Monday, January 25, 2016
TtD supplement #44 : seven questions for Mary Kasimor
Mary Kasimor has most recently been published in Big Bridge, Arsenic Lobster, Horse Less Review, Nerve Lantern, Altered Scale, Word For/Word, Posit, 3 AM, EOAGH, and The Missing Slate. She has three previous books and/or chapbook publications: Silk String Arias (BlazeVox Books), & Cruel Red (Otoliths), and The Windows Hallucinate (LRL Textile Series). She has a new collection of poetry published in 2014, entitled The Landfill Dancers (BlazeVox Books). She also writes book reviews that have been published in Jacket, Big Bridge, Galatea Resurrects, Poets’ Quarterly, and Gently Read Literature. She considers her work experimental—both her poetry and ink/water colors.
Her poems “blue june,” Subtitles,” “red fog,” “clinical observation” and “the tales of embroidery” appear in the eighth issue of Touch the Donkey.
Q: Tell me about the poems “blue june,” Subtitles,” “red fog,” “clinical observation” and “the tales of embroidery.”
A: I have to be honest and say that other poets influence me a great deal—and perhaps that is true for all poets. Lately I have been fascinated (once again) by Leslie Scalapino’s poetry and her understanding of consciousness as a Buddhist expressed through language—also the idea that all our experiences exist without the limitations of time. So I am playing around with that idea—mostly because I find it so interesting. And that is what I am attempting to do with “blue june.” It’s much easier in theory than in practice—kind of a stream of consciousness thing going on, but it is a writing process that I continue exploring.
All my poems are “experimental,” and I am always thinking about how and what words mean together and what happens when I split them up, with punctuation, without punctuation, and upper and lower case letters; the spacing of my lines is also something that I pay a great deal of attention to. “subtitles,” “red fog,” and “clinical observation” all have elements of the above. I had never used asterisks before, and that may be a small thing, but I wanted to see how that would affect the poem, “subtitles.” The words in my poems are added and deleted over and over again while I search for the right words that feel what I mean. My poems are generally not what I consider narrative, but I do believe that I have some or several story lines in my poems. These poems are a part of what I can't share with people in ordinary language or conversation, so what I am thinking about become poems.
In the poem, “the tales of embroidery” I am telling a story; even though the narrative is not straightforward, it is happening within the poem. On occasion I like to write my version of a fairy tale. I was raised on fairy tales and stories about the saints (which are fairy tales, in a way). This fairy tale is dark and I want to evoke a feeling for those long ago people who were peasants. I cannot tell a story or narrative in a linear way because I find that uninteresting, so I have to make sure that I take the reader (and that includes myself) into many different loops and paths that may seem unrelated but do contain parts of the “story.” No narrative is exactly what it seems, and it can be interpreted and understood differently by different people. As I re-read this poem this evening, I realized that I had done something that I wasn’t even aware of—and that is what is so wonderful about writing poetry.
Q: This routine of addition and subtraction; is this how your poems are normally composed? How do your books and chapbooks, then, come together? Would you say your work focuses more on the individual poem than, say, the chapbook or book-length collection?
A: I was working on a very short poem this morning and had this sudden idea for several words in the poem. I could almost see them in front of me. I didn’t know if the words would work or not, but I could just as easily remove them as I added them—and that is how I write. I suppose most poets work that way, since poetry is a mysterious process. I need to have the freedom to write what is important to me at the moment or to figure out—at least—what I may want to write about. I can’t seem to force an idea—I am one of those organic writers.
Several years ago I wrote poems for a chapbook about my years as a single mother. I was not happy about it, even though it was easier in some ways because I knew that I would be writing it from the different perspectives of myself and my children, and I knew where I was going with the collection. However, I didn’t like it. It lacked the magic that I feel when I usually write poetry. I almost felt as though I was cheating.
In my latest book, The Landfill Dancer, the poems were written spontaneously. My friend, Jeff Hansen, wrote a review of the book for his blog, Altered Scale, and was able to unify the poems, and he did that in a brilliant way (in my opinion). I won’t paraphrase what he said, but I will simply direct you to his blog, AlteredScaleBlogSpot.com.
I know that unless my brain changes a great deal, I will continue writing my poetry by shaping the spontaneity of words and form and deciding what I am writing about as I write.
Q: I’ve heard say that half of any draft involves attempting to comprehend what has already been accomplished. On this notion of constructing a poem via accumulation, collage and subtraction, who have been your models?
A: If I understand what you mean by accumulation, collage, and subtraction, I would have to say that Frank O’Hara has been a model for me in terms of constructing a poem using collage. What he does that is so interesting is use versions of his sensory world and pushes them together using language and art to create poetry. His poetry trembles and bursts and ricochets with human energy. Also, he was a very visual poet, and he used visual creations in so many of his poems. It seems to me that O’Hara used the every day accumulation of—once again—those very sensory details, almost piling them up like oil on a canvas, and then adding more detail to make his poetic life and work even more interesting.
Getting the words out onto the paper, using what I see both inside myself and outside in the world and using what I hear—like picking up conversation when I’m in a room or standing in line with many people, or listening to jazz while I am driving—all of this is fair game for use in my poems. However, with the accumulation of words, I need to re-form it into some type of cohesion or coherence. The poem continues to change form as it goes through drafts. I also change the meaning with a word that I think works better.
I haven’t thought about the importance of Frank O’Hara’s poetry in my poetry for a long time. There have been many other poets who have also been very important to me as far as giving me insights into how I develop my poetry, but I think that O’Hara has had the most influence on me in terms of his poetic energy and the way that he draws his images together into these poems that work so well.
Q: After a small handful of poetry chapbooks and books to your name, how do you feel your work has developed? What do you see your work possibly working toward?
A: I find myself somewhat naive about the poetry world. I lived in a small community where anything experimental is unusual—and there wasn’t much poetry. I don’t have an MFA, so I wasn’t exposed to the more business end (how to get yourself out there) of poetry and the new groundbreaking poetry that was happening—like LANGUAGE poetry, for example. My poetry life began in the 1970s, in the world of lyrical and/or narrative poetry. I wrote poetry for quite a while and then quit for 10 years for two reasons: I felt as though I had exhausted my poetic voice and I had two children that I raised by myself.
I got turned onto Frank O’Hara and Barbara Guest, and my world changed. I needed and wanted to write everything that I could possibly write. I fell in love with poetry again. I sent my poems out for publication—and quite a few were published, but I didn’t know anything about how a person gets known, therefore creating more opportunities to get work published. I still don’t know how to do that. That being said, I will continue writing poetry, and hopefully my poetry will continue changing. It’s strange though—there is (I think) this tendency to want poets (visual artists, musicians, etc.) to continue creating with a certain repetition in style. But maybe I’m wrong. I hope that I continue writing poetry until I die, and I hope that it doesn’t get silly and ridiculous and old. I would love to have more books out, but if it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean that I will quit writing poetry. I have had a recent conversation with myself about that.
I think that in much of my poetry I am creating my own mythology. I can’t seem to write about feminism (and I am a strong feminist) or other important political/human conflicts, even though I am also very political. It is difficult for me to write about how I feel—putting the human element into the poem. Perhaps it would be interesting to write poetry that still has my voice but is more personal—about how I feel. As I think about this, I realize that it would be difficult because I don’t use bluntness, but I write at an angle, if that makes sense.
If I plan to write until the end of my life as Mary Kasimor, I will need to continue being innovative just for myself, if not for anyone else.
Q: I’m quite fond of the way you “write at an angle,” as you say. You mention Frank O’Hara and Barbara Guest—are there any contemporary poets you’ve been reading lately that have shifted the way you think about writing?
A: There are a number of contemporary poets whose work is wonderful. I go through periods when I will read work from one poet and then move onto another. I can’t say that my favorites contemporary poets have shifted my perspective on writing—they have probably made the whole process of reading and writing poetry more interesting and exhilarating.
One poet whose work I think is wonderful is Eleni Sikelianos whose poems are full of surprises; she makes wonderfully surprising jumps and connections between metaphors, images, ideas in her poetry. Anne Carson is unbelievably talented. Her earlier work is incredible, and she seems to have become even more experimental over the years. I have Lyn Hejinian’s Saga/Circus next to me. I find the way that she puts her fiction together in all surprising ways. She is also an amazing experimental poet.
I have written reviews for several of Jared Schickling’s books. I have just finished reading his most current book, Two Books on the Gas. I haven’t yet figured out how he makes his strange observations and quirky word associations so interesting, but he does. I admire his work because he is so original.
My good friend George Farrah is also a poet whose work I admire. He had a strong influence on getting me to return to writing poetry after my 10 year hiatus. He is also an artist who paints abstract oils. George does this wonderful visual poetry with language. He seems to be applying the same principles to his poetry as he does to his visual art. Several of his visual poems appear in the Summer 2015 issue of Otoliths.
These are only a few of the many poets whose work has enlarged my passion for poetry because their poetry is beautiful and interesting in ways that I value.
Q: You reference some of the reviews you’ve been doing lately. How does reviewing help with the consideration and development of your own work?
A: I view writing poetry and writing reviews as both creative, but I use different parts of my brain for each. Obviously, writing poetry is more creative and writing reviews requires more of an analytical approach. I have come to appreciate the various poets’ work that I have reviewed. I respect and appreciate the poets’ work, but since these poets’ voices are so different from my poetic voice, I mostly focus on analyzing what and how they write and say their poems—and sometimes that is difficult.
I don’t know if writing reviews so much helps in the consideration and development of my poetry except to stretch my imagination/intellect to understand what is and isn’t obvious and then to try to write about it. As I am writing this, it has occurred to me that I have developed a more professional eye towards my poetry since I am also writing critically about other poetry, not so much in terms of whether it is “bad” or “good” poetry but in what the poet is attempting to do and how the poet is doing that. That and reading and writing over the years have all contributed to my skill and passion as a poet.
Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
A: I have the anthology, Poems for the Millennium, Volume 2, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris. I think that I’ve re-read it eight times! I don’t read everything in it, but I will just decide who I am in the mood to read. The book has exposed me to poets whom I've never read—such as many of the post-WWII Japanese poets. Also, small doses of Gertrude Stein and John Cage are very fun to read. And there are so many others.
Anne Carson, Leslie Scalapino, and Nathaniel Mackey are several poets who re-energize me. Obviously, they are very different stylistically, and I confess that I don’t always understand where Scalapino and Mackey are taking me, but that’s okay. Their words and poetic voices are wonderful.
I am most interested in poets who break open the language and forms of poetry. It makes me feel heady and as though anything is possible—which it isn’t really, but it helps free me from the traditional constraining sense of language and form.