Thursday, October 27, 2022

TtD supplement #227 : eight questions for Garrett Caples

Garrett Caples is a poet who lives in San Francisco; his most recent book of poems is Lovers of Today (Wave, 2021). He’s an editor at City Lights, where he curates the Spotlight Poetry Series.

His poems “Negative Wound,” “Fleet Week Eclogue,” “#115 AND COUNTING, A REVOLUTIONARY LETTER” and “Index to Revolutionary Letters” appear in the thirty-fifth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Negative Wound,” “Fleet Week Eclogue,” “#115 AND COUNTING, A REVOLUTIONARY LETTER” and “Index to Revolutionary Letters.”

A: These poems were written while I was working on the 50th anniversary edition of Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters. “#115 and Counting” was premised on the idea of the “revolutionary letter” as a form; I think the final edition went up to #114, so my thought was that we might all take up the task, and the collective effort of subsequent poets might be classed as the 115th letter. The “Index” is exactly what it sounds like, insofar as I had to make an index of (sub)titles and first lines for the book, and during the process of revising this according the specs she left behind, various lines or groups of lines would leap out at me as potentially their own stanzas. So that one almost wrote itself and became something about the book and about Diane too. “Negative Wound” is something of a result of listening to and reading about Nina Simone during this period. “Fleet Week Eclogue” came from the hideous fleet week San Francisco is forced to observe every year, during which our own armed forces terrorize us with their goddamn warplanes. It’s a celebration of imperialism and death and ecologically unjustifiable. The title was borrowed from British symbolist John Davidson, who had a book called Fleet Street Eclogues (in reference to what had traditionally been London’s newspaper district).

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

A: Hard to say; I’ve got a couple newer things since I sent you those that are more or less entirely rhyme-driven, though not necessarily end-rhymed. I also have a couple that are more inspired by work I’ve done this year on Ted Berrigan’s collected prose. Ted’s pretty good for giving you the itch to write, because he makes it seem like almost anything can become a poem. So I wrote a thing that would usually be the kind of thing I would write in prose but I made it into an open field poem. Like the #115 poem, I’m trying to get away from the left margin just because it’s goes against my usual habits.

Q: I’m fascinated by the way you seem open to being influenced by the work you do as an editor. Is this something you are deliberately attentive to, in part to, as you say, go against your “usual habits”?

A: I definitely try to break my habits when I notice them and don’t think they’re necessarily productive. That said, I don’t deliberately try to make myself do something that goes completely against the grain of my inherent inclinations. It’s a fine line, I suppose. I know, for example, my hewing to the left margin is mostly about not wanting to waste time when I’m generating text, as the words themselves are always going to take precedence over the layout. But when I can pull myself away from the margin, it can be generative in its own way, so that’s the left-hand margin is a habit worth challenging to see what comes of it.

In terms of the influence of my editorial activities on my poems, it various quite considerably, as I’m perfectly capable of editing something and not have it intersect with my own work. But if you’re dealing with giants like Ted and Diane, it’s inevitable that they’ll put some notions into your head about stuff to try. The short answer would be, being an editor, for me personally, is a subset of my being a poet, not the other way around, so it’s entirely natural for that work to affect the poetry.

Q: Were you aware of a shift in your work once you began working as an editor? Is there a line a discerning reader could catch in your work, demarking your output between your pre-editing to post-editing periods?

A: I would say no to both questions just because it’s essentially the same thing as when I engage with any poet I’ve read to the point where something of that poet enters into my work. Maybe editing makes a little more intense of an engagement because you need to think about the same bit of text often from more than one perspective, about how the text is situated on the page and in relation to other things on the page. You have to make decisions about things. And if you’re editing for trade press publication, you’re on a deadline and you have to get it done, so you might be forced to think about some text more than you would want to in ordinary reading, and that can lead somewhere. But ultimately it’s incidental whether I’m doing this as an editor or a reader. Poets I’ve never edited, like, say, Gerrit Lansing, have impacted my own work just as much. Mostly I’m lucky I’ve been able to work on projects like Revolutionary Letters and the Berrigan in close proximity.

I need to let new things into my poetry fairly steadily because if it doesn’t keep changing I get bored with it.

Q: With a handful of poetry titles and a collection of essays under your belt, how do you feel your writing has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: That’s a hard question because I don’t have terribly grandiose ideas about my poetry. My ambition is the self-contradictory one of wanting to fully realize whatever it is I do as a poet and wanting it to continually change. I would say the difference between The Garrett Caples Reader (1999) and Complications (2007) is fairly vast as it was still early on, then the going to Power Ballads (2016) also seemed like a leap. Lovers of Today (2021) is maybe less dramatic a transformation but it’s also the least amount of time between volumes for me. And realistically the changes grow more subtle as I go. Right now though I’ve got a few new things going on that I’m excited about because I hadn’t written much poetry since the last book. I spent most of 2021 writing fables, as I think of them—fiction, but I don’t like to just say that because it’s nothing like contemporary American fiction. But I’m finally back on the poem.

Q: What prompted you to move into fables? How do you see them utilizing, or even morphing, the genre? And what brought you back into poems?

A: The fables began gradually, insofar as I wrote one, something I called “Parable,” that appeared in Power Ballads as poem, and I do think of these as more allied with poetry than with contemporary fiction, which is why I’m resisting that label. I wrote a couple more before I finished Lovers of Today but I held them back this time, partly because I originally conceived Lovers as one of those sprawling, messy books that were fashionable in poetry prepandemic, but ultimately turned it into a tight volume just because I realized I don’t like being sprawling and messy in poetry (that’s for the rest of my life). So I held them back.

These newer ones coincided with reading some work by Kit Schluter, a poet and translator living in Mexico City right now. Kit’s been writing these things he calls “cartoons” for the same reason I’ve been using the word “fables,” because they’re allied with the poem. Kit’s a translator of Marcel Schwob, who was one of those prose writers who hung out exclusively with poets and whose work, generally classed as fiction, sits uneasily within that genre. Plus he’s been working on Latin American writers like Mario Levrero, and something about his Levrero translations opened up my mind a little bit in terms of how to make such a work. Between handing in my book to my publisher and its publication, extending to the end of 2021, I wrote very little poetry as such, but I wrote six more of these fables. They’re a lot more time consuming than an ordinary poem, so for me, that was a year of creativity spent on those six. And they pretty much stopped coming to me after the end of 2021, so I feel like I have a short book of them, when combined with the earlier three.

I suppose the main influences on this work have been Schwob, Villiers de l’Isle Adam, and other French symbolists, Latin American writers like Cesar Aira, Borges, and Bolano, and Oscar Wilde. A lot of different things. I don’t what their place is within the genre as such, but the fact that I’m almost incapable of not writing in the first-person surely affects the proceedings. The genre as a whole tends toward third-person writing.

What brought me back to the poem, as I suggested earlier, was working on Ted Berrigan’s prose. Due to all the supply chain issues affecting publishing, I had to do nothing but Ted for much of the first half of 2022 in order for it to be published in September. Reading that collected prose is an education. So around May, I started up on poems again with a renewed sense of their possibilities imparted by Ted. They’re nothing like his poems but they came out my encounter with him.

Q: Are you noticing a difference in the poems that are currently emerging, after having run through the gauntlet of both Berrigan’s prose and your work writing fables?

A: I don’t think the fables have had too much bearing on the poetry, only insofar as I have a separate, parallel practice going as a prose writer in general. What happened with the fables is that I finally achieved a sense of improvisation and non-drudgery in the writing of what I’ll broadly allow is fiction, even though I’ve been shirking that label for the aforementioned reasons. I’ve written fiction before and it’s always necessitated a certain amount of drudgery. If you have narrative ideas, you have to get from point A to point B, and anytime you have to follow a certain trajectory in writing, it becomes less creativity and more work. But somehow writing the fables was virtually all creative improvisation, like my poetry is. I can’t fully explain why or how this happened, but it’s another reason why I ally these pieces with poetry more than fiction.

As for the poems emerging now, they’re different but it’s maybe too early to tell what they are. I think Ted’s prose was more of a mental reorientation as opposed to a stylistic or formal influence. But no one would look at these poems and think “Ted Berrigan,” except that I ended up mentioning him in one of them. That poem is called “Moist Aches” and it’s online somewhere at Blazing Stadium if anyone is interested in look at it. That poem is all rhyme generated, so not very Ted at all, though the title came from an autocorrect on my phone when I was trying to type “moustaches.”

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

A: Philip Lamantia and André Breton are always the touchstones for me. Wittgenstein, except that I never read him anymore. (At a certain point you really do throw the ladder away.) But what I learned about language from reading him is something that’s never gone away and has enabled me to write the way I do. How’s that for an answer?!? What a jerk! But I swear to god it’s true.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Touch the Donkey : thirty-fifth issue,

The thirty-fifth issue is now available, with new poems by Chris Turnbull and Elee Kraljii Gardiner, Garrett Caples, Sheila Murphy, Stuart Ross and Brenda Coultas.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). It's the part I was born to play, baby!

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

TtD supplement #226 : seven questions for Katie Naughton

Katie Naughton is the author of the chapbook Study (above/ground press, 2021) and “a second singing” (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Bennington Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Jubilat, and elsewhere and she is at work on two collections of poems, “Debt Ritual” and “The Real Ethereal.” She is the publicity editor for Essay Press, an editor at the HOW(ever) and How2 Digital Archive Project (launching in 2022), and founder of Etcetera, a web journal of reading recommendations from poets (www.etceterapoetry.com). She is currently living in Vancouver, BC, as a recipient of a Fulbright Canada student research grant at Simon Fraser University and is a doctoral candidate in English and a member of the Poetics program at SUNY Buffalo.
Her poems “exchange,” “exchange,” in place of money,” “in place of money,” “double coincidence of wants” and “double coincidence of wants” appear in the thirty-fourth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “exchange,” “exchange,” in place of money,” “in place of money,” “double coincidence of wants” and “double coincidence of wants.”

A: These poems are currently placed towards the end of a manuscript in progress, “Debt Ritual,” that I am close to having finished, and some of the later poems composed for that manuscript. I was reading David Graeber’s Debt while working on these poems and trying to learn a way to use his detailed anthropological accounts of the origin and use of debt to write poems. I found that the way I was interested in doing this was not, for the most part, to use language or pieces of information directly from the book but rather to take notes on what interested me and let those expand the range of options I had for thinking about my material. The section I was reading while writing these poems talked about the difficulty of exchange without a system of debt, that it would require a “double coincidence of wants” between exchangers, or elaborate chains of exchange. Rather than describing this idea, I tried to see what using form might tell me about it. These catalogues and their insistence on replacement as part of the act of accretion came out of that. In writing about this today, it is occurring to me that in my job as a paralegal before starting my doctoral program, I was responsible for preparing elaborate lists of ownership of fractional portions of corporate debt, a baroque and effortful human form of accounting not yet replaced by a technological solution like a blockchain. There might be something of that in these poems.

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

A: Most recently, I have actually looped back to compose a long poem to complete (I hope) my first book-length manuscript, “The Real Ethereal.” That manuscript is much more directly preoccupied with questions of time, distance, family, and death, written mostly around the time two of my grandparents died within a week of each other. I had the opportunity to travel to Sweden in early June, a few weeks before I got married. As I was preparing to travel, my last living grandparent, my grandmother who was of Swedish ancestry and had been very active in researching her family history, became suddenly ill. I visited her in the hospital just before leaving and she died while I was flying to Sweden. The timing of all of this made it possible to return to the thinking of that earlier work, but with some distance and shifts that were productive. I owe the long, journal-like form of this poem to months of working intensively on Bernadette Mayer’s Memory, which offered a gentle invitation to open the form I was working in in “The Real Ethereal” up a bit more, to see what would happen when I strung a week or so of poems together day by day. I wrote every evening around sunset, which given that I was traveling in Scandinavia near the summer solstice, was an uncanny time of day.

Q: You mention Bernadette Mayer’s Memory; are there other writers or works in the back of your head as you write?

A: Lisa Robertson’s ideas about the complex non-identity of selfhood, which acknowledge the ways in which other forces, like reading, civic engagement, and the unconscious physical life of the body shape our individual experience, have been formative to my work as a poet and to the “Debt Ritual” manuscript in particular, with its preoccupation with the public-privateness of debt directly indebted to Robertson’s thinking about the civic and domestic in her collection of essays Nilling.

Q: With a published chapbook and a handful of works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I was very interested, when writing my first manuscript “The Real Ethereal,” in questions about syntax and its use in the poetic line, how breaking the sentence broke the sequence (to paraphrase Woolf) of a lyric poem about personal experience and opened up the possibilities of resonances that weren’t straightforwardly confessional, which invited swerves, misdirects, and multiplicities, at the direction of language, that I feel are truer to my lived experience than narrative is. This is still important to me, but in recent years I’ve been trying to expand my subject matter beyond my direct personal experience, or rather, to think about the ways in which what feels private and personal is interconnected with history, policy, the accidents of coincidence, other people, etc. I’m trying to wrap up this “Debt Ritual” manuscript, perhaps by highlighting a bit more directly the linguistic, to the ways in which language might also enact a ritual on its subject material in how it treats it. Maybe. Then I’m really not sure what is next, probably a new project, but I’m not sure yet. I’m interested in the title “Easy Listening” and thinking more directly about beauty in language but I don’t know if that’s a whole project or just something that sounds comforting when I’m exhausted. But after the past few years I’ve been thinking more about comfort and rest. I don’t know yet if there’s a way for me to write about that that doesn’t punt on what is political, too, about access to those states.

Q: I know of some writers who find it difficult to work on the next project until the first one is put to bed, which usually suggests published, or at least accepted for publication. How does the possibility of seeking a home for “The Real Ethereal” effect the way you move forward with your work, if at all?

A: At this point I’m thinking of “The Real Ethereal” as finished – about two years or so ago I put it into a form I was happy with and started submitting it for publication and haven’t changed it much since, though there was some slow tinkering over the course of the time. The new poem to end it from this summer was a surprise. There was some overlap between the composition of poems for “The Real Ethereal” and “Debt Ritual” and a section of poems that I think are kind of a shoulder between the two projects that are currently contained in “The Real Ethereal” that could maybe have gone in either manuscript. I’m not sure how it will go with my next project – I don’t yet have the sense of if something in “Debt Ritual” is going to open up into a new project or if it will be a totally different direction. I do think I have a sense of needing to finish “Debt Ritual,” as in finish getting it into a state I feel ready to start submitting it, before I will have space to think about what I will be writing next.

Q: How does a manuscript usually begin for you? Are you always thinking in terms of full-length, project-based manuscript, or is it a matter of feeling out individual poems until something begins to cohere?

A: The first two manuscripts I’ve worked on (my only examples to go by!) have had their direction begin to cohere out of individual poems, though a particular line of inquiry was a stronger organizing force in the “Debt Ritual” earlier on. I’m unsure what it will be like the third time around.

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

A: I’m not sure that I have a great answer to this question. In some ways, turning away from poetry is how I turn back to it – taking time to pay attention to the physical world around me. Visual art can be helpful for me, nothing in particular, just going to museums or talking with or observing artists’ methods. I’m jealous of their relationship to tangible material, but watching the iterative process of physical making many artist’s go through often reminds me of the possibilities available to me, though somewhat more abstractly, with my language-material. If I’m out of ideas, I can turn to a more materials-based play or exploration and see what comes from there.