Christian Bök Interview

Postmodern Culture has just published an interview with the Canadian poet Christian Bök. An excerpt:
Stephen Voyce: When did you first begin to write poetry? How would you describe those initial efforts at writing verse?

Christian Bök: I began writing poetry in my late adolescence, producing work inspired mostly by the likes of Michael Ondaatje, Leonard Cohen, and Gwendolyn MacEwan. I published some of this juvenilia, but I became convinced late in my undergraduate career that, if I continued writing emotive, lyrical anecdotes, then I was unlikely to make any important, epistemic contributions to the history of poetry. I decided to become more experimental in my practice only after I encountered the work of Steve McCaffery during my graduate studies. I was surprised to discover that, despite my literary training, none of my professors had ever deigned to expose me to the "secret history" of the avant-garde (what with its wonderful zoo of conceptual novelties and linguistic anomalies). I realized then that, by trying to write emotional anecdotes, I was striving to become the kind of poet that I "should be" rather than the kind of poet that I "could be." I decided then that I would dedicate my complete, literary practice to nothing but a whole array of formalistic innovations.

SV: This assumption about what a poem "should be"—can you elaborate on this statement? Why has the emotive lyric become almost synonymous with poetry as such?

CB: Unlike other artists in other domains where avant-garde practice is normative, poets have little incentive to range very distantly outside the catechism of their own training—and because they know very little of epistemological noteworthiness (since they do not often specialize in other more challenging disciplines beyond the field of the humanities), they tend to write about what they do know: themselves, their own subjectivity. The idea that a writer might conduct an analytical experiment with literature in order to make unprecedented discoveries about the nature of language itself seems largely foreign to most poets.

SV: That said, has the concept of formal innovation changed since high modernism?

CB: Postmodern life has utterly recoded the avant-garde demand for radical newness. Innovation in art no longer differs from the kind of manufactured obsolescence that has come to justify advertisements for "improved" products; nevertheless, we have to find a new way to contribute by generating a "surprise" (a term that almost conforms to the cybernetic definition of "information"). The future of poetry may no longer reside in the standard lyricism of emotional anecdotes, but in other exploratory procedures, some of which may seem entirely unpoetic, because they work, not by expressing subjective thoughts, but by exploiting unthinking machines, by colonizing unfamiliar lexicons, or by simulating unliterary art forms.

Links to more about Bök and Eunoia in this older post. Text-only back issues of PMC are available. McCaffery's major essays are collected in North of Intention.


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8/7/07 03:08  

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