This interview by H.L. Hix continues a series that began as multi-question interviews but now has taken the form of one-question “mini interviews.” To ask a series of questions about a book is to keep returning to the book and thus to emphasize its opacity, to regard it as one would regard, say, a painting. To ask a single question, Hix tells himself, is to emphasize the book’s transparency, to regard it as one would a window, as what offers a vista, what frames for us a world. The subject of this interview is Matthew Cooperman’s Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move (Counterpath, 2011).
H. L. Hix: Your book Still includes many lists; in a certain way, it is itself a list. Many lists in themselves have an oddity to them that makes me shift my perspective slightly (I’m thinking, to choose an example almost at random, of “Pain Reliever” on page 51, which starts as I’d expect, with Tylenol and Advil, but then begins to include items I wouldn’t normally classify as pain relievers, such as PlayStation and Oakley). In other cases, it is the juxtaposition of two or more lists that jolts me (here I’m thinking, for example, of “American Facts” on page 66 and “World Facts” on page 67, with their lists of facts about eating disorders in the U.S. and malnutrition globally). This is the “information age,” in which we have access to more facts and more lists than a person could possible digest; what, from your point of view, is the importance of the kind of gathering and arrangement you have undertaken—and offered your reader—in Still?
Matthew Cooperman: The work of Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move is archival. Something of the present moment—or more accurately of the last decade, as it is a book of a decade—seemed to require an accounting. A list, to be sure, but also an index, a frame, a capture. The gathering you speak of is a belief in occasional poetics. It’s really been a duration piece, a document project. The first poems were written in the late 90s, as far as I can tell 1998. The latest are from 2010, so the book’s had a long slow arc, if you’ll pardon the pun. I found the poems an effective place to dump all the “unpoetic” thoughts I had of the world. I mean, so much shit happened from, say, the late 90s, late Clinton, to now, mid (or late?) Obama. And so much of that information seemed more forceful than lyric utterance. I’ve always been attracted to the political poem, but I wanted some place where the information itself, the data, could reside. And equally, some place where the heroes and criminals of that period could actually speak.
That necessitated some kind of new form. The obvious analogy is to photography, and for a long time I thought of the book as photography, and I wanted to work with a photographer. The syntax of all that “capture” became an impulse to scan, to incorporate. A paradox of moving stills. This also came out of my reading of Husserl, from whom I have mongrelized the title. His insight into earth, into ground—that it is the foundational principle of all our senses of space, is really quite simple. The ark of the earth does not move. It is, as object, as body, prior to any conception of space. And the earth is our larger body. We are aspected earths. This I think quite profound paradox somehow operates against the scientific description of earth, which is that it is spinning madly around one gravitational object (the sun), which in turn is spinning madly around yet another gravitational subject (the galaxy), and so on. The paradox is enough to make you crazy. But it’s also how I feel, these days, the intense ecological disaster, which is also ontological. There’s a wobble going on.
All that’s put pressure on the colon. Still manages this paradox by the colon. Or the index, and the equational balance that the colon offers. It’s a list, but it’s apposition, metonymy. Epic catalogue becomes daily catalogs, inboxes and mailboxes . . . stuff. It’s hard to breathe, but there’s something democratic in that, too. The book’s like an enormous garbage heap, with all the voices piled together. The way things “go viral” in our time means the sources of statements—or the veracity of “facts”—are always moving at lightspeed. Benjamin’s entourage has its own reality show, or, to quote from Balzac, who himself is quoted early in The Arcades Project, “The great poem of display chants its stanzas of color from the Church of the Madeleine to the Porte Saint-Denis.” I love the spatiality of all this, literally hi/low, no boundaries.
It went on and on, a kind of subterranean project of subjects that seemed necessary to write about. Anything I had to say about them was really just the tip of the iceberg. I loved that aspect of writing the poems, even as it became an enormous physical burden, trying to sift the ways of dealing with the ostensible subjects. Which subjects? What are the categories of experience? Of purchase? Of actions? These days the menu is limitless.
Matthew Cooperman is the author of Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move (Counterpath Press, 2011), DaZE (Salt Publishing Ltd, 2006) and A Sacrificial Zinc (Pleiades/LSU, 2001), winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize, as well as three chapbooks. A new image + text book (w/artist Marius Lehene), Imago for the Fallen World, is forthcoming from Jaded Ibis Productions. A founding editor of Quarter After Eight, and current poetry editor of Colorado Review, he teaches at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where he lives with the poet Aby Kaupang and his two children. More information can be found at www.matthewcooperman.com.