JFK's Head Blown Out from a Cosmic Inflationary Spiral:
Stephen Ellis on Poetry, Jack Clarke, Palestine, Position-Taking, the End of the World, and Cyberpoetry
Kent Johnson: The other day I was having drinks with an old friend, a rather successful architect, and we got onto the subject of poetry. He said, "This whole thing about poetry being magical, or sacred, or inspired, or a privileged way of seeing, or something, why that's just a bunch of crap. Because it's all just form, it's all just theater, a sort of carefully rehearsed, third-rate art of one-person acts, isn't it?"
Seeing as that your writing has been placed by some commentators within the mystical tradition running from Sor Juana through Robert Duncan, what would you say in response to such cynicism?
Stephen Ellis: Insofar as poetry reflects the so-called "times," it can be said to partake of any of these qualities, hopefully with a substantial degree of critical spirit, bordering doubless at times on the outre and seditious. Magical, sacral, etc., occurrences manifest themselves as they are perceived, or as they are received, and poems participate in this conception (of a world) in ways that alternate between agency and interference. The creative aspect of this "turning" between alternatives (verse means to turn, as articulations of vertebrae in active relation) has much to do with restraint, in, ie., as O'Hara (wasn't it?) had it, "saving it from mess and message." Whatever "bullshit" this presents ends up being either interesting or not, simply in terms of engagement. This alone constitutes "privilege" - deciding what to pay attention to; and the quality of the attention. Who otherwise decides the cosmos?
To imagine this decisiveness as "theater" looks to be the work of a psychopomp; "carefully rehearsed" suggests a methodology through which a "way" can be opened. But what's the way? Presumably poetics has to do with building something - a way to "think" - imagine - decide - the world; "way-opening" has to do with keeping method "impossibly balanced" - ie., to keep it from falling into fundamentalist belief and practise. With respect to this, one would certainly hope for results that were at very least "third-rate", or even lower; aiming low, for intentionally poor taste is one of the better ways in which to catapult your workings somewhere beyond anything even remotely canonical - a place in which to invent "freely", constrained only by the limits of your own outrageousness. So in that sense there's absolute "privilege," sure. There has to be; otherwise the Imagination can only take place within a Previously Arranged Marriage. "Deciding the cosmos" also has to do with deciding who you want to fuck, and who you want to fuck over. It's relational, poetry, and so can involve itself with any of the qualities you mention, if not in an absolute way, then certainly as far as power and the laying of trips goes. Which goes as far as anyone is willing to take it. Like why does anyone want to be the president? Ditto having your work "widely read". It's hardly splitting hairs to differentiate between the reputation of the work and the worker. I'm not suggesting that anonymity is somehow morally "superior" to being substantially "recognized"; the fact is that neither takes much into account the actual intimacy of reading and discussion at the face-to-face level through which the Work continues. It's an ancient event. Mythic. Glacial, in fact. Which is to say that it is constituent to influences both received and given as clearly as the landforms in a given alluvial fan define the convulsion that gave them shape. It isn't so much "well rehearsed" as it is more literally a standing tumult. Ditto its correlative in language.
KJ: Well, that's exactly what I said to my friend! But then he sneered, "Oh, I could care less. I mean, come one: Turn on your TV and watch the commercials. Do you even have the slightest sense of how the special effects are done? Or look at a hundred-some story building in Chicago: Could you make something like that? A Nintendo II game? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? The Hubble Space Telescope? What is poetry compared to this stuff?" He opened his box of Turkish Sherman's, lit one, and blew a perfect, thick ring into the bar air. Then he looked at me and said, "HA! Those who can't do, poeticize!"
What would you have said?
SE: Well your friend offers a question that simultaneously leaves both a lot of room, and none. People who can't build houses still live in them. In that sense, I, you and we all, live in the empirical world you suggest has been constructed by those somehow more able than the rest of us. But it's a question that's as tiresome and uninteresting to me as any of the sorts of Special Effects you mention. No, I couldn't build the Hubble Space Telescope, primarily because my desire to look through something like that doesn't compel me in that direction. Not that I'd be able to build it if I were; I'd have to figure out another way to see stars. If people really want to know, the agency through which they will find out will be present to them, in whatever form they realize it. Desire appropriates. The inventory of empirical devices you bring up itself brings up, again, the issue of power. The inventive brilliance of these devices doesn't really hide the fact that they are equally mercantile, and solidly symbolic of mercantile and financial power, the power to identify, and possess, by the literal extension of the human ego, even into sheer space. Or, via screen technology, non-space, the great hyper-sexual rip-off. By comparison, the ability to poeticize seems so modest in these terms, that I wonder over your critical presentation of it. Certainly, the underlying determination of Value in each case is based on critical underpinnings that are vastly different. In a poem there is nothing to "advertise," as in a commercial, and there is nothing, even, to "see" (as through a telescope). The psychic compression inherent in poetic activity doesn't permit the Object World to be referred to as something to be separably "admired" and "sought," although poetic composition can make clear through an intensely specific spread of interwoven references the very real schizoid aspect of "wanting what you already are."
KJ: Kenneth Warren, the editor of the furtive, but wonderfully dignified magazine House Organ, has said that no American poet has internalized the lessons of the late John Clarke like Stephen Ellis has. Joe Napora, in my opinion one of the best reviewers writing, when he writes, anyway, has said the same.
"But who is John Clarke, and why should I care?" chuckled my architect friend, swirling his vodka martini. "I never heard of the guy. It makes me suspicious, frankly, that I haven't. Not really much of an honor, I dare say, to be compared to someone hardly anyone knows about "
SE: I was introduced to Clarke's work by Dutch Wehage, an experimental physicist, Buddhist and one of the first LSD psychotherapists in the country who, in the middle 70s, ran the fledgling and now-defunct Institute for Fundamentals in Bristol, Vermont. Dutch was one of the great soft-con men; a little too innocent and not quite extroverted enough to really ever get away with anything. In the sixties in Provincetown, he and a buddy stole a bunch of Hans Hoffman's canvases, thinking then to fence them through some underground art dealer, though of course not really knowing how to do this. Anyway, they go to a local bar in which a lot of big time mafiosi used to hang, not realizing that where mafiosi hang, there equally hang the feds. So Dutch goes up to the likeliest looking crook in the place, who ends up being an agent, asks him if he knows where they can fence all these paintings they've just stolen, and Bingo, ends up in solitary for a year, meditating under a single lightbulb. So: I came upon Clarke's work through a brilliant but completely inept ex-felon.
Dutch one day in 1985 came back to Burlington, Vermont - where I was then living - from Ed Sander's place in Woodstock, New York, with a sheaf of xerox copies of a signed broadside of Clarke's sonnet "The Bridge," which seemed to me like a significant advance on the sonnet form as I was then interested in it, relative to Ted Berrigan's classic cut-ups, with their persevering combination of accidents, panache and deftness. Clarke's poem seemed to combine Berrigan's sheer sound and zany repetitiveness with Charles Olson's more propositional leanings in ways that excited me to search out more of Clarke's work; his text on poetic practice, From Feathers to Iron came out in 1987, and that, along with sequences of sonnets published in magazines like Hambone, Temblor and Notus set me on a long course of compositional and comprehensional misunderstandings, corrections, imitations, and amendments in terms of "deciding the cosmos" - in life as well as in writing - that continues now through the simple grit of current day-to-day; a practice, probably, as rife with slight hilarity as Dick Powell's cajoling himself in Murder, My Sweet: "Go ahead, you're a man, you can put on your own pants . . ." As to who John Clarke "is," best to suggest one read his work. Ken Warren opens his review of Clarke's major opus In The Analogy by saying:
<< No poet has accounted better than John Clarke for the way poetry, from the beginning of the world story until now, is forever completing epic intent - that is, a long range direction for emissions by poets to flow through time. Clarke, perhaps the most important poet to begin writing after Charles Olson, goes further than Olson to fathom the cosmological, experiential, phenomenological and idealist basis of the epic calling in an age of materialist sign play. Quite simply, it had been left to Clarke to explain in Olson's wake how the contemporary American poet could still manage "to make an Odyssey." >>
I read epic as a movement in which one sets out in space with some long-range project in mind, participates in some probably unexpected, overwhelming, life-changing event, and then has to "bring it home." Which is to say that epic is invariably a circular work, that it completes its own terms, and creates its own "circuit." In those terms it is "a universe." It is single, simple, complete. Taking the cue from J.H. Prynne's lecture on Charles Olson's Maximus IV, V & VI at Simon Fraser University in 1971, "by universe we mean that class of object whose set is filled by a unique instance, that there is no other, that anything we can imagine which we could add to the cosmos is already part of it. That means that the universe is already the most completely prime particular thing." In other words, it's all there. The fact that it is expanding just means there's "more" of it. But it's of the same condition. So, to "get at it" - the universe - is to be "the doer directly witness[ing] the doing, not as a performance, but by means of whatever the doing is doing" [John Thorpe, The Active Mode of Composition]. Thorpe expands this concept in his Prologue to Clarke's From Feathers to Iron (Tombouctou/Convivio 1987):
<< The descriptive turn in literary study, together with its analytical, critical and meta-critical procedures, makes poetry less and less generally effectual. In order to maximize disgnostic penetration, all the components of the poem get made arbitrary and groundless, like tokens to be traded upon. It seems to me Clarke stands out distinctly from this milieu because of his firm grasp on a raison d'etre of poetry.
His poetics begins with an opulent persistence of materials in mission. He takes these out of their "natural" context, believing that they belong in propositions and that a nonpropositional storehouse of poetry has no real claim on poetic materials.
He considers poetry not as a "criticism"of life, but as one of life's alternatives. He's not involved with the ethics and accuracy implied in diagramming such an alternative so much as he is drawn towards a recognition of those periods in which he is committedly living and using it -- by which poetry comes to an effectiveness which is neither commercial, classic nor aesthetic. >>
While any "unique instance" of creative impulse occurs "naturally," Clarke transfers that energy into a propositional network of associations without losing any of the originary energy got in context of the initial "hit" (illumination is initially to the solar plexus). The world in which the initial hit takes shape and grows has to be raised to the level of a corresponding context that isn't necessarily "on the same plane," yet is concurrent with the development of the originating manifestation, most usually a presence interrogatory by the ambiguity of its "presence" - an ambiguity one's then charged to feed (answer to, and make clear). This is the source of Clarke's endless repositioning vis-a-vis analogy - to discover in the epic fabric further "folds" (fractals) to unfold. The universe is simple in its own occasion, but that occasion is not completely ours; ours is complex, comprised of subject and object worlds, and the (meaningful) ways these intersect and collide, fold and unfold. The idea in poeticizing the life's inherent complexities is to produce an increasing comprehension of the world as an interlocked sequence of seed beds. And what's being seeded? Entelechy and Cosmos. The Actual and the Real. The Isma'ilis have it worked out that from the First Originated Being (First Intellect, giver and causer of all forms) there is a division in the Second Intellect (Inclusive Soul, producer of all forms) which works on the passive First Matter, these two together producing the movement that constitutes the complex occasion of this world, that coeslesces into the Third Intellect (the fashioner) which by turns produces the further seven spheres that constitute the Ten Intellects of the Intelligible World, ie., The Universe. Man's earthly existence is to be spent developing out of an increasing ability to reason, comprehension of the causes of conflict (movement) sphere by sphere, knowledge of which would then gradually produce the teleological assimilation of the inter-relation of all ten spheres, and the cessation of all conflict, or, possession of the Cosmos. The Philosopher's Stone. Rhythm. Tantra. Call it what ye will.
In relation to this, I've just this morning been reading an interview George Bowering and Robert Hogg did with Robert Duncan in 1969, and I found the following, in which this sort of inter-relationship produces also every conceivable variation of how the inter-relationships operate:
<< Charles would say [ his work was ] dogma, but he is primarily oracle, and dogma taken as primary oracle means it's just exactly like all modern dogma, it contains its opposite. You read it one way and Boy, you get screwed in the trap because often you missed its message, it was the other one; but then as I say, I'm convinced it ain't just one or the other; there is one for you, and you, and you, and this is our beehive, finally. So it's endlessly creative of message. And this seems to me the essential thing, that poetry is language that becomes so excited that it is endlessly creative of message. >>
KJ: That's fascinating. Speaking of language that becomes excited, an e-mail pen pal of mine, a poet, wrote to me a short time ago from the Gaza Strip:
<<Once I bent my head down and a dizzy spell came over me. A whole field of poppies, their stems curved in the wind, came into view and also some mountains beyond them, capped in snow. Huge figures, cloaked in blue gowns, figures with boxes, or beehives, maybe, on their heads, bent over the flowers. Some of the flowers I recall now, the blossoming ones, were covered in a greyish gauze or film. The huge figures were doing something to the buds under the gauze, smelling them, or eating them. Yellowish rays shot out in radiances from the boxes, a swarm of tiny, brown moths appeared in the sky, darkening the sun with a soft, felt-like sound, building until it deafened, like a fuel of rabbit fur in very slow motion igniting. I raised my head back up in a start, and a bar somewhere in Haifa came into view: people, tables, bottles, chairs, a jukebox, a sign for AIDS prevention in Hebrew...>>
The e-mail goes on in this vein for some time. It occurs to me, incidentally, that you lived in the Middle East for quite a few years, starting your long-running Oasis Press there. May I ask you an odd, completely illogical question: How is the situation of innovative poetry in America related to the situation in Palestine? Is there a resolution to either problem?"
SE: "Endlessly creative of message" suggests there's no final resolution within the contemporaneity of any "problem" beyond one's own activity within it, although of course such activity would tend to "expand" the problem at the same time it seeks a resolution. One can't exit the situation in which they find their life-living all that easily. Yet one doesn't want this "refusing the easy exit" to become a habit, either, since that's just another level of comfort from which to feel one's still "right there, with it, doing the right thing." Which is bullshit. The primary ways in which one finds oneself "right there" is in the struggle to discover where that "there" is in the first place. That one has to put it there, right where it already "is." To "be" anywhere is a creative operation in which, at times, everything takes on the apparitional quality of "message," and in which the messages are often immensely hilarious and surreal. I remember walking around in Cairo one day, through the Islamic section with its packed markets, its smells of spices, perfume and garbage, its fly-blown beef carcasses sprayed with orange insecticide hanging outside butchers' shops, its mysterious piles of slime and human shit and leaking waters from God knows where, its buildings' doorways half-buried by centuries of repaved, rising streets, where suddenly, coming out the backside of this area, lost, dust suddenly blown up everywhere in the air by a sudden wind, all architecture gone, or blasted out somehow and in the process of being rebuilt, with dusk settling in and no persons, cars, certainly no cabs to be seen anywhere, there appeared suddenly a slightly tilted phone booth rising from a pile of rubble. Weird. And on each of the four sides was lettered, in English, the word KANSAS (probably the equivalent of your "sign for AIDS prevention in Hebrew"). It was significant, the event of it. And it was enough in the moment to remember, because it was jumbled up enough, yet sufficiently laden with "message" that it has stayed with me. I'm its messenger in some sense that I can't "tell" it and therefore can't "scramble" it either. I'm suggesting, I guess, that one's never the "agency" through which perception achieves some level of significance, but rather that one's perpetually "stuck in the middle" trying to make the twist that appropriates intellect to the being somehow interlocked in and with their occasions. Finding the position through which best to exercise one's situation in the most comprehensive way. And comparisons of any sense of innovation in this - presuming it has substantially to do with poeisis - to the situation in Palestine seem reductive. Innovation in poetry meets with resistance, sure, but it hardly rises (or falls) to the level of violence that's been evident in Palestine since late nineteenth century Zionism - in many ways the result of the Dreyfus affair - and early to mid-twentieth century British regional influence generated extensive proprietary attitudes toward the region in both the imported Ashkenazi and resident Arab populations. A "Palestinian state" at this point is utterly impossible; the autonomous Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza are entirely cut up and isolated from one another by Israeli military roads and checkpoints, and this network is justified as necessary to protect the Jewish settlements in those areas, many of which, not incidentally, are populated by vehement Kach and like right-wing Eretz Israel supporters from Brooklyn. Jewish settlements in Jerusalem also continue to be built at the expense of old Palestinian neighborhoods.
The Palestinian Authority is corrupt; the head of Preventive Security, Jibril Rjoub, is a CIA asset, and although Yassir Arafat is not, he is completely power-hungry and to that extent has realized the value of remaining independent of any external authority beyond what he can cop from it in terms of his own self-interest. Ie., he is a turn-coat by half. I like instead Marwan Barghouti, ex-Fatah lieutenant under Arafat, who's straight talk, all act. But he's been arrested in the latest Israeli sweep of West Bank towns, and so, like an invaluable book lent to a best friend for a week, will never be seen again. I dig also the over-the-top rhetoric of Hamas Gaza spokesman Abdulaziz Rantisi. But for violent rhetoric translated into practice, Itzhak Rabin's orders to Israeli occupying forces in the West Bank and Gaza during the first Intifada (1988) really takes the cake: "pulverize the bones, break the limbs and mangle the hands of all insurgent Palestinian youth . . . " I mean, this isn't casual talk; this is a veritable work order.
The real Palestinian dynamic vis-a-vis Israel has to do with the internal struggle for power between Arafat and his Palestinian Authority, and Hamas. This is the way it goes: Hamas has broadening support in the West Bank and Gaza because Arafat is increasingly perceived as weak in his dealings with the Israelis. The Ezz Eddin Al Qassam Brigades - the military wing of Hamas - are given the green light for attacks inside Israel by higher-ups in the Hamas hierarchy, who know that Israeli retaliation will be - among other things - to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to round up and arrest more Hamas activists. This in turn will look to the Palestinian man-on-the-street like more buckling by Arafat to Israeli demands, and will inevitably shore up support for Hamas by otherwise moderate Palestinians.
The same is true for Israeli politics - the situation in the territories is milked for political gain. Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 - a central causal factor in the current 16 month Intifada - was in direct response to the fact that his chief rival in the conservative Likud party, ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had only days before been cleared of corruption charges, and was ready to dethrone Sharon from top position in the party. Sharon's visit and the subsequent violent Palestinian response was also meant to derail Labor Party Prime Minister Ehud Barak's attempts to negotiate land-for-peace settlements with both the Palestinian Authority and with Syria, by fomenting violence among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and then using this as evidence that the Palestinians had no real interest in peace, thus justifying continued Israeli occupation. There's really nothing about "the situation in Palestine" that has anything to do with innovative poetry, because there's nothing innovative going on in Palestine or Israel, other than the persistent overthrow of one faction by another in each of their internal governing systems. I suppose in some cheap sense this resembles the imagined "inner sanctum" of the poetry world, contact through which leads to some sense of one's work as real estate. But that's hardly a comparable situation. There's an upsurge of violence in the occupied territories in response to Israeli oppression, and I suppose the attending energies are similar to those which actualize innovation, but I think to draw analogies between the creative situation of poetry and the oppressive situation of Middle Eastern politics is too disproportionate to consider. Violence does not equal innovation. The situation of innovative poetry might well be that it is a lot less innovative than any of us care to consider. Like, what's it for? Not that it has to have a specific and immediate social use, but if it's an exercise of conscious position, then what is it that we are positioning ourselves within, and where is it taking us? Likewise, is the Middle East conflict possibly an orchestration arranged to go on forever, used to deflect attention from such covert regional activities as money-laundering, drug-smuggling, assassination-planning, Iran-contra like weapons dealing, and so on, ad infinitum?
KJ: Yes, well, when I proposed that distant correlation, I was thinking about my architect friend, who, shooting his cufflinks and glancing at his Rolex, whispered suddenly, and to no one in particular: "From oppression, social or aesthetic, all creativity is born "
SE: The creative and the oppressive are contraries, but their manifested qualities in events and persons are difficult to attribute. It must be clear in terms of recent events, to even the slackest of attentions, for example, that Bush and bin Laden play on the same team, and that the War on Terrorism is a proprietary financial and territorial struggle going on far above our heads, that we suffer some of, in terms of what the military calls "collateral damage." The events of September 11th aren't any more surprising as the logical results of the internal conflicts constituting Empire - the USA is an extension of the Roman Empire, in case you missed that Star Trek episode - than President Kennedy's head blowing out from the cosmic inflationary spiral signaled by the switch from Silver Certificates to Federal Reserve notes in 1959. (Finance capital was - as always - culpable. Marxism, for example, is simply a feint in terms of any practical inception of its terms, because it always has one foot in the bank. What can I say? We stand the world via feets that are too often feints.)
The oppressive becomes the creative when the dearth of the former is made through the fictive mode of the latter into the former's cognizance of its own actuality. While the real goes on forever, the actual is one's grasp of its passage, one's share, one's (participatory) daemon. Arafat and Sharon play on the same team, too. Playing on the same team means that the creative and the oppressive faculties of thought are interlocked each to each in the form of paralysis (all collusion leads to collision). But Palestinians and Israelis only play in the same league, which suggests that the same creative and oppressive faculties don't mesh, intersect, or have much relationship, one to the other. There's no experiential knowledge, one to the other, and there's a lot of misinformation that otherwise fills that gap. That's our situation, too. What does an American imagine life in Afghanistan to be? Foreign aid in that sense is simply dropping a few tons of pork rations on a non-pork-eating population. If the current "war" is theological, it's only because it constitutes an exchange of invoices on this side of the Atlantic; you know, God loving America, etc., as the usual one-way street of policy, everything self-referential, and if them people won't eat what we give 'em it ain't our problem - at least we got our warehouses cleared of old goods, and at a profit . . .
In these terms, the "resolution" you ask about is really an activity into which all status quo elementals dissolve; an atmosphere of pure text through which relations between world, man and the divine status of the rational mind are legated. I like what Peter Lamborn Wilson says in his short but succinct piece "The Sacred and Profane History of Money" (pub. in Poems for the Nation, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2000):
<< The "Global Market" manifests as a gnostic sphere in which thought, transmitted at digital speed, coagulates as symbolic wealth. By now two trillion dollars a day whirl around the globe in a noosphere (or "numisphere") of their own, devouring all such lesser ideologies as communism or democracy. "Money's gone to Heaven," become absolutely pure, & all powerful. This is the future. This is the Millennium. >>
And this is the resolution - living out the contradictions inherent in the over-valuation of the rational mind. The Age of Aquarius will begin, for us, coterminus with the complete paralysis within the determining division between individual desire and group need.
KJ: But maybe there won't be an Age of Aquarius. For then my friend from Gaza wrote:
<<In the past four years, two large asteroids have come close to smashing into the earth. It's a real possibility that a cosmic collision could happen very soon, any moment, really, completely wiping out all trace of humanity and its deeds. This end, indivisible and blank, is the message inside the prayer, called longingly at dusk from the minaret...>>
Well, don't you think he has a point? Imagine: All of Jack Clarke's work, for example -- erased forever, as if it never even happened. Yours, too. Everything coming to nothing, like doomed children hurling stones into the night.
SE: Keeping in mind that the tail of any potentially destructive comet equally provides the instant of light by which we may read Genesis, the course of the imagination of its traverse constitutes the writing on the wall that makes from sheer somatic desire the political heat of inter-relation expressed in terms of a musically comedic persona dramatis of Amritamanthanean dimension, ie., "Let's burn down the cornfield". One can be martyred by possible ends only by neglecting to imagine their effects in the present; the fear of death is generative, of bright desire, which defines the literal edge one must occupy in order to gratefully receive any "cosmic collision." To imagine from this perspective that objects, events and persons have a lifetime, limits and an end, might be sufficient to imagining, clarifying and "believing" (acting upon) what those limits most actually are; the world is made of made passes, and to put one in receivership of same includes the possibility of being hit on the head by the selfsame comet, the tail of whose brilliant passage one's used to illuminate the selfsame fear out of which one had spoken (and hoped to escape), and from (within) which one continues now to speak (flee). Escape entails utter confrontation; to "flee" the world is to construct one in which flight is possible.
All proposals of any future have their effect in the present; to wait for Fate to take its course eliminates the necessity of coming to terms with it via language. In fact, fate, from Latin (fatum), means "what has been spoken". We're already, in that sense, in the realm of discontinuity, between literal and perceived, projected or imagined event. There is no "loss" implicit in the predictive; the cornfield's already on fire, as inexorably as the course of blood through one's veins, the waters through the Nile's bed, and the stars through their fixed positions in the sky. A comet can only destroy the history of its development and manifestation, a thunderhead approaching discharge, whose elemental dynamic is something we all share, inherent to the passing moment the leaves behind the written word. As Kelly says, "when the Romans burnt the Library at Alexandria, they didn't do a good enough job." In that there were fragments left. Uninterpretable. These are the elemental constituents of our history. Pieces. Of cake.
There is no "final" beginning or end of the world on the other side of which is Absolute Nothingness. The asteroid you invoke is just one particularity among all the others that make the Real graspable and comprehensively complete, "if you really want." All poems exist in this present - not in any other. If you can imagine the absolute destruction of it via collision, then you've given yourself a substantial place to begin - actual comets out there in real space notwithstanding.
KJ: Rimbaud, Spicer, Lautreamont, Desnos, Mallarme, Dickinson, Trakl, Britney Spears, Gauguin . . . Who are we and where are we going?
SE: In terms of mechanical physics and daily life, I find myself daily descending deeper into the black hole of a particle storm, while in terms of sexual transubstantiation and theology, I feel myself perpetually rising into the seed beds of a petal storm. The universe runs down, but one's comprehension of the universe runs up. With this in mind, I'm about to hot wire the fugitive elegance of the hilltop digs I share with Grace Kelly's better-looking sister's elder daughter Minerva. Hot-wiring apartment lights and poeisis are about the same thing: a Promethean theft that leaves one revealed "on the rock" (in the schematic) from which the language springs. All the better to see you with, my dear. I suppose I'm like anyone, other than my constituent parts. The human organism imagined and consciously followed through to some (temporal) "end" constitutes the Infernal Method through which one arrives at a "place" in which one's able to more fully receive the equal arrival of whatever else comes to hand. The "true" thing is the thing made so in being part of and lingering within one's larger "being" in the course of production. The totality of one's cells constitutes the singularity of one's functional biology, yet there are infinite combinations of likeness and difference within the means of function that analogically produce the "interesting music" whose variants constitute life's necessary and absolute incidentalism. So we're back at the concept of "hot-wiring." One can orchestrate things so that one hears only the tuba and piccolo parts of the so-called "symphony," rather than the whole thing, perhaps to the end of getting a better grasp on one's highs and lows, useful parts of some larger sense of (b)ordering. Purpose and completeness might best by interleav(en)ed with surprise; constant revision, erasure, sleep. The idea is to get yourself positioned to receive precisely what is just out of reach; the beautifully garbled message one's endlessly creative of. Piece by aching piece. Strung out on a nine-foot tongue.
The people you mention (& I have to say, I read Britney Spears as essentially outre Ziggy Stardust a la Hermes) are really all exilic in the sense that they're part of a possibly Romantic and definitely neo-Platonic quest, whether cheek pressed full weight against a back door screen to smell the lilac air, or more theoretically, the mind's presentiment at the Eastern Gate to both find illumination's source in Tantric release, the focus is on living a singular life. The single is complete; what one begins with. Comprehension of one's life as being alive as one lives it yields complex occasions one then must include in their comprehension in order to arrive back "home". That's the epic momentum that constitutes the Romantic project; becoming "deeply repertoired." And grounded in this practice. So: where am I going? To my own rehearsal, evidently.
KJ: This has been a very interesting interview, and I thank you. To end with a question that doesn't quote someone else: You write with a pen, I think. What about these young poets doing all these techno, funky things with computers? Isn't Poetry, whatever it is, being given new arms and legs? You and I are getting left behind, aren't we?
SE: The nineteenth century Industrial Revolution spawned an enormous invention of new verbs meant to be instructive with respect to the use of the new machines; in the wake of this came a dearth of new nouns. The substantial objective status of the nominative community for which nouns were shares was therefore absorbed into the active and perpetual transfer of activity; as Buckminster Fuller said in the twentieth century, "I am a verb". We are the inheritors of this tradition of Endless Chewing on what essentially can be identified in no other way. Screen technology simply adds to the proactive illusion that we each are individually "effective" in the larger world as a result of the buttons we push (as if these were actualizing choices). The nominative function increasingly is reduced to the archival and legalistic one of proof. But what a proof initially "proves" is the laggard position of names with respect to the bite of immediate condition, which is given an historical perspective and context before it even gets out of the starting gate. The current push of the WTO and it's attending War on Terrorism is simply the brandmark of making that immediate "bite" mercantile before it can be registered perceptually, and so begin the individualizing climb through the purgatorial Infernal Method of becoming the "more than a feeling / less than a thought" that might begin otherwise to give us each (again) our Underworlds, language become the electromagnetic "bathing clothes" in which one's "darkness" becomes the discrete and buoyant "speck upon the sea" that nevertheless can't be lost in the surrounding lake of light as long as its "way" can be named. This riding and being driven by "an all-encompassing wave" is a manifestation of the distributive powers that bind the under-, human, and celestial worlds whose singularity of practice in us increase our ability to receive the world by first naming its constituent parts before predicting what they might be used for. Naming is knowing. And the pre-historic interim just after having let ourselves be thus used toward the perpetual next of it, is paradise.
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