Innate Nebraskan Jeff Downey, whose poems once appeared in Thermos, edited and introduced this week’s poets who’re associated with sp ce, the Lincoln, NE, gallery/reading space/beer palace. Here he’s interviewing two of them, Paul Clark and Kyle Crawford, re: poetry, destruction, community, and Georg Trakl.
JD: The first time I met with you guys to talk about poems you were calling yourselves simply “Writers’ Group” and convening mostly in basements. That setting, its punk feel, seemed important then. (I remember vividly the reading you hosted in an unfinished basement that ended with everyone smashing old electronics into the wall.) How do you see sp ce gallery as an extension or departure from that place and time?
PC: Well, we still call writer’s group “Writer’s Group.” The room we convene in currently is smaller and shittier than almost any of the places we have convened in regularly in the past. Things have been destroyed in sp ce, I count a bookshelf and a laptop as casualties to the studio. Oh ya, and a gigantic fluorescent light that I personally smashed in a drunken rampage. As far as talking about poems goes, we still do that a lot, too.
KC: “Punk” is an interesting term to use here. I think that one could certainly look at what we were doing and consider some of the elements therein “punk,” but I don’t necessarily think we ever set out to be perceived that way. Punk insofar as DIY and a general disregard or indifference toward anyone who didn’t “get” what we were doing, or those who may have seen it as illegitimate. I do, however, think it’s important to note that no one outside of our “friends” really knew what the hell was going on in the first place. It wasn’t as if we set out to create something for any sort of recognition, we just wanted to do something outside of the academic setting. So we did. Meeting in basements and giving readings in basements was simply the result of availability of a space that wouldn’t annoy any of our roommates. It was an excuse for us to be overtly supportive of each other and drink booze and to be merry.
The initial “readings,” as I guess we’re calling them for the sake of this discussion, were house parties with poetry going on in the basement. They were thrown together sort of last minute as I recall, and Dan (whose house we were having the party at) had a really dank, shitty basement filled with junk he didn’t care about. I think he saw destruction as an added incentive for people to show up. It certainly worked. I didn’t really take part in destroying things, I think I may have thrown a record at the wall, but who wouldn’t? There was a sense of attention within those early readings, though. Most people did actually pay attention to the work being read. Everyone was drunk and slightly intrigued to understand what the hell was going on. It wasn’t stuffy. It wasn’t academic. It was fun, and people saw that and came back time after time.
sp ce came about because I thought we could do something at least as interesting as whatever else was taking place in the community artistically at that time. Part of me probably wanted some sort of validation or legitimacy for my friends and their work. Hosting readings in basements only goes so far, and only reaches so many people. I was definitely curious to see what a more public reaction would be. The readings have certainly tamed over the years, but the vibe entered a new kind of seriousness once sp ce began. At least for me. But honestly, I’m not really sure if meeting in and giving readings in sp ce legitimized what we were doing within the community. It made me feel good about what we were doing only because we were still having fun and we had a consistent venue to promote things we supported and enjoyed. It also gave us the opportunity to branch out into other art forms and establish a wider sense of community with people who were sort of on the outside looking in because they weren’t necessarily into writing poems.
JD: What have you been working on lately, individually and at sp ce gallery?
PC: At sp ce I recently moved the purple couch. Justin described the new layout as “ZEN AS FUCK.” I’ve also been sweeping the floor more when I’m there. As far as things that matter go, we try to scrape together some art, some music, and some poetry every First Friday. Credit goes completely to Justin for that, although I have lined up some readers. We also have Writer’s Group up there twice a month, and that is going pretty well.
As for me, for a long time I rarely wrote poems with titles. In the past year titles have become dominant. I’m just going to list a bunch of titles I’m infatuated with: KIDNEY LUST, VAST AS FUCK, WILL YOU WRITE ABOUT THE WHEEL?, I LOVE TREES & I LOVE SCIENCE, A PEEBLE FACIFIST, YOU’LL BE DEAD IN A DAY, YOU ARE MORAL AND I LIKE THAT, I LIKE IT IN THE CRAFT WHEN SHE SAYS “WE ARE THE WEIRDOS, MISTER.”, SOMBERTOWN, FLORIST OF THE YEAR, FERROZARA, EYE SOCKET, I WISH I HAD A MONTH, DO YOU WORK FOR THE C.I.A.?
KC: I moved to Boise, Idaho for graduate school in August of 2010. I gave my key to sp ce to Justin or Paul and headed West with the hope they would continue working toward whatever they wanted to work toward. I am fully supportive of what they’re doing, and think they’re staying as true as they can to whatever it is they believe in at this point. I don’t really have much, if any, input on what goes on in sp ce these days, but I definitely miss having the opportunity to be a part of something with my best friends.
As I said, I moved to Boise to start my MFA in poetry in August of 2010. Since moving here, I’ve been working on poems poems poems (surprise!). At this point I’m trying to establish some sort of poetic identity for the poems themselves. I get the sense that my poems are very closed off to the world in relation to their available access for a reader. We’ll call them closed shells. I’ve really started identifying myself more and more with poets who operated in this mode. Georg Trakl specifically. Rainer Maria Rilke said of Trakl,
“In the meantime I have received ‘Sebastian in a Dream’ and have dipped into it a lot: deeply moved, marveling, divining and perplexed; for one quickly understands that the conditions of this swelling and fading of music were irretrievably singular, like the circumstances from which a dream might arise. I can imagine that even someone close to him experiences these commanding views and insights as if pressed to panes of glass, as one excluded: for Trakl’s experience moves as if in mirror images and fills his entire world, which no one can set foot in, like the space in a mirror. (Who can he have been?)”
Intriguing for sure, but I also find this mode to be somewhat frustrating and limiting. I recently read an essay by Robert Duncan called, “The Self in Postmodern Poetry,” where he articulates his process in a way that I would, humbly, try to describe my own:
“I work with what is the matter with this life in an alchemical operation seeking not the overthrow of the matter–though increasingly the theme of letting it all go comes into the works–but the transvaluation of that matter. I read and write, gathering darkness, I would say, deepening the rift. Here, this matter of self must be seen not as undergoing change–the word itself is in question. But I work only in question; mine is a questionable work.”
Establishing an identity for a poem has been very difficult for me at this point. I’m trying to experiment with different approaches, reading poets who I haven’t necessarily identified with as much, Mayakovsky, for instance, writes poems very differently than I do. Along with Trakl, his work is very important to me at this point in my life. Separating myself or my Self from the poem’s Self has been a struggle, and I would assume will always be one for me. I think it’s important for poets to remember Duncan’s position where he said, “The poem, not the poet, seeks to be immortal and must go deep enough into its mortality to come to that edge.”