Matt Jasper – Documentary Surrealism: He drags you up an emotional cliff and then drops you headfirst into a narrow, black tunnel that goes down, down

Matt Jasper, Moth Moon (BlazeVox Books, 2009)

«Question: how, asked the boy with a twinkle in his eye, from so many wannabes, word thieves, poseurs, pirates, and idea assassins within and beyond the realm of Poetry, can one isolate a single individual and identify him or her as phenomenal?
Answer: the reviewer, while granting a certain degree of bias, can nevertheless in good conscience define the criteria that in his mind establish any person as a Poet Extraordinaire.
And those criteria are: grandeur, genius, mystery, self-sufficiency and, lastly – and ample in itself – extravagance. The latter is a concept that is almost impossible to define or comprehend, let alone compare.
All that being said, it is fair to say that Matt Jasper in his new volume of poems – Moth Moon – has succeeded in surpassing any definition of extravagance. Or try it this way: Moth Moon flat-out BOOGEYS!
For Jasper locates sensitive areas in the human psyche and then emphasizes and dramatizes them, adding augmentation by orders of exponential magnitude. In other words, he drags you up an emotional cliff and then drops you headfirst into a narrow, black tunnel that goes down, down, down. Abruptly, the tunnel changes direction by means of sharp and cramping angles. Finally, the reader attains the end, whereupon some mad demon overhead begins filling in the tunnel with dirt. Buried alive!
But hey, at least you know you’re alive. For the gift of life is most precious just when you really feel alive, right? And the best poetry presages that feeling in the reader.
In other words, Matt Jasper is one heck of a talented poet. He should kiss his anonymity goodbye. For fame and riches and glory and free drinks are soon to be his.
This man can write poetry like nobody’s business.
He does it through words. Simple language, which he arranges in patterns that make the reader think and feel and know and tremble and gasp for breath. For example, in the poem with the wonderful title of ‘Anastasia, Purdy Group Home,’ which the reviewer interprets to be about a physician administering meds to patients in a nursing home or perhaps in a mental asylum. You know the dismal places where they warehouse old people and nutcases prior to death or a fragile return to sanity.
“Anastasia, you are beautiful:
rotten teeth, rosary beads, the dresses you wear when you sleep.
I will give you your Haldol, your Xanax
an hour late.
We will walk to the store for more cigarettes.”
If you didn’t get goosebumps reading that, maybe you need to see your personal physician. Tell him something’s wrong. You’ve lost all feeling in your feelings. He’ll prescribe something.
Or what about the poem called ‘Narcissus?’ At a guess, it’s about a bedridden young lady, dying from some incurable disease. Or anorexia.
Feel it.
“When we visit she says, “I want to come home.”
“It’s simple,” her little brother says. “Just eat.”
Like the Irish to their famined,
we bring lilacs
to cover the rich dying smell
she leaves.”
The smell of death – an odor that Jasper conveys in words. And in the words “just eat” a little boy’s hunger for a miracle.
Now that’s poetry. The kind that shakes your soul. The kind that makes you stop and wonder. The kind that slows down time and opens the door to forever.
You need to read Moth Moon. Treat it like fine wine. Swirl it to see if it has legs. Sniff it to see if it has body. Then sip it. Ahhhhh! That’s the stuff!
On the Read-O-Meter, which ranges from 1 star (vinegar) to 5 stars (Opus One), Moth Moon savors 5 stars. It’s refreshing. It’s got character. It gives you a Holy Roller glow. And no bitter aftertaste. It leaves you wanting more.
BlazeVOX books is to be commended for publishing some of the finest poetry in existence.» - Randall Radic

«I'm reading "Surrealism" (from Rothenberg and Joris's vol. 1). Andre Breton is telling me, from the echo chamber of 1924, that he believes "in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak". This surreality will present "the actual functioning of thought... in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern". The difficulties involved in arriving at the "actual functioning of thought" can be seen in the fact that many Surrealist exercises were collaborative, rather than singular, communal rather than solitary. The exquisite corpses I ask my students to write end by approximating Ashbery's solitary writing practice, perhaps, but even Ashbery was schooled on Surrealist techniques in the early 1960s. The "Language Events" recorded in the anthology depend upon pairs of writers composing separately, then "taping" together their questions and answers. In that sense, as in many of the Surrealist exercises, two very ordinary statements, when taped together, make for one "marvelous" (Breton's word) event. The exchange between Benjamin Peret and Andre Breton goes as follows:
If orchids grew in the palm of my hand
masseurs would have plenty of work.
or, this between Yves Tanguy and Andre Breton:
When children slap their father's face
all young men will have white hair.
In neither case is there anything terribly strange about either half of the pseudo-logical statement. Even where one half of the statement is dream-like, "When shoestrings grow in the workers' gardens," for example, the syntax is normative, the image possible to see, the world still ordered in its self-estrangement.
When I began to write about my mother's dementia, I noticed that what she said was often sur-real in this way. She would take two unrelated true statements and splice them together to create what was to me a fiction--to her a true event. She would confuse time periods and run them together in grammatical sentences, which asserted that they were the same. She would confuse cause and effect, putting the latter before the former and creating an effect-cause effect. Much of the confusion I felt as her audience (daughter!) was in the fact I understood the elements of her conversation to be elements she shared with me. Even when her conversation became more strange, as when she asserted that she was in Afghanistan and needed a ride to Wooster, Ohio, I could infer that she had heard the word "Afghanistan" on the news and remembered that her mother and brother had lived and died in Wooster, Ohio. (Something similar happens when Ian Lind visits his dad on O`ahu and is told that he has been driving cars on Maui. Ian's occasional posts on his father's dementia are lovingly documented.)
To say that dementia is a surreal condition is probably not to say anything anyone doubts who has confronted a relative or friend with Alzheimer's disease. More interesting, on a literary level, is the way in which writing about dementia creates a hybrid form, documentary surrealism. If documentary poetry combines the strengths of historical writing, journalism, collage, and the lyric, then documentary surrealism opens up the field to the ways in which the imagination is actualized by mental illness or other extreme states (such as the post-traumatic syndrome Andre Breton dealt with during WWI when he treated soldiers off the battlefield).
Matt Jasper's book of poems, Moth Moon, owes a lot to what Pagan Kennedy terms "every surrealist who ever leashed a lobster," in one blurb. But the opening sequence of poems, based on the poet's experiences in a home for geriatric schizophrenics, has less to do with performing the imagination's oddities (walking lobsters) but with true mental states, recorded straightforwardly. The poet is not imagining anything; he is taking down dictation from those whose minds do not separate the real from the dream-state. Hence, in the title poem, he shows us a man who wears his hair away on the pillow saying "no," and a woman I don't think I shall soon forget:
A woman who suffers from Dutch elm disease,
who speaks to her hands as they turn to dried leaves
outside the window--
her hands covering the ground.
Or, in "Anastasia, Purdy Group Home":
At nine in the morning I try to wake you.
I say your name, I rock you back and forth.
You open one eye
and say, "what you touching my hip bone for,
you going to make soup?"
Or David D. who was arrested for "pounding nails into the yellow line on a busy city street." Or the woman in "The Tip of the Iceberg," who contemplates murdering the poet who says, "I've had mobsters tell me everything. / I mean everything".
What to make of this conjunction of documentation and surrealism? Certainly it puts the focus on something other than imagination, other than aesthetics (though Breton said he didn't care about them, he surely did), other than "systematic displacement". What to a surrealist is "displaced" is to a documentary writer (and his or her subject) a fact. It may not be a "true fact," but by the same token, it cannot be doubted.» - Susan M. Schultz

"I never thought of myself as a practitioner of documentary surrealism, yet that’s a better term than most for what I’m up to. The resolution of dream and reality into something absolute usually came to me just as guessed: “The poet is not imagining anything; he is taking down dictation from those whose minds do not separate the real from the dream-state.”
The vision required is simply one that is willing to initially or even permanently accept on some level the absolute truth of believed and performed “delusion” without diminishing it by labeling it, seeing it as part of a diagnosis, a thing to be corrected. I really believed in the validity of some oddly postulated worlds and the belief I lent them helped them become even more real. Some of the great case studies by Freud, Luria, Sacks etc. are best informed by a first step of pure, self-forgetful watching that borders on the boundary loss one might get when wading into something like a phenomenological approach.
I also applied this approach (perhaps the only one I had amidst pressures that stripped me of other resources) to myself when describing my mental state to a friend in a letter that I later titled and published as a prose poem called DIVINING:
God finally destroys the devil and accidentally disappears. I steal the bread of understanding and cast it to the duck pond. I have done what is good until an old and wise mallard looks me coldly in the eye, whispers that I have caused overpopulation, eventual starvation. It occurs to me that I give to charity only so calf-eyed children can continue to lead quiet lives.
The urge to go on a three state killing spree. Or help an old lady to cross the street. The realization that any action has an equal and opposite reaction, that to do any one thing is to kill the other. Parts of my body crawl away and are never seen again. I win friends. Their limbs fold back into a tree that leaves no seed. A tree that begs me to eat its red fruit. A tree that tells me the road to hell is paved with ordinary asphalt.

Surreality is so radically broken down into the phenomenological world of objects and sense that it can describe worlds beyond reason. From apocalypse to madness to war to the world’s growing complexity, it can have the sort of automatic ". . . actual functioning of thought . . . in the absence of any control exercised by reason. . . .“
I like to think of the actual functioning of thought as “form” —which pervades everything yet in its pure and/or perceptible state is as elusive as it is blinding." - Matt Jasper

"Matt Jasper’s poetry debut, Moth Moon, was recently published by BlazeVOX. In clear, often sparse language, Jasper seeks to render X-rays of the psyche: alongside films of the normal psyche during heightened emotive moments are those of the abnormal psyche of the schizophrenic, revealing in the process the difference between sanity and its obverse often comes down to a hair-line fracture. As much as it is a book of poems, Moth Moon is a psychological investigation, which has led poet and editor Susan M. Schultz to describe it as “documentary surrealism”. Two poems from his collection are discussed here. “Anastasia, Purdy Group Home,” and “Tributary”. Our interview appears after the poems.

Anastasia, Purdy Group Home

A man has entered the room.
He is a ladykiller. A real one:
growing smaller and larger and more wonderful and terrible.
His stomach opens, the room fills
with ladykillers.
They are eating you up with their eyes.

The nurse gives you twenty milligrams of Haldol.
Most of the ladykillers leave but there is one left.
You point to him and say, “I get carried away,”
meaning that he has come to steal you.

Anastasia, on this night
you pass out half a carton of cigarettes
and tell me that you will not live
to see another day.

At nine in the morning I try to wake you.
I say your name, I rock you back and forth.
You open one eye
and say, “what you touching my hip bone for,
you going to make soup?”

You are pleased to meet me.
May you ask who I am?
Am I your parent or savior?
a husband? Do I think
you will be a melt-as-you-go-wife?

Anastasia, you are beautiful:
rotten teeth, rosary beads, the dresses you wear when you sleep.
I will give you your Haldol, your Xanax
an hour late.
We will walk to the store for more cigarettes.


Aged two and three—
they seal-slide toward the sunlit top
of a stream that froze then lowered
a foot to freeze again beneath
its higher ceiling.

Their father startles then recalls
it’s been cold too long for them to be taken
by the water beneath. Cautious
of caution, he sends
no warning to the delighted pair
as they smash through sparkling almost-glass
and discover these things:

They are still alive; they never knew
there could be ice beneath ice, that something thin
could smash them down to something holding firm
the memory that it once babbled and soaked.

By lying on their backs and pushing with their heels,
they can just fit under the sheet—
looking up through a craggy lens into a smeared sky
of lit branches iced also into conspiracy
smashed by laughter as sons destroy
the glory of a quarter mile—sliding under like torpedoes
slowed by the lifting shark fin of a knee.

When they see that propelling themselves cracks the sky,
they flatten and lie there chewing watery shards,
spitting out wool mitten fibers, demanding
that he push them farther than he dares—
each time closer and closer to beyond
where he hopes they will rise up
and return to him only
to be launched farther away

When at last they slide
then creep around a bend
and don’t come back to him,
he learns to trust that their screams
are joyous though reminiscent
in pitch to those of eviscerated swine.
The stream is frozen, he reminds himself.
There’s no need to tell them not
to get carried away

As far as I understand, much of the material for Moth Moon was drawn from your employment in a group home for schizophrenics; and elsewhere, you described Moth Moon as “isomorphic with the topic and language of schizophrenia.” As accurate as the term “documentary surrealism” is, the poem, “Anastasia,” not only documents the language and external behaviors of a schizophrenic patient, but in the opening stanza immerses the reader in the immanent world of the schizoid mindspace. Is this what you meant by isomorphic? An attempt to map the perceptions of the ordinary mind (in the poem, an attractive man entering a room) onto the schizoid mindspace (Anastasia who perceives a multiplicitous and literal “ladykiller”)?
- My short answer is yes. That example is what I meant by isomorphic.
In my late teens, I mixed a lot of Demerol with acid and became God for the better part of a year. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I was “omni-impotent”—trying to survive the extremes between insignificance and galactic grandeur. After being able to work only as a medical test subject, I applied for a job as weekend manager of a group home for aged schizophrenics—most of whom had been in the system for decades. I was amazed that they hired me, as I made no eye contact during the interview. I soon found that I could do the work and that I loved the boundary loss and use of language in schizophrenia. I viewed whatever “schizophrenia” was with admiration for the way it created worlds only loosely tethered to an increasingly irrelevant external reality. The creativity and authority of these created worlds bore all of the signs of collision with artistic form. Though the boredom, coffee, cigarettes, and solipsism of mental illness generally reigned, there were many brilliant associative arrangements and constructions by residents of the group home. The transformation of ladykillers as lovers to ladykillers as murderers is one example but there were many. We had guys there who’d go on and on about the “super secret of the super changeover”, how everyone should have a T-shirt that they name after their favorite Panzer tank, how Linda Evans should float back into the TV set along with the rest of the Flying Dynasty Sluts and just learn to keep her fucking mouth shut.
A loss of the usual boundary between life and death is common in schizophrenia. The heightened sense of possibility sometimes creates a corresponding sense of vulnerability that feeds paranoia and fuels a rush to the safety of living in a smaller world of delusion and/or a larger world of being dead already in order to avoid the possibility of being killed. To protect against the possibility of dying by declaring oneself to be dead already is a brilliant, desperate, and of course paradoxical defense. Real powers open up by entering the realm of the dead while alive. Evidence of it comes in the animistic authority of the living language (“no ideas but in things”) employed, in the desperate sense of struggle, in reaching beyond the visible to create really startling turns of phrase. The whole set of ideas that float around “duende” ride nicely alongside the heightened urgencies and morbidities of madness.
Hallucination and delusion seemed like world-building to me. I was in my late teens but had done enough writing that I could compare fiction and authorship to the phenomena bubbling up around my charges at the group home. In many cases, the artistry of the improvisational madness I was witnessing seemed to eclipse that of many authors I’d read. I vowed to write from that realm if at all possible. I think that I’ve hit on a few moments or stretches of isomorphism in my book, yet a lot of it goes unrecognized precisely because it seems inscrutable to readers. Unfortunately, the only way to convey this material is to be on an edge that risks being as totally dismissed, misunderstood, and ignored as the people I’m writing about. The utter stupidity of setting out to do something that can be done should be more apparent to many writers and should blast a whole lot of verbiage off the face of the earth. I want to write about impossible things invisibly, yet here’s why it’s defensible as art: I have created a point of entry. If the reader can’t see the handle and open the door, well, too bad. I won’t frontload, underline significance, carve an ornate frame, or speak slowly in Iowese.
Front-loading kills, yes. Many endangered species have gone extinct as a result. Nonetheless, if I hadn’t read Schultz’s review of Moth Moon, it’s unlikely I would’ve discerned the underlying psycho-logic at work in your compositions. To be given that front-loading, if only collaterally, so to speak, gave me a handle on your poems. Which thus enabled me to open the door and enter the schizophrenic space.
Through that point of entry the loss of boundary, as you said, was palpable. But the boundary loss was very particular, not an anything-goes melee. Rather, the connective tissue became an equal sign. Things normally associated became equated. The literal and the figurative, conflated. The perceptual and the conceptual, interchangeable. Structures stood readily in place, but in place of walls stood permeable membranes. As a result, the schizoid mindspace seemed only to differ by degrees from my own. Would you say internal logic is what keeps our worlds together, regardless of whether the walls are solid, see-through, or as tentative as the boundary between air and water?
- Ah, endangered species! Many poems are killed off by our refusal or inability to see them. We select our society and shut the door. It reminds me of a recurring dream I have of people walking around with projectors for heads. I like the dream well enough until one projector head discovers that it can make its bulb burn brighter or direct its rays to take over the sky. The rest are left to orient themselves around a scene they are no longer really helping to create. A dominant mode of vision and discourse can work toward greater efficiencies and intensities of communication, yet eventually a cloud descends that fogs its victims into thinking that universities are universes, that the scribbled memes and fashions held in place by the bobbing heads of thousands of poets giving one another blowjobs will somehow outlast the climactic throes of easy comprehension and acclaim. I always bitch about the sick feeling that sweeps over me when I read certain magazines that go beyond the positive traits of, say, a movement or a style that helps create more life, more blood on the page. I’m all for blood. May it splatter forever. It’s the watering down and imitation blood, the puppet crimes that bother me. Agreed upon presets begin to swim and permeate to such an extent that codes emerge allowing readers to self-congratulate for “getting” what an author is conveying. Easy comprehension is fine when clarity is needed as a foundation to build upon, yet often the steps progress along too well-worn a path
I agree with your ideas of conflation and interchangeability, of a particular kind of boundary loss. I think the particularity you sense may be from an oppositional and reflective mirroring between dissimilar realms that open to reveal that they have identical and corresponding structures, that they share a secret similarity and always have. The internal logic you mention is exactly that underlying force that holds our worlds together—different worlds made common and one. I see this internal logic as almost below the level of language. It’s at thing level. It’s glue, phlogiston, ether, form. It is creation of the universe through negative subtraction, heightened definition through a balance of opposing forces. It’s realia suffusing a text or work of art somehow, turning sensibility into sensation. This sort of experience usually leads to the utter silence of beholding wonder. To write from and within this state is to endure a form of compression that changes the structure of language, makes it more broken down yet also more durable in its broken form. Direct statement can establish form when employed at object level, yet as it ascends to higher levels of abstraction this method will most likely kill off suspended possibilities. More indirect and recursive forms can set up pathways for a living language—little word particles so busy racing around that they haven’t the energy to stop and extend a formal invitation to be read.
I am relieved when people like Schultz can climb the slippery mountain of what I’m up to and leave signposts to help others apprehend my lucubrations. I have decried the idiocy of anyone who can’t see me and licked my scabby poet wounds, yet ultimately I have to appreciate anyone who really tries—whether they get into the work or fumble for a five-minute eternity with the slippery handle on the porch and then give up. An honest admission that one is unable to approach should be allowed, yet often readers will blame a text for their own lack of comprehension of something that is actually there to be had. Though I was ready for books like The Journal of Albion Moonlight as a teen, I have had many situations where I have been unable to enter a text—usually a book of poems. I’ll only realize that the fortress was worth storming if I am lucky enough to return to the work later and finally get in. Of course, I may come back to the book with a trebuchet and demolish it from the outside. Readers destroy the worlds they cannot enter. Some of the worlds are worth destroying.
I remember that dream. I vaguely recall auditioning for projector #8734, but by that time the dream had been copyrighted and won an Oscar. Someday I aspire to see that dream from the inside while you’re asleep.
“Tributary” opens rather peculiarly: “Aged two and three—/ they seal-slide toward…” Instead of saying two children, or using another descriptor such as boy, girl, toddler, brother, sister, siblings, etc., you opt for something arguably more precise (the exact ages) which has the unusual consequence of leaving the “who” or even the “what” open to question. Not until the second stanza do we learn of relation, i.e. siblings, and then only indirectly by reference to: “their father”. The poem presents itself without obfuscation and yet seems to remain somewhat elusive throughout, continually unfolding until at the end the whole is finally within view. Is this an example of the “more indirect and recursive” form? Do the “realia” you choose give “suspended possibilities” reality, while refraining from choking the life out of them with “direct statement”?
- Yes. I hope so, at least. I can analyze my method as if it were more intentional, yet it might be just as accurate to say that I was deadened by all of the other angles I could approach this from and didn’t write about it for years. I often wished I’d brought a camera that day because the ice was so beautifully lit. The frustration of having no pictures of the event probably drove me to write the poem. “Aged two and three” seems a bit reductive and distancing in a way, yet I hope it’s appropriate here as the reader watches from a similar distance. The opening moment occurs as I consider my son’s ages and that I can begin to stand back and let them take the greater risks of exploring a world I don’t always need to curate or protect them from. Fear often heightens our senses and drives us into them as we scan objects, beings, landscapes. As a somewhat paranoid parent who has an uncomfortably large library of possible dismemberments and deaths onboard at all times (see the poem Hypnogogic), I wanted to summon and balance the possibilities surrounding my children at play—to put fears to sleep in a way that would allow my children to be stronger, happier. The indirect and recursive form summoned a larger world of violence and joy that more direct considerations could have labeled but not created. To suspend possibilities as objects in the field of the poem is to allow them to each find their place in relation to the others. The summoned objects in the poem have a life of their own that emerges through proximity and arrangement—a series of overt and covert relationships to the assembled surroundings. To begin that poem with a pause to introduce landscape, father, and sons would have destroyed its immediacy by voicing an explanation entirely irrelevant to anything within the scene itself. An intimacy opens up when the reader is given the perhaps initially disorienting yet eventually familiar viewpoint of an insider who doesn’t need labels. At the core of meaning, there is no sense or logic separate from the spectacle and feel of vast emotional gestalts that open up to “thing” a scene—to suffuse meaning into it so fully that inseparability arises. This approach can seem fragmented and elusive until it falls into place.
An intimacy opens up when the reader is given the perhaps initially disorienting yet eventually familiar viewpoint of an insider who doesn’t need labels.”
I couldn’t possibly agree more. When a piece speaks to or explains the scene for the reader, unless that choice is fully conscious and made obviously so by the required rendering of artifice, I feel immediately pushed out of the piece by the author’s (unconscious?) impulse to lead me by the hand like a five-year-old. But when the piece is concerned more with its own integrity (which is not to say that it lacks concern for the reader), perhaps along the lines of what you deemed busy word particles of living language, I feel naturally drawn into something, rather than merely being presented something. Your articulation of that idea has helped me come to a better understanding of my own half-intuited inclination.
To return to the idea of isomorphism, the phrase “get carried away” appears in both poems. Although the exact meaning varies due to different contexts, its two-fold nature (figurative and literal) maps from one to the other. In the context of “Anastasia,” the boundary loss gives the figurative a literal existence. In the context of “Tributary,” the literal (the percept in the form of a frozen river) and the figurative (the concept of excitability) undergo a similar boundary loss: “The stream is frozen, he reminds himself. There’s no need to tell them not to get carried away.” This similarity of structure and boundary loss echoes your earlier remark:
“I think the particularity you sense may be from an oppositional and reflective mirroring between dissimilar realms that open to reveal that they have identical and corresponding structures, that they share a secret similarity and always have.”
The father (i.e. yourself) watching his kids slide further away into a gap between two frozen sheets of ice has to come to terms with the fact that he has no control over the stream of time, forced to watch his children depart into the world, so to speak, beyond the sheltering reach of their father. Would you say that his fear serves as the soldering iron by which the boundary between percept (the frozen stream) and concept (the stream of time) is punctured, such that the father momentarily perceives the literal stream for the temporal one? Would you say that the heat of any intense emotion (whether fear, loss, elation) has the capacity, particularly in the case of trauma, of thinning certain partitions whereby ordinary cognition melts into the schizoid worldflux?
- I would say that woodenly as I sat carved upon the lap of my much more articulate ventriloquist. Then I would fumble for a response that first touched upon the easier, earlier points.
I remember thinking it odd that you’d compare the “Anastasia” poem to “Tributary,” yet I guess they drip with the ink of the same pen. When I see obsessions, lines, and themes recurring in poems, I’m reminded of another dream I had in which I was served notice that I had to stop using up all of the scenery and props required to construct my sleep worlds—that the materials were running out and maybe even depleting the storehouses used by those around me. The advice to build smaller worlds may be wise. Much as I’d aspire to be blasted by particle storms and solar winds out in the wider universe, I need the shelter of refuge from a larger world given by having an identity and voice stitched with habit and pattern. The alternative to turning back from immersion in pure form is to sail out into it and become utterly lost (as in the poem “Shelley”). There’s a pressure I’ve felt when apprehending the very wide world that drives me to seek refuge in a corresponding, very small one. In one I am speck and in the other a god arranging specks. But there’s the danger of having one’s back turned too long to the wider world as one’s interior life and art becomes drained. Much as I admire Charles Simic for almost epitomizing a contemporary poet who collided most interestingly with the universe, I want to toss out about half of his work—to run up to him and yell, ”Stop being Charles Simic.” He really needs to take a break. Maybe drop some acid or read bad romance novels in some way that revitalizes the symbol set he is using. Elizabeth Bishop hit her own flavor of starry heights, yet had the good sense to leave a body of work small enough that it didn’t begin to water down her beauty. I am also interested by the work of Bill Knott—who is more peripatetic in his wanderings and gatherings. He eludes easy comprehension and is willing to risk or even welcome failure as he replenishes his world and that of any reader who can follow him. Of course, he has paid a huge price for this and is routinely panned by critics. His book of theme poems at Lulu is beyond brilliant, yet he had to self-publish it. I will proudly champion him to anyone. If I am alive when he dies, I hope to form “The Knottistic Institute” for the furtherance of his less publishable work. So what if sometimes he’s masturbating with his back to the reader. Just turn on your X-ray vision and wait for the money shot.
As for the boundary between percept and concept, I enjoy equating them in order to nest inverse, proportional images of one inside the other. Mostly, I am undermining concepts in favor of percepts. Concepts quickly become almost like mental preset building blocks—nice for what they’re used for, yet almost useless at the low level I aspire to write from. I like to come up with ridiculous syllogisms and destroy conceptual thought to such a degree that I can barely function at all.
In these poems, I believe in the stream of time more than the stream. I love the ladykillers who really kill ladies much more than I love the good looking men. The fear of actual (i.e. my kids being injured or not needing me) or imagined (being killed by a hallucinated ladykiller) loss almost forces the replacement of old concepts with new ones. Concepts are drained of their old sensory and experiential input in the face of loss. If one is lucky, a new fusion of percepts can recreate some of the sense we seem to need to make of the world in order to live in it. I view loss or any strong emotion as something that heats or reshuffles—begins to create factions and facts in a physical sense by destroying old monuments, beings, objects and replacing them with new ones. One moment passes to another moment the secret that they are the same. This sameness is what allows us to endure even though each instant we leave the husk of a previous self. Strong emotion spans this discontinuity of sliced moments in time and carries us across the greater chasms." - Interview with Keith Nathan Brown