INTERVIEW WITH ANDY WEAVER
By Amatoritsero Ede
Amatoritsero Ede (AE): There is, and as I understand, have being a lot of experimenting in Canadian poetry. What would you say is responsible for this move from modernism to, well, post-modernism?
Andy Weaver (AW): I think there have been a number of factors behind this move. The first Canadian poets to really embrace formal experimentation popped up the 1960s, and I think it had a lot to do with dissatisfaction with older forms, a feeling that they were foreign. The 60s were the time of national soul searching in Canada—people were really wondering what “Canadian literature” meant, and formal experimentation was one way to set Canadian poetry apart from British poetry. Also, many of the experimental poets of the time were influenced by what was going on in American poetry (the Black Mountain poets, the Beats, etc.); instead of just taking up the forms the Americans were using, the experimental Canadian poets generally took the spirit of experimentation and adapted it for their locale.
As for why formal experimentation stuck around in Canada, a lot of the experimental poets from the 60s were also academics and teachers in major universities, so they taught their ideas about poetry to younger generations, who often became experimental poets themselves. Also, I think experimentation just became accepted as a part of Canadian writing.
AE: What are the political implications of such experimenting especially as it has to do with ‘sound poetry’, which I consider as truly baffling in its rejection of autography for the primacy of the grunt!
AW: Sound poetry now has a long history, going back to, at least, the Dada and Surrealist movements in Europe. I think, in general, all of sound poetry shares a frustration with the way we use language in western society—language is thought of as a vehicle to transmit information, and few people think of language as anything other than a tool of logic. Sound poetry, like Dada, dismisses logic; the argument seems to be that logic has become so powerful that it is the only way we relate to the world, which means that other ways, such as the emotions, are almost completely dismissed. So to turn poetry away from logic, from words, and toward sound is a way to break down the tyranny of logic. It’s an attempt to relate to the world in a different, less rational fashion. I think that contextualizing sound poetry historically helps to explain its dismissal of logic; sound poetry and Dada appear shortly after World War One, which was viewed as the result of logic and its offshoots (international politics, nationalism, etc.). So the sound poets’ rejection of language is their way of rejecting the horrors they believe logic brought about.
AE: And what about the whole idea of communication. Does such over-the edge experimenting not jeopardize this?
AW: I’d say yes and no. Experimental poetry is often intentionally trying to dismantle the inherited notion of communication, which, in poetry, often takes the form of the Romantic sublime: the poet has an epiphany or an experience and then decides to explain that to the reader. I think a lot of experimental poets don’t trust that tradition, which tends to make the poet a prophet—after all, just because someone can write poetry well doesn’t mean that person is any wiser than his or her reader. Ezra Pound is a great example of a great poet who wasn’t exactly a good model to learn life lessons from. So there’s a distrust of communication because there’s also a realization that poets don’t have any more answers than readers or anyone else, which often leads experimental poets to intentionally try to dismantle or jeopardize communication.
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #31, JUNE 2005. ISSN 1479-425X