The Colorado Poet, #18, Spring 2012

Lary Kleeman: An Interview

Lary Kleeman’s chapbook, Negotiating a Lower Angle (2010), is available at 2066550

Bob King: You have at least two types of poems in this book, prose-poems and lined-poems. Do you think they’re two different voices, or two things you like to do, or what?

Lary Kleeman: As a poetry reader, I appreciate a variety of forms--the mixture of prose poems with lined poems provides for a visual readerly relief. In other words, I appreciate the prose poem in terms of it being a dispatch from the front lines of experience, coming from a place of less pretension (but with no less tension). It seems that from a visual sense, we expect prose poems to deliver more directly, perhaps even journalistically. Going into the poem with that kind of expectation allows for an even greater surprise factor when the prose poem delivers with a voice and language that is no less transformational than a poem which leans upon the line for help.

Lary KleemanMuch of my poetry originates from a creative journal and, when journaling, I write in prose paragraphs. Oftentimes, I find that I’m more in love with my journal entries than with the poems which arise from them. As a result, the prose poem is a more honest rendering and preservation of the original state of the journal writing.

BK: I want to give readers a chance to ‘hear’ your styles. Take this sentence from “Finagle With It If You See Fit,” a prose poem in four paragraphs which plays on the concepts of ‘wishing’ and ‘fishing’.

“To say you’re not time’s dummy but will finagle with it if you see fit and then only for leisure or lunch—can you put a stamp on that and send it, or is it outsourcing suffering for optimistic illusion, not wishing but wishful thinking taking the cottage out of the cheese, denying a farmer and cow have anything to do with it?”

It seems to me that, one, the rhythm of that sentence is very energetic as it flows on and, two, the diction is a combination of idea-oriented like “outsourcing suffering for optimistic illusion”, and what I’d call ‘poetic’ or image-based and sound-based language (“leisure or lunch” and “taking the cottage out of the cheese,” for example). How does this flow of language, expansive and yet condensed, come to you? Or how does it come out of you?

LK: I love poetry which listens to itself as it utters and sputters and then makes light of the utterances and/or makes good of the “sputterances”. In order to delight in the sound and sense of each phrase as it surfaces in the moment, I’ve worked at ostracizing the internal editor with his “no-nonsense” rules. “Finagle With It If You See Fit” is from a series of poems inspired by A. R. Ammons’ book length poems and by H. D. Thoreau’s essays. At the time I wrote “Finagle”, I was big into bluegrass.  Above all, there is such delight in writing when the writing goes well that I want to get that delight across to the reader. My sense of delight is that which is “meaningful play”.

While participating in a revision workshop led by the poet Valerie Martinez at the Taos Writers Conference a couple of summers ago, it was brought to my attention that I am a rhetorical poet--not so much a meditative or lyrical poet, but one who works more from wordplay and syntactical experimenta-

I am a rhetorical poet--not so much a meditative or lyrical poet, but one who works more from wordplay and syntactical experimentation.

BK: The other type, the lined-lyric, could be represented by “Meditation,” which begins “The trees are women and as women / they wait and grow in patience, / hands lightly clasped, dressed in / ancient dress, forbearing, having / come here from the distant past.” Is this kind of lyric a different mood or mode for you and are you aware of such differences or is it a matter of your subject?

LK: I’m thinking of juncos (I’ve loved birds since my youth). On cold winter days while searching for seeds, the junco gives a staccato call that is clear and workmanlike. When the thaw comes, the junco leaves the forest floor for a sunny upper branch and gives a complex trilling song. Some days I’m on the snowy ground while others I’ve got my throat-feathers angled to the open spring sky.

BK: In “Plainspoken Folk,” you start out speaking directly to the reader: “Since you’ve graciously taken the ride, I want you to understand that you are appreciated and needed, that’s why I work hard at what I say to you…”
This section is followed by your quoting one of your student’s work, “Where in the world is the cathedral of our lives?” I’m thinking that as a teacher you’re constantly engaged in what students make out of a piece of writing. Has the experience of teaching influenced your aesthetic, your writing, in regard to your audience?

LK: That’s a great question. Most certainly I benefit from my student creative writers--they are so open to expression and are still in touch with their childhoods. More importantly, teenage writers bring it to the page like no other age group--so much is at stake for them. Transitioning into adulthood, they haven’t representation. Their voices seek clarity amidst the said and the unsaid--that is, they’ve been told/instructed their whole lives but have only just begun to experience the confirmations and refutations of the maps they’ve been given.  

As an educator, to “demystify” the process of learning is important. In other words, to say this is why we are doing this (or better, to get the students to say it) is key to student buy-in.

To drop the mask is to gain credibility. The same goes with poetry. I think the most credible voice is one that is vulnerable and open to discussion/revision.

To drop the mask is to gain credibility. The same goes with poetry. I think the most credible voice is one that is vulnerable and open to discussion/revision. Kurt Vonnegut’s opening chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five poignantly demonstrates the importance of dropping the mask when much is at stake.

BK: One small part of the five small parts that make up “Rearticulation of an Aesthetic” reads: “Line by line, word detonations—echolocation in versal darkness” which strikes me as a great description of your own work. Can you expand on that in prose?

LK: I’m not sure I could as well as Odysseas Elytis in an essay from his Open Papers: “And then--since a poem develops the instantaneous or, conversely, contracts the infinite--one can earn one’s freedom without resorting to any kind of explosives.”

I’ve always admired and aspired towards the level of engaged writing that is characteristic of James Galvin’s poetry and essays. To me, his writing is characterized by “word detonations” such as turning clichés on their heads and making iconoclastic usage of paradox, simile and personification. To me, such charged language awakens and in that awakening, invites one into a greater appreciation of our world.

BK: Your book’s title comes from a line in “Meditation with a Question” which speaks of shadows growing over the yard, “earlier now that the sun / has negotiated a lower angle / to its entrance” as simply an apt description of changed sunlight. Making it the title of the book suggests that you as writer are ‘negotiating’ although I don’t know what the ‘lower angle’ would be. Can you comment on that, why that title feels right to you?

LK: A couple years back I came across a book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, & Philosophers by Leonard Koren (Imperfect Publishing: Point Reyes, CA: 2008) which delineates the spiritual, moral and practical aspects of the Japanese aesthetic, Wabi-Sabi. In short, Wabi-Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Wabi-Sabi is a beauty of things modest, humble, unconventional. For me, all of this earthiness of Wabi-Sabi plays into the ‘lower angle’ of the title of the book.

As a writer, I’ve decided to somewhat opt-out of the game of publishing. I submitted poems to literary magazines for twenty years before deciding that instead of the individual poem being published, I’d wait until a manuscript was finished before entering contests. I followed that route for an additional ten years before deciding to finally self-publish this chapbook, a lower angle of sorts. What counts is that I’m writing and feeling good about the discovery going on in my writing. If it finds a place to be housed, all the better, but this is not so much on my mind anymore.