Ed Steck: Hello, Robert. Thanks, mate, for agreeing to be interviewed on my new book, Far Rainbow out now on Make Now Books.
Did you read my book? If so, did you like it or hate it? I was told recently that it’s important to voice one’s liking or hatred of an object. Please only indicate whether you liked it or hated it.
Robert Fitterman: Wait a minute… I’m confused… I was supposed to read the book! Hmm, gimme a few days…
OK, I’m back. I like it. Though I totally disagree with the like/dislike importance that you refer to. My reason for liking largely has to do with borrowing: Can I use any of this? How did they do that? Oh, that’s such a good idea! And, then there’s pleasure, which is sort of like liking but sexier.
ES: Recently, I completed a psychological measure that rated my pleasurable experiences while participating in high-risk behavior. The test asked participants to record on a 1-5 scale (1 being the lowest, 5 being the highest) the amount of pleasure they experienced when exhibiting high-risk behavior. One of the questions was about stealing. On a scale from 1-5, how pleasurable do you find stealing? If you could, what would you steal from Far Rainbow? What would you do with it? Please, provide an example.
RF: Borrowing gives the same pleasure as inspiration; it’s just been downgraded for 150 years because we have been fed some foolishness about genius. From Far Rainbow I would steal its construction. How you make a universe between those 2 covers, how you think about parts, combining, mirroring, and repeating them, how these parts flow from fantasy, future, relationships, tech games/languages, etc… I could borrow that for sure.
ES: Far Rainbow liberally steals from genre tropes, specifically the possibility of a mirrored version of an identity or character (from the tenth episode of the second season of ST: TOS — “Mirror, Mirror”) from an existing alternate timeline and/or universe — not in the sense that an individual contains multitudes, but in the actuality that individualism is a multitude. What does this mean to you? Anything? If I didn’t write poetry or create art, would you loiter with a person like me on unknown planes?
RF: I like my friends who loiter on unknown planes. But, would Ed be Ed? Rob would not be Rob. I’d be some other Rob. You would be some other Ed. This is old school parallel universe if we were to meet on some unknown plane and not be poets but potato farmers, or Popes, or punks. I’m not much of a “what-if” kinda guy—maybe you are, I don’t know you that well, but Far Rainbow is not as much speculative fantasy as it is futuristic catastrophe. I read the “far” in Far Rainbow as both remote (unattainable) and far-fetched (unbelievable).
I think a lot about “individualism is a multitude.” Individualism is a scam. It’s a consumer construct that makes us feel more (or sometimes less and then more) confident to buy stuff. It’s like: oh yeah, I’m that kind of person so I’ll buy that and all of the ads targeted at me know that, so everyone is happy and efficient. Individual as multitude suggests that we have to examine the construct of “individual” first—where does that come from, who benefits from that identification? I gravitate towards poems/art works that have a slippery or insecure relationship to identity as “individual” because that uncertainty points back to the nefarious boardroom of who’s making up these identities anyway.
So, yeah, an individual containing multitudes suggests a lot more control over our individualism than I think we really have. But individualism is multitudes suggests a recognition of our engineered individualism and, in your work, expands that through a mediated journey into space, Star Trek style—no pseudo-scientific astronomy is happening here; instead you do this unexpected maneuver: rather than repackaging the 90s sentiment of a splintered individuality or even a collective one (internet), you blow it up. It gets to be this absurd cosmic vision of outer space colliding with the individual in the everyday, where the spacecraft has an over-arching reach for individualism in each character, and yet the starship has a collective team force: “Don’t tell me — you’re from outer space.” “…No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in space.”
So, your individualism is a multitude goes for the furthest reach: space. One of the ways your idea contracts and expands, for me, is with the parenthetical phrase ”(to me)” – it operates like a stage direction, a redirected address to you personally, individually, touching down here on Earth.
ES: On your individualism is a multitude, I agree. Since I was another person(s) at one point in my life, does that mean I have shed that individual construct of identity, or was it re-shaped for me by an external force (whether that be the law, marketing-informed information bubbles, or debt)? All of those other individuals, are they self-informed parallel constructs or reconstructed buddings of ourselves in the interest of an outside presence?
Interrupted communication renders solutions unanswerable, in this case, I think. Please listen to “Droid Sector” by Nocturnus, “Occurrence on Mimas” by Timeghoul, and “Forgotten In Space” by Voivod. Please read the transmission from Far Rainbow on the pages twelve through sixteen, unmarked. Please comment.
RF: For everything, there is a first time. This is a totally mind-blowing and beautiful song! I love the synthesizers in the beginning. Enter the droids! Dayum, it’s so sweet! So much for the little training cruise. Only question is: will it function? Avatar for No_More_Color. DISABLE THE ROBOT FOR MY OWN USE. Everyone remember where we parked. From hell’s heart, I stab at thee… I spit my last breath at thee. Avatar for Bubleg, Bubleg. Fast as a missile!! This song is pure destruction!! Hours instead of days! I like this song… and where the song kicks in, the vocals are like: Stuff you! I CAN growl on helium! (to me)(this world is a geo-asshole).
ES: Interesting response, Robert. Your re-transmission of responses on “Droid Sector” by Nocturnus, “Occurrence on Mimas” by Timeghoul, and “Forgotten in Space” by Voivod mimics the interrupted transmitted language in the poem. “Disable the robot for my own use” is a line from Nocturnus’ “Droid Sector” from their masterpiece, The Key, which is considered a science fiction death metal concept album on traveling back in time to assassinate Jesus Christ in his infancy. However, the album is also a hodgepodge of science fiction, religious criticism, progressive metal, death metal, technical death metal, and synthesizers transmitted into one unique piece of art. It is a masterpiece. Now, thinking of transmissions in terms of poetry, I immediately think of Jack Spicer’s idea of the poet as a transmitter for alien presences, or Yeats’ automatic writing. Thinking of the work of Spicer, Yeats, and Nocturnus, transmissions are capable of constructing (also, re-constructing) possible iterations of an individual. Does the formation of individualism rely on transmissions from alien forces? Oddly: is Far Rainbow pro-system? Is Far Rainbow anti-human? In your opinion, is the author?
RF: Not anti-human at all, unless you mean “anti” as in alternative. Too much hope, desire to connect, and criticality for that. Anti-system seems weird, like prejudice against that form of expression. Transmission art, like Spicer’s poems, reach for something like a neo-mysticism, but then the human making/constructing steps in with both feet so that the transmission ends up as background or noise. For me, at that point, any insistence on the transmission seems a little corny.
ES: Now, let’s talk poetry. Poetry is escaping – in multitudes – similarly to the escapism of science fiction and fantasy. Feeling trapped in a phantom zone, I vowed to integrate poetry into everyday life in 2016. Meaning, I want to break momentarily from my usual mode of external operation and pinpoint a centralized identity of locale. I’m working on three new projects: Life Media, A Year in Film and Observation, and An Interface for a Fractal Landscape. All three of these projects attempt to integrate fantasy into reality instead of total escape. I’m trying to level the plateau. Do you believe poetry can plateau? Are poets plateauing?
RF: If what you mean by plateau is de-elevation then, yeah, artist and poets do this and/or make a conscious effort to do this (the second comes after lots of study so it’s less naïve, more measured). To my mind, it’s an effort to mesh the everyday with something intellectual, even spiritual, but mostly “political”. What I mean is that I prefer poetry (most art, I guess) that torques the everyday (further flattens the plateau, calls attention to it) so that we can see it as a social comment. You’re talking about a very conscious effort to plateau, right? It’s like a vision, a concept, an art idea. It has little to do with everyday life except that it’s your life and you’re working on these poems, as pleasure some days, and as shitty unpaid labor on others. But this same quotidian gesture can be expressed more abstracting through the construct of the text. That what happens in Far Rainbow in sections like this:
the code of weather 1, 2, 3, 4
the code of organism 1, 2, 3, 4
the code of placement 1, 2, 3, 4
In other parts of the book, you speak more directly (you humanoid you!) to others, other parts of text, and the reader.
ES: Yes, I’m talking about a designed and constructed method of plateauing. Is individualism, or identity, or whatever, in art a false form of identity? That’s a slightly faux-savant question, and lightly asking you to bite. But, regardless: identity is abstraction. But, at the core of abstraction is a foundation for the construction of all of an entity’s mirroring(s), displacements, and re-formed incarnations. In other words, the code is at the core of identity, and for the code to continue its progression, re-evaluation, at times, is necessary. The plateau forms at the point of re-evaluation. When, I mention to level the plateau, I really mean to level it by making notches, pits, or mounds to allow new construction, reading(s), and directions to form. I think, what I am saying here, is that, at some point, the plateau levels enough for the commentary to be attributed to its pseudo-geographical metaphoric rite. I think this is the same thing as stealing, or transmitting, or re-transmitting. One can take a plateau-ed piece of art, poem, or film, and reconstruct new levels of interpretation and creation from the creator’s otherwise dead-ended material. Whether this matters, I don’t know. But, it also functions almost like a reference guide in a way, and it’s a bit fun, right?
RF: Your question is so beautiful, I hate to intervene. But let’s start by unpacking your assertion: identity is abstraction. Earlier we talked about how identity is construct, and I’m putting forward that that construct is mediated by capital. But identity is abstraction is a different ball of wax… the poet-artist has a say in that. To simplify what you’re saying about the “plateau” I would boil that down to the subjectivity of strategy, or, for example, the construct of a book like Far Rainbow which relies so heavily on how it’s composed, organized, orchestrated. Those choices not only reference identity, but also they create identity in the world that you’ve created in this text. Especially in your writing, all of those choices are so Ed Steck-y, or Steck-like, Steckesque. It’s recognizable. I’ve heard other poets refer to a poem as Ed Steck-like, and I think they’re pointing to construct. It’s a more complex version of a style, because it speaks to construct on a larger book-length scale. This scale, then, usually does have markers (your books do, a lot) that operate like reference guides. Also, your books have a beautiful relationship to the earthly, the pseudo earthly, and the personal, so you’re (re) creating a world that we recognize only in parts, and we need the reference guide. For me, that’s the code. It’s personalized/identified in the abstract strategies of the poem’s construction—when reading Far Rainbow, I feel like that’s what is being fore-fronted.
ES: In conclusion to our conversation, what are your closing comments on Far Rainbow – in terms of genre, poetry, and identity? Please use techniques such as summary and paraphrase. Additionally, I’d like to paint you a picture, Robert. At 8:00 PM on a Tuesday in March, the Floridian evening sky descends into a dichotomous crimson-blue horizon, while a human sits and watches the 1985 slasher film The Mutilator on its living room couch. What should I do next? Is life too conservative?
Robert Fitterman is the author of 14 books of poetry including Nevermind (Wonder Books, 2016), and Rob’s Word Shop (Ugly Duckling Press, forthcoming, 2017), No Wait, Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself (Ugly Duckling Press, 2014), Holocaust Museum (Counterpath, 2013, and Veer [London] 2012), now we are friends (Truck Books, 2010), Rob the Plagiarist (Roof Books, 2009), war, the musical (Subpress, 2006), and Metropolis—a long poem in 4 separate volumes. He has collaborated with several visual artists, including: Serkan Ozkaya, Nayland Blake, Fia Backström, Tim Davis and Klaus Killisch. He is the founding member of the international artists and writers collective, Collective Task. He teaches writing and poetry at New York University and at the Bard College, Milton Avery School of Graduate Studies.
Ed Steck is the author of The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013), The Rose (Hassla Books, 2013, with Adam Marnie), sleep as information/the fountain is a water feature (COR&P, 2014), DoorGraphicDataRecovery (Or Worse Press, 2016), and Far Rainbow (Make Now Books, 2016). He is the editor of Theme Can (www.theme-can.com). He lives in Tampa, Florida.