Conversations With Your Favorite Writers
Conversations With Your Favorite Writers
Inverted Syntax is proud to announce that it will be featuring in its January 2019 print issue, previously unpublished poems from Andrea Rexilius’s fifth book of poetry, The Way the Language Was. She says, “this book considers history and artifact (relationships to past poetic traditions, current and past uses of language), and linguistics and botany (relationships between the environment and speech).”
Your poems allude to birds/feathers etc. Are these poems part of a larger collection? I’m also curious about why and how your connections between language and bird movement came about. You’ve said before that you extend the metaphorical gestures of a bird to your writing "the way in which textual threads (sentences, insights) develop across the page”: why is that?
Initially, I thought about the bird in relation to writing because of a performance class I took at SAIC in 2004, when I was working on my first book, To Be Human Is To Be A Conversation. The performance work we did was based out of dance and/or gesture and it seemed that all of my dance moves/gestures relied upon the movements of birds. For example, one gesture (when I reflected on it in language/image/metaphor) became the beak of a bird gathering twigs from the floor of the performance space. I realized how this act of gathering is similar to poetic composition. For a poem, I tend to gather disparate thoughts, images, and influences, then juxtapose them (lines of the poem as twigs or thread) to create my poem (nest). The use of ‘bird/feathers’ in these particular pieces is more about the kind of scavenging I’m doing currently. As a hobby, I've been going for walks around my neighborhood to gather feathers. It's a good way to change your way of perceiving your environment--attuning your attention to something usually overlooked in the landscape. So the lines in these poems referring to "feathers" are literal rather than metaphorical (but they are also both). Nods to Modernist poetry have also been finding their way into The Way the Language Was, so the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Feather" is saying hello to Wallace Stevens. Plus I think it's kind of funny as a title.
How did each of the poems you submitted come about? The Sentence seems to deviate from your usual style; how did you compose that one in particular?
I wrote "The Sentence" very quickly. I was actually trying to revise another poem at the time, but my partner, Eric Baus, was blasting a poem by Barbara Guest and I found it difficult to concentrate. We had just gotten home from a feather walk at City Park. We go there all the time and it's usually fairly empty at 7pm. This time though, it was a full on party because Jazz in the Park was taking place. So there are those lines--plain as can be. The day before we ate honey-flavored candy and walked to the Botanic Gardens. I took this combination (honey & flowers) to mean we were pretending to be bees.
When we walk in the park at night we see bats. Once we saw what I thought was a fuzzy seed pod at the Botanic Gardens. When I got up close to it, the seed pod turned and looked at me. It was a tiny, sleeping bat. In terms of the current manuscript's nods to poetic predecessors, this poem is probably waving at Frank O'Hara.
You’ve said about your books that "each book opens a detailed nuance of the larger whole”. Assuming the poems you submitted answer questions posed in your other books, what are the questions asked/what are the poems answering?
I'm not sure I can speak to this in terms of questions/answers. But in terms of unfolding, the current manuscript (The Way the Language Was) is thinking about history and artifact (this is coming through in relation to past poetic traditions/use of language, and in relation to our current political moment). It's also thinking about linguistics and botany and how these two things (the environment and speech) are related. Hence the bees, sentences, and flowers.
I read in another interview where you said,"I consider both the front stitch—what is actually said in a text—the conscious parts and the back stitch—the secret narrative trajectory, the current that is unknown or known only subconsciously to the writer during composition”. How do you anticipate the 'secret narrative trajectory' is experienced via the front stitch? Is this so-called secret narrative how subtext gets embedded in writing? How can writers pay attention to their biases and avoid inappropriate subtexts in writing?
Yes, it's definitely another way of talking about subtext, but it's also related to the ways in which a poem is often smarter than its writer. It's how you allow yourself to make without controlling the process too much, so that something unfolds for you, as the writer. In terms of bias or inappropriate subtexts unfolding via this process, it seems important to become a good reader of your own work, to question the poem's nuances, its possible implications, its assumptions, to identify what it's privileging, and to recognize how it's entering into a field of conversation and what that conversation is. Revision is an infinitely helpful tool.
I am wondering how often you use photographs when composing your poems? I am guessing you are familiar with Roland Barthes term “punctum” in relation to photographs? (If I were to narrow it down, it’s the poignant/gut-punched moment in a photo). After Barthes' mother dies he goes looking for photos of her, finds one of when she is 5, and that’s the one that just gets him. He never shares it with anyone else. He says, "It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture.” How do you achieve ‘punctum’ in your writing?
I've always wanted to use photographs or paintings when composing my poems, but I've never done so successfully. I try to achieve ‘punctum’ primarily via revision as a process of sculpting the poem down to its essential resonances. I've actually just been doing this with the manuscript Sister Urn which will be released by Sidebrow Press in Spring 2019. I've been going through the manuscript to make sure I've pressed into the emotional impetus of the work deeply enough. It’s not a super analytical process. I look for the lines that embarrass me (out of laziness, cliche, lack of specificity, etc.) and I sharpen word choice, clean up lines, or cut vague lines. If I have to rewrite a line altogether, I try to lean into the emotion (that perhaps I've glossed over previously) to find out what is really at stake in that particular line or poem. The term ‘punctum’ isn't one that I necessarily invoke during this work, but considering ‘what is at stake here?’ is a question I constantly consider to get at that ‘poignant/gut-punched moment’ in my writing.