Interview with Andy Weaver continued from previous page
AE: When I said over-the-edge I did mean…any experiment that compromises communication or that reduces communication to the interpretative whims of the ‘hearer’ or reader defeats its own purpose of semantic variation; could lead to chaos.
AW: I think the notion of experimentation is important here. The great American experimental poet/composer John Cage was into true experimentation: he would set himself guidelines for his writing, follow them, and then see what came out. The product was always less important to him than the process of writing. To me, this means that what is really important is the attempt to stretch the boundaries of language, to move language away from its straightforward use in everyday life, to free it from the shackles of logical communication. The result, the poem Cage produces, might be interesting or not, but the process was always worth undertaking, in order to see what would happen.
And, personally, I don’t think a little chaos is poetry is a bad thing at all. It’s much more interesting to me than writing that is completely strangled by the poet’s personal ego (Robert Lowell is someone like that, who just doesn’t interest me because his poems are too stifled).
AE: And does such hard-edged experimenting – as one suspects it happens in abstract painting – not leave room for mediocrity or laziness?
AW: O man, does it ever! I think a lot of people consider themselves experimental poets because they’re too lazy to learn craft, and they think experimental poetry is craftless. So this leads to a lot of really lousy experimental poetry. Everyone can see the craft in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but not everyone can see the craft in a good sound poem or a good formally experimental poem, but, as with good conventional poetry, it’s still very much there. I think that too many people think that experimental poetry just means that all of the rules of craft are gone, where, really, I think there are just as many rules of craft—they’re just different ones from conventional poetry.
AE: Now I note you do experiment a bit yourself in your new collection of poems. What is a ‘ghazal’?
AW: A ghazal is an ancient form of Persian poetry. Traditionally, it has intricate rules of repetition and rhyme, but those have been ignored by Canadian poets who have taken up the form (and there have been a lot of Canadian poets who have written ghazal sequences: Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour, and John Thompson are probably the best examples). Basically, in the West, a ghazal’s most important aspect is the lack of logical connection between couplets. The ghazal works para-tactically, which means that the reader is left to try to figure out the connections between couplets. When they work well, the couplets are intellectually separated but have just enough connections to form a weird kind of intuitive logic.
I’ve tried to break the ghazal form down a bit more by introducing a lot of pauses and silences into each couplet, much like Doug Barbour does in his “Breath Ghazals” sequence, in order to highlight connections and disconnections within each couplet as well.
AE: I note that your experiments are more formalist than anything else. Any particular reason for this. I mean why don’t you go into sound poetry or spoken word and so on?
AW: I’m interested in experimentation with language right now, in that Cagean sense. So, the middle section of my book works through a text according to strict parameters that I decided on before starting the sequence. In that sense, I want to be surprised by the outcome, rather than knowing what the poem will say before I begin. I think formal experimentation is the best way to achieve that surprise—but I have dabbled in sound poetry and find it interesting, too. Spoken word doesn’t interest me because it puts too much emphasis on the poet’s performance, as opposed to the words on the page. I’m interested in form and craft, and I don’t see that much of either in a lot of spoken word.
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #31, JUNE 2005. ISSN 1479-425X