The Colorado Poet, #23, Summer 2013
Inside this Issue:
Interview: Jack Collom
Second Nature, (Instance Press, 2012)
Editor’s note: Jack Collom responded in writing to written questions. This abbreviated the interview somewhat and I’ve added two passages from other interviews (in Second Nature) that follow this interview with Jack.
Bob King: Jack, your book, Second Nature, contains an amazing variety of “forms”--from sonnets to lunes to acrostics to free verse as well as prose essays and portions of interviews, all in the service of your ideas on nature, the poetry of ecology and, for that matter, the ecology of poetry. Let’s start with the forms. You say, in “An Ecosystem of Writing Ideas,” “Some might argue that we should master one or two forms (styles, genres), but I believe that generally in creative writing…the more variety you undertake, the more mastery you achieve.” What drew you to this “variety” in writing?
Partly, living into my ‘80s drew me to variety. One loses normal context—and thus gets to replace it with new stuff.
Jack Collom: Partly, living into my ‘80s drew me to variety. One loses normal context—and thus gets to replace it with new stuff. But also, 10001 cultural developments have led me down the “multiple-truths” path(s). Who deconstructs the deconstructor? Uncertainty Theory makes us all rich.
BK: And it’s not just a matter of different forms—you use different diction and tones as well. Just to give readers a sample, here’s a spring lune (or “American haiku” as it’s sometimes called): “Hey whatta surprise! / Dead-looking sticks burst out with / glorious green stuff!” And then this from a passage in “Spring’s First Day Ode: “A cardinal, / crested and lipstick / red, whipcracks dusty tail / through myriad uccello midget emerald bulbs and / flames out in rigid labyrinths.” And you can also execute a strict iambic pentameter sonnet, one ending with “There is no factual gap / Between complexities. The sonnet’s long, / But physics flashes in the finch’s song.” How do you deal with, or find, or master, these different levels of diction and approach?
JC: As an old nature-boy, variety is just plain real.
BK: You’re also famous as a teacher of children writing poetry along with others, like Koch, connected to the Teachers & Writer’s Collaborative in New York. In one essay you list a number of ‘forms’ or ‘starts’ that children and students can use, including bumper-stickers, captured talk, concrete poetry, I Remembers, lists, questions-without-answers, talking-with-animals, and the like. Did some of your ideas about poetry come from working with children and students? How did those experiences with children affect you as a poet?
JC: Yes, my writing has been enriched by working with kids. A combination of the basic energy of the syllable and not paying too much limited attention to unified thought systems & their referential aca-wacka.
BK: Let’s get to ecology. You've done a lot of thinking on writing “about” nature, and the problem that preposition can present. You propose “that language should consider resembling nature.” And that, although “there are many ways of reflecting or suggesting in writing the energies and shapes of nature,” part of your own way as been to be playful with language. Can you give us a capsule overview of the way you view nature and writing in your own work? And what does “relativity” have to do with both?
I believe the prime energy of Evolution is the random or semi-random mutational surprise (rather than survival logic). Nature is, as Snyder says, “everything in the universe,” and language’s an overlap of that..
JC: I believe the prime energy of Evolution is the random or semi-random mutational surprise (rather than survival logic). Nature is, as Snyder says, “everything in the universe,” and language’s an overlap of that. Relativity’s just the road to variety. Play is natural, given that. (Note: and then when one writes a sonnet, one includes the opposite of freedom—for a more complete freedom.
BK: There are thirteen sections in Second Nature, both prose and poetry as I’ve said, and you’ve included both old and recent work. How much of a job was it to assemble this book? What was your guiding principle?
JC: Prose, poetry. Old, recent. I had a lot of help getting the ms. published from 4 friends who are notable progressive eco-poets. My guiding principle was
BK: The breadth (and, at 218 pages, the length) of this book suggests it’s a final statement of your work and thought. And yet on the final page you have a handwritten phrase “to be continued.” Do you mean by yourself or others or both?
JC: “To be continued” because, fervently, why not? Open invitation.
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Interview question from Second Nature:
Response to a Question by Charles Bernstein: “What context, if any, do you see your work as part of?”
JC: Context’s such a great idea lately, I partly resist it.
As a late-middle-aged eccentric in the lower half of native economics, poeting about, every time I blink I open up to a different context. Part of it’s just the li’l old cornfields way back home, as ‘twere. Another paradigm is, if light bends so can I.
Within this range, boyhood was only latently poetic. Nature was the biggie. I didn’t write, I walked. Thought adults humans amazing but BS. I tried to talk true, in blue-&-white.
20C life American life with all its dark pettiness, greed, lies and a terrific second-nature charm I discover to be more personal substance than context. Context, maybe, is what you will, or won’t: a habit.
Sure, context is everything, but to think like that’s epicenter ecology. Poetry is, to anagram it, per toy, the little patch of rug where you’re the boss.
For one thing, context has gotten more multiple. Cloud-cover, as Mexican divers say about the upper few feet of water. The Fact gets more respect the oftener it sneaks out the back door.
New science has cut away dignified, solemn walls & left us with—a field of play.
New science has cut away dignified, solemn walls & left us with—a field of play. Poems as verbal otter-slides, serious as a leaf, light as a planet.
Now we can leap from micro to macro & back, zigzagging like Eliza on the ice-cakes…
I loved Oz, Spike Jones, Ernest Thompson Seton and, later, Allen’s Anthology [Donald Allen, New American Poetry 1945-1960, Grove Press, 1960]. My context is a 60’s fade. A post-Puritan cradle. Or, it’s asocial farting. Discomfort disguised as mortality.
It’s the light on the linoleum. Which leads me back to the Balance of Nature. I “work” in a context, seen through my own silly human lens, that’s being savagely altered by my own tribe.
It’s just a song. An available job.
Moral & beautiful.
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A question from Suzanne Du Lany:
“Suzanne asked a question about older nature writing “idealizing nature as an Eden:”
JC: Yes, part of it was that, and part of it was using nature as a sort of movie screen to flash our own psychological al problems on. Dating back to the Greeks, you had plays where actor were running around with animal heads, but they weren’t being animals so much as animal figures embodying aspects of humanity that they wanted to play with. That's what Mickey Mouse is, of course, a funny way of looking at ourselves. The whole history of nature writing has been riddle with anthropomorphism.
And the images of nature we tend to hold have been full of contradictions; Eden is full of contradictions in itself: Wisdom is gained through disobedience at severe cost. Another way to “innocence vs. evil” is “stupidity vs. revelation.” What’s God doing curing a serpent? Is nature the scent of a wild rose or is it death and disease? Is it inside or outside? And with that question it’s moved from 2-D to multiple-D.
If light bends, so can I.