Friday, February 27, 2009

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 5 w/ Ian Douglas)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Ian Douglas.

BT: I read a recent interview with singer/songwriter & poet Anna-Lynne Williams (of the band Trespassers William). In it, she was asked what would the world be like without poets. Here is part of her answer: "...I wonder if I'm the only person that thinks that, that poetry is far more for the person writing it than the person reading it." See eye to eye or beg to differ?

IAN: I think there is a certain type of poetry to which this definitely applies— it may even be the majority of poetry. If I had to describe it, or give it some sort of name, well, I'll say this: it has something to do with communicating an individual's unique apperception of the universe and the very curious question of their existence within it. For some poets, their work is the linguistic ritual they use to grab hold of existence and hopefully make some sense of it. In that light, it's easy to see how this sense-making is a matter of considerable personal urgency. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of an author's poetry to a reader. Perhaps, to the average reader, one's poems will have only passing significance. But I'd like to think there is someone out there who needs my poems desperately, as I've needed the poems of others.

BT: Writer's block—what do you prescribe?

IAN: Of course you would ask me this. I have to own up to the fact that I've spent far more of the last four years "blocked" rather than writing. You'd hope I'd be an expert by now. But advice, for what it's worth: write for the right reasons, I guess. If you don't know what those are— that might be the problem right there. It might be time to think about it. Also: If you aren't writing, read. If one book doesn't excite you, find another. Or maybe you need some context (try Wikipedia, or a biography). And find someone out there who is excited about writing, and see if you can catch what they've got. Or at least find someone to moan to (though too much of this is dangerous). In other words, shake, shake things up. Shake them again.

BT: Did you read a poem today? If so which one? If not, what was the last poem you read?

IAN: I did read a poem today. I'm working through A.R. Ammons' book, "Glare." Poem 37— which starts out "one types to please and appease, to/ belay the furies, to charm the real/ and unreal threats into a kind of/ growling submission"— seems remarkably on topic. A sampling:

my advice: my advice is, it's not
going to be easy, or else it is going

to be so easy you won't even know
it's happening: take a chance, stay

alert, have faith: how do you do
this: I have no idea: you "work it

out?" you remain compliant, yielding,
assertive, angry, grateful, cautious,

and type a lot... have

to work at it little by little: one
little bit enables another, so the

effect builds up and you wake up one
morning calm, at peace, or happy:

at least, one hopes so: do the best
you can, do

To go back to writers block: sometimes the problem is that the poem you are trying to write is not the poem you need to write at this exact time but you won't let it go and won't let yourself go in a new direction. You need a new model. Reading this book has really emphasized that for me.

BT: When I have a poem idea, I get butterflies and can't concentrate. How do you feel right before you get a poem?

IAN: I feel I'm the opposite. Concentration is supremely difficult to me, one of my most significant daily challenges. But if I've found the trail of a real poem, if I sniff something authentic, I'm suddenly focused and everything else falls away.

BT: I'm trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Suggest, please, a poet I should ask five fast questions to next.

IAN: I'm going to add a little geographic diversity (not that I don't love Pittsburgh) and suggest Doug Van Gundy of Elkins, West Virginia— an amazing poet, fiddler, and all around cad. If you enjoy whiskey and talking poetry, Doug's your man.