Over the summer, Andy Fitch has interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Wayne Koestenbaum’s book The Anatomy of Harpo Marx (University of California Press). Recorded July 7. Transcribed by Maia Spotts.
Andy Fitch: If we could start with a quote from “Day by Day with Roland Barthes,” written in 1979 for Le Nouvel Observateur: “The form sought for is a brief one, or, if you prefer, a soft form: neither the solemnity of the maxim nor the harshness of the epigram; something which, at least in tendency, might suggest the Japanese haiku, the Joycean epiphany, the fragment of the journal intime: a deliberately minor form, in short—recalling, with Borges, that the minor is not a lessening, but a genre like any other.” Beside this Barthes quotes I’d like to place your own assertion (this is deep into Harpo) of an incremental poetics: “Incremental poetics involves never finishing a point, never knowing my destination, rushing through culture’s big store on sissy white roller skates, without a stunt double, and enjoying ‘generalized chromaticism’: every moment is an occasion to wave, point, bump, or stop, under the auspices of failing to speak properly. Why make such a big deal out of the ‘proper?’” I’m curious how Barthes’s soft style parallels your own compositional practice in a series of prose works, from The Queen’s Throat to Jackie to pieces in Cleavage to Hotel Theory to Harpo. Do the soft style and your incremental poetics align perfectly, overlap yet diverge, exist in blissful ignorance of each other and often of themselves?
Wayne Koestenbaum: That incremental poetics quote means a lot to me. When I gave a reading in L.A. recently that was one of three or four passages from Harpo I chose, and I’m grateful we are clairvoyant about incremental poetics. Barthes obviously remains in blissful ignorance of my existence, so that’s half the question right there. But I’d like to think that our styles, our soft styles, stand in perfect alignment minus obvious differentials imposed by decade, nationality, intellectual bent, the companies we keep, our forms of expertise and non-expertise.