a conversation with ALICE NOTLEY on trance, tarot and poetry
Back when Mysteries of Small Houses first came out you had briefly mentioned going into trance to create those poems. When you read in Philadelphia recently from Grave of Light I had asked you about this, and you remarked about going into trance for all your poems. Was it different with Mysteries of Small Houses? I mean, did you trance through time to each of those homes of your past in order to write? In that book you are writing poems about (and from) each location of your past, and literally writing them in the style and form you had been writing at each particular time. It's an extraordinary feat! What can you share with us about trance states to create poems?
In general I think poets write from a trance state. But I did something elaborate while working on Mysteries of Small Houses, though I didn't know at first that I was using trance. I was trying to go back into my past to see what I was like, what events and settings -- houses -- were like, at particular past times. I noticed that I was experiencing mild physical changes when I did this: my legs would tingle for example, and I just felt different. Doug suggested I was inadvertantly practicing self-hypnotism, so I got a book or two on the subject and became a little more systematic about 'going into a trance.'
To enter the writing of a particular poem in Mysteries, I first had to enter one particular house while in trance. This was the alley house, the house I lived in in Needles when I was four. I would go into a trance, walk -- in my mind -- up the few front stairs of that house and enter it. When I was in that house, I could go from there to any other time or house in my past that I wanted. But the key to entering into other times was that time, that house, because it represented my essential self. The part about using past styles wasn't as exact as you suggest. I wanted to resurrect past styles, but the style of a poem isn't exactly the style I was using in the year or years the poem's about. Sometimes it is but not always. But it is always a past style or form. The usage is generalized, and spiffed up. I'm better at those styles than I used to be.
As I said, I think poets tend always to write in a trance. When writing the poems in Mysteries, I deliberately went into a trance first, the process was ritualized, and I was more conscious of being in or using that state. The state was more heightened. The air turns particular colors sometimes, and one feels deeply blissful, or there's a sense of some grace as a substance -- a material entity -- pervading the body. I've deliberately gone after trance states while writing other books as well, including books written at the computer. Yes you can go into a trance while hovering over the keyboard. The action of the fingers is quite inductive. I suppose this kind of trance would be called mild. Who knows? I was always in a trance while writing Reason and Other Women, which remains unpublished. It was written entirely at the computer and its rhythms and syntactical cuts and slides are, as they say, hypnotic. More recently I haven't sought out a trance state in order to write, but it's interiorized in me: I don't really have to do anything to get there.
"I don't really have to do anything to get there" echoes your first statement, "In general I think poets write from a trance state." Except part of what you go to, or what you've interiorized, is learned, sought, on top of the gravitational, shared experience of writing from trance in general. Do the tools of learning to induce trance seem like something creative writing teachers should think about taking into the class? This is something I've thought about recently, never having been to class, nor ever having taught one, but now wanting to teach one. One of my ideas is to sit on the floor of the subway with others, using the crack and shaking of the cars moving, then stopping, then moving, then stopping, to induce a collective state for collaborating a poem. How do you feel though about trance in the class? Is it something to be talked about in terms of acknowledging trance as a shared state, or further as something to be sought out for entering specific time frames and other dimensional landscapes? It feels so uncharted, these possibilities.
I've taught trance in workshops. It is a bit of a mine field. I gave as an exercise a sort of self-hypnosis, going-back-to-age-four-type thing, somewhere and at least one person in that class didn't want to do it because he or she didn't want to cope with what had happened at age four. For me it's an ideal age, for others it isn't. Then, I learned from my stepdaughter Kate Oliver, who was studying hypnotherapy professionally, an exercise for going into the future, by flying above and along a river (in trance of course) and then stopping somewhere to see what's going to happen there. That is, the river is a time line. I added this as a possible way to participate in the going-back exercise -- one could go back or go ahead. An older woman in one workshop did the going ahead one, which shook her up a lot, though her poem was mysterious, as poems are, and I wasn't sure why she was shaken: she didn't want to say, it was personal. In the same class a woman went into a trance and saw that something was happening to her car -- she saw outside the room and when she went out during the break, her alarm had gone off and someone had broken into it. After this class a woman came up to me and cautioned me, as well, against doing this sort of thing without preparing people better for coming out of the trance . . . So. I'm not sure if one should teach it the way I did. But I think poetry is written in a transpersonified state, and this fact could be talked about more. When I teach, usually I discuss a topic and lead the group gradually to write, and at the point when I say now let's write, something clicks inside everyone and they go to this other place. I can see it on their faces. Then they just start writing.
This is exciting information! Trance in the class! And you somewhat cover something else I wanted to get to about trance. Earlier when talking about the use of trance for creating Mysteries of Small Houses you mentioned the house in Needles you lived in when you were four. You said in trance you walked up the few front stairs to the house, and entered it. And, "When I was in that house, I could go from there to any other time or house in my past that I wanted." What was special about that house? Why was this the portal house? Or is it because of the age you were when you lived there that makes this the portal?
I think, I hope, I make this clear in the book itself. I felt -- when I was working on Mysteries, not when I was four -- that I was most whole and unspoiled when I was four years old and living in that house. When I think back to that time, the light is perfect outside and I'm fearless walking about the neighborhood, I don't have negative feelings. The house was temporary for our family -- it was rickety and had just a few rooms and opened on an alley behind the Desert Inn Motel. We didn't have air conditioning, it didn't quite exist yet -- so the house could get quite hot: Needles attains 120 degrees in the shade, and higher, in the summer. I don't remember cold. It was as if the house was open to the outside, because it was fragile, but also because you didn't need much against the climate. It was like light clothes.
So, being this age when I'm not "bent" yet by socialization (see first poem in book), I can enter the other houses and ages and observe them dispassionately. This is my basic self observing what has happened. I discussed the process a lot with Doug and he didn't totally like what I was saying, because it left out sexuality and the frisson of evil, and maybe, some evolution into the good or even the better. I thought my premise held though. I wasn't interested in the good, or sexuality, at this point, I was interested in the true.
Your book The Descent of Alette puts the reader into a trance. As anyone who has read it knows, those quotation marks break us out of any routine reading, and gets us chopping the language into breaths which are always unexpected and keeping ahold of the trance. Even when you get into the groove of the quotation marks breaking up the language, until the end it's still unexpected, a new world of perspective. Was it your intention to induce trance with this book? And also, as a reader I experienced a sense of loss at the end of the book, not wanting the state to end, meaning both the trance state as well as the LIFE of the poem. And in Mysteries of Small Houses when you get to the house where you wrote The Descent of Alette, you mention a sadness of that ending. Can you also tell us a little about that?
When I wrote The Descent of Alette, I gave no thought to trance writing as such. The subject didn't really come up in that defined way until a few years later. I hadn't even thought of the word; I was concentrated on the word 'epic.' But I drew on dream content and controlled visualization -- though in the latter I also tried to be automatic to a certain extent. Dreams and dream-visions are usually refined in poems -- all the rough, really embarrassing content of dreams (not the sexual so much as the bizarre) is polished away in favor of elegance and known symbolism. I wanted to let some of the rougher stuff in, because I thought I would find out something from it. Writing The Descent of Alette was all discovery for me, and the actual composition of it lasted about two years. So this was a long process and hard to say goodbye to. I knew -- pardon me for saying this -- that I had written a great poem, and that I would miss working on it. But I still have the poem and I still have the writing of it going on inside me, because this is how time and consciousness are magical. When I get to read from the poem aloud to an audience, I get it all back, I get back everything the writing of the poem gave me. It's not exactly the same as when I wrote the poem, but that richness is there plus everything the poem accumulates over time. I get to keep going back to it, somewhat in the same way I get to go back to my four-year-old self when I enter the alley house.
I first read The Descent of Alette from a copy of The Scarlet Cabinet I bought at St. Mark's Bookshop. I couldn't figure out what on earth this was, this book, as it was a compilation of books by both you and Douglas Oliver. It was very new for me, the idea of The Scarlet Cabinet. But to keep pace with "how time and consciousness are magical," I've always wondered about Robert Desnos in this book, and how at one point he becomes a Virgil-like character, walking you (us) through the pages. Can you tell us about your use of Desnos? And can you also tell us about The Scarlet Cabinet?
You are confusing two books. One is The Scarlet Cabinet, a compilation of books by myself and Douglas Oliver published by ourselves. The other is my poem Désamère, which was published by O Books in the same volume with Close to me & Closer . . . (The Language of Heaven).
The Scarlet Cabinet was the 6th issue of Doug's and my magazine Scarlet, but it is a very lengthy compendium of books and is based on the concept of the medieval book, which might contain, say, an herbal, a long poem, a history, and more all in the same volume. Before the printing press, books, being hard to come by, might be collections of lots of books -- different kinds of books -- all together. The Scarlet Cabinet contains everything we couldn't get published at the time, circa 1992. So that's Alette, Doug's long poem Penniless Politics, a novel by him, two other sequences of poems by me, a sutra by him. It was an experiment in publishing.
Désamère is the first poem I wrote after moving to France, 1992-93. I was trying to enter France in my imagination, and composed this long narrative poem which has three parts. It essentially takes place in a North American desert after a global warming catastrophe -- the most salient fact about it and something no one has ever commented on. There are three characters in the first part, a woman named Amère who changes her name to Désamère, her dead brother an ex-soldier, and Robert Desnos the French poet. Desnos, who famously would fall asleep and dream for the Surrealists, is the oracular voice of the poem, telling the history of the century between World War II and the poem's present, out of the knowledge he possesses being a dead person, a poet, and a victim of a concentration camp. The second part of the poem is in prose and is a temptation in the desert, by a devil, based on my old high school psychologist, of Désamère. The third part of the book is a group of Désamère's poems, written somewhat in the style of Desnos. I selected Desnos for my poem because I already knew something about him, because he was courageous, and because he had suffered.
It's quite interesting to have an oracular voice in a poem, someone who isn't you whom you ask things of. Such a voice will always answer, if you do it right, and will know more than "you" do. I did a lot of historical research for the first part of Désamère -- though it isn't all that long, but is quite condensed. I would read about Vietnam or Stalin, then sit down to the poem to see what Desnos had to say. The Desnos voice would well up from somewhere -- I suppose it was me -- but I never knew what it would say or think.
First, I'm sorry about confusing the books, I don't have The Scarlet Cabinet here with me, but was for some reason thinking Désamère -- with the Desnos voice -- was part of that collection of books. Is the owl also a voice you ask things of? You mentioned once at a reading that a dream of owls brought the owl as a character into The Descent of Alette. Did the owl stick from that point on, or have owls always been a totem kinship in your life? With the recent release of Alma, or the Dead Women, and the tattoo of an owl on your shoulder (Eileen Myles took you to the tattoo parlor, is that right?), I've been wondering if the owl is a source of magic for you, an axis from which to see clearer? I ask it like this because in ancient cultures animal totems were often taken on for clearer footing in the world, especially in times of crisis and other challenges.
The owl symbol arose in connection with Alette as a pun. Actually it first appears in "White Phosphorus," in the last section. The word's a pun on my brother Al's name, and then on my name too. At the end of "White Phosphorus" I have a vision of my brother as an owl after his death -- but he himself had the pun inside him: he had a collection of kitschy owl wall plaques and things. Then after he died my mother took it up too and collected a lot of ceramic and glass owls. As my father's name was also Al (and others in the family) the pun, and totem, really spreads. So in The Descent of Alette I gave the animal identity finally to the father, who as the owl in the poem has become his ultimate self and is Alette's teacher, her guide into the possession of owl powers, her instructor in killing the tyrant from the psychological point of view of an owl -- a clean kill, a blow from nature. After The Descent of Alette, the owl image stuck and I just have it. Everyone gives me owls -- I have a small collection. I got the tatoo so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore, it's just carved into my back. A totem is a point of identification with another species -- it can also be a plant -- with its talents and powers. There's usually a myth involved. Owls tend to represent death and/or wisdom -- the owl is Athena's bird, and my tatoo is of Athena's owl from an ancient Greek drachma.
When I was in Albuquerque for a brief time studying healing herbs I met an old woman on the Acoma Pueblo named Night Eagle who invited me into her adobe. I asked her if Night Eagle meant owl, and she said yes, and that owl was essential for her both as a woman and Native American because of the need to fly in the dark of night for what she needed for her family and for herself. When I told her about the stain glass made by the black masons in colonial Philadelphia with an owl at the top of the symmetrically placed symbols she nodded, said she had heard of this, and said it was for the same reasons she chose owl. She said white men had the eagle and were using its symbol to strike out and take in the light of day while others needed to be more covert. Part of me often wondered if such an extension of owl was being used by you with Alette. In trying to keep clear of exegesis I thought I would ask about owl in a more general way. Athena's owl? There, I was also hoping it was Hecate's owl. Hecate gets a bad wrap, and her story has morphed into making her an old hag stirring trouble, when really she was a crone with superior strength, her owl companion her carrier of wisdom. Hecate's powers were nearly matched with Zeus' own. I'd like to ask you about another archetypal package of divination, that being tarot. When in Philadelphia recently you mentioned a story about being in someone's apartment (Ron Padgett's?) and Ted Berrigan coming in through a window with a tarot deck? We had wine when you were telling that story and wine makes me foggy. But I'm sure I didn't dream this, at least some version of this.
Fuck Hecate. I'm not interested in crones! More to the point, there is a tangible, beautiful, known ancient image of Athena's owl that one can avail oneself of. But the owl for me is all us Als, including Alma. In a particularly beautiful instance of owl, as I was falling asleep one night while Doug was in his final days in the hospital here in Paris, I turned into an owl and flew to his window -- That part was a half-sleeping fantasy. But then I dreamed I took him to heaven in his pajamas and we walked there, I showed him what it was. Though it was just a beautiful void with no one else there but it felt good.
Well, Ted and the tarot. Ted was living in a single room in a boarding house in Ann Arbor in fall,1969. It was midnight and I was waiting for Ted to arrive from somewhere, I was sitting on the floor of the room (only furniture a mattress, maybe a chair) with John Godfrey, visiting from New York. He and I were poetry babies, Ted was older. So the downstairs door, it turns out, locks after midnight; Ted couldn't get in. The window opened and there he was at the window, he'd climbed up the fire escape -- third floor room. He had a brand new Rider tarot deck, god knows where he'd gotten it, I can't remember. And he proposed to tell our fortunes. I'd never seen a tarot deck before. I guess I knew that there were different fortune-telling methods though. What method will you use? I asked. I'm going to make up my own method, he said. Then he told me and John, in turn, to select the cards we liked best and he'd use those. I had enough sense to select about ten, but John fell in love with all of them and couldn't narrow it down. He finally got the number down to 22 cards. Then Ted told our fortunes, but I don't remember what they were.
OOOOO! FUCK HECATE!? I've never heard anyone say that before! Wow! A test for the soles of the feet! I like that! HEHEHE! Just for the record I have nothing against Athena, I was sharing what I had been thinking with my own interest in crones coming through with the thoughts. If I turn 60 I intend to live the rest of my life as a crone. The half-sleeping fantasy of turning into an owl, and the dream where you take Douglas Oliver to heaven was beautiful, in many ways. Thank you for telling that. And Ted Berrigan's method of do-it-yourself tarot interpretation is great, and what the art form needs. Tarot, especially as an investigative tool for self-reflection, deserves creative minds making as many new doors as possible. You taught a workshop in New York recently using the tarot, how did that go? It made me happy to hear you say you were doing this, as the magical arts seem at home with poetry.
The tarot workshop went extremely well. We only had a few hours to do this in, and we spent much of it reviewing the traditional tarot deck as a set of symbols which are, in effect, heavy words. Then we proceeded to make our own. I had twelve pieces of cardboard and figured we would only have time to make a deck of twelve major-arcana-like cards -- just the words, not pictures. I set out a couple of terms: I wanted cards that could refer fairly exactly to present crisis situations: the environment, world-wide immigration, and so on. The people in the class began to make their own demands: one person required a card for solitary tranquility, another insisted on a card for communication. I suggested we also use some of the traditional cards. So. We wound up with the following twelve: Death, the Earth, Chaos, the Poet, the Eye, the Lovers, the Web, the Immigrant, Wisdom, the Moon, Mutation, the Sun. We talked about the possible field of meaning of each of the cards (I can't seem to remember very well, at this point, what the Eye is.) I then directed each person to turn the cards over, mix them up, and choose three at random, to use to write a poem with. The poems were quite good.
I can't remember if I told you but I had gone out and bought a Rider Deck in Paris -- I thought I had thrown my old one out (I was quite mad at it. I found it later.) Then when I opened the deck I realized that, of course, the "words" were in French, with the same symbols, but they didn't always seem to mean the same thing. For example, the Magician is "le Bateleur," who seems to be some sort of street acrobat or tumbler -- this is different. The Fool is le Mat -- the dull person, and the High Priestess is la Papesse -- the female Pope. The "wordness" -- my sense of the wordness of the cards -- was upset by this difference. I liked that.
I'm not an expert in the deck at all. My interest lies somewhere near a sense that words are like tarot cards, and that a poem manipulates unpredictable depths with its words.
That workshop sounds engaging, and what an inspiring way to use the tarot, and to generate langauge. I've only ever attended one poetry workshop, when I was just a teen, and it was the most tedious 2 hours, so much so that I can still smell my boredom whenever thinking about it. It was a situation where a "famous" poet was visiting, and I was too busy listening to others about what to do. And yes, you had mentioned buying a deck in Paris, but what happened that made you mad with the old deck? And what cards are you most drawn to, or does it depend on timing and circumstances?
Gee, there's finally something I can't tell you. It's too personal and upsetting -- I mean why I thought I had thrown out the deck.
My favorite cards are the High Priestess, Death, and the aces of cups and wands. I've also become somewhat fond of the Wheel of Fortune. According to Max Jacob's (and Paul Valence's) Le Miroir d'Astrologie, my card in connection with my sign (and decan -- French astrology has decans) is the Knight of Swords, so I kind of like it. I think astrology is mostly shit, but I dig Max Jacob. I like the tarot because it works like poetry and because you don't really have to "believe in" anything. It's there to be used. The symbols are remarkably durable and beautiful; they float out to encompass all kinds of meanings.
Your rich appreciation for the tarot, and how poetry can be a natural part of its weave makes me think of the many folks on the other side of this equation who have dedicated their lives to various occult practices who also see this same marriage. Freya Aswynn uses poetry and chants of Yggdrasil to better associate Runes, runic sigils and Norse mythology. With the tarot it seems every teacher and practitioner wants to include poems to explain or enhance the tarot. Anthony Louis uses Dylan Thomas to better discuss the Ace of Wands, one of your favorite cards:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
drives my green age....
I wish I had known you liked the Ace of Wands when I showed you the deck I use made by Penny Slinger. Her version is amazing, using Mercury's caduceus, combing the Ace of Wands with the mercurial sense of the Knight of Swords, which you say is associated with your sign. Penny Slinger uses some of the major arcana, but has shifted the paradigm by recreating a new language for the tarot, and she does so in the most creative, genius way, running without hesitation with her love for the tarot's endless unfolding, endless possibilities. Your tarot/poetry workshop also kept some of the major arcana and created new cards. Have you ever considered making a tarot? One that could be printed and made available? Jack Spicer's tarot is fantastic, in the true sense of the word fantastic. But he kept to the original template, although his interpretation is really great. (Kevin Killian is the only person I know who owns a copy of the Spicer deck -- only 100 printed) Maybe you would be interested in creating a tarot one day? How do you feel about this?
The card associated with my sign is the Knave, not the Knight, of Swords. I'm a knave -- it probably better suits Scorpio. Always a little bit bad. I read my weekly horoscope sometimes in the Observer on Sunday, the British newspaper, and last week it said, You're a Scorpio, get scary! Although I don't believe in this astrological stuff -- the stars are a little far away -- I like the advice. Edwin Denby once said he always read his horoscope, because it always gave such good advice. By that he meant, not that it was specific to him, but that in general this kind of advice is good. You could get good advice from any of the twelve, probably, you wouldn't have to read your own. I thought Get Scary was really good advice.
Anyway, with regard to your tarot question, no I wouldn't want to make that kind of deck. I don't know enough and I don't want to devote that much time to knowing it. A lifetime. It's a little late. I am interested in the idea that anyone might make up their own deck and use it. In fact I got the idea for my workshop from a talk by Michael McClure, from one of the early Naropa talks volumes. He had taught there for the week and had assigned the class to make up individual decks according to their own affinities, personal symbolisms, and so on. And of course he had his, with all his own stuff therein: turquoise, brown, grahhhr, and so on. Everybody has their own deck inside, really. THE deck, the traditional deck, kind of works for everyone, though it's pretty medieval -- but it's remarkably flexible. But everyone has a personal set of symbols that they can and do work with, as they proceed through time.
Oh, the Knave, I was going by the Knight from your last answer. I like how you want us to search our own symbols, like in your workshop. That Michael McClure talk sounds like something to seek out, thanks for mentioning that. Astrology is something I wasn't going to get into after you first expressed your feelings about it because I don't ever want to be in the position where I appear as if I'm proselytizing. But for the tarot readings I do I read through the zodiac. It's an amazing layout, one that reaches far beyond the traditional Celtic Cross form mostly associated with the Rider-Waite and it's many companion decks. The texture of a reading through the circle of the zodiac carries the weight of the different grades of the four cardinal elements, not to mention how much the cards lend themselves to the individual signs beyond the elements. It's not just a way to help a reading expand, but literally explode with possibility. In the end the zodiac extends the metaphor of the tarot, and one can believe in astrology or not and still get something out of it. I do about two, sometimes three tarot readings a week in Philadelphia, and I've only ever had one person insist on the Celtic Cross. Which was fine of course, it was his reading after all. Many people are prepared for the zodiac layout from my little webpage for tarot readings, but those who don't realize it are usually surprised and excited about the idea.
Something else I wanted to ask you. At the Poetry Project's recent Allen Ginsberg tribute reading you mentioned at the microphone that you had been his typist for a little while. One of the poems you typed (twice you typed it, I think you said) was "White Shroud." About a month before that tribute reading I had received permission from Christopher Wiss (with help from David Trinidad and Erica Kaufman) to reprint Tim Dlugos's "G-9" for a queer anthology I'm co-editing with six others. It's a long poem, some 16 or 17 pages, no stanzas, just one long breathtaking column, and there was no copy available online or to be e-mailed, so I had to type it myself. "G-9" is a beautiful but painful poem to read, and one I had read many times before typing it, but typing it got the poem under my skin like never before. I would burst into tears and have to leave my apartment, come back, type, burst into tears and leave again. It was so upsetting and unexpected, and frankly a little exhausting. Since then I've decided to occasionally take poems I have great love for and type them, to see what new life they can have in me. After you mentioned having typed "White Shroud," AND THEN getting to hear your powerful interpretative reading of it, I have since wondered how much the typing of the poem shaped how you read it and feel it? It could just be that you're a powerful reader, which I think anyone who has heard you read would agree that you are, but for some reason the power behind you reading "White Shroud" felt unique and itches in my ears when I've read it in the book since. Is this maybe going back to the conversation on trance? You had said for instance that your unpublished manuscript Reason and Other Women was written entirely at the computer, and that the process was hypnotic.
I typed the poems in the White Shroud manuscript so long ago that I don't think the experience was directly relevant to how I read "White Shroud" aloud. While I was reading it I tried to emphasize its structure -- it has a very firmly in place, story-telling structure -- and the immense detail. The poem goes in and out of typically Allen cadences, which as everyone knows are hypnotic, and which he often uses when he's describing things. These cadences seem to help him "see" better. So, as Anselm said later, sometimes I sounded like Allen and sometimes I didn't. The cadences would pull at me, then I would resist them for awhile, then they would pull at me again. I found this quite interesting.
When I was in my twenties, one of things Ted suggested I do -- that he had done -- was type up other poets' poems. He had one-page poems in mind, because those were the ones he'd typed. I was drawn to longer poems and typed up all of Jimmy Schuyler's "Hymn to Life," O'Hara's "Ode on Michael Goldberg's Birthday and Other Births," a large part of Williams' "Of Asphodel That Greeny Flower." I believe I internalized the structures and sounds of these poems -- somewhat -- and that they influenced much of my later work. I didn't know it while I was doing it -- it seemed to me that I was just typing, it even bored me. But I then wrote "Songs for the Unborn Second Baby," which is totally grounded in the O'Hara poem, and poems like "The Prophet," with its long lines that are as much like Schuyler's as Koch's, and then there's The Descent of Alette, which obviously owes a lot to the variable foot of "Asphodel." You take in a lot without being conscious of, rationally on top of, what it is -- this is magic.
I remember "G-9." I haven't looked at it in a long time, Tim's last poems upset me.
Glad I asked about this. So you're saying that doing the exercise of typing these other poet's poems internalized structure and some other tools for writing?
Typing "G-9" was such a powerful experience, and I've thought so much about WHY after having read it so carefully without typing it that it hadn't pulled that agony out of me the way it did at the keyboard. It's not so much about a better, more careful read when typing I think -- at least in this case, for me -- as it was about having to focus with my body, my fingers moving moving moving those words onto another surface, almost, how do I say?, drilling these emotions through to the surface. A couple weeks ago I typed Jules Boykoff's extraordinary poem "Commandment #8" seven different times, and took notes after each typing. Random, off the cuff notes. Not sure what I want from all this, but it's feeling like something is actually being done, on an internal level, maybe internalizing keys to some rusted locks, I don't really know for certain. Engaging the body with the mind does something very unexpected to the reading of a poem. This seems to work too in other ways when writing our own poems. Thoreau has this wonderful essay on walking, and how walking makes writers write. He talks too about the origin of the word "sauntering" and how it's from the French, back when pilgrims were walking to visit the holy sites of the saints. Thoreau asked us to walk, or saunter, as though all ground is holy, and in that exercise beautiful occurrences will be had. Frank Sherlock and I did an experiment in poetry which involved walking all over Philadelphia in this way, and it was definitely a rich experience in the end.
May I back up a bit? I got so excited earlier while you were talking about trance that I never got back to asking you what you meant when you said, "I think poetry is written in a transpersonified state." Could you tell us about this?
Um, I don't think "transpersonified" is a real word. "Transpersonal" is. Someone like Phil Whalen made up "transpersonified," it gives you a sense of being above the personal and being a body at the same time. I think Phil used it to refer to an LSD experience: "I was in a transpersonified state." My point was that when you write poetry you are very far above the personal -- while writing. You don't have feelings. Except for a specialized kind of feeling -- esthetic? graced? inside a peculiar reasoning process? If you feel something else, like anger or love, your poem is probably no good. When I say this to someone, that person often nods sagely and says "Feelings recollected in tranquillity" -- whatever the Wordsworth quote is -- but that's not right. It isn't about "recollected." You can have feelings when you read it later, or not.