Interview with Andy Weaver continued from previous page
AE: Adam Dickinson, a contemporary of yours, seems to work more within a more traditional or ‘ modern’ as opposed to a ‘post-modern’ scheme. Is this an indication of the diversity of styles within contemporary Canadian poetry or death-knell for traditional voices?
AW: I don’t think traditional voices are in jeopardy from experimental voices. However, the two streams, the traditional and the experimental, are too far apart in my opinion. Adam and I have talked about this a lot, and I think we both feel that the most interesting work often comes from writers who try to merge the traditional and the experimental. It’s easy to get too caught up in one aesthetic when you’re not open to the ideas and challenges of the other. In that sense, we need more diversity than we have right now, because there are too many traditional poets who don’t pay attention to experimental writing, and too many experimental writers who ignore traditional poetry.
AE: For you as a practicing poet, is there anything or anyway of saying things being achieved by spoken word, sound poetry, rap-poetry, dub-poetry etc when you hear such poetry.
AW: I listen to a fair amount of sound poetry, and when it’s done well, there’s always something interesting happening. I don’t listen to the other forms much, basically because I generally don’t like what little I do hear of them. To be fair, though, I think that might be because they are all fairly new forms and the craft hasn’t had time to develop. Who knows, maybe in a few decades I’ll find them very interesting.
My biggest problem with spoken word, rap poetry, dub poetry, is that it tends to want to have an immediate impact on the audience, which means that a lot of it lacks the depth of good page poetry. The need for immediate impact means that they can’t or don’t try to do interesting things with language, which, for me, is the most exciting part of poetry.
AE: And why are they not simply called music instead of ‘poetry’, especially where orthography is suspended or difficult to represent.
AW: I think that the term poetry is far more respected than poetry itself is. How many times have you heard the phrase “That’s so poetic” or “Wow, that’s poetry in motion,” etc. People as a whole don’t necessarily know or even enjoy contemporary poetry, but the idea of poetry still stands for a lot—it has all kinds of cultural capital. So I think that some of the forms use the term just to get a bit of that capital. Sound poetry, though, uses the term specifically to set itself apart from music; it wants to be experienced as a deconstruction and partial reconstruction of language, not as vocal jazz or the like.
AE: And what is this creature called ‘performance poetry? Is poetry not always performative already, from the folk or lyrical ballad in Europe to the orature of traditional African forms?
AW: Performance poetry is a slippery term, isn’t it. I think it basically refers to any style of poetry that needs to be performed for the recipient to gain the full impact. Ballads were sung, but great ballads (“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the most obvious example) can be read and re-read, and always they always reveal more subtleties. In Western culture, the page has been the fundamental forum for poetry since at least the late Medieval period; performance poetry wants to move it off the page and place the focus on the performance. But, to me, that just puts too much emphasis on the performer and glosses over quality of the actual material. The performance becomes a crutch to help out weaker writing. The examples that performance poets sometimes cite as poetic forebears, such as ancient Greek oral poetry, seems to me to be fundamentally different from performance poetry today because poems like The Odyssey were performed by people who didn’t write them—therefore the performer and the author were separated. To combine them, as performance poetry does today, just provides the author with too many easy way outs, too many things that can be “fixed” in the performance as opposed to improving the quality of the writing.
AE: Andy thank you very much for your time.
AW: Your re welcome, Ama. Have fun in Toronto!
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #31, JUNE 2005. ISSN 1479-425X