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Douglas Messerli

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Douglas Messerli
Series No.: 218
ISBN: 978-1-55713-447-9, Pages: 102
American Literature, Poetry

Over the years, Messerli has developed a kind of collage technique wherein he “writes through,” as he describes it, the poetry of others. His poems are neither imitations of others’ works, nor invocations of their art, but might be described as a kind of “assisted reading” and a personal associative response.

What happens in this “writing through” pieces is that my own poetry, highly disjunctive and following its own associative course, interweaves word pairings and bits of lines from others, weaving and unweaving their originals, creating, like Odysseus’ Penelope, through a bit a chicanery, an attempt to delay a parting and to keep by me the deep relationships I have with these artists.

Perhaps only in Stay, ultimately a command to keep death at bay, did Messerli truly realize just how important his readings of other poets were to sustaining his own life. His poems pay homage to, among others, Cole Swensen, Inger Christensen, David Bromige, Djuna Barnes, David Kinloch, Hugo Claus, Reina María Rodriguez, Meredith Quartermain, Dennis Phillips, Louis Zukofsky, Carlos Drumond de Andrade, Sarah Law, Can Xue, Christopher Middelton, Joe Ross, Adriano Spatola, John Wieners, Michael Lentz, Paul Vangelisti, Clarence Major, Arseny Tarkovsky, Bernadette Mayer, Rosmarie Waldrop, Standard Schaefer, Jack Spicer, Martin Nakell, Thérèse Bachand, Susan Howe, Ted Greenwald, and Néstor Perlongher.

In addition to writing poetry, Messerli has published 11 volumes of his My Year cultural memoirs, and edited numerous volumes for his Green Integer press. He was named an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Also by Douglas Messerli:
After [Sun & Moon], $9.95
Bow Down, $9.95
Dark, $9.95
Dinner on the Lawn [Sun & Moon], $14.95
First Words, $9.95
Maxims from My Mother's Milk / Hymns to Him: A Dialogue [Sun & Moon], Out of Stock
Maxims from My Mother's Milk / Hymns to Him: A Dialogue (hardcover) [Sun & Moon], $19.95
My Year 2000: Leaving Something Behind, $17.95
My Year 2001: Keeping History a Secret, $17.95
My Year 2002: Love, Death, and Transfiguration, $9.95
My Year 2003: Voice Without a Voice, $9.95
My Year 2004: Under Our Skin, $9.95
My Year 2005: Terrifying Times, $9.95
My Year 2006: Serving, $9.95
My Year 2007: To the Dogs, $9.95
My Year 2008: In the Gap, $9.95
My Year 2009: Facing the Heat, $9.95
My Year 2010: Shadows, $9.95
My Year 2011: No One's Home , $9.95
My Year 2012: Centers Collapse, $17.95
My Year 2013: Murderers and Angels, $17.95
On Marriage: The Imagination of Being, $9.95
Reading Films: My International Cinema, Digital Only
River to Rivet: A Manifesto [Sun & Moon], $14.95
Silence All Round Marked: An Historical Play in Hysteria Writ [Sun & Moon], $9.95
Some Distance, Out of Stock
The Walls Come True: An Opera for Spoken Voices (The Structure of Destruction, Part II) [Sun & Moon], $14.95

Book Review(s)

JACKET2, July 19, 2022

by Martin Nakell

"A Space of Poetry: An Interview with Douglas Messerli"

Martin Nakell: Your language emerges from the situation (place, person, philosophy, poetics theory) it encounters. I say “emerges from” as opposed to “put upon” because there’s a big difference. You write from within the poem as it explores its arena – rather than from outside the poem, imposing some pre-conceived idea it must follow. This leads me to several questions. The first of which: would it be fair to say we can read this work as impressionistic, impressionist poetics, that is, rather than struggling to put it together logically, absorbing it as a whole – made of melopoeia, phanopoeia, et alia, and from that impression, to let meaning accrue?

Douglas Messerli: You’re absolutely correct when you suggest that my poetry emerges from the poem and is not put upon it or placed into it as if it were a vessel waiting for my wise words.

I have never written a poem knowing what I might express or even desired to express beforehand. And all my poetry (and incidentally my fiction and even my prose) has been something constructed as I move through the space of language, with no preconceived notion of where I was going or what I might be intending to express. I understand what it means only through the process of writing and the final result.

And yes, the tools I use to construct that include sound, song, repetition, and all the devices of poetics including rhyme, alliteration, homonyms, puns, association, and sometimes just plain gibberish (although very carefully controlled), as well as maxims, old wives’ tales, false epigrams, or subconscious association. And in that sense it is fairly impressionistic. Stéphane Mallarmé the impressionist, not the symbolist, has always been one of my favorite poets. And, of course, Gertrude Stein, who uses most of these tactics is my god and goddess.

But then, I am also a Midwesterner, and plain talk is one of my constant goals, something which as a fellow-Midwesterner you might understand. And in that sense William Carlos Williams is extremely important to me. Of course my plain talk, Stein’s or even Williams’ doesn’t always sound like the plain talk that gets spoken among friends or business associates. It is the kind of plain talk that one speaks to oneself or one’s lover, a kind of coded message that appears as one is attempting to say something he or she hasn’t yet truly thought that carefully about. I would say that my poetry is an attempt, just as are my prose essays, to explain to myself what I mean or am thinking about, generally after seeing or reading a work by someone else.

So accordingly the community of poets is extremely important to me and my work. While many people, including myself, use dictionaries and thesauruses to help them along, I also use the poetry of other poets, diving into their language to steal a word or two or three, a half a line and then returning to my own next phrase before diving in once more to find the right words to move me along in my thoughts. So yes, even the writing is a process of accretion. A poem ceases only when it has accrued enough meaning for me to feel I’ve expressed what I didn’t know that I had to say, but now have begun to comprehend or have completed saying.

At poem’s end the work is filled with rather coherent meaning, and I can tell you about that, even write a prose essay to explain it. That doesn’t mean I might not explain it completely differently on another day, or that others might not see very different aspects of that expression. It can mean many things to many different people, but it doesn’t, I assure you, mean anything that anyone wants to say it does. There are definite limits to what I believe I have expressed. But then it appears that few readers can read the work as easily as I do by poem’s end.

That has something to do with the fact that I appear to have a natural ability to narrativize anything. If you gave me three poems by three different poets, I am certain I could write an essay logically linking the three works. My brain simply functions in a manner that no matter how chaotic something appears I cannot help but to make meaning of it. That is not say that the meaning of each thing is equally significant or rich or brilliant, but I can provide a logical sense of significance out of almost any written sentence or group of sentences and phrases. My brain is just hard-wired that way. When many people ask what? I say “this” or “that.” And generally can compare it to another such this or that.

Accordingly, I do try to help my readers in exploring the meaning in the poems I have created, and I rewrite several times until, without losing the wonderment of the search, I have pointed more clearly to the meanings I previously discovered. In short, I’m not trying to be difficult, obscure, or arcane just for its own sake. I am attempting to communicate. An impression is fine but I would hope the reader searches further to discover something close to the meaning I discovered in the process of writing.

And finally, I should add, if I don’t understand a poem I write by the time I’ve finished writing and reworking it, I throw it away.... READ MORE

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