Simon Pettet: Poetry, I believe, has a relationship to magic. Poetry meaning “what?”, magic meaning “what?” The more and more I get to know about poetry, the more I continue to revere it as evidence of, testament, if you will, to a numinous state. Thus, every time, when and if I make a poem, I am amazed. Just like I am amazed we get to hang out here. It’s a great pleasure; a great honor and responsibility. I wonder if it will ever happen again! (laughs) And I look retrospectively at its multiple instances, and they fascinate me, and even when I am about to...
¶ Anselm Berrigan: Do you edit?
¶ How long, off the top of your head, might you work on a three-line poem?
Well, of course, I don’t, pre-arranged, think of it as a “three-line poem”. My typical practice is to write without being too self-conscious of the fact that I’m writing, and then squirrel it away. Sometimes, though, I am aware of what I have written and I can actually edit and play with it, work with it and engage with it, finesse it, all the rest.
¶ Can you talk about or speak to what it is about a line or lines that calls on you to keep it/ them?
Why keep a line? Why keep a poem? Why keep anything?
¶ It’s hard to ask a question about process without getting a kind of layered answer.
..which is good..
¶ Yeah, it reflects the nature of writing poems. Because asking what seems like a simple question can be about as reasonable as saying, “So, what are the five (count ’em) ways that you wrote that one poem?”
Each poem is a unique experience. There’s a certain sense of work to be done. How one goes about that, I think, essentially has to do with communicating.
Like so many of my poems, it’s untitled! —
There is a cruel messianic, dim tribal intransigence
(Simon characteristically reads the poem again, varying on the second occasion, the poem’s cadence)
¶ What brought you to giving multiple readings of individual poems?
Self-discovery? Re-discovery of the poem? Boredom? (with performance) The desire to communicate? See, if you get the ghost, the gist of it (at the very least) the first time around....
The second time around can reframe that gist/ ghost. It is not the same poem the second time around. It occupies a new instance of time and space, for one thing, and a listener will hear it differently, however subtly, just because of that fact. But at the same time you usually flow right into the next reading, which makes the doubling, so to speak, of the poem a continuation of the initial act of reading rather than a “separate” reading. And that gives me the sense that an aural structure is being built as I’m listening.
Well, yes. — that’s an acute ear you’ve got! (that we’ve all got, if we bother to use them, to exercise them) — I do think of repetition (which of course can never be merely repetition) as a powerful tool. I love how Bob Dylan always reframes and torpedos his songs.
¶ Speaking of framing, do you consider the poem you’ve just read a political poem?
The single point I was making there, I guess, was “for love” — “It is always my love that I watch” .
¶ One of the things that I get interested in while reading a lot of your poems is how much you can do inhabiting this tiny space, or relatively tiny space. It’s one of the great mysteries of the short poem, speaking generally. You’re constantly feeling out the parameters or the boundaries of the space you’re working in, and I don’t want to simplify it to economy, because that’s the sort of generic term, but it seems to me it’s more about handling a space and figuring out how broadly you can transmit within this room you are given.
The short poem I think is a register of its relationship to the space around it. To this day, always, as a matter of fact, anybody who’s asking to print a poem of mine, if they ask — and even if they don’t ask! — I’ll request them to, if they could, please, center the poem on the page? And I guess what I am requiring is an understanding, or an imagination, of the rest of the page and its relation to this little bunch of words.
¶ It’s always this interesting moment to point out to somebody that you do (one does) have this page to work with. Why not make use of all of the page? Or at least think about making use of all the space.
Well, just to think of design is to think of space.
¶ Much of the poetry I initially encountered was open-field, running all over the page, shifting indentations....so I may be drawn to it. I’ve talked with a number of people who are very uncomfortable with any work that floats away from a standard, flush-left margin, and I wonder once in a while if design as a function of poetry isn’t broadly considered a pain in the ass to deal with!
Oh boy, I think the design of poetry is profound and almost one of those essentials, getting into the structure of poetry itself.