02 June 2009

Fanny Howe

[Fanny Howe interviewed in What Is Poetry [Conversations with the American Avant-Garde], ed. Daniel Kane, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2003]

FH: The fact is, I don't even like "modernism" or "material text" or any term that tries to surround an action that is simultaneously trying to be free. So this leads directly to my problem with titles, because (to me) they put a lid on the loneliness of the poem. And they influence the way it is read. Freedom at any cost!

Because titles come after the composition of the poem, they are not usually part of its eruption. They have a kind of leaden quality, unless they are like song titles that are lifted from inside the song itself, or are muted mood messages, and are not music, the way titles are also words. I tend to scribble down the messages as they come in, and then elucidate and organize them into a cluster based on the time zone surrounding their arrival. I think of them as days more than anything else, days in the ancient sense of an act or a feeling that begins and completes itself. How many times the sun rises and sets in that kind of day is of no importance. All that matters is knowing when it ended, and, more mysteriously, when it began. . . .

I think for me poems are sentences, which may be why they are getting shorter. I love a complete sentence, and all that it contains in the way of balance and aspiration. I love prose sentences. But a whole poem of mine is a sentence composed of sound-lines (bars), each line being the equivalent of a complex word. Each sound-line floats in tandem with the next one. Each one is a word. The group of sound-liens or words forms a sort of sentence which is a poem.

A few words create together one word, and that word is on a line and the next line consists of another long word made up of words. Then the poem is composed of both many and few words. The lines themselves demonstrate their separateness and, at the same time, the gravitational pull in relation to each other.

Prose only differs to the extent that the lines jump on each other, left to right, instead of falling down from an upwards position. The jumping to the side saves paper (time and space), but it also indicates another thought process -- one with a goal. It's the difference between taking a walk and sitting still. Prose has just as much poetry in it as a poem does. It's just in a rush to get somewhere and bears more guilt, always trying to justify itself.

DK: What are the advantages of writing lines as "the equivalent of a complex word"?

FH: Such an approach offers a kind of cubist, or three-dimensional, look at language. By stacking the independent clauses and keeping them as free as possible from the chaining effect of the next lines, the words create an optical illusion of depth and clamor. The line stands alone, and in tandem, and in space.

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