Friday, April 05, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Philip Brady

Philip Brady’s most recent release is Phantom Signs: The Muse in Universe City His book-length poem, To Banquet with the Ethiopians: A Memoir of Life Before the Alphabet, appeared from Broadstone Books in 2015.  He is the author of a previous collection of essays, By Heart: Reflections of a Rust Belt Bard, (ForeWord Gold Medal, 2008) as well as three books of poems and a memoir. His work has been awarded the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press, the Ohioana Poetry Prize, the Ohio Governor’s Award, six Ohio Arts Council Artist Grants, and a Thayer Fellowship from New York. He has been a resident of Yaddo, Hawthonden Castle, The Headlands Center for the Arts, Fundacion Valparaiso, and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Brady has taught at the National University of Zaire, University College Cork, and Semester at Sea. Currently, he is a Distinguished Professor at Youngstown State University and Executive  Director of Etruscan Press. He also serves on the MFA faculty at Wilkes University.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book is old. Now I am.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

It began at home, like this.

“Song comes from a place, means what the place does. Flushing: noun & verb. "G" not pronounced as in Long Island nor dropped like Brooklyn.
The place: a cabinet Hi Fi. Press the last key on the right it thumps & sticks. Two racing stripes light green; the Hi Fi thrums.
The place singing comes from is the right lobe. The LP fits in the left drawer. I crouch before the dashboard, ear to scruff of speaker, and hear four electric pulse beats: buff buff buff buff.
Father's downstairs. Mother's lip curls and her foot stamps time. "Up the Rebels!" says her jutting chin.
I rock. On hands & haunches back & forth, haunch to heels & palm to rug, speed adjusted to song.
Father screams up, "Turn that noise down."
Mother screams down, "Narrowback!"
Understanding and guile share the left lobe. I understand moonshine, porter, stout, poteen; sassanach is my hissed curse; I am langers; peelers, pishogues & fenians harry & cock; I rove; I stand & deliver--fore & aft, a bloody briny daft shoneen with an eye peeled for a crubeen or a colleen, a dragoon, an omadon, a quay.
Soon I begin to understand Gaelic & ad fiason la port laragot, fa dow, fa dee, fa le god-e-lum is as clear to me as with houls ime shoos ame tows peepin troo siyin shinnymarinkadootaloffin ould jonny doo.”
                                    from “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway)”

After mastering Gaelic, I learned Latin—as second acolyte at wintery 6:00AM Mass.
Poetry came to me as utterance unmoored from consequence. From there, the self, the place, the world could be remade.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Each is different. For instance, my first book, Forged Correspondences, came out of my desire to understand my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire, without resorting to exoticism. My memoir, To Prove My Blood, came after the death of my parents, when It felt possible and incumbent to remake my history. To Banquet with the Ethiopians, a book-length poem, came after heart surgery, when I felt the need to reconceive my body in verse. My most recent book Phantom Signs, is composed of essays reflecting on the tension between sound and sign.  

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

As Kabir says, four things are needed.
Satisfying work,
ecstatic love,
mystical experience,
and deep sleep.

This applies to poems, prose, and life.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

No readings, but thousands of recitations. Usually private—walking, or in cars or planes, or on long lines or falling asleep. Sometimes other people, unaware, are present—in malls, on city sidewalks, in stadiums and offices—anywhere I am invisible. On rare occasions, there are  attentive audiences

Here’s my word on it.

And here’s someone else’s.
 I met Philip Brady on a mid-summer eve at Hawthornden Castle. I had come to this Edinburgh keep, where Ben Jonson and Dr. Johnson and Queen Victoria had slept, to hear three Hawthornden Fellows: the Israeli poet Amir Or, our own Dilys Rose, and the American Philip Brady. He is an eerie figure, this Queens bard. Near two meters tall, bawheid and bristle-chinned, he listed over the podium as if poised to incinerate the lawnchairs. His performance—if that’s what it was, for innocent of text it was no reading—seemed part liturgy, part wren-song, with a flourish of pantomime. “Rocking and chanting,” chanted Brady, “He had fed the voice and the voice had fed the utterance.” And I felt, in that smitten air, the imminence of voice and utterance.
                                                            Professor Solia Jephardt
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

“I write those poems which I have not found elsewhere, and for whose existance I feel a deep need.”
                                    --Jerome Rothenberg

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

One role would be to replaces the word “writer” with “composer.” Let language enter in, in all its wayward forms.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

This is a tough one, since I am an editor.
Kind of like my sister/my daughter in Chinatown.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
                                                            --Walt Whitman

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to memoir to essays)? What do you see as the appeal?

from “The Book I Almost Wrote” in Phantom Signs: The Muse in Universe City.

 “I have a love-hate relationship with sentences. I love the freedom and the buoyancy, the smooth texture on your skin and the way they go on and on, executing a flip turn at the margin. But, they do go on. I compose them only in daylight or lamplight, always alone. They can’t be learned by heart; they can’t breathe for long away from print. They are—or at least my sentences seem—foreign. Sentences have no darkness. They are devoid of mystery. If you think of something that might go in a sentence, you stick it in. Bent on transposing whole cartons of toxic reality on to the page, you get woozy.”

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

This gets asked a lot—on panels, in classes, in conferences. We desire to see into the very source, where the Muse touches the pen. Here’s an excerpt from an essay, “Face” from Phantom Signs.

“But watching me opening the cell into the writer’s dark is never enough, is it? You want to open it yourself. You want to violate the dark. You want to see the drafts, variorums, notebooks, letters, diaries. You want to be there. You want to insinuate yourself into the moment before nothing was written into existence. Before identity. Before anything could happen. I understand.
            I stay because I know that failing to gain access, you’ll buy. You’ll shelve a title in your library, or place it, as if casually, on your coffee table. Its gloss and blurbs and colophon and Garamond draw the eye and gratify the touch. But deep down, something’s missing. Something has been covered over. Something writers would not willingly reveal.”

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Jamesons, Frank Torre’s first baseman’s glove, Detective Brady’s crumpled Camels, Ballydehob sheep, Radio City throne velvet, the Chelsea market, Diva’s cheesecloth, the Beamish brewery, Ladinar’s unfurled canvas, Lubumbashi palm oil, a Hedwitschak bodhran, Elsa’s clavicle, Point Reyes salt spray, the sky, enduring shame, and  droplets of sweat from the stool spinning in the cellar of my untapped lust.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I am pleased and honored to have published these writers.

Kazim Ali, Nin Andrews, Jennifer Atkinson, Claire Bateman, Stephen Benz, Remica Bingham, Bruce Bond, Laurie Cannady, Scott Coffel, Brian Coughlin, August Corteau, Renee D’Aoust, Dante DeStefano, Karen Donovan, Will Dowd, Robert Eastwood, Bonnie Friedman, Peter Grandbois,Eamon Grennan, William Heyen, H.L.Hix, Patricia Horvath, Milton Kessler, David Lazar, Michael Lind, Paul Lisicky, Lynn Lurie, Roberto Manzano, James McCorkle, Bruce Mills, Robert Miltner, Carol Moldaw, Thorpe Moeckel, Mihaela Moscaliuc, Kevin Oderman, Meg Pograss, Aaron Poochigian, Paula Priamos, Sara Pritchard, Diane Raptosh, Steven Reese, J.D. Schraffenberger, Alix Anne Shaw, Jeff Talarigo, Tim Seibles,  D.M. Spitzer, Alexis Stamatis, Alex Stein, Sheryl St. Germain, Myrna Stone, Diane Thiel, Allison Titus, Spring Ulmer, Daneen Wardrop, John Wheatcroft, and Joseph Wood,

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Imitated from the Japanese (1938)

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;
(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
Seventy years have I lived
No ragged beggar man,
Seventy years have I lived,
Seventy years man and boy,
And never have I danced for joy.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Wouldn’t mind giving this another forty years.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Insufficient height, weak elevation, indifferent conditioning, lack of speed, questionable shot selection, clumsy handle, unfocused motivation, feckless coaching, proclivity to ankle sprains, and ultimate unwillingness to commit to the game of basketball, or any other life endeavor, except poetry.  

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Milkman  by Anna Burns (the audible version featuring Brid Brennan).

20 - What are you currently working on?

The Elsewhere: Selected Poems & Poetics, forthcoming from Broadstone Books, 2020.

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