Chris Martin on Weather Artists and Veer Seers

By Harriet Staff


Coldfront's Ken Walker interviews Chris Martin today about Martin's new book Becoming Weather (Coffee House Press 2011) and, well, becoming weather. Walker notes that readers "are forced to comply with the title, to externalize their gaze into a world devastated by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, locust invasions, dwindling populations of esoteric and not-so-esoteric species. . . . [they are] also tricked to turn the external arrows around and notice the boiling rivers of disequilibrium that occur minutely and lengthily within."

Fittingly, the two poets approach the interview by examining various weather databases. The HPRCC’s Weekly Nebraska Soil Moisture Report, a Yankees game, and the early April 2011 weather all make an appearance. As does the movie Gummo (doubling for Martin as last summer's Brooklyn tornado), Heidegger, Spinoza, and Muddy Waters, which we'll return to. But first, let's say that yes, the poems themselves are also touched on. Regarding the summer storm, Martin turns the questions out:

CM: . . .Gummo came to Brooklyn last summer. I was reading in a Harlem apartment when it happened, so wasn’t present for the destruction, but things felt eerily metal when Mary and I stepped off the subway in the dark. There was a tree in the street, but otherwise it looked like a pretty normal night. When I left for work the next morning I could see that things were far from normal. There were trees everywhere. Some were sleeping in cars. Some had ripped the awnings into throwaway sardine tops. That’s how consciousness works sometimes. You traipse past destruction, which hides just beneath a patina of dusk. That’s what I was trying to say with my poem “This False Peace.” All the newsprint was erupting with bloody splurts, but its pursed lips said otherwise. The very word news was ripped into sinews and muscle, left flapping for all its meat flag life. Turn on the life and the veneer vanishes. Paul Thek has redecorated. Nothing will ever be the same.

The website Wunderground cites “patchy frost” in Iowa City. How does one approach a pun fashioned from radical politics? Alternatively, how might patchy frost describe theory’s relationship to criticism?

So back to Muddy Waters, here another instance of cultural and weatherly signification (this interview is meta!):

CM: I used to live by the Mississippi River in St. Paul. There’s a famous coffee shop in Minneapolis called Muddy Waters. Atmosphere raps about it. In Becoming Weather‘s title poem, if it can be said to have one, Muddy Waters is depicted during a performance recorded by Scorsese in The Last Waltz, wringing the air and repeating, “I am a man.” It takes several people to become weather. A chorus of voices, swirling in their own tatters. Biggie Smalls, arguably our generation’s Muddy Waters, name drops Cairo in his song “Kick in the Door.”

How do you save Cairo? Blow the fuck up. Thomas Weatherly wrote a terrific book of poems called short history of the saxophone. Who are the great weather artists of our time? Albert Ayler? Tim Hecker? Joan Mitchell?

KW: I can’t reply with Albert Ayler cause that cat ain’t of my time. “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe” is the late 60s man. I think Explosions in the Sky would be on that list for me. But, in the sense of Muddy Waters and the Notorious B.I.G. . . . well, if they had a baby (as Muddy Waters once wrote about), it’d probably look like Theophilus London and sound like Eugene McDaniels. Now that’s a tornado. Then again, Swizz Beatz sampled Muddy Waters once on a DMX track. Sampling, I think, among the remix arts, is the greatest way to enter into weather, not to necessarily become it but to enter into it, to walk into the eye of the storm, pay your respects, show your knowledge of the dialectical process (even in music) and then walk back out, head held high. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Mystikal are hurricane fighters. BlueSkyBlackDeath definitely make a climate of their own. But, really, I think the Anti-Pop Consortium have long been the best outer-planetary weather I’ve experienced. Life’s too fast. We need to take it slow. Get out of here every once in a while. And, get in somewhere else. The cold sunshower of Donny Hathaway.

What’s your weather artist look and sound like?

CM: A couple years ago in an essay I wrote for Yeti, I hailed artist and friend Saul Chernick, along with Franz Kline and Janet Cardiff, as being a “seer of the veer.” I think weather artists are probably veer seers; the one’s so close to moment’s zag that they trace change itself.

Originally Published: June 6th, 2011