In what ways might you consider yourself an American poet?
While this question seems obvious, it's not really, right? I've met American poets who ONLY write sonnets strictly metered by the strictest standards of the old, old, old world. BUT then again even though a poet would write in such a form, if they are in fact Americans, living in America, their minds filtering the world American, can the form withstand the filter?
When I think about what poetry excites me, and has excited me, most of it's American. This is a pretty strong case for suggesting that I'm an American poet, right? We stand on a large number of often LARGE shoulders. Lots and lots of them down there under us, holding us up. An American poet in the best sense, resisting a hostile American government which is as imperialistic as ever, destroying millions of lives around the world.
(Soma)tic Poetry has come straight out of the experiment of being American. If anything has lifted me up to see the world best, it's (Soma)tic Poetry.
Do you believe there is anything specifically American about American poetry past and present? Is there American poetry in the sense that there is said to be American painting or American film?
OF COURSE! My collaboration with my good friend and brilliant American poet Frank Sherlock The City Real & Imagined (Factory School Books, 2010) is such a testament! The very opening of the book is the very American and new translation of the word Philadelphia which you may want to know in order to caress the chin in imagining what is American poetry, in this American idiom.
What is specifically American in all of this? What scholar can be as agile as simply reading a Frank O'Hara poem? All your answers are there. What is absorbed in reading will suffice. Gertrude Stein, Pattie McCarthy, Garrett Caples, Kevin Varrone, Charles Olson, Eileen Myles, Jonathan Williams, Allison Cobb, Hoa Nguyen, Alice Notley, kari edwards, Joseph Ceravolo, Ron Silliman, Anselm Berrigan, Karen Weiser. These are merely a few American poets who can say is BEST through their poems, and better than anything I can muster for you.
The specific is in the dirt the vegetables grow in, the poets then eat, it's an American soil.
Jack Spicer, Stephen Jonas, John Wieners, Jocelyn Saidenberg, Carol Mirakove. Reading American poets, loving poetry, but loving poetry through American poets, this is what I say to your questions about specifics.
What role do historical and geographical factors play in American poetry and in your work specifically? What other aspects of your life (for instance: gender, sexual preference, class, ethnicity, religious beliefs) relate to your sense of being a poet in America?
Well the new book The City Real & Imagined is completely involved with American historical and American geographical factors. Gender, race, class, it's all in this book. Life is hard. Having the responsibility of being an American and a poet, is hard because America is a sharp blade moving across the globe. All who benefit live next door. A pox upon those doors! The rich feast upon the blood of millions!
Deviant Propulsion (Soft Skull, 2006), and The Book of Frank (WAVE, 2010), are immersed in the silver coating of how the deviant propel American culture forward, ready or not! In this propulsion unkindly shifting menace to the mirror. We have got to find the love.
Is there something formally distinctive about American poetry?
It's not something but some things. Entirely too many I'd say to get at it so quickly. From Jack Spicer's clan on the west coast, Black Mountain College, New York School, and The Beats, wholly driven to recreate the song. George Oppen, Gertrude Stein, where do we even begin to elaborate?
There are many things making me yawn these days. Poems which seem to make the actual past of American poetry, that highly greased set of gears of experimentation, vanish. How did this happen? There's something weird going on. A mainstream which is a flash flood that doesn't seem to end ignoring the very existence of excitement and renewal of verse.
What significance does popular culture possess in your sense of American poetry?
Popular culture, see, that's so American. I'm an American and poetry is very popular with me, therefore in my American trousers I stand here, typing while standing, saying YES, the significance is mind blowingly sensational!
When you consider your own "tradition," do you think of American poets, non-American poets? Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating distinctly American poetics?
American. My favorite poets in Canada and elsewhere seem to have read a lot of American poetry and love it. And write it. American.
I'd rather we export poems than bombs. We are complicit in genocide today. Not yesterday, this is not yesterday, this is today. Poems not bombs. American, America.
What are your predictions for American poetry in the next century?
It would be beautiful for there to be a planet called Earth in the next century. Seriously, right American corporations and the American government are working hard at seeing to it that there's little left to eat and live with, live for, live by. Nuclear war is very real. The rising sea is very real as well. I can't predict the next century will be able to read at all. Reading feels like a luxury if you're choking on toxic fumes and walking a scarred, terrible planet of fire.
Will the next century cool off the turmoil we see presently? Will we be on another planet? Is there reincarnation, and if so can American poetry be transmitted through that light? How can I tell you best that I don't know how to answer you?