In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Brian Henderson’s book Sharawadji.
H. L. Hix: “As if” recurs frequently in English usage, so I don’t want to attribute to it more importance than you mean for it to have, but it seems to have unusual importance in these poems; I counted twenty instances of it in the book, and maybe there are others I didn’t catch. Is “as if” important to this work? Are these poems especially attuned to that mode of hypothesis?
Brian Henderson: This is a wonderful, and wonderfully unexpected, question. First let me say, I had no idea that the book is so bristled with “as ifs.” If I were a grammar freak, I might say that the prevalence of the “as if” construction reveals an aversion for “like” as a conjunction (followed by fairly complex clauses with verbs). But I’m not. If I were a rhetorician, I’d say that normally, I’d want to push all the way to metaphor or image, and stay clear of more tentative things, like similes. But I’m not that either, and “as if” isn’t technically a simile anyway. “If” actually opens the conditional—a state of the less-than-certain. It doesn’t introduce a truly metaphoric state of identity, but an unreal tense, which expresses a quotient of unknowability. In the book, time is constantly being displaced “as if” there were multiple universes, so we’re never quite sure where we are: in a future that has circled back to pick up elements of the Precambrian, or a distant past that has somehow gathered up our own time. Is it a post-future? There are quite a few Sci-Fi tropes in the book. I had been enjoying Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, and the paintings of Jasek Yerka, around the time of writing some of the poems. And, of course, the epigraphic use of Borges highlights the element of thought-time that’s often central to the fantastic. In “A New Refutation of Time” he asks, “Is not one single repeated term sufficient to break down and confuse the series of time?” Therefore, I would be pleased if “as if” might recur to this effect.
So, yes, absolutely—the hypothetical (as you say), the speculative, is a primary mode of the book. It’s also a primary mode of writing itself. Writing, and especially poetry, launch us into alterity and the unknown. So does death, and the second movement of the book, “Night Music,” is comprised of poems concerning my mother’s. Borges talks about a divine mind being capable of discerning the pattern of a life the way we discern the figure of a triangle. And art requires unrealities to reveal the hallucinatory quality of the world. “As if” we could know it.
Brian Henderson is the author of 10 collections of poetry, one of which, Nerve Language, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. His latest, Sharawadji, was a finalist for the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry. The Alphamircon is online at http://www.ubu.com/vp/Henderson.html. A new volume, [OR], is forthcoming from Talon. He is the director of WLUPress. His website is www.brianhenderson.net.