Monday, December 9, 2019

TtD supplement #148 : seven questions for Robert R. Thurman

Robert R. Thurman is an artist, musician, and poet. Thurman is the author of SYSTEMS (2015), CONNECTIONS (ZimZalla, 2017), MACHINE LANGUAGE (Spacecraft Press, 2018), SIGNALS (edition taberna kritika, 2018), and DIAGRAMS (2019)

Robert’s work has appeared in The Harvard Advocate, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion, Coldfront Magazine, Columbia Journal, The MIT Journal of Arts and Letters, and The Monarch Review. His work has been exhibited internationally.

His poems “SIGN LANGUAGE,” “DETECTOR,” “REGULATOR II,” “CONSTRUCT” and “CENTRIFUGE” appear in the twenty-third issue of Touch the Donkey.


A: What really intrigued me was the way geometric forms, numerals and letters could be combined poetically into something unique.

These machines are a combination of those three components without recourse to the word. They are only locked in place until the reader engages them.

Q: How do these pieces relate to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: My new work still combines these geometric forms, numerals and letters but leaves a combinatory set of elements that almost resemble mathematical shorthand. I just released DIAGRAMS with introduction by Craig Dworkin.  Available here http://robertrthurman.com/selected-publications.html

Q: What is it that brought you to working these kinds of visual structures?

A: I created a new mode of poetry I hadn’t seen before with a form that is singular and signature and yet, not predictable or repetitive.  I began as a geometric painter and also love schematics.  I’ve always been able to visualize geometric shapes so this type of work came natural to me.

I’m interested in the inner workings of letters and numbers. The physicality of them is something I don’t think is considered enough.

For instance looking around a room and visualizing everything – doors, windows, chairs – made up of the letter Z.  Give the Z real substance but don’t bend the letter. Don’t treat it as pliable, but rotatable, collapsible, from only three sections. Is Z a folding chair? A table? A person sitting in a chair, reaching for something on the table? Z or any other letter is a form or mold in which cognition is poured.

Q: There are many who have worked with letterforms over the years; have you any models for this type of work? Were you attempting to create something entirely out of scratch?

A: With a few exceptions, the works I saw which experimented with letterforms seemed to be recycling ideas way too much, in my opinion.

So yes, I built something from scratch by using exact and accurate schematics which treated letters and numerals as part of the machine and vice versa. Even the title of each piece, the courier font typeface, and the order seen, should be viewed as working parts of these SYSTEMS.

Q: Are you the author of individual pieces that come together to group into chapbook or book-length manuscripts, or are you the author of projects? How do you see your compositional process, and the process of putting together collections?

A: Each work can stand alone or be used in multiples for different projects. Each is also a part of one mechanism. Each work has a specific title but is also known generically as SYSTEMS, both individually and collectively.

I can understand using the terms chapbook, book-length manuscripts, et cetera, as descriptions, but I rarely see my work as such. I approach them as projects.

For instance, my compositional process may involve building several variations or versions of a certain poetic machine which I design with the ability to utilize interchangeable or modified parts (poems). This possible integration can create distinctive works that stand alone or become one more mechanism (poems inside poems) that work as another part of SYSTEMS.

Q: With a handful of titles over the past few years, how has your work developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: These projects have not been released sequentially but the evolution and interrelatedness is discernible. The work has evolved by concentrating more energy into designing poetic structures whose parts can initiate a rotating, undulating, almost trancelike animation; with elements that can be later incorporated into other machines.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: First on the list would have to be Charles Wright’s Black Zodiac especially “Apologia pro Vita Sua, III” anything from Breece D'J Pancake Trilobites is a stand out. The Gospel Singer and A childhood: the biography of a place by Harry Crews are excellent as well.

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