Monday, February 25, 2013

"The Next Big Thing": An Interview, Via Invitation

For "The Next Big Thing". . . 

Or, "Perpetual Motion"


The poet and writer Alice B. Fogel—whose poems I have adored, whose beginnings and continuings include theatrical costuming and reclaimed materials, whose manuscript “Be That Empty:  Apologia for Air” brought tears and confirmation in a corner by the fire, who received the discerning praise of two past U.S. Poets Laureate, Robert Hass and Charles Simic—invited me to answer these questions for “The Next Big Thing.”  The Next Big Thing, as far as I think anyone knows, is an online word-of-mouth more or less grassroots phenomenon profiling writers, artists, and specific projects.  Having seen a couple of these, I said yes.  I'll use this "Che"/hybrid blog site to release the interview (and because this blog is linked to my site,  Today is my day to answer The Next Big Thing questions, and it’s been a long while since I climbed out of the sort of treefort of my blogsphere, temporarily, to live a year while gathering material—material that brings me to you now.  To live a year while gathering material?  I know:  sounds like cover (perhaps I’ll describe the “something else” below).

Preface to the Interview

Off the bat:  Thanks, Alice.  And because The Next Big Thing also resides in the “Gift Economy” (thank you, Lewis Hyde; thank you, Bel Esprit) that flows against a cultural grain that values other “things,” I’m glad to help keep this going.  I will be inviting David Oliveira, Patricia Glinton-Meicholas and others to post their interviews.  Please check out Alice’s, and others’, interviews.  Alice’s may be found here:

By way of opening thoughts:  I think of Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams; I think of Cid Corman and “the first improvised recorded poems” and his radio show in Boston. . . and his “ice cream and sushi” shops and brother-in-law’s handbound Japanese books; I think of Theodore Enslin studying with Nadia Boulanger and a dedication that lasted a lifetime, with whole lengths of wall in a Berkeley book warehouse devoted to books he published; I remember the vivid Jack Hirschman marching down the cavern of financial district streets. . . the poet shouting for labor’s sake; I think of Elizabeth Bishop’s subjects, her scanning the National Geographic for clues; I consider Adrienne Rich’s & June Jordan’s & Grace Paley’s & Joan Larkin’s convictions—much of them achieved relatively quietly; and I think about certain images (the bombed out library in Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading, or Robert Frank’s images from Nova Scotia, or the juxtaposition between the push-pull of fashion and status in The New York Times Style Magazine and news headlines:  a sort of “Four Dead in Ohio”—each day, featuring Mali, Niger, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Main Street, agriculture, borders, walls, and so on); I think about William Bronk and George Oppen:  poets whose work made a qualitative impact on me and I wonder if their books will survive the passages of taste, trend, time, testimony, temperament.

So, The Next Big Thing Q&A

Here we go:

The Next Big Thing:  What is your working title of your book?

I’ve had a few working titles.  For a long time it was “Yearn” but Yearning got restless after several submissions and I moved forward with the present greatly revised version of that “Yearn” called “American Drone” (at various times:  “An American Drone”, “drone poems”, “Am. Dro.”, and “Drone”).  “American Drone” has three sections with three equally significant titles:  “American Drone”, “To day --- Minutes only”, and “This Bridge Will Not Burn”.  I think at one point the whole manuscript was called “This Bridge Will Not Burn”—because this is what I feel about all of our stories, collectively.

TNBT:  Where did the idea come from for the book?

In 2002 I began corresponding with Saadi Youssef and around this time my thinking about prose and poetry changed, almost as if I found a new way to keep warm—new material or the notion of layers, or groups of words as nobs.  To go back:  In 1987 I read Lawrence Durrell’s novel Justine 
and felt affinity with what I know to be a painterly-ness, a lush slow rush of language like elaborate and un-/anticipated dressing or undressing, ripe fruit, the surprise meeting of attracted strangers.

I have always “moved around” in language (maybe this was a gift of the theater, where we find characters speak in many accents, many rhythms, and melody that is found in situations).  As I’ve said elsewhere, Marsden Hartley did this in painting.  So did Picasso, obviously.  So did William Carlos Williams.  In the late 60s and early 1970s I was aware of the nightly news, in black and white.  The themes of news—as the Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, I heard the other day—are the things that shock us.  News, per se, is not the lovely, not the satisfying, but the dissatisfying and ugly precisely because the news goes up like a red flag, a warning.  The fact that fewer citizens of our world seem to receive the news in a technically rich and instantaneous time is both distressing and a measure of recovering balance.  For centuries people absorbed other people’s realities from word-of-mouth and as information eventually made it to them.  Shocking news was dealt with community by community, one community at a time.  I tend to absorb a lot of sensory reality.  Poets and writers tend to, or else I imagine we’d struggle with content to the point of ultimate frustration.  This is my job, my lot, my being, I am comfortable to admit.  The “drone” of our culture(s) has been becoming increasingly dense and louder for decades (if not centuries).  I realized I happen to be in the middle of this apex of drone (I hope it’s an apex).  “Constant droning”—it’s the opposite of and the same as—both—that song “Constant Craving”.  Socially and inter-/nationally we’re “looking for something” amid the rush and crush of too much to possibly take in in meditative or considered moments.  (This is the nature of our life online or connected to our inter-phone-pods.)

I associate “drone” with barely heard or ambient sound, or with the nightmare we use our pillows to try to drown-out, with the general accumulation of sound in our daily lives now, and in the buzz & blur of what we must understand or dismiss.

A drone is also musical, though.  This we know from the didgeridoo, from Tibetan horns and chanting monks, from the moans of birth and conception.  But I’m so far refraining from the other obvious reference:  we live in a time of drone aircraft and the idea of “detachment” this form of surveillance or warfare “gives” us is both intriguing and upsetting.  The “drone” felt like content for this particular time in my life, maybe at the apex of living, at which point the “drones” are ever-present and either have full bearing on our lives or no bearing on how we live—but what it represents is a capacity, a capacity we don’t have to absorb all the necessary sensory information to synthesize our response to our daily and intimate understandings of continuous life on earth.  I’ve been composing written “drone” pieces for a few years now and “American Drone” collects a healthy supply of them along with new and select work to this point in my career.  The fact of the “drone poems’” presence creates the starting point (mid-point, really) of an arc to which the other two sections of the manuscript mediate and provide textual relief.

Poetry can provide textual relief within culture.  We use the senses to arrive in this place.  And a poem is like a pod that can travel anywhere, across borders, as well.  Here's our "infinite capacity"(Tillie Olsen* on Kafka, Rilke), a "bridge that will not burn."

TNBT:  What genre does your book fall under?

The book will be “poetry” but let’s not let this label limit it.  Much of the book will be approachable by exclusive readers of prose, by those interested in plays and film, and even by those who scan and skim through topical magazines.
  In some ways it is as "non-fictive" as where my mind and mood and measure goes when I re-read Tillie Olsen's *Silences ("This book is about such silences." --Andre Gide).

TNBT:  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

If this question were posed about my novella, Che., I’d have a few answers.  Mali? Fenton? Sandy? Uncle?  So far, I have to leave this to the filmmakers (joy be bestowed!).  But I’d have a few ideas (may they get in touch!).  In “Drone” there are many “characters”—but there is certainly the narrative voice of a Ginsberg-like newscaster, an Eliot-like statesman; there’s “Peter” and there’s “Saadi” in the second section, “To day --- Minutes only”; and there are the many different “voices” within the poems in the final more slimmed down lyrical section called “This Bridge Will Not Burn”.

TNBT:  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

It’s hard—if not unheard of—to describe a poetry-based book in a single sentence.  In a single phrase, “American Drone” covers “[personal and cultural] reaction, response, synthesis [to daily and international events]” (these were Allen Ginsberg’s terms, through Tungpa:  reaction, response, synthesis).  But let me add:  It’s now through the density of our daily living (and gadgets) we arrive at what matters (an image, lyric, song, dance, line, skin, scent, language, landscape, meaning).  Yet through dialog we uncover what’s common among us—and ultimately we discover luminosity and intimacy within the synthesis of our daily responses (consciousness, yes?).
  You could also say the manuscript is:  “one long sound shared.”  From shout to dialog to whisper.

Joan Larkin published a book called Long Sound.  A book can do this.  Poetry infused in community consciousness has the effect of one long sound.

TNBT:  Will your book represented by an agency? Will your book be published soon?

Books like mine are different.  Maybe an agency will represent “American Drone” eventually but this would suggest we are farsighted enough.  But “American Drone” will be published soon.  No question.  It has to be, and I’m ready for it.
  Individual poems appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry Salzburg, on the CD Blue Square (PAX Recordings), and in several other places over time.  The third track on the CD has a place in American Drone (from the middle section, "To day --- Minutes only", the "dialog"/"response" part of the book's arc toward synthesis:  "Snow, Saadi, nothing but snow"):

TNBT:  How long did it take you to write your manuscript?

As with most things, the answer is “years.”  The next best answer we hear (and it’s always correct) is “all my life.”  The nuts and bolts of this one have been solid for three years.  It’s now a matter of finding the boldest of publishers to bring it out.

TNBT:  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Writers (and teachers, librarians, parents, friends) have to teach each other how to read again!  (Or: How to read today's creative forms).  Culturally, we flip from genre to genre, mode to mode, in music, television, film scenes, conversation, txt messages, Facebook posts, etc. I listened to a lot of Rap while I wrote "American Drone"--and I enjoy "the syncopated" mind (or "mind jumps") that thread through narratives, and vary.

We have not, however, brought the reader along fully.

To answer the question, though, if I had to compare I’d say “American Drone” is my HOWL and Other Poems, my Cinnamon Peeler (by David Ondaatje); to an extent it’s my Capitalism (by Campbell McGrath) and to an extent, believe it or not, it’s actually my Mr. Palomar (Italo Calvino); and it is, a little bit, like my Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman), or my American Grain and Kora In Hell and Paterson together in shorter form (all by William Carlos Williams);—if I may make these comparisons, which the question uncomfortably solicits.
  These are books that assemble a distinct arc of content, in which form and content work with changing ebb and flow of voice and subjects.  HOWL emerges in what becomes an almost breathless striving to witness and yet by the end of the book we are all down to the palms, down to the measured, mindful, synthesized "The weight of the world/ is love". . . back to the intimate "yes, yes/ that's what/ I wanted,/ I always wanted,/I always wanted,/  to return/ to the body/ where I was born."  Allen Ginsberg ends his sustained long intense mindful witness in the eased-down fuller relaxed breathing of "This is the flower of the World."  And this is what I mean:  out of an intensity of experience, a tension of expressions and mis-/understandings, we may once again take the fuller breaths and be enlivened at a palm's length, or closer.  Books do this.  Meditation does this.  Poetry will do this.  Crisis resolved brings a community to this point.  Progress requires the synthesis. . . for we cannot all sustain the highest levels of tensions or shouting without dialog and personal resolution.  The books I mention above could be models for such a description.  To me, they are powerful.

TNBT:  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

“Get away from the hang-ups that destroy the mind” (a quotation from Dr.Dog) is one of the epigraphs to preface “American Drone”—and Sharon Van Etten’s line:  “You were high when I was doomed” (from her song “Love More” [See link on "Che the novella Facebook" page or]); “I am I said, to noone there” is another refrain from a Neil Diamond song, from my childhood.  , that encouraged impetus for writing “American Drone”.  And, other than what I said earlier, you could say:  a life-time ongoing interest in objects, sensory and sensual reality, perspective and a sense of justice.  You could also say:  “the big picture,” what’s beyond fog, the daily news, hope, specificity, human contact, Saadi Youssef, Sinan Antoon, Oberlin, India, Ireland, Egypt, Syria, my trip to Cuba and on and on and on.   Robert Frank’s and Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs have been, for some decades, influencing how I look at things I cannot reach.  Likewise is the case with various musicians.  I know there was a song by the Shins that sent me in this direction.   I’m just trying to picture for myself and breathe through, event to event, and get to some lasting joy.  There’s definitely struggle in the process if you read “American Drone”—and struggle is exactly what goes on between our assumptions and our understandings.  It’s probably what we, culturally speaking, need to do more of more often.

Victor Martinez, a wonderful writer I met when I lived in San Francisco, wrote:  “The fist you didn’t throw/ was your word.”  Well, “American Drone” contains my words.

TNBT:  What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

“American Drone” is a kind of “anti-drone” or “drone antidote” too.  There ARE individual lives within the blur and haze of an unseen mass assumption.  There IS a human being at one end of a scope and switch.  There WILL ALWAYS BE rhythm and melody within the assumption of monotones coming from our drones throughout the eons.  “American Drone” is a sort of replacement drone:  Let POETRY be the vehicle.  Let poetry deliver the news by wide angle and telephoto.  Let the drone be on the tongue, for good vibrations (SOMEONE to drive the car, as Williams wanted):  Back to “closer,” let’s reverse the cycle of ignorance at arm’s length and let the drone be the syncopation of the individual experience we may not always want to or have time to see.

But I’ll also answer this question by saying that every book is, in one way, “a modest journey.”  I had liked filmmaker Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (which I had been Freudian-ly calling “Express” [its plot is anything but express. . . but, here you have it:  poetry wades into the detours—and yet poetry “goes expressly” to it also, its subjects, “the luminous” as Allen Ginsberg also said—as well through juxtaposition).  We want the universe “to have us at ‘vivid!’”  At a key departure-point early in Anderson’s film, there’s a song I recently realized shares impetus with my “American Drone”.  Online, there’s a video that illustrates the scope of narratives I find in the song (it’s The Kinks:  “This Time Tomorrow”).  I invite you to listen, before we go on:

Connections, affinity, arise “out of almost nowhere” but they exist all the time.  This morning I heard Adam Cole’s NPR report about the information—the signals—flower petals give off and bees leave and it felt to me related to my “American Drone” work.  Cole interviews Anne Leonard, a bee scientist.  (We all know about “the drone bee”—yes?  Or “the worker drone”?)  Last week it was Natalie Batalha, on a different program, discussing the infinite relativeness (I prefer this over relativity at the moment) that felt salient and correlative to my experience with poetry, and “American Drone” especially.  This morning the connections are with Andrew O’Hagan’s essay “Hope in a Bottle” (subtitled, as far as I see, as “Yes, Please”).

When I watched The Darjeeling Limited for the second time I realized “This Time Tomorrow” was providing interior monolog, commentary (and social commentary), and shared allusions to many of the subjects in “American Drone”.

To my ear, the Kinks put it this way:  “This time tomorrow, where will I be?/On a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea—/This time tomorrow, what will we know?/We’ll still be here watching an in-flight movie show. . ./Seven miles below me I can see the world and it ain’t so big at all. . .we will see/Fields full of houses, endless rows of crowded streets—/I don’t know where I’m going,/. . . I feel the world below me looking up at me/. . . Leave the sun behind me, and watch the clouds as they sadly pass me by/. . . I’m in perpetual motion. . . ”

If you're in a bookstore any time after 2014, please ask for American Drone by Peter Money.  I hope, by then, it will be there to meet you.  And keep at it, through thick and thin.  From drone to song.  We'll get there on a bridge that will not burn.