaborative the last few issues became, as far as the making. Katy and I have had lots of fantastic, long nights with friends making books. No one ever expects anything when they help you sew books. It's all about getting poetry out there in a gorgeous format. No one ever wanted to edit or to push poems on me. They'd eat pie and drink wine as payment. Now that we've given up Cannibal I am going to miss that amazement. More so I'll miss finding chapbooks from unknown poets who end up blowing minds. I'm pushing all of that energy back into Typo now. I think some people have sort of moved on from Typo, but that's a mistake. Typo is a serious monster. My attitude about Typo parallels my writing a bit. I want to do the best work I can and move on without thinking about who is reading it and reacting. Of course, Typo is only half mine, and I'm very protective of the other half, they way I'm protective of Cannibal Books poets, only more so since Adam is a brother to me. Even when I had both magazines going, I always put more care into Typo. The distance an online magazine presents between poet, editor, and reader promotes more serious reading.

BT: You mention that you didn't start any of the poems that would go into Ordinary Sun until after you and Adam started Typo, could you talk about how the book became a book? I can recall reading several of these poems in various manuscripts or in the chapbook horse less press did along the way. Tell me about your editing process. How did you decide which poems or sequences would end up in Ordinary Sun? Did you have any kind of editing relationship with Janaka or anyone at Black Ocean after they decided to print the book?

MH: About two-thirds of the material in Ordinary Sun comes from an extremely long poem called Row that I hacked up and fashioned into small poems and sequences and in some cases into longer poems. The revision process lasted several years. I cut mercilessly and tried to beat the language into a solid form. Revision has become a much more delicate, less painful process for me, so I must have learned something revising these poems. Little in Ordinary Sun resembles the initial plan, except that the book essentially comprises of a series of shorter books intended to revolve around each other.

When I would write new poems, I'd generally have either a longer piece of a series of poems that I would invariably jam into the book and displace other sections with. I don't write thematically or anything like that. I'll never write a poem to create some sort of arch or structure for the book. The sections come from the same central point, a point the book does not describe, because the book does not adhere to temporal movement. The difficulty resided in creating an arrangement that helped the reader get into the poems. Andrea Baker, Jane Gregory, and Kate Greenstreet looked at the manuscript in multiple forms and gave me a sense of how others would read it. That took years, and I'm infinitely grateful for that help. Beyond a few sympathetic readers who understand my perspective, I cannot ask for much more, and those three stand among my favorite poets today.

At Black Ocean, Carrie Olivia Adams and Janaka Stucky focused mainly on ordering the poems. I had long since settled on an order and left it. Also, I had so heavily revised the poems I could not see into them anymore. Their suggestions added to the book's velocity. Carrie's book Intervening Absence prompted me to send my manuscript to Black Ocean: her poems have a delicate face, but the formal elements, both of individual poems and the book's structure, assert strength. Janaka and I had collaborated as event organizers, so I knew where he was coming from. I trusted that if they took the book it would come out all right on the far side.

BT: Well, I think Black Ocean has done a beautiful job with the book. And I certainly know what you mean about revising poems so heavily that you can't see into them anymore. But I was interested by what you said that "the sections come from the same central point, a point the book does not describe, because the book does not adhere to temporal movement." This confirms my own sense of the book, which was of a dark event radiating through the poems without ever being exactly named. I see this refusal to name acted out formally in many of the poems in great memorable lines like "What I cannot find in the morning is most myself," or "I only asked for objects played against/ what held there" or "What she heard about their house dripped from the faucet." This makes me think of something like "the horror, the horror" in Heart of Darkness, how showing the shadow something casts can be much more evocative or chilling than trying to show or name the thing itself. But I also see a kind of narrative built over several of your sequences, through displaced details, permutations, or returns to words that accumulate a specific valence over time. This makes me think about that various elements that can constitute form in poetry. I identified numerous formal "activations" in Ordinary Sun. In "Corolla in the Midden," for example, I was fascinated by the way within a given poem the end of each page insists both on ending and on continuing onto the next page. It obliges the reader to do a sort of back-and-forth dance. So, can you talk a bit about what you see as constituting form in the book? Or just share any thoughts you may be having recently about form?

MH: Eliot describes the utter terror in a leaf scratching the street. That “dark event” pervades all experience and terrifies us precisely because we cannot name it or even fully recognize it. The narrative you see in Ordinary Sun, which I think follows the not-so-terrifying thread of the book, does seem to match with the formal construction. For me, poetry depends entirely on form. At least, form constitutes the aspect of the poem I have a say over. The mystery of the poem, the dark underside, as many have said, comes from dictation or translation and the poet has little say in how that arrives in a poem. The miracles in poems, the grace as we have discussed it, arises from the formal reconfiguring of our shadowy experiences into instruments of language, by which we release that pressure in song. The definitive substance of any poem resides in its sound. I only think about form when writing, if I am thinking. Of course, I’ll write unconsciously, but then I’ll look back and see that four-fifths of the lines scan as blank verse or that I’ve written a fourteen line lyric poem with a volta between eighth and ninth lines. I think about meter. The construction of the line matters more than anything else, at least anything I do consciously. Andrea Baker and I had a running discussion about form all through the making of Ordinary Sun. Those conversations revolved mainly around the line as a sort of delivery mechanism for the lyric. Each line follows another directly, with accumulating momentum, but you can also back up into the lines, because the lines are not temporal, even when narrative. Andrea asked difficult questions, and once I told her I thought of myself as a failed narrative poet. The story falls apart because so much happens and so much of that comes to us through the past in flashes of sound and light. I like failure, especially in art, and form allows me to expose that in myself. I think about iambs and trochees, but I won’t let a formal pattern rule me. In “Corolla in the Midden,” I wanted to break the fourteen line pattern by writing the poem haphazardly, but the turns kept falling into place and I could not revise them out. I put as much pressure as I can on each line and on the poem as a sequence of lines to expose the crack that inevitably turns up in every piece of art. I think that indestructible brokenness gives art the vitality that heals us.

BT: You speak of yourself as "a failed narrative poet," but I think one could also say that your poems are sometimes about the ways narrative fails us or is inadequate for understanding what we experience. Narrative implies a beginning and an end, but in fact these are always somewhat arbitrary – there are always things before and after. Poetry, like the novel or anything else, involves selection, but it allows for a wide range of methods or means of selection. This reminds me that I wanted to ask you about Surrealism. I have an ongoing fascination with Lautréamont's "Les Chants de Maldoror" which the Surrealists latched onto for his strange similes especially. I can see similar metaphorical work at times in Ordinary Sun, metaphors where it's more a question of juxtaposition than of comparison. Care to talk a bit about your interest in Surrealism or how it came to title a section of the book?

MH: The title for “The New Surrealism” came from a line in the poem that has nothing to do with surrealism but rather attempts to rename the circumstances of our contemporary experience. I suppose Lautréamont, Breton and Artaud more or less intended that. I have resisted surrealism as an intentional method in my work. Stevens’ The Necessary Angel shaped much of my foundational understanding of metaphor’s vitality, the necessity of a basis in the real allowing the metaphor then to stretch our perceptions. The marriage of surrealism to the narrative construct in my poems probably has more to do with cinema, where my heroes (Federico Fellini, Bela Tarr, and David Lynch) treat narrative structure as a malleable element. Fellini’s meandering storyline in La Dulce Vita, with those characters who step to the forefront and vanish as Marcello meanders from party to party, more closely resembles my experience, exactly because its beginning and end are arbitrary, unless of course you look at the film as an artist’s expression, each scene presenting a complex sensation amid a sequence of sensations that speak musically, as abstract paintings speak musically. In Werckmeister Harmonies, when Tarr puts plot development on hold for about six minutes to let his camera dance along with a man dressing for bed, the experience of that as art seems as odd as watching Jean Amrais walk through a mirror in Cocteau’s Orpheus, because both scenes allow emotions and reflections to accumulate around the image. Nothing I have ever read has struck me as more accurately real than Novalis’ Hymns to the Night. Soaring through darkness, his speaker eyes a barely perceptible mound of dark earth and lands to rest from his flight. In a work of art, a man chopping wood in the winter to heat his cabin in the Rockies is just as surreal. The impossibility of our existence, or call it the miracle of our existence, exceeds determined law. All literature begins with the surreal because language is the most odd and inscrutable component of our reality. In Hunger when Knut Hamsun describes God sticking a finger into the narrator’s brain and the exposed nerves left by the hole there, I immediately relate. We think in the surreal, especially when we think in metaphor. I certainly hope people read my metaphors as juxtapositions rather than comparisons, because comparison implies rhetoric. Can I assert that the poem may offer statement rather than rhetoric, the images and metaphors provoking an emotional experience in the reader that speaks its own language, as music and paint have their languages? I love Larry Levis, William Matthews, and William Heyen, who came in the wake of the Deep Imagists but turned the image into something more clearly made of words spoken from a particular voice. They brought the Modernist “I” back to the subjective, but a more Eastern subjective, where the “I” notices with a degree of detachment the mingling of sensory and intellectual experiences rather than superimposing one on the other. My favorite poets writing today consciously bring the image entirely into the mind, where after all images literally reside, and fuse the image with the emotional and intuitive experience of the perceiver. I mean something like negative capability in reverse, where the poet absorbs the image into the subjective. Isn’t that closer to reality than divorcing the self from experience, no matter how far subjectivity spins experience into the surreal?