Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Here's an interesting excerpt of an interview with
Aram Saroyan conducted by Pirooz M. Kalayeh. Saroyan's one-word poem "lighght" is one of my favorites. Unlike most poetry, poems such as this to a certain extent do require that the reader "gets it."


PK: In your poems, the word and image are simultaneously united. This blend creates an interesting shift in perception. In a sense, it requires a different way of looking, and that, for me, is a different way of being. I am often attracted to art that brings me such a moment of connection. Thank you for that.

I remember looking at a Jackson Pollock painting, and feeling a similar way. For one brief instant, there was a lack of thought. In that space, was the experience itself. It was akin to a "What's that smell?" moment. Of course, the "smell" was simply my previous conception of "looking" being dropped for some actual face-time with that moment.

Is this what you hope to achieve with your pieces? If so, how do you go about a poem's conception with such an intention in mind?

Aram Saroyan: I remember when I was a teenager my dad took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and I saw a work by Franz Kline for the first time, and I thought, this guy has really gone out of his way to make something ugly. The ugliness is probably what shifts the way you think, or the way you are, for a moment—I think that’s what you’re talking about. The poems by me you refer to are probably the ones in Complete Minimal Poems and they’re now forty years old. When the book came out I read it through from cover to cover a couple of times and had a number of different ideas about it. One was, it’s about a young man in his room and at the door of his room.

I didn’t have any particular conception I wanted to get across when I wrote or when I write today. I think artists think with their work, not before they go to work. After I finish a piece, I always wonder, does this work.

Eventually, after many years (or maybe it was just a couple of years), I realized that Franz Kline’s work was the height of elegance. So it changed and/or I changed.

PK: I hear you. Franz Kline. I never went deep into his work. I remember seeing a couple pieces at the MOMA and The Philadelphia Museum of Art. I remembered that Jean Michel Basquiat cited him as a big influence on his work. I didn't stop long enough to stick with him though. I was busy checking out Cy Twombly. I didn't really like it, but I didn't dislike it either. I think seeing his pieces made me feel that kind of "ugly" you are referencing. I don't know though. I tend to see pretty in ugly and ugly in pretty. I don't know. I get so confused sometimes. It's not a bad confused, but simply a blending I suppose.

Were there any other visual artists that changed on you?

AS: I always loved Warhol. And Donald Judd. When I saw the first Eric Fischel at a Whitney Biennial in the 80s I thought, oh, that’s ugly. I didn’t like it. And then, sure enough, of all the painters of that epoch like Salle, Schnabel, etc., I started to like his work the most. I think Schnabel’s movies, especially Basquiat, are wonderful.

Warhol was such a great colorist, so inventive and elegant. I think I picked that up at an unconscious level. Later on you realize what it was that got you. His protégé, Basquiat, is also an extraordinary colorist. And sometimes he does great things with words. Like he has the word milk with a little copyright sign beside it. Exactly how insane our global corporate rigamarole has gotten.

When you live in New York, as I did, minimalism like Donald Judd’s work is terribly appealing. It balances the environment. I think I had to get out of New York to write differently. The environment is transgressive. Either that or I’m just a natural born country boy.

PK: Genesis Angels: The Saga of Lew Welch and the Beat Generation is a fascinating book. It reads very much like fiction. In fact, there were several times where I wasn't quite sure. In fact, it almost reads like an autobiography. Why did you decide to write in this style? Was it to capture Lew in a way that a traditional biography couldn't?

AS: There’s a first draft of that book, a more traditional, rather academic biography, which I reread recently. There’s a lot of direct quotation from Lew Welch—interviews and correspondence mostly—and that’s the best part of it. After I reread it I took some of the Lew Welch parts and made a solo performance play of it. It would be great I think for someone like Liev Schrieber or Joseph Fienes. But that first draft was, the Lew Welch quotes aside, a bit dull. So I rewrote it as a sort of Kerouac novel. Some of it is novelistic and/or autobiographical: I was trying to capture the spirit of Lew and the people around him, the Beats.

PK: You say a Kerouac novel, and I definitely feel that. There is that mad rush. At the same time, it's still very much you. I don't see Kerouac's long dash in continual use. You also vary the speed of your sentences by throwing in the occasional one or two-word sentence. Was this an intentional move? Was there a reason that you stayed away from the long dash continually and non-stop as Kerouac did?

AS: Kerouac was a writer I felt I had to come to terms with, and Genesis Angels was my moment of reckoning, so to speak. The book was written a chapter a day and not greatly edited by James Landis, my editor at Morrow. I suppose my technique is a little different, but the idea was to let go and write what came to mind. I started it right after my wife Gailyn gave me the verdict that the first draft was a tad dull. We were living in Bolinas and it was a beautiful day. I was crestfallen, but somehow energized too. As I walked back into the house to start the book again, I looked up the sky and thought to myself, “Just this blue” [meaning the color of the sky]. It’s interesting because the second draft written quickly in my version of Kerouac’s “spontaneous bop prosody,” told a more complex story than my first draft, which was ostensibly more reflective and took much longer to write. Probably I was laying the foundation, familiarizing myself with the story, so that I could then take off.

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