Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process which brought them to the moment of completion that we call a book. As Omnidawn’s co-publisher and senior poetry editor, I’ve had that great good fortune. It finally occurred to me that the readers and reviewers of these books might enjoy hearing some of this talk, too. Of course, a book of poetry needs no introduction or liner notes. But I’m always interested in any stories about how and where authors’ intentions and the actual creative work tangle together. This interview features a conversation between Omnidawn managing editor Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel and Angela Hume on Middle Time. –Rusty Morrison
Angela Hume: Brian, I want to ask you about lyric, as you’re thinking about it in Companion Grasses. “What is ‘lyric,'” you ask several times in your long poem “Quakinggrass.” The poem offers this response to its own question:
Little grammar of attraction
(What is “lyric”)—
The book fell open on its broken spine
(florere, “to flower”)—
“It’s quakinggrass,” I said—
Your dashes register the percolation of time through thought, or thought through time, pressing toward concept. To a certain extent, the lines are rendered fragmentary, even discrete, by their dashes, little caesuras. But they also aggregate, ideate, via their materials, from one line to the next. It’s not (necessarily) a linear logic. That is to say, the declarative “It’s quakinggrass” may or may not come as response to the preceding interrogative, “What is ‘lyric.'” In this way, the poem wrestles with the activity, or process, of its own thinking. This was, of course, the project of transcendental philosophy.
Importantly, the poem offers a particular figure here: that of inflorescence. This is a term that appears repeatedly in your book. Inflorescence: the arrangement of flowers on a plant—a flowering system. The collective blossom. Or, the process of flowering. The image, emplaced in Big Sur, California, is: the fragile flower cluster trembling on its slight stalk (briza maxima).
My question about lyric is also a question about your inheritance of both the Romantic tradition and the mid-century tradition of composition by field—the way you yoke one to its (seeming) other in Companion Grasses to discover lyric for yourself.
That said, I’m interested in the figure of inflorescence, very specifically, as a figuration of lyric. How does it work, in your mind?