Friday, October 22, 2010
October (after the fact)
Am conducting "after-the-fact" interviews with christophe casamassima and M. Magnus for their readings at the Poetry Lab on October 1, 2010. The entire reading is on our Plan B Press Youtube presence. Due to an illness on my part, I was not able to conduct my normal interviews ahead of time. So, we will attempt to recreate the anticipation and surprise of this event as it was M. Magnus's first reading of his newest book, Heraclitean Pride.
1) Congratulations on your new book, can you talk about it a bit?
MM: Heraclitean Pride (Furniture Press 2010) is a
re-creation/recreation of Heraclitus' lost book, based on the
fragments and bits of biography that have come down to us from this
ancient Greek philosopher. It is the kind of transformational
repetition best understood in accordance with his most famous
fragment, "You can't step into the same river twice."
Throughout history, Heraclitus' fragments - some popularized in
familiar phrases, such as "Character is Destiny" and "Expect the
Unexpected"- have had an incredible magnetism, and the philosopher
himself emanates a mystique that certainly I've been susceptible to,
and inspired by; on the way to Heraclitean Pride, I immersed myself
in the coursing vitality of his words and insights.
In terms of thematic or infectious force, I consider Heraclitus' lost
book to be a secret - hidden, invisible, nevertheless powerful -
contributing work to the canon of the Cult of the Free Spirit, a
precursor to all sorts of Gnostic shenanigans in Medieval times, and
to the subsequent philosophical-poetic shackle-breaking you find in
Nietzsche, Artaud, Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). So,
Heraclitean Pride activates the lost book in highly subjective yet
rigorous fashion - a TAZ of the mind, at least.
This last statement I think more flip than strict to the terms (from
Gnosticism to the famous Medieval Heresy to TAZ), but then all the
more in keeping with that thrust of liberation.
2) Your initial reading for the book was at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry on Oct. 1, 2010. You have had some readings since then, how has the response been so far?
MM: Since that initial reading for your Poetry Lab at the Soundry,
Steven, living with Heraclitean Pride in its published form - and
sharing it before its "official" release (it will soon be available
through Small Press Distribution) - has been like sitting next to a
3) I seem to recall that you are originally for California. Has "place" had any impact on your work?
MM: I do not think "place" has a direct impact on my work. That is,
you won't find much more than some surface imagery of surroundings or
local color. This is probably more relevant to the decade I spent in
New Orleans than my youth up and down California, since much writing
out of New Orleans (pre-Katrina) was all about its local color - and
vampires. My environment and the events that impose themselves on me
tend to get internalized: they remain topologically congruent to the
external geography, but turned-inside out, and usually unrecognizable.
On the other hand, the basically hedonistic sensibilities of
California in the '70s and '80s - and, of course, New Orleans through
the millennium - are part of my bone-structure; although in my own
life I'm tasked with a literary mission best fortified by the Stoics,
I'm put off by Atlantic coast stodginess, the matching of intellectual
credibility with drabness, the gray palette... and truly take
prudishness, moralistic snobbery, artistic conventionality, and
illiberal religious complacency to be forms of life-cowardice.
Now if you had asked about community, that would be a different story.
Literary circles from the D.C. metro area up to Baltimore - esp those
consciously engaging key issues in contemporary poetics - have been
4) How long have you been writing poetry? What started you down this path?
MM: On my 20th birthday, I made a blood-vow level commitment to
myself to be a "real" writer, whatever that meant, and whatever that
brought me. On the principle Goethe uttered, that "at the moment of
commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you," within a few
weeks I started to hear what and how I was going to write. Those
early whisperings were indeed to become poems. Before that, I'd
groped across many a page with my pen, but nothing that gave me a
sense of knowing I was on task. Very New Age, I admit it! But, hey -
5) What was the first book of poetry that you got for yourself?
MM: Jim Carroll's Living at the Movies. I was probably 14, 15. 10th
grade. Maybe Patti Smith's Witt the same day. I still have the
copies. Yet, of course, there were books of poetry already in my home
- unread until I cracked them open. Leaves of Grass most
particularly. The Iliad. Rimbaud's A Season in Hell and The Drunken
Boat from New Directions had to come from outside of the home at some
point, same general time. "Je ne me sentis plus guide par les
6) You are the driving force behind Yockadot Poetics Theatre, please tell us about that festival.
MM: Yockadot is a wonderful memory. I absolutely cherish the
organizational camaraderie shared with fellow-initiators Bonnie Jones,
Ric Royer, and Lauren Bender.
The concept of "poetics theatre" continues to intrigue me, parallel to
Rodrigo Toscano's Collapsible Poetics Theater, which performed at our
Spring 2007 launch. The website for the festival easily provides an
idea of the excitement of our offerings over two weekends that April
and May: www.yptfest.org. Toscano. Rare stagings of plays by poets
such as Lee Ann Brown, Thalia Field, Tina Darragh. Much more... I
can't believe it turned out to be one of the last times anyone would
see a performance by David Franks.
From 2006 through 2009 Yockadot Poetics Theatre Project also showcased Old Songs, the dance theater piece Melt by Jamie Jewett's Lostwax(incorporating texts by Thalia Field), 20th Century Theatre Classicswith Geodesic Gnome - a premier of a Kharms theatre piece included inthat - and more, along with the poetic bombardment that was the Rod Smith circus, hours and hours of outstanding poetry, Rod Smith himself presiding, appearances by Tom Raworth, Charles Bernstein, and Anselm Berrigan, just to name a few.
The name Yockadot, btw, came to us via Dan Gutstein.
Personally, I couldn't sustain Yockadot, due to structural
difficulties as well as some controversies with funding sources. The
experience did clarify to me what parts of producing such events I
enjoy, and what parts I hope to avoid for the rest of my life. To
that, I am close to decision regarding a new endeavor, with a new
In acknowledging my own work and interests as having always been sui
generis (even in relation to the quickly congealing conventions of the
avant-garde almost as a genre itself), I hope to develop some of my
own work as well as affinitive work by others meant for or conducive
to performance, with a baseline in "poetics theatre," yet not
restricted by definitions. So, if I pull the trigger, the new project
will be called SiGiLPAL: Sui Generis Literary Performing Arts
Laboratory. Like Heraclitean Pride, It too will be a TAZ of the mind,
maybe of a stage or of space or spaces, as well.
In any case, still along the lines of Yockadot and what I hope for
with SiGiLPAL, I'm working with Ward Tietz as co-curator of several
performance events planned over the next few years in association with
his upcoming word sculpture installation Three Recipes at Ben Brennan
Park in Alexandria, Virginia (pending a few more steps in the
development process on the city side). This project actually began
development in relation to the 2007 Yockadot festival, and is now in
the hands of key members of the Alexandria Arts Commission.
Plus, I'm directing my own work for the first time, a one-woman show
starring Lisa Hawkins, Portraits: Art of the Poetic Monologue, based
on my Idylls for a Bare Stage, forthcoming in 2011 from