Anthony McCann: In Destroyer and Preserver I find the presence and absence of what might be called "the realm of the political" eerie and enigmatic. I mean that it is so present and yet so cleaved off and away in the book--so not touchable by the people of the book. When I am inside a lot of the poems in the book one of the feelings that being in the poem has for me seems like a denser, thicker version of what it feels like to move about in, or beneath whatever it is our democracy is. Does this make any sense? How did writing the poems make you feel and/or think about 'our democracy', etc.?
Matthew Rohrer: I think writing the poems in particular in this book felt like an engagement with a really wide swath of life — or at least I wanted it to. Of course that probably sounds kind of silly since it’s just my Brooklyn life. But what I mean is: I wanted to imagine the poems being written by someone walking through a dense curtain of input. Sometimes that input is things one reads, sometimes things one overhears, sometimes art one sees in a museum, sometimes the love one gets from one’s loved ones, and sometimes the terrifyingly distant and inhuman machinations of Capitalism and the government. I didn’t want anything to take precedence: I wanted what I was reading and what I was hearing on the radio and what I was seeing around town to all take the stage together equally. The political as you call it is always hanging there like an eerily gleaming guillotine blade just behind the clouds.
AM: Nice guillotine! Here's a stab at another question: another major presence--that is simultaneously tangibly present, yet also vague and ungraspable and kind of absent or haunting--is New York City itself. When you are in one of your poems do you feel at times like you're more in the city than you are "in real life?" I mean, I think I do when I'm reading some of them.
MR: Yes maybe. I think “the city” is a place for me at least and in my poems that doesn’t always have to mean “New York City” - though that is where I’ve lived for most of my life now. There is also a city I dream about that is “the city” in some of the poems. In some ways they are all the same city.
Anthony, so much of the language in your poems is elemental -- “face”, “bird”, “animal” etc. -- yet the poems themselves have an amazing sense of place and of physicality. How do you do that? And how aware are you of this elemental/simple linguistic situation in the poems? Is there a program behind it?
AM: Absolutely--there are certain 'elemental' terms that recur...they are all fairly loaded, for me, with affect. I mean--the face is the site of affect. I think hands and faces are where our social existences are embodied, in social life and in the poems. And animals and birds---perhaps--can be bodied ways out of the human. All the words you gave as examples, along with hands, are bodies or body parts. I think there are more--but I imagine they are all also bodies or body parts.
And, in Destroyer and Preserver your lines keep getting more deliciously delicate and slippery. At least it feels that way to me. Does that make sense to you? If so, maybe you would describe it differently. How consciously does this happen/has this happened?
MR: Yes, that’s a great description! I want them to be like that. Without punctuation, I want the enjambments to be sometimes so extreme that a line could either be fulfilling a previous thought, beginning a new thought, or doing both. Though that’s the kind of thing that seems great when you’re writing it but then when you read it aloud you realize you have to commit to some single way of reading it and that’s a little sad for me. I think definitely my allegiance is to the poem on the page.
MR: I know you’ve spoken many times about the process of writing the long poems in I HEART YOUR FATE (the section), with an especially good discussion of it up on the htmlgiant website.... But I wondered if you could talk about the inspiration for that form? And those lines? Like, who were you reading that prompted that exploration?
AM: I think of those poems as being short poems! Since they are all twenty lines long. I started playing with that form many years ago in response to that great Lewis Warsh book The Origin of the World. I wanted to write collaged poems of flat and stark un-enjambed lines like the poems in that book. But somehow my ear or my body or whatever demanded something tighter. There are 16 line poems in Moongarden that are the first results of playing with this form. The twenty line/five quatrain form took me over after moving to LA. I was reading that Warsh book again--I was teaching it. Also, I was deep into a re-visting of Kafka. I was reading all his letters. And there were some transformative events in my private life around then as well. I think the sequence moves toward a learning how to stand more presently in relation to one's others--maybe. I think there's a lot of that in Warsh's book as well. So I'll see you tomorrow!
See Matthew Rohrer, Anthony McCann, and Robyn Schiff tonight May 6 7pm
Anthony McCann was born and raised in the Hudson Valley. He is the author of I ♥ Your Fate (Wave Books, 2011), Moongarden (Wave Books, 2006) and Father of Noise (Fence Books, 2003). In addition to these two collections, he is one of the authors of Gentle Reader! (2007), a book of erasures of the English Romantics, along with Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer. He has taught English as a Second Language in the former Czechoslovakia, South Korea and Nicaragua, as well as in New York City. Currently he lives in Los Angeles, where he works with Machine Project and teaches in the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts.
Matthew Rohrer is the author of Destroyer and Preserver (Wave Books, 2011), A Plate of Chicken (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009), Rise Up (Wave Books, 2007) and A Green Light (Verse Press, 2004), which was shortlisted for the 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize. He is also the author of Satellite (Verse Press, 2001), and co-author, with Joshua Beckman, of Nice Hat. Thanks. (Verse Press, 2002), and the audio CD Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty. He has appeared on NPR's "All Things Considered" and "The Next Big Thing." His first book, A Hummock in the Malookas was selected for the National Poetry Series by Mary Oliver in 1994. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches at NYU.