The Argotist Online
Mark Young Interview
Mark Young Mark Young is a New Zealander who has been publishing poetry for more than 50 years. He has 20+ books to his name, the most recent of which is Genji Monogatari. A new book, entitled either At Trotsky's Funeral or, more simply, Ficciones, is due out from Kilmog Press in Dunedin, N.Z. later on this year. He is the editor of Otoliths.
Sheila E. Murphy is a prolific poet who has published numerous individual and collaborative books of poetry. Her book Letters to Unfinished J. appeared in 2003, and received the Gertrude Stein Award from Green Integer Press. Recent titles include Collected Chapbooks, Permutoria (with K. S. Ernst), How to Spell the Sound of Everything (with mIEKALaND), Quaternity (with Scott Glassman), Circumsanct and Reverse Haibun.
1993 she has led a consulting firm (now Sheila Murphy, LLC) that provides
Customized Artistic Designs for public and private spaces; keynote speaking; and
corporate consulting in Strategic Corporate Communication; Individual and Team
Executive Advisement and Succession Planning.
Mark, you are well known
for your poetry and for your current publishing endeavors through Otoliths.
I'd like to focus on both of these areas in this interview. Let's begin with
your own writing. Would you mind sharing some highlights along the path of what
brought you to your current place in writing?
Highlights? I don't know about highlights, Sheila; but, at the risk of sounding
like a spammail for tantric massage, there were definitely pleasure points.
milestones first, occasionally interspersed with pleasure points. Writing my
first poems at age seventeen, out of the blue as it were though many non-poetic
things got me there, then having those poems published in a national journal. A
year & a half later reading Don Allen's New
American Poetry & discovering kindred souls in there, everyday speech,
which meant that I had something to hang on to, didn't have to follow in the
Anglophile tradition of New Zealand poetry. Developing through the 60s,
publishing in all the leading journals though usually poems I'd written several
years before, lagtime diminishing as my reputation grew. The readings in
Auckland in the late 60s. Not having a collection published in N. Z. before I
left in 1969. A few poems in my first few years in Australia. Then giving up
poetry for 25 years.
back to it through a request from Michele Leggott asking if I'd consider being
included in Big Smoke, an anthology of
N. Z. poetry of the 60s. Rereading my early poems again, realizing there were
some quite good things amongst them. Working on some of them again, polishing,
even rewriting. First collection, The
right foot of the giant, N. Z., 1999. Half
of it the book that never came out in 1969, the other half those early years in
Australia. First new poems appeared in ancillary stuff to launch Big
Smoke. Discovering the e-zines on the web. Reading, writing, publishing.
Discovering the poetic community I'd always yearned for in As/Is,
its early days, which you'd remember since you were there. Stimulation. An
outpouring of poetry. The dam broken? Or just making up for those missing years?
collaborations with Jukka-Pekka Kervinen which became The Oracular Sonnets & Poles
Apart. Setting in train one of my now main stylistic strands, the stochastic
assemblage of found phrases.
Eileen Tabios' invention, the hay(na)ku, a marvellous framework to help set your
thoughts in order.
words written on a notepad sitting outside a motel in the outer suburbs of
Melbourne, a pissy poem, but the first poem of Series Magritte, now more than six years old & over 200 poems
that stylistic consistency was not for me. Let the poem shape the form, not the
form shape the poem.
Three books in particular. the allegrezza ficcione, Pelican Dreaming, & Genji Monogatari. Though the others ain't bad, either.
You speak about poetic
community and its importance to you. I sense that the discovery of a new poetic
community supercharged your re-connecting to poetry as we slid into a new
Century. Can you talk more about that, and about what prompted you to inaugurate
several years between the
re-connection & the inauguration, so I'd prefer to leave discussion about
Otoliths until later on in the interview, & deal first with the surge—a
word that now, unfortunately, has different over- & undertones in these post
9/11 days when military incursion has become a constant.
of the problems about coming back to writing après une aussi longue absence is
to decide which direction to face. In an interview I did with Martin Edmond some
years ago, I noted:
I seem to remember writing in an email to Michele that I was having a problem as to how I should approach this current "writing"; whether to start anew or to go back & try & build a bridge across the intervening period. I think what I've done, & what I'm still doing, is use the past not so much as a bridge but as a reference library which I occasionally return to.
was lucky, I guess, because the way I used to write, the influences that shaped
me, the style I had developed, were all still contemporary. Sure, there had been
a lot of new stuff happening in the interim, but there was still around a
continuity that had its roots in what, say, Olson & O'Hara & Snyder had
been doing all those years ago, & even the new stuff was related to that
melting pot—or, at least, to some of the ingredients.
I had no problems about my poetry being passé. The process, however, was a bit
rusty. I'd got movement back into my fingers through the editing &
assemblage of The
right foot. I became a bit more flexible with the writing of some new poems.
I regained confidence in my abilities by getting some of those poems published.
I probably also had more commitment, in the sense that I had time to give over
to writing rather than getting involved in things that earlier had (a)
interfered with my being able to write & (b) a bit later on, actually
prevented me from writing. But it was still not what I would describe as in any
way full on.
came with a physical move, & a conjunction of opportunities. L. had just
finished her doctorate & was offered a tenurable position at a regional
university. I decided to retire from my current job. It was a couple of years
earlier than I'd intended, but the nature of organizations had changed & I
found myself in conflict with this new structure of upper management who were
employed on, generally, three year contracts, often from an industry quite
different to the core business of our shared employer, & whose goals
inevitably were short-term personal financial gain rather than long-term
responsible corporate vision.
found myself in a small city, no poets that I knew or knew of within 2000
kilometers. Time was one thing I now had lots of, so I could write more, plus it
was a new environment & that always provokes activity. I had the beginnings
of an electronic network, mainly comprised of editors of journals.
& when two of those editors decided to start up a group blog, As/Is,
& invited me to join I willingly accepted, not realizing how important it
would become to me, how much impetus it was going to provide.
magazine—or, perhaps more precisely, an issue of a magazine, even an
electronic one—is a static thing, bound by its publication date, its
"covers", its editorial oversight & tastes. A group blog has the
potential to be organic; poets & poems bounce off one another, a response
appears hours after its trigger, not months later, when the trigger is no longer
obvious. It's essentially a form of poetic correspondence, a correspond-dance,
if you like.
As/Is, in those early times, was the
best of the best. At least, that's how I saw it, that's what it was to me. I had
a need to outpour, & now there was a place to do it. Synchronicity. &
the comment boxes—now sadly lost because of a later template change—were
like a chatroom. Friendships were forged, longlife dances.
made reference to being employed full-time in an organization, and functioning
apart from that world, freer to devote attention and time to your writing. I’d
like to ask about your own expectations for your work in each of these contexts.
If you are willing to reflect on your recent work in relation to available time
and attention, that would be welcome, also.
is a surprisingly difficult question for me to answer, because the way my life
panned out meant that only rarely was I writing & working at the same time.
It's not cause & effect, or one prohibiting the other; rather that there
were other factors that both (a) forced me to work, & (b) possibly prevented
me from writing, & all, at times, concurrent. So to give some background,
I'll break up the relevant parts of my life into three simplistic parts.
first part was roughly 15 years, from the time I started writing &
publishing poetry to the time I put it aside / stopped / gave it up / whatever.
I worked, I wrote, for a period in there my work was, in fact, my writing. I
wouldn't describe myself as prolific—there's probably only 100 or so poems
that came out of that time. I don't remember there being any work/writing
conflict. In fact, thinking about it now—& it's probably a truism that
stretches across my whole life—I wrote as much as I needed to write.
second part was the next 25 or so years, the first half of which was spent
working on the factory floor, the second half in middle or upper management.
I gave poetry away. Applying my truism to that period, I obviously didn't
feel the need to write, though I did afterwards discover a small number of poems
that were written during the period.
is something that needs to be brought into the discussion of this period,
though, & that is, especially after making the shift to management, I did a
lot of writing—proposals, feasibility studies, operations procedural manuals,
quality control documents, etc. Add to that the fact that in the early part of
the 1990s I enrolled at the local TAFE College—Technical & Further
Education; occupational focused, something more than a High School, less than a
University—where I got a couple of diplomas, & followed that up with a
return trip to University to do a Bachelor of Applied Science in Operations
Research, & you can say I did an awful lot of writing, much of it requiring
reasonably quick turnaround times.
something that also must be brought into the mix is the perceived value of one's
output, whether through self-belief or through recognition by others. The longer
the period after I left New Zealand in 1969, the less value I placed on poetry;
& the longer I was away, the more I was forgotten. There was neither
internal nor external stimulus to start up again.
I mentioned above, I came back to writing poetry after Michele's Big
Smoke email—external stimulus—& my own personal re-evaluation of
those earlier poems—internal stimulus. I found working full-time did not
interfere. After all, I had been spending time outside work on assignments,
reading, indulging in my hobby of jigsaw puzzles. Also, the times, the
appliances of writing, had changed. I had been using mainframes since the early
'80s, got my first PC—primitive beast, a single 5¼ floppy disk drive into
which you had to insert the operating system disk to get it going, but costing
more than a high level laptop does these days—for TAFE in the early '90s, had
to use a fairly basic web-based system to upload assignments
in a number of subjects at University.
had always used a typewriter to compose my early poetry. It was a slow process
though, because I would work from the top down, get the first line(s) right
before moving on. Which involved sheets & sheets of paper, & a lot of
retyping, copying out what had gone before. Using a PC meant that all that
excess work was replaced by a single movement of the cursor, meant that I could
now create more poems in a shorter time.
the evolution of the web meant instant availability to what was going on in real
time. The previous prevalence of print, the economics of obtaining books &
journals which were over-priced because they were imported, the time it took
those that did get to you from an ocean away, all those things meant that you
were either out of the loop &/or behind the times.
you have inputs, outlets, the appliances to ply your vocation as a poet. But
usually you need something more, social contact & interaction. &, if you
are positioned somewhere geographically where poets or like-minded people are
thin on the ground, work provides that for you. Plus, if you're lucky—&
for the latter part of my working life I was—it can also provide mental
organizational and educational experiences seem to have contributed in a wide
variety of ways, bringing on an artistic version of “deferred compensation.”
Given your strong familiarity with the corporate world, the university
environment, and the artistic sphere, please share your views on the possibility
of bringing a wider range of people to poetry. Is this a fantasy, or is it
possible in our current time?
me go out on a limb here & say I believe we have already exceeded the upper
limits of the poetic macrocosm, but because there are no regulations or
restrictions, no fire marshalls standing at the entrances counting the numbers
going in, it's going to keep on growing. For a while, anyway.
has it grown so much? Population growth, obviously. More people, more poets. A
world made smaller by technology, & with English the lingua franca we are
now seeing Indian & Chinese & Ghanian poets writing in a second language
as part of the everyday offerings. The exponential growth of publishing
methodology which means more books, more cheaply. More magazines—duotrope's
digest has around 3000 outlets listed. The growth of MFA programs in creative
writing—this is going to be one of the first areas to go belly up. It's simple
economics. People in these programs are trained only to become teachers of MFA
programs in creative writing programs; there will soon be—if there isn't
already—an oversupply of teachers; demand for the programs will drop off
because there's no guarantee of a job on the other side; & bums on seats is
the guiding principle of academia these days.
it may seem we have opposing points of view, you wanting to bring more people,
me saying there are already too many. But I think we both have caveats attached,
qualifiers perhaps; & what we're both moving towards is how do we attract
more people—whether already in the macrocosm or still to come—to the type of
poetry we care about, to that part of it we both adhere to.
Let me step outside the sphere of poetics for a moment & quote from a book that is a cornerstone of my library, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it Kuhn puts forward his beliefs as to why certain bodies of thought, often exemplified by specific texts, provided the impetus to change the way particular fields of science were pursued, the way what he called "paradigm shifts" came about:
were able to do so because they shared two essential characteristics. Their
achievement was sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of
adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity. Simultaneously, it
was sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined
group of practitioners to resolve.
I'll explain why I think Kuhn is relevant. To me, poetics, like politics, has a reasonably revolutionary left wing & a conservative right. &, again like politics, it is the left that is full of schisms. Yet the left wing has a history as strong as that that the right professes to. But these days its impact is diminished because it's splintered. I have fairly eclectic & wide-ranging tastes, but when I came back to poetry I found that if I wanted to read one group of poets I liked I had to go here, & if I wanted to read another group I had to go there, & another elsewhere, & if I wanted to see/read vispo, then I had to go searching in 100 places. & yet they're all essentially related even though sometimes the bloodlines are denied.
to Kuhn. We have the "enduring group of adherents"; we have the open-endedness;
what we don't have is a sense of the commonality that actually does exist even
though many practitioners spend a deal of time turning the minor differences into
unbridgeable chasms. Somehow we have to bring things back together again, to
show the breadth & the strength of the left even if the house has many
mansions. I think that by doing that we will attract a wider &
better-informed audience. It's what I've tried to do with Otoliths.
has become a vital source of energy, being a repository for innovative work in
the textual and visual dimensions, as well as a community of writers, many of
whom are closely connected in collaborative creation. Would you talk about your
original goals for this whirlwind of publication, and perhaps share some of the
important discoveries along the path from its inception until the present?
of the problems about living the isolate life is that a lot of interpersonal
skills atrophy because there are no longer the avenues open to engage in them.
I'm thinking especially about meaningful conversation here. Even though I would
describe myself more as a listener than a talker, conversation is/was important
for me because its inherent components—developing thoughts on the run,
bouncing them off people, the nuances, the associations, taking on their
objections & augmentations to what you are saying or the reverse, reading
how people react—mean that you're using words in realtime. They become
familiar, easy to handle, easier to put together in sequences that have some
sense to them, not just to you but to others as well.
found that that many of my skills were decreasing because, although I was in
touch with people, I wasn't able to, as it were, physically touch them. I was in
danger of becoming a reverse Ouroboros with my tail swallowing my head. I talked
earlier about how one of the most important things about work is that it
supplies an arena for social interaction so, when an opportunity for a part-time
clerical job presented itself, I accepted gladly, thinking that I could split my
week & have the best of both worlds.
I didn't allow for was the fact that the level of managerial skills &
experience I possessed are relatively scarce in a small city; & once they
were "uncovered" I found myself moved up a few rungs in the
organization ladder, given a heap of project work to do, & asked to work
another couple of days a week.
work may not interfere with writing, but I found it certainly interfered with
blogging; so I decided to close off the main blog (pelican dreaming) I had at the time, & cast around for something
else to do. I realized I now knew a
lot of poets whose work I liked & I'd learnt from blogging how to use html
so starting an e-zine seemed like a logical next step. I thought about running
one on a commercial server, but wondered if Blogger might serve my purposes just
as well so I created a test blog & found that I could manipulate the
template & the settings to create a post-to-a-page zine with nearly all the
Blogger paraphenalia removed.
I had the technical framework in place, I then sent out the emails to about 60
people; people I knew through blogging; editors who'd accepted my work;
contributors to the first hay(na)ku anthology; poets I'd actually met. Within 24
hours I'd received positive responses from about three-quarters of them. I moved
from enquiry to solicitation, & from solicitation to publication, on May Day
don't know if I had any goals at the beginning beyond getting the first issue
out with as broad a range of contributors as possible & making it as good I
could. I think you approach the first issue of a journal as if it were equal
parts anthology & mousetrap, but both parts driven by the same
motivators—quality that lasts, quality that attracts.
was also cognisant of something Charles Olson had written to Cid Corman 55 years
And, I get back to the notion that—as any live thing—it is a question of how
the units are juxtaposed so that they declare (stand in the place of) the man
who puts them together
what to put together so that, each unit keeps its force and, at the same time,
the whole mag lives
variation of materials can one get in (does one have to keep in) to save all
units from mutual cancellation?
the most obvious, is, to broaden the base
I'd guess, that the answer here, is, has to be, YOU: that is, for you to get in, to
any given issue, as close to all the possible angles to a given issue that you
can conceivably think of—which means that you yrself are the packed one, eh?
first issue was compiled, not edited per se—in a sense, the editing was done
in who I asked to contribute—but I tried to put together the pieces I received
so they kept their force, which is an ongoing thing. Not so noticeable online,
more noticeable in print. The second issue was probably 75% invitation, 25%
the third issue it has been almost totally submission. There's essentially a
core group of contributors who feel at home in the pages of Otoliths. They don't appear in every issue, but probably a quarter
of every issue is drawn from that group. They work in divergent styles, &
it's that divergence that has drawn an even wider group of people to submit. I'm
delighted when I discover new writers—& Otoliths has published quite a number of first appearances; I'm
delighted when I receive submissions from people who have been around for quite
some time & probably feel more comfortable in print; I'm delighted when I
receive submissions from people working in a medium that is not their standard
medium—poets writing prose, or text poets experimenting with vispo.
heavily into publishing & promoting all forms of visual work. We don't work
in isolation, & it behoves us to be aware of what's going on in fields
beside our own, how we stand up against those fields, how that holds together.
& I claim some role for Otoliths
in the greater space that other magazines are now giving vispo.
tastes are eclectic, but, at the same time, I remain open to having them
widened. & that happens continually. I feel comfortable with everything I
publish. Much of it really excites me. I treat each piece I publish with the
care I would like any piece of mine to be treated with, don't mind spending a
day getting the formatting of a piece correct. I try not to interfere with pieces
though I have made suggestions at times.
since I get good feedback, & seem to be getting more & more submissions,
I guess that there's quite a few people out there who share at least some of my
tastes. I return to my above extrapolation from Thomas Kuhn: I think I am
succeeding in bringing things back
together again, to show the breadth & the strength of the left even if the
house has many mansions.
wonder whether I might tempt you to comment on what kinds of “next steps”
and emerging trends you foresee with the world of writing and visual poetry, as
well as any related area you might like to incorporate. We’ve spoken here
about the past, the present, and the idea of the future cannot be far behind.
The poet as futurologist. Some thoughts, non-linear.
will progress as technology expands, but not at the same speed.
is slammed into the ground.
30-second soundbite will be compressed into 30 nanoseconds. Poetry will be
reduced to trite haiku.
is dead. Long live poetry.
poets appear in the books of William Gibson. His is an alternate present that
may presently become a real future.
alternate future is presented by Samuel Delany. "Singers are people who
look at things, then go & tell people what they've seen. What makes them
Singers is their ability to make people listen. That is the most marvellous
oversimplification I can give." Time
Considered as a Helix of Semi-precious Stones.
will be reduced to being the titles of prose pieces. Poets will earn their
living by doing this. Kerouac will be cited as a precedent.
deconstruction by the author of poems written in Creative Writing classes will
become more important than the poetry. The poems will be left out of the final
submission & only the exegesis will be published. Gradually, the poems will
become redundant, will never be written.
poetry will continue to be produced, often better than the output of the mind.
Poets will contract out for books to be computer-generated in their name.
Critics will comment on the algorhythms.
is live. Long dead poetry.
creators of programs like Photoshop will drain the brains of innovative visual
poets to use in their upgrades. There will come a point when the output of the
untalented will be almost indistinguishable from that of the talented. The word
"soul" will get bandied about as a distinguishing trait.
The new visual poetry will be preprogrammed into wall panels to be used
as objects of conversation. The conversations will be brief. They will have no
soul. Visual poets will turn to painting. Their work will only appear online.
Galleries will be swallowed up into building-supply stores.
poems will become like children were in China. You'll be allowed to write only
one long poem in your life, provided it's a boy.
will pass by poetry & not drop a coin in its cup.
me again in 100 years.