Poetry News

Laura Solomon on Authenticity at Her Kind

By Harriet Staff

Another great interview! Poet Laura Solomon talks with playwright porschia l. baker at Her Kind. "In a lively exchange, that will leave you swirling, prompted by the quote from Patricia Hewitt— 'The accusation that we’ve lost our soul resonates with a very modern concern about authenticity'— porschia and Laura’s metaphysical and philosophical take reveals the deep questions of and about the soul." Baker leads off with a big one:

porschia: ...What does soul mean to you, Laura?

Laura: Mmm . . . I think whatever definitions I might be holding for that word would have to be eased into. I guess there is a part of me that wants to argue that there is no soul, not because I think there is no soul but because I think there is no self, that the self is a construction, but constructed by whom? a self? other selves constructed by other selves ad inf.? I guess I think of the universe as one. I believe with my mind that it is one, and at times I experience it that way, though the majority of the time I experience it as if I were a completely separate entity from anything that is not my body, though sometimes yes even my body does not seem to be me. I do think my experience of having a self is an illusion made possible by a provisional form (my self or soul or body) which contains a little of the universe inside its space. Consciousness makes it seem as though there were another universe inside that form, which there is? I’m very interested in science, in particular what cosmology or quantum physics may reveal to us with regard to selves/souls, that the entire universe may just be one infinite expression. But I’m off-topic already or on it because the topic is so big.

What I want to say about writing is that I do think we can talk about greater or lesser authenticity in art just as we can talk about greater or lesser truths. We may never touch truth with a capital T but we certainly can distinguish between what is more or less of a lie. When I write, I know whether or not I have been more or less faithful to the poem (which is not about me, can’t be about me even it is). I know when I have written something to please someone else or to show off or to jerk off or have written from some other location that is not poetry itself. Authenticity is possible in a poem only when I shut up and listen to what words are trying to say among themselves. Meaning has to happen on its own, not because I impose it. When I am writing authentically, I am not a meaning-maker so much as a meaning-enabler. I hope I’m not being too vague, but I’m sure I must be.

Now coming back to the other hand of that first question, I do think the word soul can be very useful if we are also going to use the very useful word (if somewhat dubious concept) self to think about selves. So long as we’re talking about selves, why refuse the word soul which operates in a not dissimilar fashion? People need metaphysical language precisely because life is a metaphysical experience. It is not merely a physical experience, or rather it very well may be merely physical. In other words, there’s nothing “merely” about it. And meanwhile here we are alive in these bodies we believe to be our own but which will someday die and drift off into some other kind of matter. Something in us must mourn that eventual loss of self (even if it were always and only a dream), why not call that thing the soul? And maybe authenticity in writing revolves around the greater or lesser willingness to lose that illusion of self while simultaneously allowing a self to perform, giving chance a chance, giving the universe its due, making way for the poem to happen. . . .

Solomon also talks about authenticity vis-a-vis appropriative strategies, repetition as it occurs in song recordings, Ted Berrigan's "Red Shift," and Mary Ruefle's paraphrasing of Paul Valéry’s saying "(which she informs us 'is also attributed to Stéphane Mallarmé') that 'no poem is ever ended, that every poem is merely abandoned.'” Read it all here.

Originally Published: October 17th, 2012