1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself? Did you always live in Brooklyn, New York?
I’ve lived all around the city. I was born in Greenwich Village, Columbus Hospital, and was raised in both the city and in the country across the Hudson River in New Jersey, where we had a country house. This was in north New Jersey, just south of the Wanaque Reservoir, on Lenope Road. We were the topmost spot on a little mountain, there were other homes, lots of kids, but nowhere as developed as today. Today, where there were once lakes, the lakes went dry or were drained and there are homes there now on the land. Stephen’s Lake, near Fountain Springs. Did a lot of exploring around Stephen’s Lake. Back then you could head into the woods and hike for hours and have adventures, you didn’t know what you’d encounter, snakes and spiderwebs, or what you could come up with. I still have an arrowhead, of the many we found, here beside me in my desk drawer. Anything to do with the North American Indians, it was the coolest thing on earth. I have a section on North American Indian literature, and documentary films, Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy, Geronimo and the Apache Resistance,here in my home library. We were always outside, day and night. We would go into the woods, next to our house (which was just a little single-story bungalow with a crawlspace and a cement patio out back) and set up a white sheet between the trees and then go there at night, in the dark, with flashlights and then to spy all sorts of moths and insects on the sheet. We would take a broomstick and tie a white t-shirt to the end of it and then go out in the dark and wave the t-shirt above our heads and this would attract the bats that would dip and dive at us. It was wonderful. Total immersive learning. A small sense, but something nonetheless, of the inhabitants of the earth. To be an earthling. But then when I was about eight years old, I went through a period of intense shyness and self-consciousness, and melancholy, and I became introverted and withdrawn and all I wanted to do was stay in my room and think. Something happened to me in the country, something that I just could not put into words, something that both frightened me and filled me with exhilaration. It was a good thing. Well that just really put the seal on the sort of adolescent I was going to become. I just wanted to stay in my room and think. I was aware enough to understand that to think was an activity, and an activity that one could get better at with practice, so that’s what I was doing, I was articulating, inwardly. Learning and developing my interiority. And I was praying for my peace of mind. I wondered if anyone could know what I was thinking, if they could read my mind. And if not, why not. At Fordham University I met Carol, my wife of thirty-two years. At Fordham I was always alone, I didn’t have a circle of friends. I think from reading Hesse and Nietzsche I developed a complex, but as though I had the mark of Cain on my forehead, or for fear my super-incisive powers of insight and intuition would be found out. That people would somehow know that I was reading them, that I was disgusted by their human-all-too-humanness, and they would come to fear me, and hate me, and scapegoat me, and track me into the dark wood where they capture me and bring me to stand trial for their own loathsomeness. I knew some of her friends and while they were all friendly, I sort of had my eye on her alone. It turned out she was the smartest girl in her class, first in her class. One weekend I was housesitting in the West Village and I asked her if she wanted to come hang out with me, at this house in the Village, and she said no. Later on I asked her why didn’t you come hang out with me in the Village and she said because I could read your mind. She was living off campus, in the Fordham neighborhood in The Bronx, and I moved in. Other than the Fordham campus and the Botanical Gardens, and the Poe Cottage, and we would go over to the Italian neighborhood on Arthur Avenue for our provisions, other than that, The Bronx is nowhere. Which was all right with me because I was, otherwise, just interested in staying home and thinking. When you study philosophy, the effect, if you’re good at it, is to make of you a good critical thinker. When we think of a philosopher we, we ought to think of a person who has good critical faculties of analysis. That’s how we should think of the philosopher. That’s his skill set. While with the poet, his skill set is as a grammarian. Granted, poets today by and large forgo this particular aspect of their craft, but, for instance say if one is in pre-law, a skill set in grammar, which can be had through a study of poetry, will be invaluable as “law” is, as poetry is, a construction of language. This is, I believe, what is behind Shelley’s “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” And really nothing is more boring than an “unlettered” lawyer. We left The Bronx and moved to Queens, to Forest Hills. And I continued thinking. Then we moved to Brooklyn Heights, and Brooklyn Heights is just fine. I could not live in any other part of Brooklyn. I was the sort of baby that if you put me down, I would crawl away. As a little boy I was forever scraping my knees and my elbows and my mother warned me, don’t scratch your scab, you’ll get dirt in there and you’ll get an infection. Now as anybody who has ever had a scab knows, scabs tickle, and it’s a real feat to resist scratching them. The body wants to scratch the itch. And concentrate as you might, the instant you forget yourself, you’ll find yourself, your body, back to scratching that itch. My first discipline was acquiring the self awareness, the will, not to scratch that itch. This will has saved me, from the world and from myself.
2. When did you realise you wanted to write poetry?
I learned to read by reading poetry. At the country house, and I have vivid memories, of all my childhood I am still there, of the chair and how we sat to read. We had an anthology, Story Poemsby Louis Untermeyer (actually we had a few anthologies by Untermeyer, I still have the Story Poems), and it had a chapter called “Of Mystery and Terror,” and I was reading with my mother and with this I was learning words, and learning to listen. Anything with “terror” in the title was irresistible to me. There was this fascination with being scared in my family, I was very aware that when my parents were going to the movies it was to see a horror movie, a Hammer, especially, and I naturally had to explore this in whatever of its forms was available to me. I do remember being at the Drive-In and my parents were fallen asleep but I was wide awake, watching the scary movie, which was a Disney! The Poe, Washington Irving. My favorite reading was, and still is, Poe. “The Tell-Tale Heart” was the first story I ever read on my own. The only time I had a nightmare was after I saw the movie Brides of Dracula, at the Drive-In. I was climbing some stairs, and one of the vampires from the movie, Andree Melly, was coming down the stairs and she cornered me, and kissed me. I guess it could have gone either way, I mean I guess I could have grown up wanting to be Andree Melly, but with that I knew I was heterosexual. The idea of evil being real and of the good as the counterbalance, as the vanquisher of evil, and the attraction to the supernatural generally, within an environment charged with Catholicism where you are charged to check your temerity at the door and to hold the door for others. The others get in ahead of you, but that’s not the point. To this day I am an ardent fan of gothic horror. I was reading Dickinson and Cummings, his “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” “All in green went my love riding.” I asked, what is “my love”? You’re my love, she said. I was a little boy, and I discovered with this poem, in this poem, something as unlikely as I was. If there is anyone who knows anything about my work or who has the slightest inclination to understand my work and what informs it, and informs me, read this poem. I would love some day, someone reads my poetry and feels that sort of affinity. To be a child poet is a wonderful thing, to grow up and to be a poet and to always have that child in your heart, that’s my bliss. And that poet’s ethic, that negative capability, Hello, I’m nobody. This is sort of like what Roy Harvey Pearce refers to as the “Adamic” in his book, The Continuity of American Poetry. The poet ought to be able to see things as though for the first time, like a child, or like Adam who saw things he didn’t have names for. When I was taught grammar, this was seven or eight years old, I would write my poems using “incorrect grammar” and this to me was a poetic element in my poem, it is what made my poem “poetic sounding.” You reach an understanding that language is both a matter of communication and personal, artistic, expression. I began to write song lyrics, and this was because I was becoming interested in the record collection, Disney soundtracks, The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. And I was learning the guitar. Song lyrics are different in that with the lyric you are trying for the most perfect, most accurate cliché, while with poetry you want to avoid the cliché. They were, and remain, separate endeavors, the lyrics and the poems. It’s the enjoyment, the discovery, the craft, the frisson that comes when the poetry happens. That you can make it happen. That’s how you know you want to do it. And poetry is a solitary pursuit, and that suits me. And you publish because naturally you want to be part of this guild of fellow poets, this order of being. Ideally. And because it is something the culture tells you is important, not just as a document of one person’s consciousness and sensibilities, but as a document of the consciousness and sensibilities of a culture generally. The poet is a sort of barometer. Ideally.
3. How does a poem begin for you? What is your preoccupation when writing?
My preoccupation is with language, as I am thinking in language and as I am concentrated on my grammar. Actually the preoccupation is split between my language and my person, my being, by beingI mean my states of mind and my emotions. I am articulating, depicting, thinking. But that thinking, that ideation, that intellection is informed by a whole being, with a body that feels and emotes and suffers and dies and is conscious of itself doing so. Granted, then, my preoccupation is with language, as I am thinking in language and as I am concentrated on my grammar. At any given time I’ll have on my desktop, on my Mac, I always write in Word, unless I’m on my iPad, where I use Pages, my iPad is always with me and at bedside, I’ll have on my desktop works in various states of organization. And my work begins, or does not begin, when I open those documents to see where I am and what occurs to me. I said I’m depicting thinking, but thinking has within itself a content, a subject matter, that which is the object of the representation. Thinking can become self-reflective and become its own content. A poem begins when it suggests itself to me. Period. Sometimes it’s just not there, I’m not inspired, I don’t see a way forward, and I let it be. Then again, as a poet, as a writer, as a craftsman, I have a method. Method and style are distinct. I can hide my method, but I want to exhibit my style. I can start with an image, a conceit, a conceit is a concept. When it was said of the Metaphysical Poets that their works are full of conceits, what was meant is that the works are full of concepts, conceit is a fancy word for concept. A conceit can turn into a trope, a recurrent theme. A poem can begin in a bit of wit, and wit can have its similes and metaphors, and ironies. One need not plot a poem, sometimes a simple image will suffice, a simple turn of phrase, a simple turn of definition. A simple turn of grammar.
4. You are the poetry editor of Eratio, a publication that has run for fifteen (15) years. Why did you establish Eratio?
As a means of getting in touch, being in touch, and in the spirit of service. That I’m not just sharing my work, with the community, in the publications out there, but offering a place for others to come share. Before I began Eratio I was doing a photocopy ’zine called Meat Epoch. I was producing it on my Olivetti manual and photocopying it. Then I began to produce it on a Mac, which was a whole lot easier to “type set” and to print out. It brought me into contact with poets and writers that I am still in touch with today, and that are still productive and innovative. At that time we were still going to bookstores and magazine shops for the journals we were publishing in. Then around 2003 it was clear the internet was the way to go to continue reaching others and to continue publishing and making acquaintances. The first design for Eratio was for a common laptop or computer screen, then I updated the design, with small screens in mind, for the iPhones and iPads and such. I think Eratio looks great on these screens, and especially when you zoom in on the page. These screens suit the long vertical page of Eratio really well, or rather the long vertical page suits the screens. I wanted to provide a place for poets to publish. First-time poets, emerging poets. And when an established and well-known poet sends for Eratio it’s very special, it adds legitimacy, it says this place is good. And I appreciate that very much. Poets need places to publish, to get started on their way. I’m happy that Eratio has come to be well thought of and that publication here is considered desirable and significant.
5. What are the challenges of writing and editing at the same time?
My judgement is informed by my own writing experience. My experience of how language becomes poetry. This is not to say I look for poetry that reads like my own, but that I’m looking for a certain level of competence, as does any good editor. If I did not, if I just published anything and everything that came in, there would be no point to it except I would be a lot more popular. That’s the challenge. My mission is to publish poetry “in the postmodern idioms,” that covers a lot of ground. Otherwise, the one does not interfere with the other.
6. Some people say it’s difficult to grab a poetry editor’s attention. What do you look for in a submission?
First of all, presentation matters, it’s a signal to me that you are serious about me taking your submission seriously, and besides it’s just good manners. When I see a poem, I see, first of all, an arrangement of words. There is a tendency, a practice,among poets, and this is due to the word processor, I suppose, to use the tab key as a form of punctuation, the idea being that this is a form of poetic expression, the spacing of the words, the chunks of language, on the page,a visual departure, if you will, from the literal use of the words. I don’t mean indentations, as one would their strophes or stanzas, I mean in the manner of, or what I always understood to be, “open field.” Granted. I ask that, in the preparation of the submission, the poet forgo the tab key and instead use the space bar, for the simple reason that the html page will not necessarily duplicate the settings of their tab key, whereas the space bar she will. So, what does this arrangement say? The eye takes a sort ofverbal pareidolia, a Rorschach, of sorts, not necessarily in a visual poetry way, but in an expressive, dramatic way nonetheless. And as in the case with visual poetry, there is a complement here to the verbal. I click off the paragraph and spacing symbols, and I’m all yours. I look for cohesion, logic, poetry. An organic narrative, one that is an original articulation of the poet’s thought, this thought informed, of course, by its subject matter, but nonetheless organic, not simply casual clip and paste, a verbal clip art. A lot has changed in poetry. That’s an understatement, but let me tell you what I mean. I mean the poetic elements that make poetry poetryhave moved on, have evolved, and a lot of what is being done in the name of poetry is not poetry at all, any more, but is a reference to what poetry once was. In addition to that, or, so wide is the practice in poetry that there is that party that says there is no such thing as the poet, that the poet does not exist. While the speakers are not significant, those are significant statements, and it’s reflected in their practice, which amounts to something of a poetry of poetry, a literature of literature, citing a text source as justification, or, pardon,for what is hardly more than a mechanical process, something robotic and unconscious, a mere praxis, a mere doing. In an effort to strip language of its metaphysics they have deprived the word of its semiotic function, a depotentiation of the word. Poetry is thus no longer a matter of communicative values, plural, but of the doing and its mutual aver. And then the to see poetry, poetic endeavor, if you will, through a moralizing lens, a chilling condescension, but, chilling as in to swear off, or, what is the opposite of charming. Or as though poetry should somehow be scientific, or, a sociology. The very things poetry is made to escape. It leaves me feeling cold and without affinity. Is poetry sociology? Is poetry political? Yes, poetry is all those things. Poetry is all those things naturally. Doesn’t have to be artificial. Doesn’t have to be obvious. In my teens I was reading, alongside my readings in poetry, I was reading Evelyn Underhill, the mystic consciousness was the poetic consciousness, the consciousness of the poet, the source of his truth. Today, poets under thirty, under forty, see no point in that. Or else, the vision of truth they express, is a vision of one truth among many, or of no truth applies equally to all, or of no truth at all. But as though poetry were no longer worth the effort, or to continue the investigation, the movement forward, into consciousness wherein lies the genius of the human species. I understand the loss of faith in grammar, it sounds ridiculous but it sounds fun. But poetry is not a matter of grammar at all, but of gramarye, and therein lies the rub. If you want to grab my attention, here’s what you do. Know your market. Follow the guidelines. Be professional in your presentation. Consider this analogy, the poet’s diction is to the painter’s palette, as one is the choice of color, the other is the choice of words. Consider your words carefully. Someone is going to be reading them.
7. Can you tell us about your latest publication?
That would be The Wet Motorcycle: a selected. This includes a range of poetry going over thirty years plus two short novels and three essays on poetics theory. The idea for The Wet Motorcycle was originally put to me by the folks at X-Peri,who planned to start up their own imprint and launch it with my book. When that didn’t work out, alas, and I know they feel bad about it, I decided to publish it myself. I rationalize this, the self-publication in .pdf form, by how all you have to do is click on the link and it opens and there you have it. Free of charge. If you like it, it’s yours, if not, you click away. Since February first it has had over 500 downloads. These works are very personal to me and I think the reader will see that I’ve always been doing my own thing. An excellent introduction to my work. And it’s free! You can find it on my Facebook Page or just click on the cover on my Editor’s Page.
Or you can just click right here.
8. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m building a novel called Suicide by Language. It’s inspired by the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet and by the films of Jean-Luc Godard, especially Le Gai Savoir and Goodbye to Language. It’s about a relationship, and relationality generally. I’ve published some excerpts and the links to these can be found at the Suicide by Language blog.
9. When creativity fails, what do you do to get new ideas?
If it gets real bad, where I’m at wits’ end and just entirely unable to get started or to pick up from where I left off, and this is generally speaking, not just to do with my writing, this is to do with the creativity that attends my daily life, whatever charge or chore, I’ll direct my energies elsewhere, I’ll change my mode. I learned from when I was young that when I am troubled by something the doable thing is always to do for my body. This may seem counterintuitive to what may seem a strictly “psychological” problem, but consider how when troubled the first thing to be affected is the appetite, we naturally stop eating. What I’ll do is an “intentional fast.” This is a fast that, like prayer, is a request for help or an expession of thanks. The “food” of this prayer is thought. So while it’s a fast, it’s also for sustenance. Just as food is sacred, this fast food is also sacred. In our daily, everyday lives we have only a remnant of the sacredness of food and of eating, and we see this in that we have a room dedicated to eating, our dining room, and we have a dining table, and on this table we have candles, our dining tables are like altars, like the altar where the bread and wine are consecrated, the candles bring a sense of formality, of ritual, of respect and reverence to our dinner, to our food. This food and the food of the fast are for the body, and when the body is relieved of pressure, no longer distressed or anxious, it can be reset, started afresh, renewed. A change of mode. On the other hand, for those times between projects, and when the muse is otherwise elsewhere, well, I’ll read in my library. I’ll read again the elements of prosody, the various poetics and aesthetics. I have a ton of art books, and movies. I’ll just immerse myself in other things. I’ll read philosophy. Aquinas. Plato. Gilson’s Dante. How can one believe that a sensible man could go hot and cold, swoon, almost die on account of a young girl, then on account of a woman, who never gave him the slightest hope and to whom apparently he never even tried to speak? Emerson and the New England Transcendentalists always get me into a mood. I have my daily reading, which will be something in the sacred texts, something to carry through the day. I’ll record a dream. Dreams are significant, they hold important content for us to think about. I’ll go to a museum. The Met or the Whitney. The Whitney has one of my favorite paintings, Lee Krasner’s The Seasons, from her Earth Green series. It’s one of Carol’s favorites too. The Seasons is an “allover” painting and is seventeen feet wide and seven feet high. I won’t describe its contents except to say it’s worth a trip to see. I think if Carol had to live her life again she’d be a painter. Actually, she is a painter. A conceptual painter. If I had to live it again, in this kind of world as things are, I’d be a monk. Just to scrub floors, bake bread, say prayers. Think. My poetry is primarily concerned with thinking. The articulation and depiction of thinking. Thinking in language, which is the province of the poet, in distinction to thinking in forms, which is the province of the artist.
to see, is upon you, my love
accord, of its own room
is dash or passage, a voice
unannounced, beginning, out of cups
and see, a little nearer
as of, or, to see another, an Adam
in pane, or day, or, for, to see
to lie abed
on row, sleepless, and gone again, freely
a braid, as an air, or, can
inarm a gin or reach or compensation, when
being able and intelligent, or left untied
are soon, or, in groups
in rest, in taste, or air or still, my love
a sympathetic sound, can, or great day
so is always, so
a visitor, a note, a saying, a style
is lost, or, to fraternity
will have a peer, a, or marks a place
as to color, as to open, to mention and to pause
and so on
a second eye to a face in profile
or found his posture so delightful, so, when
a flute or voice comes in a distance
and so on, to see, a sound, a turn
being followed, to purpose
quieted, as good as settled, or waited, or come up
when there is no moon in the sky