Tuesday, August 12, 2008

francine j. harris – her intention

why write?

Once a week, I go to an open mike here in Detroit. And on the host’s sign-up sheet, there’s that question. Column A: What’s Your Name? Column B: Why do you write poetry?

And every week, I try to come up with something clever and light, particularly since my poems – aren’t always. Like: “What else am I gonna’ do after six o’clock that won’t make me fat?” or “Someone put a gun to my pillow, I sneezed and a poem came out.” or “As a kid, I used to eat my gum.”

But ultimately, every week I have to think about it. Why do I write?

It’s like when your lover asks you: “Why do you love me?” and you have to start the list. Because you’re smart. Because my heart thumps when you walk through the door. Because you’re hot and I can’t live without your dick (you gotta’ work on ego in those moments). But ultimately – everything you say sounds awful in some way. Selfish. Sometimes it borders on cruel. Because you complete me. Because no one else gets me. Because I need you.

I’ve got secret lovers. Things like trains. Places like the ocean. Grandiose ideas like God. There’s something I only share in the presence of these spaces. I tell it to them over and over again and they don’t tell anyone. I feel that way about writing. About the poems. Sometimes I think that’s what demands poetry to exist in its metaphorical environment. There’s an ambiguity in one’s true nature, always conflict, always dual meanings, and often – a cloaking. Something not every one else should see. Poems are very much about lingering in that space for me. I am comfortable there. Every poem has a secret of mine. Since its job is to communicate, it shares, and therefore does its job. But there is a secret in it, if only just in its creation. The poem’s mystery is the way it flirts with the reader and threatens betrothal of the creator. As an artist, I just can’t help myself. I love the dance and I love the mirror.

what inspired your poem "in intention?"

dUMBA (the poem’s dedication) was a queer performing arts collective in Brooklyn. It had a long and varied history. I lived there during its final years, where it had incidentally, become comprised of folks of color. Some days it was a gallery walk. Some days it was host to out of town performing artists. Some days (or nights, to be precise) we hosted play parties.

dUMBA is the most complicated space I have ever lived in. It was highly sexual, terribly intellectual, often intoxicated, always engaged, emotionally effusive, sometimes explosive, and it was very spiritual, haunting, magical.

Coming home from our 9 to 5’s, we got into the habit of retreating into roundtable discussions at night. They generally lasted all night. Mondays were generally sober, but by Thursday, they often involved beer (just being honest here). We talked about all kinds of shit. But from these conversations, there was one in particular – about HIV and AIDS that stood out to me. There was this notion, not a theory entirely, a thought really. One of those things you say out loud just so it exists. But something you also quietly want to believe. The theory was that disease is not physical, at least not just physical. That the culprit is mental, spiritual. And that yes, the science is obvious - you come in contact with something contagious, you can catch it. But that there is something to be said, too, about faith, about intention. That there is some immeasurable quality of disease that has to do with what we believe we are susceptible too, or immune to. And we would talk about it while we were gathering boxes of condoms to pass out. And I believe – there was something to that.

Interestingly, the people I knew there survived a spectrum of treacherous physical and emotional circumstances, not related to sex, but certainly the stuff of what can either make or break you. And I always thought something about the spirit, the intention, pulled us all through.

what issues are you dealing with in your current work?

Well, I am bumping up against myself in some ways. The various elements of my writing are calling for distinction between themselves, which probably demands a historical specificity and context. This is something I really struggle with. I find it very hard to incorporate factual information into my writing. I write from the gut. The gut tells its own truth and doesn't have clunky language. So it’s going to be a challenge. Which of course is a good thing.

In the same vein, I think, I want my writing to be unafraid of its perspective. I’m not trying to write political poetry, but I do want my writing to stand on its own and for itself. I want to allow it to be itself and to have its own politic. I worry, sometimes, what people will say, from either side of the political spectrum. Ultimately, I don’t want to give a fuck. And really, that’s easier said than done.

share some of your reactions to TBLWTB.

Damn, Steven...first of all...and I don't have the book with me, so I think I've got the title right - but Death Poem... oh my God. Was brilliant. Brilliant.

As for the rest of the book - well, the lay out is gorgeous. But I just got into it this weekend, and you know - well, there's a lot of painful stuff in there. Maybe I shouldn't have started with raymond berry, I don't know.

But I had to put it down at some point. I'm gonna' have to pull my way through it. But the writing is great and I'm so happy to be a part of it.

in our last conversation you and I talked about spaces we occupy as artists.

isolated spaces are so strange. we crave them. need them. hate them. fight for them. politic for them. politic against them. we dip around the corner with our friends to get to them. we kiss inside them. we inivte others to kiss with us in opposition to them. they are healing and horrible. terrible things happen inside them. sometimes nothing can be accomplished outside of them.

now i feel like i want to write something just around that whole idea. anyway, i think that way about the spaces we occupy as artists. every time we put pen to page, we create spaces, occupy them. we put up our walls and tear down others. it's really amazing - when you think about it - that anyone has any protest about ANY space at all. as humans, we can't help but occupy them.

physical law determines segregation.

art does too. it also worships at the altar of union. its offerings for the sake of society - these jarring connections we make with our paint.

1 comment:

ScryptKeeper said...

nice nice nice ... :)

"I write from the gut. The gut tells its own truth and doesn't have clunky language."

nice. :) thanks for this!