View RSS Feed


Another Interview

Rate this Entry

I was impressed recently by the art work of Richard Long. I saw a demonstration of his stone work on television several years ago and last week I borrowed his Walking in Circles from a library. The following interview which I have ‘choreographed’ is a result of reading about his philosophy, reading an interview with him and looking at his wonderful work in stone, wood and his own ‘choreography’ of art.

This interview was also influenced by the words of Robert Creeley about poetry in The American Poetry Review(Sept/Oct, 1999, pp.17-18) and Thomas R. Whitaker’s analysis of the poetry of William Carlos Williams(Twayne Pub., NY, 1968). This framework of ideas was outlined on my arrival in Tasmania in August 1999. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, August 1999. This interview has been revised for the Art Exhibition in George Town in November 2003
and several additional times, the most recent being on 13/5/'15.

Interviewer(I): Do you think that artists are difficult to get to know, that they are virtually invisible.

Price(P): Yes, most artists are virtually invisible; very few make it into the media, into the world of fame and publicity. As far as those who do get to be known by the masses it is largely a superficial knowing. Occasionally, a biography is written about someone’s life, then some depth is possibly revealed. The biography industry has unearthed increasing numbers of good quality work, though often the artist is dead by then. I think people generally are difficult to get to know to any depth. That is why I have pursued autobiography as I have. “Know thyself” has quite specific and profound meanings to me. After living in so many places and ‘knowing’ so many people, I can’t think of anyone whose biography I would want to write. Henry James and Anthony Trollope became disenchanted with the biographies they wrote. I have come to settle for pleasant conversation when human interaction is unavoidable. To a large extent I avoid human conversation, having had enough for a lifetime. Each artist’s invisibility has different roots.

To a significant extent the answer to this question depends on the type of person the poet is, when in their life they came to writing poetry, the environment around them and the general receptivity to poetry. The main company I had in the first dozen years of writing poetry, my formative years, was Roger White. It was ‘a company defined by letters,’ as Robert Creeley might have called it.(The American Poetry Review, Sept/Oct, 1999, p.18) In the years 1993 to 1999 the company I had was, for the most part, books: ‘a company defined by books,’, dozens and dozens of them. I found email, public reading in cafes, etc., publishing, unrewarding, even though I was a successful entertainer in public. After thirty years of having a listening audience as a teacher I had come to derive little enthusiasm from a form of interaction that resembled the role of a teacher. Even feedback from individuals, ranging as it did from glowing praise to outright indifference and disinterest, was generally not useful. My wife’s feedback I found most helpful. She was critical: ‘a company defined by affinity’.

I have many meaningful email relationship on the internet. The internet has led to the publication of my first chapbook, three books of prose and poetry and dozens of sites where my work can now be found. There is an enriching dialogue on the net. I suppose this is essentially ‘company by email.’ Email has its dangers, though; one must be sensitive to its use or you can be dumped with piles of garbage you don’t want to read.

I: Richard Long says that artists are map-makers of human consciousness and of the spiritual world as well as measurers and describers of the natural world. Do you agree?

P: Everyone’s life is a map and everyone makes maps. When I was in my teens I bought a religio-philosophical map that has guided my journey for over forty years now. I make my own map from this master-map. This map is used as the basis for my exploration. My poetry reveals just how I use this map.

I: How are your ideas born, where does the energy come from and how do they develop into poems? Do you know what you’re doing? Are you perfectly secure in your writing?

P: Ideas for poetry are born of intuition, there’s a lightness right at the start, a quickness, a feeling of “connection, of yes, of aha, there’s something here, this is good, I like this.” The poem is an effort at taking these feelings, this brightness and giving it form, development, substance, more than the airy-nothing, the vagueness, the potentiality which it is at that starting point and which it will be, if I don’t work on it and give it shape.

The energy comes from books, from experiences, from being in a room alone and being with others in social situations. Ideas come in a myriad of ways. The poem becomes a stopping point in my journey, a brief visible moment, a resting place in that same journey, a sustained note, a punctuation mark, a point I can look back on later in life in quite a different way than the normal memory trip. The whole exercise of writing the poem is usually quite spontaneous, quite fast, although on occasion the poem takes two or three hours to take form.

I feel a strong sense that I know what I am doing. I also have an equally strong sense of security. With each poem, or group of poems, I define the process more sharply, more definitively, more comprehensively. In writing poems I pay a lot of attention to what I am doing, to giving the process a description. I would say, looking back over what must be at least two million words now, that there is an ongoing poetic analysis of process, of content, of relationships between what I am doing and both myself, my Faith and my society which are the three corners of the geometric triangle that is my poetry.

The sense of security is not arrogance, superiority, or self-righteousness. It is a composite feeling that is firstly inspired by my religious commitment, the faith that is built on this commitment, something that is reflected in all the appropriate protocols of piety I know as a faithful petitioner and practitioner. It is also a feeling that also takes me out to sea, with my spirit wrung, with remorse on my wings, with an open wet world beyond which I do not always approach with courage, often with sadness, for I am aware of my cowardice, for I am human.

I: Would you go so far as to see your own life as your poetry?

P: Yes, I often feel I am the path which is outlined in my poetry. It is a line of movement between the many places I have travelled, the many experiences I have had. It is a path, a line, conditioned by my thoughts, feelings, indeed everything that has happened to me. Not all of it is down on paper, but what is not there will disappear into oblivion and be no more, eventually. What is there is my line; I walk my line. We all walk our own line; it is the easiest thing a human being can do to put our mark on a place—and the hardest! My words have a substantive actuality about them for my poems are autobiographical and I bring my society and my Faith into relation with my self. I don’t do this in all my poems but many of them I do.

Every work of art, every poem, has its own mysterious sense of purpose about it, except for the works of those, I suppose, who see their work as devoid of purpose. This purpose comes partly from the traces of energy used in the making of the work. There is an energy connected with the spiritual path. There is an energy in aloneness and its simplicity. Purpose is also connected with a withdrawal of energy and its defining, delimiting, function. Purpose also comes from the viewer’s own inner journey in relation to mine, to me, the provider of the poetry.

I try to keep all channels of sensitivity open, to experience things as keenly and immediately as possible and to explore as deeply into reality as I can. My poetry, in the end, should be a conveyor of this feeling ; for, as Pound once said, only emotion endures.

I: The novelist and critic William Gass said in an interview in the Paris Review in 1976 that there is no way of communicating inside your head but speech. He went on to elaborate by saying that if you can’t talk well to yourself, who can you talk to? You simply aren’t anybody. Some people, of course, get bored with their own talk; some don’t talk to themselves very much. Talk is essential to the human spirit. It is the human spirit. Speech. Not silence. That’s also Beckett’s point.

P: I certainly agree with the general gist of what Gass has to say, although I once read that Gass does not like 'gists'. But there is something to be said for contemplation; the sign of contemplation is silence. Writing is, for me, a form of talking to myself. Gass also said that: "it is probably impossible to teach anyone to be a good writer." I think he is right but that should not stop those who want to discuss the subject in a school or university from doing so.

I: Tell us a little about some of your thoughts on poetry.

P: Writing poetry is like finding your place in a room, in a group, on a street, in a town, in a state, in a country, in the world. Finding your place, bringing the physical things around you into the right, the most suitable, relationship. The process is dynamic; so is the process of writing poetry. You have to find the right set of words and when you find it, you move on to another poem, to another part of life. It’s like making everything your friend, making it familiar, even when you’ve never seen it before. You do the same with people, so you are comfortable wherever you go in the world, as long as you’re not freezing or roasting. The process of writing poetry is a poeticizing of your world, of a translation of the familiarization and the estrangement, yes, estrangement, because you can’t win it all. You are going to hurt, be hurt, feel alone, afraid, joyful, et cetera.

I: Do you always feel happy when writing poetry?

P: Most of the time is is an exercise in concentrated pleasure. Effort, my life, my world, come together in a pleasing mix. This is what keeps me at it day after day, year after year. Also, by the time I had started writing poetry seriously, I was tired of a lot of things in life. Poetry was clearly a new lease on life. I’m happy and relaxed when I write; occasionally, when something has got under my skin and I’m feeling sad, despondent, unhappy, or whatever, writing poetry is like a conduit for this negativity. I usually work it out, like someone else might do a physical workout. I do it also because it has deep meaning to me; the most profound, sublime feelings come to me when I work in the privacy of my chamber. I hope this sublimity comes through to the reader.

8 December 1999

I: William Carlos Williams once said that a poem is “the lifting of an environment to expression” and that the value of this exercise was to be found in the “minute organization of the words and the relationships.” Do you agree?

P: Of course, it’s simple; it’s obvious. Willaims said a great deal about poetry that makes a lot of sense. He said poetry was “a dramatic structure of attentive speech” or “a continuing act of attention .” Although this is also obvious, it is so important to say it. The very creative faculty, the very growth, of man is to be found in “extreme attention.” Blake, Yeats, Emerson would have totally agreed. The imagination focuses on some “thing” and produces a true account of the actual. In this true account he found, for himself and his readers, a radiant microcosm. This is what must be renewed, redressed, re-examined , reaffirmed, to make new poetry.

I: Do you think that what you are saying there is just another way of stateing that the truth in a poem is a kind of truth that is perennial but not archaic; or as Emerson put it once: poetry must be as new as the foam on a beach and as old as the rocks.

P: Yes that’s good. It is also another way of saying that there can’t be any rules in poetry; there can’t be any correct definition of poetry; you can’t say the way it should be like. It’s something like what John Coltrane does: there’s sound in his head and he has to get it out. He occupies a certain emotional territory; there is improvisaton and spur of the moment stuff. This is also part of poetry. It is all part of that refining, clarifying, intensifying, of the eternal moment in which we alone live with a mysterious force behind us, a force that some call imagination but I think it is a composite of imagination, memory, thought, insight, interpretation, the heaven of mystery, the riddle of life, creative thought, the vibration of utterance. It is a freeing of the bonds of banality or just a simple contrast with the ordinariness and simplicity of existence with all its enigmas, contradictions and difficulties.

I: Williams says the poet should “get to the revelations which will restore values and meanings to our starved lives.” Do this, he goes on, in the context of an attitude to the writing of poetry that it is “the only work.” Contemplation of “what is” and losing one’s life in writing poetry, is the secret of creativity and renewal. Be nothing and be unaffected by the results of your writing, he goes on. What do you think of this philosophy of poetry?

P: I think it is brilliant. I would not claim to be able to restore values to civilization. I think that is the function of the Baha’i Faith; of course my poetry can help, can play a small part, at this state of play, quite an indefineable part. Baha’u’llah talks about an attitude to self which emphasizes “powerlessness” and “nothingness.” “The secret of self-realization”, He says, “is self-forgetfulness.” Rodin and Rilke talk about “the work” in the same vein. I was very much influenced by Rilke; White told me about his Letters to a Young Poet. This idea and Rilke’s general philosophy had influenced me strongly by 1992 when I began writing poetry seriously and extensively.

I: Williams says that writing poetry is the perfecting of “the ability to record at the moment when the consciousness is enlarged by the sympathies and the unity of understanding which the imagination gives.” This, he says, is what it means to unify the experience. “Style”, he says, is a living statement, a motion of the person who has suffered and given the poem birth, a witnessing and an adjusting. “Form” involves reshaping, opening and the re-entry of attention or imagination.

P: Succinct, to the point. There are so many definitions of form and style. I like this one. There’s a pithy freshness to it. It places the emphasis on a personal realization of actuality, the actual events in one’s life or as one knows them to be in history. One tries to penetrate with poetry some crevice of understanding in a fresh and unique way. This gives a richly organic coherence to one’s work; it results in a constantly rediscovered life. This is how Williams puts it himself. And it expresses what I have been trying to do all these years.
I rather like what Williams says in the last paragraph of his book. He says that life is “the longest journey.” We all face that journey and we all face a “must.” We are all called in life and we all must respond. Sometimes the call and the response is distorted by fear or denial; sometimes the call is never heard at all, or it is heard so faintly and obscurely that anything that could be called a coherent and sustained response is never forthcoming. The poet is faced with a clear response, a simple ‘must.’ This is the primary meaning of my encounter with the actual world. This is how I have seen the ‘must.’ This is the description of my own particular “longest journey.”

William Gass has some useful things to say about style. In an interview in the Paris Review in July 1976. He said that if he was to write about his own writing he would in the end write another essay on style. He said that: "If I am anything as a writer, that is what I am: a stylist. I am not a writer of short stories or novels or essays or whatever. I am a writer, in general. I am interested in how one writes anything. So if I were to write about my own work, I would write about writing sentences.

23/2/'00 to 13/5/'15.
Tags: interview