Tag Archives: Philosophy

Contradiction and Community: A Talk with Dan Magers

Image

The poetic work of Dan Magers is challenging and engaging, beautiful and mysterious. A few weeks ago I wrote a short piece about one of Magers’ poems and, more recently, had the chance to speak with him about poetry, process, and influences to his work. The results of this conversation, printed below, hopefully give some fresh insights while providing us with a context of how a poet works and thinks. I would like to thank Dan Magers for his time and thank you for taking the time to read this conversation.

A TALK WITH DAN MAGERS:

Jamie Grefe: Do you find yourself exploring philosophical ideas through your poetry? Do those two worlds ever overlap in your writing?

Dan Magers: Yes, and no. I sometimes use the language of philosophy a lot in my writing,
but I feel like philosophy and poetry have different aims. There is this quote I heard in grad
school, though I forgot who said it: philosophy and science are about finding contradiction and reconciling it, but poetry and art find the contradiction, but are fine with just leaving it, or even heightening it. But I do think my work is influenced by philosophy.

Grefe: Do you write every day? I’m very interested in your writing habits and how a piece might take form. I know that’s a very open-ended question with many different possible answers, but any insights into your process would be interesting.

Magers: No, I don’t consciously write every day, and particularly right now I’m really busy with work. This used to be something that made me freak out all the time, not being able to have time to write, but I’ve become more relaxed about it in the last few years, understanding that sometimes it’s okay to take breaks. I think about writing and poetry every day. For the last few years, I’ve usually written stuff down in a big Word file of stuff, and then later I’ll start selecting parts that still speak to me, and then try to collage them into poems. That’s how Partyknife was written and that’s how I’ve been writing lately, a little different from my first chapbook Exploitation Poems, which was a little more deliberate, written in unrhymed, metered sonnets, though I’m sure there were lines that became stuck in my head that I would then try to put in the poems, etc.

Grefe: Do you feel your method resonates with the line, “a poem is never finished, only
abandoned,” or do you feel that you get to a point where you can comfortably say, “this
particular piece is where I think it should be.” That is, do you ever feel that some of your older work could be remixed or revised or rewritten? I often have that feeling with my own work, but am not sure how others deal with that feeling.

Magers: I write a lot, but I am very picky about saying when a poem is “done.” I usually will
finish something and then hold onto it for a long time, constantly rereading it, and then usually I’ll keep revising. At some point, I intuitively think that a given piece is done. When I was revising the Partyknife manuscript, I definitely went back and cannibalized old poems, and that’s definitely something that I’m pretty okay with – taking the strongest lines from old stuff and combining that poetic DNA with new strong stuff to make better poems. I don’t publish very prolifically, so I usually have a lot lying around.

Grefe: Do you find yourself reading a lot of poetry?

Magers: Yes, I do read a lot of poetry – I’m surrounded by other poets in NYC, and besides
reading their work, they are always suggesting new stuff, and I’m also just reading stuff I come across too.

Grefe: That must be quite a wonderful thing, to be surrounded by a supportive and engaging community.

Magers: It is really great being surrounded by other poets – it’s one of the great things about living in NYC. There is a big and supportive community of writers.

Grefe: Have you considered or attempted writing fiction or exploring the “poetic” or “lyric”
essay form? (which leads to an underlying question of: why poetry?)

Magers: There was a point in late 2008/early 2009, where I was like “fuck poetry, what’s the point” and I started writing short stories. I wrote three of them: the first two were pretty good conventional stories, and then the third was this more experimental but crappy piece that came out of reading Lydia Davis I guess. I went back to poetry, and actually that third story became the backbone of the narrative that runs throughout Partyknife. and When I was editing the manuscript, I took a ton of stuff from that story. I’m into the idea of the lyric essay, though I guess I don’t think very much about whether my writing is fitting in one genre or not. I’ve been reading and rereading Dana Ward’s first book This Can’t Be Life, and that book is so prose-heavy, and very infused by memoir, and yet I have no problem with calling it poetry. He also thinks of it as poetry, too—the opening poem is partly about just that.

Grefe: That’s, perhaps, one of the beauties of poetry–just how large and encompassing
it is. I taught sonnet writing last year to high school students, which was amazing, but I’m
always interested in how one can gain a sense of writing poetry. So, how do you think one can become a more astute reader/writer of their own work, especially when creating a collection of poems? Also, did you decide the narrative backbone prior to writing Partyknife or did it arise from below and begin to organically seep through?

Magers: I think one of the outcomes of not being a teacher is that I don’t think as much about how to define or talk about writing, since I don’t really have to boil it down for students. I do feel like if one is reading and writing poetry that they see the world a little differently, maybe not as straightforwardly, more okay with living among the contradictions. Maybe that is just me. The narrative for PK I think sort of organically grew probably before even writing the short story I mentioned. The Birds editors edited it very thoroughly and intensively, and when I was revising, a lot of the stuff from the story got used for the book. I also expanded on the characters in the book based on editor suggestions. It’s not a memoir, but I kind of think of the book as the last will and testament of my 20s.

Grefe: Do you have any close readers who you tend to share your unpublished work with
(perhaps, friends or family) or do you tend to keep your work private until released?

Magers: I have about a half dozen close readers of my work, though it’s only been lately that I’ve been showing new work to them. Basically all of 2012 I was just writing and not showing anything to anyone. I felt like I could indulge in that because I had a new book out and the pressure was off to finish anything new. My readers are generally other NYC poets who are my friends.

Grefe: In closing, would you mind sharing some influences with me? I’m an avid reader and I’m sure there are some other readers out there who are interested in exploring influences. Poets? Fiction? Philosophers?

Magers: there are a ton, I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like different influences have come at different times, and some I haven’t returned to in a while. One of my favorite books is Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son. The language of that book continues to blow my mind and I reread passages of that book pretty often. I was a huge John Ashbery fan in grad school and he no doubt influenced me, though I don’t really write like him anymore and haven’t read his work lately. I think I was really taken with This Can’t Be Life in 2012, and I’m finishing up a review of it.I was blown away by Ariana Reines’ second book Coeur de Lion when I first read it. I also just love reading stuff on the Internet, like Wikipedia, or doing cursory readings of the technical language of aerospace and civil engineering, which I don’t have training in and don’t really understand, or about ecology and other sciences. Some of those things are maybe not yet that present in my work. I’m fascinated with religious writing, it definitely goes on…and that’s just the literary influences. I’m very influenced also by music and film.

Grefe: Any projects on the horizon?

Magers: I have a few new projects in the works, but I feel like at least some of them will come to nothing. The more I conceptualize projects, the less I tend to write them. I need to look at the drafts I’ve finished in 2012 and early this year to see what I have, try to finish some of those. I have some book project ideas, but it will probably take a while to work through them.

Grefe: Well, I wish you the best with your work. I’m sure those drafts hold many beautiful
poems. Thank you so much for your time.

Magers: Thanks so much for interviewing me.

/// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// /// ///

 

Thank you, Readers: We’re Back

I want to thank everyone for the comments throughout the last three years, for reading, and, hopefully, for growing in meaningful ways. The Eyeslit-Crypt fell by the wayside as my life in Beijing unfolded–Wordpress is blocked here, but I’m on my way back to America soon, so things will pick back up. In what new ways, I’m not sure. I hope the results will be satisfying to both old and new readers.

I feel like this blog became a neglected child and now going back and reviewing the content I produced in 2009-2010, I have to take a breath and carefully think through the future of this site, for the past has bee fantastic: educational, engaging, helpful to others.

The essays and analyses have seemed useful to many readers and for your readership, I am grateful–thank you, again.

I hope to pick up where I left off, to gain new readers and to engage through comments and purposeful discussions. Thank you again for all your support.

Mute Presence: A look at an aphorism by E.M. Cioran

Here is a fifteen minute video that I shot on Vimeo. Recently, I have been using Vimeo as an educational platform and a way to share my thoughts. This video opens up an aphorism by E.M. Cioran and brings in some other thinkers, as well. Is it perfect? No, but it was the best I could do at the time. I hope you can pull something useful out of it. Please ask questions.

The Wisdom of Christopher Doyle: The Dance of Cinema

Serendipity landed in my lap this morning as I found a relevant quotation (relevant to my purposes here) from the visual stylist, the cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Jim Jarmusch, Wong Kar-Wai, etc.). The camera as the eye of the motion picture, the lens through which we experience the picture, when wielded by a master, can expand and enlarge the enchantment of the cinematic world. If, as Dario Argento once said, “Films are dreams,” then Christopher Doyle is one of our great dreamers. Here is a quotation from Doyle that, if you are interested in such things, may be useful to you, too:

On his philosophy of filmmaking: “I really think music and movement — dance, you know — and literature inform my visuals. I think film is also based in dance. The relationship between me, the camera and the actor is always a dance.” These words come from this article, which has many interesting and informative words from Doyle on his craft and way of working/thinking.” – Christopher Doyle

Wong Kar-Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” spoke to me in this way even before I knew who the cinematographer behind the lens was. The narrative, sound and movement blend together with such precision and elegance. Had someone else shot this film, it would have been a completely different film. Such is the case with all films. It makes all the difference who shoots it.

Questions for Readers
What great films, for you, have the dance-like quality, which Doyle talks about?
Can you suggest (and share) other relevant quotations, which might enhance this perspective of filmmaking?
What cinematographers move you?

Here are two trailers featuring Doyle’s work: Wong Kar-Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” and Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control,” respectively.


The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living: Demetri Martin’s “If I”

I haven’t spent much time with Demetri Martin’s comedy material, but through some great stroke of serendipity, stumbled across this hour-long special for the BBC, entitled “If I.” To my delight, this performance is not simply “stand-up,” but examines such things as communication, choices, life-making, creativity, meaning and thinking. Martin unpacks the word “if” and uses it to point us in the direction of how our lives are influenced by our choices and the power of imagining our lives through the “if.”

While watching this video, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to Lee Thayer when he wrote, “…there is no dynamic in what ‘is.’ What stirs the human mind to life is not what ‘is,’ but what could be, or what should be, or what might be (from “Pieces”).”

In addition, Martin uses original artwork, music and photography to help pull us into “his” world. He is a brilliant public speaker and I hope you can use this video (and the other five, which can be found on Youtube) to enhance your life in some meaningful and constructive way.

Life is the Novel of Matter: An E.M. Cioran Moment

“Only inert things add nothing to what they are: a stone does not lie; it interests no one – whereas life indefatigably invents: life is the novel of matter.” (E.M. Cioran “A Short History of Decay, pg. 84).

To live in the human world, is to live through a virtual screen of interpretations and imaginations. We bind ourselves to the world we know by the stories that we tell each other and the minds/cultures that we are wrapped around, existing through; the other story-tellers that exercise their influence upon us. The tree does not tell to us, it cannot tell us stories. It stands inert and rooted. Rather, we tell others about the tree. We form an image of the tree through how we address the tree given our intentions and ways of being toward it. For you and I, although we may both be looking at the same physical object, it will come to life for us in different ways. An environmentalist and a lumberjack see the same tree is a radically different way, or at least, depending on who they are and what their situations are, could do so.

Moreover, to speak is to lie. That is, it is a telling of how things aren’t. The worlds that we can have are spoken into existence – we live out our words. Through our speech, we are the inventors of the human world. We mind that world through how we come to speak about it. Although, we, too, are matter, we are more than matter: we are consciousness and mind. It is difficult to step back and analyze the life stories that we create, as each stepping back places us in yet another facet of the same story.

The stories of our lives are woven through the words that we can use and make intelligible to others. Human life is a “standing-out” against matter. And, where does all this lead us?

If you want to read more E.M. Cioran articles, please see the E.M. Cioran page.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]