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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Interview with Bruce Holsapple

Poet Bruce Holsapple's latest book, Vanishing Act, (soon to be available from Small Press Distribution and currently available at La Alameda Press) contains the wit, irony, and attention to detail we have come to expect from him. The first half of the interview involves general questions about the book. It ends with a short discussion of Bruce's recording company, Vox Audio ( PO Box 594 Magdalena NM 87825), which puts out cd recordings of poets reading their work.

The second half of the interview focuses on a specific poem, namely, the first one in Vanishing Act, "title?." I will let Bruce introduce himself his own way, but I should say that he and I knew each other when we were both students at SUNY-Buffalo in the late 80's and early 90's.

Could you give us a few biographical markers that will help us better understand you as a writer?
I grew up in rural Maine in the 1950s, edited a small press in Portland, Maine in the 70s, then wandered off (Washington, Vermont, Texas, New York), working a proverbial variety of jobs, before finding my way into central New Mexico, where I now work as a Speech-Language Pathologist.  As you know (because we met there), I earned a Ph.D. in English at SUNY Buffalo in 1991, studying with Robert Creeley, Joseph Conte and Charles Bernstein.  I taught briefly at New Mexico Tech and UTPB in Odessa, Texas.  I’ve got six books of poetry in print, Air-Rose (1973), Total Eclipse (1977), Sweet Nothings (1984), Tourist (1994), Observations (1994), and now Vanishing Act, plus a couple new books in manuscript.  An essay on Philip Whalen recently appeared in Paideuma, and one on the verse line in William Carlos Williams appeared last fall in a special edition of English Studies in Canada.  I’m working on a book on Williams.

The title, "Vanishing Act," I find myself quite drawn to. Why did you choose it?
Well, because it works several ways, like in the ironic sense of all of us vanishing, being erased at various speeds—not an act at all, really—& there’s a lot of recognizing that limitation in the book, but also as a kind of self-parody, with the speaker as some dopey magician doing vanishing acts, presto!  Or my vanishing into New Mexico; I live out in the country, no phone service, etc.  But more importantly the sense of becoming “indivisible,” seeing thru yourself, becoming “the view looking.”   I mean, there’s a great concern with subjectivity, lyric voice.

Most of the poems are in the first person singular. It seems to be a version of your self, or your self in the making, that you refer to. Am I correct? When you use the 2nd person "you," you seem to be addressing yourself. Could you tell us what lies behind your choices concerning voice?
The poems are basically lyric, & concerned with voice, but as I say, the lyric subject is more or less under watch, tho who is watching is up for grabs.  As you say, whatever we are, we’re in the process of remaking ourselves, & the poems involve self-transformation.  The pronouns do drift off-base, shift in reference, as perspectives shift.  I think of self as dialogic, emerging from an outside conversation we learn to engage, “oneself as other,” as Ricoeur puts it (& of course Rimbaud before him).  

Vox Audio — You seem to be making an effort to get on record NM poets who might otherwise be lost. Is this accurate? I am wondering what you think of the notion of the "minor" poet as a positive marker. What can a minor poet accomplish that the major ones, in the Norton anthologies, cannot?
Vox has two missions.  One is to preserve poets reading who wouldn’t otherwise get recorded, like Gene Frumkin or Jim Bishop, and two, to build community.  The physical facts of voice are instrumental to how the poems mean, so important to the poetry community.  I don’t think of major and minor, but I do think in terms of cultural change, poetry’s work, and of the people I actually know— who’s in front of me; that’s what’s local,.  But the Vox project extends from Maine (Wright, Wilde, Sharkey), thru Buffalo (Sylvester, Clarke), Toronto (Boughn), Indiana (Kalamaras), Texas (Huffstickler, Bird, Welsh), into New Mexico (Higgins, Tarn, Rodney, Moore, Goodell, Tritica, etc.), where I live.  


You clutch too much, friend
try too hard, like there were a pose
you could freeze into place
& it would be there for you
a point of reference,
Me & What I Believe

you feel like falling in love
you feel like mourning the loss
all this melting snow
endless rehearsals
a slippery dance floor

You try figure, arrange, classify
like you could capture events
make the connections
a 3 ring circus & you the master of ceremonies

you pull out the plastic
“Customer Service.  This is Angie
Can I help you?”

My favorite color is beige
My favorite turtle is soup
She talks math, loves algebraic expressions
Substitute zero for x & solve for y

It’s the economy, stupid
your credit is stretched

What pain that attachment brings!
another force inside
speaking thru you  
using your voice            

locked  sick  feet  speed
pray  read  frog  stop

you want to go away & not care

It’s the passion I feel
what she engenders
causes me such loss

What I feel for you
What you produce
a boost into the air
no forwarding address

bee  gift  crowd  stew 
owl  boy  involve
skid  flip  call  crash

Won’t somebody make contact?
the ice is closing in
I’ve broken to new depths!

short green leaf
short eye grass
shot glass
fall short
near high
go between
impossible gap

It’s hopeless
nobody likes you
you need to cut your throat

snow  fire  spoken  star
mobile  tire  goal 

Dear X:  You’ll know I’m invested
by how rigid I get.  If we met
I’d pose, tell a joke, etc. 

I’m not so much making claims
as paying off deficits

I want to see those connections
how the tree lights up
a locus of identity
something reflected back
not exactly “I want”
but “therefore”

this forgetting dust
this insistent sand
this abandon

these babies born every day
in every city
proliferating what?

new shoes

that’s exactly what I want:
to keep walking

1. In this poem the "pronouns," as you call them, switch around a bit. You go from addressing a "you" to a first person stance.
Okay, can I give some of the background?  We regulate behavior by self-talk, private speech, as with commands like “be brave” or say with scolding our “self,” and there’s extensive use of self-talk in the book.  But speech is communal.  There’s not much distance from the imperative “be brave” to second person “you,” hence addressing oneself as other.  In this instance, there’s an emotional shift, right?  A sense of exasperation.

2.  In several places you simply list words: "locked   sick   feet   speed / pray   read   frog   stop," and later "Mothers / death / dharma / diapers / new shoes." This seems to me a quite original technique, and it appears throughout the book. What is it's function?
Well, there are models in Whalen and Duncan, but hey, wait a minute—you use word lists too!  Is this a trick question?  Yes, I use word lists in fairly systematic ways, mostly as a structural device  to keep the notes bouncing, up in the air.  Sometimes it’s a flat surface, sometimes like scratchy noise, sometimes for transitions, sometimes just elliptical speech.

3.  The first stanza seems to be held together, in a tightly wound manner, by rhyme, off-rhyme, and assonance.
Hopefully the sound values ring thru-out, and the rhythm, and voice.  Word lists are often knitted into the text by sound contrasts.  Sound values are key.

4. I love the sly humor: "My favorite turtle is soup," for example.
Thanks, I’m told the humor is pretty dry!  The book is about conflict, impasse, developing flexibility, transformation.  Self-deprecation—or getting distance from oneself (learned from Whalen)— was an important way to unlock from cherished thoughts.

5. The poem seems to shift focus each stanza, although remain united under a certain set of concerns: effort, attachment, loss, passing thoughts. Do you see it this way?
Yes, a trajectory gets established & you’re off to the races, one word to the next, as far as “it” takes you.  Go with the Force, Luke!  Lots of jumping about, drifting off topic, shifting perspective, feints, various forms of address, rhetorical ploys, who knows where you’ll land. Hopefully on your “feet.” That’s exactly right.

6. Anything you would like to add?
It’s physically a beautiful book, thanks to Estelle Roberge’s cover painting, and Jeff Bryan’s design.   We kept the price low so people would take a chance.