Joshua Edwards: One of the many things I really love about your work is how it deals with information, and through information how it explores history and memory while also pointing to the future, sometimes with warning. It seems to me that in both your books, Worth and Revolver, the relatedness of things is explicitly expressed through the act of knowing. I'm just curious if you can trace these impulses to longstanding interests, a scholastic project, or things you really liked doing as a kid . . .
Robyn Schiff: No one ever asked me that before-- huh-- yes--the impulse absolutely has to do with the same kind of curiosity about the world that I had as a kid. I think it has to do with spending a lot of time looking at things-- not the natural world-- but man-made objects. My work is essentially ekphrastic, and the curiosity I hope to enact is the feeling of turning something over and over in my hands as much as in my mind.
JE: Related to that, how do you go about researching a poem? I mean, does the research usually follow the idea for a poem or are you constantly reading non-fiction and occasionally you'll come upon something that you think would be a good subject? Or do you get an initial idea for a large project and then follow a trail of ideas?
RS: I don't think of my poems as particularly researched, actually. There's certainly a sensation of information overload that I'm trying to express, as you say in your first question... and I love the word "information" because it contains the coming-into-being of things in formation, and the internal forms knowledge takes, and also menacing arrangements-- like fighter jets in formation. But I think that the syntax I'm attracted to makes the work seem to be concealing and revealing more stuff--more facts?-- more news items--more answers than are actually actually there. I love to read all sorts of material, and some of that material surfaces in poems, but I don't hunt for things to become poems, and I don't think of myself as a researcher or that research will help me overcome my own sense of tongue-tiedness before the astonishing world. Information can not power a poem. But enacting the vertigo of the chase-- maybe that's the poem? "Whoso list to hunt..."
JE: The poems in Revolver are especially astonishing for their portrayals of the lives of objects, and I wonder if there's an object you came across in doing research for the book that was for one reason or another too unwieldy to make its way into a poem but which has stuck with you?
RS: Yes! I really want to write about umbrellas! Amazing objects! Nothing interesting ever happens in my umbrella drafts though. Thanks for asking!
JE: Your work has very innovative formal and structural elements. Can you speak a little bit about how you employ form in your poetry, and what you see as the purpose of form? Do you see the form as giving "the impetus to the content," is it more a generative tool or a guide for the reader?
RS: I think of form as a generative tool and an obstacle at the same time. That's when I like it best.
JE: This is a rather broad and somewhat tedious question, but what do you think about the relationship, in your work in particular, between the poem on the page and the poem read aloud? I ask this because you have a fantastic reading style and I'm curious how it developed.
RS: That's a seriously important question, not a tedious one at all. Thanks for asking it. I'm interested-- both on the page and aloud-- in the dynamic between sentence and line. When we read silently to ourselves we can honor both line and sentence— we can confront the contradiction of moving forward and stopping—of talking and progressing while simultaneously also standing in the silence of the margin—but doesn't it seem that when we read aloud we have to choose one? True end-stopping is pretty rare, right? and we either propel the sentences forward as we read, or pause at the break. I vote with the sentence every time!
JE: Are there any writers that aren't poets with whom you feel a close creative kinship? Visual artists?
RS: I've got Guy Davenport and Alexander McQueen on my mind.
JE: Is there any subject matter you're currently obsessed with?
Joshua Edwards co-edits Canarium Books with Robyn Schiff, Lynn Xu, and Nick Twemlow. His first book of poems, Campeche (w/ photos by his father, Van Edwards), was recently published by Noemi Press and his translation of Mexican poet María Baranda's Ficticia was published last year by Shearsman Books. He lives in Berkeley.
Robyn Schiff is the author of Revolver (2008) and Worth (2002). She teaches at the University of Iowa and co-edits Canarium Books with Lyn Xu, Joshua Edwards and Nick Twemlow.