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Joe Wenderoth in Conversation at BOMB

By Harriet Staff


Get yourself right here to the web presence of BOMB Magazine, where San Diego-based poet and writer, Paola Capó-García, interviews Joe Wenderoth on the occasion of his newest collection of poems: If I Don’t Breathe How Do I Sleep (Wave Books, 2014).

PCG There’s a lot of attention in this collection being paid to playing a part, to artifice (whether it’s Access Hollywood, the grandmother in front of the camera, or the role of the professor). Poetry is also brought up as some sort of artifice. Is this, for you, more of a celebration of artifice or a lament? Or is it a combination of both?

JW That line in Celan’s poem, “Speak, you too,” where he basically says: speak … but keep Yes and No unsplit. Celan, unlike someone like Stevens, is not inclined to give advice about how to write poetry, but here is an exception. The artifice, Celan understands, is beautiful, stupid, dangerous, life-saving, corrupting, and perhaps all there is. I am speaking of the artifice of the poem, as that is the artifice he is speaking of. The artifice of society—its organization of bodies and their sustaining customs—is another matter altogether. The artifice of society—I think of Berryman‘s Henry in “Dream Song #7”: “For the rats / have moved in, mostly, and this is for real.” And of course one thinks of Marx—the means of production have become so massive, a Frankenstein etcetera. Bottom line is that the situation—in terms of the oncoming nightmare/toxic dump/simulation-trap has made the artifice of poetry obsolete, obscene, obtuse. Nevertheless it goes on, of course, and this fact is at the foundation of my own contempt for a great deal of the contemporary poetry I come across. I agree again with Celan when he suggests that the only poetry that can be taken seriously now is necessarily gray, uncertain (groping, i.e. human presence). I think Celan thought of his poetry as moments in which he was able to get free of artfulness, or art. Similar to Whitman here—proposing poetry as an act of life rather than an act of art. I would like to agree, but I suppose the poems I’ve been writing bear witness to a life sometimes unable to get free of art.

And perhaps simply: the older you get, the more artificial it all seems.

Read on at BOMB!

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, August 29th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.