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 Anis Shivani’s My Tranquil War and Other Poems (New York Quarterly Books, 2012).
H. L. Hix: I want to frame my question by juxtaposing two excerpts. In doing so, I know I’m taking them out of context, but I’m curious whether you see anything apt about the conjunction, or if it’s just a misreading, a kind of petty violence to the poems. Is there any sense in which this whole collection could be taken as a set of “angles of surmise” (96), points of view taken toward “panoramas” that are “refusing to unfold by script” (28)?
Anis Shivani: Thank you so much, Harvey, for this insightful question. Perhaps refusing to unfold by script is the way things unfold by script now? Your pairing of the two poems, “Twenty-Six Angles of Surmise” and “Perpetually Ascending GNP,” from which your two quotes come, is astute. In the first I am taking familiar terms—limited arbitrarily by the number of letters in the alphabet, but mocking by that act the perceived limitability of language—and redeploying them in the interest of a laxative poetry, a poetry that looks at things as they exist and perceives correspondences that complicate the meanings of both words and definitions. Words are useless without definitions, and official culture, which surrounds us like an embryo is surrounded by protective amniotic fluid, insists on precise definitions. Hence dictionaries. Hence the abuse of the dictionary form in this particular poem. Hence the abuse of abuse.