[Conducted early 2001]

KJ: When writers get interviewed in the Paris Review, they seem always to get asked: How do you compose– with a pencil, a pen, or a typing machine?” Is the title of your new book, _Pen Chants_, an answer to that question?

LW: I am partial to those flat, whittled, carpenter’s pencils not least for the thick and thin of it, but use a pen. I often write ‘on the move’, interstitially, so a pen is the right tool for me as it latches onto a notebook.

The title came from another order of impulse altogether, in an inter-radiant set of causes/effects.  I’m working from a position of inadvertence, where it is not the pen suggests ‘it’ so much as ‘it’ suggests the pen.  Of course I also take from precisely what is easily present, ex-sistere (to stand out or emerge), but not in this case.

KJ: To me, the poems in your book seem somehow both deeply rhapsodic and deftly formal. What is the relationship for you between inspiration and technique?

LW: They are nested spherics. I am truly interested in what is disabled by formalism, in inspiration/insight, qui vive, as it oscillates experientially, anti-yak, and rather than catechism or techniques per se, I think more in terms of skeletal purpose, manipulate perceptions by employing an intent practice of deliberation on: prismoid knowing/not-knowing, exo-, eso-, urgent radical withdrawal, détournement, musical phrasing, breath, rhythm etc. I am ignorant of any but a few literary techniques because what I am after is unguided, ungovernable, auto-catalytic. Enough constraints are embedded in the everyday so that provoking them further does not occur to me.

KJ: What is poetry’s object for you: Pleasure or truth?

LW: For me the object is invisible, molecular effortlessness/timelessness.

To scratch a surface… to find, to make…to make motion, depth of agency, fruit for peace, to resist, circuit-break, to ask ~of cognition and consciousness more than they seem  willing to give, to add a witness-mark or an aesthetic valence, peri-feral immediacy, political specular hammer-blows, inter-thronging

sublime reflection, experiential unconcealing, vernacular architecture,

trans-gypsy, largely refusing rest…to generate ideas splendidly different

every time one looks, a great pleasure I would not presume to sum up.

KJ: _Pen Chants_ is full of unusual, secret-seeming vocabulary flavors. For example: (quoting from poem on page 11)…This almost seems like Zukofsky’s 81st Flower, another poet who certainly savored the taste of words. Has his poetry impacted you? What other poets would be part of the “rammed earth” of this book, if I could quote that wonderful phrase from you?

LW: ”A” was the first book of poetry I ever bought and I read his superb _80 Flowers_ a decade or so ago; though I felt and thought more about Stein, Olson, S. Howe, Beckett, but especially Celan at the time, so I would say

that I am impacted, but subliminally, in aft-shadow.

I feel stricken by, and sped along by the staggeringly brilliant contemporary work being done, “Doubled Flowering” amongst them. Douglas Oliver and Alice Notley I luckily met and was reading intensely during the last half of Pen Chants. Ten pages were written at their behest for Gare du Nord. I felt very, very inspired by Doug and Alice, both in their works and in their persons. The death of Douglas Oliver I felt as a significant loss to humankind. Moreover, Paul Celan’s life and work has touched me so deeply that I see no beginning, no end to the question of influence, something similar to stepping on a draft. David Bromige and I spoke often during that period, and I am enormously, invaluably heartened by him. I have not truly read canonically and have an overriding interest in artists who are alive today.

Literally, rammed earth is both a building material and a method of constructing a house, alongside other imaginative possibilities.

Taking simultaneity seriously, what I have hoped is that the “secret-seeming vocabulary” is a journey of reclamation both critical and aesthetic, a sentient interlude intriguing or familiar enough, through sound or otherwise, to stimulate and etymologically span archaic-modernist-futurist memory, create space, matter, curiosity, reflection, as most often many of these references possess one or more universal cultural elements which point, or are ideas, of themselves. I don’t subscribe to the idea that one can speak in middle-brow, instantly accessible to all. I use the vocabulary that appears.


Generally speaking, I am involved in a project that interests itself in that which reveals its own character, the cultural unconscious and why.., and in those matters which cannot be forced, to find a depth of mercy..powers of the whole mouth, that which inhabits and misfits. It is a way for me to conceive hope in that which is not-yet.

KJ: The book’s subtitle includes the phrase “12 spirit-like impermanences.”

But in the 63 pages of poetry, there are no titles or sections that are marked

off in any obvious way. I’ve read the book, frankly, as a single, extended “impermanence,” divided into numerous, interlocked movements. Why the ’12’ ?

LW: Yes, it is a long poem, no split. The “12” was for cheek, stealth, and
preposterousness. I think it laughs back at itself, at the pretense of

legitimizing, of naming the unnamable. It is also, by its withdrawn nature,

a defrayal and assault on ownership, its litmuses, and that of being

governed (badly).

KJ: Badly?

LW: Government is a bleeding wave, an inversion of thought too often devoid of love for its people. Moreover, there is the horrific incessance of its harm and rubber-sheet/force-field demurral to ethical self-critique and insight. Pursuantly, we are so attracted by our weapons.

KJ: You are a metalsmith. How could I not ask: Are the two arts connected for you?

LW: Snake-eyes, with innumerable departures. I have no formal education in either of these fields and learn through experimenting, looking and reading, doing. I run on nerve. Both teach me to remove mystique, and to really look at what I am looking at. Both are architectonic, autonomous. I’m intoxicated by fire, light traveling through color, integrity of materials and making something where there was nothing. In both, I dead-reckon, and proceed by listening to mercurial materials. I love the overpowering silence involved.

KJ: I think the term “propulsive” is an apt one for your poetry, not that there wouldn’t be other terms equally felicitous. Is it possible to say what more propels the writing onward for you? What’s the ground energy you are most attentive to in the act of composing? Is it phonemic, lexical, phrasal, or something else? I know all of these things get intertwined, but do you notice what is closest to your heart and ear, so to speak?

LW: I am propelled by my inability to say. Ardor is its undermost shaping, and gustatory emptiness, one upon the other.


See also Norman Finkelstein’s review of Lightsail