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Thursday
Mar292012

The publisher and Bill Mohr (part three, final installment):"a poem is language occupying the architectural infrastructure of language..."

Hold-Outs by Bill Mohr (University of Iowa Press, 2011)

Within the context in which we've just been speaking, here's the classic question: "What is a poem?"

Is there a reason that the question is singular? What's the advantage? Or rather, to whose advantage does it play if we casually restrict the question-and-answer cause-and-effect to the singular? In what ways does "What are poems?" raise different questions?

Is there any such thing as a galaxy with only a single star? A galaxy is inherently a plural operation. Perhaps the word "poem" should be like "moose" with one spelling to indicate both singular and plural.

A poem is language occupying the architectural infrastructure of language in such a way as to destablize our perception of the sentences that are holding up the walls of its syntactical propositions. Sentences and walls could be singular in what I just said.

Who are the indispensable poets?

In some ways, the indispensable poets are the ones whose books or chapbooks I published: Alicia Ostriker, Jim Krusoe, Leland Hickman, Holly Prado, Harry Northup, Joseph Hanson, Brooks Roddan, Deena Metzger, Peter Levitt, Len Roberts, Jim Moore or who appeared in my anthologies, such as Eloise Klein Healy and Doren Robbins. If one wants to understand what it means to me to be a poet, part of the response has to figure out exactly how all these various poets can be calibrated to fit into the same project. I don't see how I could talk about my poetry outside of the context of the poets I published, and I would say the same about Paul Vangelisti, whose enthusiastic acuity as an editor served as my major model back in the early 1970s. I cannot exaggerate how much I owe him as my elder brother in the art.

This brings us back to HOLD-OUTS, in which you talk about the Momentum groups of poets as the primary contributors to your first anthology, The Streets Inside. One looks at the table of contents of that collection and realizes how unknown those poets were back then. How did you know that these poets were in it for the long run?

I have about a dozen peculiar regrets in regard to the press (Momentum, ed. note). One of them is that I didn't set aside enough of my minimal resources to do a reprint of The Streets Inside. I should have run off a second printing of about 500 copies in which I printed excerpts from the reviews that the book received from Robert Kirsch, Bob Peters, Stephen Kessler and Laurel Ann Bogen.

Kirsch called it a "golden age" in his L.A. Times book review. How did I know ahead of that kind of evaluation that I was on the cusp of that kind of scene? As I said earlier, Paul Vangelisti and John McBride had already done a great deal of work to establish the value of what we were writing. Don't forget that they had an international context for Invisible City and Red Hill Press. Jim Krusoe was also working at that time as a poetry editor at Beyond Baroque. And don't forget Bukowski. Laugh Literary may have lasted only three issues, but the magazine he edited, along with the anthology he co-edited with Paul and Neeli Cherkovski made a crucial contribution to that moment when I presented my anthology in a reading at Intellectuals & Liars Bookstore.

Last question...what are you reading at the moment?

I mentioned academic conferences earlier and one of the best parts of the MLA is the instant book store that accompanies the gathering. The ultimate jouissance for a reader. It's possible that the Scots government will cut the budget and not send over a delegation to promote Scots literature, but right now my favorite is Scots because of the books they give away. Agnes Owens is a terrific writer. Her novellas are superb. Edwin Morgan is one of the great poets of the twentieth century. The real surprise, though, in terms of teaching has been Robert Burns. As I've begun to include Bob Dylan in a survery of poetry course, I've realized how important it is to bring Burns into the discussion. It's one of these juxtapositions that seems incredibly obvious, and yet I'm not sure that it's common pedagogy.

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