Harriet

Categories

Follow Harriet on Twitter

About Harriet

Blogroll

Poetry News

The Cock Behind the Couch & Other Domesticities: Wayne Koestenbaum, Matt Rohrer, Rachel Zucker In Conversation

By Harriet Staff

New at The Believer, an interesting trio: Wayne Koestenbaum, Matthew Rohrer and Rachel Zucker interview each other. They talk, shall we say, literarily about domesticity. Or domestically about literariness. Rachel writes: “I approached Wayne Koestenbaum and Matthew Rohrer—two poets I greatly admire and who also write about domestic material—about the pleasures and pitfalls of including the details of their domestic lives in their work. I wanted to know if they, too, experienced such content as dangerous and, if so, why they embrace it. I wondered if putting shopping lists or babies in their poems is even more taboo for them as men than it is for me as a woman, or if the privilege of the male voice protects them from censure.” (Later, Zucker writes, “The poems, for me, are like the huge cock behind the couch” [referring to Wayne's paintings--see, it's a good read].)

The interview shakes out in six parts. A bit from Part III, “I’ve Got the Kids in There”:

WK: I really want to bring up Robert Walser. First of all, he lived in a mental hospital, so what’s really domestic about that?

MR: Well, in his book of short stories that I was just reading, there’s that really long story “The Walk”—he was itinerant, really, and he owned, apparently, nothing, and he’s always so focused on renting a room, and he describes this room so lovingly. And in The Tanners he sees this room, and it’s far too opulent for him, and then he goes on this long, self-deprecating rant about how he could never afford it and how he wishes he’d never looked at it in the first place. So is there that sense of the domestic in the rooms?

WK: It’s “hotel consciousness.” Frank O’Hara’s household was provisional and improvisatory, and queer and makeshift and glamorous, too, but makeshift because, for him, the domestic was an art studio—

MR: —the city.

WK: Yes. There seems an advantage to being a New Yorker without much space. In our lives in New York City, the division between what’s inside and what’s outside is very porous. Imagine if one had a palatial townhouse: goodbye to poetry, or porosity. But I know for a fact that when I lived in New Haven, and I had a house with a backyard —

MR: —with the birds!

WK: Yes! I, too, became a poet who celebrated backyards and flowers. One of my “problems” as a writer is that I have a house—I call it a cottage; it’s very small—with a backyard. And I know that my work can be contaminated by a certain species of comfort. I’m aware of always needing to remind the reader of how small the house is, how cheap it was…

RZ: In my poems, I’ve got the kids in there, and I’ve even got their throw-up in there, their body fluids, their—

MR: —grades?

RZ: Maybe.

WK: Maybe? Is it like the taboo of writing about money?

MR: You don’t want to reveal how smart your kids are?

RZ: Actually, that is hard. It’s harder for me to say, “Oh my god, my kids are so smart” than “They’re so annoying.” It’s like the evil eye. But there is something… like when I’m writing prose or a certain kind of poetry, all I’m doing is holding my life up to someone without rearranging the furniture, and sometimes I feel that’s not what good artists do. It’s my fear of someone saying, “Ew! It’s not just that you have these children all over the place and you have all these disgusting things in here—what offends me is that you didn’t make it into something else.”

WK: Rachel, to praise you for a second—if I’m allowed to do so in the precincts of this interview—what makes Josh one of the great husbands in contemporary poetry is that you mention him to mess up our expectations and to disturb politeness. His concreteness and the concreteness of your relation to him interrupt the customary protocol, ethics, or decorum of self-presentation as a poet. Your evocation of him is an act of ravishing particularity that is poetically profound. It’s a great example of how a seeming lack of care can be the highest form of poetic tact.

Read it all here.

Tags: , ,
Posted in Poetry News on Monday, June 4th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.