Laura Wetherington: I did not see the weird sun the sun the sun. I did see weird clouds—weird in that they were clouds and this is Nevada and not Ann Arbor or Seattle. And then the sunset that went along with it. It was cherub-worthy. Blakeian.
Been reading some Blake. Trying to figure out his deal. I was reading parts of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell yesterday, which made me think about difficulty in poetry. How much deciphering tone is like deciphering anything in an opaque text. Context is everything. Like Eric Zboya has an algorhithmic translation of Mallarme's Un Coup de Des, and without his postscript talking about the 3D nature of his ink blots, how they match the texture in the original poem, I would have missed all that depth.
Anyway, speaking of cherub-worthy sunsets and Blake, didn't we see a cross in the sky on our commute? Or what did we see? And you talked some about the cover of your new book? Can you say more about that picture on the cover?
JS: I guess "What did we see" is basically an animating principle for art - one ventures a guess, and gets into a kind of humility by acknowledging that an answer to such a question is always a bit tentative, murky, 'endarkend'.
That's what the cover of "The Weeds" is about too–- it's a photograph by a great friend, the artist Gabie Strong. The photo's called "Untitled (Mystic Truth)". A photograph of two contrails crossing to form an X in a desert sky. In one sense, it's crossing god out of the sky, or providing a location to look for something to believe in— 'x marks the spot' and all that. But because this huge X in the sky is the result of technology, it presents a kind of awesome paradox. Strong and I are both pretty in love with the mystic, occult aspects of the military industrial complex—the way technology is put to irrational ends despite all the kind of rational thought required to make them happen, and the way that so many of us don't stop to read these 'signs and wonders' for what they truly are - atavistic rituals of purification, or the worship of raw power. And things like contrails are just so powerful—they connote our absolute dominion over the earth. One feels both horror and pride, because, as a popular Berkeley bumper sticker of the 80's used to say, "Nature Bats Last."
I also like that it's photography, and subject to chance, and luck, and human pattern making—you write "We cannot get away from the way our minds solidify", yet by the end of a poem "and then a sea change"— poems and patterns and everyone - say more...
LW: You're talking about the title poem of the book. When I think about minds solidifying, of course it's a metaphorical thing--getting in a rut, whatnot—but it's also an anatomical idea—that our brain accumulates deposits, or buildup of other outside materials that slows down and deteriorates our processes. It's a relationship between content and form. We're living it.
There's also a partner-line to the one you mentioned: "We choose into what we cannot get out of:/the way we hold our bodies." I studied bodywork and massage for a number of years, so I think about the body a lot. We develop soft tissue defenses in response to injury (scar tissue). It impedes movement and changes the way we hold ourselves upright. Our bodies become maps of our lives in that way. That's why every person's gait is so fascinating—we're each a walking atlas of our pasts. I think about patterns in terms of the body (patterns of movement, the body as a complex system) and that seems inextricable from some kind of one-to-one correspondence with patterns of mind. Like we have those same deposits of scar tissue in our thinking.
Scar tissue (in a real sense or in a metaphorical sense) seems to be an aberration from the natural patterning of our bodies—it's chaos compared to the smooth lines of muscle fibers. This, oddly, brings me to poetry, because I'm interested in what it means for a work to exist arrhythmically, or atonally. It seems to me that chance operations show us that we're always working within a set of natural forms or rules. One can't get outside of rhythm—one can only introduce unfamiliar patterns (sea changes, perhaps).
How 'bout you, friend? How do you think about the music of a poem, the rhythm of your writing? What patterns are you following or working against? (I think of a moment like "All along the orange Chesapeake water/hypoxic color the color of the morning's first/slow-handed cup of coffee..." with all its visual and aural alliteration...)
JS: Yes, to bodywork, and to the idea of reading a person's history in a gait - that is the most amazing melding of time, damage and physicality I've heard in awhile. Wow! I'm a little afraid of what my gait communicated the first time we met!
I'm especially interested in your description of the scars of a lifetime as aberrant – automatically this brings me to the parallel scars that both Ahab and the whale carry— that their motives are physical, almost allegories – maybe scars are notches of time?
And, just as scars mark time on a person's body, I have this great desire to keep the act of reading physical— to mark time on the body in rhythm. Poems are a good medium for physicality in writing, because they foreground all those material parts of language. I like to imagine my poems as workouts regimens for the vocal cords, the tongue, and the mouth—to yoke phonemes together, to make a line 'chunky' - I want it to feel as though a reader is chewing on something when reading one of my poems aloud—I write them to be read aloud, and I revise strictly by ear. Keeping things physical.
So, that line you quoted: 'hypoxic color the color of the morning's first" - the line is an agglomeration of iambs, trochees and anapests, and is actually trying to resist falling into a repetition of any of these feet—the line is hard to pronounce, and that difficulty of saying, I hope, reminds the reader of some unused muscles in the neck, some unfamiliar shape the tongue might take. So that a strangeness of poetry is not just conceptual. It's physical. Sometimes I like to touch my face and neck when revising a poem—asking with my hand, 'does my body have to work hard to say this?'—It is an attempt to create a unity between the poem's construction and the reader's muscles.
Jared Stanley is the author of The Weeds, Book Made of Forest and four chapbooks, including How the Desert Did Me In. He co-edits Mrs. Maybe, and is a member of the art collective Unmanned Minerals. He is a 2012-2014 Research Fellow at the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art, and teaches at Sierra Nevada College. Stanley lives in Reno, Nevada.
Laura Wetherington (http://laurawetherington.com/)‘s first book, A Map Predetermined and Chance (Fence Books 2011), was selected by C.S. Giscombe for the National Poetry Series. A chapbook, Dick Erasures, is available as an ebook from Red Ceilings Press (http://issuu.com/theredceilings/docs/dick_erasures) and a number of articles and interviews about collaboration are available at One Pause Poetry (http://onepausepoetry.org/follow).
She co-founded and co-edits textsound.org (www.textsound.org) with Anna Vitale. Wetherington lives in Nevada, where she teaches creative writing at Sierra Nevada College and is at work on a series of fake translations.