Ariana Reines Talks About Her New Book Mercury

By Harriet Staff

"Three falls ago," after a rush of interest in Ariana Reines, student and poet Carina Finn's Christmas wishlist included every book by the author. "Because my mother has always bought me any book I have asked for without question, I did get these books for Christmas and I spent all of winter break that year reading them and re-reading them." Finn has gone on to interview Reines about her new book, Mercury (Fence 2011), over at HTMLGIANT. A prime example of their back-and-forth:

There are moments in the text that almost have an air of petulance – especially the poems that appear before “Truth or Consequences,” i.e. “All the Single Ladies,” “Body Stocking,” “Arena,” etc. Were you writing voluntarily when you were writing these poems, or did you feel otherwise compelled by some internal or external force?

The question you ask, was I writing voluntarily, is a marvelous one, and one I have asked myself every so often all my life. Does one ever write voluntarily? I suppose such people exist, people who do things simply because they volunteer to do them. The moment of volunteerism in Mercury occurs on its final page and it’s a bit cryptic. Perhaps this shall not make sense to the casual reader, but in many ways the magic at work in Mercury consists of me volunteering to do what I am already in any case compelled by forces external and numinous to do.

People who wake up one day and decide they’ve had a good career breaking horses and running the numbers, why not sit down and write a poem… I have nothing against these people because writing a poem is always a good thing to do. These people are perhaps my distant cousins but they are not my sisters. Alejandro Jodorowsky prescribes morning poetry writing to every living human as excellent medicine, as a kind of universal nerve tonic, and I think he’s right; so that would be a kind of voluntary poetry writing that would be great, truly a health. I can see myself doing that, although I don’t do it now. I think if I could do that then I could write my own gay science like Nietzsche’s gay science: the book of my great health.

That said Mercury is of course also a book meant to take your temperature and harmonize your chakras and do acupuncture on you and improve your overall health.

My best writing seems to have to be forced from me by some other force but that force has to be one whose power I agree to serve.

What I like to work at and what I was very careful in the assembly of, in Mercury, is a ground, a field, a structure in which the poems can resonate together as much more than merely themselves. And that takes voluntary work, and it is work I enjoy doing pedantically and maniacally, over and over until it is almost right.

To write the science fiction novel I have planned will require real physical supports, four walls and a door, a regular drug supply, good light, someone to help out around the garden (because I will want to have an herb garden for the novel), and trees, and a large bed in which to dream. I wrote many of the poems you say sound petulant on my Blackberry in the summertime. The best state for writing poems, for me, is having enough money to eat and living in the same place for a little while (not too long), having a big bed, and being in love. Then whatever it is that forces me to write the poems does so without hurting me too much, only as much as it hurts to reach the total nadir of existence that one can touch on any given day or night and that can only be exited through a poem. I admit to you Carina that there are times when I am sure I would die if I weren’t writing right now. How can i know? It is like that nightmare or ghost story about the woman with the ribbon round her neck. All that said I think I am through writing poems for a while, maybe forever.

Finn moves on here to ask Reines about the "troubadour lineage of poets with virtuoso talent and crippling romanticism," but we're pretty halted by that last line up there. It's not revisited. As for Reines and the troubadours, she replies, in part:

So actually I think, and I have had a hard time explaining this, the poem is a way for me to make what I feel to be my androgyny, such as it is, tangible, in sort of caricatured and hackneyed ways. One needn’t read Chrétien de Troyes for this to resonate. Have you seen The Sword and The Stone? Or Robin Hood, or The Facts of Life? I think (and I realize you didn’t ask this part of the question, but I am using your beautiful question to ask myself other questions) the fact that I never feel feminine or masculine enough, and the almost aggressive or aggravated heterosexuality in my poems, has to do with my desire for lyric to achieve the total romance of being both the knight and the lady in distress/lady in the high tower for whom he, the knight, does great things. However obviously Mercury has many kinds of weather in it and there are spaces in which the voice is the incantatory voice of a crone at her cauldron, or a French intellectual too exhausted and cynical to have feelings. . . .

The interview also includes details about Reines's "megapoems" ("...they are so much fun because the difficulty that prompts them is so strong that the ecstatic state with its two antennae up — one for lyric purity and the other for critical intensity — is strong enough to keep going and going"), and what it's like to work with Rebecca Wolff. Read it all here.

Originally Published: January 3rd, 2012
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