Thursday, June 8, 2017

OR FELL AND FELL AND FELL/THROUGH THE HEAVENS: A CONVERSATION WITH KLIPSCHUTZ ABOUT “A VISIT TO THE RANCH AND OTHER POEMS” (Last Word Press: Olympia, WA, 2015)






 

I had intended to speak with Klipschutz about A Visit to the Ranch some time ago, but things got in the way and I found myself able to perform only the smallest exertions in order to live. So, instead, I spent time undergoing treatment, falling into debt, and eventually managing to recover enough to engage in the following conversation. The book was published in late 2015 but still carries great currency. 



J:  My first impression is how deeply rooted these poems are in the people and places of the Pacific Northwest. What encouraged you to write in this special way?



KLIP:  The book started as a sheaf of 10 poems centering on Charles Potts, a mentor of mine who has lived in the Bora Bora of the Northwest, Walla Walla, WA, for many years. Charles wears a lot of hats—both literally and figuratively. After several other careers, he is now a horse rancher. As well, he is a king hell poet and a publisher. Wearing the latter hat, he published my 2002 book Twilight of the Male Ego, which gave me what self-respect I have as poet. It speaks for itself that Charles and Walla Walla inspired 10 poems, prompted by four visits to Walla Walla and spanning 12 years.

Then I started to notice other poems in my “uncollected” binder set in the Northwest, from those trips and others. A year and one more trip north (and to Walla Walla) later, the manuscript was starting to get there. A few poems set in San Francisco—where I am between trips—found their way in. The next year was devoted to revision, after which I tortured my publisher with last minute changes and additions.



J:  Looking at this collection within the context of what has happened to the country since it was published, it was hard not to read some of the poems as containing premonitions, an early articulation of how many people feel themselves no longer to have roles to play in the American Dream. 



KLIP:  You may be thinking of “Triolet for a New American Century,” and the air of disenfranchisement that seems to find its way into much of my work. Though I’m not sure I predicted anything. This train’s been coming at us through the tunnel for several whiles. Overall, my poems tend to be, at root, arguments with myself—at times refracted through characters and narrators. You know the guys who win arguments in the shower? I lose them! And build poems from the fallout. 



J:  Let me draw attention to “I Visit Doug Spangle in Portland.” Which is a direct, straightforwardly composed poem. The language is simple, the lines follow the patterns of speech. Near the end are these lines, with the sound of such heartbreaking truth: 



She has five children
by five husbands
five siblings &
a hundred-year-old mom
every one of whom
depends on her 



And which concludes: 



I wake to sleep upstairs
in Doug’s library
till morning when
we’ll walk Mt. Tabor again. 



So much is going on in this poem, so much is suggested rather than stated. That women are the ones who work to save broken families, either literally or metaphorically, is a truth that tends to be overlooked. Men disappoint women far too often. The poem is allusive, reminding me of James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island” and calling to mind Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking.” Finally, the poem concludes with a suggestion of transcendence, and the means to achieve it, the walk up the mountain. 



KLIP:  Is there a question there? There doesn’t need to be! To be mentioned in the same context as Wright and Roethke is a fantasy of mine. It’s not true but I’ll take it. The title of that one comes from my Frank O’Hara fixation. The woman in the stanza you quote is my friend Christine. She is married to Doug and deserves far more than one stanza in a poem by me for all she does. She gave me grief for getting some of the facts wrong. I think I threw in “five” one too many times. What she didn’t realize was my forward-thinking modus operandi: I was using alternative facts!



J:  Above, you mention poet, editor, publisher Charles Potts, whose presence is evident throughout, including in the final, title poem. His independent political streak is celebrated in “The View From Mt. Forgotten” and the inspired homage “Pieces of the Poet, Horseman at Seventy.” What effect has he had on your writing life?



KLIP:  When I met Charles I was over 40, and he was in his early 50’s, which I note because my course, such as it is, was already set by then, bad habits and all. And as I say in a brief introduction to Visit, our literary tastes both overlap and diverge. His effect on my outlook, though, is major. He is an example of how to build a family and working life that allows you to both write and promote other writers. None of it has been wasted on me, even if I’ll have to wait till my next life to put any of that wisdom into action.



J:  I’ve been reading a great deal of Wallace Stevens lately. There’s much to admire in Stevens, particularly in an age when many poems that are published could be (perhaps, in the best examples) just as well presented in prose paragraphs. That is, poetry has lost much of its music because poets no longer read widely from the tradition of English poetry. They read peers, but no one else. I go on because it seems to me Stevens would be a fine addition to the education of a young poet. For Stevens, more than any other Modernist, had a wonderful ear for the metered line. A Visit to the Ranch has some poems that call him to mind, in particular his practice of composing often longer poems out of discrete sections, which are then numbered and placed in
sequence. (A detail I enjoy in these assembled poems is his use of Roman numerals.) “The Chocolate Exhibition” is one such poem, which begins: 



Wall plaques, photographs, back-bending implements, 
pods with seeds and captions under glass,
 a replica cacao tree (please touch).  



Another example is “Charon Takes a Busman’s Holiday” where these lines occur: 



Leaves dance. A steady mist
coating salted townships in a plastic pocket map.
Name and number on the backrest of a bench, for revenue.
 
[Editor's note:  The lineation above is not correct. For some reason I am unable to present the lines from both stanzas as they appear in the book: both stanzas should be three lines.]





KLIP:  I am constantly going back to Stevens, and would be thrilled if any of his secret sauce has rubbed off on me. I agree with you wholeheartedly about him. He’s a corrective for self-obsessed and political poetry that doesn’t have room for any time and place other than here and now. And I count myself as one such offender. All I can do is to try not to disappear down that rabbit hole, and to instead go outside, walk in the woods, and look around me at the world and other people, places, and things.



J:  One of my favorite poems here is “Free Translation of Du Fu From Memory.” Tell us what went into writing it. How are we to interpret the title? How free is free, some might want to know, in this case?



KLIP:  The poem itself seized me, and in fact seems to be channeling Stevens, in the main. Mortality and romance and wonder and weather came together in a way that doesn’t happen nearly enough to me, in poems or life. Afterwards, I thought it sounded Asian in sensibility, and needed a title, which sprung to mind. Two things about the title: In my youth, Du Fu was referred to as Tu Fu. Then several people, Charles Potts among them, impressed upon me that there was a new linguistic sheriff in town and that I’d better get with the spelling program. Beyond that, I got a kick out of the sweats a few fellow poets went into when they thought I knew Chinese. All of which to say that motivation and result can be two different things when it comes to a poem.



J:  You seem to enjoy working with the prose poem. There are several in this collection, among them “And Here We Are”; “Dear Campaign Diary”; “The Ballad of the Marcus Whitman Hotel Conference Center”; and “Saturday Night on Paradise Ridge.” What is it about the prose poem form that appeals to you? How do you determine when a poem is to be given this shape rather than another? Are there aspects of subject or theme that you feel are more naturally suited to the prose poem?



KLIP:  Truthfully, I go by nerve. Some of the ones you mentioned started out as verse poems. When the line breaks start to feel arbitrary and the language of an individual piece starts to feel more essayistic than lyrical (word choices, et cetera), out of desperation I might remove the line breaks and see if the piece feels less labored. I do, however, like to use multiple paragraphs. They function like stanzas. Have I put you to sleep yet?



J:  Any final comments?



KLIP:  Thanks for taking the time, and for your thoughtful comments and questions. Also, the first five people who write me at klipschutz@earthlink.net and include a mailing address will receive three Four by Two trading cards, including one featuring a couple of short, potent poems by . . . Jon Cone. 






J:  My pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to chat. Be well and best of luck in all future endeavors.


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A VISIT TO THE RANCH is available from Last Word Books 111 Cherry Street NE, Olympia, WA 98501. Here is the ordering link:
http://www.lastwordpress.com/


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