Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with bill bissett by Ryan J. Cox

Simply by virtue of the volume of work he has produced over the course of his career, bill bissett is one of the most important and influential Canadian poets of the past fifty years. He has published at least 85 volumes of poetry since 1966, serving as his own publisher through his blewointment press for the first half of his career. Despite this extremely prolific poetic output, bill bissett is also an accomplished painter and was the lyricist and vocalist for the band, Luddites. His importance to Canadian art and culture, however, transcends the mere volume of material he has produced over his career. He has been at the forefront of several important movements that have shaped Canadian literature during, for lack of a better word, the post-modern period. bissett and blewointment, along with House of Anansi, Coach House and others, took part in the first wave of the small press revolution in Canada that helped diversify the kind of poets and poetry Canadian readers has access to. He was early innovator of both concrete and sound poetry in Canada, combining the visual aspects of the word with an intense interest in chant--which bpNichol notes is the important North American mutation of the global concrete movement (46). This combination of the visual and the aural--along with a strong distrust of the hegemonies that standardization enables--anticipates the single most recognizable aspect of bissett's poetics, his idiosyncratic orthography. In choosing to resist standardized spellings and standardized English, bissett creates a space of resistance against the forces of control. This is where the reader finds bissett the social critic that is suspicious of authority, and it opens on to the mystic or shamanistic poet that seeks transcendence through the ordinary and the erotic: the one that seeks the outside of the closed system of language and the repressed self. bill bissett's poetry lies at the junction of authentic and mundane human experience and the ecstatic. As a result of this resistance and his desire for ecstatic, he shares a dubious honour with poets bpNichol and Bernard Lachance: he is one of the few poets in Canada to have the aesthetic value of his poems discussed on the floor of the House of Commons.
In his essay on poetic invention, "Invention Follies," Charles Bernstein posits that "severe forms of oppression rob a people of its right to poetry--and the crisis for poetry, for the aesthetic, is to create a space for poetry again and again" (35). This drive to create a space for poetry, for art, while resisting oppression and repression is at the centre of bissett's poetics. In his poem "Th Emergency Ward," bissett describes a shrink's misdiagnosis of a cerebral hemorage--apparently feigned so that bissett could get out of painting--and when he is subsequently saved from potentially fatal electro-shock by a neurologist, he wakes mid-surgery and conducts a poetry reading. In the face of oppression and possible death, bissett is able to create a space for poetry and celebrates life.

Ryan J. Cox: When I've given your poems to students, the first thing they notice and have to confront is your approach to language and spelling. It pushes them outside of their comfort zone and, I think, makes them think about their expectations of what a poem is and what a poem looks like. Could you explain why you use an idiosyncratic orthography or language in your writing and how you arrived at the particular approach you use?

bill bissett: whn i bgan writing i was in2 sylabuls stronglee n also painting n drawing n prseevd th lettrs in th image n th shapes strokes n image in th lettrs each lettr espeshulee as writing was is originalee
piktographik n i alwayze wantid th words n th papr 2 look visualee as much as possibul th wayze 4 me th words sylabuls n nuances uv each word wud sound soundid sew th sort uv phonetic spelling b
came natural 2 me n bcame 2 b continualee evolving changing langwage fluid

RJC: Is there a worry that it might or has become systematized? How do you resist possible systemization and still make the work comprehensible?

bb: no worreez2 keep going n letting evreething b as indiviual 2 th sylabul 4 its sound n its enerjee as possibul th sound in th image th image in th sound sylabbul lettrs

RJC: Is it significant that the structural or semiotic difference between the way you present the words on the page and the standardized spellings is apparent visually but not sonically? Is it intended to highlight the difference between notational language and the ephemeral, immediate impact of the spoken word?

bb: uv kours th diffrens btween standardizaysyunal spelling n individual nuansd sound based spelling is sonick evn whn peopul reed silentlee they heer th words n whn they reed aloud its sew sound n th mor sound based or mor phonetik th spelling is th mor sonic th work reelee is sonic meenings see th lettrs btween qween Elizabeth 1st n sir water raleigh n yu see all th shifts in spelling 2 indikate shifts in meening

RJC: How should the reader experience these poems?

bb: i dont kno th word shud its a pressur word i wud hope th reedr xperiences these pomes with xcellens out loud if he or she wants 2 n feels th xcellens mystereez n xplooring gifts uv langwage espeshulee with th sound pomes

RJC: Please describe your writing process

bb: It cums 2 me n i follo go with it whn it th process th writing givn 2 me n me ar in different places as th going with continuez i inklewd that n or both nd th process continues n it i thn whn is thn let go uv it like letting go uv a stroke in a painting th trope fulfills itself n changes changing whethr its a narrativ meditaysyun or say visual or sound pome in in n furthr in n out th work thn is on its
own as it alwayze was is xplooring th that jestyur jestr no

RJC: Has it changed over the years? Has technology effected the way you write or create?

bb: not reelee xsept i dew way less work with typwritr 4 konkreet visual pomes n as in narrativ enigma a lot uv th konkreet visual work ther is dun on th compewtr wher i live reelee sum manee hours a day with email n th writing

RJC: Charles Olson said in his essay on Projective Verse, "It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had." This is a quality of the typewriter I think your work captures, and I believe the way you have been able to use the typewriter to create visual and concrete poetry reveals the way that this rigidity can be exploited. How does the computer compare as a tool for this type of composition?

bb: th compewtr less eezilee 4 th realiteez a typwritrs can dew espeshulee a smith corona n a compewtr can not reelee type wun word or lettr on top uv anothr ther ar ways around ths agen chek out narrativ enigma wher a lot uv th visual work was dun with a compewtrthers still a lot that can dun yes

RJC: What is the role of the poet in society? What is the role of poetry?

bb: th role uv th poet is 2 write n reed poetree th role uv th poet in societee is 2 write n reed poetree
th role uv poetree in societee is sirtinlee 2 continu yes

RJC: What is the poet's responsibility to society and culture?

bb: th responsibilitee uv th poet is 2 th pome

RJC: During the last Canadian federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attacked the arts community saying "when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people." In the late 1970s, you were targeted by several members of parliament in a similar manner on the floor of the House of Commons, though the rhetoric aimed at you was much more extreme with your work being described as "evil" by Robert Wenman. Why do you think this tactic of demonizing the writers and artists persists?

bb: i think th taktik uv demonizing th writrs n all artists prsists as a conservativ rite wing stratajee usualee tho not alwayze 2 mussul free speesh n free xpressyuns 2 create n enfors a crowd control that is xcellent 4 th intrests uv th controlling leedrs 4 theyr profits n wepons sales n powr

RJC: These attacks historically are constructed to be an expression of the thoughts and tastes of the "Canadian people" or the common man or, to use Richard Nixon's label, "the silent majority." Who is the ordinary person and how do they react or relate to the poet?

bb: lukilee ther is no ordinaree prson th idea uv ordinaree peopul is a ficksyun invented by rulrs leedrs 2 keep peopul down another veree machiavelian ploy by th politikul mastrs manee peopul dew love poetree n its praktishyuners sew lukilee 4 th poets n all artists

RJC: Should people in authority be afraid of you?

bb: agen th word shud is not reel from th beginning peopul all peopul need 2 inklewding me let go uv theyr feers meditaysyun xercising not wanting 2 control aneewun all these approaches can help

RJC: looking back, you started writing and publishing during a period of heightened and contentious nationalism in Canada. It was also the period when, arguably, the Canadian literary canon solidified and the New Canadian poetry developed. Is it useful for you as a poet to think of yourself in terms of nation or Canadian-ness? Do you feel that there is anything intrinsically Canadian about your work?

bb: sure pomes like th Canadian n killer whale both in BYOND EVN FAITHFUl LEGENDS n Canada in my mouths on fire love uv life th 49th parallel in nobody owns th erth th writing work is also abt evreething

RJC: Your work is consistently described as shamanistic and Blakean, and, without a doubt, there is a strong spiritual component to your work. What I think gets discussed less is the focus on real lived experience. An example would be when you write "th trucks ar/ goin past ium pretty/ stond thrs still a/ lotta light ium/ alone typing/ what i feel for/ yu" in pomes for yoshi. Is it important for you to balance these two aspects of your work?

bb: thees 2 realms being bcumming oftn inform n modify each othr help each othr speek 2 each othr
in my nu book novel ther is a pome specifikalee abt what yu ar saying reelee its calld mariashi mewsik in th chinees restaurant sumthing like that its reelee xaktlee calld ium in th chinees restaurant neer by i dont think these 2 th spiritual n th reel livd xperiences realm ar in anee way mutualee xklusiv or ar in anee binaree opposisyunal relaysyunshp with each each othr they reelee can inform each othr tho they ar different realms ther ar sew manee realms uv consciousness yes

RJC: Does the transcendent work without the mundane? The magical without the physical?

bb: 4 sum peopul maybe 4 me they enchance n oftn inhabit each othr

RJC: You have been incredibly prolific producing approximately 78 books in your career. What drives this need to produce and publish?

bb: th taktilitee uv lettrs th pickshurs in th lettrs as well uv kours th silk screen deepr thn diamonds n time th thrill uv artikulaysyun however it follos itself r sum names or unnamed goal thats 2 write n 2 paint 2 publish n 2 show is 4 me an offshoot uv thees aktivitees a necessaree n oftn veree fun n xhilerating xperiens 2 say 2 show 2 share 2 b bcumming

RJC: For the first half of your career, you were primarily your own publisher and editor at blewointmentpress. Since 1981 Talonbooks has served as your publisher. What are benefits and the deficiencies of each publishing model?

bb: theyr both great benefits self publishing yr choices 4 book size can b mor vareed 4 publishing with talonbooks n all th othr publishrs i workd with b4 talonbooks yu get access 2 a biggr market othr kinds uv presentaysyun choices working with talonbooks has bin an awesum wondrous n wundrful xperiens alwayze

RJC: Do you miss being your own publisher?

bb: i lovd being my own publishr tho it wasint xklusivlee sew n it was wrenching 2 give it up i espeshulee lovd n enjoyd sew much printing othr writrs works n dewing theyr books but i fairlee soon didint miss it sew much as nu n othr opportuniteez wer alwayze opning up

RJC: The internet theoretically makes the ability to publish and proliferate poetry, thoughts and ideas available to anyone with access to the web. What does this do poetry and the community of writers and readers?

bb: inkreesing access 2 evreething n that is alwayze xcellent yes

RJC: Where does poetry go next?

bb: poetree totalee goes next wher it goes in all its multi fasiting infinit wayze approaches n beings

RJC: You are known primarily as a poet, but you are also a painter and visual artist and you've performed music with a band. What attracts you to these diverse modes and how do they inform each other?

bb: th lettrs in th image th image in th lettrs strokes shapes strong diffrenses sumtimes in th writing n painting n drawing n also amayzing similariteez

RJC: How did you come to perform with Luddites?

bb: they askd me 2 play with them wun nite in theyr rehersal n thn they askd me in n i realizd it had bin an audishyun i had a lot 2 lern n i lovd lerning it writing lyrics 4 th mewsik dewing th vokal
work th math all th wundrful gigs we did i was part uv an amayzing xperiens lovd it n lernd a ot n
unlernd a lot amayzing time 4 me

RJC: How would you describe the group's sound? When I've listened to the songs I'm reminded of groups like Public Image, Ltd, early Sonic Youth, and a little of Suicide, but it may just be that these groups all have an avant garde sound.

bb: iuv thot uv thos groups yu mensyun as echoes n velvet undrground peopul have mesyund 2 me n us at th time n i wud def describe luddites sound as alternativ rock peopul also sd we wer like th cure but mostlee like ourselvs

RJC: What music do you listen to these days?

bb: reelee evreething

RJC: What have you been reading?

bb: A perfect waiter by alain claude sulzer

Saturday, November 5, 2011

EXCHANGE ON FILM AND POETRY by Thomas Fink and Eric Monder

Thomas Fink: Let’s begin with film aesthetics. In your 1994 book, George Sidney: A Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood Press), you argue that Sidney’s movies from the forties through the sixties “not only challenged the aesthetic principle of classic Hollywood cinema, but also anticipated, and influenced, modern styles of filmmaking” (1).

While the classic Hollywood “style was to maintain suspension of disbelief in the storylines by concealing the manufacture of the production” (4), you indicate various strategies that Sidney uses to foreground this “manufacture.” One involves narration. You compare “the structure of many Sidney narratives” to “the unfolding of an origami object—its parts are revealed along the way through digressions (or “set pieces”) that do not, at first, seem to add to the story” (16). Characterizing “Sidney’s cinema” as “one of character, mood and incident,” you nevertheless assert that “the seemingly disembodied vignettes. . . do contribute to the understanding of character development or a general theme.”

I want to understand how, in your view, Sidney and later innovative practitioners disrupt narrative via digression or perhaps reinvent narrative as a weaving of digressions and how these formal choices produce thematic consequences. (And I use the adjective “thematic” because you use the noun “theme,” but I’m quite willing to suppose that a movie or poem may have contiguous themes and not one central theme.) In the light of Sidney’s work and what you find most compelling in recent years, I’d also like you to unpack the powerful, evocative statement: “Narrative space (whether a train, a show boat, or a stage) often becomes a character itself, and the pattern of repetition, returning to specific spaces, creates thematic, not narrative, development” (16).

Eric Monder:
In Pilot #5 (1943), Franchot Tone’s character returns to the location where he had “sold his soul” to a corrupt local government (by helping to evict an indigent couple from their home); his epiphany leads to his voluntary demise during a WWII mission, so it dramatically strengthens the ideological theme (standing up to fascism, whether “foreign” or American home-grown), but does not necessarily strengthen the character’s dimensionality.

In Show Boat (1951), Howard Keel’s Gaylord makes a realization about his departure from his marriage when he accidentally meets Ava Gardner’s Julie on a boat (but not the show boat, where both of them had become stars). Julie informs Gaylord that he he has not only left his wife but a child as well. This information prompts Gaylord to return to the original boat, the show boat, and his family, including the daughter he didn’t know he had. Again, there is a circularity of narrative, which offers a neat closure for Gaylord though not for the tragic, mixed-race character of Julie, who is excluded from the traditional family structure and that original space.

In The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), Tyrone Power’s Eddy finally meets the son he barely knew (Duchin rejected him because his son was a painful reminder of his late wife). Either by accident or design (I don’t remember), Duchin takes his son to a NYC park, which used to be the location of a nightclub, the very place Duchin met his first wife (Kim Novak), the boy’s mother. It is at this point, Duchin tells his son that he is dying of leukemia. Again, a circularity of the narrative and a return to a space, which is affecting on a level of grand melodrama and minor suspense though does not necessarily develop narrative or character in a significant way (we already knew about the illness and Duchin’s impending demise—it is only a matter of telling his son).

Fink: These examples help me understand the concept of narrative space as “character” with thematic implications. In the case of Pilot #5, I wonder whether Sidney is simultaneously promoting the ideological theme and indicating how mechanical it is for Hollywood to have to crank it up again and again. In later experimental cinema and even, perhaps, in an occasional contemporary Hollywood “art” film, is there a further use of such space as character in ways that make it more difficult to locate thematic intention?

Monder: By their nature, art films and experimental films confuse thematic concerns. How would you answer your question vis a vis modernist poetry or your own work?

Fink: In the 1920s, the first critics of modernist British and American poetry wanted to emphasize the thematic unity of their objects of attention while acknowledging the difficult multiplicity of references, tones, and “events” in the work. For example, between 1922, when it appeared, and around 1970, every critic seemed to stress that Eliot’s The Waste Land was not just a collage of fragments but a text with a coherent center—for example, a critique of the sterility of post-World War I European society through juxtaposition with the great myth and literature of the past. By the seventies, with the influence of continental theory, critics were returning to texts like The Waste Land , Wallace Stevens’ long meditative poems, H.D. myth-inflected work, Pound’s Cantos , Marianne Moore’s collage-poetry, and other texts to show how various themes interrupt and complicate each other without resolution at the end. From such a perspective, yes, The Waste Land includes elements of critique of Eliot’s contemporary culture, but the insufficiencies of ancient cultures are also manifested, traces of the poet’s personal life infiltrate in ways that cannot persist in being read as wholly “universalizing,” seams between collage-elements are not stable, sometimes bursts of language resist any thematic recuperation, and the “whole” is not reducible to a statement or image.

As for so-called postmodernist poetry written after World War Two, what we’re calling “thematic confusion” is evident from the beginning. (Of course, to cite only one example, some scholars perceived the William Carlos Williams of the long poem Paterson as a modernist and some as a postmodernist, and others find the binary itself too problematic for use.) Among the Black Mountain poets, Creeley and Levertov in the fifties and sixties were more thematically coherent in a given poem than Charles Olson, who believed in leaping directly from one perception to another. But disjunction is a fundamental technique of New York School poets like Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and John Ashbery. In my own poetry, I am often interested in the collision of various themes, though I would not fetishtically “mess up” a poem that works well yet consistently pursues a specific theme.

Regarding another form of disjunction, you observe that “Sidney frequently undercuts the iconic expectations and relationships between star and audience” (10). Do contemporary Hollywood filmmakers use this technique, and if so, is it still able to have a similar impact? Why or why not?

Monder: I don’t think contemporary Hollywood filmmakers as a lot are trying to undercut generic expectations any more than most Hollywood filmmakers of the past. Those who experiment this way are usually (still) on the margins of the Hollywood scene (whatever that is anymore). For example, I don’t see Spielberg even wanting to achieve something different from the typical bourgeois narrative (rather, he reaffirms it), but a director like Abbas Kiarostami is more apt to make film like Certified Copy, which challenges the very idea of narrative and character development. Since those expectations have changed over the years, a Kiarostami must “up the ante” to have a true impact. In retrospect, Sidney seems like that latter kind of filmmaker, yet he worked within the system, so it is difficult for many to appreciate him the way they would a true pioneering independent (e.g. Oscar Micheaux or Orson Welles). Using Welles as the more celebrated version of Sidney, I would argue Welles’ work would have had greater impact, or at least a different impact, in its day. His techniques and ideas have been appropriated over the years, so an uninformed contemporary viewer would not necessarily notice what is different or special about them.

Does any part of what I am saying resonate with you vis a vis John Ashbery or the other New York School poets or is it too difficult to apply to such a different form with its own unique history?

Fink: Neither mainstream nor innovative poetry are solid commercial ventures, to say the least, so a Spielberg in poetry is not being rewarded for “conformity” significantly more than a Kiarostami, even if in most cases, though not all, mainstream poets have greater access to the kind of cultural capital afforded by traditionally respected publishers like Norton or Knopf and magazines like The New Yorker and Poetry. However, what you are saying does resonate with the poetry of Ashbery and company.

Much as it would be interesting to focus on a good-sized portion of the New York School, Koch, O’Hara, Guest, Schuyler, and Ashbery (to cite the figures generally mentioned as the forefront of the first of several generations of the “School”) have as many telling differences in the ways that they deploy disjunction as they do similarities, and a perusal of “second-generation” poets like David Shapiro, Bernadette Mayer, and Ted Berrigan would multiply those differences. So I’ll just discuss Ashbery and those outside the New York School who have “upped the ante.” (And in the interests of brevity, I’m going to do a great deal of simplification.) Ashbery’s best known poem is “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (1975), which might seem to be a coherent meditation on a Mannerist painting by Parmagianino. However, if one really reads rather than sails through the poem, s/he finds that generally, every few sentences (and within long sentences), the drift of thinking goes somewhere else, a “place” that cannot clearly be predicted from where it had been. Parmagianino’s painting receives a great deal of attention but does not center a narrative with a determinate trajectory. Contexts multiply. And the ringing conclusion does not conclude in a way that can contain what precedes. In fact, it may raise more questions, however dramatically “final” it sounds as a statement about a privileged moment of perception in relation to presence and absence.

Even if “Self-Portrait” and many of the poems, long and short, that follow it use conventional syntax, unlike “Europe” and other poems in Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath (1962) that dismember all standard models of sentence structure, the poet’s work offers no encouragement for a reader’s retrospective reconstruction of a clearly delineated conflict, complication, climax, etc. And if one somehow discovers “character development” in the text, s/he is making powerful use of her own imaginative (you might say, projective) capacity. In fact, where one character is “speaking” and another has yielded the floor in an Ashbery poem is surely a matter for conjecture, and this New York poet follows Gertrude Stein’s tendency to distribute pronouns throughout a text without tying them to specific human antecedents. For over fifty years, Ashbery has utilized the linguistic tools and signals of narrative—for example, forms of transition like subordinating conjunctions pertaining to space and time—and small bits of plot only to thwart their usual functioning.

On the other hand, to those who appreciate (and write about) this kind of work, these texts do not give the impression of 100% randomness or arbitrariness. It is presumed that the disjunctions—leaps from one image to another, from an image to a trope, a trope to an abstraction, an abstraction to an image—possess a “logic” that may or may not be able to be articulated. It could be a dream logic, a metonymic chain that reveals the functioning of words saturated with social significances and their evasion.

About the time that Ashbery was writing “Self-Portrait,” what would coalesce—at least according to the narrative of literary historians—as Language Poetry in the late seventies and early eighties on the east and west coasts of this country was beginning to gather its forces by concentrating on advanced continental and other theories of language and political discourse. Language poets constructed texts that “upped the ante” through a disruption of syntax that, in some cases, exceeded those of The Tennis Court Oath, through the placement of intervals of disjunction even smaller, through the resituating of lines on the page, through the use of complex procedures such as those introduced by the French Oulipo as early as the fifties and even through the breaking up of words and introduction of “nonsense”-words. Narrative and character development became even more difficult to fathom, even as, in the eighties, writers who were in sympathetic dialogue with the Language poets were conceiving of a “new narrative” that included disjunction as a strategy. Nowadays, “post-avant” or “post-Language” poets are not “upping the ante” in the sense that they are not necessarily finding ways to be even more disjunctive; what they perceive as innovation is the reintroduction of strategies of coherence alongside the kinds of disjunctive modes that Stein and a handful of other modernists, New York School poets, Language poets, experimental feminists, and others made available.

I’d like to hear more about what you consider the most invigorating and influential cinematic techniques used by Orson Welles. And then I’m wondering if you can tell us how Abbas Kiarostami or a similarly representative filmmaker develops strategies that are even more “revolutionary” than those of his precursors.

Monder: That is interesting about the superficial parallel in the history of poetry. A simple example of a “revolutionary” technique in Welles would be his use of multiple narrative levels and points of view in Citizen Kane (1941), though how much this could be attributed to the screenwriter (Herman Mankiewicz) should be considered, since only a few of Welles’ films really do this. Nevertheless, this “breakthrough” from traditional linear narratives—at least in Hollywood---is often attributed to Welles (in his first film yet). Stylistically, his films also have a consistent use of bold camera angle experiments (particularly with wide angle lenses). Multiple narrative levels and points of view are much more common today in mainstream films. Of greater interest to me, actually, is Welles’ deconstruction/reconstruction of film elements in his marvelous art forgery “documentary,” F for Fake (1974), one of his last films: Welles takes “found footage” and joins it with his own to create a reality that doesn’t exist, or at least is questionable. Thus, Welles questions the very notion of “the documentary” as reality and, at the same time, cleverly comments of the theme of his subject—art forgery! It is a highly self-reflexive, Chinese-box sort of film. Today, anyone can create this effect on YouTube—sometimes crudely, sometimes in a more sophisticated way than F for Fake. But I still marvel at the fact the film was made in 1974, and up until then, there had been only minor experiments of this sort in the avant garde.

A note about Kiarostami: he, too, blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction in some of his films (before it became fashionable). I found a quote by Jean-Luc Nancy regarding Kiarostami's 1992 film, Life, and Nothing More...

[I]t all looks like reporting, but everything underscores (indique à l'évidence) that it is the fiction of a documentary (in fact, Kiarostami shot the film several months after the earthquake), and that it is rather a document about "fiction": not in the sense of imagining the unreal, but in the very specific and precise sense of the technique, of the art of constructing images. For the image by means of which, each time, each opens a world and precedes himself in it (s'y précède) is not pregiven (donnée toute faite) (as are those of dreams, phantasms or bad films): it is to be invented, cut and edited. Thus it is evidence, insofar as, if one day I happen to look at my street on which I walk up and down ten times a day, I construct for an instant a new evidence of my street (Jean-Luc Nancy, "On Evidence: Life and Nothing More, by Abbas Kiarostami," Discourse 21.1 (1999), p.82).

In the more recent Certified Copy (released in the U.S. this year), Kiarostami toys with traditional character development (and undercuts the narrative development simultaneously) by creating fully-rounded characters who seem to become other people as the story progresses (or at least makes you wonder about them) and the ambiguity remains until the final moments. David Lynch has also experimented this way—my favorite of his in this respect is Mulholland Drive (2001). I don’t think you will find anything quite this bold in earlier mainstream films (Welles’ or anyone else’s), though I might be forgetting something. In all these cases, I believe the reception has been mixed. Not everyone loved Citizen Kane in its day, not everyone loves Certified Copy. But Citizen Kane is much more accepted (and cited as influential) today, so it is likely Certified Copy will be considered more mainstream in the future.

What future outlook do you see for poetry? Are there trends you could cite? What period (or specific poets) seem to be influencing younger writers?

Fink: Some recent trends in contemporary American innovative poetry have important thematic components. Poetry connected to environmental movements, Queer Theory (and especially transgender concerns), Web 2.0, the reclamation of history by people of color, or work that combines two of this categories is likely to have increased visibility and number of practitioners for the rest of this decade, and the dialogue among practitioners within each group will likely produce substantial complications. Thus, possibilities of “statement”/demystification of statement and aesthetic modes of delivering such communications will multiply. The poets’ points of solidarity and conflict with one another—often played out in blogs and other social media—may shift and will become increasingly evident, so more and more divergent positions within such areas as ecopoetry, transgender poetry, and new media work will supplant any sense that the practitioners should be lumped together.

To recall Robert Creeley’s dictum, “Form is never more than an extension of content,” the struggle to establish a solid relationship between new perspectives and information and poetic forms will engender both new formal constructs and yet, perhaps contrary to Creeley’s point, may influence how the content itself is absorbed. As often is the case, evolving (hard) scientific, social scientific, and computer scientific knowledge will put pressure on poets to expand or transform their linguistic, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic imagination.

Ecopoetry has been around a long time, so I should mention that, in the texts of ecopoets like Brenda Iijima and Jessica Grim, the relatively simple, declarative, descriptive modes of eco-forefathers like Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder (both still writing) give way to a discourse that complicates declaration, description, and focus while providing markedly different aesthetic pleasures.

Since the cinema and poetry are our foci here, I want to mention the cinematic poetry of Paolo Javier and Peter Nickowitz. Both poets (and there are undoubtedly others I’m not thinking of or am not yet aware of) not only write poems that include the cinema and metacinema as subject matter—I think especially of Javier’s “Ladies and Gentlemen—Mr. Bill Murray” in ways that complicate Frank O’Hara’s homages to the movies, but they “shoot” poems as though they were movies, and Javier also has also produced powerful comic book poetry. These cross-genre innovations can certainly be elaborated in different directions by poets to come.

To move to another aspect of film, do films really need music to manipulate the emotional responses of audiences? Or does a relative lack of music make a movie too “naked,” and if so, why?

Monder: I found your answer a bit startling. I knew that that race, gender, and political issues had become addressed in modern poetry, but I thought (or would have thought) that was the trend (say, 1980s - 2000s) and now something else, less didactic or obvious, would be emerging, as we both acknowledged--in our earlier exchange--has happened in the cinema. Not that cinema and poetry could be considered on the same track, as we also acknowledged, or that generalizing this way is very useful.

Fink: What I’ve been trying to convey is that contemporary innovative poets have taken up the challenge to address these political issues in ways that are “less didactic or obvious” than mainstream writers tend to do.

Monder: So I'll move on to music.

Music does not need to be present at all to evoke or manipulate emotional responses. The visuals alone could do that. It is noteworthy that several provocative films have no (or at least very little) music--Hitchcock's Rope (1948) and The Birds (1963), Ackerman's Jeanne Dielmann (1975), and many avant garde classics. Originally, in fact, Hitchcock wanted no music in the famous Psycho shower scene. I think music has the potential to greatly influence a viewer's feelings about a scene or an entire movie, particularly in a melodrama (melos = music in Greek) that employs a leitmotif, but music could also have the opposite effect (either by the filmmaker's design or mistake): thus, a score in a Godard film will probably not manipulate a viewer's response in the traditional sense. If anything, it will most likely repel the viewer in the same way Godard's editing style is oft-putting. But if that was the intention, that is also a sort of manipulation.

I guess you could call the films without music I referenced "naked," but I don't really think of them that way because each one has very sophisticated uses of sound--just not musical sounds.

Fink: Yes, it makes excellent sense to speak of “sophisticated uses of sound” without necessarily including music. The lack of music can force viewers to attend more carefully to that sound.