Saturday, June 09, 2007

Sheila E. Murphy Interview of Peter Ganick

Peter, I am so pleased that you agreed to engage in this interview, because you have made a sustained contribution to innovative writing over an extended period of years, and continue to maximize available vehicles for publishing and creating important texts. I'd like to begin with your own writing, if I may. Your process of writing is highly disciplined, resulting in such powerful volumes as No Soap Radio and numerous others. If you were to specify what you consider some of the books you are most proud of having written, which might these be and why?

i'm glad for this interview, and that you are conducting it. the last interview i participated in was for a poetry magazine named, atelier, around 1990, and much has happened since then. i have published many books of other poets, continuing with potes & poets press, my part of the venture ending in 2000. during the period up to 2000, p&p published 150 or so issues of A.BACUS, a series of limited editions called 'EXTRAS', 63 perfectbound books. there were three online journals, POTEPOETZINE, POTEPOETTEXT, and poethia.

i became committed to too many books ahead during 1999-2000, so sold the press, and took a much needed vacation from publishing till 2005, when, with the assistance of two friends, jukka-pekka kervinen and j hayes hurley, blue lion books was started. around that time, i started small-chapbook-project, both hard-copy ventures. these have been active and are now daily concerns of mine.

however, when one focuses on my writing, there have been a number of books published, some self-published through entities i ran, and others from different presses. i can’t begin to express my gratitude to the editors of these presses, as i never kept a list of where selections of my writing appeared before publication in book form. for this, again, apologies to the editors.

my writing has gone through a number of distinct manifestations. i will outline here the sections and the principal book from those periods of writing.

the first would be from 1978 or so, when comprehensibility was a prime factor. i wrote a book named SOME POEMS, which was self-published by a venture called roxbury poetry enterprises, roxbury because i lived there on fort hill, a part of boston. there, also, suggestions of the creativity/crazy-text manifested for the first time. all these were chapbooks. at the time i also published a book of will bennett and one by larry eigner.

the second period occurred during the five or six years after i married carol, my wife to this day. we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. i produced a lot of work during that time, particularly the 95 or so section REMOVE A CONCEPT, a poem totaling approximately 3,500 pages, remaining unpublished at this time. early books that were published were HYPERSPACE CANTATAS, from XEXOXIAL EDITIONS, then named XEROX SUTRA EDITIONS. also, during this period i started publishing some chapbooks, some self-published, others with different presses. work from this period is characterized by a growing process, sort of a young bird trying to find his wings. some of these books are more successful; and others, not.

the next period was sort of a resting place during the 1990s, when i produced AGORAPHOBIA and NO SOAP RADIO. these are works i am especially fond of. they were written during a period when potes & poets was going along at full speed and i was using the culminations of insights from the first and second period. both books were published by Drogue Press. AGORAPHOBIA is an anti-poem in the sense that it is a lie to the personality i represent. i have no case of agoraphobia, nor do i recommend agoraphobia as a way of life. instead, it is a book that needed a 'title', and the word used was connected to the work only by coincidence. NO SOAP RADIO is a collection of very short poems dedicated to my father. the work skews language from almost recognizable to almost incoherent. to me, these pieces have a certain grace.

the fourth period is represented by what i call 'blocks of text'. starting with A'SATTV, through TEND. FIELD., (A PHILOSOPY) to STRUCTURE OF EXPERIENCE and TWO TEXTS, all published by cPress, except the first book mentioned here published by CHAX PRESS. in these works i made use of the enabling of pure thought due to a pre-decision on word-limitation and punctuation-predefinition. given these factors, i could let my thought process venture where it may. the latter four texts have a pseudo-philosophical attitude manifested, though the text itself can be philosophical as a process in a certain manner towards a goal, the fabrication of blocks of text. realizing this to be circular reasoning, one can transcend or descend the rungs of language with these texts, hopefully the prior.

almost the most recent period, totally different, is the EXISTENCE poems in which 16 sections, of which 6 are published to this date by cPress, represent to the use of a computer keyboard in same manner as a piano, the instrument i studied for 18 years, and by which i earn a livelihood teaching. these could be called 'pure non-sense' if one is looking at them semantically; visual poetry, though not concrete poetry, namely the mixture of approximately-free visual gestures of text with a semantic of the keyboard itself: one could write, 'if a keyboard were permitted to write with its own syntax, what would it write'?

in early 2007, i am working on a series of notebooks of pictures jim leftwich and jukka-pekka kervinen are publishing on their blogs, TEXTIMAGEPOETRY, and MINIMUM DAILY REQUIREMENT, respectively. these images are abstract and mostly comprise black lines on natural color paper, page size 4 x 6 inches.

Would you be willing to speak about your engagement with the architecting and creating of extended texts? Specifically, the sustained attention and discipline that are required, in addition to the ability to change as the poem changes, during composition, are of interest.

i must confess the process is not analyzed much by me while writing. sort of start, maintain, continue, then, peter-out. it's rather an organic process. even though i might use abstract terms in writing, the course of the poem is like the life of a creature. the poem starts: there's a springtime/honeymoon time where i imagine the energy of the poem to be light and airy. whether or not this is true i don’t know, i observe it as such from my own view. whether or not, it makes for a poem-interpretation with which i can live.

from there is a developing complication. the text's springtime is over, though traces remain. negative concepts enter and though they are received by the poet, with the same engagement as the spring terms, the energy becomes gradually more clouded.

there is a book i wrote which is an example of this, TWO TEXTS. the first text, about 2/3rds of the book is called, 'apparitional corsairs'; the second, 'with-ness'. 'apparitional corsairs' was started to be a text that would be very long. in this text, the energy be-came more and more dark, even troubled. to pull a sufficient ending from it, i had to start another text with a regular lineation, in one form a sestina. after that, i changed the margins and the font size and let the poem run-on, so there is little evidence of the sestina-beginning. that text, 'withness' maintains a spiritual sense; this, because there is a sufficient period of difficulty overcome, overcome by 'going through it' to support the spiritual part.

in this work i am using the model of the symphony in the late romantic period european classical music. an energetic part, the 1st movement; a deep, engaging part, the 2nd movement; the third movement, a scherzo leading with life to the last part, the tour de force. [this is the model of beethoven's 9th symphony. each musical work of that period was somewhat different, though the 9th's model was primary.]

to get the tone i wanted for the ending of the poem, i started the 'with-ness' and was satisfied with the result. the text is bright, airy, and intense. this path i represent in this discussion is the path of some spiritual seekers who come to some sort of understanding in their life.

This provides a very helpful sequential perspective on how your work has unfolded and continues to emerge. I am interested, also, in your intermittent mentions of what was occurring in your life during the composition of some of these texts. How did writing emerge as a primary engagement in your life?

i guess it derives in a hopelessly-not-too-clichéd-move of the muse. there had been a failed marriage, 18 years of piano lessons, a degree in music composition, a lot of serious literary and philosophical reading while in high school, an interest in mathematics, some use of recreational drugs in the 1960s and early 1970s, some what seen as major-betrayals-in-life and some fantastic-and-excellent-long-term-friendships forming, an abiding interest in spiritual practice including 28 years of faithful, daily vedantic meditation, a unitarian upbringing, and, of course, the required mystical experiences, one of which after a while i might have been inclined to call, the advent of the muse, or, inspiration.

mind you, this inspiration that hits all poets at some point, is less than 1% of what makes a poetic career, or whatever you want to call it, go forward. i was fortunate in not seeing it as such for a long time, starting with the first employment, job sitting a cash register in the travel department of the harvard co-operative society bookstore, in 1972. a few other short-lived jobs along with a job i've had since late 1972, as an itinerant piano instructor going to the students’ homes to give half-hour lessons. this, along with some family money, has allowed me the freedom to work as i choose and publish potes & poets press, a.bacus, the online journals, blue lion books, and small chapbook project, also the books i've written.

i am an only child, my mother was musically inclined, an ardent singer, and very much the root of our family. she died at age 76, in 1994. my dad, approaching his 89th birthday in very good health, worked in advertising, trained as a painter at the boston school for practical arts. i am fortunate to be able to know him over this extended period, as he is a remarkable man. he continues traveling about the world, with his companion, jane, who is also in good health and approximately his age.

i met carol at a beach party in rhode island, and it was love at first sight. we married in 1982, recently moved into another home in west hartford, connecticut, and live with a wonderful welsh corgi. carol is an accomplished painter and teacher of watercolor.

some people say that the life of a writer is everything. others say the text has no relationship to life—it's a process in itself. every writer has a life, and every text is a development in any committed writer's life, no?

As a publisher of innovative poetry, you have published both established innovators, if I may call them that, and emerging writers. Your vision as a publisher has played an important role in the development of new writing over the past couple of decades. Talk a bit about what writing has attracted you over the years, and what surprises you have encountered when selecting texts and writers to present.

the writing i have published in the past was poetry i was challenged to 'understand' or 'get my mind around'. if a poet sent work which was too common; too conformist to a style, no matter what it might be; not presented well; immature poetry or greeting card poetry, obviously; poems i just 'didn’t like', etc., a rejection would be forthcoming.

when i started A.BACUS, i set a goal of having a survey of the field of 'innovative poetries' available at the time. this was in the early 80s through mid 90s. at that time, major innovations were coming from the LANGUAGE poets and i published a number of books and A.BACUSes which were written from that angle.

i liked things that were 'skewed', 'disjunct', 'confusing but not confused'. i liked to have to figure something out in a text.

recently, with small chapbook project and blue lion books, which is co-edited by jukka-pekka kervinen, i try for the same. innovation has gone into new areas of writing. the LANGUAGE movement, now a historical force and one deserving of utmost respect in its changing the horizon of poetry, has had great influence on american and international writing. but like all literary movements, its period of 'fresh' innovation cannot last forever, so i've shifted to a group of writers who met on mIEKAL aND's spidertangle list. these writers, including the Be Blank Consort, because they have been writing for many years and as a group have not received much recognition. seeing their work as very exciting, i started publishing people from spidertangle. jukka agreed with me on this.

I like your reference to The Be Blank Consort, a performance group spearheaded by John M. Bennett, Scott Helmes, K.S. (Kathy) Ernst and others. I sense these writers and those included in spidertangle as a whole creators working in a wide range of creative areas, among them, visual poetry (or word art). Please talk about visual poetry as you see it continuing to figure prominently in arts and letters.

i can’t really speak to the question from experience. i don’t see myself as 'visual poet'. i write text, and i make drawings, the two being separate, even when both elements are included, one or the other is being fore-grounded, and is intended to usurp the other. besides classification is a matter of the academics, not creative artists/poets.

as i subscribe to spidertangle, an internet mailing list surrounding the issue of visual poetry, i can tell the reader there is a lot of activity at this time in this field. it is quite varied, and like any new movement, must undergo its testing period before it gains radical acceptance. the value of such acceptance is up to discussion in my mind. isn’t the freedom to work as one wants more important?

another question that must be introduced is, will visual poetry ever enter the 'canon'? this is difficult, as visual poetry spans the visual and the literary. would the classifiers (professional academics) have a hard time with a crossover art? i don’t know, where would it be put? as many other movements, it would require the practitioners to become a 'new academy' aligned with respected universities. are visual poets willing to undergo such for a categorization?

Do you believe that poetry, and creative work in general can (or should) be taught? How has this element worked for you as a teacher and as a student?

your use of the word 'belief' in your question is an appropriate one, as in most intellectual disputes, like this, the reasoning that is used to support an argument is largely based, at root, on belief.

whether creativity can be taught is one question, and whether or not the forms of poetic discourse can be taught is another. to me, it seems obvious, or read that—‘my belief is'—that creativity can only be enhanced, one is creative or not, and outside efforts are helpful only as environment, inner aspects of the becoming-poet, are nurtured, which is to say, it is not sure that creativity can be taught.

what is sure, as far as i can tell, is that the ability to be a fundamental innovator in poetry or any art or science, is beyond the reach of education, except that, like the creative impulse, everybody has to have some introduction to the forms of poetry and the 'canon' of poetic literature, if for no other reason than one wouldn’t end up copying what's been done before in one's own writing.

for my livelihood i am an educator, in music, as a piano instructor driving to students’ homes. how do i approach this question in my own work? i have a good piano method book and add from my own experience some 'extra' material based on the needs of the student i am teaching. of course, there's a fundamental difference between piano instruction and literature or composition courses. piano instruction, meaning the best piano instruction, is always one-on-one. in literature courses, there is more classroom work, at least at the early stages. piano is one-on-one from the start.

it is in the 'extras' that are tailor-made' to the individual student in piano, that one can aid in making a student am innovator or a very creative person, though those are, to use a phrase, few and far-between.

You actively participate in creating, teaching, and showcasing creative work. In your role as editor/publisher, you help shape the attention of the perceiving audience, by establishing viable vehicles for bringing forward what you consider important and/or interesting work. Please discuss how this role presently functions in the world of writing, and perhaps some moments in this role that have been important to you.

if i understand your question correctly, you’d like me to talk a bit about the ventures i'm involved with at the moment. first, there is blue lion books, a joint venture of jukka-pekka kervinen [from finland], j hayes hurley [a novelist from Connecticut], and myself. the focus of a publishing venture is what determines the manuscripts that get published by that press.

i realize it sounds obvious, but so many times a writer will not pay attention to the publishing focus before submitting a manuscript. a lot of the heartache [!] of rejection can be avoided by paying attention to it.

blue lion books is always reading manuscripts and publishes books 250pp or more that develop an idea in total. a long book for a complete idea, that's the point. and an experimental, or previously-unseen idea, even an innovation, is preferred. so far we've kept to this pretty well.

to submit send manuscripts to
to see the new books and backlist:

blue lion books is a print-on-demand publisher.

a press brings to life, as it were, texts that an editor, in all his/her fallibility, which is ultimately for better or worse. an editor is therefore a link between writer and the reading audience, providing the major way a text can become 'fact'. readings are 'facts' also, but aside from recordings made, which are usually not so widely distributed as a book, they are most evanescent. a writer once told me, 'books are permanent', this, especially since acid-free paper is the standard of printers everywhere.

as to moments which have been important to me, personally, i'd rather leave that part blank. with potes & poets press, A.BACUS, POTEPOETZINE, POTEPOETTEXT, potes & poets 'EXTRAS', poethia, blue lion books, there have been a large number of important moments to me.

Let’s talk about attention itself, perhaps the issue in the arts and in living. Please speak about this issue as it pertains to making and experiencing art.

'attention' is everything in the arts. from the obvious 'getting attention' from other people or an audience for one’s art/poetry or giving attention to one's art while creating/editing it, to the process of the evaluations of the reproductions of it—printed copies of books designed from manuscripts, manuscripts are the originals; or copies of paintings, both physical copies on canvas for example, or postcards, etc, being the 'career' of each art/poetry work. also, one cannot forget the art of memorizing sections of or whole poems, an art becoming somewhat archaic, but still practiced by poets memorizing their own work for readings, i believe some 'slam' poetry readings require memorization.

[i must say that i use the poetry and art connections because i am involved with poetry and visual arts as well. usually i don’t mix them, not because i think they are unmixable, but just because i prefer not to.]

what attention do we give to living is a complex question—as complex as all psychology, philosophy, and, perhaps, spirituality. if i can elaborate a bit. it'd seem to me that psychology tries to find diagnoses based on structures given by the great thinkers in that field. we know them, freud, jung, lacan—the last of which i am exploring with some success.

psychologists have helped me a lot. i think that psychology can be another discipline that artists/poets can use to help develop their creativity, it all depends on the chemistry between the client and the therapist. one generally gets what one puts into it, though there are some unusual people in either chair of the procedure.

philosophy, or the art of making (creating) intellectual structures or flows (flows being streams of thought that deny structure, a force in more recent philosophy) that are to be evaluated by the self-same procedure as went into creating them. mind you, i am a great devotee of the area and if i were perhaps a little clearer in thinking in that direction, might have taken that route in university and been writing entirely different material. most of the writing i read except for experimental writing, is philosophical in nature, though mostly 20th and 21st century thinkers make for the majority of philosophers i'm familiar with.

then, spirituality. what is considered the most or the least important component of a person's structure. perhaps artists and poets think it is more important than the general population believes. this to me is a favorable thing that goes a long way towards giving me a 'group' to be involved with.

i was raised unitarian, then moved over to the ramakrishna vedanta society, a neo-hindu group centered at belur math in calcutta, india. with them, i meditated for 28 years daily, and, find now, i almost cannot meditate at all. i came to this point at the time around my mother's death in 1994, which started a turbulent part of life for me. now things are, hopefully, a little more stable. i attended quaker meeting in cambridge massachusetts and west hartford for a long time, only to be puzzled. unitarianism is my childhood religion, so i find it natural, but again, probably because of learning it in childhood, i have no real distance from it.

lately i read some zen for assistance in learning new structures of thought that become valuable in life and writing. i always wonder if this is a valid use of zen, but think then that any use of zen is ok, as long as its ancient tradition is maintained with respect.

Please talk a bit about the utility of technology in the creative arts in which you are involved. What pleases and/or concerns you about the role that technology currently plays in the creation and exhibition of creative work?

everybody uses technology to some degree and is dependent upon it as well. there is the obvious connection every writer has with computers—even if he/she doesn’t write on one, when a poem is accepted to a magazine, or when a book of her/his poems are published, a computer will be used to design and print the book.

if one has even no connection with computers, if that were possible, then one would have to use a pencil or pen, a technology however primitive; and read out of a book, another technology that revolutionized the world 5 centuries ago, much like the computer is doing so now.

so, technology is everywhere, if one allows for a generous definition. 'technology' usually means computers and virtual reality these days. i am convinced there is no better computer platform than the macintosh, and use two of them—an ancient iBook
with a G3 processor, and my wife's iMac G5. i think that much like when a person who values pens and uses them frequently buys another, say, mont blanc, or a bic, that pen will influence how one writes. the position of the hand on the pen might be affected, the pen-point will most likely be somewhat different than others the writer might own, and the ink color might change—so many variables.

as such go the computers one owns and uses—they develop personalities and have
different ways of writing. [the previous statement might sound a bit 'crazy', but if one allows for a stretch-of-the-imagination, one could be open-minded enough to agree.] computer keyboards differ. i have very large hands, but find it difficult to type on a regular computer keyboard, because i don’t use the thumbs or fifth-fingers. that's why i like a laptop to write on most—the smaller keyboard.

another aspect of the computer that is very important, especially if one is creating visual work on the computer, is the screen, or 'display'. there are many qualities of display, one can make the screen brighter or more muted, there are different sizes—my iBook has a 13.3" screen (i think), while my wife's iMac has a 20" screen. both have excellent brilliance and reproduction of ideas, yet the size suits each of us well.

everyone has an arrangement that 'works' for him/herself. i write email on the iMac, write on the iBook; on trips where there's wi-fi where i'm staying, i use the iBook which has a wi-fi card. so, why do i go into such detail about my particular arrangement? it is to show that, possibly like you, if you write, i have a special arrangement between my own 'personal' use of technology, and my sense of creativity.

technologies being so different, as mentioned above, cannot help having influence on one's output in creative fields. people who work creatively for the most part on computers have good fortune because they don’t have to associate the computer, an ideal creative tool, with nine-to-five work-world uses of computers which tend to make people have a different view of them.

You've given a beautiful answer to the computer as instrument, capturing the gentleness with purpose in what one employs for creating. Please talk a bit about the utility of technology in the creative arts in which you are involved. What pleases and/or concerns you about the role that technology currently plays in the creation and exhibition of creative work?

if i were more of a physicist, i could be more accurate about what i'm going to write, but the gist will be apparent. there are many types of 'space's. first there is the philosophical space of plato where words and ideas culminate in ideality. then, there could be a space called 'newtonian', where gravity is added, and the material world is added to the ideal world. i have always thought that the ancient greeks thought about things more than they experienced them. then, descartes localized the world in the ego, or the 'i am'. this made the prime factor the subjective experience of the perceiver. then comes the developments of the 19th and 20th century, too many to be discussed in an answer apparently to be about cyberspace.

at any rate, with the computer's advent, now we are given 'cyberspace', also called 'virtual reality', and perhaps the precursor to 'holographic space'. these developments, all philosophical, scientific, and computer-based, are all sorts of 'space' where the parameters of what-can-be-experienced is different in ways from the others--similar in other ways, it should be said.

what cyberspace does for poetry is to allow for its transmission almost instantaneously to any part of the world. further developments have allowed for the formation of online journals, based on email, websites, blogs, photographs (flickr, picasa)--all which are recent developments. often we forget how recent they are. less than 25 years, approximately, for most of them. another thing that can be recognized is that the computer revolution, and let's call it a revolution, is in its infancy. the future is wide open.

that being said at age 60, i would not study computer science for the world, i have no regrets about having studied classical music composition in the 1960s.

Would you mind expounding a bit about some of the developments in current writing that interest you most? Feel free to be as specific or as general as you wish.

i used to read a lot of everything in high school, however a primary fascination with science-fiction, and writers like h p lovecraft and his coterie was there also in high school. let it be said that material can disturb one's perception of reality a bit. in college, i had a little time to read other than my musical studies, and it was then i started to read poetry. i liked folks like john berryman, robert lowell, ezra pound, lawrence ferlinghetti—a diverse crowd one could say.

after a few non-degree-producing years in grad school, where i started reading philosophy seriously, although remaining an amateur in philosophical studies, i read more poetry and discovered the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement in 1970, and started publishing on discovering that exciting manner of writing. i could see poetry/language/grammar all changing before my reading-eyes. one of the first books i published as, 'peter ganick, publisher' was disfrutes by charles bernstein, an early chapbook.

an important book for me was L=E=G=E=N=D by a group of 5 LANGUAGE poets. (i cant be specific about who due to having lost my copy.) i was continually impressed with bruce andrews', ron silliman's, and the writings of lyn hejinian and her tuumba press.

philosophy for me meant jacques derrida, who jump-started almost every text-writing-session into which i entered. early on i sent mr derrida a copy of a book of mine that was recently published at the time, AGORAPHOBIA. i have always been sure he read some of this, as he was obviously fluent in english.

other philosophers influencing me are, husserl with his bracketing, camus almost forgotten today with his novel 'the stranger'. recently, i have been exploring zizek's philosophy, especially his latest book, 'the parallax view'.
movies i like and liked are 'the sheltering sky' based on the paul bowles short story. another occurring to me is the french film, 'jules et jim'; though a recent viewing made me doubt the desirability of such a relationship between men and a woman, as it had when premiered in the 60s and i was much less experienced.

What influence do you perceive the study of music to have had on your writing, Peter?

almost everything.

i was a poor english literature student and didn’t really like it much. the study of music, including 18 years of classical piano study, a degree in music composition, experience playing with rock bands (bass guitar), playing piano with a jazz trio (tenor sax and drums were the other instruments), piano with an old-fashioned 'swing' band (a la benny goodman, maynard ferguson), experimental work with ran blake playing soprano saxophone, etc etc.

i learned composition from musical studies and also with art studies at the west hartford art league, where many painting teachers, primarily paul zimmerman, diane marinaro, and hannah libman, taught me material usable with poetry and writing in general. composers arthur berger, martin boykan, john huggler, gardner read, hugo norden instilled a sense of 'tone' and 'quality of tone' in me, which i cant escape. my necessity is to produce work i can listen to. first the ear then the eye then the mind, is sort of how my experience is structured.

What books or writers have influenced your work?

briefly, at the moment, my work is influenced by jukka-pekka kervinen, jim leftwich, sheila e murphy, john m bennett, and others. those mentioned here are those who come to mind first.

Whether you acknowledge this role or not, I must call attention to your capability as a teacher of compositional principles in relation to writing. Several conversations you and I have had over the years have demonstrated to me your sense of what I'll call "the architecture of composition" as applied to texts. Could you speak about some principles at work within the writing process from your point of view?

if i have any competence in this matter, it is entirely due to the training i've had at some excellent schools of music; including, new england conservatory of music, berklee school of music, bard college, boston university, brandeis university, and massachusetts institute of technology, as well as some private composition lessons and conversations with walter piston, luciano berio, and john huggler.

so, enough name-dropping. those were my teachers, and i think all persons writing or, especially writing poetry, where the tone or ear is so important, could use some familiarity with music. what sort of music? for instance, what course, perhaps music appreciation, which'd give an appreciation of the different historical sounds of musics as they’ve developed. perhaps a basic course in theory, which would give anyone who has a wish to try out an instrument or sing, some knowledge that would apply to the single line of music, and chords used to harmonize with them. another course, very valuable, which usually has a prerequisite of some theory, is counterpoint, the rules for consonance and dissonance between multiple linear structures as applied through time, or, in real terms, why two or more simultaneous lines of music sound the way they do---and how to write lines that sound consonant or dissonant.

as a composition student in the 1960s, i was involved with the last gasp of 12-tone theory invented by schoenberg, the new sonic pieces of boulez, berio, and kagel. english music had stayed in the conservative traditions even through that period. american music was becoming more and more experimental. electronic classical music was being written by babbitt and others. also, for us in the united states, we were being introduced to foreign or, ethnic, musics that had yet to be heard in the i s a. gamelan music from indonesia, shakuhachi flute from japan, authentic south and central american musics, music from india---so dynamic and varied, european folk musics were being dispersed widely at that time. many of these foreign, or ethnic, musics had previous to this been heard in the families belonging to those cultures. now they were being given more free play.

one reason this was happening was recorded music had reached a new state of evolution. effective LPs had been invented and now 30 minutes of music could be heard at a time, instead of the 78rpm records, which was around 10 minutes per side.

there were pioneers who introduced music to the u s a, for instance, the so-called 'british revolution' in music, the beatles, the rolling stones; and from america, jimi hendrix and bob dylan. america was on a period of discovery of music that had yet to be assimilated. this would take some decades, and is still going on. where english music made it's largest contribution to the cultural shifts going on in the 1960s was rock n roll music---the steady eighth-note of the beatles and the stones had never been heard in popular music.


there is so much available in music, one could spend a lifetime studying, listening, and performing it. i could have done so quite easily, except for the loss of exactness i experienced in the early 70s leading to the new interest in words. music has always represented 'exact notes at exact times', i know persons like john cage didn’t necessarily write in that vein, but that was how i perceived music in those days.

words were a flurry for me, mostly because i didn’t understand some of the more difficult texts that were available then. these were real challenges. no one likes something that is too easy.

poetic structure can be modeled after musical structure, by this i mean, classical music structure. or, one can invent new structures, not, for instance, tercets, or rhymes, or sonnets, necessarily---but, more ambitious structures. in my writing, i prefer the longpoem, because a denser and more complex structure can be created, or composed. studying music composition has, for me, been very helpful in writing these longpoems.

Every so often on a listserv or discussion blog, the issue of "why write poetry" emerges. Perhaps this issue is destined to re-emerge at increasingly frequent intervals. Regardless, what are your thoughts about this question as it is re-posed in mid-2007?

this is a complex question going as far in depth as the psychology and inspiration of each poet. 'why write poetry?' i suppose the quick, but true answer is 'one has to'.

for some odd non-reason, the best writers go through living as youths reading, then in one special moment, one develops the wish to be a poet. either one is a poet straight on, which is rarer; or one learns by trial and error; or a new poet can go through a period of formal study.

in the year 2007, it is even more vital to write poetry. with the language being usurped by technology-speak, or bad political-speak, untrue media-speak, global corporation-speak, watered down-homogenized poetry-speak, the wonderful vocabulary of the english language being remade into meanings with an agenda-speak, these are all activist reasons to write—and especially now, in 2007.

but, to my mind, these reasons are not valid or true reasons to write poetry. poetry is a craft and a transmitter of inspiration. if one can produce inspiration in one's poetry, then it is timeless and can be written and read in 2007, 1807, or 2207.

if one writes to tell truth to language, one will never go wrong in one's writing.

Would you address how you work with the two disciplines of writing and painting/drawing? I recognize that you prefer not to mix them, but I know that you are alternately active in the two fields, and that you continue to meet with success in each.

if there are two art-forms on intended for a surface that are more different than each other, i'd have to recommend visual art and writing. there is always the difference between the two sides of the brain: the right-side, or the left-eye, being for visual work; and the left-side for the right-eye for written work. i recall reading somewhere, some artist saying that if a person were to keep her/his right eye closed as much as possible when looking at the world, they would become a great artist.

one's power of observation is important in each format—in art it's to visualize, look at, the forms on the surface by stepping back to be accurate in one's appraisal of one's work-in-progress. that's how one can go about getting a deep experience of one's art, enabling one to mature as an artist. [it should be noted here that the visual arts have progressed far beyond working on a surface-only, and what's called 'visual art' can be many things.]

in writing, it's different, as far as i can see, especially in poetry, an attempt to classify sensations in, or to define the art of, engage more mystery. for me, writing has always been a spiritual matter, 'spiritual' as differing from 'religious', is meant here, 'religious' including here the formal side of the same essence called when without form or external observations, 'spiritual'. matters of the spiritual, i try to think, are of importance here, and if one can keep that ideal in front of oneself when writing, one's writing will be special.

of course, what one brings to art or writing is what one is, naturally. there is no way to hide, if one can 'keep one's eyes open' one can see the inner world as well as the exterior world. early on, i learned the 'forms' of poetry, trying them out a bit, then decided the forms cannot be of much assistance in learning more of the spiritual side of art and poetry. the forms can help in learning about religion which always needs some external structure. i like to fancy the structure of recent writings i've composed are pinpointed to the 'beyond'. in art i try for more traditional matters, producing work which could be loosely called 'abstract expressionist' with fauvist colors.

How does blogging as a pursuit strike you? What value does it have? To what extent do you read or view blogs?

a while ago, i started a blog named 'misc-texts' which is visible at:

it is a closed blog, in that non-members can view it, but only members can post and comment.

the blog is, in my mind, both a failure and a success—this, maybe, by the way it was set up, i don’t know. at the beginning, there was a lot of interest, and everything seemed to be flowing easily, but like many human projects one is involved with, i became uneasy. there were less than half of the members participating, and everything became very intense for me.

it succeeds grandly now, as a place for members to put whatever in experimentation they wish on the blog. the writing is or a high level, this is because i fancy myself as administrator to have chosen excellent writers.

the odd turn of events remains that i have set it up, but dont participate. this is because of the reasons mentioned above, and that i could not establish in my mind how i wanted to interact in the blog.

i suppose blogging as a solo venture can be valuable, recording one's daily thoughts, and i would not judge a blog by how many readers it attracts. as far as i['m concerned, if the poet feels it necessary to blog, then more power to her/him.

Poetry is not immune to the rock star or blockbuster syndrome, in which a few, “name,” presences become and remain known commodities, at the expense of a wide acknowledgement of new directions in the written or oral arts. To what extent has this hurt poetry, or is the situation a permanent fact of life?

it is perhaps that this does better for the readership than the individual practitioner of poetry. when there are fewer individuals to deal with the public is clearer on what something is and what choices to make. for instance, the line from a joni mitchell song i recall going something like 'going crazy from too much choice'.

is this beneficial for the large group of working poets? yes and no, yes for the poets having that stature, i suppose, but even those 'celebrities' often go astray from 'pure poetic creation', relying on their 'name value' to assure future lower quality writing issues under their name. there are other pitfalls as well.

also, to what degree is large fame in the serious arts desirable? if the writer has a large ego that needs to be satisfied with the constant attention given to it that accompanies such a position, then perhaps it's a desirable option. for other more practical ones, the best outcome is the 'time' and 'health' and even an amount of 'peace of mind' and 'financial security' that enables the best poetic endeavor to go on. in this manner, they are allowed the best arena to let their talents flourish, without the distractions of survival's necessity or added interruptions to their efforts.

If you were to predict some desirable futures for poetry and writing, what would they be?

this is a curious question because i will answer it as i see my view of which future poetry and writing can have, and in this i'll be completely subjective. much of the answer re poetry i'd like to triumph in the future can be seen by scrutinizing the list of titles and authors i have published as potes & poets press and now blue lion books and small-chapbook-project.

for poetry, i have published only a fraction of the texts i could envision possible. ultimately, a congregation of presses would only start this project. books should arrive in any number of forms: with pages of differing materials, pages bound together or left separate, covers of these books in all or pure white or black covers, texts printed in all colors, with any configuration of the previous: by single authors, collaborations between poets, between poets and musicians—the 'book' to be accompanied by a compact disc or a reading or not, poets and painters, poets and any other artists, dance recitals where the poetry has been written specifically to accompany the dance and recorded on a dvd for dissemination later, between (and this is hard to imagine possibly) poets and people of all disciplines: poets and philosophers, poets and engineers (for instance, a building with phrases written in each room, a bridge with text on the part viewable from the street below (not too safe a project as the cars speeding under the bridge try to read it realize);

and the essence of poetry, people talking in poetic terms—for instance, a spoken text like a play, spoken words to be heard on cd or dvd.

at the base of this project you will notice that these permutations are uses of 'the text'. a text is more or less nothing other than words make of letters and/or pictures to be viewed and evaluated by the eyes as agents of the semantic function, if one exists, of a person, any use of a text that is imaginative and not related to a let's-call-it-a-mundane use, can be called 'poetic text'. these are not the only definitions possible, and i believe all writers should come up with ones of their own. ideally there will be as many definitions as persons writing. the persistence of the text is, to me, the goal of writing in the future.

there is writing, there are letters and words, etc, but the root of it all is 'the text', the semantic-carrier conveying what the letters intend to give to the reader and writer.


Blogger EILEEN said...

Hi Peter,
Your process statements regarding extended texts is one of the finest articulations of *architecture and song* in poetry that I've read, which also elucidates as regards energy in a poem as it unfolds.
Thanks for this and many other gems...and also to Sheila for deeply-considered questions.


11:35 PM  
Blogger Anny Ballardini said...

An excellent interview I said elsewhere and I am repeating here. Music, meditation, philosophy and the dance of poetry on buildings, great works to both of you.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Douglas Manson said...

I like the way that Peter talks about the various stages of his writing life. I have a copy of a book called ER, and wondered if Peter would be willing to describe what the constraints, if any, this text arrives from, within, or alongside. It is a beautiful work, but I simply wanted to know, for lack of my own readerly determination, if there was a defining conceit. Of course, I could simply read the work more diligently, openly, and thoughfully to arrive at my own schema, but would love any and all discussion/description about this incredible book.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Tom Beckett said...

response to allen sharpe's blog comment

all of the texts, including 'er', writem after 'a'sattv' have been made with 'freeing of constraints' as the prime objective. they approach the notion of 'text' with the idea of, to use an overused term, deconstructing grammar and language. this is effectuated, if i am successful, not by a solely-destructive praxis, rather a substition of another grammar.

--peter ganick

(Note: Peter Ganick e-mailed me this comment. I cut and pasted it into the comment field. TB)

9:19 AM  
Blogger Crescentsi said...

Hi Sheila and Peter

Peter, what you say in interesting, because in the UK, a number of well known publishers have stopped publishing new poetry. They argue that there is no demand, and this would seem to be the case.

You appear to publish what the mainstream publishers (atleast in the UK) have given up on!


1:08 AM  
Blogger Tom Beckett said...

that's what i publish -- material outside the mainstream. and yes, it's a struggle to sell it.

--peter ganick

(cut and pasted from an e-mail at Mr. Ganick's request)

2:31 AM  

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