Follow Harriet on Twitter
Robert Glück talks dyslexia, prose poems, Margery Kempe, Blanchot, Hitler, Jack Spicer and more in EOAGH
The infamously unpronounceable EOAGH has an interview up with one of our favorite New Narrativists, Robert Glück! Glück and Tony Leuzzi quickly dig into Keats, dyslexia and writing, Glück’s frustrated relationship with visual art, and distinctions between the prose poem and the short story, which caught our eye:
Often in your work there appears to be little distinction between what some might consider a prose poem, an essay, or a short story. How do you make these distinctions?
I don’t. My way of dealing with it is to not make the distinction. But I don’t really like the term short story—and yet I have story collections. I simply call them stories. Or pieces. The short story has a history I do not feel especially related to. Other traditions are more important to me.
Well, the modernist writer Blanchot made fictions called conts (tales). In these conts, which I admire tremendously, there’s a pressure brought to bear on language itself, and a porousness. By porousness I mean that one sentence doesn’t necessarily pick up where the last one left off. So you find a kind of air between the sentences. They can take any direction at any time. It’s composition by the sentence. These are things I think about, and one could talk about some prose poetry that way, as well as lyrical fiction….
Do you see yourself as an eclectic?
I assemble as much as I write. It’s rare for me to just sit down and write something from beginning to end. My old boyfriend Nayland Blake had a retrospective in New York. He asked me to be part of a night of readings where writers respond to his work, so I sat down and wrote what I felt was the trouble with our relationship (laughs). My piece was about bunnies—he uses bunnies in his work—two bunnies who are both bottoms sitting in bed not knowing what to do. They love each other but they don’t know what to do…
Yow. The interview goes even further–for fans of his work, it’s a must-read. Details about the making of Margery Kempe:
Why did you turn to her in the first place?
Well, I first learned about her in 1966 in a Medieval Studies course in UCLA. At that point she wasn’t well known and we read only a few pages of her book in an anthology. Her book had been lost until it was discovered in a castle library in 1934. Before then, all that existed were a few prayers. When it was discovered, people were hopeful that here was another great English mystical text. In fact, her first editor, in his preface, kept referring to her as “poor Margery,” since she was so disappointing—in her vulgarity and self aggrandizement. It’s not a lofty piece of piety. Even then I thought there was something in her story for me. I felt her book was a comedy, like Patrick Dennis’s Little Me, in which Belle the starlet continuously brags about herself, but you realize through her bragging that she is a flop. I felt that Margery was the Little Me of the 15th century. I liked the fact the she didn’t seem to understand her own experience. I felt that she lived at a time when that would have been hard to do because the paradigm itself was changing–just like today. Only a few years after I was introduced to her, I did a junior year abroad in Scotland and I was hitchhiking around Northern Europe looking at the Flemish masters, looking carefully at the Van Eyck altarpiece in Ghent, the Hans Memling museum in Bruges…so that period has always been important to me. In a way, writing Margery Kempe was the fulfillment of that interest.
In the early 70s I tried to turn Margery’s story into a musical comedy. I even wrote songs for it. I liked the idea of a musical comedy that ends with the crucifixion. I liked the clarity of her lust….
They also talk about cataloging errors, critical theory in the 70s, and Glück’s 1989 book, Reader (image above):
Back to Reader, I was really moved by the prose poem “Hitler.”
There’s a bit of the Holocaust in all of my books—I don’t know why—and the effect Hitler had on the Jews. In Denny Smith I talk about his Americanizing the Jews. The prose poem “Hitler” was my attempt to record a moment of understanding: Hitler’s treatment of the Jews was not a punishment, it was to make something beautiful—that was his impulse.
A terrible minimalism. He was attempting to make what he thought was beautiful: a pure race. Before this revelation, I could only understand the camps as a kind of punishment.
Punishment suggests a certain kind of intimacy Hitler did not seem to have with the Jews. One punishes to redeem. When you punish someone you are invested in them.
I realized that was not the case for Hitler.
Were the earliest poems in Reader the ones you wrote for Kevin [Killian] and Dodie [Bellamy]?
No. The earliest ones were aimed at the grandest historical writers, Wordsworth and Basho for example.
How do these poems work when you read them to an audience?
Some I have only recently attempted, like the double-columned one about Jack Spicer.
Do you share with Kevin an obsession with Jack Spicer?
My obsession is nothing compared to his obsession (laughs). Jack Spicer was ours in a way. He was a local writer, almost tribal in spirit, who happened to be great. Spicer addressed our concerns, yet there’s plenty in him that will remain obscure. He grapples with the largest issues, and he expresses what one often feels as a gay man….
Some of [his writing] was not meant to be understood, otherwise he would have written it differently. He also liked to travel in the direction of nonsense—nonsense was an important ingredient.