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. So I started asking each of our authors a few questions in writing, and then enclosing these “interviews” with our advance/review copies. When the book is published, I post the interview on the book’s web page. The Conversant’s editors have asked if they might select some of those interviews to publish. It is my pleasure to say yes! The interview focuses on Calvin Bedient’s book, The Multiple.
Rusty Morrison: When I first read this work in manuscript, I heard echoing in it Deleuze’s assertion, “A principle of the production of the diverse makes sense only if it does not assemble its own elements into a whole.” I felt stunned by the myriad ways that this collection of poems is, to use Deleuze again, “An addition of the indivisibles.” One could say that you marry contrasting dictions and categories, using their intimacy as interrogation and that you juxtapose the literary, the sacred, the lascivious. But that would not reflect the disarming coherences, the unexpected accord in which these poems accordion forth, unfurling such a lively, uncanny, daunting music. Yet music it is. I’ve not read poems like these before. Can you speak to your intentions for the book?
Calvin Bedient: That is an extraordinary description; what hopes I have for the book’s reach can be found somewhere along the generous way of it. Indeed and instinctively I cultivate diversity and divergence, on the one hand, and on the other a jump-cable linkage or lyrical coherence of opposites. My writing is alive to me only if it is strange and surprising at every point. “I’ve heard that before” or “I know that connection” are anathema. What good is a poor copy of what has already been done? I listen for the work’s difference even from itself. All on its own, as it were, the poetry wants to show that, loosed from its common discursive ruts, experience tumbles forth in a mixture of dismay and delight. Even so, the work’s unresolvable elements may join together in a vital motion that surpasses or at least contests its splintering. This motion, this drive to feel out the “indivisibles,” results, in part, from a need to keep the work dynamic, to reject the notion that history has squashed life. Despite their skepticism, the poems sometimes behave as if they want to attain to an uber stage of music and feeling that will bind the elements, bind them in flight. For it really does seem to me that in some (though not clearly not in all) the poems the elements are being assembled and united, not just serially paraded. But, again, the shattered and shattering constitution of being prevents totalization; it founders before the inappropriable and groundless sense of existence. You see how I go around and around in circles—dialectic as rotation.