Interview with Oak Bend Review

The new issue of Oak Bend Review features an interview with yours truly (click on “Honorary Guest”), along with a generous spread of poetry (including one previously unpublished), glowing praise for American Fractal, and even a posting of that YouTube video did a while back.  I don’t know about “honorary,” but I truly am honored.  The last editor/poet to be interviewed there was Christian Wiman, so more than honored, I feel a little out of my league.

The interview drifts between commentary on the state of poetry in America, poetry itself, various issues we’ve done at Rattle, and our editorial outlook.  In addition to my aforementioned tendency to yodel out an avalanche of bad metaphors, you’ll notice a more general tendency to spew forth whatever comes to mind, unfiltered.  I can see this getting me into trouble some day.

Moreover, looking back at the interview–which we did about two months ago–it occurs to me that I’m pretty damn opinionated.  I’m humble about my own insight into poetry, or lack thereof, particularly when it comes to weilding my imaginary editorial clout.  In other words, I really don’t think I have any special understanding of literature; though I read a lot, I’m not particularly well-read, and so on.

But boy, do I have my opinions about poetry–somewhere along the way I’ve developed a fully formed poetic ideology, from creative conception to life on the page.  I think I know what poetry is, how it works, and why it’s useful–and not in some general sense.  My poetic ideology is specific and nuanced, centered around my personal interpretation of eastern philosophies, but also informed by cognitive science and psychology.

When I read other peoples’ comments on poetry, I’m past the stage of absorbing them — I’m merely judging them in relation to my own theories, saving those that fit, discarding the ones that don’t.  This has been coming up more often lately, as I’ve been reading essays on poetry for Aram Saroyan’s class.  I’m always thinking, “Pound is right when he says X, but seems not to understand Z.”  I’m even looking forward to turning my thoughts into a book, a project that at times seems more interesting than writing new poems.

This kind of opinionated arrogance flies in the face of my editorial stance as a relative novice, open to anything.  But I guess four and a half years of full-time poetry will do that to you.

Anyway, do check out the whole issue.  I’ve only had time to skim parts of it, but in the poetry section, I’ve already enjoyed Drew Riley’s bawdy voice, and E. Darcy Trie’s delicacy.  There are some names, too, familiar to Rattle readers–Antonia Clark, Martin Willits, Jr.–that I’m saving for later.

The journal is very young, but editor Sandee Lyles fully realizes the virtues of the young with her enthusiasm and dedication.  The format is interesting, too, both online and print-on-demand.  Think about submitting some work.

Fractal Artist Extraordinaire

While it seems I’ve been waiting ages to put a cover of my book up on the header and make this post, it’s been only two months since Stacy Reed agreed to let me use one of her fractal images.  This cover isn’t the real deal — I recently had to make up a mock cover for a flyer, so this is just a sample of what it might look like…but I’ve kind of fallen in love with this image, so I couldn’t resist.

The source piece is “Erecting the New Zion,” and I think the mood and the mechanization fit the book so perfectly.  There are even large prints available, and I’m totally going to buy one and hang it over my desk to remind me where I’ve been.  I like the idea of each book being a point of departure for the next.  Hopefully it will work.

There are so many amazing possibilities, though, and for what little say I have I’m last in line, so I’m trying not to get my heart set on this one.  Check out her whole website, where she also keeps an ever-interesting blog.

I’ve had American Fractal as a title for two years, and in that time, I’ve scoured the internet for fractal imagery–the concept is so central to the structure of the book, that I really wanted to find something I could use.  While I find all fractal images beautiful, most fractal art strikes me as too clean, almost sterile.  These vibrant colors that flow almost randomly, but usually too smoothly to evoke any feeling.  I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s like looking at a rainbow instead of a diamond.

Or here’s a better analogy: If fractal artists are Pixar, most of them are making Toy Story. No depth of field, no dirt.  Stacy Reed is WALL-E.  The worlds she creates are real, tactile, textual–there’s grit on the gears and blur in the background.  Even the less layered fractiles and flames feel tangible, and so invite you to enter their fuzzy logic.  Does that make sense?  I’m no art critic, but I just love her work.

The Last Blurb

The other day I received what I hope is my last blurb ever, and from perhaps my favorite poet in the world, Bob Hicok. Reading Bob’s work, particularly his most recent, you get the sense that there’s this perpetual stream of poetry flowing through his head 24/7, and that whenever he feels like it, he can just reach down and scoop up a cup of brilliance. The beginnings and endings are nebulous, as if they continue on through underground aquifers after the last line. And like any river, you can never step into the same Hicok poem twice.

What’s more, his writing process, as described in our interview with him this summer, seems very similar to mine. There’s a focus on the moment of creation, and a trust in spontaneity. We both like to start with a trigger, some line or image or idea, and see where it takes us.

Anyway, here’s what Bob had to say about American Fractal:

Looking for the order within disorder, Timothy Green would “wake the body from its only available dream.” Green appreciates how strange this order can be, and that the extraordinary is the hallmark of the individual. In these poems, a man auctions his forehead as ad space, cutlery rains from the sky, spiders devour their mother: in other words, here is life.
–Bob Hicok, author of This Clumsy Living

The blurb is definitely more descriptive than laudatory, but as my publicist (I’m calling Caroline, Red Hen’s Publicity Director, my publicist, because it’s fun) said, it’s probably a more trustworthy endorsement than someone calling me the next T.S. Eliot, which, obviously, I’m not. It’s not fawning, but you can believe it. There are a handful of poets — Li-Young Lee, Stephen Dunn, Jorie Graham, to name a few — who made me realize I liked poetry, and Hicok is one of them. So him just reading the book, let alone putting his name behind it, means a lot.

But I say ‘the last blurb’ for a reason. I’d really love this to be my last blurb. What an obnoxious enterprise, on every end — and do they even work? Have you ever bought a book of poetry because of a blurb on the back? Hell no! Why read a blurb when you can just read one of the poems inside in about the same amount of time? And doesn’t the poem tell you more?

Blurbs make sense for longer works, fiction and non-, where you can’t skim a page and get any sense of whether or not it’s worth reading. I think blurbs for poetry are a kind of vestigial organ for publishers, one of several that don’t really fit the economics and aesthetics of the genre. Another example is the book tour, which, being so much more expensive, both in a financial and a Darwinian sense, has all but disappeared already. When the number of books you sell doesn’t justify the gas and a cheap hotel, the answer is obvious. But blurbs cost only time and shamelessness, so they’re here to stay.

I should say that I’ve been stunned at the graciousness of the poets who I asked for blurbs — I assumed only half of those I asked would be willing to give me that much of their valuable time, but all but one agreed, and everyone said they genuinely enjoyed the book, on top of it all. As a result, I have one or two more blurbs than I really need. I feel guilty about it — what if Hicok could have written another masterpiece in the time he took reading my book? And because of me, the world is denied…

So yet another reason to hope this is the last. My next book, which is still percolating in the subconscious, is going to be much more consistent and concise than AmFrac. It’s a more tightly-woven near-sonnet sequence, so my plan is to just put my favorite poem on the back of the book, and leave it at that. That was Marvin Bell’s advice, and I’m going to take it.

Back to the Future

I just noticed again that the opening poem to my book, “The Body,” contains the phrase, “back east,” which I remember struck me as odd, even as I typed it out on the page. The poem was written in 2003, a full year before I would unexpectedly move from New York to California to start working on Rattle. Having spent my whole life on the east coast, there was no such thing as “back east,” but for some completely unknown, spontaneous reason, the tourist trap I was referring to felt “back east,” and I plopped that phrase down on the page.

Five years later, it makes complete sense — in fact, the reference might seem weird to me now if I hadn’t used that kind of geography. And yet, there’s no way I could have guessed that I’d be moving west, and I had no desire to do so. Is it just a coincidence that the phrase found its way into the poem?

This subject has vexed me for a long time. Because it seems to me that, whether reading or writing, there’s some interaction going on in poetry that more broad than the individual mind. It’s like a poem is tapping into a Jungian collective unconscious, as these phrases appear of their own volition, as if we’re the conduit of creation rather than the creator. When we write a poem, we access things we didn’t know we knew. But something must have known, it seems.

When I’m feeling mystical, I’ll call it the linguistic collective. It’s like there’s this river of words, that all have so many intertwined connotations that when you pluck one you pull up a string, and each subsequent word has a string of its own, until you harness the whole world.

When I’m not feeling mystical, that’s a load of hooey. The unconscious mind has its own language, it’s own syntax forever swirling below the surface. Mystery is just a lack of information. Our failure to understand the mind doesn’t make it more than meat.

But what about that “tourist trap back east”? Maybe I just liked the sound of the phrase, the assonance, all those t’s and st’s. Is enjoying a sound enough to make it true?

On the way home tonight, The Wallflowers came on the radio — “We can make it home/ with one headlight.” It always strikes me that the analogy in that chorus doesn’t really work: It’s set up as if it were a challenge to drive with a headlight out. They can get the relationship back on track even if it might be difficult. But the fact is, a lot of times when a headlight goes out you don’t even notice until the policeman rights you a ticket. A better analogy would be, “We can make it home with no 4th gear” (or maybe no 1st, like in Little Miss Sunshine). Now that would be a challenge, I tell Megan. But it wouldn’t sound good, she says. And she’s right.

More often than we’d like to admit, the sound of a phrase trumps its meaning. How many times have you heard an aphorism that sounds good, but doesn’t make any sense once you think about it?

So maybe it was just the sound of the phrase that made me write it, and it’s just coincidence that 4 years later it came to make sense.

Or maybe when we write, we enter a timeless, meditative state, in which there is no past or future, and everything that ever was is happening at once. And maybe that’s why we’re rewarded with leaps of imagination and startling conclusions — because all causes have already become their effects. There’s room in cosmology for imaginary, and even illusory time. Maybe “The Body” reaches forward into the always present.

Wow, what a load of hooey.

New Blurb – Gregory Orr

Asking for blurbs with your hat in your hand is no fun — it puts the “cap” in capitalism (haha), and forces us to momentarily acknowledge that there’s more to artistry than art. But when your favorite poets read and seem to genuinely like your book, it all becomes worthwhile. I don’t know if anyone ever buys a book based on a blurb, but the legitimization of obtaining an idol’s stamp of approval does have a personal significance that’s hard to describe, but probably easy to imagine.

Anyway, this new blurb from Gregory Orr came with a very nice letter, which I’ll have forever.  I’ve never met anyone who’s more fully and honestly passionate about poetry than Greg — if I’m ever feeling uninspired, or if I start thinking that poetry is unimportant, I go back and reread his interview in Rattle #24.  That his two most recent books are love songs to poetry itself couldn’t be more fitting.  He lives it.  So his endorsement, to me, is particularly meaningful:

In American Fractal, Timothy Green braids together an alert and nimble intelligence, a liveliness of phrasing, a polished sense of form, and a whimsical surrealism—braids them and brings them to bear on our contemporary world. The result, poem after poem that sidles up to the truth and smacks it on the lips or, playfully or in earnest, upside the head.
–Gregory Orr