Aaron Shurin with Brian Teare: The Skin of Meaning

Aaron Shurin and Brian Teare

Brian Teare: Here on my writing table I have a beautifully produced little magazine, Convivio: A Journal of Poetics, published at New College of California in 1983. A document of the minds then at work in the Poetics Program, it collects a wonderful array of poetics writing – interviews, talks, essays, journal fragments, etc. – from Bay Area poets like Robert Grenier, Susan Thackrey, David Meltzer, Joanne Kyger, and Robert Duncan himself. It also includes a still uncollected essay of yours, “Emily Dickinson and Stop Time.” So I’d like to begin with your initiation into the practice of writing poetics, which came, it seems, some time after your initiation into writing poetry. In this little invented narrative of mine, I’m imagining that Duncan and the community in and around the Poetics Program had a lot to do not only with the shift in your poetic practice between Giving up the Ghost (1980) and The Graces (1983), but also with your first forays into poetics. Is that at all accurate? It doesn’t seem incidental that the earliest essays collected in The Skin of Meaning all date from 1983.

Brian Teare with Christy Davids

Brian Teare and Christy Davids

Christy Davids: One might describe the poems in The Empty Form Goes All the Way Up to Heaven (Ahsahta 2015) as airy. The poems on the page task and reward the reader with multiple readings; they encourage and practice non-binary thinking, which is consistent throughout the book. Can you speak a bit to your philosophy of the page?

Brian Teare: That’s a good question for this book because I think this is a pretty full articulation of a shift in my thinking about the page. In both Sight Map (University of California 2009) and Companion Grasses (Omnidawn 2013), I was working off of my own kind of personal reading of Olson’s “Projective Verse”—I think that’s not surprising for anyone who knows my work—and in Companion Grasses that was particularly true in terms of thinking about prosody, and also thinking about poems on the page as being a scoring of an encounter with a place or a species. Because so many of those poems—all of them, really—were written on foot, were written in the field, I was really trying to use prosody and typography as a musical registration of an encounter, and combining Olson’s belief in the page as a kind of musical score with the ways in which breath and ear change in relation to whatever you’re in relation to. I was interested in the phenomenology of prosody—that it could, theoretically, capture or register relation differently between each encounter with place, with species, with a particular day or meteorology or whatever.

Angela Hume and Brian Teare

Angela Hume and Brian Teare
Angela Hume and Brian Teare

The interview focuses on Hume’s The Middle and Teare’s Companion Grasses, both from Omnidawn Publishing.

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?

Brian Teare with H.L. Hix

Brian Teare
Brian Teare

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 Brian Teare’s Pleasure (Ahsahta, 2010).

H.L. Hix: As I was reading “To Other Light,” I stopped short at the lines, “not to suffer / more, but finally to suffer a clarity in language sufficient // to pain.” I wanted to steal that as a way of stating an ambition for my own work! Is it a way of stating an ambition of your work?

Brian Teare: The short answer: yes, absolutely.