Editorial note: Christian Bök is the author of ’Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science, Crystallography, and Eunoia (which won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002). Bök performs his poetry around the world and teaches at the University of Calgary. The following has been adapted from a Close Listening conversation recorded on April 20, 2005, at Studio 111 at the University of Pennsylvania.
Note: Caroline Bergvall and Susan Rudy met outside the Royal Festival Hall in London on Tuesday, June 8, 2010. Our conversation began informally, over dim sum at Ping Pong, atwenty-first-century teahouse on the festival terrace of the South Bank Centre, and was followed by a formal, taped interview, which took place in a quiet corner of the Royal Festival Hall. The text below was created between July and December 2010 based on a transcription of our interview and supplemented by email conversation.
Note: In this long-running exchange, Ben Lerner and Aaron Kunin discuss Kunin’s latest collection, The Sore Throat and Other Poems, and the sources with which it is in dialogue, including Pound’s “Mauberley” as “a repository of lyric gestures.” Lerner and Kunin have previously published two similar exchanges in Jacket — one addressing Kunin’s novel The Mandarin, in Jacket 37; another, on Lerner’s Mean Free Path, in Jacket 40.
Ben Lerner: This is your second published book of poems, after Folding Ruler Star, but you wrote it first. So it’s possible to read the Mauberley series, which begins the book, as a kind of inaugural, as announcing your entry into poetry. Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” is largely a farewell — a farewell to a poetic style, a farewell to British society after WWI, etc. Why is a poem of farewell the source text for your beginning? Does your poem renounce anything? Does it renounce Pound’s renunciation?
The following interview was first published in 1980 in Código, a review edited by Erthos Albino de Souza in Salvador (Bahia), a publication that today is a collector’s item. Erthos financially supported several major projects by Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, such as their edition of selected texts by the forgotten poet Sousândrade and the complete edition of Poetamenos, a volume of poetry by Augusto. He was an engineer who worked for Petrobras and used his computer to experiment with poetry. I can’t remember the date of his death. I remember instead a generous person who promoted cultural initiatives.
In December 1979, Caetano Veloso was in São Paulo, I believe for a tour of his show Cinema transcendental with the group Outra Banda da Terra. Incidentally, that year, the Brazilian Congress, which at the time was controlled by the military, approved a law that granted amnesty to political prisoners and those who had gone into exile, persecuted by the dictatorship. The vote was preceded by a popular campaign that was violently repressed. And although the law was favorable to a redemocratization of Brazil, it made it impossible to punish acts of torture committed by agents employed by the dictators, something which is criticized to this day.
Divya Victor:As the epidermis opens a body, the epigraph opens a book. Your choice of epigraph to the first section of Tràma takes from Natalia Ginzburg’s The Little Virtues. Ginzburg is an expert taxonomist of the domestic remnants, the civil debris, the uncivil de-ballasting of National reconstructions, and an archivist of the things that remained buried after “we” rummaged through the debris of wars, of traumas, of losses great and small. In this, she is also like a gravedigger and her work is never done. Your Tràma, like her work, often excavates, devours, and inverts that pleasing Anglican claim “All things bright and beautiful, / All creatures great and small, / All things wise and wonderful, / The Lord God made them all.”