Maxwell Clark Interview
Maxwell Clark's new book, Thief of Hearts, has just been published by Roof Books. Roof published Clark's (((...))) in 2017. My preface to that collection is here.
EPC Digital Library has several other free pdfs of books by Clark:
I interviewed Maxwell Clark, by email, in December, 2021:
Tell me about yourself. Who are your parents and what do they do? Where did you grow up, go to school?
As Siddhartha Gautama indicated, I am that. Or, an image of God. So too, as in the Artaud: my own mother, and my own father. Alone. Yet, not a little paradoxically, I also have a very good family. My other mother has founded, managed, and taught at two successful Montessori schools. She once studied the Grundrisse under Susan Buck-Morss at Cornell. Our idle chatter is my intellectual grooming in a nutshell. I still viscerally remember her singing the lullaby 'All Through the Night' to me as a child before bed. My other father is in hotel management. I used to watch Larry Bird's Celtics on television while sitting in his lap. His carousing wordplay is an endlessly bubbling brook of wisdom. I am one of the luckiest people alive to have him in my life. I was born in Sleepy Hollow, NY---not inauspiciously. Repressed rumors suggest it was a very traumatic, hellish, abominable birth though---perhaps the inspiration for my sense that there are pains worse than death. We moved a lot after that. But the vast majority of my public school education was done in Fairfield, CT. In abstract: I did art class in the morning, and went to football practice in the afternoon---a nerdy jock, in the most antinomian way. I was also a B/B+ student, who never once did homework. Then I went to the University of Vermont---just like John Dewey, who also left after three years---except my reason for leaving was a psychotic break. Perhaps not a little because I had also done a summer class in urban studies at Yale before breaking down, I was soon left off in the psychiatric parts of the redline districts along Whalley Ave. in New Haven, CT. I believe the rappers call it "ghetto university". They got me right with them as best they could---very hospitable. It was what's really good, mostly. Sunshine. Then I was evicted, in an out-of-court settlement, and quested through NYC feral for August 2016, until eventually landing in Portland, Maine. It's safer and cozier here---just a trade-off.
Date of birth? Parents names? When was the breakdown? Are those questions too explicit? What were you most engaged with at college and just after? Were you reading poetry and philosophy?
I am told I was born on October, 29th 1984. Marcia and Roger. The breakdown happened around the end of my undergraduate sophomore year, beginning of my junior year. Bloom called schizophrenic poetry bad, because it lacked "wilful misprision"---that is, your questions are somewhat explicit, but the best I can do is euphemistic brevity. I was most engaged with very orthodox Marxist-Leninist literature during college. After college it was Shelley and Levinas (---yes, I was reading poetry and philosophy).
I call Thief of Hearts a masterpiece of schizofuturism, trying to invent a term for what you do. How do you envision the relation between “the breakdown” and your poetry?
The breakdown began almost exactly as I took up poetry passionately. I emulated Percy Shelley, except I lived. Schizofuturism is a great term for me, not least because I didn't give it to myself. Belonging---to a genre, to a nation, to anything---is very problematic for me, yet and still. There's an old tradition that says naming "kills" the named. Am I really "Max"? Are scare-quotes still cool?
Schizophrenia is a diagnosis, or anyway “schizoaffective disorder,” but it’s also a metaphoric term (for better or worse) and a term in activist philosophy, from R. D. Lang to Deleuze and Guattari. The relation of “madness” to poetry is both a cliché and deeply resonant. Are these frames that are useful in reading your work – or your writing it?
Schizophrenia is my psychiatric diagnosis. That's a massive, official, definitive election to poetry. So I'm not anti-psychiatry. I'm a schizoanalyst, if you will. Emersonian Over-Compensation.
Do you feel an affinity with other poets in like situation? How would you describe the relation of your szhizophrenia to specific qualities in your poems? You once told me that you wished Hannah Weiner has “come out” as schizophrenic.
First, on Hannah Weiner not "coming out" as schizophrenic: there was nothing wrong with her. She was perfect. Flawless. Every single bit of her. Just like you, dreamboat. If being schizophrenic is wrong, she wasn't schizophrenic. I am schizophrenic. It was just a less-obvious perfection for me. Affinities are a like situation. If I am schizophrenic, that's a specific quality of my poems.
My poems are better defined in psychiatric terms, than with the abstract and sole category of "schizophrenia" alone.
And by psychiatric, I mean the very geo-statistical calculus of its archipelago'd lifeworld. My home. Catering on tax dollars. Tributary surfeit. The bad old mean powers. We perhaps lack exactly the right amount of "common touch". Did you know? I knew all along. It just was hiding from me in my consciousness's narrative opacities. Until then, brave commando of my captive stylizations---meaning: you know---you knew you know now. Blekkh, tasteless, *and* immaculate for it---it's... it'.... ... i'............... It's just so, so godDAMN Y O U K N O W
I have a question for you, Charles Bernstein. What is your theory of mind like these days?
Question aside, my responses to this question need to be edited for grammatical normalcy. If nothing else. I want people to have footholds. Like we're part of the same language group. Is it even English? I've gotten that before. I want this to give normals pleasures too. A dialectical synthesis. I'm just blowing it quick this month. Feels cozier without it. Transcendentalism, what a name.
Never mind, no matter. Better: mind minds matter. That is, matter minds. In other words, mind matters. But I don’t have theories. What attracts you to Levinas?
I'm dabbing thumbs cellularly for this one, because - o - Lebbiblas. Who else is there? His proper name is supposedly Emmanuel Levinas. His translators are likely all I know of him. I began a 40-year rabbinical-type mastering him in 2003, my freshman year at UVM. He himself was the Plato in prose to the Socrates of Postmodernism: Monsieur Chouchani. An obscure reference <<pointillism>>, once for the anchorites alone. Levinas's translations substitute teach for this Peru-buried demiurge. Somehow it was so chevallier, und ubercoolischen, for me as a Belgian-Canadian chien magnifique who will never ever once laugh at outrageously cooked merde-mot at FISHING camp with JACK KEROUAC---where I actually belong to myself alone. Never you.
In your reading, what’s company to Levinas?
Percy Byshhe Shelley it is. I started on him after reading his risible critic Paul Foot's obituary in the Socialist Worker newspaper. I first bought his Major Works from the Oxford University Press. I read that book till it fell apart in my hands. And I bought the exact same title next time. He, and his young wives, and small ones... his own new family... a strange fantasy. Him sunk in his writing spot, from sunset to sunrise. Wife, and children, unable to sleep either. Hygiene is lower than belief in reality can sustain. The last ruthlessly sharked loans, to be repaid by his Parliamentarian inheritance, are prolly dashed like another rack of laudanum phials onto the no-longer marble floors. He, she, and they will soon no longer be "on tour" in Italy---a vast nicety. To be, or not to be---this was also his question now, as from so many earlier times.---But this is utter out-the-ass bullshit! How romantic. Mary Shelley's dad prolly pawned for the survivors tickets back home to England. Fuck Jerry Garcia. I mean, seriously, fuck that guy. And his scene.
"Touring with the dead."
"Risible" is just some malarkey Percy said would work. i want to stick with it, even though it's against my better judgment. some people you just have to scream love at violently as you can.
Any remnant of your left politics? Does it figure in your work?
Left and Right. A sort of duality. They do keep each other roughly in balance inexorably. Karl Marx. There's nobody like Karl Marx, he schmoozed. The right has to delve back to Plato in this matter. Or... Anywho. Somehow, it'll all be a Hollywood ending. Everything A'OK. No worries.
Let's say I'm somewhere on the spectrum. One of Them gangaloo. No, moderate libertarian.
PEE-WEE HERMAN, in Pee-wee's Big Adventure: "There's a lot of things about me you don't know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand. Haha! (Beeps new bike horn twice)"
Love Pee-Wee. But I do worry. The first work of yours I saw, which you sent me over a decade back, was Massif. It’s a formidable work, living up to the title. I know you’ve reworked that over the years. Still, going back to the earlier version, which combined poetry and essays, prose and verse: say something about that. It’s quite different than your first Roof book.
MASSIF: a protocol for my eulogy. This e-book was later revised into my presently launched and second print book entitled Thief of Hearts --- thank you Roof Books, the edits - really sunny ones in this one - the page-break pages, all around there. MASSIF to Thief. I took MASSIF---an already finalized "clean-copy" and/or publication---to revise into a self-advertised "corrupted and disfigured" version. A sort of gothic-satanist-witch-hippy inspiked me to a wet slappadoo of razory-spirals-o-flesh howl-zooming far beyond ultra-violence in the please forgive me again. I just like to ask. I don't have to ask.
MASSIF was written mostly at and around and about an empty soccer field behind my old elementary school. My memories are not dimmed too much if I really take action and intentionally plan to schedule them, but it was mostly done around the hours 12am to 5am. No-one lived down the path to the side of the school's frontside playground. Or, no, sherrrrr.... was experienced during the witching hours hereat, in no small part this on occasion I was on totalmente-potent-enough LSD. "There he is an empty soccer field." Experiences can all pretty much be narrated, idk, but never as quickly or as deftly as they are alive-streamed. I am the books. So are the editors. And so on, even unto you---drear reader. We meet again. MASSIF and it's "writer's block panic escape rip-off" Thief of Hearts, eh? My pro-style, smoothed-out, no-keyboard for days, point-and-click formatting adventure contributed more to "make it new" than not even one children's book in the end, when you really think about it.
Thief of Hearts, your new Roof book, as you say, plays off visual surface. Do you see it as a visual poem? So much of your previous work is redolent with soundings. At one points you say “resounding” but that morphs into “resounging tortoise”? How do the visual elements sound in this work? There is a scat element with the parts that have letters, but how about the parts that use punctuation marks? I dislike the term “asemic” for such poetry seems it seems to want to treat the baby as if it were dirty bathwater? Tortoise or hare?
The visual elements sound like digital audio production. That is their sole definition. The entire spectrum of audible frequencies, and beyond. Time signature as bit-rate. The punctuation marks: 1. abstract-concrete poetry; 2. visual "vents of eroticism", at least the more puerilely phallic ones. Your term asemic doesn't make much sense to me either. Meaning and reference are inexorable---asemic means asemic. The more visual parts are me fucking-up an old poem I didn't agree with ideologically anymore. And this because I wasn't writing new stuff well then. I like how it's not entirely illegible in the aftermath. A tortoise among the hares, a hare among the tortoises. Fort-da. Dad is gone again right now, never to return. Thief of Hearts has an infernal face. Scarlet all over the body. Feverish.
Back to scat. Taboo is the new trauma. Not pain, guilt and shame. Dishonor. Unclean. Racial hygiene. I'm expecting to be gang-raped and then set ablaze. Jesus supposedly said something important here, but he never preached in a church-house.
How about (((...))), your first Roof book. I hear that as “nude formalism,” as “sprung lyric.” As voicings but not a single, centered voice. How long has this been going on? Where are you in the goings on? Where am I?
(((...))), or the Orange Book, as I call it now. Its WorldCat listing has the most cruel mis-transliteration of its punctuation. You're there in it, not least through my reading your book The Nude Formalism. It fit with my Levinasian sense of ethical expression as nudity, or exposure to traumas. Also my Shelleyan penchant. But it's no sprung lyric, rather doggerel. From Hannah Weiner I took the idea of just writing the voices down. Unlike her, I don't distinguish them through formatting. It's more contextual in mine. Da-sind: there We are. One voice of many voices. I'm nowhere, man. You're right here as it's written.
I didn’t mean me personally but, like they say, the reader, the one who comes to these words who is not-me (but I appreciate the shout out). When I read (((...))) I felt enfolded in the work, echoed by it.
How orthodox was Marx to anyone? Ok, Hegel. Hegel: spirit is a bone—aka, praxis. The owl of Minerva—Materialism. A posteriori. Post festum—we only show up in reality after the party is already over. Belatedness of consciousness. Latency. Waking up late for work. Theory only catches up with practice. Knowledge is deliberative, deferred. The car is driving itself nonetheless. And we are all Marxists inside. As you like it. Theory lags behind the practice, seemingly inexorably. All we have is outdated takes. An unbridgeable gap in our knowledge: the bustle under the sun. The owl of Minerva isn't flying over us when we need her. Our eyes in the sky are nocturnal. But peons rise at dawn. We must wait till we're done, before we know what we're doing. How paradoxical. Materialism doesn't know just what exactly it is doing yet. It hasn't for a long time. It only has what happened last time. Great. The patient Minervan epistemology of Hegelian-Marxist Materialism is thus stuck irremediably in the past tense. When the future is happening in the present, it is silent—patiently awaiting the results. Trump and the Left—Dec. 2021. Minervan Materialism as nostalgia—only the past tense is real. Primitive Communism. It's the Angel of History being dragged through the rubble while looking only backwards in time. And how it so tries to put it all together. But even if it could set it all back up perfect, the rubble keeps coming—from the other temporal directions. And so, in a way, the Minervan Materialist's waiting for the truth of the material reality to come—but only later, when it passes the epistemological tests—dissociates it from that material reality. There are so many more grammatical tenses than Minervan Materialism seems to take up. It can only show up in the past for the Minervans. Knowledge is trusted more than matter. Knowledge is to rule over matter—don't deny the Idealist parallelism here. The Minervan Materialist only keeps up with matter. Checks in regularly.
Slow and steady wins the race.
I expose my taboos, less than more, only out of want to be truthful and so also ethical.
Maxwell Clark at PennSound
July 1, 2020 reading: MP3