Thomas Fink:Honey and Smoke contains several long poems. In the 40 sections of the prose-poem, “Black Swan,” at least 2/3 of the sections pertain to the political history of Newark, New Jersey. Later, we’ll address how these parts relate to others that seem to be about very different topics, but for now, let’s focus on the interplay of the accumulation of knowledge and questioning (doubt) in these sections. In the fifth section, you point to the cause of the Newark riots of 1967 by saying that “the history of Newark,” though “central to understanding the political narrative of race and Civil Rights,” had been “largely ignored,” and that “Jim Crow… had a red beak and leathery acne-red wattle in the social fabric of Northern cities like Newark” (53). The fourth part consists of 17 questions and one final, highly metaphorical declarative sentence. These are the first five questions:
How to explore the effect of the Newark riots? How do the city police escalate violence? How do the state police escalate violence? How does the National Guard escalate violence? How do female looters strip mannequins? (53).
Thomas Fink: At least five poems in Shorthand and Electric Language Stars (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2015) traffic in insistent linguistic repetition. For example, in “You know anything can happen.” The reiteration of “happen”/“happened”/“happening,” along with slightly less repetition of some other key words, indicates, I believe, the range of possibilities between certainty about the assessment of significance and/or insignificance of an event or scene, such as in the opening sentence, “I’ll tell you what really happened—you tell me what didn’t,” and admission of thorough bafflement: “I can’t even begin to tell you what happened.”
Thomas Fink is a frequent contributor to The Conversant. The subject of this interview is Chris Pusateri’s Common Time (Steerage Press 2012).
Thomas Fink: Though we will soon talk about “content,” certain formal components of Common Time are remarkable, and they have to do with titles. In “The Lost Golf Ball,” David Shapiro meditates about the function of titles: “The title could be an inducement like a lost ball/ though it never appears in the final painting/ though anything might… /but the title is not a can opener or a handle for a pot/… The title itself is a ceiling for/ stars that shine at night, will not fade, and stick by themselves/ like a slogan…”
As the Table of Contents seems to reveal, and as Eileen Tabios surmises in her review of Common Time, each poem’s title is neither above or on the first line, but somewhere lower—and not at the end. (Pages 40, 42, and 43 flirt with being exceptions. I believe that there’s one poem per page.) Are Tabios and I basically in line with your intentions? And was the Table of Contents itself a poem serving as beginning point for the poems written later, the rest of the book? Or is this one long poem—with the titles being of minor importance? Or are you trying to orchestrate “that pause again, the one that reminds us/ at three removes, that nothing” about the blueprint for the application of these structurations “can be explained, nothing/ can be vicarious,” in the sense that different possibilities are competing with each other? And if so, then could you please confirm or deny that some of the possibilities discussed above are operative and maybe identify others?
Chris Pusateri: As a person with a background in literature and librarianship, I consider both the literary uses of a title and how a title functions as a piece of information—in other words, I’m always thinking about how the formal elements of literature give rise to a whole host of assumptions that condition the compositional process and our habits as readers.
Thomas Fink is a frequent contributor to The Conversant. The subject of this interview is Jill Magi’s SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011). You can read part I of this interview here.
Thomas Fink: Please tell me about your development of a relation between some of the photos in SLOT—especially those of the expressive hands—and the poetic text.
Jill Magi: You ask about the photographs. I recently wrote an essay on poetry and photography for Poetry Northwest. Here is a snippet:
As I worked on SLOT, I intuited that page after page of text only was not ideal, even if that text contained the visual via description and self-reflexive language on the act of looking. SLOT is about resisting landscaped memory in the post-disaster experience. Looking, including looking away and not picturing, is key in this work that asserts the importance of the personal gesture (incorporated memory) amid official versions of an experience (inscribed memory). The photos in SLOT attempt a turn away from received images of the World Trade Center disaster while refusing erasure.
I note the presence of my hands in the photos: untangling string and uncovering veiled museum brochures. I think of the common Estonian greeting my father taught me: “how does your hand go?” where “how are you doing?” is indicated by how well you are making, working.
The subject of this interview is Jill Magi’s SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011). This is the first of two interviews Thomas Fink conducted with Magi; the second interview will appear in our September issue.
Thomas Fink: Would it go against your intentions—and I suspect it would—to say that SLOT is exclusively critical of contemporary museum culture and sees no positive role for it?
Jill Magi: I’m interested in our poetry community’s perhaps limited trainings in how to critique something without discarding it altogether. In other words, is it possible to critique institutions of modernity while not falling prey to the argument, “they [historical museums] are bad; they should not exist”? I want to say that poetry is especially good at capturing this state of “seeing” while not discarding. Poets don’t need to decide either/or—our possibility is one of simultaneous acceptance and criticality.
Thomas Fink: Among the various chunks of texts lifted from sources in Nothing Is In Here is House Resolution 847, aiming to recognize “the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world” and to support “Christians in the United States and worldwide” (65), but including a section featuring very orthodox language about the behavior of believers that does not appear in the Congressional document online. Another fascinating passage is from a New York Times Business section article: “Some analysts are predicting that just as the Japanese popularized kanban (just in time) and kaizen (continuous improvement), Indians could export a kind of ‘Gandhian engineering,’ combining irreverence for conventional ways of thinking with a frugality born of scarcity” (68). Could you speak to the similarities and differences in what you’re doing with the collaging of found material and what various Language poets, Flarfists, and proponents of conceptual poetry have done?
Andrew Levy: Thomas, I’ve needed time to think on your question, and I admit to having felt a bit stumped by it. I hadn’t thought about what Language poets, Flarfists or conceptual poets / plagiarists had done or were doing when composing and assembling the materials in Nothing Is In Here.