Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
b. October 21st, 1772 - d. July 25th, 1834

Owing to problems with past interviews and the nature of my interview structure itself, I decided to clear my study of all items. To be exact, I left two chairs, a tape recorder, and my cigarettes and ashtray. I had some questions written down and folded in my pocket, to steer me if things went awry, but didn't think I'd need them.

An interview with S.T. Coleridge was a chance to learn of a man who's work had influenced all of English. I was nervous, as this man had not only given the world excellent verse in his lifetime, but even in other areas had inflicted his mind on the language. He coined the terms 'selfless' and 'aesthetic', for instance. I knew he was a voracious reader, having rummaged his way through libraries his entire life, and the simple weight of his Rime of the Ancient Mariner was enough to make me quake a bit in my boots. What do you ask someone like S.T. Coleridge?

After I summoned him into my study and a cursory explanation was out of the way, Coleridge, a cordial and fast-talking man stated that he would rather our interview take on the tone of conversation, rather than questions. I was leary of opening up the interview to tangents. He wanted to discuss things with me, not simply answer questions, but would certainly allow questions be asked throughout, provided I answer some of them as well. I worried this would leave less time to question him, as my abilities with channeling only allot me short spans with my prospective summonee. I couldn't predict whether I'd have 5 minutes, or possibly 20, and I wanted to reign in the interview for historical record.

I agreed in the end, due to his emphasis that we talk, rather than elicit his 'answers' as he put it. I assumed also that, after the interview was completed, I could simply edit out my own responses, as the interview with Coleridge was of far greater importance. Whether it is misfortune or not, many of Coleridge's responses were tied to my own, a sort of banter, if you will, and any subsequent removal of my responses tended to make his seem nonsensical or roughshod. There were a few responses of mine that I could have removed, as Coleridge didn't bridge his own response off of them, but it seemed of best nature to either exclude or include them all. For clarity, they are present in the following interview in their entirety.

Coleridge did not look the way I imagined he would. He did bear a resemblance to his pictures, yes, varied as they were, but none of those images and portraits seemed to capture his posture or physical traits well. For instance, the Coleridge I faced had an awkward gait, large feet and shoulders, yet thin legs and a rotund belly. His eyes were glossy and he seemed distant, yet somehow focused, and he certainly attended to every word I uttered. He is a small man, yet with long legs, giving him an unbalanced physique that causes him to both seem small, and stretched in a chair at the same time. Picture Joe Pesci's upper half on Jeff Goldblum's lower half, add in Donald Trump's hair, and you're getting into proper territory. In a portrait from the chest up, without his lower extremeties, he would appear of normal proportions. Scouring all of this were the sunken and pale features of an opium addict, which he was for the majority of his life, until his death in 1834

He was interested in my cigarettes immediately, as I was smoking when he arrived. After a rather bizarre moment in which I conceded he could have one, and taught him how to smoke a cigarette, to drag in first, then inhale, he underwent a very pleased look (the high a first time smoker often gets the first few times smoking), and settled back.

STC (after a slight groan and with a look of surprise): Well, that's friendly, isn't it?

RS: The cigarette?

STC: A cigar in the feminine! And everyone takes this?

RS: Uh, no, but cigarettes are very common.

STC: Such a pleasant pastime.

RS: You sound like a billboard for a brand of cigarettes.

STC: Billboard?

RS: A large sign in the public, for merchants to advertise their products on. Let's start the interview.

Here, Coleridge waited for me to ask the first question. He smoked casually, curious about the cigarette and making a bit of a mess in tapping the ash into the tray.
RS: Now, you were the youngest of ten kids, born to a respected Vicar in Devonshire, John Coleridge.

STC: Yes.

RS: How do you feel your father's religious ideology played into your own, when forming your later pantisocracy with Robert Southey, a more than theological, utopian commune society?

STC: My father was harnessed in the one God, and I was brought up sectionally within this structure. I would read of other beliefs, held by people far off or near, and in the rare instances when I was home, my father would preside over me proverbs and revelations, Christ and sacrifice. My father was a sacrificial man, over all, and often exacerbated his day's momentum to dole his joys in God on those he loved. Pantisocracy was failed, though I kept it close to my heart many years. Southey knew it earlier than I did, but the attempt was earnest youth, unblemished. He wanted rules within rules, near to the heart, yes, but well-scoped and laid. We had much colloquy over it through long, tireless nights. I felt that utopias could not, cannot be mechanical. If there is a utopian threshold one can cross, it would need organic plurality to survive. Many as one, one as one. Utopias, like prose, require an absorbing amount of revision, and are always in flux. My father, with Christ, was of alternate thought: Righteousness and glory were never altered, but were as solitary streams of joy and faith. You found them when you needed to. They were unchanging.

RS: Christianity is a religion that complements fathers.

STC: And their sons.

RS: During your childhood, you were sent away to school for long durations, not allowed to return but for brief visitations to your home. If 'absence makes the heart grow fonder', what did being pushed away so often make of yours?

STC (an eyebrow raised): You wrote and revised these questions in preparation, yes?

RS (embarrassed): Yeah, it shows?

STC: Is that quote attributed to me, these days?

RS: 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder'? No. Not that I'm aware of.

STC: I'd like to have written it. Now, lets see... pushed away. If we're to discuss being pushed away, we must be talking about my sweet mother.

RS: Or your older brother, Frank.

STC: No. Frank couldn't push one away. It would have served him no jealous thrill. He kept you near, to taunt and pester. It was rivalry on his part, naivety on mine. Frank strove to perch in my father's chair, the common syndrome of eldest boys, but our father's Our Father had precedence over his attention for us. I acted up at times, which father found scampish and a little pleasing, but mother hadn't nerves for it. She was the sweep-hand that rushed me off to school so quickly each spell. "Welcome home, Samuel. Your room is intact. I should expect you in it the evenings and nights. Don't rile with Frank. And Samuel, I'm having you returned to school early next week, the better for your studies." I missed my home more than dignity, then. My heart was intact, but it yearned to feel Devonshire air in the young blood it moved, to answer your question.

RS: Your father agreed with sending you away so often?

STC: Yes. The style of the time was that a bright mind should be saturated with other bright minds. If you showed intelligence of a certain elevation, you were expected to throw your soul into improving it. I was orphaned at nine years. It was prodigy, but forced. As an example we have poor Mozart, who showed a grand skill, and was then shackled to it by the envious, and not yet aged five in years. He was a horrific delight to the world, don't you think?

RS: Huh, I suppose so, I've never thought about it really.

STC: So what about you? Did your father's religion affect your own?

RS: Well, my dad wasn't religious at all, so I don't think I had much of a religous influence growing up.

STC: Atheism! I know it's of benefit to the scientist, but a negligence on the poet.

RS: I'm not certain I can claim to be very good at the latter, and science is out for me.

STC: Oh come, we all think we're geniuses. Those who do not, are not.

RS: Having brought up the poet, I wonder if you might shed some light on your writing process. Do you have specific things you require to write?

STC: How I write is at a table, very long, with myself situated just off the center. When I bandage and take my notes, I use a desk, but I never write at the desk. Desks are for study and business, and when I write initial, I dislike both. Writing as I can, I am at my long table. You?

RS: Restaurants and various public shops with seating. I've never been able to write at home.

STC: You know, I tried to write in fields, if the sunlight was apt, and when I was young, but I only received poems about fields. You're just young.

RS: That could be. How did Robert Southey do it?

STC: Geh. The desk. The outline. The Southey stare.

RS: I've never been able to write with an outline. I might have a stare.

STC: In some lay a dormancy to forms, and the outline chief among them is hidden. I would pride of it that you and I use no outline. It's common in writers of short things. The truth is that we do, but in such abstract chemistry that it becomes self-referential, as if summing large numbers without page or ink.

RS: So you believe there IS an outline, but one in our own language, and in our minds, sort of like a mathemetician can do huge calculations in his head?

STC: Feats! And lonely ones, I wage. You see, I come to page at times with such thirst I can't but glut with strokes. My better works are born from such fevers. I am particularly inspired by stories of men against fate. Those for whom complexity has not infested, but settled. What inspires you?

RS: Me? I'm not one to wait for inspiration. I write any time, and as much as possible. I have a weird ability to get into my zone very easily, so long as I'm not home, and as long as I keep my regimen. I am deftly scheduled when it comes to my work.

STC: Gad, you're like Robert [Southey]. Ink to a good page is heaven to my mind, but to Southey, it was achievement. One can achieve heaven, I suppose, but the two are not the same. Not writing feels like death to me, but not writing was considered failure to Robert. He found one to be worse than the other, you know. He was as if a press knuckled into a man. Inspiring in its own way.

RS: He was regimental?

Coleridge, seeing me snuff out my cigarette in the ashtray, followed my lead and did the same.
STC: You're using that word incorrectly.  It refers to a military regiment.  A group.  If you mean that Robert followed a strict schedule, however, then yes; he was unbearably focused on time and place.  It never left his thoughts.  He wrote like a chemist mixed. You are like this?

RS: No. When I say regimen, it's not so much with certain times in which things should take place, but with location, storming material, and prerequisite, no matter how odd it might be.  I have to make time to write, and I can be pretty tenacious about it.

STC: Odd prerequisite?

RS: Sure.  Different colored pens can make me write differently, for instance.  If I'm wearing a shirt that doesn't feel like a shirt to write in, my work will take on a reaching, bored feel, because I'm out of my zone and working anyway, on automatic. And I'm a sponge for whatever I'm reading. If I read Byron, my work begins to take on some of the Byron flares. If I read trashy romance, I write trashy.  I once wrote a Harry Potter short story because my wife made me read the J.K. Rowling books. I can't help it. I absorb with maximum saturation.  Because of this, I'm careful about what I read.

STC: Ah, then you've a head that mimics.

RS: Eh, not really that.

STC: I mean you're certain to catch things, but can't put them down. I understand it.

RS: That makes more sense to me. Are you that easily influenced by things you read?

STC: Influence yokes words. I'm not so poisoned by it as you claim to be, but I learn from all, even drunken speeches behind shrubs. There will be certain works in which I find myself inspired to take lesson, but no, reading a tale of cursing gods will not compel me write about gorgons. I am not as inflenced as impressed, but one can call the other. You believe you can truly work without inspiration?

RS: Inspiration muddies up my sound. I can't write if I'm overwhelmed by some subject or detail that won't shut up about itself. I'll only want to write about IT.

STC (concerned and amused): Friend, that's what being inspired is. Wanting to write about something means you're 'inspired'. It's the very defining aspect of the word. Inspiration is the robust sense of point, not an impediment.

RS: I dislike it.

STC (with a chuckle): You're hideous.

RS: Well, maybe a bit eccentric.

STC: I congratulate you. I've met many eccentrics. Most failed, but they did enjoy themselves. Some reached a height, yes, though never of satisfaction to them.

RS: Some people might think pantisocracy, or even The Rime of the Ancient Mariner eccentric works.

STC (serious): I've no interest in that statement.

RS (taking a moment to switch gears): I'd like to inquire how marriage functioned for you as a writer. You were married to Sara Fricker for some time.

STC: I know how long I was married and to whom.

RS: Well, I'm saying it more for people who will eventually read the interview, as background..

STC (shaking his head): Right, sorry. I should have thought. Marriage, I'll say, was boisterous and unruly, once the bloom wore free. And malevolent when I became to incapacitated to understand it. It's effect on my work was heavy, and the tax of arguments wore through my lesser pages at times. Never my main bodies. No, the only thing that could distract me from an inspired moment in my major works was physical pain, of which you'll be aware I had much.

RS: Yes. You started taking laudanum as a teenager. You suffered facial neuralgia and were prone to awful toothaches (and I can vouch for the misery of a hard toothache). You were decided lymphatic by several apothecaries of the time. More damaging perhaps is that you became a severe opium addict. There are so many literary figures that have been addicted to laudanum and similar opiates in our history: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas de Quincey, Charles Dickens, John Keats, Charles Baudelaire, Antonin Artaud... and of course, you, yourself.

STC (dismayed): The Friend. Laudare. The Praise. Never take it.

RS: You were never able to break the addiction it had over you.

STC (with a sigh): Oh, I was more than an addict, frighteningly more. Severe is one word, but there are others. It drowned me my entire life, and in a strange perjury. I died an addict, unable to trust myself.

RS: Do you feel the opium enhanced your writing? It's conjectured by many and disputed by just as many more that much of your reckoning in the written word was due to your addiction and its hallucinatory effects.

STC (annoyed): Don't forget I was a vagabond a time. I shit myself. I slept in the yards of the nearly shelterless. I had talented friends. I was extraordinarily well-read and beyond. I was supposed gifted by gifted people. I was jilted in love, shifted place to place, dreamed a thousand nights... Does no one suppose these wretched things might lend to my 'reckoning' a poem or two? No, they've always suspected it was the opium.

RS: I see. Certainly, hard life builds an artist more than laxity.

STC: You asked about the Friend. I called it that, the opium, after a periodical I edited as a young man. The Friend hated me yet was so tender and forgiving I could not be rid of it. It did not change the writing, but the man. I married it. It made me a horror, in love with a horror, and scrawling lines as if I had no else, and for a time, it was true. William [Wordsworth] helped at times, but I was in such dire... I was dying, really. Eventually, William left like Southey left. Or rather, I vanished more. I separated from Sara, didn't see my children, committed myself and still the Friend ate at my insides, sickening me to heal me of sickening me... and others. In the end, I felt more a sideshow attraction. People came to listen to me talk, to orate and preach life and above. Some were honored to hear it, some enjoying a gag. I let everyone down. I could feel myself doing it. I hated my Friend for taking me as it did.

RS: It must have been a terrible feeling, day in and day out, uncertain about anything.

STC: I was certain about everything. That's the demonic nature of it.

RS: I can feel that we're beginning to part. We're running out of time. I'd like to express my gratitude to you for agreeing to the interview, Mr. Coleridge, and I'd like to close with a bit of writing you did toward the end of your life.

STC (nodding): Oh, is it apt?

RS (clearing throat): Beneath this sod / A Poet lies; or that which once was he. / O lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C. / That he, who many a year with toil of breath, / Found Death in Life, may here find Life in Death.
STC: Yes, that. It's apt enough.

RS: You recognize it, of course.

STC: It's my epitaph. I wrote it sober, you know.

RS: Thank you for being here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


HOMER - Born 8th Century B.C.

My publisher, in planning the contracted book of Interviews with the Dead, has been hounding me lately. I am to interview twelve other dead writers from history for the upcoming book, and am not allowed to post them here, for rights issues. However busy I am with accomplishing the interviews, I certainly don’t want to leave this blog empty of my good work, and had originally planned on posting half of my interviews here, and half kept for the book. Unfortunately, I have had a bad situation arise. For every useful interview I conduct, an awful one occurs, hence the reason these interviews seem to be nearly pointless in their direction. The good and professionally conducted interviews are being saved for the book, I’m afraid, and I’ve but the occasionaly, lesser product to place here. The failed interviews. The interviews that went awry, or were just plain boring. I should apologize for it, but my rent needs be paid, and my publisher is tersely specific about the details of our arrangement.

The following is one such botched interview. I had intended to discuss some of the historical layers of ancient greece with the very figurehead of ancient Grecian verse, Homer (8th century B.C.). His Iliad and Oddysey are staple reading in most colleges and his skill in writing these epics is unparalleled for centuries in either direction. He had an entire range of verse named after him, after all: Homeric verse. Epic books were often referred to with the adjective ‘homeric’, in small tribute to this man who had changed the art of storytelling immeasurably.

I wanted to get to the real grit of how he wrote, mainly using blocks of text he needed to press and repeat using for longer sections, the almost primitive equipment he needed to use, and the reception of his grand works in his own time. I am sad to report this did not happen. A misunderstanding before the actual interview began led to a complete dissolve. When he had been summoned, I found not the old man (of whose statue I had focused on when trying to locate him in the outer ether), but a young and incredibly strong man who couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. It looked like he threw cows around for a living. It occurred to me, upon seeing him, that the term ‘Greek physique’ seems to be quite apt. No wonder they say body builders look like Greek statues. Seeing Homer was the only thing about the interview, or lack of, that actually went according to plan. My short time speaking with Homer was dispatched suddenly, and on the wake of anger, resentment, and violence.

The problem arose when young Homer, summoned and sitting in my study, eyed the leg of lamb I had prepared for him. I generally want my interviewees to be comfortable, and so try to provide something of their own time, in a way that might be soothing and kind. It is hoped they will open up more and feel at ease with me, the interviewer. Homer had a large bite of the lamb and grunted, very pleased. I was trying to affix his microphone.

H: I see the art of firing a leg is still with you.

RS: Thanks. I’d never made an entire leg before. I used a little mint when I basted it.

H: And well. The host is kind, and it is I who should give thanks; my body seems so young. I haven’t felt so lively in a very long time.

RS (with a nod and wink): Sure thing, man. Young is good, right?

[I was pleased to have received the compliment on my Greek preparation from an actual Greek man, and a notable and ancient one, at that. However, his approval seemed to change almost instantly. He became disturbed after my last statement.]

H: Why... what are you getting at?

RS (clipping the microphone finally and standing): Hmm?

H (coming to a conclusion and shaking his head violently): Hades have you, woman. I cannot abide your shame. How could I? The manner by which you lie with your love is not mine... and I will not tolerate your fashion.

RS: Woman? I don’t—

H: To think I would be so easily coerced into effiminancy... I have fought battles, written of man’s history by the gut and sinew. I have eclipsed the seas in conqueror ships and lain with many women in the hidden, glorious worlds those perilous waters keep. Mind your temptations and harbor my image in no place near them.

RS: Wait, you think I made a pass at you?!

[I figured it must have been the wink. I had meant it in the manner of saying ‘no problem’ or ‘I got it covered’, but he had mistaken it. Did winking mean an advance that far back in history? I had to wonder if there was any evidence to the fact. Well, this seemed to be evidence, certainly. Perhaps I was the mistaken one, in winking without thinking. Unfortunately, Homer was no longer comfortable and was in all ways disgusted.]

H: Either pass or passion, pass by, boy.

RS: No, I’m not— You’ve got it wrong; I’m actually married.

H (snorting): Marriage as a false award is tragedy. You have won nothing if her contest is waged in a dull care.

[Homer rolled his eyes and waved his hand harshly at me, as if dismissing me outright.]

RS: No no, Homer, I think—

H: I’m done with you.

RS: —I think you misunderstood. I’m not gay. Winking has a—

H: Stop! I’ll have no explanation. Your cheer is not for my care. Sadness is no excuse to vouchsafe the splendor of women.

RS: Wait, these days, men who like men are called ‘homosexuals’ is the term I meant. And I’m not that.

H: Homer... sexual?! How wrong you are to sour my name with your contritious error. Is this the way of your millenium? That my good name is the casement for your unsensual debauchery?!

RS: No, you misunderstood. The word—

[Homer was no longer talking, and had pushed forward from his chair at me. I put my arms up weakly and, as I shook my head, saying ‘wait’ repeatedly for lack of a better term in that short moment, he simply knocked my hands aside with one hand and punched me with the other. I twisted sideways out of my chair onto the floor and looked up at him, covering my face. It occured to me that Homer had not only socked me in the side of the head, but he’d done it really, really hard. My ear had begun throbbing and ringing and I found it difficult to figure out what was even going on.]

RS: Man, listen...

[Homer only swiped an armful of the items on my desk through the air at me. Paperclips, pens, stapler, two coffee cups, a letter opener... they all struck the area around me. Some coffee, complete with grounds, managed to get into my eyes. After rubbing them out while kicking at the air (in case he was coming at me again), I was able to see enough to notice he was no longer present. The link had been broken and he had returned to his grave. I laid there in my study, looking at the ceiling for several minutes, contemplating the violent difference even a small amount of time can cause. I didn’t think I’d be doing interviews with authors so long dead again. From now on, I’d stick to centuries, not milleniums.]

In the end, I required three stitches where the lobe of my right ear meets my head, and it broke my account at the bank. So, I’ve learned several things from this failed interview:

1. In the future I should try to summon only the older-aged versions of these writers.

2. Homer, the esteemed and historical, ancient poet, is a southpaw and has an ear-tearing, brick-handed, ‘homeric’ left hook.

3. You can’t send a medical bill to a man that died upwards around three thousand years ago, and it turns out you shouldn’t try to interview him either.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


June 15, 1763 - January 5, 1828
(Western calendar)

Due to the troubles I experienced in my first two interviews, I must admit I was a bit gun-shy in doing another. In my first interview, Dante had proven to be very racist and offensive and was wholly disinterested in the interview, not to mention I believe he lied to me on at least one particular occasion. Later, my interview with Walt Whitman ended up falling short of what I’d consider good (he had a strange fascination with a certain flatulant noise that governed our entire session, and didn’t answer my questions much). So, when it came time to do a third interview, I was worried and had some reservations. I chose legendary Kobayashi Issa (‘Issa’ to most), who lived in late 18th and early 19th century Japan.

I am pleased and delighted over this interview. It went much better than those previous, and Issa was quite informative. There were a few digressions, but in general, this was an engaging and attentive interview with a talented and rather personable poet.


When we met in my study, I found in Issa’s face that very Japanese duality in which both happiness and sadness can somehow be shown at the same time, in a single expression. This was a face that exuded a sort of importance, but a very human one. It was almost upsetting to sit across from, but I found myself caught by it almost instantly. There are award winning actors that couldn’t pull off that look. It is an expression rarely seen in the west, and I think it involves the eyes more than anything. Issa looked as if he’d been painfully tortured at some point, yet also seemed as if no such thing could have ever happened to him. He was amicable and relaxed, while terse and worried, if you can imagine that. His clothing was very loose and he slumped much, not quite like the picture of him I’ve placed in this post, but definitely hunched.

Kobayashi Issa is thought by most historians to have had a destitute and troubled life, involving many tribulations. These asperities are said to be the impetus behind much of his work, and a lens by which to measure his conflictions in that work. He specialized in haikai, a short form of poetry that we in the west now refer to as haiku, and it has tantalized the western mind (though we often exclude many of its actual attributes) since we first came into contact with it. That such depth can be created in a work so short both baffles and astounds us.

Issa and I settled into our chairs and, as a gesture, I had made a strong effort to get ahold of gyokuro tea for us to have, which was considered very fine and expensive in his time of life. Unfortunately, all I could manage was some generic mint tea from the corner store. Silly as I felt, I made it and set up in my study. As the incredibly hot tea sat in our cups and cooled, we began. His English was sparse, but easily understood.

RS: First, I’d like to thank you for allowing me to interview you. I am very pleased to be able to speak with you about your life and work.

KI (with a sharp nod): Okay.

RS: I think many people would like to know more about your youth. It is supposed that some of the difficulties you faced growing up influenced your later work strongly. Certainly this is the case with many writers, but your particular style of writing, mainly in haikai, demonstrates a remarkable ability to display emotion and sensibility. Can you tell us about your childhood and how it may have shaped you as a man and poet?

KI (thinking about this for some time): Okay, but not so quick you ask questions. I am learning English.

RS: I’ll go slower.

KI: Yes, so I understand though. So okay, first, I am born in Kashiwabara, in Shinano Province. Take more for my mother than father. But she dies when I am very young, and so then I take more for my father. He is a farmer, and so I was a farmer, and we grow mostly daikon radish, and also konyaku potato. Sometimes law bok. I don’t like the daikon radish. Everyone had daikon radish, and also we did not grow it well, and so can’t sell it very much. We always have daikon radish left over, so we eat it always, so I don’t like it after we eat it for too many years. I like law bok, though.

RS: After your mother’s death, your father remarried. It is known that you had trouble with your stepmother. Can you describe the relationship you had with her over the years?

KI: You already say the relationship: Trouble. But for more detail, I can tell you. Satsu marry my father, but then she hits me and is very cruel. Eh, mothers hitting okay for the kids, but my stepmother hit too much, too hard. She is mean to me and jealous I am my mother’s son. She has a son with my father, my half-brother Senroku. She thinks my father is her possession only, and so doesn’t trust me or love me. But my father love me, just there is very young Senroku to take care of, and the farm, and my stepmother. So, I am fifteen and I leave my father’s farm and start in my life.

RS: Tell us about that life. What are these tragedies that seem to occupy much of your work?

KI: Oh, sad. People always look at sad, not the will. I have no tragedies, just things that happen and many think sad. But so okay, I have no money, and my children die. I keep living and have my own troubles, and I get married many times, but they die, and one I leave, so forget my stepmother for many years. I keep getting married and have more kids, but they all die. But then my father dies when I am older, and my stepmother again must be dealt with. She stop me from his leaving me money and our farm, and tries to take it all. I have a stroke. I get into a small house near my father’s property and try to get the inheritance. Finally, I get my father’s money and farm, but there is not much money, only property. My father is dead, and I am trying not to be confused, then I need to be confused, so I let her live there and don’t live there with her. Then she is more cruel and I get sick, so I make her leave. She dies not too far past. And Satsu hates me until she dies, too. Senroku never talk to me either. But she never trusts me, even after my father dies. She is good with the roots, growing roots on the property, but not good for people. They buy her roots but then stay away from her, she has no friends until she dies. Senroku not even visits her much. But she is dead, so the farm is mine.

RS: That’s terrible.

KI (shrugging): Not terrible. Souls are the same. She has only different heart. You don’t have to like a heart if you like a soul, and so you understand everyone is confused and okay. Growing roots and growing angers... they are similar. So, she is dead, then I get married again and live on my farm, but have another stroke. My wife is very beautiful and young. I just look at her as much as I can, and then I keep getting sick, and a fire eats the farm, so I lose all but my wife, and we go live in the grain barn. Then, best thing happened.

RS: Yes?

KI: Yes. I die and can relax.

RS: Shit!

KI: No, shit is over.

RS (laughing): Well, you’d earned it, I suppose.

KI (smiling): So yes, okay. But you know how sad things are for arts. These things are not sad anymore if you have given them the most light and make them into draw or paint, singing music or haikai... anything. As your Summer in Love says: Go with the flow. Your new writers know this, too.

[It seemed fascinating to me that Issa had mentioned the Summer of Love, of all things, from the American late 60’s, and the hippy movement of the time. I wondered what other things he may have to say regarding modernity, or at least, our newest versions of it.]

RS: I see. Would you say there are any modern authors you’ve taken a liking to, onward since your death?

KI (excited about changing the subject): Liking to... so, that I like?

RS: Yes, authors you like.

KI: Okay. Alexander Pope. Yes, he is tidy on his poems. And I like Murakami stories but because he also remind me of a man I knew. Ah! I like very much your Mr. Stephen King also.

RS: Really? I wouldn’t have taken you for a horror fan.

KI (puzzled and waving his hand as if to cool himself): The fan?

RS: Oh no, sorry. I only meant that I didn’t expect you would like horror books.

KI: Horror book. I do like, yes, very much.

RS: Interesting. Out of curiosity, which of King’s books do you like most?

KI: Oh, I think the book he writes, Christie.

RS: Christine.

KI: Yes. Surprising car with a ghost, you know? Very eh... shocking to be scared by car and ghost, right? Fun book.

RS: Maybe he could write a book for you about haunted daikon radishes.

KI (laughing): Mean radish! I would buy it!

[We both begin laughing here over the silliness of the idea, and it takes a moment to get ourselves under control. He sips his tea and frowns, but then simply sets it aside. I probably shouldn't have offered something so boring and cheap.]

RS (after we’ve settled): Now, tell me what drew you to haiku.

KI: Haikai embodies. You have soul inside mind, but you can not say it, so you see something in a place, with a time, and you write it in form. Okay? You free it and capture it. You can spend a year for just one of them. Okay. Also, I was with Jôdoshinshû, and they are poets with haikai. So I am buddhist and am going to do haikai, but more than others, I fall in love in one, so easily. I can’t stop writing the haikai in my life, like I can’t stop being buddhist. Each contains the other for me.

RS: Can you describe Chikua's Nirokuan haiku school? It is known you attended this school for several years in your twenties.

KI (brightens): Chikua! Ikyô loves you still after hundreds of years!

RS: That’s right, you used the name ‘Ikyô’ while in attendance.

KI: Yes, many names. Issa is not my birth name, either. I am born Kobayashi Yatarô. Issa means Cup-of-Tea. I was Issa, Chief Beggar of Shinano Province.

RS: Chief Beggar.

KI: Yes, you have to beg.for awhile, right? Before you are born, after you die. What is this but asking for what must be? So, but yes, I enjoy Chikua’s school. He is strict, but he is also very alive. He shows you how to get inside haikai and meet yourself with nature and life. You have to breathe inside one, and so he teach you how, but at first, you just breathe Chikua’s breath in it, until you learn how to do your own and write the haikai outside of yourself. Then Chikua... if you learn it, he’d smile. Chikua had a smile you never saw until you deserved it... but okay, I say impossible anyone could smile like Chikua could.

RS: Is there anything about your life you would have changed?

KI: No strokes. They make you not talk for short time. I like to talk.

RS (quoting an English translation of one of Issa’s haiku):

how irritating!
the wild geese freely
call their friends

KI: Yes. I had stroke when I wrote it. No talk for Kobayashi.

RS: Well Kobayashi, I want to thank you for coming here and allowing me the interview. It’s been an honor talking with you about your life.

KI: Okay. Good fun. So, old poets, new poets... still learning, right?

RS: Very much so.

KI: Okay so, cool.

[At this point I reach over toward my laptop and turned the recorder off, the interview over. However, in doing so, Issa notices an image on my laptop’s screen for which I had earlier saved as my desktop image (it is the same picture of him found at the head of this interview).]

KI (pointing at screen): Hey, me?

RS: Yes. It’s a well known image. Now that I've met you, I'd have to say the picture doesn't look much like you.

KI (raising eyebrows and smiling): No, but so you want better picture?

RS: What do you mean?

KI: Make so I have pen for that picture.

[I was confused by this, but hoped perhaps he was going to create a new haiku for the world, something no one in history would have read until now. This would be an honor beyond anything I could imagine. Even an autograph would have been monumental. I open the image in Paintbrush and select the text tool, my mind turning in the possibilities. Issa then looks at the screen, thinks for a moment and selects the pen tool. He then slowly procedes to deface the picture. When finished, he chuckles and captions it.]

KI: Keep and use. There is more fun picture.

[I stare at his new version of the famous image. I don’t know how to respond, but finally manage to say something.]

RS: So, okay.

Changed by Kobayashi Issa, Chief Cup-of-Tea of Haiku Temple

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Walt Whitman

May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892

After my interview with Dante turned out to be somewhat of a bust, I decided to brace myself and try again with another major figure in poetry. This time, I went American, and managed to summon the extraordinarily influential forefather of American poetry, Walt Whitman. When I met him in my study, he seemed quite amicable and friendly. He appeared as the later images of him depicted: Old, large beard, and somewhat of a Christ figure / wise hermit sort of man. He was taller than I'd thought him, and when he sat down opposite me, his posture slumped into the chair in a way that demonstrated a comfort and relaxed nature that I, myself, could never posess. Unlike my earlier interview with Dante, Walt Whitman seemed to be able to fill up the entire room with himself. He also had the keen ability to make every single syllable out of his mouth sound strongly important.

RS: Do you feel your contact with Emerson played a role in your revisions of those early poems?

WW: Everything plays a role, certainly. The ant in the dale, the horse-rider’s bit, the britches you choose for a particular day. Ralph affected me, yes, but not in the direct fashion. It was more of a quiet racket that you couldn’t ignore, but could scarce hear, as of those impensions often shot from buttocks.

RS: Impensions shot from buttocks?

WW: Precisely natural, as is your response.

RS: Are you referring to farting?

[Whitman seems to ponder this for a moment, and ultimately shrugs, giving no verbal answer. I begin wondering if he has used a grand metaphor and I’ve ignorantly misinterpreted it, making myself seem silly and of a lesser mind. After a weighty silence, I decide to simply continue.]

RS: How many drafts did ‘Leaves of Grass’ go through? There were nine published versions, but most can’t but wonder how many drafts you went through, by the end of your life. I know most consider ‘Leaves of Grass’ to be your greatest achievement.

WW: Well, it was one of my only achievements, bookwise. I mean, I didn’t write a lot of things, preferring to spend my time rewriting what I already had. Mostly. And yes, I went through many, many drafts, though they weren’t drafts so much as versions, because I felt all of them were publishable (and most were published). Most of the ongoing changes were aesthetical and imminent, and I went back and forth in the versions, trying to enforce a sense of ominous self-explosion, you know. Or at the very least, a hearty resonation, something with clarity but that could reverberate well, as if that meaningful breach of an odious expulsion.

RS: Breach of an odious expulsion?

WW: Of course. There is strength most in life when releasing what life no longer needs. Life is in the traces, you see, not the source.

[Again, I can’t help but think he’s using flatulence as a metaphor, here, but ultimately decide against saying anything for now.]

RS: That sounds semi-eastern in tone, and certainly it’s known you were influenced by eastern philosophy in your time. Can you describe the force eastern philosophy had on you, and how it may have infiltrated your work?

WW: Force? Infiltrated? That sounds a term more with war than poetry, my boy.

RS: Well, yes. I meant only that your work seems effected heavily by the more Eastern doctrines of thought, particularly for the time and location of your writing life.

WW: Philosophy has always created a duality in me. It both lifts and lowers me, reaching my mind through brassy shouts, as well as through more undulating burbles, as of those in a foul breath trickling from a moist pipe.

[There it is again: That strangely suspect terminology he keeps using.]

WW: Of course, little of it is true. There is only one truth.

RS: Which is?

[Whitman leans back in his chair, lost in thought. After a moment, gives a decisive nod and sits up. I watch as he licks his lips. He then lets out this kind of abrupt and weak honking noise. After, and seeming to have gained some satisfaction with this nonsensical and silly noise, he closes his eyes, keeping them closed and remaining still until I decide to try another question.]

RS: Your political views have been a subject that decades of criticism can’t seem to fully unearth. Can you explain to some degree your thoughts on, say, the support you held for the Mexican-American war?

WW (trance-like): Unearth...

[Several moments pass without further answer and Whitman almost seems to have shut down, physically. He makes the honking noise again, but much quieter, now lost in the serene moment he seems to have created for himself by making the bizarre, flatulant sound with his mouth. It’s as if this sound has taken him to a weird, Whitman-only place in his mind.]

RS: So... did... let’s talk about Song of Myself.

WW (snapping out of it): Sorry. I lost my line for a moment. Song of Myself, you mentioned? Hoo, yes. I worked hard on that book. Let’s see... All me, derided supremely, but always turning in the last laugh, so to speak. Americans were worried, you see. Masturbation, the male body, pleasure, the natural state of flesh and senses... the people were so puritanistic and worried, which is sad. ‘Song of Myself’, in essence, was a more real purity than even puritanism. What is more pure than the love of life? It coddles to the touch, a hearth-dog, or a man in the squat while making his tremulous cut.

RS: And ‘tremulous cut’ refers to?

WW: Oh, of air.

RS: You’ve referenced a squatting man making a tremulous ‘cut of air’? I- listen, I deeply respect what you’ve done with your poetry, Mr. Whitman, but—

WW (waving): Walt.

RS: Okay, Walt. I very much admire your work. The way you write has won over my ear more times than I can explain, but I have to be honest, here. I keep noticing these metaphors you’re using in this interview... and I can’t help but ask: Are you... Do you... No, okay: Are you purposely making metaphors about farting? Or am I an idiot and I’m just not getting what you’re really saying? I mean, I write a lot of poetry, myself, and I’m really just sensing that you’ve been continually bringing up farting since we started the interview. So... yes? No?

WW: Ha! This is the meat. I came to dine but this... this talk now is the hearty portion, don’t you agree?

RS: You like my last question more than my prepared ones?

WW: Hurrah! Speak!

RS: Uh, speak what? I don’t—

WW: Ask more! Quick! Top of your head!

[It seems Walt wants me to question him in a more improvisational manner.]

RS: Um, shit... uh, how come you’re naked in that picture I found of you?

[Whitman makes the weak honking noise again, grinning.]

RS: Is that supposed to be your answer?

WW: Ask another!

RS: Uh, did you wonder if your ego was out of check with ‘Song of Myself’, because it was a large poem about yourself?

[The honking noise.]

RS: Can you give me a yes or no? Or elaborate?

WW: Hurrah!

RS: Yeah, hurrah.

WW: This is promise! We’re to it! Keep going.

RS: Are you gay?

WW (eyes widening): Oh God. Not this again.

RS: Sorry, you said top of my head. That’s what came up. There’s been controversy since you died over whether you were gay or not.

WW: We were to it. Now it’s ruined.

RS: Well, that’s why I prepare questions, to avoid awkwardness.

WW: The gay thing. This interview just became a base endeavor. [Whitman sighs here] All right, once and for all, I’ll answer that question for the public and private. I say this, and this only: I love having sex and being in love, and mostly with women.

RS: I see.

WW: Now, let’s rummage in what we’ve learned, eh questioner? I’ll ask you a question.

RS: Well, I don’t really think—


RS: Jesus, okay. Shoot.

WW: Why would you take up a pen in this day and age, young man?

RS: Shit, I’m compelled.

WW: No. Incorrect. You get no hurrah.

RS: How the hell can you tell me what I feel is incorrect?

WW: No questions, it’s still my turn. Whose poetry do you enjoy most?

RS: Oh, that’s huge. I’d have to start with—

WW: No hurrah! No, no. Incorrect.

RS: It’s opinion! And how would you know? I didn’t say anything.

WW: The only truthful answer is ‘mine’.

RS: Do you mean ‘mine’, as in my own poetry, or ‘mine’, as in your poetry?

WW: Unimportant. And it’s still my turn. Last question: What do you feel is the real solid in my poetry?

[I debate this in my mind and, due to the question being thrown on me so quickly and unexpectedly, find myself more trying to dodge the question than think deeply on it. I’m discovering I don’t like being interviewed, myself. In the end, I slowly lift my head and look at him.]

RS: Um, is it this?

[I make the honking, flatulent noise he seems so fond of. Whitman beams with a sparkle in his right eye.]

RS: Hurrah?

WW (proud): Hurrah, indeed.

[Then he stands, gives me a strong, bracing pat against my shoulder, and begins fiddling with his microphone.]

RS: That noise must be pretty special to you.

WW (smiling): I think we’re done here.

[The microphone now removed, he nods at me and his eyes disappear into that other realm for which he seemed to visit earlier. Possibly an estranged nostalgia, or a happy place.]

RS: Well, I guess... thanks for letting me in on your special sound. Uh, and for the interview.

[Walt Whitman winks at me then, concluding the interview.]

Friday, March 9, 2007

Dante Alighieri

For the first interview of this blog, I decided to aim high and attempt to channel one of the greatest poets of the western tradition, and one of its highest innovaters, Dante Alighieri. Unfortunately, the interview did not go far. Dante, when I found him and channeled him into my writing study, was both difficult and unruly, and seemed more interested in shrugging off my questions than answering them. He seemed to have a a touch of knowledge regarding modern times, especially slang, but then seemed to know very little about our culture or even the state of poetry in this time of ours. What follows is the transcript of my interview with Dante. His responses were in an older Italian vernacular, with a few English terms thrown in from time to time, and I used several translators to get as exact a translation as possible for my reprinting here.

RS: What was your general mindset, being forced to live in exile from Florence, your home, during the initial stages of the Comedy?

DA: No, no, you don’t understand. I didn’t— uh, wait... what is that?

[Distracted, Dante has shifted gears, and leaves the question unanswered. I follow Dante’s stare, which seems to end with an object on my writing desk.]

RS: That? A stapler. They’re used to affix pages of a document, so they stay together. So, what was your mindset when—

DA (interrupting): I refer to the book next to it.

RS: Oh, the book... it’s poetry. Some stuff by Yusef Komunyakaa. I just finished it.

DA: A book written by a moor? Fah. I know of Africa. I can’t imagine what ‘stuff’ such a book could exhibit.

[This statement catches me so off guard that I don’t know how to respond for a moment.]

RS: Uh... if by 'moor' you mean a black person, then yes. He’s black.

[Dante then lets out a curt snort and rolls his eyes.]

DA: And what did you think of ‘moorish verse’, then?

RS: I liked the book, but listen: You should know that the current state of our world is that all men are created equal, to quote a well-known phrase. These times aren’t nearly so racist as the time in which you lived. Here, the color of skin doesn’t dictate much of anything but just that. Yusef is a professor and academic, as well as a war veteran.

DA: Anyone can be an academic, or a war veteran for that matter. You just have to live through something.

RS: I don’t think we’re making much progress with this interview. I really think we should get back to the questions.

[Dante then notices a poster of Li Young Lee on the wall of my library and chuckles.]

DA: Well, there’s progress for you. Moorish verse and Asian intellect. God save you.

RS: Okay, I’m trying to be objective about this, but you’re kind of offending me. Also, no one says ‘moor’ anymore. Can we keep to the questions I prepared?

DA (sighing): Oh, ask.

RS: Thank you. Now, history shows you had a long-time friendship with fellow writer Guido Cavalcanti, a poet of much skill. How do you feel your own writing was affected by this friendship?

DA: Oh hell. Interview Guido if you like him so much.

RS: Then is history wrong in assuming the two of you were close?

DA: Close? He was always around, to some extent, but I wouldn’t say we spent a lot of time together. It was more like an annual event, we meeting, and most to learn from Lacini, who was just on fire at times.

RS: Brunetto Lacini. You speak of Dolce Stil Novo *1.

DA: Yeah, but we didn’t call it that. It was me, Guido, Lapo Gianni, and Cino da Pistoia. And of course, Brunetto. We all discussed verse here and there, but more discussed Guelph matters, and of course, young women. As for Guido being a ‘poet of much skill’, I can’t agree. Guido was a master of one thing, and that one thing only: What you in your vernacular would call ‘cock-blocking’.

(Interviewers note: Dante states ‘cock-blocking’ in English.)

RS: Are you being serious?

DA: I’d be talking to a nice, mellow girl, you know, of substance and good breeding, just talking, and then Guido would saunter over in a puffed-up manner, really trying to show off his large arms and all that, and he’d start picking at me, or any other man, to try and get the girl’s favor. He’d even do it when you were talking with your own wife. It was annoying, but I still met with him from time to time because I thought he understood my fervor for a particular girl in town, Beatrice. You know, he was a sort of confidant, I suppose. He knew about me and was always curious to know more. But more a confidant than than a friend.

RS: The girl you refer to is Beatrice Portinari.

DA: Totally. I focused my Vita Nuova on her, or really, around her. That was the largest portion of our relationship, the ever-hanging favor I had for her, but never really moved on. When she died, it hurtled me out of my body for some time. I didn’t know what to do, so I descended into study. Kept myself occupied.

RS: How did Guido feel about your unfulfilled attraction to Beatrice?

DA: Oh, he thought it was great. You know, muses and all. We were sort of new to it all. But Guido and I stopped getting along after awhile. I got pretty heated one night because of his habit of using metaphors about smallness whenever he spoke of or about me, and it just started to agitate me. I got really angry when he asked if I had begun a new enorme piccolo book, which was his way of saying my work was large but of little consequence. I challenged him to a fight, but he wouldn’t consent because we were drunk. It’s just as well, because he was much larger than me, anyway. I was just tired of everything. The politics of Florence at the time, where I lived, were simply twisting this way and that, and there was going to be trouble. It was a phase, and I was in one too.

RS: Beatrice was married for the majority of your knowing her. Did you feel odd about having such strong feelings for a married woman?

DA: No. I was married, too. Had a handful of kids. That’s why I never acted on anything. But so what? I liked her anyway. So, she was yoked. Big deal. You’ve never been attracted to a woman that was married?

RS: ‘Yoked’... That’s interesting parlance.

DA (whiny): Blah. That’s interesting parlance.

[It seems my interviewee has adopted a whiny voice and is now mimicking me, in the manner of a playground juvenile.]

RS: Let’s get back to your Comedy.

DA (acting as if he is mentally challenged): Let’s get back to your Comedy.

RS: Man, I can’t conduct this interview if you don’t cooperate with me.

DA (snotty): Man, I can’t conduct the bleh bleah bleah stupid ass blah blah with me.

RS: ...

DA: ...

RS: Are you finished?

DA: You’re boring me. Get on with it. This room smells.

RS: Okay, back to the Comedy.

DA: It’s not funny in your sense of the word ‘Comedy’.

RS: Yes, I know.

DA: And I didn’t write it, either.

RS: ...What?

DA: I didn’t write The Divine Comedy.

RS: Wait... I don’t understand.

DA: Beatrice wrote it. I let her use me as the main.

RS: You’re telling me that you, Dante, did not write The Divine Comedy of Dante?

DA: I’d never write something like that. It was so full of itself and just loooooooooooooong.

RS: You do realize that the last near-thousand years of history has you pegged as the author of Dante’s Divine Comedy, right?

DA: Yeah, I’m not an idiot. But there’s nothing I can do about it now. Beatrice was really vain, see. Oh, she was amazing-looking, yes, but definitely full of herself. Just like her Divine Comedy of mine. Want to know something weird? She wanted me to ‘stalk’ her, you know? Call to her in alleys and that sort of low thing. But I wasn’t into it. It was weird. Especially in the 1200s. Like I said, I had my own family by then. I mean, creeping around behind some pretty girl, in those days... well, you could get a sword in the gut for that one, especially once the Black Guelphs started gaining power.

RS: Listen, I think you’re making this up. You are the author of The Divine Comedy. You have to be. And you already told me you were into Beatrice Portinari, so your statement that Beatrice wanted you to stalk her makes no sense. There’s truckloads of history that contradict you, here.

DA: Whatever you say. I sense you’re the sort of man who believes what he reads, yet reads low.

RS: I don’t know by what standard you use the term ‘low’.

DA: Maybe you comprise a self-absorbed and simple ignorance, like that of, say, a half-dead cow?

RS: All right. Out.

DA: Hmm?

RS: Get out. We’re done.

DA: Just as well. You’re a primitive, if you ask me.

RS: I’m not asking you anything. I’m telling you to get out.

DA: Or maybe just a savage. You probably became one from a saturation of ‘created-equal’ verse.


[Dante stands and stretches, slowly, as if he in no way is bothered by my terminating the interview or yelling at him. When I ask for my microphone back, he removes it and throws it over by my window, mutters ‘Andare a letto con animali*2’, and slowly makes his way out of my room and house. Once he reaches my driveway, he simply vanishes back into the ether, having walked too far away for me to maintain the psycho-physical link.]

*1: Translated – ‘The Sweet, New Style’
*2: Translated - ‘Go and sleep with animals’.