Jon Curley on Jon Curley

Jon Curley

I have stealthily curated this series since the September issue of The Conversant, not announcing it, nor rationalizing my approach, nor discussing my intentions for undertaking it in the first place. As we glide into or collide with 2014 (depending on your seasonal or existential condition), the New Year deserves some answers, and I figured the optimal way of simultaneously re-introducing the series and illuminating its inspiration would be in the form of a self-interview. Many of you perhaps cringe, as I do, at the often pretentious, self-delighting whimsy or seeming neurological dysfunction such a format seems to underwrite. That is not my intention, and the Q&A below will really be a back-and-forth of necessary echoes and refrains. I hope that this reflective self-exchange does not uphold the mirror, but breaks it into many pieces (at least for myself). More importantly, I hope it establishes for you readers and fellow poets some discussion and perhaps even an exchange with me here on this site. I would like to some of you send us your own self-interviews or else volunteer to undertake this series’ line of inquiry.

Some background in case you have not yet read the earlier interviews: In the autumnal and wintry darkness that brings those afternoons weighted like cathedral tunes, Joseph Donahue, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Barbara Henning and Rachel Hadas have all been kind enough to enter my force-field of speculation, to basically consider what in their poetry they might and might not be doing. Without steering or badgering, I wanted to get them to envision possibilities beyond their own usual practice or thinking-about-practice. Even if it were just for a brief pause among other issues and ideas, I wanted each poet to consider, self against self, what kinds of poetry and poetic vision could be espoused, entertained, and imagined theoretically, practically, perpendicularly to the established norms of the hard-won conventions of their work. Might they wear another mask and conceive their art otherwise? After careers formulating recognizable styles and characteristic contents, would they, could they, follow making with unmaking, strive for a new kind of making, a poetry outside of their habitual frameworks?

Jon Curley: So—original inspiration for this series?

Jon Curley: Self-interest, largely. As a poet pathologically restless in life and with his own work, I wanted to know whether fellow poets might wish to seek technical or philosophical maneuvers outside typical formulations. Evolving the shape of one’s poetic identity to a presumed quintessence seems affirming, is affirming, but the less complacent side of me wonders, wanders, about a mythical territory of new or unknown conceits.

JC: New or unknown conceits.

JC: Yes, not negative capability per se, not exactly Rimbaud’s “Je es un autre,” but maybe a spirit of disaffection and willful indirection, steeped in Fanny Howe’s sense of bewilderment, Michael Heller’s notion of uncertainty and the inconsolability of finalized forms or completed projects—a hesitancy to exalt, even modestly, one’s fabricated identity on the page. To want to break it up into so many modes, shafts, selves and zones. Aesthetic self-violence perhaps, a proper instance of self-abuse. I want to dent that identity: “I-DENT-ITY.” That’s the ditty I shall play. Amen.

JC: Amen.

JC: Or damnation. But maybe inspiration. Even if it’s just experiments to incite a boomerang to one’s usual standards and practices, whatever. I am not thinking monumental tranformations but only the sense of getting out of one’s comfort zone(s) can be alluring. Perhaps it can be the needed fiery forge for “the Condition of Fire.” That’s W.B. Yeats from Per Amica Silenia Lunae: “The Condition of fire that shapes their antithetical self…”

JC: Shapes. Antithetical self.

JC: The process might elicit a grand reckoning, a deliberate detonation to the subscribed self, maybe, but I am also thinking of the far more miniature and mundane, like writing a compendium of sestinas, incorporating new tones, uncovering lyrics lurking in a hitherto unexamined mind. Of course, infusing the kinds of rhythms or statements that might modulate the psyche into some antic activity would also affirm the aerobics of the imagination.

JC: Antic activity. Aerobics of the imagination.

JC: Yes! Wild Nights! Any overture to put fire in the blood, lay siege to calcified construction or fossilized/fossilizing thought. A game of charades might turn tricks into truth. I know what I know—and I really know what I do not know. Perhaps by inhabiting a different mode, I will find a different mind. The foreign object can become my secret agent.

JC: A different mind.

JC: Yes; not losing manners but minding other manners. Might the lyrically inflected poet consider L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E method as a useful alternative place to bend his [structure of, fantasy of, genuine reserve of] sensibility? Can the Conceptualist be tempted by terza rima and run riot right off her grid? Pageantry, Pastiche and Phantasm can be Muses to move us towards other practices and visions. Maybe?

JC: Pageantry, Pastiche, Phantasm.

JC: A trinity of trial-ready Muses. The Orphic should be the Morphic, themes and memes should be troubled into discordant, vibrant, refracted repositories. Can the various generations of poets on the national and international scene drop their characteristics and adopt others? That is the trick-and-treatise of my mission.

JC: The Orphic should be the Morphic.

JC: Always, like life: flux and sensation. A possible guidepost (without too many guidelines, thank heaven!) is Pierre Joris’ idea of nomad poetics. Another is that person standing beside you, entirely outside you. Self churning into selves, emergent anti-systematic forces of self-betrayal through self-renewal.

JC: Emergent anti-systematic forces.

JC: Any shake up, any non-coerced whiplash without the whip, might engender new freedoms. I stress the conditional and embrace the contingent. Though most fundamentally important is not my state of aesthetic self-dissatisfaction but whatever attitudes, statements and responses the poets I speak with generate.

Ideally, the kinds of conversation we will have here will invigorate broader discussions about poetry and the writing of poems. Perhaps an exchange with a broad array of poets can help reduce the (now banal) anxiety about contemporary poetry’s meager readership, break up camps, coteries and other (tiresome) sectarian arrangements of poets (conferred or self-appointed), delight readers, banish routine, annihilate anthologies and make traditions—all of them—confess their imposture. If only.

JC: If only.


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