reagun (reagun) wrote in newprometheans,

interesting interview

Interview with Kent Johnson
conducted by Rodrigo Garcia Lopes, Editor, Coyote Magazine, Brazil

below you'll find a snippet of this interview that i've been reading (and re-reading) lately. while the entire interview is worth reading (fascinating how he challenges the role of contemporary 'experimental' poetry and it's authenticity/originality), but i think this part goes well with the spirit of this group. let me know what you think! i'm especially fond of the very end of this interview (as i think all of you will be - especially you, hannah).

this interview can be read in its entirety at:

Q: How do you see the world and the United States after September 11th and the war on Iraq? What can poetry do in a world that is increasingly becoming violent, complex and unpredictable? Is poetry still necessary, or even a necessary discourse?

KJ: I have my outward positions, of course, and like most people, I like to sound like I know what I'm talking about. But like most people, too, I'm very uncertain about what the world is or where it may be headed. And it seems to me that poetry must resist the temptation to assume a defining "mission" or "role" in these times when we are all hungering for firmer bearings. Perhaps what we need to do, as poets, is plug our deepest recesses into that great and encompassing uncertainty, fear, paradox, and, yes, dark comedy of the current conjuncture and just see what happens. Allow our selves to be shocked and lit up by the horror. To be transformers, as it were. Needless to say, there are as many cords and plugs as there are snakes in Medusa's head; and there are as many open outlets as there are orifices in Hades. So while we must be bold, we need also, I suppose, to be careful and have the polished shield handy!

So I guess I'm saying I'm not sure that poetry can or should aspire to "do" anything, really. To the extent that poetry does do work beyond its general aesthetic circumference, it seems to do so most meaningfully when it remains steadfastly what it most "politically" is: an autonomous zone of spirit and conscience, a zone that should be understood by those who enter it as multifarious and many-guised, beholden to no ideology of politics or art. Oppen and Zukofsky were onto something not yet sufficiently explored when they talked about sincerity as the ground of the art. Too easy to dismiss the concept as a sentimental cliché; harder to view and follow one of its countless paths waiting there.

Auden writes in his elegy for Yeats,

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Perhaps in moments of crisis like we are now in, powerful poetry may reveal the connections of the "political" to that mysterious "mouth" Auden evokes. Maybe one could say that the poet's "political" task is to show how the "Real" is never separate from that dark space. But, well, I guess you can see that I am struggling with this answer!

Q: Who are the new poets that you consider as being the most expressive and interesting in the U.S.?

KJ: I had mentioned some younger poets working with a kind of Dada-Pop aesthetic, what they call Flarf-I think there are some interesting possibilities there, if they can become unstuck from their somewhat unimaginative relationship to the flattening figure of Authorship. And I'd mentioned the Ubuweb poets, a loose affiliation of visual and web-based writers, where there is considerable energy, in particular in Canada. I'm fortunate to work very closely with one of the most gifted poets of my generation, Forrest Gander. He and I have been co-translating the great Bolivian poet Jaime Saenz, and we are now into the second book, Saenz's frightening and magnificent book-length poem, The Night. Gander, I don't mind saying, is most definitely il miglior fabbro in our writing relationship. And he will most emphatically be the only contemporary poet I will individually name, since if I continue, I will inevitably end up, I'm sure, leaving the most obvious people out, including some of my friends, and I have few enough friends as it is! So I hope you'll understand.

But I will mention three writers who are not primarily known as poets, and whose work, I feel, is as crucial and singular to poetry as that of anyone writing in English today: Eliot Weinberger, generally known as translator, essayist, and editor, the finest prose stylist we have among those who write about our art, and someone who has taken the "essay" into new conceptual realms, so that one gets the sense of a wholly new genre in the making; David Rosenberg, primarily known as a scholar and translator of biblical and Judaic literature, one of the most original thinkers about translation's purposes, and who has engaged translation's mysteries and paradoxes to create works of poetic fiction that look like scholarly books but are something much more otherwordly; and Mikhail Epstein, the great Russian cultural theorist, now of the U.S., whose works of philosophy, like Wittgenstein's famous rabbit figure which changes into a duck and back again, oscillate between rigorous theory and delightful poetic fiction.

Frankly, I think we "new poets" of the English language have considerably more to gain from reading writers like these than we might by reading any of our more generic "Poet" contemporaries.
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