Thursday, September 10, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carlos Lara

Carlos Lara [image credit: Melissa Lara] is the author of The Green Record (Apostrophe, 2018) and Like Bismuth When I Enter (Nightboat, 2020), and he also co-authored The Audiographic As Data (Oyster Moon, 2016) with Will Alexander. His translation of Blanca Varela’s Rough Song [Canto villano] is forthcoming from The Song Cave. Find him at

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a collaboration with Will Alexander called The Audiographic As Data, which now I consider more of a gesture or performance. It comprises aural movements and assemblages which, predictably, stand in opposition to the sort of subjective-narrative and theory-laden work that pervades poetry today. When Will and I finished that piece, I realized, at age 29, that the generative facility of my imagination had already surpassed that of the French Surrealists, even in their prime. Take a copy of TAAD and compare it directly to something like Les Champs magnétiques or L'Immaculée conception. We outdid them, glaringly and as it should be. This book was my introduction to true freedom. Now we’re in uncharted waters. No material.

Simple audition had taken us to a unstructured un-state of fluid persona, or voice, if you will. And not an inattentiveness of audition, as presupposed by the allowance of unconscious effort on the part of the original Surrealists, but the precision of what I’ll call “audiomorphosis” (concentration required) and imaginative pliability (looseness of diction/dictation (“dictation” because one should be listening and transcribing) as it guides semantics) stemming from the amorphousness of sound. Hence the “audiographic” in the title. I don’t know how else to say this. No material.

“Data” is the fact of sound and image perpetually coming into new being directly from the separateness of the old. From the amalgamation of sensory experiences. “Data” is the thingness that does not exist for and in itself, but the reality of synthesis, the questionable area where the entirety of the human experience is actually occurring. No material.

Everything I write will always be in tandem with TAAD: aurally, imagistically, electrically, chemically, anatomically, heretically, hermetically, vertiginously, and so on and so forth. Nothing feels different, unless I want it to feel different. I think choosing to see differences in these bodies of work implies an assumption that I refuse to embrace. That the reader only sees continuity in categories, in marking off time with observation. I don’t see it that way. I believe, and I think I’ve seen in both my most ecstatic and most desperate moments of being, that it’s all happening at once. No material.

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

I came to poetry out of desire. Is there any other way to do it? A desire for, what, disaster? For the otherworldly, for life, for multiple lives, for dépaysement et merveilleux? No material?

I do this because human imagination is generally stunted. I do this because I was and am dissatisfied with expression. I could never find the language to describe my experience of the mind, of which the uncanniness is nothing novel, nothing special to me alone. Simply: how am I alive, as opposed to why am I alive. And this dissatisfaction with the quotidian entails an abuse of language, and poetry provides that. You know, language needs an accelerant. It needs haze. It needs fraudulence. It needs menace. It needs inconvenience. It needs shock. It needs to be dumbed up. You can’t build a society of consciously dynamic beings on pleasantries and not expect it to roil beneath the surface and eventually erupt. Basically, I’m trying to stray as far from innocuity as possible when I write. And when you realize that no one can write what you can write, it gives you hope. Hope for what? A name? All of my writing together is my real name. I just realized that. No material.

I grew weary of poets using the same grammatical and narrative structures to convey similar images and ideas. I have only tried to push my imaginative faculties as close as I can to the point of non-sense without sacrificing the feeling of human turmoil (external circumstances) behind the poetic compulsion. The work arises largely out of an obsession with the unseen and unseeable. Language always has been a dream/reality synthesis, and that’s what I’m interested in. The purely creative aspect of the purely creative aspect of language. Not an expression of individual trauma, but a collective surge of new imagery and mind state and structural undoing. No material.

The poetic act was never really a choice. I did it, and I didn’t stop. No matter what happened. Poetry is an art for artists, an abstract violence to art. The poem should cannibalize the very thought of art. You don’t need any technical mastery to write poetry. You don’t even need a medium. No material.

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?

I am the writing project. Whatever I am. I move at my own pace. I don’t know when I began, and I don’t know when I’ll end. Isn’t that really the only point? I say what needs to be said, and I don’t edit. Perhaps you can tell. No material.

4 - Where does a poem 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?

I repeat: I am the writing project. Whatever I am. I move at my own speed. I don’t know when I began, and I don’t know when I will end. I say what needs to be said, and I do not edit. Perhaps you can’t tell. No material.

But I acquiesce to turning the work into books, who knows why. Because I want to see my name on the cover? I make certain sacrifices to the void, and one of them is allowing my work to be published in discrete volumes, with my name on them, I suppose. No material.

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

I give a public reading every time I open my mouth. I have no choice in the matter. I have no feeling in the matter. No material.

I can either choose to do a reading or choose not to do a reading. It makes no difference. No material.

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?

It’s very simple: I just want to be silent eventually. But I can only do that after everything has been said. “Silent disappearance” is the prophecy of prophecies. I claim it. No material.

I’m not trying to answer questions. Who does that? No material.

Ok, current questions, um: Linguistic power? Is the sun fake? What does the world see in me? The surface of passion? Bourgeois estrangement? Emotional magnetism? Don’t talk to me? Veneration and revilement? Refusal of art? Disappearance? Silence? Faceless silence? The memory of my limits ceasing to exist? Cinematic impossibility? New York poets are the worst? American poetry is boring? Thinking is boring? Being is boring? Boredom? No material?

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?

The current role of the writer is to be a symbol for almost everything except for actual literature, except for their actual work. Poets can’t just be poets. “We” won’t allow it. So the role of the writer should be to be a poet, over anything. No material.

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

My work doesn’t lend itself easily to “editing.” This has been a blessing and not at all a curse. There’s nothing more annoying than hearing other people suggest “changes” to what I know is raw eternal substance, persistent and perfect in its Becoming. No material.

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

There are two pieces, actually:

“You can write whatever you want.” - Will Alexander

“Just don’t be boring.” - Stephen Rodefer

And a third for good measure:

“No material.” - Me

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

When I was a kid, I used to have this poster of Bo Jackson on the wall in my room. In the picture, he was standing in front of a gym locker, and on one side he had all of his Raiders football gear and on the other side was his KC Royals baseball equipment. There was this huge Nike campaign for Bo in the late eighties, and the motto was “Bo knows.” It exaggerated the fact that Bo was a dual-sport athlete. According to this marketing campaign, Bo knew how to do everything, even surf and play the blues and such. All because he was a good athlete. I relished how preposterous the whole thing was. To be good at everything. To know everything. For Bo, athleticism was pure energy. He could apply it to any number of things. He could run up an outfield wall, vertically, or he could flatten the toughest linebacker in the NFL (Brian Bosworth). So I think about the athleticism of writing and how that relates to the extremities of language. It’s like, you choose to see all these genres if you want, I’m just going to be the lyrical athlete that I am and perform regardless of the parameters. I can do anything because I have the skills and the audacity. So in thinking about translation, it’s wholly another type of writing, but it’s also just another chance to show off my energy, my electricity, in general, but with the specific task of translation. I can write my way, but I can also write Eluard’s way, or Varela’s way, because I earned the dexterity. No material.

And that is the only time I will ever mention sports in an interview. I feel like Bo Jackson when I translate. Quote me on that. No material.

But, listen, translation can also be this profound, epiphanic meditative practice. I often feel myself approaching a state of internal alterity when I translate, which sounds (besides pretentious) like a narrowing distinction of Being (being oneself thinking that one is being other), yet there’s also something oceanic about it, something dispersive. It’s not about what I want. It has nothing to do with me, much as my “own” writing has nothing to do with “me.” That the “other” is not the original writer but a simple and sole “voice”... No material.

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?

I don’t have a routine. I am constantly churning out line after line, all day. It never stops. It goes on in the background while I’m doing any number of banal things. I mean, I estimate that I lose around 90% of my material to nothingness, emptiness, silence, by NOT writing it down. I’ll say a line in my head and then let myself forget it. But that’s how I practice peace and love. No material.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Listen, the world wears away and returns as neon rain in a transparent bandana. My writing never gets stalled; I build imaginary worlds. No material.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Home. I don’t know. Next question. No material.

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?

You know, my work is wholly apart from this world. It uses the elements of this world, but it isn’t influenced by it. This work is from the source of human exuberance itself. My work is the poetry of poetry. See question 2. No material.

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

James Merrill, Will Alexander, Robert Frost, Michael Keenan, Emily Dickinson, John Duvernoy, R.L. Stine, Blanca Varela, Du Fu, Kool Keith, William Minor, Clark Coolidge, Maya Angelou, Philip Lamantia, Norma Cole, William McGonagall, Rod Smith, Leslie Scalapino, pablo lopez, Amelia Rosselli, Purdey Lord Kreiden, Judy Blume, Wallace Stevens, Devin the Dude, Basho, Aime Cesaire, Stephen King, Jack Spicer, Billy Collins, Robert Desnos, Del the Funky Homosapien, Billy Collins, Tristan Tzara, Billy Collins, Clarice Lispector, Billy Collins, Jean Baudrillard, Billy Collins, Stephen Yenser, Cesar Vallejo, Robert Frost, wint (@dril), Tony Hinchcliffe, Franz Wright, Billy Collins, Paulo Leminski, Lou Bega, Mary Oliver, Michael Lehrer, Mary Oliver, Reynaldo Jimenez, Mary Oliver, Kool A.D., Edna St. Vincent Millay, Vicente Huidobro, Dr. Seuss, Frank Stanford, Marcus Aurelius, Henri Michaux, Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, Count von Count, Leonora Carrington, Theodore Roethke, The Brothers Grimm, Michael Gizzi, and the list goes on… No material.

Writers who will never influence me and who are unimportant to me: William Carlos Williams. No material.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Win the lotto. No material.

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?

Magician. Professional poker player. Stock broker. Stand-up comedian. Politician. Toy inventor. Cup. Sacrificial lamb. Klondike Bar. Scribbled color. Manchuria. Snoopy. Ectoplasm. Trakl. Farm-to-table. Tornado. Prophet. Labradorite. Osprey. Any number of things. I don’t know. But I know everything. No material.

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

I write and do plenty else. I don’t see writing as mutually exclusive with any activity. I write even when I’m not writing. And everything I will write is already written. So, I don’t worry about writing, meaning: I don’t allow the idea of “having to write” occupy too much of my consciousness. I don’t even tell people (who don’t already know) that I write poetry because I don’t want to give myself an excuse to be anything other than what I want to be at all times and for the simple fact that that’s what I want in the moment. Freedom is primary. Creativity and non-boredom are primary. “Fun” is primary. Love is primary. Intoxication is primary. Exaggeration is primary. Incitement is primary. Deceit is primary. Disgust is primary. Devotion is primary. Gluttony is primary. Anger is primary. Suffering is primary. Suffering is primary. Peace is primary. No material.

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

The last great book I read was Like Bismuth When I Enter because I read it every night—to make sure it’s still perfect. No material.

The last great narrative film that comes to mind is Embrace of the Serpent. No material.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a novella called In the Graphic Mists of the Infinite Wound Spreading (excerpt forthcoming in Lana Turner #13). I expect that piece to never see the light of day once it’s finished. No one is going to publish it. Too far ahead of its time. I am also writing a book-length poem called The Adverse Keys (inspired by this jazz album of Cecil Taylor doing Alicia Keys covers), a translation of Eluard’s Immediate Life (if you speak French and want to proofread, contact me), and a translation of Losarc Raal’s From the Molten Grocery Bags (some of the most exciting experimental work to ever come out of Bulgaria). Lastly, I work daily on maintaining compassion, at all times and for all beings. No material.

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