Jared Joseph - simultaneously a mystical text, an autofiction driven by Nabokovian madness, the result of a termite artist eating his way through history, a no-holds-barred conceptual hoax, a personal genealogy


Jared Joseph, Drowsy. Drowsy Baby, Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017.  


Read Excerpt


Jared Joseph’s Drowsy. Drowsy Baby is a book and the translation of a book. It is a scroll named Jenny, after Noah’s unnamed wife, both pictured and absent. Like Edmond Jabès, Yoel Hoffman, and Susan Howe, Jared Joseph viscerally merges questions of linguistic, textual, and memorial representation with the persistent violence of religious narrative, historical trauma, and familial haunting. What emerges is a poetic experiment or examination of God and fragment, a book of poetry insistent on challenging the emotional and formal impacts of a page and a life. Drowsy. Drowsy Baby is a book and the translation of a book. It is a song named Joseph, after an unnamed player piano, both pictured and absent.


While reading Jared Joseph’s book, I wrote to him, The honorable thing to do would be to put quotation marks around the entire text, or like pointing someone in the direction of the nearest cathedral, basilica. I was thinking, at the time, of the spectacular, effervescent, and eternally unfinished Sagrada Familia (in Barcelona; shifting landscapes, for a minute). Neither cathedral nor basilica, it is a temple. Expiatory. Where people go to atone. That to describe Jared Joseph’s book would be like putting quotation marks around la Sagrada Familia. No longer impossible, easy: a signpost, an arrow, a finger, a gesture. To not only bind the reader to the space Jared Joseph has created, but Jared Joseph to, among other expressions, his great great grandfather, in the fashion of an even more expiatory, and ultimately effervescent, experience. – BRANDON SHIMODA

Jared Joseph’s profoundly ambitious Drowsy. Drowsy Baby is simultaneously a mystical text, an autofiction driven by Nabokovian madness, the result of a termite artist eating his way through history, a no-holds-barred conceptual hoax, a personal genealogy. It is a book of fear and a book of defenses: from the violent and treasonous acts depicted in the pages, to the writing techniques of montage and erasure, the book is involved in a constant tugging between violence and protection, attack and defense.– JOHANNES GÖRANSSON

Drowsy. Drowsy Baby is a timely, hybrid work of powerful recollection—By way of the poet’s “difficult lyric,” a “combination of the story of Joseph and the story of [my name],” Jared Joseph courts autobiography to unveil vexed family histories as poetic translation suspended in free fall…a great great grandfather figure pushed from a cliff into the abyss—one of many deep sites of this poet’s reclamation. Joseph’s writing emerges, fusing beautiful prose, linguistic glitches, proper names into surprising forms: “Claude…Cloud” is where Nation and Person meet up in Joseph’s at once
idiosyncratic and capacious landscape. Hence, Drowsy. Drowsy Baby is as much rendered pastiche as it is slumbering flight—“If I can retrieve something…I think it says something.”  For Joseph, homonyms often reign: tear/tear reveals the contact zone between liturgical genealogy and local bar love, an urgent politics of now, where playful punctuation beats, as if it is the breath itself—fields of commas induce coma, interrogations beget interrogative fields, suspended question marks mark the unconscious, where language is both erasure and concrete, a brilliant display of heart and the human mind.– RONALDO V. WILSON


1) Why poetry?
Poetry is the only place I feel like myself, and when I feel untethered to the pressures of being myself. Poetry is a hallway of talking, a difficult room. “Everything is a receptive sensor” writes Jon Woodward in a poem, he ends that poem with that line, which is a way of making the poem endless, it senses you or reads you. Someone told me once he wrote an apology that made several people cry. That is why I am a writer he said. I remember being disturbed by this. To write out of a need for forgiveness is one thing, I think, an interesting thing. To believe forgiveness exists at all is another. To believe rest exists. Writing a poem is like sleeping. Once a woman caught a white moth in her hand (this means in the night) that I hadn’t seen, I saw instead her fist, and then she opened her fist and the moth crumpled to the ground and twitched she stomped on it, and then she stomped on it, and to make sure its pain was done she stomped on it and twisted her boot to twist the moth out its own axis. That night I dreamt someone I had loved and I had not forgiven wearing a white moth gossamer dress in a smoking bar, and when she glided toward the exit she passed me and her each eyelash was that white moth, her eyes were closed. I woke up and my bed was sweaty and I was sitting. I’ve written this poem so many times I do not know anymore if I had that nightmare ever even at all. It is important to me to be a moth underneath a boot.
2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less important & relevant today?
I don’t know. A poem is built, formed, conceived, felt, seen, experienced, revised, slashed, rejected, beloved, shared, received, saved, stored, treasured. A poem isn’t fracked or leaked. A poem is banned sometimes, maybe this correlates to the fact that a poem isn’t translated easily. A poem isn’t translated. To translate is to take the foreign, and to re-code it as domestic. To translate is to appropriate something by way of rendering it appropriate, relevant. You ban or censor or deport a person word or thing that does not translate appropriately. I like that about a poem.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.
I think about Jalal Toufic a lot and his poems and his prose and his prose poems, or other things whatever they are, he has a book I have a hard time categorizing called Distractions so maybe those categories are all distractions or maybe he just writes distractions. In the Qur’an it is recounted that God creates Adam from clay, and then commands the angels to bow to Adam, and all the angels bow to Adam, but the angel Iblis doesn’t, he protests that he is made of fire and that Adam is made of clay, so Iblis is better than Adam. And this sin of pride or arrogance gets Iblis cast into hell, “I will fill Hell with you” God says. “I will fill Hell with you.” So Iblis becomes the devil, the ruler of Hell, and Iblis tells God he will make it his mission to mislead all humans forever. And so the pride and arrogance Iblis displayed before God had him cast him out of heaven and into Hell, and this is where evil comes from; Iblis’ revenge against Adam is making all mankind sin and stray from God. This distancing from God – this distraction – is what Toufic picks up on in Undying Love, Or, Love Dies, which is the most beautiful title in the world. Toufic says of Iblis that this is how it went, mostly. However, the real reason Iblis didn’t bow was not arrogance, not that he thought himself better as fire than Adam as clay, but because he loved God too much to bow before anyone that wasn’t God. The fire thing is just a pretense; Iblis was the most loyal of the angels; it was not self-love, but love for God that made him refuse to prostrate himself before Adam. And then Hell is filled with Iblis: “Iblis was dazzled by these debased states: how could all this come from him, an angel? Idolatry, love of sacrilege, anger, lechery, lying, laziness, sloth, betrayal, a treacherous tongue, and the other vices and sins Rimbaud catalogues in A Season in Hell are not what one finds in hell, but a manner of forgetting it.” So all evil and sin comes from Iblis’ melancholic need to forget his love and to distract himself from his undying, or dead, love. The evil that Iblis scatters upon mankind is not active revenge against Adam, but a sort of almost autonomic mist Iblis releases to obscure his acutely painful love for God. So I try to remember everything and be as melancholic as possible, which can be annoying, even arrogant.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.
Cecilia Corrigan. I think everything she writes is brilliant, I think her performances are brilliant, I remember seeing her doing a reading for the first time and I couldn’t believe anyone could be so intelligent. Titanic is one of my favorite books in the world, Corrigan published it in 2014, her interview with Felix Bernstein about it is very great, she says among other things “One of the questions that Titanic is asking is whether typing ‘I want to be with you’ over iMessage is semantically different than saying ‘I want to be with you’ at a payphone booth, or in person.”
5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.

Newest Ninja Turtles

Robotic man talking or malfunctioning about trust says he
just needs to know everything his girlfriend is
his girlfriend is doing, he don’t mind his girlfriend
hangs out with her girlfriends, he is adam
-ant about this he just wants to know her eve
-ning plans nightsly and to know to be on gard
-en duty or not all night sprinkling grass. He wants to
be the first, at the bar telling me these stories that individual
-ize him but all the time I think you are insane normal,
normal grass, normal bullet, normal water bucket and sand castle
he says he is friends with Meester, what the fuck this means, like
God? He said
you missed my heart. She shot me in the arm the
leg the elbow the temple somehow I survived the temple
my tribe somehow survived its several
-times destroyed temples
but she missed my heart, temporary cemetery,
“pain graveyard.” I went swimming in the San Lorenzo
River with Shawnee, Joseph went swimming in
the San Lorenzo River with Winona, if my love
did not survive your love will not survive
my middle name Joseph, Joseph. As the morning sun rose
it has not. It is gray and Marissa says it
is depressing. Perils from the sea, fog from the
prison cemetery. Feeling all the leaves came over my sore.
Ginger Ale. Andy said you put that so clearly, that is
the clearest smartest way of stating that and hugged
me, I have no idea now what I said then. What the fuck this means, like
the ocean? Let’s walk through your next pay period. Every planet wants to grow
a strawberry. Every buried mound wants to grow
a baby boy. Every baby boy wants to row
the whole ocean is an oar. Every oar wants
either oar. She made a real effort but you can’t row a boat
without arms. Where have I lived, what cities. Who cares
Derwood Rockville Potomac Madison Tianjin New York
City Cartaya Granada Madrid Iowa
City Oakland Santa Cruz. Good job
Jared you have vertigo. I don’t want clarity, I don’t want
alacrity. DO I cross the cities off now is that what
I did I can’t take it any longer give me
vertigo don’t go with me come take my hand my hand
I dreamt my hand I dreamt I’d just woken up and
had no time even to, get to work the which I was late for.
Underneath the wood print
I could hear the sirens.
I thought of mowing down the celebrators but I cannot stand the smell
of grass screaming. I don’t want transparent ground I know
already the foundation’s strength and make of fear and liability
to tear apart itself whenever it will deem itself
boring. The most poetic dream came flowing like
a childhood scene: you think you’re funny but you’ve never been
funny. You think you are my son but I look at you and see
cities I wish I’d never been in and made mad decisions in
July clothes. I don’t like that line break what that line
I don’t love. I don’t not love. I forget
the necessary words, the right ones, so I transcribe them
all. The keys, the Styrofoam cup. The drufyls looking
at Amber. The foal I saw a farmer name mber.
Ammiel Alcalay, other names that start with A. I am
tired, my memory is tired. A sunnyside cop. I rode
fast down Laurel, as if hoping my July clothes would burn up
off me, the clothes in my room that are hers would burn up
off me, I hang up my heart / is settled. The beveled walls,
the deviled egg specials. I look down and my hands are
normal. I was too asleep. I was also the hardest part of waking up
is Folgers out of your cup and I wast’ waking up and knowing this was a couch and I
had somehow made it to Nadia’s, my house’mate’s, couch
fell asleep there, full asleep there, with bathroom towels for
blankets. In July the feeling of snow may march backwards on
through April O’Neill
Contexts:
I found this poem in a notebook a couple weeks ago and made it into another poem, this one. The narrative sort-of recounted happened in June, that’s why June is the one month not mentioned. The bar was the Asti in Santa Cruz, California, which everyone calls the Nasty Asti, because it is fucking disgusting. You can smoke in it, or at the time you could, and the bartenders who work there are really nice and capable and smart people and a lot of my friends go there, but also sometimes you get stuck next to an asshole who is telling you intimate details about how much of an asshole he is, without actually knowing that he is such an asshole. It reminded me of the ways I am an asshole, and would like to not be, so my way of empathizing with him is to write as him, while we are both actually malfunctioning drunks, hi-malfunctioning drunks. I don’t remember his name. Meester is a dj in Santa Cruz. “normal grass” is a line Sara Peck or I came up with, I don’t know now. “You Missed My Heart” is a song by Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle. It is bizarre that I put “pain graveyard” in quotes and not “temporary cemetery,” because “temporary cemetery” is a quote from Marissa from the poem (who also lives), and “pain graveyard” is just me, but I think I wanted to distance myself from it because I thought it was so stupid, but apparently I needed it in the poem, and then I decided there has got to be a My Chemical Romance or Slipknot song called Pain Graveyard, so I took my chances and put it in quotes. My neighbor is named Joseph. Shawnee is named Shawnee. Winona is named Winona. I expected the sun to rise but I went outside and it was not convincing. I have no idea what I told Andy, probably it was in the Asti, and I probably threw up under a booth all memory of that night. Puns are stupid, but iamb what iamb. DO was a typo, but I like it. “don’t go with me come take my hand” is a mishearing of the chorus of Exuma’s “You don’t know what’s going on,” that actually goes “Come go with me / Come take my hand,” which is more beautiful. Grass terrifies me, apparently. A kid at summer camp once told me “you think you’re funny but you’re not funny” and I sometimes hope that he’s in jail. I have not seen the newest ninja turtles movie. https://entropymag.org/national-poetry-month-featured-poet-jared-joseph/




JARED JOSEPH is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop MFA program in poetry, and is currently pursuing his PhD in Literature at the University of California – Santa Cruz. Recent poems have been published in Fence, Noo Journal, and Spork while his and Sara Peck’s collaborative book here you are is available from Horse Less Press.

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