Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday Night Email Chat with Amish Trivedi

Amish Trivedi, amanuensis of the Trivedi Chronicles and curator of the Museum of Vandals, will be reading for Cousins on April 18th. I promise not to ask him any stupid questions that night. It will be purely, purely his poetry.

COUSINS: Have you by chance read Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker? I ask because that book title seems to me to be a blaring statement of Zucker's poetics... And I wonder if you see Museum of Vandals working in that way?

AMISH: I haven't read it to be honest and I only became aware of the title after Vandals was set to come out. For titles, I usually think up something and Google it. If it asks me to try without the quotes, I take it as a good sign.

Or I could phrase the same question differently maybe: Do you have a method of, or allegiance to, wreckage or breakage in your poems? And I guess I mean wreckage/breakage in a sort of playful sense... "Vandals" makes me think of kids destroying things for the fun of it. Your poem "Rowboat Over the Atlantic" seems to work like that.

(We interrupt this question to bring you 'Rowboat Over the Atlantic')

I have become
my own airbags, admitting
I'm more willing to break
than be broken. These words are
not mine
anymore, but they are a revenge
lay. And I used to sit
outside, slumped over feeling
boxed or stigmata over the
soil. Steps line a side, which is
a jar. Rain and saliva become
the next tabloids.

And if I'm completely
wrong, set me straight?

AMISH: I hadn't really thought about it, but yeah, I am very interested in the destruction of language. There's no method, I guess, but whatever we build, we can take down. I grew up with parents that had moved from India, so I came to understand language as being built however you choose to build it. (That sounds really frumpy.)

COUSINS: The way your poem "Letters and Soda" works makes me jealous. How do you do that! And by "that" I mean---hmmm---make a kind of non-linear sense that seems playful and irreverent but also not random, not meaningless...

Letters and Soda

My craw-daddy penis
has so many claws!

I thought you'd written
that psalm: one is drunk and

the other drunken. About
the rain? I was the

one that buried
it in a wall.

AMISH: The first line came from my friend Mark Mattes in Iowa City. Mark's a great guy and he is incredibly playful. He just screamed that line out one night and I told him I was going to steal it, and if it ever got published, I'd get him a case of beer. I have yet to pay up. But I think in a lot of ways, I think in random thoughts (you can ask my wife) and so, with a poem like this one, it's about giving in to the randomness. But there are patterns in everything, I think, even if you are trying to avoid them. Sense, like language, can be created from what you want to put into it.

COUSINS: Also, would you be able to list here a simple recipe--an idiot's guide perhaps--to writing good short poems? I would give you Bill's fifth-born child for the knowledge.

AMISH: I have rewritten my answer to this question several times now! I think the only tip I can really give for a short poem is to cut the fat, so to speak. You have to want to keep it short and the thing kind of is, you can't let the poem settle at any one point. It's like making a custard: if it settles, you're screwed.

COUSINS: In your piece in Octopus on Ceravolo, you wrote that after reading Transmigration Solo, "I probably didn’t even put pen to paper for a bit, thinking that everything I could do wouldn’t be what Ceravolo had already done." I know that feeling of deep admiration inspiring a kind of hopeless paralysis... Do you actively try to imitate him in your work? Or work against him? Is there a poem by him that you have sort of set for yourself as a goal?

AMISH: I think maybe there was some desire to imitate Ceravolo in some poems, but I don't think I ever really tried it because I realized it was impossible. I figured eventually it was better to write my own crappy poems than attempt to ruin Ceravolo's. In terms of poems of his, it's hard to pinpoint. Chunks of Transmigration are so fantastic- I remember sitting in two different Special Collections rooms at libraries just pouring over it.

COUSINS: Has there been a writer or book since more recently who has struck you dumb? (a/k/a Who are your literary cousins?)

AMISH: I have no idea! Graham Foust comes to mind right away, especially because I am obsessed with his first two books that came out in '03 or so. I almost don't want to name anyone else because I don't want to drag them down! BUT if I had to name my largest influence, it's my old TA from UGA, Johannes Goransson. I didn't even know I could get an MFA or do anything with poetry until I met him. He always pushed me (and still does really) and that's been the great influence. "A New Quarantine Will Take My Place" is probably one of my favorite books because there's so much that appeals to me: the threads, the language, the thematics- it really is something nearly perfect for me and each reading reveals something more to me. Beyond books, I'd say I have always drawn a lot of inspiration from films: Lynch, Bunuel, Godard, Svankmejer, Varda, and Bergman especially. In Lynch and Bunuel, I think I'm drawn to something that you mentioned earlier: at first glance, things can seem random, but the pieces fit in a way.

COUSINS WHO ARE LOOKING FOR ANSWERS THEMSELVES: Once you finish your MFA, how will you make your way in the world? Will you continue to write? If so, how are you imagining that you will
set up your life so that you can do that? What else are you besides a writer? What could you do or accomplish or be in your life that you would consider worthwhile?

AMISH: You should never ask such questions! I have no idea- part of me wants to keep going with school- maybe a PhD in literature/English, but I would say I ultimately want to teach. I know it's a lot of work, but I'm drawn to the classroom with the goal of creating a good experience for the students. I'd love to do little more than teach workshops, but I'm guessing I'm 2-3 books/10 years from that right now. I don't think I can really quit writing, to be honest. It's nearly a compulsion. I'm addicted to it, in a way: I'll wake up, and say I'll never do it again, and within 20 minutes, I'm deeply embroiled in a poem. In terms of accomplishment, I've decided I just want to be comfortable. I want to write and publish, course, but I don't really want anything out of that. Does that make sense? I'm not looking for poetic achievements/milestones, and don't really expect them to come any time soon. I'd just like a nice little life of poems and teaching and maybe a Ferrari at some point. Nothing major.

Finally, if I gave you one of my poems, would you vandalize it for me?

I could try, sure!