11 April 2009

Charles North

[from Charles North's Cadenza, Hanging Loose, 2007]

Boul' Mich

         for Walter Srebnick

You're in print about the connections between
poetry and bowling. Perhaps you'd like to comment further
on what you once characterized as "strikes, spares, splits
and the heartbreak of the gutter ball." It was the Boul' Mich,
wasn't it, where you spent so much time as an 11- and 12-year-old?
I always thought that was a clever name for a bowling alley.

-- Are you sure you're not referring to the time
I was talking about poetry and bowing? [laughs] Arco,
pizzicato, sostenuto, playing with all 13 strings, or however many
there are? [laughs] Come to think of it,
the Boeing idea isn't so bad either, flying away on the "viewless wings
of poesy." I'll leave the ailerons and Fasten Your Seatbelts signs to you.

Was it the classic 7-10 or some other split you once compared to
John Donne's "stiff twin compasses"? Was that meant
to be taken seriously, rather than as one of your well known witticisms?

-- Do bowling alleys sell beer? [laughs]

So I gather that you continue to find the conceit meaningful, which is to say
illuminating in terms of poetry.

-- Obstacles crop up. Sometimes you knock them over
sometimes not. By the way, it was the Bowl Mitch,
the alley belonged to a guy named Mitch. I probably gave it a French "twist"
during one of the interviews you're probably remembering
-- without remembering. [laughs]
Everything gets toted up on the big overhead scoreboard.

So if I understand correctly, you have a set-up
which corresponds to a poem's premise,
followed by a dynamics, which on the bowling side involves a certain number
     of steps,
release of the ball, roll down the alley, and contact -- or not. Does that
parallel inspiration, drafts, and finished poems? Might it apply
in a structural sense to the opening lines, body, and conclusion
of a particular poem What happens if you tear up a poem
midway in the process, just throw it in the basket?

-- If I call a way of doing something "pizzicato"
rather than "arco," does that necessarily imply that I'm using
a pencil and a notebook rather than a word processor? [laughs]

Maybe it's time we took a break. One of the things
I want to be sure to follow up on is your remark long ago
about empty lanes, and whether that was prompted by Robert Frost's famous
between free verse and playing tennis without a net.

-- Or a full deck. [laughs] By the way,
empty lanes are beautiful in themselves . . . the sheen of the wood,
patterns of inlays, contrasts between adjoining lanes and gutters . . . wouldn't
agree that wood, like words themselves, has its own beauty?

Of course.

-- And the ball rolling down the polished surface has
what might be called an "animated" or "kinetic" beauty?

Yes, now that you mention it.

-- Isn't it also true that the beauty of collision
is something quite different from the beauty of evasion
or the beauty of tabulation?

Do you have the impression that others -- critics, academicians, other poets --
go along with your schema? I mean, I've never heard the connection
made elsewhere. Have you gotten any feedback over the years,
positive or negative?

-- What do you think? [laughs]

I probably should know this, but have you written any poems
in the shape of bowling balls or bowling pins?

-- You mean with finger holes? [laughs]
I have an early one based on the 7-10 split you mentioned earlier.
The law of the excluded middle. [laughs]

We've now had our third pot of freshly brewed espresso
and practicallyl finished a delicious white chocolate mousse
with key lime flavoring. The cedar trees outside the window
are virtually black. I have the strong sense of a writer
confident both in his abilities and in his unique perspectives,
no matter how unusual they may appear to others. Whereas,
at first glance, the poetry-bowling connection (similarly, if
not so elaborated, the poetry-bowing and poetry-Boeing connections)
may seem a thin enough conceit, the more entertained
as they say, the more eloquent, as the bayberry candle on the kitchen table
lends a glow to the vegetable patterns on the window curtains
which wouldn't have seemed possible earlier. I'm increasingly aware of
the fragile fortifications between dusk and evening, as though
the former had been erected only for the latter to knock it down. . . . Have
ever written what, in your mind, is a 300 poem?

-- Piece of cake. [laughs] Crash! [laughs]


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