Lynx: It always helps me if I can think of your name as I think of you, and I am unsure of how to pronounce it. What would it rhyme with?
Chen-ou Liu: My name rhymes approximately with Chen-oh Lee-oo (pronounced quickly). It means the Liu family takes over (Chen) Europe (ou). By the way, my father has three sons, Chen-ya (Asia), Chen-ou (Europe), and Chen-fei (Africa). LOL!
L: Oh, that is good! Now your father must realize you have taken over North America with your poetry. So you were born on Taiwan? How did you end up in Canada? Can you tell us your story?
CL: I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from the National Chiao Tung University. The first time I came to North America I was driven by social norms and parental expectations. In 1988, after finishing a two-year compulsory military service, I followed in the footsteps of the Taiwanese elite by going to the USA to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Computer Science. I dreamed of getting a teaching job there after graduation. During my first two years in the USA, I began to envision a different kind of life – that of a film/literary critic – a life that I would enjoy and not just be obliged to live. After getting my master’s degree, I quit the Ph.D. program and went back to Taiwan in 1991.
I found a teaching job in a college and, relatively speaking, had enough time and money to develop my own life interests, such as film theory, literature, philosophy, sociology, and writing. In 1992, I married my wife, Hing-fan. Later I found two part-time jobs related to reading and writing about literature and film: hosting a radio book review program and writing review essays or opinion pieces for magazines.
In the 1990s, one of the most tumultuous and ideologically charged eras in Taiwanese history, everything was easily reduced to support for or opposition against Taiwan Independence. Through reading and living in an identity-seeking society at the time, my worldview was influenced by European existentialism, postcolonial literature, and Taiwan “native soil” literature, a literary movement that arose in opposition to both mainland-centered governmental geopolitics and the Western-oriented modernist movement. I constantly asked myself the following questions: in what contexts were my identities situated? What kind of life would I like to live fully?
These questions prompted me to think seriously about how to pursue my self-chosen field of study, the newly-emerging discipline of cultural studies. No universities in Taiwan offered such inter/multi-disciplinary programs; even in North America, there were only a few. And I thought it would take more than ten years to get a Ph.D. degree because of the change in my field of study. Meanwhile, Hing-fan’s profession, social work, was not fully developed in Taiwan. In 1998, she went to the University of Toronto to pursue a master’s degree. Shortly after graduation, due to her good performance during work placement, she found a job at a mainstream social service agency.
At that time, both of us thought immigration was the best possible way to fulfill our life goals. Therefore, we decided that I would stay in Taiwan to earn money for our living expenses while she applied for permanent residency in Canada.
Driven by a personal vision of life that I would live and die for, I came to North America for the second time in the summer of 2002, and settled in Ajax, a suburb of Toronto. There, I continue to struggle with a life in transition and translation.
L: How did you discover the Japanese poetry forms?
CL: After arriving in Canada, I was frustrated by my learning experience in terms of the depth and scope of classroom discussions as well as stressed by the financial burden. So, I quit my studies and wrote essays in my adopted language, English. After two years of striving, I published three essays, but got little attention from the scholars in the related fields. Furthermore, I was frustrated by my inability to master English quickly, and also struggled with my newly-racialized identities. My pent-up emotions began spilling over onto pieces of scrap paper in the form of free verse. The more I wrote, the more I thought about becoming a poet.
After almost a year of striving to write free verse poetry without much success, I came across a book of tanka poetry, Sad Toys, written by Ishikawa Takuboku and translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda. In the introduction, Takuboku emphasized that
“My mind, which was yearning after some indescribable thing from morning to night, could find an outlet to some extent only by making poems. And I had absolutely nothing except that mind… I want to say this: a very complicated process was needed to turn actual feelings into poetry… Poetry must not be what is usually called poetry. It must be an exact report, an honest diary, of the changes in a man’s emotional life. Accordingly, it must be fragmentary; it must not have organization… Each second is one which never comes back in our life. I hold it dear. I don’t want to let it pass without doing anything for it. To express that moment, tanka, which is short and takes not much time to compose, is most convenient… “
The emotional power, socio-political sensibilities and colloquial language of Takuboku’s tanka, a kind of poetry in the moment, appealed to me, and I came to view tanka as a poetic diary that recorded the changes in the emotional life of the poet. I went on to read Carl Sesar’s Takuboku: Poems to Eat, and got a deeper understanding of Takuboku’s conception of a new kind of poetry, “poems to eat:”
The name means poems made with both feet upon the ground. It means poems written without putting any distance from actual life. They are not delicacies, or dainty dishes, but food indispensable for us in our daily meal. To define poetry in this way may be to pull it down from its established position, but to me it means to make poetry, which has added nothing or detracted nothing from actual life, into something which cannot be dispensed with.
In some aspects, Takuboku’s view on poetry is similar to that of Dionne Brand: “Poetry is here, just here. Something wrestling with how we live… something honest.” Since encountering Takuboku’s poetry, I started writing tanka as a diary and kept on reading books of or on tanka.
L: What attracted you to haiku?
CL: Through the practice of composing tanka, I felt the urge to enrich my writing experience, and thus decided to expand my limited understanding of another Japanese short verse form, haiku, and to try my hand at it. With the aid of a newly-acquired poet friend, Brian Zimmer, I was exposed to the gendai haiku, monostiches, and one-line haiku, and Japanese prose poetry, all of which have enriched and deepened my writing experience.
L: How is it for you, writing and publishing in your second language?
CL: In one of my prose poems, “Why believe you can write verse in English?,” I describe my constant struggle with faltering confidence in writing in English, which I adopted at the age of 42.
“To write verse in English is not like growing ideograms inside your heart, reaping the sentences matured by the muse of desire, taking your clothes off with words, and exposing yourself in the rhythm of the stanzas so that you can hold your passport and cross the borders of linguistic solitudes, emigrating from the ideographic to the alphabetic.
English still remains an unmastered means of deciphering the musings of your heart and mind, and it is constantly intruded upon and twisted by inflections from the old language. Often, you are not able to connect emotions to words, to feel the weight of their syllables. Without emotional vocabulary, everything becomes elusion, confusion, and the fear of things you needn’t be afraid of.
Even if you can find the right words to reflect your feelings, you are not skilled at weaving these into sentences. They simply become isolated cries clinging desperately to your heart. Even if you can find a way to weave words together into an artistic whole, the poem too often fails to conform to the texture mandated by poetry editors. Why believe you can write verse in English, whose music is not natural to you? “ (Note: The last sentence is taken from the last two lines of “An Exchange,” a poem written by Nan Wu, the poet who is the protagonist of A Free Life, Ha Jin’s fifth novel)
Chinese American novelist Ha Jin once stressed in an interview, “your life is always affected by the insufficiency of language, an inability to capture the interplay between thought and expression of emotions.
To write in English requires a different way of thinking, and it focuses more on the expressivity and innovation of words and phrases. During the course of my adjustment to English writing, I have slowly begun to squeeze the Chinese literary mentality out of my mind. As Ha Jin emphasized in his interview, “it was like having a blood transfusion, like you are changing your blood.”
Up to now, I’ve been going through a blood transfusion for almost seven years. English writing, for me, has been and still is a wrenching process of heart and mind. I used to be a columnist who wrote mainly from the analytical side of his mind, but I am now the quintessential struggling poet who writes from his agitated heart.
L: Where do you stand on the issue of single poems or sequences?
CL: There is a centuries-old practice of writing poem sequences in the Chinese poetic tradition. Therefore, I have no problem with writing poem sequences.
According to classical Chinese poetics, a poem sequence is a group of poems by one poet or perhaps even by two or more poets intended to be read together in a specific order. The integrity of a poem sequence is dependent on this prescribed order of presentation. A poem sequence by a single author is sustained throughout by a single voice and point of view, and it shows consistency in style and purpose from one poem to the next. The defining characteristic of a poem sequence is that each poem must have its own value and integrity yet contribute to the artistic wholeness of the sequence while keeping the logical progression of events.
The techniques of association and progression used in Chinese poem sequences are mainly temporal and stylistic, thus less developed than those employed in Japanese court poetry, which are well explored in Earl Miner’s essay, titled “Association and Progression: Principles of Integration in Anthologies and Sequences of Japanese Court Poetry, A. D. 900-1350.”
L: What do you feel we as haiku or tanka writers need to do to get these forms more accepted by the mainstream poetry world?
CL: In terms of defining what poetry is, there is an asymmetric power relationship between the mainstream poetry world and the haiku/tanka community. It’s difficult to change their perception of haiku/tanka in a top-down manner. In my view, the most effective way of reversing this unbalanced relationship is to adopt a bottom-up approach; that is to consolidate and expand our readership base through online publishing and social networking sites. If there are more people who love reading/writing haiku and tanka, the mainstream poetry world will eventually open their main gate to haiku and tanka poets. This approach to reversing the asymmetric power relationship has been demonstrated in the case of the power transfer from traditional media, such as news papers, TV, and books, to online and social media.
Most importantly, living in a hectic society, most people now only have a short attention span. If they are interested in reading something meaningful, I think short verse forms, such as haiku and tanka, will become more and more popular. I’ve been tweeting my published work for two years, and found more and more Twitter users use hashtags such as #poetry, #micropoetry, #haiku, #tanka, #gogyohka, #gpoem, #5lines,..etc, to indicate their tweets are short poems (For further information, see M. Kei, “The Topsy Turvy World of Micropoetry on Twitter,” Atlas Poetica, 9, Summer 2011)
L: Do we need a new name for haiku, tanka, and haibun written in English?
CL: No, I don’t think we need a new name, but we do need to articulate and apply a set of aesthetic criteria for evaluating haiku, tanka, and haibun written in English. And I hope in the foreseeable future there will be one section of in-depth analysis of individual poems in every haiku/tanka journal. In my view, a healthy poetry community is made up of attentive readers, aspiring poets, and insightful critics/editors.
L: Recently you were working with “darker themes” in your haiku. Why did you want to do this? And how did it work out for you? Do we need to enlarge the subject matter used in the Japanese genres?
CL: I've been writing a series of haiku noir on darker themes, such as sudden death, suicide, psychiatric illness, violence, homelessness, alienation, estrangement, racism, rape, …etc. I've had first-hand or second-hand experiences of dealing with most of them (note: a haiku noir is a narrative haiku, i.e. a cinematically dark flash non/fiction in verse).
I am most influenced by Takuboku's conception of "poems to eat." He defined them as "poems written without putting any distance from actual life,...and they are not delicacies, or dainty dishes, but food indispensable for us in our daily meal."
In terms of dealing with one's dark moments, the difference between poets and other people is that poets can convey their feelings through poetry. As Graham Greene stresses, “writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in [that] human condition.”
Every time when I put my tangled feelings, stress, or anxiety on paper, I feel relief in the moment. Especially when writing about dark moments, I connect them to the feelings of the past and of the present, and in doing so, it enables me to discover the wholeness of things and the connectedness of human experience. This view of writing about dark moments as a way of healing is well explored in Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our stories Transforms Our Lives. My review of this book can be accessed at http://scr.bi/owyOEI .
As for enlarging the subject matter used in English language haiku, I think there is an urgent need to do so. most English language haiku are based on a narrower definition of haiku. Professor Haruo Shirane discusses this in his famous essay, titled “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku Myths:” “English-language anthologies of haiku are overwhelmingly set in country or natural settings even though ninety percent of the haiku poets actually live in urban environments. This would seem to discourage haiku poets from writing serious poetry on the immediate urban environment or broader social issues.” His essay reminds me of Shiki’s , titled “Haiku on Excrement,” about discovering – or rediscovering – beauty in excrement. In the essay, Shiki demonstrates that the old masters had great capabilities of producing beauty out of ugly material, “citing 41 poems (most of them haiku) on feces, 18 on urine, 4 on farts, 24 on toilets, and 21 on loincloths.” In the concluding section, he makes clear that he is not particularly fond of writing haiku on excrement; but he mainly uses this topic as an example to show how the poet can explore a wide range of themes (Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature, pp. 29-30)
I identify with Shiki’s approach to writing haiku. Most of darker themes in my recent haiku are, directly and indirectly, related to urban life issues that are experienced by all of us and covered by media on a daily basis. For me, they are legitimate subject matters for haiku writing.
L: Have you been able to get your work published in Chinese? What was that experience like?
CL: Less than twenty of my poems have been published in Chinese. Most of them were requested by the editors. The writing experience was mind-boggling. First, I conceived and wrote my poem in English through a constant gut wrenching tug of war in finding right words or idioms; then, I translated the English original into Chinese phrase by phrase, and revised the translation again and again until it read like a Chinese poem. I haven’t written any piece of writing in Chinese for almost seven years, and it has become difficult, emotionally and linguistically, for me to conceive and write poetry in Chinese.
L: What advice do you have for others who work with short form poetry?
CL: Generally speaking, short form poetry is easy to write, but it’s difficult to write well. I have only four words for them: read, write, and rewrite unceasingly. I’ve amazed by the short-lived and yet prolific life of the innovative poet, Masaoka Shiki. He read hard, wrote truthfully, and rewrote a lot.
In my view, writing is a Jobian struggle against noises and silence. The purpose of a writing life is the struggle, and a poet’s salvation is based upon how well he or she handles the struggle.
L: What can you tell us about your current projects?
CL: Recently, I’ve been working on two projects. The first one is to write an essay on how to utilize the filmic techniques in writing haiku. I have published an essay, titled “Haiku as Ideogrammatic Montage: A Linguistic-Cinematic Perspective,” that explores the cultural-historical-linguistic contexts of the relationship between cinema and haiku. Now, in the essay-in-progress, I focus on writing a set of haiku noir in which I demonstrate how to effectively use the filmic techniques, such as, zoom-in, zoom-out, pan shot, emotional montage,…etc.
The second one is that I'm planning to lure my Chinese friends to help me set up a bilingual poetry blog, one that showcases English language Japanese short form poetry, such as haiku and tanka, and its Chinese translations. Given that the Chinese are hungry to learn English, this poetry blog is intended to cultivate the Chinese interest in reading short poetry, especially tanka.
This interview of Edward Baranosky, painter and poet, originally published in the newsletter Art On The Go, #11, March 19, 2012; the interview conducted by Creative Director, Les Luxemburger.
Les Luxemburger: In what ways do you consider your life today a work of art?
Edward Baranosky: Creativity has helped me with every aspect of my personal development. For instance, as a poet you have to have a taste for almost anything. Things like math only worked for me in high school, if I could make it creative. I was failing trigonometry in High School. I spent a Christmas Vacation writing about the fifth-dimensional hyperspace; each unknown I was solving was for a specific dimension, and the original formula had 26 unknowns. It changed my view of the possibilities in other arenas.
LL: Was there anyone in your family who was/is creative? If so, in what ways?
EB: Not really. The main characteristic in my family is stubbornness. This “stubbornness” has allowed me to strive and stay at it, even through tough times. I always wanted to be a painter though. I took an intensive painting course with John Angel in the late 1980’s; John Angel was from the Florence Academy of Art. Later he founded the John Angel School of Art in Italy. John took a tonal approach to painting – the priority was always on intensity of light and tone. It’s about taking a pure color and adding a specific tone of gray and the result is a remarkable range of colors that translate into perfect flesh tones. This helped me a lot with my portraiture work.
LL: Who would you consider to be your key influences in your creative path and development as a visual artist?
EB: John Angel recently answered some technical questions from the 14th – 16th Century
Chemistry and techniques. Trying out other artists’ styles helped me a lot throughout elementary and high school, and into Art school. One year I would be into studying Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and then another year I would study Van Gogh. Andrew Wyeth (from Maine and Pennsylvania
) was also a key influence in my artistic style and development; in addition, N.C. Wyeth’s paintings were an inspiration. I had figured out how to paint in his style. It turns out I stumbled into a library while in high school to study his work, and then the librarian informed me that Andrew Wyeth was actually visiting the library with his son, to study some artwork from his father N.C. Wyeth, who was also a great painter. I had that chance to meet him in 1963, which was an amazing experience for me, since he never taught students regularly, only people in his family. I had more than an hour to ask him questions about his work and techniques.
LL: How did you start your career as a visual artist? At what point in your life did you recognize or “admit” to being a visual artist?
EB:I just tried to do it. I found early on in life that I couldn’t do the schoolwork – I only had an interest in painting. I was 5 or 6 when I started to draw and do art. By the age of 9, I was spending a lot of time cutting lawns so I could save up enough money to buy oil paints. I had no one teaching me. By the time I was 10 years old, I was already painting seascapes.
In high school I usually created one oil painting per week, which attracted a lot of attention from people who thought I was abnormal for that reason. My high school art teachers gave me my own art studio complete with large windows that provided natural lighting, an old storage room. This was an amazing experience for me. Soon other art students moved into the large studio with me. We had visitors coming from other schools to see my work. I stopped going to lunch, I was just painting through it.
I reached a lull in my artistic career when I moved from the United States to Toronto, in 1972. From 1972 to 1986 I simply didn’t paint: I was in ‘survival mode’ and was busy paying my bills and trying to establish myself in a new country.
LL:5) Do you have any formal art training? If so, when did you get it and where?
EB: Aside from high school art classes and learning and studying on my own, I was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design, where I completed my Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA). Meanwhile, the English department had me writing poetry.
LL: Your poetry has been widely published (Comstock Review, Prix Aurora Awards, etc). How did you first get into poetry?
EB: I started writing poetry fairly early in high school. Unless I did extended prose, it couldn’t carry or translate an experience. Poetry puts people/the reader there, just like a painting does. It’s a very visceral experience. My poetry positions people in environments/the world.
In high school I never placed people in my paintings. People found my unoccupied seascapes a bit scary because they had no one they could relate to or identify with in the painting, so it forced them to imagine themselves alone in the scene. I am now starting to paint seascapes with people and occupants in them.
LL: Does your poetry influence your painting, and your painting your poetry? If so, in what ways does your poetry influence and inform your painting, and vice versa?
EB: My painting and poetry were separate from one another, for quite some time. Within the last 10 years, out of my 60 plus years of painting, I have explored the connection between my painting and my poetry. It’s really just stubbornness. It’s all a matter of maintaining control and carrying my career. This process has a lot to do with identity.
Poetry takes in the audience (poets and artists are usually separate), but comes from the same sensations and source as painting.
LL: Do you teach any art workshops/courses? If so, where and what time(s) are they offered?
EB: I teach seascape workshops at Luc Sculpture and Art Studio in the east end of Toronto (the Danforth). I have been teaching there for the past few years. I have always been running workshops for students, both in the U.S. and in Canada. I also teach oil painting privately. I am able to teach Egg Tempera, but very rarely do it because it’s time consuming and I don’t have the patience for this particular medium.
LL: Your past work reflects your connection to nature. In what ways has your connection to Nature informed your work?
EB: My connection to Nature is very deep. Nature always influenced and informed my work: I grew up close to the Atlantic Ocean – roughly a 10 to 20 minute subway ride to the Ocean. My early childhood experiences are filled with being in Nature and exploring the natural world through my art. Nature fills my emotional memories and experiences. Nature for me is where spiritual meets emotional. I also did work that related to the pop era during my years at the Rhode Island School of Design.
When I was just nine or ten, I used to do Plein air painting at night. I would go fishing with my uncle at night. While he was surf-casting , I would paint the scene. This gave me a great appreciation for nature and a good mastery over light, tone and value.
LL: Recently you’ve dealt with some personal life challenges and had to overcome some personal hurtles. What advice can you give to artists who are dealing with their own personal issues and life traumas? What are some methods that work for you which you’d like to share with other artists?
EB: I had a blank period that lasted 15 years! When I started painting again, I made a conscious decision to start with seascapes. Then I started writing again in 1986. I joined the Canadian Author’s Association in 1992. I rediscovered myself; but I had to drive this creative process and renewal from the inside. Plein air painting was a visceral experience for me that helped me to reconnect with the living, breathing world, and with myself.
Painting itself doesn’t have to conflict with life or making money. It can solve/alleviate pain and trauma. Meditation is also a great subject for me: it helps me to feel a lot more centered and grounded.
I usually start a canvas with a mess – scumbling. I make a mark and quickly put in some key features/highlights. I render paint/toned canvas. I place my painting somewhere in the middle value of paint, because working from a blank canvas is difficult for me. If you’re blocked creatively, you can try to technically overwhelm the canvas like Colville did. But I find his approach to be cold-blooded and too mechanical.
LL: What are some of the daily habits and rituals you have which help you achieve success as a visual artist?
EB: I paint from my living room – it is my studio. I don’t like to hang too much of my work in my home – it overwhelms the creative process and prevents new ideas from flowing to me. I have hung one picture that I am working around – it is the source of inspiration for my new series of seascapes.
If I’m in the “zone”/in my element, I can do a group of paintings all at once. In fact, I always work on one painting until I get to the point where I can’t go any further with it, then I start another painting related to it. I will sometimes get out of bed and then start painting right away because I have a fresh idea or new inspiration. Other times, I will do a lecture/class demonstration, and then end up with a painting that is really good. I’ve gotten to the point where I can paint 50 – 60 seascapes (standard scenes) off the top of my head.
LL: How much time do you recommend artists should devote to their artwork each day?
EB: It depends on how serious you are with your art. If you’re a serious artist, every minute that you have that you can spare should be devoted to artistic endeavours such as painting. Keeping painting as a “hobby” drops the level of standard and quality of your painting dramatically.
LL: What would you say are some of the most common misconceptions about being an artist?
EB: One misconception is that it’s inherently, economically unsound. Whether it’s economically unsound or not has to do with cultural support that’s generally not there in our society, as much as it should be. This has relevance to current culture less valued. I think the importance of Art and man-made crafts and their appreciation will come back.
LL: Your paintings of waves and oceans and “seascapes” are your specialty. How did you develop this specialization? Why did you decide to focus on seascapes?
EB: I have always been inspired by Nature and especially the ocean. Living close to the ocean inspired me and made it easy to frequently visit the Ocean and paint and draw it. I was always mesmerized and captivated by the anatomy and motion of the waves, and their fluidity and power.
LL: Much of your poetry contains a dynamic, often dark and poignant energy that borders on the spiritual and explores themes of life’s journey, and themes of pain, loss, sorrow, survival. Does your poetry express your personal experience? If so, how?
EB: Yes, my poetry does express my personal experience, in particular the struggles and many experiences, which are too many to share here, which have tested me and shaped me over the years. This dark night of the soul has lasted me a long time. I am digging out of it now; but ironically it’s helped me with my artistic expression and painting, as well as poetry/prose. I made it a point of not suppressing these difficult times and memories, for they drive my poetry and art, which is an expression of my energy and experience. My pain and experience drives the inventory and creation of my work.
I see this process of going through struggle as tapping into/connecting with universal consciousness, which drives the creative process. Seascapes to me are the closest to universal consciousness/the divine as I can get.
Doing a self-portrait is a huge emotional challenge– it usually marks a life change: one of self. Self-portraits force me to face my own identity and self-concept.
LL: Where do you see your artwork going? How has your artistic style evolved? How does it continue to evolve?
EB: My artwork is becoming more public and so is my poetry. There is a parallel between the two. By this I mean my paintings are becoming larger and I am intentionally planning to have more exhibitions. I am becoming more open to public scrutiny and review.
LL: If there were one subject matter or thing you would like to paint that you’ve never painted before, what would it be and why?
EB: Would like to go to Europe and visit Italy and the landscape there. I would like to see it in person, to get a sense of the place and its history by being there. It’s important for me to go to Florence, since this is where it (the artistic Renaissance) started.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I would like to go to the high Arctic of the Northern Atlantic Coast where there’s no development. I never wanted to paint harbors or boats. I am more interested in the anatomy of the ocean and what it says or reveals about myself.
LL: When did you start writing verse?
EB: I was around nine or ten, 1956-1957. I had a remarkable teacher who pointed out that I could as easily write in my own voice, as I was able to paint. It was an eye opener.
And I soon had a few poems published in school publications.
I also wrote and published a little in high school, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University with which RISD had a student exchange program. All of this time my life was involved with art, first and foremost. I was already reading poetry at coffee houses from 1965. I published my first chapbook (Presence) in 1971, along with a solo exhibit in Portsmouth New Hampshire. I sold out the entire first edition on the opening afternoon. After that, I didn’t see a copy until 1986, when a friend
sent me one having discovered it while moving out of his residence. That spurred me to start again.
It’s hard to explain fully what’s in one’s current life, or life-current, after lifetimes have concluded or passed by unconcluded, barely noticed, one after the other in an uncollected self-history. A captured folio of snap-shots, a memoir of unvalued relics remains;
and it takes a formidable ego, or enough self-confidence to retrieve the experiences and release the weight of repressed memories. Recapitulation is, finally, an act of courage.
To focus on any specific pivotal point is a bit deceptive, the merest ember of a much
larger, original fire.
LL: How do you see the role of poetry in today’s world?
EB: Justifying poetry (or art) is a bit like defending existence. My own take on poetry is that it is/was the original language when speech developed, and was always meant to be sung.
The cross-over from hunter's tales and warriors memoirs to religious liturgy wasn't difficult; and Shamans and poets and warriors were often the same entities. Language itself is fossilized poetry. The effort to keep poetry and the visceral arts alive is like trying to clone a mammoth from ancient DNA, while the world elephant population is endangered and fast becoming extinct in their natural environments,
also endangered, as are air, earth, fire, and water.
The expressive arts are tracks of fire in the sand, written by wind and wave.
LL: What inspires your work?
EB: The process to which I came in poetry is similar to both my artistic and spiritual bias.
The word that keeps coming to me is syncretic, as well as synesthetic. It's where the edges meet that growth occurs almost naturally as part of a healing
process. It's a matter not merely of DNA and fate, but of overcoming resistance and weakness, often opposite, forces in the creative process: one is in naming, listing,
and preserving; the other is in discovering the new within the scope of the unknown and
unknowable. And for me the active areas are not just in reproducing a recipe for experience, but in seeing both original intent and where it will ultimately lead. Oddly
it is neither the past nor the future, but now that is the hardest to focus. As for the limits of growth, that must be a matter of where you draw your boundaries. When is a haiku no longer a haiku? When is a tanka no longer a tanka, or a sonnet no longer a sonnet? All of this isn't new, as such, but is still critical to the culture in which we live, if only a matter of points of reference and standards. When does our world become something alien?
LL: Future Shock?
EB: It all depends upon your concept of comfort, your own self-trust and self-containment as to where you see the limits of your own universe. This in itself can be a threat to systems that depend upon a dualistic world-view. The assumption is that to have friends, one must also have enemies. The Dalai Lama put it quite clearly when he mentioned that one's greatest perceived enemy may be a best friend. When asked why he did not support armed resistance to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, he said that you can find all sorts of reasons for war, and your intellect may accept them, but to act on these assumptions would entail cutting off your genuine feelings, in effect separating mind and heart which is considered both the source of insanity, and of separating ourselves from enlightenment. This has interesting implications for the world of the arts as well. As one friend pointed out to me on my path to artistic recovery, art is life; but the pretence to a separate art-world is not.
“When did it all begin?” could be answered by an equally presumptive question: “When did it all end?” For we are on the crux of major world changes, and maybe in a pivotal position to choose what is preserved and what is discarded, and that is the hidden door to the Safe House...
fountain of voices fades
blending old tears and dust into
fountain of voices fades
blending old dust and fears into