“At the End of War”, DeWitt Clinton / Review, Interview, Poems

“Prayer is said Standing
A Barechu, a call to Worship
We have not bothered, we are weak
We are too weak to even Speak
Every day is our Yom Kippur”
Reading the Tao at Auschwitz, VII, DeWitt Clinton, At the End of War (Kelsay Books, 2018)



DeWitt Clinton’s At the End of War moves with a graceful precision weaving Old Testament  stories with contemporary life, visits to the opera or cafe. Here and there are notes of humor as in On Leaving Socrates with His Jailer and hints of middle-America folksy, as in On the Way to Church Camp, Mother Meets the Devil. He speaks in many voices, blending the perspectives of Judaism and the Tao, slowly moving into the unspeakable tragedy of World War II and the Jewish Holocaust. This is the main event, if you will, of the collection, the obscenity of it layered with sacred ritual and text, an unflinching attempt to come to terms, to find identity, to rise above, to move past. The collection derives its name from the closing poem, which is after Wislawa Szymorska’s The End and the Beginning. 

Wislawa Szymorska begins her poem with:
“After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.”

DeWitt Clinton closes his collection with:
“Brooms. everybody, find all the brooms.
Can anyone send a letter? We need to let
someone know this has happened.

“Tomorrow we can start burning our families.
Surely someone will see the smoke.
Surely someone will come.”

We are in tears as we close the book. We are at once bathed in despair and hope. How many brooms will we need to clean up after all the wars and genocides? Do we finally grasp the futility of war? Will there ever be an end to the genocides of which twenty-four are happening as we “speak”? / J.D.

The excerpts from At the End of War are published here with permission. This book is recommended. / The quotation from The End and the Beginning is from Miracle Fair by Wislawa Szymborsk, translated by Joanna Trzeciack (W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 2001), also recommended.


ON LEAVING SOCRATES ALONE WITH HIS JAILER

(for my students of The Symposium, The Apology,

 Crito and Phaedo)

What started out as a sex wine party turned into a major

Mind concussion for my students, but still, we waded

Through the prose, hopeful they’d find out why

He insisted on so many questions, so many questions,

So many disillusioned Athenians. Yet toward the end,  

We could only face the charges, something about impiety

And influencing the youth, both trumped up, of course,

Mostly as a ruse to run him out of town, if he would go.  

But we knew he would not go.  We voted to acquit,

Even invoking Johnny Cochran’s “if it doesn’t fit,”

But sadly they were only seven at the time, more up

On Paris’s short sojourn than old football stars facing

Bogus trials.  Late in the day, we even considered assisting

Our friend out into the dark, but as you must know,

He trusted in the Laws even if the Laws never assumed

It would go this far.  We talked about “Prison Break,”

But few even had time to watch that, so busy chewing

The dense prose of friend/reporter Plato late on the scene.  

Most of us were quite done in by all the “soul talk”

Of those last pages, and then, we had to leave, some students

Actually having lost their speech, some needing crutches,

Some on life support, leaving our friend wandering

Through the underground calling out for Homer or Orpheus

Or anyone who wouldn’t mind sitting down for a very long

Conversation about nearly everything, since time is now

Beyond even Infinity.  That’s when I left, too, our poor

Cave-like classroom a faux jail cell, wondering if any of us

Could have comforted our gadfly, our inquirer, who is

Just now lifting his cup, resigned, cheery even. Au revoir,

Old friend, let’s hope your students do well on their final.

– excerpt from At the End of War  

INTERVIEW

JAMIE: I think it takes enormous courage to visit Holocaust sites – even to visit the museum in Los Angeles – and then to relive the experience through your writing. Would you speak of that?

DeWITT: One of the more provocative statements about art and The Holocaust is Theodor Adorno’s comment, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”  This remark can be taken several ways, including any poetry about anything after Auschwitz, or as I take it, poetry written about Auschwitz after Auschwitz is barbaric.  And why is that?  Perhaps because for all who died, and the few who survived at Auschwitz, and at all the other work and death camps, there was nothing “artistic” about it.  

Ralph Fiennes, playing the character of Michael Berg, in the film, “The Reader,” asks a child survivor of Auschwitz, “Did you learn anything?”  The now aging daughter, played by Lena Olin, replies, “People ask all the time what I learned in the camps. But the camps weren’t therapy. What do you think these places were? Universities? We didn’t go there to learn.” She continues by saying, “Nothing comes out of the camps. Nothing.”  

The death camps were neither schools, nor artistic experiences, but it is through art that we can at least remember some of what happened, even if it did not happen to the artist.  I’ve been writing about historical events for a number of decades now, and while the art is anachronistic, I think it is also an extension of that history as well.  I recall writing about the Spanish conquistador wars against the native Maya, Aztec and Incan tribes, (The Conquistador Dog Texts, and The Coyot. Inca Texts, New Rivers Press, o.o.p.) and the poetry is certainly not “accurate,” as a historian might write, but it is an artistic rendering of the horrible inflictions the native tribes experienced.  The same may be true for writing about the Holocaust. 

I’ve read historical renderings of the Holocaust, and read poetry and plays and memoirs about the Holocaust as well, and the latter are far more interesting to me as an artist. While studying the Tao de Ching with my undergraduate students, I began to consider a new path that I might take in trying to remember my experience of visiting Auschwitz I and II camps several years ago.  The result is an unusual fusion, and quite anachronistic, but I hope readers will ponder the insights of Lao Tzu as they read “Taoist like” poems of what the prisoners might have thought about as they were starving to death, or what they might have wondered as tens of thousands were marched to the gas chambers and crematoriums.  

I have read a number of artistic renderings of Holocaust experiences, and I hope anyone who reads “Reading the Tao at Auschwitz” will be open to considering a new lens to consider the horrors experienced by all who died, or survived.  I can also appreciate how survivors, or children, or grandchildren of survivors, might be appalled by such artistic renderings of mine.  It’s a long and difficult to absorb poem, but I hope it is also a valuable contribution to Holocaust literature.  

JAMIE: As a writer, what drew you to poetry instead of other literary options?

DeWITT: I’ve always imagined writing screen plays, novels, stage plays, short stories, novellas, and an array of other genres of imaginative writing, but I’ve been drawn to poetry ever since a college professor asked me to rewrite a prose piece to poetry.  Then I enrolled in a poetry writing workshop with the same professor my last semester, and though I can’t or don’t want to remember what I wrote in that class, the experience was quite wonderful, especially the instructor’s wife’s cookies.  I’ve been drawn to poetry workshops, classes, conferences, and retreats for quite some time now, and do I know why I’m still drawn to poetry?  No I don’t, even though I am still poking around for images and lines.  It’s just a huge joy to be able to still compose poetry, no matter what evolves from a writing session.  

JAMIE: As a beginning writer, what poetry most inspired you and why? 

DeWITT: I took a copy of Coney Island of the Mind with me to Vietnam in late 1969 and read it over and over, but not when we were being shelled or fired upon.  I may have taken other poetry collections, perhaps The Wasteland, but I’m not sure about what I read.  But I did enroll (by correspondence) in an extension class from the University of Kansas at Lawrence. The course was a fairly traditional reading class of modern poetry, and though I enjoyed it, I soon asked the professor if I could send him some scraps of poetry I’d been writing on a 105 howitzer firebase in Vietnam which would later become “The Spirit of the Bayonet Fighter,” published in Harper & Row’s Winning Hearts and Minds.

By the end of my tour, I was hoping to enroll in grad school at Wichita State University which offered a M.A. in English & Creative Writing, and later an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at Bowling Green State University (Ohio).   By then, and then was a long time ago, I was interested in what would later become a career of teaching English and creative writing, and hopefully, writing more poetry, and finding a few kind hearted editors.  The teaching career is over, but I still look forward to writing new poems, and I’m still sending out a few now and then.

JAMIE: What’s next on the agenda for you?

It occurred to me only a few days ago that I may have a third collection of poems (a second collection is in production with Michael Dickel, Gary Lundy, and Is a Rose Press, an adaptation of Kenneth Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese) as I’ve been writing much more since I retired from teaching a few years ago.  I’m not quite sure it’s ready for submission as a book, but I’d like to keep working on it.  One press has a deadline in late August, and I’m hoping to aim for that as a possible submission.  Poetry isn’t everything in my life, as I also appreciate the benefits of Iyengar Yoga, and training for races and triathlons.  The next big one is in Berlin, one of the 6 world major marathons.  I certainly did not qualify to be in the race because of my lightning speed, but instead I earned a “lottery” ticket, which was a random selection of thousands of hopeful participants.  Sightseeing a few days after, including a short trip to the Wannsee chateau where during a luncheon in early 1942, high ranking Nazi Party and military officers designed what was known as “The Final Solution.”  


“From this place
Ashes rising from this place
Ashes circling as far as one could see
Ashes circling over All
Over Everyone over Everything
Circling a constant circling
A rink forever circling
a constant ringing s’hma Israel”
Reading the Tao at Auschwitz, XVIII, excerpt from At the End of War  


Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ecḥad
Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One


Photo by Meredith W. Watts, “For Good” Photography​

DeWITT CLINTON  is the author of three books of poetry:  The Conquistador Dog Texts and The Coyot. Inca Texts (New Rivers Press), At the End of the War (Kelsay Books, 2018), and a fourth collection is coming out in late 2019 or 2020:  On a Lake by a Moon: Fishing with the Chinese Masters, (Is A Rose Press).  His poems and essays have appeared in The Journal of Progressive Judaism (with co-author Rabbi David Lipper), Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, Cultural Studies< => Critical Methodologies, Storytelling Sociology: Narrative as Social Inquiry, and Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry (Oxford U Press).

A few recent publications include The Last Call: The Anthology of Beer, Wine & Spirits Poetry, Santa Fe Literary Review, Verse-Virtual, New Verse News, Ekphrastic Review, Diaphanous Press, Meta/Phor(e)Play, The Arabesques Review, and The New Reader Review.  He is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, and lives with his wife, Jacqueline, in Shorewood, a small village one street north of Milwaukee.  

DeWitt’s Amazon Page U.S. is HERE.
DeWitt’s Amazon Page U.K. is HERE.


ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poems in “I Am Not a Silent Poet”
* Remembering Mom in HerStry
* Three poems in Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
“Over His Morning Coffee,” Front Porch Review

A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton



 

“Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir” by Truman Capote with the lost photographs of David Attie … not just for my Brooklyn peeps

Truman Capote (1924 – 1984)

“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s



by Truman Capote (Author), David Attie (Photographer), George Plimpton (Introduction), Eli Attie (Afterword)

Of the books I read this year, this birthday gift from my son and my daughter-in-law is by far my favorite … and not just because I’m from Brooklyn and it’s a bit of nostalgia and a stellar homage. I’m a Capote fan and a David Attie fan and Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote With the Lost Photographs of David Attie brings the writer and photographer together in the most delightful way.

“I live in Brooklyn by choice.”

If you’re a Capote fan, you’ll learn about his life in Brooklyn and just why he loved it. There are two photographs of a young Truman that some fans might find worth the price of admission. One is on the book cover (above) the other is included in the video below. The photographic collection in this book was originally commissioned to use as a promo for Capote after the publication of his novella, Breakfast At Tiffany‘s (1958).

Capote captures the essential Brooklyn in his writing, the singular gentility of the time and place, the grittiness of certain quarters, and the ways in which it could be excentric. Attie’s  photos – taken in 1959 – document the tenor of a time now alive only in the memory of a generation that is slowly passing.

David Attie’s photographs were never published and thought to be lost. When Attie’s son Eli found them, he merged them together with Capote’s narrative and they were published at last, a visual feast, engaging for Brooklynites, Capote fans, literary history and photography buffs.

Photo credit: Jack Mitchell under CC BY-SA 4.0; signature is public domain.

The short video below gives a brief overview of the book and includes many of David Attie’s photographs. If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view the video.



What would you find pleasant or helpful on The Poet by Day in 2019?  What have you found helpful to date? Link HERE to let me know.




ABOUT

Testimonials

Disclosure

Facebook

Twitter

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”


The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

 

THE SUNDAY POESY: Opportunities, Events and Other Information and News

PBD - blogroll

CONTEST

Opportunity Knocks

TWO OF CUPS “is excited to read for its annual chapbook contest between April 15th and June 15th. One winning manuscript will be chosen by 2015 winner, Raegen Pietrucha. Winner will be announced August 1st, the author receiving 25 copies of his/her book. Two finalists (chosen by our editor) will receive 10 copies of his/her book. A list of honorable mentions will receive recognition on our website.” Details HERE

CALLS FOR SUBMISSIONS/JOBS

Opportunity Knocks

ESKIMOPIE “is always seeking high quality poems, rants, haikus, lyrics, essays, short fiction, scripts, reviews, links, artwork, photos, collages, jokes, announcements of new pubs and readings, wet dreams and whatever else you can think of. It does not matter if your work has been previously published or if you have read it at open mics a hundred times, chances are that hardly anyone has seen it, so if you send it to Eskimo, more people will see it. It does not matter what you write about, all Eskimo wants to see is good rhythm and diction, music and magic.”  The magazine is HERE. The submission guidelines are HERE.

THE EXAMINED LIFE “is a Literary Journal of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine is a new print journal published biannually by the Writing and Humanities Program at the Carver College of Medicine. A forum devoted to literary prose and poetry, the journal intends to deepen and complicate our understanding of healthcare and healing, illness, the human body, and the human condition.” Its editors are currently reading submissions for the next issue.  Details HERE

LOCAL GEMS POETRY PRESS is accepting poetry submissions through July 1st for an anthology of poetry by Generation Y (anyone born after 1982). Details HERE.

You might tuck this away to hold in your memory bank for 2017: Local Gems hosts an annual chapbook contest HERE for the 30 poems in the 30 day NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) in April. NaPoWriMo is held in April to coincide with National Poetry Month.  Details on NaPoWriMo are HERE.

THE SKINNY POETRY JOURNAL (TSPJ) “is a literary journal that is dedicated to The Skinny poetry form. The point of The Skinny, or Skinnys, is to convey a vivid image with as few words as possible.”  Check it out HERE.

BEAKFUL/BEQUÉE posts one work a day. Details HERE … with submission guidelines in the blog roll on your right.

HUFFINGTON POST – at this writing – has positions open for writers and photographers in London and New York.  Details HERE. You can pitch your idea for a blog HERE.

SCRIPTED matches writers who are able to develop content for blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Videos and so forth with marketing professionals who need content. Details HERE.

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL welcomes the submission of stories and poems for possible publication in upcoming books.

  • Best Mom Ever, Deadline Sept. 30, 2016
  • Blended Family, June 30, 2016
  • College Student Stories, July 31, 2016
  • Curvey and Confident, June 30, 2016
  • Dreams and Synchronicities, August 31, 2016
  • Parent to Parent, July 31, 2016
  • Stories About Cats, October 31, 2016
  • Stories About Dogs, October 31, 2016
  • Stories About Teaching and Teachers,  June 30, 2016
  • The Spirit of Canada, August 31, 2016

Details on each HERE.  Submission guidelines HERE.

THE BeZINE theme for June 2016 is “Friendship.”  Submit by June 10 to bardogroup.com. Submission guidelines are HERE.

THE NEW YORK TIMES provides direction on how to submit an Op-Ed feature HERE.

KUDOS

erbacceprize 2016 long-list (100) was announced and The BeZine Contributing Writer, Liliana Negoi, is on it along with Rueben Woolley who was a feature poet in April for poetry month. View the complete list of poets HERE and see who else you might know.  erbacce press is a cooperative publisher. Learn more about it HERE.

EVENTS

THE NEW YORK CITY POETRY FESTIVAL is scheduled for July 30 – 31 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Founded in 2011, this festival is an annual two-day gathering on Governors Island located in New York Harbor. It features poetry readings; a fair of booksellers, artists, and craftmakers; and special events for children. Details HERE

47th INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS is scheduled for 7-11, June 2016. Details HERE

DR. LOCO’S 75TH BIRTHDAY: TRIBUTE TO JIM PEPPER attention San Francisco Bay Area Jazz fans, Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, 780 Howard Street, San Francisco June 5, 1 PM – 2:30 PM

100,000 POETS FOR CHANGE * Peace, Justice and Sustainability.* Be a mover and a shaker and let the world know that POETRY MATTERS!  September 24, 2016. Link HERE for info and to sign up. Or hook-up with Co-founder, Michael Rothenberg, on Facebook HERE.

NORTHWEST FOLK FESTIVAL: Popular storyteller Naomi Baltuck (Writing Between the Lines and The BeZine) and her husband Thom Baltuck are performing this weekend (Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30) at the Northwest Folk Festival in Seattle. The performance schedule is HERE.

REVIEW

31ErDqI4OJL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_MICHAEL ROTHENBERG’S MURDER (Paper Press Books, 2013) was reviewed by Tim Hibbard in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of Poetic Research. “Through the eyes of a private journal writer, poet Michael Rothenberg reports on the continual worldwide injustices, tragedies and killings we are forever made to bear witness to on the streets and via the media. What can be done? With compassion and humor, Murder begins the investigation.” from the book cover.

This day belongs to panic
Jets & 7,000 reruns of suicide
Anthrax in Florida
India hijack hoax
Russian plane downed
320 million dollars of U.S. aid
goes to the Afghanis
Ten killed in Palestinian-Israel clash
A bus driver’s throat is slashed
Black slippery rot of fallen walnuts
On the step

– Apocalyptic Yearnings, Michael Rothenberg, in Murder

PUBLICATION

51UKv1yazEL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

 “The story of Eve has been, more often than not, interpreted by men. Eve has been presented as impulsive, disobedient and ignorant. But what if Eve were the real hero and mother of us all? Where would we be had she never looked for knowledge, asked the important questions, challenged the powers that be? In this beautiful collection of over 40 New York women poets, the strength, vitality and unique voices of women emerge to answer some of these questions. Energy, savvy, wisdom and power emanate from these poems, both individually and as a collection. The women whose work has been anthologized in this collection are as bold as New York, as brave as Eve. Not content to have their stories told for them, these poets grab the apple with both hands and tell it themselves. Grabbing the Apple is a powerful an amazing resource for any reader or student who wants to explore an in-depth selection of work from some of New York’s finest and strongest women poets.”

Word from Terri Muuss is that this long awaited anthology  – Grabbing the Apple (JB Stillwater Publishing Company, 2016) – is out and available through Amazon. Congratulations to Terri and to Editor M.J. Tenerelli and all the contributing poets.

A TIDBIT OF ENCOURAGEMENT

THE POET BY DAY SUNDAY POESY

Submit your event, book launch and other announcements at least fourteen days in advance to thepoetbyday@gmail.com. Publication is subject to editorial discretion.

Review “Raven’s Wire” and Interview, poet Matt Pasca

MattMatt Pasca, an American poet, teacher and speaker, is someone to watch. On February 27, his second poetry collection, Raven Wire (Shanti Arts Publishing) will launch at Bay Shore, Long Island, New York.  For those living in that area, the details are HERE.

12718356_10153377544577895_4241506836986252048_n

Two of Matt’s poems are featured in the January issue of The BeZine. His work is refined, ambitious and precise. It exposes an intimacy with mythology, history, music and literature as well as a keen eye and ear for the complexities and pains of our post-modern times.

Matt demonstrates a sensitivity to the moral responsibilities of the artist and all human beings and an appreciation of social insults and human frailty that is intelligent and compassionate and able to be transformed by beauty. His work is not trite or cheapened by sensationalism or voyeurism. It invites one to read and reread to fully appreciate it.

The name of the book is a reference to the Norse god Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, thought and memory. The collection is divided into two sections, one for each category.

So … artists, I humbly submit, in addition to craft and toil, [we must] maintain a vigorous and sacred practice of Listening, becoming a receptacle that extends into the universe, hoping to return with something true. It is not Odin‘s ring, spear, or death-defying feats I wish to spotlight here, but his practice, our tether as humans seeking compassion and connection, wonder and wisdom…” Matt Pasca, Raven Wire

 

JAMIE: What first drew you to poetry at age eleven?

MATT: I was never much of a talker. I spent lots of time alone as a kid—just my hyper-awareness and a constant hailstorm of words banging off the windshield of my consciousness. Before writing, my only relief from the intensity of life’s stimuli was music. Then, yes, at 11, I discovered a word processing program on the Commodore 64 called Easy Script and fell immediately and unimpeachably in love with the process of making external what had been entirely internal. Not to be dramatic but it felt, as I typed, as if I were writing myself into existence—calmly, honestly and courageously, without shame or judgment or raised voices. Absolute freedom. I was hooked. As years passed and my process evolved, I learned how to hover while the external and internal intertwined and became not only transfixed by these conversations but spurred on to render them with potency.

As for the genre itself, I was around poetry often as a boy, but didn’t take much of a liking to it. I avoided it out of a sense of distaste and saturation, seeking out short stories and non-fiction instead. I remember thinking, “If there is James Baldwin in the world, why bother with poetry?” Even in Kenneth McClane’s wonderful verse-writing course at Cornell, I found poetry composition an arduous and frustrating endeavor. At some point in my late 20s, poetry suddenly “clicked” with me. It became all I wanted to write or read.

JAMIE: As you matured, what surprised you about poetry as both writer and reader?

MATT: In some ways, I think poetry finally “clicked” for me as an outgrowth of my passion for cinema. I had always loved the experience of being in a theatre, dreaming while awake—it felt familiar. When I became a trained projectionist at Cornell Cinema, the flames of my passion for film were mightily fanned. I spent countless nights up in that booth, mesmerized. I decided to sign up for a film class and was lucky enough to have the late Don Fredericksen as my professor. One day he taught a lesson on cinema’s early experimental filmmakers who said to hell with filming stage plays, let’s use this new technology to create something ONLY the film camera can do! During this lesson, we watched Leger’s Ballet Mecanique, a brief 15 minute film that capitalized on the basic principle that a huge screen and a zoom lens could create instant and utter defamiliarization. This made so much sense to me, and reminded me of how I had perceived the world even as a child: intensely, fragmentedly, impressionistically, with a different aperture and at a different speed. Poetry, in turn, more than any other genre, seemed perfectly equipped to provide me with Leger-like shortcuts to the creation of/expression of defamiliarized perception. I began to chase this as both as a writer and reader – the isolation of the familiar in a way that reframes and challenges, both artistically and emotionally. And me, with my long, detail-oriented attention span (perfect for both cinema and poetry), I do enjoy the infamously laborious process of sculpting a single page of defamiliarizing verse.

JAMIE: Your interests are quite diverse. They appear to me to influence your language and bring a multi-layered perspective to your poetry. Russian. Africana studies. Gospel music. Sports and travel. How do they move into your poetry?

MATT: I credit my family for fostering in me not only an aversion to rigid thinking but a relentless pursuit of others’ points of view. I was exposed, as a kid, to people from countries all over the world—ate their food, heard their accents, wanted to memorize the contours and colors of their flags. The more foreign a thing was to me, the more interesting it became; the more misunderstood a thing was by my more homogenous Long Island surroundings, the more sense it made to me; the more marginalized, the more attractive. Diversity is the hallmark of my cellular structure and every pursuit I undertake consists of new and dissimilar information. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to grab on to what I do not know and absorb it, walk around inside of it and get to know how it feels. A poet-friend of mine, Steven T. Licardi, writes in a poem about life on the autism spectrum, “Even numbers have feelings,” and I so get that. Everything seems to be alive and vibrating. As a word-lover/wordsmith, I find I want to upload every activity or subculture’s “lexical field”, to the point where a single new word or detail can trigger an entire poem. The interests I have stuck with the longest—baseball, social justice, music, travel—are also a kind of spiritual chiropractic; they align my rhythms and spaces and prepare me for poetry’s entry and excavation.

JAMIE: I think a lot of my readers will be interested to know how you carve out time for creativity with job, marriage, children, social commitments and so forth. What can you share with them that will assist them in their own work?

MATT: My wife (author Terri Muuss) and I get this question a lot and I have a few answers that may be of some use. First and foremost, my marriage is the engine that drives everything else, just as in a plane, car, ship or train. If you take care of your engine, make sure it fires on all cylinders, there is no telling what you can accomplish. (Astrologically inclined friends would say it’s because she is a Capricorn and I am a Taurus and, despite being wildly creative, neither one of us likes to be un-grounded or unorganized. Guilty as charged.) ☺ So back to the question—since, for both of us, parenting and job and marriage are non-negotiables, where do we find the time to run workshops, perform, curate, edit and write?

The simple answer, and my second point, is that we use what time we have rather than ruing its deficient quantity. We write in stolen moments at work, taking off in a plane, speaking into our phones while stopped at red lights, during faculty meetings. Once you start waiting for “enough time”, or the “right kind of time” to create, you are dead in the water. It simply won’t happen, unless you are willing to sacrifice your relationships or professional standing. Naturally, these stolen moments must be attended by some ongoing and suspended organizational system (i.e., somewhere to store the scraps and composted bits until there is time to assemble them)—that is what Dropbox, IClouds or folders are for. ☺

Thirdly, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a word about process. If one has only stolen moments here and there that require immediate generation and organization, one must be coherent and focused, with a writing process that precludes writers’ block or any notions of perfectionism. This tends to also preclude drinking and/or drugging, neither of which my wife and I do. There is no judgment in this, just a fact that does influence our ability to get so much done in so little available time. Rather than subscribe to the archetypal “artist mystique” involving inebriation and inordinate drama, we believe more can be accomplished creatively and perceptively when one stands in the honest space of clarity and fullness or brokenness, whichever is ascendant in the moment. It is hard not to get in one’s own way, but it’s awfully important to try. ☺

JAMIE: Our mutual friend, Michael Dickel, said in his interview that the job of a poet is to bare witness. You write in a different frame, so what to you is the poet’s job? What is the poet’s social and artistic responsibility?

MATT: Well I would agree whole-heartedly with Michael and posit, further, that there is no “other frame” than bearing witness in poetry. To the casual observer, there is ostensibly socio-political poetry and its more internal-leaning counterpart, but I don’t find this dichotomy convincing. No. A good poet friend of mine, Veronica Golos, once said in a Q&A, when asked, “Do you set out to write political poetry?” that she believed all poetry is political. I agree with her. The very paradigm of our individual perception at any given time is what creates our sense of reality as well as our response to it. Even bearing witness to how we witness is political.

At the micro level, how we learn to honor complexity and timelessness in an age bent on thumbs up/thumbs down exigencies and disposabilities is, ultimately, political. My hero in so many ways, James Baldwin, said, “One must know what is happening around them in order to know what is happening to them.” No, not everyone finds their way from the specific to the general, from the micro to the macro, but I believe deeply that peace begins with a more robust, nuanced and empathic perception that begins at the molecular level. This is the job of the poet: to listen, notice, pan for truth, scrape for justice and undertake the alchemic sculpting of language and space to illuminate and, hopefully, heal. In my ongoing effort to cure myself of ignorance, I want each of my poems to act as a dissertation highlighting and easing humanity’s tragic miscalculations.

review portion, Jamie Dedes; © interview responses, photograph and cover art, Matt Pasca, All rights reserved