Photo credit: Diana
Or to Begin Again
conducted by Craig
Craig Morgan Teicher:
How does it feel being nominated? Does it seem significant
to you that you and most of the other finalists are
usually associated with “experimental” poetry?
The simplest answer is that it’s
an honor, and that it feels great. I think it’s
a very exhilarating from the point of view of those
of us who toil in obscure spaces of poetry. Maybe this
list means there’s going to be a kind of shift
in what the reading public might imagine poems to do
or be in relation to how language is used. There have
been so many remarkable poets in the last 25 or 30 years
who have wanted to bring poetry into another conversation
with history and with philosophy and with a much more
muscular and inventive relation to language. And so
I hope we can move to a place where a poem is not understood
as a little short story in rhyme or something that is
only about a kind of epiphany or empathy with the poet.
There are a lot of us who’ve been trying to think
about language as a kind of material that is exhilarating
to use. It’s ironic that poetry has been so moved
to the very margins of the way the culture thinks about
itself. Though I think there’s a good reason for
that: most of the poetry that gets most of the attention
isn’t very interesting. I think there’s
another reason, which isn’t as easy to talk about:
the sense that the way America in particular feels about
the world through language seems to be about entertainment
or information, and I don’t think poetry is either
entertainment or information. Then there’s the
whole issue that has hung around in American culture
forever, which is the idea of difficulty and complexity
as part of a discourse. We can actually enter places
that are not so easily resolved—it’s the
pleasurable space of the difficult, and the exhilaration
you can get from being there and not being thrown out
with the feeling that you don’t understand.
CMT: You’re also
very engaged, both as a poet and as a critic, with the
world of visual art. Do you think that’s a space
where people are more accepting of “the difficult”?
I think that on the whole changes or efforts, or envelope-pushing
is more accepted in the visual world, because there’s
such a big support system, and when you have that support
system, the whole space of the market, and people engaged
in thinking about what’s really going on, you
have a better chance. I also think that there’s
at this point a real danger that artists in general,
poets as well as visual artists, are too narrow in the
way they think about their work, and if you just stay
inside your own field, you begin to thin it out. It’s
really important to me that people who want to be artists
know more than about the last 20 years of their field.
CMT: This book contains
a couple of longer poems that collage various elements.
How did they come together?
I think there’ something about trying to be as
fully inside the habit of your mind as possible, or
the habitat even. So the longer pieces begin for me
in a more energetic setting of a relationship, where
I can go further into how the world and language make
something. Many of these poems are really dissonant
and they’re not in any proper sense narrative,
and that interests me: how to make something that has
duration that doesn’t have narrative. I think
I’ve been in a kind of quandary about the visual
and about narrativity in general, and those kinds of
poetics concerns somehow got iterated in this book.
CMT: “Alice in
the Wasteland,” the centerpiece of the book, is
particularly interesting. How did you find yourself
thinking about both Alice In Wonderland and
I’m an anxious insomniac. I woke up in the middle
of the night as I almost always do and the phrase “Alice
in the Wasteland” came to me. And I’m quite
conscious of the fact that Eliot, who when I was young
was central, has been vilified in avant-garde circles,
and the person who was brought forward was Pound, and
I’m questioning why—why Eliot is so detested.
Because he is seen as right–wing? The radical
nature and beauty of his work is ignored in these circles.
Part of me wants not to be a camp follower. And Alice
for so many people even now is the figure of the curious
girl. That figure in my work goes back long way so something
about her willingness to be in an adventure and to discover
herself through her journeys in language interests me.
So she’s a kind of avatar obviously. And then
there’s the kind of wit that Carroll had, which
is something I’ve wanted in my work, in the old
fashioned sense of wit. I thought if I could get inside
of the spirit of that kind of wit, it would be great.
Writing the poem, it was also wonderful to watch what
happened to her, and to realize that she doesn’t
have a home, that she’s just walking on this path.
She’s both totally alone and in her imagined world.
Morgan Teicher is a VP on the board of the
National Book Critics Circle. His first book of poems
is Brenda Is in the Room and Other Poems. A
collection of fiction and fables called Cradle Book
will be published by BOA Editions in the Spring. One
of his poems appears in The Best American Poetry