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 Lisa Fishman’s Flower Cart (Ahsahta Press).
H. L. Hix: I keep returning to this sentence on the next-to-last page of the book: “This could continue only by being a letter because what is most real is the person in the alcove or the object on the table or the shimmering idea.” I think I’m drawn to it because it gives me a way to talk about why your book so resonates with me: I take it as—whatever else it’s also doing—undertaking an intense inquiry into what is most real, on the tacit premise that typically we don’t recognize the most real as the most real. I’m not coming up with a good way to end this “question” with a question mark, but I will be interested in any way you have of responding to it.
Lisa Fishman: I like your question-comment a lot. It appeals to me, the possibility that flowercart could be an inquiry into what is most real. Intuitively, I would like that to be the case, among whatever else the book is or is doing or undertaking.
It seems likely to me that it is the case, looking at the first lines in the book (following a letter from 1916 about corn): the first words of mine in the book are, “As it would seem.” When you put that together with the last poem, as you’ve quoted above (“What is most real”), your question makes even more sense. The corn letter itself, which opens the book, documents an inquiry into “What is something” (what type of corn is this?), and documents the answer that the corn in question was not any one thing; rather, it was “a distinct mixture of at least three different types of corn.” The means by which this inquiry was made and resolved hinged on the physical sample sent with the letter, the residue of which remains visible on the paper 95 years later, and which you can also see somewhat even in the reproduced letter in the book: the little holes on the left side, next to which is the handwritten note in ink, “This is the sample of corn sent to me,” with a signature underneath—all of which is at the top of the letter proper.
I was fascinated by that piece of correspondence, partly because (I now think, in light of your question) it is an investigation into what’s real. The corn was real, but what was it? Not one thing, a mixture.
I see that phenomenon of multiplicity being “discovered” in the last poem (the one you ask about), too. The poem appears to ask whether person, object or idea is “most real.” But the lack of a question mark helps the “or” in the series signify alternativity that isn’t exclusive—i.e., the “or” to me reads as a bit closer to “and” because of the sentence structure and tone:
This could continue only by being a letter because what is most real is the person in the alcove or the object on the table or the shimmering idea.
As if each thing—person, object, idea—could be that which is “most real”: The answer is this or this or this.—Depending, perhaps, on “the emphasis”? On how it’s said/thought/felt? Since the next paragraph begins: “Can you repeat that, with a different emphasis. . .”
By that reading, there isn’t any a priori “most real.” Rather, the quality of real-ness is partly, at least, dependent on subjective means of making-what’s-real, which is also what might be going on with the part of the poem that immediately precedes what you quoted:
Well sometimes an object may be put to use. May be used to put together other things such as a very long walk through a small room, the smallest room in a person’s face looking out at where the tree is not. The tree was cut down by the city after one branch broke in a storm. The tree was gigantic.
Such things as may be put together by means of (by the use of) an “object” are: a long walk (an action), a room in a person’s face (space/person?) and where the tree (another object) is not (i.e., the missing object) and the space of its absence. The fact of a dubious ecology is provided as well, inasmuch as the authorities (“the city”) cut the tree down after one branch broke in a storm. So, the highly figurative (“a very long walk through a small room, the smallest room in a person’s face”) immediately “looks out at” or opens out onto the literal, documentable fact: “The tree was cut down by the city after one branch broke in a storm.” All of this is “put together,” but by what “object”? That’s not named or known, perhaps, but it’s “what” allows the making, the mixture (of the unreal and the real?) to happen. Or it’s what allows the mixture of the various “reals.”
The real includes the civic context of votes being counted, and how being afraid within this context can be immobilizing. The work is “abandoned” at this time, but begins again the next day, by means, ostensibly, of “familiar elements” (blue poppies, foreign language) that, again, “may be all one thing.”
The future is not real, by the terms of the poem, because it has not happened yet and is not (at least as it’s defined commonly) “happening now.” It never was and is not phenomenae. It’s an abstraction, and I think it’s used quite dangerously and deadeningly in much discourse and ideology.
At the center of the poem seems to be 1) “the present relation” of anything and 2) correspondence, insofar as the will to “[b]egin again” and continue the work depends on the writing “being a letter”—being addressed, being spoken to or being imagined to speak to another, as if the other, ultimately, is “the object” who may be put to use by making the making possible.
Your question also helps me notice the word “sidereal” in the poem, and I think of side-real, something being real (or being perceived as real) to the side of itself, so to speak—consonant with Dickinson, “aslant.” That word, as the poem articulates, doesn’t really know what it’s doing there, but maybe sidereally it does. . .
Finally, I might mention that the first sentences in this poem (“I like the acrobat by the sea. He chose not to include it”) allude to an early version of Wallace Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West.” An early draft in his notebooks has just that—an acrobat on the shore—which, obviously, he took out.
The presence of Stevens, in my poem at the end of flowercart and elsewhere, suggests that your question is indeed prescient, for who was more concerned with the multiplicities of the real and its logic of alternativity than Stevens? Yet, it was my attraction to the deleted acrobat, the figure of agility and, to an extent, a transformer of reality—but not really, since the acrobat just works with physical reality differently—that got (as far as I know) Stevens into the poem here.
Lisa Fishman’s five books include most recently, F L O W E R C A R T and Current. She has poems in recent or current issues of Volt, jubilat, Make magazine and elsewhere, and she lives in Orfordville, Wisconsin.