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it remains sonic occultation

An interview with Will Alexander by SJ Fowler.

Any lineage one might trace to the poetry of Will Alexander could only be made up of those who defied formal influences – originators – Will Alexander is firmly in the tradition of the pioneer. More than that, more than just being original, he is authentic. And more than just being a resonate, profound, distinct voice in American poetry over the late 20th and early 21st century, his poetics are so grand, exponential, luminous and visionary, that his singular voice, unmistakable as it is, is the all the more remarkable for its rootedness. No less than expanding beyond consciousness, beyond prosaic dimensions of language and understanding, his praxis is exploration – through art, physics, botany, history, astronomy, architecture, all becomes poetry, mulch for refraction through the poet, who is made up of the endlessness of language and experience. His is a poetry ever growing through the page, through the expectations of poet and reader and on into something else, which cannot be so easily defined or described, lest it not be poetry. To celebrate his visit to the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre, Birkbeck college, London, to share his work with European audiences, we present an interview with Will Alexander.

3:AM:A profound achievement of your work I think is to make an identity purely through your language and its content in flux, rather than the positing of your own authorial presence. Many achieve the occlusion of the authorial identity, but few are able to form something that takes its place through the sheerness of their work, through the language becoming its own identity. Is this an active process in your writing?

Will Alexander: To say it succinctly language is life and life being motion what follows is the intuitive understanding that creative language cannot be plotted by contiguous, or what I would call verbal architectural planning. For me it is suffused with explosive electrical motion, wayward, encyclopedic, seismic – alive by means of seeming disorder. Which does not allow for the controlling posture of “the author”, anchored as he or she is by extrinsic classification.

3:AM:You seem to attach your poetry to certain worlds of language which seem to act as host bodies for your writing, and then permeate and define that work in a wholly symbiotic way. Do you search for subject?

WA: I am fascinated by the river which is knowledge. Everything flows, the mating cycles of sea turtles, architecture in the colonial Andes, dictatorship within the circuitry of the old Soviet Empire, palpable life in the oceans of Europa… For instance, I was sitting in my reading room one late afternoon and became fascinated by a momentary dust beam, a thin ray of light which illuminated particles of dust, dreamlike, without transition opened up a National Geographic sitting next to me, and opened to an article on Albania. The trance of the dust beam transmuted to language which symbiotically meshed with Albania and its experience with its long term dictator Enver Hoxha. Which resulted in my poem Albania & The Death of Enver Hoxha. In this sense I remain unchartable even in terms of my own recollection. One stays in a state of what I would term poetic alertness. It is, of course hearing at the level of nths, of constantly wafting like a hawk in an ozone of savour, which, when combined, with natural curiosity, the unexpected transpires.

3:AM: This process then seems to posit the poet as the receiver of language, as an externality, which is then expressed, in your case as visionary interpretation. Your work is essentially luminous, visionary and prolific, it seems quite purely an adjunct of a life practise, a spirituality of poetry, in action.

WA: Poetry is reception. For me it remains sonic occultation. This being raw aural voltage. This level is simultaneously woven with one’s basic nature and predilection, so much so, that after a time a leap takes place and one enters one’s voice. A process more easily written about than lived. In spite of natural congruence there is, paraphrasing Max Roach, hard work needs be engaged. For the poet this work is a life long learning curve, of challenges which remain obscure to the outside world, protracted sacrifice, to work when no one is watching without seeming external reward. Leiris says the poets’ payment remains the bolt of language from the blue. The condensation of sound become palpable manifestation to the ear. If one has been in search of a higher engenderment of being all these elements become simultaneous in the writing. I always make the analogy of poetic power to good wood or seasoned whisky. A durable language if you will, which, for me goes back to original embodiment of primal sound. The original right brain which elucidated the early Egyptians. Mind you, not a didactic understanding, but language as riverine electrical current, a current one finds in Lorca or Tutuola.

3:AM:You seem also to place this practice in the physiological as well as in the realm of consciousness, having spoke about the effects of breathing exercises and wilful states of meditation, on your writing. Is this accurate?

WA: There is certainly a verticality of consciousness, and because consciousness extends vertically it is inextricable from language. The Occident has been almost universally resistant in this regard. It has been a little more than a 100 years since the furor over Freud and his tenets, expertise at the time channeled through a solely diurnal consciousness. Respiration being endemic to both macro and micro levels a subconscious domain must have supra-consciousness as extension. An extension not in terms of measurement, but as experiential suffusion. A suffusion which, for the most part the Occidental consciousness perceives as pejorative fantasy, wizened as it”s been by 19th century notions of science, and the reductive tenets which continue to flourish as regards Christian suffering and guilt. In consequence, supra-consciousness is something that Aboriginals pursue, something that backwater peoples proscribe. This is a perspective I find to be absolutely perilous. It keeps consciousness static and averse to possibility. At an absolutely untenable moment the Occident has signed a treaty with impasse. With Fukushima leaking hundreds of tons of poison in to Pacific on a daily basis, there palpable non-response in the admitting of error event in the face of what many learned parties have understood as being nothing other than catastrophic. By listening at the vertical level, language for me, becomes suffused with what the Hindus understand to be sattwic energy, where not even the phonemes are divorced from this suffusion. This is how language wafts and rises and gains beauty by this wafting, which is not entrapment within the scrolls of parochial village thinking. Language then expresses another shimmering, another texture, another experience, immediately contagious to those within the rays of its transmission, not unlike holding in one’s hands the bluish ipomeas of Cesaire.

3:AM:What connection do you feel the later history of European poetry?

WA: As for European poetry, I can only mention the large continents which were Artaud, Breton, Lorca, Leiris, Dylan Thomas and Bonnefoy, which occludes more recent transmission. This occlusion being my blind spot, my distance from site specific excellence of more recent times. Being a hybrid as a result of the African holocaust, it would be less than fitting to forgo any source of poetic power from wherever it arises. Let me add to the aforementioned names the black and white work of Hayter, and the drawings, letters, and paintings of Miro.

3:AM: You are coming to read in London next month, have you shared your work outside of America often? Have this experiences been important?

WA: I’ve had poems translated into Romanian Spanish, and Italian, with critical articles appearing in French and Dutch. This is important to me in that the aforementioned contagion can transpire, allowing direct transmission to readers in other languages. Let me say this, the first poets on Earth were not authors, they could spontaneously inscribe, this is how birds and stones and air were first brought to human cognizance. There was no pressure upon language to conform to a socially constructed presence, to the niche of personal authorship.

SJ Fowler is a poet, artist, martial artist & vanguardist. He works in the modernist and avant garde traditions, across poetry, fiction, sonic art, visual art, installation and performance. He has published five books and been commissioned by the Tate, Mercy, Penned in the Margins and the London Sinfonietta. He is the poetry editor of 3:AM magazine and is the curator of the Enemies project.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, November 29th, 2013.