Five Questions: Leo Mercer

After contacting Leo Mercer, I soon realized that the method by which I had been conducting these 5 Questions interviews would, this time, not work. The way Leo communicated was too free, too untethered, to suite the hyper-formulaic interview style I had been using. Now, how could I conduct an interview (and conform to the constraints of the interview-form) that would not seem affected? How could I get Leo to answer my questions critically, but naturally? I didn’t know, so I articulated the issue to Leo via e-mail:

The next day I received a reply. Leo’s answer was to the point. It came to me via Twitter:

Friday, September 30, 2016

Maybe DMs’re the answer?

They’re character constraintless, but somehow seem to want quicker thoughts

Between Friday, September 30 and Sunday, October 9, Leo and I carried on a dialogue that touched upon the various theoretical and formal aspects of his poetry. For me, the dialogue was both cathartic and enlightening. For one, the DM [direct message] format forced me, as Leo had expected, to think and write quickly. I had to suppress my inclination to dwell—and to dwell excessively (as I tend to do)—on the particulars of a thought or phrase. The result was effective: the dialogue, though at times “abstract,” felt something closer to a conversation between two interested acquaintances: free-form and mutually sympathetic.

The more interesting result of our conversation was a new appreciation for what may be called “internet poetry.” To put it bluntly, I was and am skeptical of it. Doesn’t poetry in the context of Facebook or Twitter lose the defiant, the jarring, the progressive quality that makes it so interesting? But – Leo’s poems undoubtedly have a draw to them. How is that? I found myself reading them daily, enjoying them, but not knowing why. I was open with Leo about my feeling:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hi Leo!

I’m very happy to hear from you! It’s great that you’re up for the interview. In the past, my process has simply involved (a) writing five questions in a word document, (b) receiving the answers a few weeks later. But, now that I’ve received your e-mail, perhaps this process will be a bit too…conventional for us. It might be better to be less monolithic about it – to open things up a bit. By “it,” I mean the interview form; the display of an interview; the syntax, punctuation, and spelling of an interview. Maybe to find an interview method that matches your poetic.

So towards a redefinition of the interview (?)…

The interview below is both the product of this collaboration and an attempted answer to the mysterious allure of Leo’s twitter poems.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I find your poems quite compelling – compelling, but for reasons I can’t seem to fully grasp. I message you, in part, to satisfy this mystery and, in part, to ask you if you’d be interested in a sort of collaboration.

Now that our DM conversation came to a close, a final question needed answering: How are we to present the relatively free-form style of our dialogue? Should we present our messages as they are or should we edit them into something more coherent? Leo and I agreed on the latter. And so, what you read below is a DM conversation re-visited, edited, re-shaped, so as to better represent our poetic and literary positions. That being the case, all misspellings, ungrammatical sentences, and undeveloped trains of thought are not mistakes, but conscious inclusions. To give some sense of the immediacy or quickness of our conversation, I have organized our conversation by date (though not necessarily in chronological order), rather than by theme (as I usually do). I have also interspersed the interview with screenshots. These photos, I hope, will intimate the proper context and the proper mood of our conversation. I hope the result is sympathetic.

uipswvca

Leo Mercer

 *   *   *

Leo Mercer is a poet, writer, playwright, and essayist based in Manchester, England. His poetry—well-known in certain circles—is heavily influenced by the culture, forms, and jargon of the internet. He is an Oxford alumnus. You can find his work here: www.leoemercer.com and https://twitter.com/leoepoems


FIVE QUESTIONS (+ SOME): LEO MERCER

1. (Saturday, October 8, 2016)

AA. When I scroll through your 1,800+ tweets, I’m always surprised by the variety and breadth of your poetry. I am not, here, referring to your subject matter (though that is true—everything from George Villiers to chihuahuas), but to your technique and form. You begin, for example, by writing poetry that is conventional in its spelling and then (as you mature poetically) introduce misspellings. At one point, you experiment quite a lot with hashtags. Another where links and usernames interest you. Sometimes you attach photographs to your poems. To study your oeuvre, then, is to study you “working through” a variety of poetic interests / possibilities. Your essays on “Internet Poetics”—Poetweets (2014), Free Spelling and the Textual Vernacular (2014), the three-part Notes Towards a Character Based Poetics (2015), and The Sound of Poetry (2015)—show you addressing these poetic interests directly and critically. So I ask, first, how did you come to poetry and, second, how did poetry become the means by which you could develop and work through certain literary and / or non-literary ideas?

(Sunday, October 9, 2016)

LM. I think initially I began writing as a purely nonphilosophical pursuit: I’d been studying philosophy/religion for several years, and as that became more problematic to me, writing offered a sort of creative antithesis to philosophy/religion. But then, as time’s gone on, it’s becoming an increasing middle-ground, where I get to explore big questions that are on my mind, but using those creative techniques to explore my thoughts and attitudes, as opposed to trying to argue for them in a rigorous way. Except that the questions that my poems make me ask have changed: they’re not about metaphysics/epistemology, more about society/life/language/history. More worldly I guess.

2. (Thursday, September 29, 2016)

AA. So, let’s start by taking one of your poetweets (can I call them that? – I take the term from your essay “Poetweet: On the Prospects of Twitter for Poetry”). I scroll down at random and pick this one:

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-4-31-15-pm

The spelling is immediately striking. Then – next – a sort of tension in the poem: a tension between the constraints of the Twitter form (140 characters) and an effect of poetic freedom. I am reminded of the dictum “no freedom without constraint.” The poem’s line breaks, its elisions (“th” not “the”), the simplification in line 9 (“nite” for “night”) all contribute to that sense of poetic freedom I speak about. But, again, only because of the tweet’s formal constraints. Twitter even squares off each tweet for you – both character limit and visual space are clearly defined. Poetry, generally, lives off the tension between form and freedom. The Twitter form makes this tension particularly compact, visible. Do you consciously strive for this effect of freedom? Do you think it comes out because of the constraints prescribed by the Twitter form?

(Friday, September 30, 2016)

LM. Id completely forgotten that poem you quoted haha

the one thing that strikes me the most is how i was already beginning to use anagrams as a technique there

the idea being that what end-rhyme is to sound, end-anagrams can be to the eye

or not just anagrams (thing/night; road,doar), but echoing letters (tired/drive, home/me, return/nite)

I don’t thing I’ve really seen poets using anagrams as a source of poetic technique/pleasure/meaning

I think, re form/freedom, the biggest freedom is creating your own forms/techniques/tools. So if you see anagrams havent been used, suddenly thats something to sort of coerce meaning out of.

there’s like a law of diminishing returns for working within existing forms – however much freedom you find, it’s always in a space cluttered with history, which somehow prevents you from saying what youd otherwise say. i dont knwo whether thats cos of the form itself makes you want to say somethings, or the history of the form makes you say a historical cliche in it. but i think you have to (read: i want to) make your own forms. But to articulate the least-articulated truths about your existence, im pretty sure you need to find new forms, just like in science you have to discover the equipment before the equipment discovers the truths.

*breathes for pause and response* haha

3. (Saturday, October 1, 2016)

AA. Your discussion of anagrams and echoing letters is getting very close to what it is I’m doing in my dissertation. In my case, I’m looking at how these two techniques become conduits for hidden / esoteric meanings. Have you read the poem “Be-Earthed” by the jazz musician Sun Ra:

Be-Earthed (1980)

Those who are be-earthed

Are be-erthed

Berthed…

They are phonetically birthed in their berth;

They are placed in

In their place

Their place is their prace/praise/glory/fame…name.

Now Ge is one of the symbolical names of earth,

And since that can be considered as a basic-equation form;

We might as well consider that Ge’s is earth’s

And Ge’s us is Earth’s us.

Ra is aiming for a few things, here: (1) pleasure; (2) beauty; (3) and, most importantly, education. Language for him is “locked” and “corrupted” – and, through these sorts of linguistic tricks, he is able to re-vitalize language and unlock some hidden meaning. It’s seems like pleasure and beauty are at the heart of your work too. This poem, here, for example – about the anteater – is just hilarious:

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-4-44-50-pm

Do you feel language is stale / locked and, so, in desperate need of play? Is the pleasure / beauty / comedy of this poem an end in itself or – like Sun Ra – the means by which to get at some higher meaning?

(Saturday, October 1, 2016)

LM. so much to say, so little order in my head wit which to say iut 😛

pleasure – beautiy – education = all things i also feel like id want to aspire to

and i do have a constant internal monologue to the effect of “ugh all these people are using language stalely, where can i have fun”

i find it difficult to say “need of play”, need is a difficult word. but, for me atvl, theres i think two annoyingly contradictory impulses.

1) “want of play” – SO bored with language (/life) desperate to find some fun to have in it, some way to be different and break its homogenising effects (Proper Spelling, Proper Grammar, Propernesses etc), to not be the same as everyoen else, to notice something newish, literally to do whatever it occurs to me to do in the moment it occurs to me (which is why tweeting is helpful, releasing moments of spontaneous poem as opposed to the final draf – theres something hedonistic about this, immediate poetic gratification.. perhaps me writing poems is sort of the least hedonsitic hedonism imaginable :p :p).

2) The desire to find elements of language that are still in flux and are dynamic, and tie them to saying What I Want To Say / My Understanding Of The World.

So in a sense, you want to have fun with language. But you also want to be really serious with it

It’s like going skiing just so you can have a photo of you midair skis snow sun and share that

I dont think this *needs to happen* – the worlds not going to end if it doesnt – but i find myself really like really really wanting to do this

Also this connects with the thing about esotericism, which I dont really aspire to. I dont think language has any inner meanings which I want to reveal to the world. I see it more as something I can imbue with my own meanings.

Or metaphoricize

maybe the more i go on, the more i feel i dont really have any particular message. Its more i want to create a linguistic model of what life is now. A body of letters/words that you read and you feel Yes-this-is-a-purer-form-of-the-language-we-were-using-then and-the-thoughts-we-were-feeling-then and-what-was-actually-happening. To sort of zoom out. Its less about saying *something* and more about just actually being able to look into a mirror and see what exactly the world has made you into and put that on the page.

So like, if i want to talk about The World Is Changing, and creating a crumbling-language type effect

Or evoke the way science goes down to the minutaie of things and rebuilds them up from its basic components, then beginning with words as sequences of letters – letters being the sort of dna of language – i can do that

But then not just massive world cosmic processes, but trying to echo both deep mental processes, of break down, confusion, desire but also nervousness, cuteness, horniness, being-in-hysterics-ness- all of these internal realities can be created by the way you play with the letters that make up the world

Letting the world speak for itself almost – if you think it, say it, because its at least pyschologically true .- I keep thinking that the best poetry’ll be one that, like a scientific hypothesis which can account for all the relevant data, is a way of using language that can contain all the ways that language (in its current internety chaos and dynamism) is being used. Most poetry is nightmarishly dry because it has no way of including the vast crazy beauty chaos of language as it spontaneously erupts online

(On which note I should really really emphasize I dont think my poems are there yet AT ALL. Im just doing a public display of play :p.)

4. (Monday, October 3, 2016)

AA. So, just to clarify, your poems are attempts at what you call a “Powerful Beautiful linguistic model.” Is this art for art’s sake? Are they self-contained art pieces that are beautiful without reference to the external world? To me, they don’t feel like they are. Although you may not have a particular message, there is a sense of a “world outside the poem.” And your poetic language seems to aim at a more “authentic” mode of articulating the external world. Purer? Authentic? On the other hand, you also refer to the “metamorphosing” of the world and of a “zoomed-out-perspective.” To me, that’s a sort of fictionalizing of the world. How do you synthesize this authentic / pure articulation of reality (an articulation without any particular meaning) with this metamorphosing / zoomed-out-perspective?

(Monday, 3 October, 2016)

LM. So

First off I often feel like I can’t reduce my aims to one thing. Whenever I encounter something new I love (roughly three times a day) I think THATS WHAT I WANNA DO

But the person I always often comeback to as a model is Steve Reich, and I think his model probably is the stablest model for me too (so much so that it worries me – i think now ive recognized him as a model i feel the need to find a way to unmodel him)

His works do seem SO PURE. As art, they work on their own terms. They don’t need an outside world. They’re just.. internally perfect.

At the same time, he gets to them by taking the basic elements of the tradition he most knows (classical music) and applying the basic processes of nonclassical influences (medieval, African, balinese, Jewish musics) alojg with cutting edge technological innovations (tape, video). The result is a music that is Artistically Pure as an end product, but the means to creating it are full of deep wide fresh worldly encounters.

Applied to poetry, this means going back down into the cauldron of language, hypothesizing what the basic elements of it are (letters, punctuation), applying new technologies (social media forms and, who knows, my current flirt, emojis etc), and trying to apply linguistic processes from outside my immediate tradition (medieval, Internet language, dialect, and I should probably look out for more and weirder)

The ultimate effect, in the poetry that I will hopefully be able to create in the end of this process (I currently see my Twitter account as just a public video of Me Swimming In The Mighty Cauldron of Language), is artistically internally coherent and Art in its own right, but will only have been arrived at through the deep engagement with the world around me. Which is what I think the art that affects me does best – so worldly that it’s postworldly sorta thing. And maybe that says something about what sort of life i want to lead too.

What i mean by “the zoomed out perspective” is just never latching onto he immediate gimmick, but always looking for the more fundamental opening that the gimmick allows. A hashtag in my poem would make me feel gimmically sick, but that opening up to a new meaningful function of non-traditional characters in a poem is exciting – *we have more letters/characters available for our poetry than ever before why arent we using this hm”*. A tweet in itself is a gimmick, but that opening up to a character-by-character poetics is potentially powerful

Trying to latch onto the bigger trends, the more tectonic shifts, in the language-earth

5. (Monday, 3 October, 2016)

AA. When I read your poetry, I do, genuinely, feel the purity of your language. Your language feels closer to my own thoughts / consciousness, i.e. the faculty that both experiences the world (purely) and shapes the world (fictionally). To read poetry of this sort is, you’d imagine, comforting (maybe that’s not the right word…harmonious?). But, I also get a strong sense of being “jarred” or “jolted,” as though my mind has momentarily malfunctioned. Here’s the one you did just a few hours ago:

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-44-48-pm

So, I add a third thing to the equation: (1) pure / authentic language; (2) metamorphosing, fictionalizing; (3) a jolting, a difficulty. Thoughts?

(Monday, 3 October, 2016)

LM. Re: jolting and difficulty. I think my poems now are too difficult because I have no control. I’m like a baby realising it can talk, and currently just blahnlabanlahakanahaing. As I get poeticallyolder, what I say will be more controlled and less difficult. (I think this – my sense that my poetry isnt there at all yet, that its wildly bad in comparison to what i hope is coming – is something im weirdly proud of. Its hard to get yourself into a place of notknowing, to be happy chilled with that. Its easy to get yourself into a place of received knowledge and feel secure in that (though tbf once you realise its easy, its hard to want to do it anymore!). The instability of my current writing – knowing i dont know how to do something but that as far as i can tell, no one else does too, so im not just ahead of the game but im playing a game no one knows ahbout but also might just.. Not be agame after all. .)

At the same time your right – there’s the glitchiness and jarringness, which is often good. At the moment I’m not doing it controlledly enough, but that being a poetic technique – those (tch)s for example – is the right track. So much of this is about coming up with my own poetic tool bag after having used a more traditional contemporary English toolbag that I now find dull and limiting for so long.

I think the difficultly I am happy to have is the difficultly learning a new language, but which opens up when you’re inside it. I want to create a language within a language that it is worthwhile for people to learn.

I guess at this point I start getting into questions that really confuse me like “wait so r u just saying you wanna brand yourself” haha – if (u get this pretty clearly form people like sam riviere and steve roggenbuck) poetry is just a form of marketing, then a) ugh and b) what do i wanna market. But maybe this goes back to what i was saying before. i dont think i want to market anything. I dont think i have the confidence in any aspiration to market anything. i just want to be honest. Theres taht c s lewis’ quote about ‘we read to know we are not alone’, and that sense of trying to look into a mirror and see what the world has made me into it and share because the world is making similar things of other people..

I feel like Steve’s now marketing a ggrand, and defiitely noble, vision of life which he wants to persuade you to aspire to . but i just want to be a mirror, and to say that, before you start aspiring to something, be able to know who you honestly are first (which of course id ont know.. Which is why poetry has to be thought-full at the same time as artistic). But then maybe that just becomes confusingly circular – my marketing pitch is that im just offering an honest product aghaghagagm hm.

(Also, its not true what i said about steve, his work includes powerful look-in-the-mirror-statements such as when he saysin his characteristic vocie that he’s sure that we can achieve for free the happiness that corporations are trying to sell us )

another things to add is about how this is all part of the play you mentioned. writing stops being about A Higher Pursuit, the Elevated Part of Yourself, the Deep Purpose Of Life. it becomes about processing the entirety of your life.. trying to include all the things that youve been taught to exclude.. all of life, all teh edges you may have written off as insignificant, become deeply human and significant and talkableabout. if you enjoy it, its worth writing about it.

procrastinaton (in the sense of “5 hrs on the internet just disappeared, where to??”) is particularly important to me here as an idea. processing your procrastination is everything – the sense that when you procrastiante, jumping uniquely from thing to thing across the endlessness of the internet, your actually seeing yourself in a sort of mirror, the mirror of the choices you made, the things you wanted to find in the world of currently findable possibilities. your attentuon was SO absorbed in the pursuit of finding yourself and your loves during that time (whoever says we have less attention span just doesnt realise the recalibration of attention! ). and then working out how you can create an art-document of what you encountered, snapshotly, of what you encountereed, perhaps. your full life. no filters :p I find so much english poetry is a filtering of life in the nostalgic-higher-beautiful-life-filter, basically no better than high culture instagram. playing with language, playing with life tho :p

6. (Tuesday, October 4, 2016)

AA. How do you imagine yourself developing this language? In some sense it has to be formulaic, especially if you want your poetic language to be “learnable.” Do you have some sort of method to your poetic playfulness? Are these all things you’re still trying to figure out, i.e. how to become an “adult” with language? Does becoming a poetic adult mean having a poetic method, form, language, developed? Do you have rules or is it intuitive?

(Tuesday, 4 October, 2016)

LM. In terms of methods and stuff. I don’t really know. I constantly have self-rules in my head, and then break them. My first year of tweets, as evidenced in that Poetweet manifesto thing crap, was premised on using language Properly and Calmly in a languageworld that was chaotic. My rule there was strongly never to mispell. Then I started breaking that rule and that became the basis for the next year of writing, exploring the power of mispellings. But I had a very strong rule never to use emojis because emojis were stupid and couldn’t be part of a poem. And here I am now trying to work out how they can accompany and contrast the meaning of poem, add a sort of visual rhythm, be a sort of perfectly-sized letter-size mini-illustration etc. So I think I’m still playing endlessly, and hopefully at some point I’ll feel ready to take all I’ve learnt – a thousand different ways of ordering characters – and order them into something shareable.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-49-48-pm

This is actually one of my favourite emoji ones so far, the way that the emojis i think really become part of the language, adding to it, offsetting the rhythm, adding emotion and stuff. I can’t quite articulate what I like about it (tho also i dont know if i like the second half but still)

I think it will be learnable when it works. I think I can already explain to people the basic elements of Why this is beautiful. Finding the spelling of the word Beautiful beautiful, and then the mispellings of it beaueatuaetiful baetuatfiul beatiful etc, stumbling across a historical spelling of “bewtiful” somewhere, a typo of it a beautifuil. And finding double letters beaufiul. And random letter quirks. The cool random difficult lele in ruleless. Etc etc. Having favourite letters of the alphabet (for me, im in love with j i atm), Those are things that weve never been taught to find astonishing in language but which really are. Thinking about hiphop and the devleopment of rhyme there, from supersimple end rhymes to full scale eminem brilliance, the way that something considered a bit trite (rhyme) becomes a vehicle for intense virtuosity and expressiveness, i think that is the same power that an anagram pushed to its limits can come to have. So having visual poetry which is as tightly letter-patterned as an eminem rap is sound-patterened.

By which I mean to say: I think if I can find things beautiful that have been underappreciated, explain and demonstrate that to people, then people will learn the basic rules of my language and be able to read a variety of performances in it. But each time I put into words what I’m doing (from Poetweets -> Free Spelling –> Character-Based Poetics –> *now*) the rules of the project seem to be getting more fundamentally weirdcool. I think I’m becoming vague now, and not quite answering your question sharply! – Perhaps what it is is that ive not arrived at the full blown realisation about what language is, from which everything im doing and will do makes sense. One of my fave lines from my nonfreespelt poems was ‘language was the early viral social network’ or something like that – i think this is something to with the premise of seeing language for what it is. I think to write good poetry u have to really understand what your material is, what it can do and what it cant do, how film and music eg is better than u at lots of things. If i was in a silicon business i shouldnt start having graphene dreams maybe.

I think as poets we deify language, improperly. To love something, to know how to use it properly, yoiu have to be honest aboiut what it is, not to be in fantasy abotu it, to realise the fundametnal contingency of the thing, adn work with that, accepting the allwayschangingness of stuff.

7. (Tuesday, 4 October, 2016)

AA. There are lots of similarities, here, to the chapter of my dissertation I’m currently work on. Take a look at the poem “Embarkation for Cythera” by Lorenzo Thomas, if you get the chance. The poem presents a typical mythical pattern: a creation story, a fall, and then a reclamation of a past Edenic state. The fall comes with the imposition of “written language” on an “oral culture.” Then, finally, the reclamation of that oral culture in the dance hall (where music is being played) of the final stanza. Lorenzo Thomas and a lot of the other writers around him blur the line between music / orality / aurality and written language. I know your poetry reaches beyond the linguistic – you work with emoticons and so enter a more visual space – but, do you feel any connection to music / orality / aurality at all?

(Tuesday, 4 October, 2016)

LM. Interesting. In terms of reclaiming an oral culture from a written one. I think one thing I’m working towards is actually the extreme opposite in a sense: as opposed to blurring the boundaries between music and written language, I want to intensify the difference, creating written works that can’t be read aloud (by difficult mispellings, unreadable punctuations, possibly emojis – I’m not sure where this fits into concrete poetry, maybe I’m more interested in playing with the black on a page and a lot of conceptual poetry is more interested in the white, I dont know haha) and spoken word that can’t be notated into written language as we know it (using intense audio editing, introducing sounds that just aren’t notatable – I’m still very new to this, but it’s something I’m really aspiring to).

Recognizing the differences between written language and spoken language, it’s started to feel like most poetry blurs it disgustingly. To take most contemporary English poetry, it seems to be the worst of both: the poem seems incapable of passionate musical performance, and is meant for its written form. But its written form is just as a recording of that bland aural performance, with nothing pagely-creative done to it. If the page and the recording are two ways of transcribing language, then I’d want there to be a distinct art of both, not a vague unintense blurring of the two.

I guess I’m not nostalgic towards an oral past, but aspirational to a future in which each mundane element (paper and audio recording alike) is developed to a meaningful artistic degree in its own right

On the note about these works for the page and works for the audio, the only person I know who I really feel is doing this (probably with a different intellectual framework, but in general the only person I feel is one step ahead of me in the things I’m concerned with) is Steve Roggenbuck, whose page poetry is full of typos and general unspeakables, and whose video poetry is intensely edited, each right for their own medium, well measured and with a powerful meaningfulness.

8. (Wednesday, October 5, 2016)

AA. As I was reading your essay “Free Spelling and the Textual Vernacular” – which has a lot in common with what you’ve been talking about here – I was struck by the sensitivity you have to the minute. Your work functions, or gains its potency, from an Imagist-type focusing of energy. The 140-character tweet of course. But also your free spelling. The reader is encouraged to dwell, not on words, but on letters. On the most minute components of our language. As you say, this is facilitated by focusing on the visual rather than the oral. The oral seems to do the opposite: the reader dwells on a vague sense of sound and rhythm and the actual words of the poem are secondary to its phonetic sense.

In your essay, you use the example of the word “night.” You manipulate the word and write it “nighght.” For the reader/critic to understand the manipulation, s/he must, (1) dwell on the word; (2) try to evaluate its effectiveness. The second step requires an understanding of the “essence” of nighttime, so that we can say, “Yes, the addition of a ‘gh’ reflects the essential properties of night: darkness and density. Yes, ‘nighght’ properly mirrors, visually, the essential properties of night. Yes, ‘nighght’ is a more visually true representation of night than even our standard ‘night.’” I know you use the phrase “zoomed-out-perspective,” but the process seems the opposite: to “zoom-in” past accidentals to essences. Past words even to letters. And past letters to REAL essences. To me, this focus on the minute is not only poetic, but also spiritual and moral. We get into questions like: “What is the essence of night? What is nightness? or, the ‘is-ness’ of night?” Those are questions of a philosophical and religious sort. In a social context, the questions become: “What is the essence of person x? Can I look beyond her/his accidental / experiential qualities and see her / his essence?” Your poetry seems to encourage this sort of moral / spiritual sensitivity. Do you want your poetry to have this sort of applicability? Or would you rather it remain in the realm of the literary? I understand Steve Roggenbuck’s work as explicitly “spiritual.” I’m not sure if that’s the right word – but, it’s something moral, something sensitive, human, earthly, life/live-ly. Is this true of your work?

(Saturday, October 8, 2016)

LM. I definitely agree with the emphasis on the minutiae. If in normal poems words make their letters invisible, I want to make them a source of power in their own right – more than anything because I need my writing to get its energy from somewhere. Using words is like plugging into the normal power system, where everyone is trying to get power from the same source. But then if you realise your sitting on a coalmine of your own that no one knew about, you can get loss of energy for yourself – (btw I really like this analogy for what words are. If a word is like the ground, the letters are two billion (made up fact) years of energy-full material history compressed into a power source waiting to burnt and released. This isn’t an environmental metaphor – I think the equivalent of solar power would be Roggenbucks videos. The realisation that something we’ve had forever [sun, verbal language] can now be harnessed/recorded like never before and begin a whole new beautiful energetic clean tradition of power/poetry, whereas my written poetry (and in a sense Steves own written stuff) is more about a creative destruction of the linguistic materials were sitting right on already bahaha.

At the same time I think the opposite – in the image of the poems I eventually want to write, I want the impact to be on the macro and immediate, and independent of letter-by-letter analysis.

Take this:

aaaaabbbbbbbccccc

aaaaabbbbbbbccccc

aaaaabbbbbbbccccc

aaaaabbbbbbbccccc

aaaaabbbbbbbccccc

aaaaabbbbbbbccccc

aaaaabbbbbbbccccc

Youcan already see from a distance that there’s something aesthetic about this – problem is there’s no words yet. What I want at the moment is to have patterning as clear as that from a distance, but which when you read linearly also has meaning. You can see my attempts at this in most of my poem one – take the one I just did about Mozart and couscous. There’s lots of letter patterninga already, meaning the letters used in a word on one line are very close to the ones in the next.

Acoustic

couscous

nomnom

mnemonic

Selflessness

flesh

The connections are too subtle / letter based to be so significant in sound-poetry but visually are much more compelling. If I can extend this letter play to a whole poem, so you see the patterns from zoomed out but then, zoomed in, it’s intelligible – then I think that will be The Thing. It will have an emotional Hit on the reader that will add a sort of power to the reading itself.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-11-01-12-pm

This is one of my favourite Twitter accounts. The maker of the bot which creates this calls it Ambient Sound. I think for me it’s Ambient Spelling, using letters to create a thoroughly relaxing sound, a sort of extended onamatpeaieia that is equivalent to Brian enoey ambient music. I think what I mean is poetry that, zoomed out, has that immediate visual zoomedout noncognitive emotion, akin to the pure sound of sound poetry. But adding to this actual complex beautiful / freespelt zoomedin words, so that the poetry says something as well as creates an experiential response-feeling

ooooooooooooooooooo

oorooooooooothoooooo

rooooooootttttthkooooo

rrrooooootthhhhhkoooo

rrrrooootttthhhhkkkooo

rrrooooootthhhhhkoooo

rooooooootttttthkooooo

oorooooooooothoooooo

ooooooooooooooooooo

haha

You’re right about Steve Rs work. I think he’s got a much clearer sense of what he wants to say than I do, but if you see his earlier stuff, it was less clear and sharp and moral than his current stuff. I think that is the ideal: you develop your style to something weird distinctive and noticeable, so it’s ready for you to say the things you care about when you know what they are. I definitely want my stuff to be that eventually, though I don’t know what mine will be saying at the moment – I expect it will be more realist than motivational as SR, more focused on trying to make sense of the world I as an individual live in, deal with the coexistence of fundamental differences, troubling desires, and articulate real contemporary life, as these are things I tend to be stuck thinking about. If SR is aspiring to a New Keats status then maybe I’m more Wordsworth perhaps or Eliot. I guess in the same way as I feel my style is being worked out right now, my philosophies also. I definitely think of poetry as philosophy by other means. The aim will be to mature style and substance at exactly the same moment.

One thing I love about starting with letters in poetry is the fact that so many languages share the same alphabet

I did some poems past year that spelt English as if they were a sequence of various European languages

And I really want to develop that more sophisticatedly

Again, that’s a case of marrying the stylistic question – how to spell English to evoke other European countries – with nonpoetic questions such as massive political questions like the nature of Europe, EU etc. Each stylistic exploration has accompanying philosophical ones, and the ideal is to mature them at the same time, in service of each other

I remember thinking a while ago that the two cornerstones of contemporary young internety feeling are yolo and fomo. Steves got yolo covered with his motivational ethical slant on yolo – you only live once so make it spiritually beautiful and ethically effective – whereas I feel fomo obsessively. I can’t ever quite get over that there is so much im missing out on, so many realms of human experience that are beyond / outside me, that every choice / action / no action I take is killing a billion couldhavebeens – but hey lets use that feeling of massive excludedness to make you want a v deep an exploration of allthatwhichyouarenot as possible, to try to get above fundamental differences that seperate things and people. I feel that might come to be close to the message I feel most.


Header Image: Leo Mercer Facebook

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