Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Little Place for You and Everything:
an interview with Dereck Clemons

Hollowed out was a little place for you & everything. (from Paragraphs)

Dereck: writing & living in San Francisco w/ wife Wendy Trevino & liking this / finds dance/house music shortens an otherwise long commute / enchiladas, quick & easy to make, just like he's been told / current reads: some Alice Notley collection, Lyn Hejinian's My Life, Dara Wier's Reverse Rapture.

Three Poems by Dereck Clemons

One rake across the neck, & not even that deep, was all it took for him to dramatize the rest. A suitcase is cornered. His paragraph unmoved by my kneeling on the bed, weeping into a trash can.

Not even if you made me guess your name. Not if these flies took off on back of your bicycle, bound there with the thinnest gold rope. Not if precious baby down floated through my idlest of moments. Not if the lakes coughed up their blood-stained gears. Not if the bandits offered their silky pockets. Not if the waylaid, gutted in the drift of ditch grass & skin-trotting sun, withdrew their gaze. Not if your unicorn came blasted through with a radio dial in its mouth.

Or how not to sound like you. Not to sit here, waiting to. False starts. Lies back into traffic. Lies awake in a roomful of exhaust, disgusted at the bubbling crude back of the mouth. Wants plentifully out. Back inside, mistaken, she identifies a match. Piles of this last failure to get ready sooner, make what remains above ground a little longer, inhale less.

GL: A wise man once said: Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing. Your beautiful chapbook Paragraphs seems manifestly conscious of the “neutral, composite, oblique” space that writing affords. In these eerie, disjunctive prose poems, subjects appear and disappear seemingly at random; observations, motifs, and narrative gestures stagger momentarily into view before being subsumed by your cryptic and apparently urgent meanderings. I find that few people change the subject as compellingly as you. But I’d like to know why you are always changing the subject. Is it because you look at poetry as a unique opportunity to explore obliquities and lost identities? That is, the medium through which the poet can (advantageously) contemplate his own mysterious absence (his death as an author)? Pray tell.

DC: Hey, thanks. I’m glad for the compelling bit. My hope is to draw the reader into this tight little hug, affectionate-like, that becomes a sort of logical headlock. So readers feel sort of taken advantage of, or molested – logically.

I guess there are all these ways to respond, & I suppose that’s part of the shifts. One thinks on “footage,” rolling footage, multiple channels of information, streamed in simultaneously over 13 monitors, but then as well on exhibitions, installations, displays, poem sentences as “examples” of, what, real-world sentences? Live-action sequences of such? So, chain-reaction pieces? The shock of being in a dressing room with a chain reaction?

So…more to that authorial point, I’d say the Barthes thing is present during composition but more as an assumption than an overriding concern or, I don’t know, investigation. I’m not contemplating my own nor the author’s dissolution into the stuff of poetry-making all that much, but rather the actual spaces opened up by the shifts, by the reader’s memory, which allows for the singular & momentary shift in the first place, these resultant spaces, some of which are quite plain & ordinary & pseudo-narrative, actually, opening — & always opening, at each turn, & hopefully ending likewise, creating an impression of these fields much wider & deeper & darker than the almost offensively ordinary discreet sentence, fields that start small & then blast open in the back of the reader’s head. Because of the headlock. Is my hope.

GL: The title of your collection, Paragraphs, is almost brutally non-descript. It seems to abandon the very notion of titling poems, while at the same time calling attention to the anti-formal impulses of your work. Could you tell me a little bit about the title and how it (dys)functions as a heading for these poems.

DC: Paragraphs is intended to point to the installation-type quality of the work. Here’s the space, the paragraph, that states these sentences belong together, they will add up to more than the sum of their parts, etc., as they’re joined — the reader remembering & (re)contextualizing. The paragraph is that body making the shifts possible since it announces a field of gravity, this meaning — making field of social, cultural law I try to exploit into an observable matter that makes constant crisis attainable.

GL: Reading your poems calls to (my) mind two masters of the non sequitur: Gertrude Stein and Donald Barthelme. On one hand, as with Stein, your poems mischievously undermine the commonplace ‘sense’ of words—that is, both their most immediate connotations and our ordinary experience of their sound and application—; and, as with Barthelme, your poems consistently interrupt our ordinary experience of time, plot, event, etc, by featuring ‘events’ and narrative shifts without presenting a coherent causal chain for those events and shifts. Have these writers indeed influenced your work? And, if the above description of your lineage seems inadequate, what other writers have conspired to influence the sensibility and poetic practice of Dereck Clemons?

DC: But yes, about that causal chain, there’s got to be those, though, or else my fear is the work hangs limp, boring & contains no opportunity to shift a reader into a weird, dark space whatsoever. The causal chain, in Paragraphs, then, isn’t always subject-oriented, or a single subject carried out over numerous sentences, but sometimes based more in idiomatic expectation, or what my historical, socio-etc. moment of language “usually” sounds like. I mean, it can get pretty basic & ordinary, so for example “Martha” is a woman’s name but may be the antecedent for a “he.” That’s a pretty simple if not ludicrous example, I think.

Of course Stein is omnipresent, & Barthelme I haven’t read much – one of his books some time ago – but more than that I think David Foster Wallace’s sentences are the greatest & weigh heavily on me, constantly, telling me to turn here or there. Then there’s Félix Fénéon, speaking of shifts & turns in tight spaces, whose book Novels in Three Lines is just tremendous (a debt of thanks to my photographer friend Scott Polach for that rec.). Getting along, though, you have Rosmarie Waldrop, Bob Perelman (a.k.a. is one of my all-time favorites), Sabrina Orah Mark (just got Tsim Tsum in the mail!!), Karen Volkman, Laynie Brown. They’re brilliant with the prose poem.

GL: You are currently a resident of the great and nearly bankrupt state of California, which is, at present, I would imagine, both a sunny and a turbulent place to live. What has California done to your poems? And, although there’s nothing resembling a mimetic representation of ‘place’ in your work, I wonder if you also could tell me how your sense of particular environments, and experience(s) of place and landscape in general, impact your work?

DC: I think the consensus is that moving to any heavily urban area affords a tremendous opportunity to refocus attention away from the domestic & semi-cloistered & toward all this traffic of stimuli - it seems true for me as well. Notions of convergence, of compromise, of one space being inhabited by another, equally valid space – it’s all there, palpable & hypnotic. Plus we’ve met a great bunch of writers out here, as well. It’s great.

GL: Contemporary poetry is becoming increasingly cyber-ethereal these days. Some of your poems that were published in the now-defunct Kulture Vulture, have disappeared following the expiration of said journal. This vanishing seems to epitomize the nature of poetry on the Web, which offers us seemingly “limitless opportunity” (according to the contemporary proverb) to post and publish, while simultaneously featuring an erratic shelf life and a problematic metaphysic to boot. I’d like to get your take on poetry’s migration to the Web, since it’s offered you both opportunity and privation.

DC: Blast! The Kulture Vulture thing, yes. That’s how it goes. I’m interested in how we adapt to the Internet, how we change our expectations of what’s expected & valuable, what’s acceptably permanent or impermanent, what we think the lifespan of some production or other should be — how all these feelings we have will adjust into our technology. Cyborg stuff. Of course, online journals will only get more, what, established? permanent? common? as the Internet continues to grow into this visceral space we spend our lives in. Maybe this is an opportunity for poetry to actually develop something new that sculpture / the visual arts haven’t grown into quite yet — this adaptation that’s taking place on the Web.

That’s the constant flux of the Internet as-is, but too there’s the notion that we’re in this period of expansion, & that before too long we’ll have a hardening that occurs as more regulations are instated & the technology develops to offer a greater sense of permanence. Of course, you’ll still have to pay to operate a site, I imagine. Who knows, maybe Google will own everything by then, including our poems – I’m sorry, the intellectual property our poems depend on to maintain a state of “having been published.”

GL: What’s knew with Dereck Clemons these days? Sparking faculty revolts in the Sunshine State? Drafting manifestos? Writing new strange and beautiful poems? Give us the scoop…

DC: Hey! The UC Faculty Walkout is fast-approaching. I don’t know what to expect. I think it’s vital that demonstration remain active in this country. People are claiming that other sectors of the workforce are also having to deal with the weight of this downturn & why should UC faculty members expect anything different – which is just a completely horrific line of reasoning – that because several groups are going through hardships, no single group should actively demand accountability & transparency from its higher-ups? Here’s a link for those interested to get some context & here’s another if people want to find out more info regarding how to throw their support behind the walkout. It’s strange. I’ve been working as an adjunct English Comp. professor for over 3 years now, & even as a sort of outsourced labor for UC Davis, & I think this is all going to come back around to people like me, somehow. I mean, one of the colleges I’ve worked for has now turned my old position into an unpaid “internship” – so messed up – so I’m watching closely.

But yeah, hopefully pretty & strange. A nice performance Re poems. That’s really it, I imagine. Well, I just finished this ms. News Organization, of which Paragraphs is a portion, a more concentrated sort of demonstration-oriented portion while the surrounding structures provide more breath & aesthetics-oriented language. These newer poems (Paragraphs became 1-year old this past August) explore the language of reportage, of the daily news of Arts & Politics & Human Interest stories, among other language & convergent-fields-of-info demonstrations. Yay. Thanks for the questions!!! Hello everybody!!!