Sunday, 3 June 2018 - 1:00pm
Lean Draft House
INTERVIEW WITH NICK STURM - FULL TRANSCRIPT
So, I saw you had yourself listed as “a poet, scholar, and an educator”...
I was wondering, like, is that the order which you identify yourself, or do you have other identifiers as far as what you do…?
Umm. I guess educator is last because it’s my job… And I really like my job, but it’s not like the first thing. I studied poetry so that I could teach poetry, so of course, like, poetry comes first. But I have an MFA in poetry and my PHD is also in creative writing, so I did a creative dissertation. But, I got my PHD from Florida State University in Tallahassee, and then we moved here to Atlanta. I don’t know what your experience with institutions and creative writing is?
So, I actually, I got an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, and I work as a transportation engineer, and then have been, as a hobby, doing literary criticism [laughing].
Okay, that’s what you meant by amateur (referring to an e-mail)?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
That’s a funny thing. Well, I mean, there’s no such thing, you know?
There’s no such thing as amateur and people get on to me about saying that, but I’m kinda hard-headed about using the word amateur because I hesitate to take ownership of… I don’t know, I feel like it’s almost like “poet” or “critic” are goals to aspire to.
Sure, sure, sure.
It seems rather lofty to call yourself an “artist”, or, you know.
Yeah, and, you know I covet it too much, though. You know what I mean? It’s not like sainthood, by any stretch of the imagination… Well, as an engineer, as an undergrad, were you interested in the arts, or have like, frustration with your peers who were logical and objective?
Yeah, Georgia Tech curriculum is real money-making.
I don’t think you can really isolate the human element from engineering, you know, it’s building things that directly impact people.
They don’t tell you what it is. It’s there, but they don’t tell you what it is.
Yeah, but I was lucky enough that I was in the honors program, so I was able to take some classes that were a little… more brain bending.
Well, I guess the reason I ask is because, in institutions as a poet, there’s all sorts of histories of teaching what it means to get an advanced degree in creative writing. It’s a really new field in institutions, and, a lot of my teachers… some of them were great, and some of them just aren’t. You know, just like they are in every discipline? And I was really frustrated during my PHD, which is like this time when you’re the highest you can be in education, so you expect to be having certain kinds of conversations. Like, not in an elitist sense, but you want to be having really difficult, complex [dialogues] about this really specific thing you’re all doing, and supposedly you’ve given up everything to do. And I was just kinda frustrated about the way certain teachers and my peers approached it--poets, creative writers. But I found a lot of support from the literature faculty--scholars--and I have a History B.A. So I have this background in archival work. I spend so much time in the library, microform machines, going to archives. And I have that kind of sensibility about wanting to do that critical work, I always loved that. And going into poetry for my MFA was this leap into some other space. But during my PHD I found those spaces merging more with my resistance to some of the creative writing attitudes, or ethos. And so now, that’s where the “scholar” comes from. And having found a space of my own, kind of, in scholarship, I feel like that “poet” and “scholar” are more and more the same thing anyway. The word I use is just “studying”, and “studying” is the work that you do, like not for the test, which is coming from this poet-theorist Fred Moten, who writes about studying in the university. And studying is this thing that exceeds the university. It’s like what you’re doing right, you’re studying. You know, making this thing “commonplace”, right. And that’s not for anything other than to have conversations.
Yeah, and, the New York School--they’re so self-referential. Like, Frank O’Hara. Any given poem of his, he’ll be talking about Kenneth Koch or Jane Freilicher. They were studying themselves to a large degree.
Yeah! Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I really like the New York School, is because they really show you what lineage is. There’s a lot of received reverence about tradition, lineage, heritage, and inheritance of particular writers. And the New York School was very irreverent about that. Very playful with that. But absolutely serious. Without coveting tradition. With someone like Ted Berrigan, for example, you read his poems and you’re reading him reading. And I really appreciate that transparency, which also is very opaque. And it’s very attractive, it’s very mysterious. And it’s also, it’s educational, right? In this personal, and aesthetic, and spiritual way. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It belies the workshop model, you know the attitude of the creative writing workshop? This poem is like this, your poem is like this, or whatever. I like it when you read a poem and it totally has the comparisons, but it exceeds them because it appropriates them so thoroughly. It says I am not just touching this, I came to myself through this. I like that.
The concept of ownership is really big for Berrigan, right?
Ummmm, yeah, but actually almost exactly the opposite. He doesn’t care to own anything. People get super caught up in the different dialogues of theft and appropriation, and he gets a hard rap for stealing lines--specifically from Frank O’Hara, and he’s derided for being derivative or imitative because of this. But like, you know how people call out Frank O’Hara’s poems as “I do this, I do that”? And people, early on in the 70s, accused Berrigan of just doing this, of just taking this style without the content. But I never thought Berrigan’s poems were like “I do this, I do that” but “I read this, I read that”. And that’s the change.
It reminded me a lot of the Situationists, you know like Guy Debord and all them, they would take an art piece and just hash it up, vandalize it, kind of also play into that Dadaist thing. Monty Python too.
Yeah, totally. Yeah I think of Berrigan… he comes to this method of Dada, playing with Dada, becoming aware of it. Like you’re saying, if the Situationists are like Monty Python, then Berrigan and his methods of appropriation are like, what’s his name that does Blazing Saddles? Mel Brooks. It’s like Mel Brooks instead of Monty Python. That’s like the American satirical switch of that European model. And it’s also really true because Mel Brooks is so offensive and so inappropriate, and Berrigan tows that line a lot. But he’s also, like Mel Brooks, into really satirizing masculinity. You know? Men don’t really get away with the gender roles they’re supposed to play as heroes. It’s the same thing in Ted’s poems with male characters. I like that as well.
Speaking of collage, that being so big for Berrigan, it’s also very inherent to DIY--zine-making is often entirely collage. I guess when I first got interested in mimeographs, I was reading about Kathy Acker. She would publish her work by herself. That punk aesthetic. But I wonder, as an educator, trying to teach about the mimeograph, is it just a novelty at this point?
It’s super interesting actually, because I have been studying things which were originally published as mimeograph magazines or in mimeograph form. I didn’t ask a lot questions about what mimeograph machines were for a long time, until maybe a year and a half ago. And I had already been collecting the mimeographs, you know, as they came along. But I knew what they looked like because I had seen pictures and stuff before, and I knew what it seemed like, you know, what it was. And then, I got the idea, though, to… can I find one? So after the first semester [teaching at Georgia Tech], I realized that, and you’re probably familiar with this, students really really get off on making things, actually making things. And so I realized that I should start to organize more of my work for my students around that kind of tactile work with the intellectual work. And so, I bought a mimeograph machine. I still can’t quite figure out how to use it. Before I bought it, I started e-mailing all these people. Like, there’s this guy who runs a magazine called Mimeo Mimeo that is all about the kind of ephemera of the New York School. It’s in the style of the mimeograph magazine but it’s not made by a mimeograph machine. And also this other guy named Kyle Schlesinger who does all this obsolete printing method stuff. And I was like, “Can you guys tell me about where I can get one? Do you know how to use them?”, assuming that these guys would definitely have the answer. They both were like, “No, we’ve never used one. To our knowledge, it’s totally esoteric. We’ve never even seen one functional. But we’ve heard that they have some in Europe and there’s some people in England who are into it.” So I was like, “What? No one knows!” So I ended up buying one from this guy on eBay who lives in like a trailer park in New Jersey, and he used to repair them when he was in high school He used to repair office equipment. And so, he just remembers how to do it. So in his spare time, right now, he’s just restoring them as he comes across them. So he restored this, it’s like a mini-mimeograph for like cards and postcards and stuff. It’s still in the original box, like, it had been used one time. It’s super complicated, though, I mean they’re really esoteric. They’re really complex. They’re super messy. The one that he sent me, he sent me all the materials with it including the original ink, and the ink is clearly so toxic. It just smells like motor oil. The consistency is so thick and it’s so dark and fucked up. It’s just a mess. I don’t know, they’re just really cool though, I mean the mimeograph is just really awesome. But it’s really, it’s an artisan method. You know, like, I remember getting into zines in like early high school because I grew up with skateboarding too, and those cultures were side-by-side. And… it’s not like zine culture, mimeograph culture. Like zine culture totally comes out of the mimeograph. Like Ted, Ted’s "C" magazine from the early 60s New York was totally the forerunner of zines. "C" Comics that Joe Brainard ran, same thing. But it’s a really different kind of process. But the same emphasis on spontaneity and quickness, and community, is true.
But also, I guess, self-ownership and personalization.
Yes. Getting rid of the gate-keeping. Same idea that way. But yeah, the mimeo is really really cool. Ideally, you know, I applied for funding two years in a row to get a full-sized mimeograph machine via Georgia Tech and buy supplies, and you know, pay for it. They haven’t given it to me. The first time when they rejected it, I think they thought a mimeograph machine was like the size of this picnic table. They just had no idea what I meant. And so this year, I made a point of saying it’s no bigger than a personal computer. And they still didn’t… they were like, “What is… this is useless.” I think they just think it wasn’t worth it, or it’s too esoteric or something. But that’s what I like about them.
Ted actually, Ted and Kathy were friends.
Kathy was friends with everyone!
There’s a picture of them together. Kathy, you know, she’s a small person. And Ted is an especially big person.
He’s funny lookin’.
Yeah he is, yeah. It’s pretty late in his life, you know, it’s like 1980 or ‘81. Kathy Acker is in all black of course. Ted’s like kinda hugging her, and she’s just so tiny, and like, up in his chest. It’s so amazing.
Do you wanna see some of the mimeographs?
Yes! I would love to.
Alright, I brought a lot.
I’m so stoked. I was trying to think, should I bring something? The closest thing I thought might be interesting was this book about Pollock that Frank O’Hara did.
Yeah, I know that one. It’s a great one.
[MIMEOGRAPH SHOW & TELL]
I’m not familiar with Fairfield Porter.
Yeah, he’s really close with James Schuyler. I mean, he’s close with all of those poets, but especially with Schuyler and Ashbery. You should definitely check him out, I mean, he’s friends with Freilicher, the New York School.
Oh, The Sonnets! When I first decided to do this interview I ordered a copy, but it’s taking forever, like it’s supposed to come in on Monday. But I’m afraid my boyfriend might snatch it up before I get a chance to [laughing].
Yeah, that’s the Grove edition from, I think ‘67… ‘69?
What was the moment that sparked you on Berrigan?
So, in my MFA we read a few… we were reading the New York School poets. My teacher, Michael Dumanis, he teaches at Bennington now, and he was sympathetic, interested in the New York School’s pension for this kind of maximalist… like a lot of repetition, like the Whitney (?), like that they were playful with form. And he was trying to do that as a way in to try to get us into writing poems that didn’t just do these stupid fucking things that young poets tend to do. And I got really into that. I thought those poems really fun! And so I read this book of poems called The Last Avant-Garde by David Lehman, he was a student of Koch’s at Columbia in the ‘60s. He edits a series called Best American Poetry. I like, at first, this book is like a, it’s like a way into the New York School. But Lehman’s kind of an asshole.
Yeah. A lot of them are.
Actually, I’m writing an essay right now about the history of Berrigan’s critical reception. And David Lehman really becomes the unofficial spokesman for the New York School. [REDACTED]
A lot of things people write at 22 are embarrassing.
Really embarrassing. I mean, it’s super sexist too, it’s really terrible. But the Lehman book is exciting, that’s what it’s supposed to be, it’s supposed to be this kind of gateway into the New York School. And Berrigan, especially, was interesting, because of the combinations of lines. Like when you’re looking at the sonnets you see, it’s a method that feels approachable and usable. That was just awesome. And, I was in Detroit one weekend giving a reading my last year of my MFA, and there’s this amazing bookstore in Detroit… I forget what it’s called, it’s like King James or something like that. It’s an old glove factory… it’s like a six story building in Detroit. And every floor has books on it, floor-to-ceiling, a total mess. I was in the poetry section, just like, browsing every title, I have this really methodical approach to bookshelves, and this [The Sonnets] doesn’t have a spine, and I pulled it off the shelf and was immediately was like, “Holy shit.” And it was like eight bucks… six bucks. And so I bought and I just always kinda coveted it.
The Sonnets is a unique book, if only for the fact that he first published it with his own press, C in 1964 with his mimeograph. And then Don and Allen (?) picked it up for Grove, and it went through two or three printings. Like 6000 copies in the late 60s. And then it’s out-of-print until the early 80s. And the United Artists republishes it, and then this is out of print until Penguin republishes it. And so it’s one of the only books of the 20th century that’s been through four editions, each by a different press. It’s like a really unique publishing history.
[CHIT CHAT ABOUT ANTIQUARIAN BOOK BUYING]
But I really got into Berrigan through this book, Clear the Range.
Mmm, this is what’s being republished, right?
Hopefully. Yeah, New Directions has had it for a while. Feeling is that they’re probably not going to do it because it’s been quiet for so long. But Alice is pretty adamant about finding a publisher for it. But it’s this novel published in ‘77 and it’s a cut-up, erasure. And, what he did was, him and Alice Notley, his second wife, really really loved pulp fiction. So he took this Western novel by Max Brand who’s like one of the most prolific pulp Western novelists called Twenty Notches, which is in itself totally insane to read. I mean, Twenty Notches is about a magic gun that can’t miss, and the “notches” are the number of men that it’s killed with one shot. And this magic gun comes into the ownership of a travelling hobo. So it’s the hobo, now with magic gun, against Cole Younger, the guy who owned the gun before. And so Ted takes this novel and erases it, and they have the original at Emory in the archives. It has all these, it’s scribbled out, you know, with things written in. And what he does, he erases huge sections of chapters and then rearranges the order of the chapters so there’s no continuity. So there’s the outline of a classical Western and its tropes, like hero and villain meet, have a stand-off, and kill each other… but then in the next chapter, they’re alive again, and they’ve never met each other. Sometimes, they’re friends. Sometimes, they’re talking donkeys. It’s crazy. And just like in a comic book universe, he adds characters from different Westerns into this Western. It’s fucking sick. And Clear the Range, obviously it’s a kind of Western, “the range”, you know… but it’s also just a joke about doing the dishes. Where “the range” is the stove. And so all throughout the book, there are different moments where people insist on doing the dishes. At one point Cole Younger and The Sleeper, who is the hobo character, they’re just kind of Camus-like, they meet and they just insist back-and-forth for like an entire page about who should do the dishes.
I really do hope this gets to publication.
Yeah, it’d be amazing. It’s like The Sonnets as a Western novel. There’s actually at least two lines from The Sonnets that repeat in the book.
Oh, I remember you wrote about [Berrigan’s] criticism. A particular quote you wrote that stuck out to me was on his Fuck You article about Norman Mailer’s American Dream, where he just plagiarizes Kerouac. I read it, and I was like, thank god they have all the archives of [Fuck You] online… but Fuck You turned into The Village Voice, right?
It’s not a straight line. But I think there was a sensibility picked up from Fuck You. There was a magazine that preceded The Village Voice called The East Village Other, which was kind of an underground magazine of the 60s, you know? And that kind of faded into The Village Voice in a way. The Village Voice is sick, though. Ted actually, there’s an archive of The East Village Other which Ted came up with the name for, it’s at NYU I think. They just acquired it a couple years ago and I’m so eager to see it. Because he had, it’s some of his earliest published non-poetry writings that are in The East Village Other. He had a column called “GET THE MONEY!” which was one of his favorite phrases from this early pulp American writer named David Rumyan(?)
It’s like a catch-phrase.
Yeah, GET THE MONEY! He just says “GET THE MONEY!” And Ted’s all about “GET THE MONEY!”. He uses it in his poems, it shows up all throughout his collection, all caps. Getting a catch phrase kinda helps you out, you know?
Do you know what Norman Mailer thought of that review?
I’m sure he never saw it. A magazine like Fuck You didn’t reach out very far.
Oh, but, he’s so self-involved.
It’s possible. But things like that which gained controversy were like one time Ed Sanders, who edited Fuck You was… Him and Ted were like good friends, they published C and Fuck You on the same mimeograph and that’s how they met… And Ed Sanders liked to publish wayward works, and he found this, was given this poem by W.H. Audin. Audin was famously one of the most publicly gay male American poets, but it wasn’t like quite kosher yet to have openly gay poems. And he has this poem that’s extremely, extremely queer. It like had a bunch of blowjobs in it. And, Sanders got ahold of it and published it, and Audin didn’t want it published. That was like a huge controversy. But later in Audin’s career, someone asked Sanders about it, you know, “What about that Audin thing? You like published that gay poem and Audin was super pissed at you?” He was like, “Oh I just heard recently that Audin has accepted it as part of his Complete Works.” Because it was like rejected, you know, by Audin and this Audin afficionado says this is not Audin, but that was one of the ways he entered into the mainstream.
And then there was another time when Berrigan published an interview that was supposedly with John Cage for a magazine called Mother. It won and award judged by George Plimpton, who was editor of The Paris Review. It was like a $1500 prize for “Best Interview in a Literary Magazine”. So they called the editor of the magazine, who was also a poet, Peter Schjeldahl (sp?), who is actually now a famous art critic for The New Yorker. So Peter Schjeldahl’s like, “Great!”. And then he tells Ted, and it’s this huge joke. Because the interview, Ted never interviewed John Cage. It was all appropriated. And Ted thought it was obvious! Because it’s like, he appropriated all of John Cage’s answers from people like Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol. And so they won all this money, and Ted had to break the news to George Plimpton, which is a really funny interaction in literary history. And then, so John Cage finds out about it, and he’s like, “What the fuck? Is someone trying to like, is someone fucking with me?” Because they’re using Cageian methods, right? And because it wins an award, there’s all this scrutiny about it. And so, Ted didn’t know John Cage, but John Ashbery knew John Cage. So John Cage was like, to John Ashbery, “Just tell me, is he for me or is he against me?” And Ashbery said, “He’s for you.” And Cage was like, “Okay.” So he wasn’t pissed about it. But that kind of shit, you know, is amazing.
These interactions, just like with the Mailer thing. There’s this underground and the mainstream, and they touch way more than the narratives of literary history allow you to imagine. And they influence each other a lot more too. It’s interesting who we relegate to what status, and for what reasons. It’s a cool thing, those moments. They’re ephemeral, but, they’re anecdotal in these really great ways.
I’m curious--you have a very personal relationship to Ted Berrigan. How has that impacted you as a writer? Aside from the scholarly infatuation, you obviously have come to know the man, essentially.
Yeah, it’s weird. I get a hard time for it sometimes. Like, my wife Carrie is also a poet, and we were in Athens last year. The Athens Review was doing this reading and Stacy Szymaszek, who’s this amazing poet--she was the director of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, which was like, you know, it was founded in 1966 and it’s been there for a long time, part of the scene. And Stacy, I was talking to her about--it was the first time I met her, so I was talking to her about my work on Ted. I communicated with The Poetry Project pretty regularly about stuff. And, this other poet named Maggie Zurawski, who lives in Athens, she gave me a hard time, she’s like, I forget what she said, she called me a “fanboy”. Because it kind of, she kind of put some pressure on me about it. She was like, “it’s a little bit of a”, what was the word that she used? Not infatuation, you said that. It might have been “covetous” or something. And I was like, “It’s not like that…”, like it’s devotional, and it’s personal.
I like the word “devotional”.
Yeah, “devotional” is so much better. And it’s unprofessional. And I talked about this more, my attraction to the unprofessional in criticism. Because coming to criticism as a poet, it’s very very clear, not in an anti-intellectual way. Because I was so much more interested in my theory classes than in my creative writing workshop. So there’s never been an imbalance in terms of intellectualism. It was always just like, this work needs to be done by people who care in a particular way. And so much criticism is done by people, and the way they do it is just these received methods, in these received ways. And… I’m really interested in the poet-critic kinda person, whatever that is. So to say, to answer your question, what is it my personal relationship to Berrigan? Umm… it’s just, it’s devotion and it’s just attention. Like, I like the work first as a poet, and then I like it second as a critic, because I saw the work that needed to be done critically. And then, very quickly those two things just closed--the space between them enclosed. So now, all the work that I do, writing and thinking about Berrigan and Notley is, has a lot of reciprocity with what I think about with my poems. And a certain kind of thing happened that was like, the most unprofessional. Which is, there’s like a lot of, lot of recordings… there’s two really cute dogs behind us, by the way.
Oh my god, you’re kidding me!
There’s like a website, you know a website called PennSound? It’s hosted by the University of Pennsylvania. It’s an archive of digitized recordings of poetry readings, thousands and thousands of hours. You should totally check it out. There’s just a lot of recordings of Alice and Ted and all their friends from New York and wherever, Buffalo, University of Colorado in Boulder. And… I spend a lot of time listening to those recordings of them reading and their class lectures as well, like in Boulder, tons of lectures of Ted and Alice. You know, it’s like, as I was listening to their voices and them talking, and them making jokes, you know, personal communication? I started to dream about them. And dream their voices. I had first having… umm… dreams about Alice. I had this incredible dream where she showed up, and it’s in this poem I ended up writing, but she was talking about her family. Talking about family, not her family, it’s a dream, so it’s not Alice but it’s Alice. And she said something about having to… what it means, what you have to sacrifice for your family to believe you, and for you to be who you need to be in terms of your family. And she had this black backpack on, which in my dream was full of magic. And… she’s in a doorway, and she said that, and it was almost this challenge, and then left. Cramming things in her backpack, though. And I had dreams where Ted was just, I would just hear Ted, you know? Another time I had a dream where I was just explaining Ted’s poetry to Carson Daly. Which was one of the best dreams I’ve ever had in my life. It was like this merger of these two worlds.
That’s so funny! It’s very interesting, the idea of viewing a lot of poetry in a scholarly way because poetry is such a personal medium. Especially the New York School poets being so tied to space and time, specific people.
Well, and it’s also like, with Ted too, one of the reasons that I knew Ted was… Ted had created a space for me to work in because… no one else had done the work! So I was like, well, this person deserves something to be done with their work in this critical space. I mean, all the editorial work that’s been done on him is by Alice and her sons. So, it’s been a family affair, it always has been. And, that’s been awesome because his collected poems came out through the University of California Press in 2005, so his work is accessible. But the critical work has been really, kind of derogatory towards him. It really hasn’t appreciated the complexity of his work. It’s always made him secondary to people like O’Hara and Ashbery. And… criticism is belated about 40 years, it tends to be the case. And everyone, and all the work has been done on the First Generation. That’s an overstatement, it’s hyperbolic. But, so much work has been done on those poets. Barely any work has been done on the Second Generation. And what has been has been very overview, cursory. And so the work needs to be done specifically on specific figures. And when I came to studying Ted, what that meant was, I was studying someone who had been dead for… uh… forty years almost? But whose friends, whose life was still very vibrantly present. And so when I started studying Ted, what that meant was a lot of speaking to those… to his friends. And as soon as I started to do that as well, and that was my history sensibility coming out--where are the primary sources? You know, like let me… I need them! And so talking to people like… all of his friends, and I mean, all of them--people, these really… people on the outskirts of the scene, and getting in contact with them. And… realizing that this person’s life was still very very, very precious to people who are still alive. And you find yourself in the situation of like, really moving very closely to someone’s life. And that has to be personal. The conversations you have with the people who love this person who are still alive have to be very very personal. And you cannot, you can’t have the objectivity… it’s a balance, you know?
It took me a long time to work up the nerve to start talking to Alice. But when I did, I was prepared to show that I cared deeply, and that I wasn’t here to get anything out of this affiliation--I was here because this work meant a lot to me, and I was serious about what I wanted to put into it, for the long term. And that devotion has “paid off”. So, it can’t ever be anything other than this complex studying, personal studying. And still, I’m always still meeting and corresponding with people who are friends, in Ted’s circle, that I haven’t talked to before. You know, you’re always learning something new about him and his work. And that’s really… it’s really, really rewarding to have that closeness to your source. And it’s, sometimes it’s uncanny. Like, the dreams were uncanny, right? And totally normal. And… I learned, I mean, studying Alice is how I learned to trust those dreams too. She talks so much about dreams. So many of her poems after Ted died are about Ted talking to her in dreams. I don’t… that’s not what I’m doing, right? But, knowing those works made me trust the conversations I was having. And… the… oh, what was I gonna say?
Oh! Anne Waldman was here, at Emory last year, to do an exhibit. She was reading at the opening of a Beat Generation exhibit, and Anne Waldman is really close friends with Alice and Ted. She was the first female director of The Poetry Project. Her and Ted actually have this amazing collaborative poem called “Memorial Day”--there’s a recording of it online, you should totally watch this video, it’s… beautiful. And… it was the first time I got to talk to Anne in person--we sat down and talked for like three hours. It’s a really… it’s a gift, to be able to speak to someone as incredible as Anne Waldman very personally about Ted, and have that, and the conversation be not scholarly. Like, we’re both, in the middle of the conversation we found ourselves both crying because we had these… I don’t know, something’s going on there--I know him but I don’t know him at all. She kind of asked me the same question you did, like, “Why? Why do you have this?” and I was like, “You know, I don’t… I’m not sure.” But like, the first time I actually met Anne was in San Francisco at a conference, and I was giving a talk on Ted’s Clear the Range and his other novel, it was called Looking for Chris. There was this filmmaker who was friends with Ted in the 60s, and he was like, he kind of like, he looked at me after Anne was like, “Yeah, he’s doing his work on Ted.” He looked at me, and he was like, “You have Ted’s look.” He’s like, “It’s in the eyes.” And I was like, “What do you do with that?” You know? But… it’s personal.
I have found that as well, as I’ve started to get into literary criticism and reviewing, is that I, especially with authors that are living and not just in retrospective… that they’re very tangible. That you get in their head and you develop a sort of relationship to them, and then you can interact with them on twitter, which is really surreal. And as a critic, you know, I want to give people the time that they have put into it, that kind of energy, to show my appreciation for it. But it is, it’s very strange, because you want to be a little bit objective and view things structurally, but then it also is a very personal thing, so human. And it’s very… I feel like a therapist a lot of the time when I’m writing about something, because I’m trying to figure out people’s inner workings. Especially now, so many things are traumatically focused.
Yeah. I’m not sure what good criticism is. But, it just has to be personal about being about you. You know what I mean?
Yeah. You wrote, “What was valuable to Berrigan about the practice of art criticism was not, like The New Yorker’s Harold Rosenberg, whom Berrigan calls “a dunce” in another article, the ability to make insightful, judicious descriptions of an artist’s process and style, or to claim critical authority over an aesthetic, but simply to have fun writing about art as an artist and to be entertaining while doing it.” I like that concept of fun, in relation to both art and art criticism, that playfulness in interaction.
Yeah! Alice Notley says in the introduction to Berrigan’s collected poems that people don’t often think of Ted as a umm… he gets described as, as “fun” and entertaining. But… people don’t often think, what she said was, people don’t often think of Ted as a very serious poet. But he was just extremely, he worked very hard at not being boring. And I think that’s exactly the point too, you just have to try to not be boring.
That is a very serious matter.
It is extremely, yeah, extremely. They knew that the whole time, and they knew that the entire thing was constructed. Just like the First Generation New York School poets did, but they just played a different game inside the structure. They never wanted to be… they wanted to be, Ted and Alice wanted to be poets and they became completely… poets. But they did everything else the way they wanted to because they could. Ted didn’t need anyone to show him art criticism. Alice didn’t need anyone to tell her how to be an editor. They just did that through their own attentions. Which is, I don’t know. It’s just fun.
Yeah, I was at this, oh my god it was so terrible, there was this audio-visual performance at the Atlanta Contemporary. And it basically turned into me getting conned into watching him drop his super Adventure Time-y album for like 40 minutes. Awful… But he was like, stone-faced the whole time. And I was just like, I don’t care if it’s good. What bothers me about it is that he was not having fun with it. It seemed to me that this would be his release from artistic responsibility or responsibility in general, but he was just so grumpy!
Grumpiness is terrible! Yeah, “grumpy” is such a good word. Do you know this group of poets from the 70s called Language poets? Some of the more well known… like, Lyn Hejinian and Barrett Watten, different folks. They’re from the 70s. It’s a West Coast affiliation, so it’s in the Bay Area. But they, they have a reputation as being grumpy. You know, not having enough fun? But they were in reaction to a kind of fun-ness… It’s all really interesting. One way to map literary history could be to say, like, “grumpy” and “not grumpy”. And then you could like, graph it, and it would be really funny. I dunno, like, like Alice--you said about following living writers on twitter is really amazing--Alice Notley is on twitter. And for awhile, she had the account but there was just the egg as the picture. I know they stopped like a year ago, you couldn’t have an egg. And so she finally… I realized before that, that of course it definitely was Alice because of what she was doing, who she was retweeting and stuff. But there’s like this incredible fucking Alice Notley tweet about awards… there’s no way I’m going to be able to find it. It’s something like, “I awarded myself the Nobel Prize for literature, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Presidential Award for Freedom because I deserve them and now I have them.” You know, just this totally, like, irreverent… and that’s how Alice Notley chooses to use twitter. I just love that. And it’s so representative of her entire career! Like, what it was about, you know, early on.
I think it’s so funny you have, like, there’s this coexistence in being serious about fun and you’re clearly reverential towards Ted Berrigan, towards someone who’s irreverent... like Viktor Schklovsky, he wrote this book Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar, and his thing is all about the coexistence of polarity, and how it forms a harmony. How you have to kinda counterbalance things when it comes to art, whether it be reverence and irreverence, serious and fun.
Oh, absolutely. Because I mean, obviously one of the stupidest concepts of Western thinking is the duality. I… early on, talking to Ted’s friends, they were very clear--and they would say it, repeatedly--Ted was always serious. Always serious. Whatever you think was the most playful--that was the most serious. And so, I have a great deal of respect for that, you know, for them, 40 years later, that they’re… that they need to highlight it, over and over again. Because they know that that is what gets continually misunderstood with an artist like Ted. Is that that was all extremely serious. And, if you can’t see that… it’s not that you have to be in on the joke, necessarily, but you have to know that there’s a joke. Who the subject is, you know? So, it’s a great pleasure as a critic to know that I’m in on the joke. You know what I mean?