For this series we listen in on Seth Landman and Lewis Freedman, both from the highest order of gentleman scholars, have a conversation. This is Part 2.
From what I know, you also have a tendency to write through mixtures of methods of arranging language, but, in my sense of your work, even when the meaning-jumps it makes are not normative to poetry, you create a smooth surface that absorbs the irregular. Is it or What’s important to you about keeping the surface smooth and able to absorb bumps rather than emphasize them? Does this have to do with your sense of the beautiful? And if so, what is the beautiful for you and how does it work? Do you have this impression of your own work, or am I just projecting here?
The question about what’s important about “keeping the surface smooth,” as you say, is not one I’ve ever really considered in those terms before. It absolutely does have something to do with my sense of what’s beautiful, not just in language, but, yes, I suppose mostly in language. Because you are right, as far as I’m concerned (not that my concern is worth a lick) that there’s no such thing as language that does not make sense.
I’m glad you brought up Polaroid, actually, first because that text has become extremely important to me, and second because you introduced me to that text in the first place. Polaroid, for me, is the ultimate expression of a poetry that manages to contain and convey deep emotional content without actually having any of what might properly be called “content.” What is content, anyway? If I’m going to tell someone how I feel about something (probably someone), what language am I going to use to do that? I like thinking that poetry can cover that ground, but then when, with great horror, I am able to go back and read the emails I’ve written to people I’ve been in love with (for instance) am I generally horrified at how devoid of meaning they seem to be. Those texts have become worthless, and yet they were written within some great emotional context. The events from which language comes from, then, in most cases seem to fade away with time, which is why, I suppose, the great beginning of Polaroid, with its great lack of content (“of what can it such / of which since can it / not”) is able to feel so emotional to me. I plug in the startling nothing of my own experience into that experience. Nothing is great; nothing is, I guess, everything.
Then again, my poems don’t really do that. I think I’m trying, rather, to write about myself as openly as possible without having the unfortunate experience of having to go back to those texts later and realize they are meaningless to me. The poems end up being the place I can go to feel the feeling of feeling something I don’t feel anymore. The emotions seem to hold on a lot better than the specifics do, I guess.
But I don’t want to talk about my own sad shit, Lew, although I do, I think, want to stay on this question of beauty for a little while. What is your notion of what is beautiful in (or out of) poetry? Here’s something I’ve been considering. There is, of course, a sort of honesty in any philosophical text, but there’s also the great question of whether it is possible to actually go about the thing of living your life according to any sort of philosophy. And yet your poetry, Lewis, seems to embody the philosophical notions you give a shit about. Like, I agree with you that it’s possible to make sense of any text; I think about that a lot, and that idea helps me write, but the writing I do does not literally make use of that philosophy. Whereas, for me (as the reader), the emotional surge I get reading your poems has something to do with considering the philosophical implications of those poems. Take the spelling poems, for example. The beauty (if I may go ahead and use that word) of those poems is in the tension they create. That is, there is nothing inherently beautiful, I think, about spelling “sign of the times,” wonderful as that phrase may be. The beauty of the poem is the tension between the author and the words on the page — just like the beauty of an awkward social interaction is in the attempt between two people to smooth that tension somehow. I’m asking, I suppose, what is beautiful to you about the poems you write? Is it anything like the thing I’m finding beautiful about them?
As you know, and as I want anyone reading this to know, we’ve been away from this conversation for a little while and have seen each other in that time, in fact I saw you read in Providence just this last Saturday. Not to make this even more of a love-fest, but seeing you read gave me impressions of your work that inform this response. For instance, I heard some of the poems you read as producing emotional movement by the content of positioning statements of the emotional condition of the self next to each other with a congruity so direct and short-cutted that it produced a sense of strangeness and incongruity. What is the mechanism at work here, if it is not your “philosophical” notions of what happens to a self when it is being constantly displaced by being located? These statements of self are made in the plainest possible of languages with complete attention and action upon the weirdness of position and direction in the necessity of arranging the english words of, from, a, the, in, on, at, out, that, which, and the like, when locating a self and its feeling. Isn’t this a direct embodiment of your philosophical consciousness that experience is experienced in a content that is never more than an extension of context (as I understand you saying about your old letters, and the function of your reexperience in your poems)?
I don’t mean to sound argumentative here, but I do want to persuasively suggest to you that, at least in my experience of them, your ideas and philosophical approaches are entirely manifest in your method of writing.
Perhaps I feel about beauty as a term used in discussing poetry similarly to how I feel about the term happiness as used in our culture to describe a state of being we should be concerned about pursuing. These terms have become too isolated as stable for me, and are emptied of meaning to the degree that the beauty or happiness achieved could only be the thing looking at itself. I explicitly do not pursue either beauty or happiness; they and I occur to each other as expressed, but not as achievement or goal. In poetry, whenever beauty is asserted in a context of being isolated as an independent achievement, it smells like that to me, looks down to be looked up at, and carries the willing acceptors with it in its replications (of which I was once genuinely one). It’s unsatisfactory to me as a way to understand more about what happening is.
This isn’t the answer I want to give, and in many ways is false, but my headaches Seth, I mean right now. Let’s move back to this question again soon of the beautiful. Or maybe you can point to some of the problems with the way I’m putting things (of which I sense many).
Seth Landman lives in Denver, Colorado, and is a member of the Agnes Fox Press collective. He has published two chapbooks, Parker’s Band (Laminated Cats, Ltd.) and The Wild Hawk the Sea (Minutes Books), and recent poems have appeared in Jubilat, Boston Review, and VOLT.
Lewis Freedman grew up in and then he moved to and then he moved to and then he moved to and then moved to and then he moved to and then he moved to and then he moved to Madison where he now resides and co-runs the ___________-Shaped reading series with Andy Gricevich. He’s also co-edits the publication of poetry chapbooks with Agnes Fox Press and also secretly at other undisclosed locations. Three chapbooks have been published under his name: The Third Word (what to us press), Catfish Po’ Boys (Minutes Books), and SUFFERING EXCHANGE WALKS WITH AND (Minutes Books) which was released in a very limited edition this past February.