Poetry News

Anthony Madrid's Negotiations With the Arbitrary and the Demonic

By Harriet Staff


One of our favorite ghazal singers, Anthony Madrid, is interviewed by Melanie Hubbard for The Conversant! In talking about Madrid's book, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (Canarium Books 2012), resonant subjects include the ghazal as a possible erotic form ("...forms, eros, foreign languages in general—all these invite to Serious Play" [as Nietzsche would have it); reconciling “mainstream” and “experimental” writing; and Madrid's characteristically “stately” language. And, awesomely, Madrid coaches us on how to read his poems:

AM: ...Ideally, the lines should have four major stresses with fairly long rushes of unstressed syllables between, and should be recited “trancily”:

i TOO have been to CANdyland but i FOUND myself missing the DEATH cult

i MISSED the spectacle of the WOUNDed bones being OPened and INstrumented

bill VARner when he was STILL just a boy wrote a STUNning line of arabic VERSE

he wrote the CREScent moon is a SCIMitar || the SUN a severed HEAD

Ideally, a word at the end of the second line of one couplet should prompt (by rhyme) a word near the beginning of the next couplet:

Oh der alleszermalmende Kant! The all-crushing
Or rather all-to-nothing-crushing Kant.

I don’t want that guy to be right, ’cuz if he’s right I’m a fool.
A fool and a bad role model for my students.

I took a bottle, mashed its bottom into a thick coat of paint.
Then I stamped a ring of kisses into the palm of my hand.

I did wrong to try to understand these sensualist children…
[and so on]

However, I did not hit upon that rhyme effect in 2001 when I began devising all this material, but much later (I don’t remember when), and so it never attained to the status of a requirement. One thing I can tell you: The later the poem, the more likely it is to have rhymes like that all over it.

MH: What do you think about rhyme?

AM: That it’s a drug. That it’s going to have a comeback. That it’s awaiting its knight.

That everyone loves it whether they know it or not. That it represents a negotiation with the Arbitrary and the Demonic.

MH: You are free with marks such as the upright bar |, accent marks, quotes, capitalization and all caps. Did you get a special stamp on your poetic license? I am especially interested in the bar, and in your apparent valuation, via accents, of speech inflections normally lost to printed English. Would you say your poetics is speech-based, even dramatic?

AM: Naturally I’ve had my doubts about all those marks. Questions include: Are they intelligible? Are they warranted? Have they been deployed with reasonable consistency? Are people going to get annoyed? Heaven knows I get annoyed when I try to puzzle out the equivalent signage in Gerard Manley Hopkins. All that fussy orthographic sassafras—it’s probably indefensible.

At any rate, my purpose was to make whatever’s on the page match what comes out of my mouth. So, for example, small caps represents a kind of melodramatic tone I strike in performance on the words and phrases that are so rendered. The upright bar [ | ] marks caesuras in places where I thought nobody could be expected to anticipate them.

MH: I think your marks are pretty clear. I love the caesura mark especially. What got you interested in the ghazal?

AM: A chapbook I got hold of, 20 years ago: Poems by Ghalib, a saddle-stapled pamphlet printed by the Hudson Review. Twenty poems, free translations, half by Adrienne Rich, half by William Stafford. That book fucked me up for life.

Read the whole thing at The Conversant.

Originally Published: October 4th, 2013