From my very first exchanges with Will Alexander—whether with his literary works, or in communication—I knew there was no way I could possibly maintain even vestiges of control. To anyone familiar with his nebulous language—in the sense that it is wont to possesses simultaneously the flow of the nebula’s gassy totality alongside the sparking precision of pinpoint stars—this should be of little surprise. Over the last three decades, Alexander of Los Angeles has carved out octaves entirely his own: Clayton Eshleman has speculatively dubbed him “the first major ‘outsider artist’ in US poetry.” Poetic works such as Asia & Haiti (Sun & Moon, 1995) and Compression & Purity (City Lights, 2011) marry ferocious politics of this world with shamanic wonder of another, while, if the distinction is even possible to draw, more discursive deeds such as Towards the Primeval Lightning Field (O Books, 1998 / Litmus, 2014) envision in particular lyricism a new praxis for essay & knowledge:
“The old chronological towers are ash, are prisms of disfigurement, symbolic of a world cancelled by consumptive inmelodias”
—“Towards the Primeval Lightning Field”
“It is farming in an inclement sun system / like a powerless nether beast / fallen amidst random stellar debris”
—“The Pointless Nether Plow”
As if further serendipity were required, the day after stitching up this interview it was revealed that Will would receive the prestigious Jackson Poetry Prize. Over three months of ensuing two-way broadcast, I resided in the thought of a storm of such serene intensity that it was not clear whether I stood in the eye or body(?), or if they would even have been distinguishable at all. What follows is a representation of transmissions concerning the climate, history, the climate of history, oppression, extraterrestrial habitation, and Will Alexander’s ek-static literature, for which I was fabulously unprepared.
Why should I want to be in any control at this late date anyway?
Chris Holdaway: It was just announced that you are the 10th recipient of the Jackson Poetry Prize—congratulations. How are you processing this, and do you already have ideas on what efforts the award will go towards?
Will Alexander: Of course it is an honour to receive recognition at this level, but always my natural reality is moment by moment alchemy via language. It is a perpetual drone, perhaps, akin to the background radiation of the universe. Since I had absolutely no idea that the Jackson was approaching my vicinity, so the news has naturally melded into the reality that I am continually conversant with. I’m in the midst of typing a very difficult book. I’m doing this while in motion back and forth to work, during lunch break, and during evening hours when the narcotic of sleep attempts to abduct me. So reception of the funds can only enhance my inner realia, allowing me extrinsic liberty from the waste that is work. They will allow me liberty to draw and to travel to other parts of the world before the climate overtakes us. In the midst of radiation, and sea rise, and a gust of refugees worldwide I feel this is the best time to explore the wider world.
CH: This time of crisis you point to is one that, at least in public imagination, is often particularly dominated by the spectre of the climate. Do you have any particular vision for the role of the poet in relation to ecology?
WA: The state of the present global circumstance seems non-sustainable, rife as it is with all forms of contamination. At every level of the human populace there is the gathering sense of our collective vulnerability. Not long back I heard a 9-year-old testify about climate change and salmon disruption in the state of Oregon. It’s as if we are hanging on threads inside a self-created margin, but because there seems to be no immediate impact on general consumerism in the United States the crises tend to go unnoticed by the harried majority trying to survive the daily entanglement that a dearth of capital unleashes. Thus, the climate, even at this late date, continues to be seen as something esoteric, distant. It is for the poet to telepathically pick up via language the deeper circumstance at hand. For instance, NASA recently reported that the Earth’s axis has tipped due to displacement of polar snow. The poet cannot provide answers laced with bromidic immediacy, but he or she can begin to inaugurate a verbal atmosphere that opens onto other states of awareness. For me, each phoneme is akin to Hindu psychology and is capable of vibrating at a higher or lower pitch. Too often, poetry is created through the aural lenses of the tamasic*, immured as it is at a very low vibrational pitch. This lowered condition generally lends itself to sentimentality, to lower bodily function, to chronic inter-personal friction. These concerns tend to elicit an occluded view of things and never awakens the listener or reader to internal radiance so crucial to poetic maturation.
Unfortunately, recent poetry has been subjected to the business model via structured writing seminars that, for the most part, occludes deeper research into the self. It places more emphasis upon the book as viable product rather than as a document that seeps from the irregularity of higher consciousness. Poets aspire to publishing poems, to placing books into the world, which, well they should, but sans a dash of vulcanism in the language, content is subjected to erosion via entropy of the marketplace. Rather than introducing us to possibility that beckons from an immaculate prairie of consciousness, blinding sets in. Absent of internal metrics, exploration is reduced to shadow moving into shadow. Instead of poetry providing direction for science, the opposite now seems to be the case. Being able to suss out an internal vocabulary, poets such as Lecomte, Cesaire, and Artaud, inaugurated verbal movement that enlivened the invisible. Their writings seemed to induce states opening the reader to alchemical possibility. An undeniable livingness is felt in the language. This being language giving life to mystery. This being language over and above the cult of personality, over and above the anecdotal. Can one see Rimbaud or Lecomte being dutifully bound to attending lectures and doing weekly assignments? Exploration of language via alchemy explores the substance of who we are and evolves a sensitivity open to risk and instability. From the 20th century there exist whole lists of examples. I have mentioned Artaud, Lecomte, and Cesaire, first, because they have greatly influenced me, allowing me to hone and respect language in its transformative tenor, and second, because I have recently written three epic poems on the three of them collected in book form soon due out from Reve a Deux, entitled Spectral Hieroglyphics. But as stated above there are many others who have invoked the value of risk via aural exploration.
CH: How might one begin to enter or activate such a language of risk?
WA: Exploration at this level of intensity is generally not encouraged. One must be internally equipped for the voyage. Initially one needs sustained focus capable of fecundity in all circumstance. This being language as unbroken trance. Since we live in a society that fosters all manner of distraction a language possessed by such imaginary focus automatically rises above the fray and garners its own intransigent momentum. In the tamasic kingdom that we occupy this alchemic language is exceptional and spontaneously exemplifies itself, so much so, that it eventually gathers notice without extrinsic promotion. With poetry invaded by the business model, by the quotidian dictate of long term financial security, one can, if one chooses, become adept at playing the game of verbal risk while remaining comfortably ensconced in the suburbs. There is poetry, and then there is poetry that has succumbed to quotidian strategy. The former is consumed by audition, the latter dominated by vacuous ordeals bestowed by credentials. Thus, poetry, like the rest of life as we know it, has now been divided and thrown into question.
CH: Speaking of divisions, much of your own work seems to have a vast cosmological scale to it, yet at the same time is replete with images of the body, & never far from singular lyric pronouns (“so what concerns me / is a yoga which implodes the sun”). I am reminded of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s* influential challenge to really think the human as species, even though “being species” is not something an individual ever truly experiences, especially when we know certain populations are disproportionately responsible for climate change, & others are disproportionately affected (often with a high degree of mutual exclusivity between the two categories). Is this something you can see this language of risk addressing?
WA: One can never forget the inequality spawned at the beginning of the modern world, sparked by the Portuguese entry into Africa. From the early 1400’s to the present this entry has created a collective stumbling block. The general orgy of murder and exploitation that followed has now engulfed the southern globe as a negative staple. Resources have been extracted without surcease from the southern globe in order to enrich its northern half. Not didactic enunciation, but a dominant pattern since the feral beginnings of Prince Henry the Navigator. It is a pattern that has supplanted Islamic syncretism found, say, in 10th century Granada (a lost realia that Lorca increasingly lamented). Or let us take recent events; the example of King Leopold in the Congo. Leopold and the Belgians hijacked the equivalent of a billion dollars in today’s currency, and this hijacking continues unabated by the Americans, the Canadians, the French… Since 1997 six million Congolese have perished as a direct result of this plunder. It is a tragedy the Northern media and Western scholarship have, for the most part, obfuscated. Can one imagine this many Europeans having perished without general comment? It is unthinkable. Yet the American automotive industry, as well as its electronic sector, and of course, its military sector, would go into steep decline without this daily plunder of minerals and metals. So clearly, there is little concept of species collectivity when it comes to say, Africans, or tribal south Asians, or American Indians. When Linnaeus and the great classifications transpired, a standing disparity was permanently invoked between Europeans and all other living forms on Earth. Francisco Bethencourt speaks about this era (shrill as it was with division and re-ordering) in his book, Racisms: From The Crusades to the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2014). European hegemony has been nothing other than a disaster. Its policies have put the human species at risk, forcing it to develop across this great divide. This remains the undercurrent of collective human experience rent as it is by divisive tribulation.
A few months prior I saw footage of a private investor speak to a gathering at NASA concerning human voyage to and habitation of Mars. During the course of his talk the name Christopher Columbus was pointedly invoked. I immediately noted a mentality skewed towards extra-planetary exploration as colonization. And we know colonization has had and continues to have no respect for even itself as a living form. This is a mental state sickened by addiction, and has led to the current mass extinction of wildlife unparalleled in 65 million years. It is a state of mind based on acquisition. Not unlike an infection, it has spread from the thirst for gold symbolized by Cortes to the intense consumption that riddles the eastern seaboard of China. The Earth would need a diameter that rivals that of Saturn in order to absorb the long term toxins being spewed from every region. In order to sustain the present circumstance oil must be pumped at a rate of 42,000 gallons per second. As for long term quality habitation of Mars it feels to me as if it is to be a protracted Roanoke waiting to transpire. At our delimited level the glaring contradiction persists more and more of seeming technical advance by those who aspire to alien worlds yet who persist in referring to Central Americans and immigrants from Mexico as “aliens.” This remains a dangerous travesty.
CH: Related to this, I often see (white male) poets making the case that identity-based or political writing is too “small-scale” or irrelevant in the face of climate change/the Anthropocene, which is apparently what we should really be worried about. How might we think at a global/planetary scale without rendering the question of identity moot? This is something I often see troubling much new materialist thought.
WA: It must be understood that the Whites, though they control the largest military on Earth, find themselves more and more isolated by the very factor of their behaviour towards indigenous planetary culture for the past 500 plus years. Of course this started with the Age of Discovery when wealth and power were accrued at unprecedented levels. But the manner by which this gain has been wrought, Europeans seem to have self-branded themselves with un-stinting stigma. The late British writer Cottie Burland discusses aspects of this behaviour in his book The Exotic White Man: An Alien In Asian And African Art (McGraw-Hill, 1969). This on-gong behaviour continues to spark general susurration and revolt that abounds amongst the Southern peoples on a daily basis. The great divide falsely invoked by Europeans at the rise of the modern world wantonly disrupted other invisible cultures of science in return for material items, thus crippling deeper insight, leaving the lot of us woefully unprepared for the experience of deep time. All the peoples of colour have in some way or another been subverted by the European swath that has occurred during its recent history of acquisition. There is not much time left to heal this very complex and embrangling rift, yet all the old colonial policies continue to brew under other monikers and appellations having negative impact on ecosystems around the globe. Rather than a mature and organic process as attempt to conjoin the human species, instead we are being provided with the curious possibility extended by alternatives that include the superficial range of robots and genetic engineering which seem at best, inspiration for further damage in the long term. In this sense neo-mechanization seems nothing other than the glorification of failure.
There needs to be an attempt to reconcile with the rest of nature rather than stoking the same polarizing policies that has put life on Earth at the brink. Marco Pallis once penned an essay titled “Is There A Problem of Evil?” I think that the title remains quite applicable in our present circumstance. If we look at Occidental interests from Torquemada* to the ongoing conflict in Iraq, we see institutional murder condoned as a political corrective. Remember, the Occident has benefitted from almost 400 years of free African labour, so at present I don’t feel it has the moral authority to preach to anyone. Given this persistent climate of division the white male poets you refer to need go back to their rooting in Modernism. Aldon Nielsen in his book Reading Race in American Poetry (Illinois, 2000) uncovered the letters of Stevens, Williams, Cummings and others. Their racial provincialism is appalling. Rather than take issue with a climate that spawned public lynching’s, they complied with its climate. There is always this argument for dividing Pound the man from Pound the poet, or making allowance for Eliot’s outright racism and anti-Semitism. Such a legacy quite possibly has a great deal to do with the grand starvation of language we see condoned in certain quarters that tends to alter creativity in favour of what I’ll call cognitive super-imposition (say the replication of phone book passing itself off as creativity, or reading the minutes of a rape trial). Such a poetic climate spawns the supremacy of desiccated cognitive technique, thereby promoting arthritic lingual application. Yet there is hope. As long as humans from all persuasions attempt to unite with one another, healing can possibly transpire. People like Noam Chomsky and Bill McKibben constantly give us alternatives to the old psychic models. Stephen Hawking is right when he warns against tapping into extra-terrestrial intelligence armed with only the bravado of an isolate technical language.
CH: One of the most notable features of the poetic line across your projects is the near singular utterance that collapses as the first line of a “stanza,” before blooming in supernova. Something like: “yes / as a dark stochastic wheat drained of its magic as drift.” This initial term is often a pronoun (especially the “we” throughout Asia & Haiti), or a rhetorical device. How does this particular alternation between extremely punctuated and expansive line allow you to work?
WA: Pronouns resonate as particulars of balance. Rather than confine they allow me to gather myself during the heat of composition not unlike impalpable way stations, seeding both momentum and expansion. As particles, they are akin to say, a saxophonist hitting a note to procure balance in order to ascend higher into the hail of the imagination. Thus the poetic faculty transmutes via the intervallic trampoline. Within this imaginal storm they are blurs, nanosecond stanchions, not unlike particles inferred from collision within the Large Hadron Collider. They are evanescent flashes that exist as part of the continuum, and the continuum is the quicksilver cosmos of the imagination that has no limit. True, the latter is seeded by study but cannot be equated with the most miraculous facts or ideas if these facts or ideas have not been verbally transmuted. It is unlike the learned disciple seeking to replicate his master. There needs be instantaneous transgression in order for the imaginary to re-ignite itself so as to experience itself as that which foretells its spontaneous unfoldment.
CH: Something you have written extensively about is a radically composite origin for your own being & thought; in Caribbean lineage, through West-African/Dogon expertise, to an alternate history of Arabic knowledge you’ve already mentioned, one seldom recognised beyond vague lip service to Avicenna & Averroes as transmitters of Aristotle to later western thinkers. I’m thinking especially about your essay “The Post-mortem Imam.” What is at stake for your work in this practice of searching for a new/old-but-erased ground?
WA: First of all, a major transgression transpired thousands of years prior. When the early Greek philosophers kindled their original utterance, they had not developed within an independent Greek educational matrix. For instance, Pythagoras was an Egyptian subject because Ionia during this era was controlled by the Egyptians (then later by the Persians), so quite naturally his initial contact with mathematics and music came from the auspice of the Egyptian Mystery System. His was not an independent genius that suddenly erupted as a stunning wholeness out of nothingness. According to Plutarch he “received instruction from … Oenuphis of Heliophis,” who was part of the Egyptian Mystery experience. Yet our institutional instruction has repeatedly absented this phase, telling us via omission that the Pre-Socratics kindled universal thinking, with only a cursory paragraph or two covering the Egyptians and Babylonians.
This remains standard fare in freshman philosophical textbooks, and thus in-built blindness in the educational process. Because of this there exist successive generations of the educationally maimed. Occlusion becomes a principle when it comes to noting intellectual achievement that rises from the Southern globe. This is why there has been this desperate attempt to create a terminology that somehow linked Egypt to a European source. This is why Cheik Anta Diop* remains anathema in certain quarters. He incontrovertibly proves that the original Egyptians were the originators of the arts and sciences. There exists the fact that there were advanced Egyptian orchestras 900 years prior to Pythagoras during the “XVIII dynasty.” It is unfortunate that one has to continue to point out such realities, knowing that we have a climate with those who possess doctorates and means of research, who wilfully fail to fully align themselves with non-European conduits of history. Averroes and Avicenna have been turned into particles and abducted by the Occident sans the learned innovation of Islamic culture. I’ve noticed in many instances a confusing circuitry of detail mixed in such a manner that it gives the impression that “alchemy,” “astrology,” and “theurgy” ignited under the auspices of the Greeks. At a certain level the mind tends towards an unfortunate calcification and becomes complicit with the complication of non-aligned particulars. This is what I’ll call a partial purview stemming from what I consider to be the colonization of information that leaves one, in the end, turning to the four quarters of emptiness all the while sans the athleticism of the spirit. This remains the Occident within its form of modern secular arrangement. There is only proof by matter and the simultaneous manipulation of matter. This remains science at its highest journey self-propelled as an embrangling tautology. It is always attempting to prove to itself that matter is the source of the creation yet, paradoxically, its vocabulary of experiment remains absolutely fascinating. Its creative complication of language is something poets can take quite a few notes from. Cesaire gives great instruction in this regard. His was a mode that poetically seeds the future.
History as it’s been generally conveyed in the Occident needs be significantly transmuted, with the Greco-Roman presence understood as a subsequent state, not an original innovation, but connected to a prior condition of things. Its African origin needs be fully stated, thereby providing some restorative balance to the species as its evolved over the past 10,000 years.
CH: How might you relate this composite and alternate history of thought and knowledge to your vibrant and lyrical form of essay/criticism, one that eschews any trad. western style of scholarship?
WA: Being in touch with my inner vibratory kindling, with its African fiber, with its trace amount of aboriginal Indian fiber, naturally dictates a yield that is sans European domination. Instead the European can only be supplemental. To superimpose its criteria of expertise, thereby suppressing African prestige can only lead to scrambled utterance, to carnivorous stalemate and fatigue. I do not work from knowledge as resistance, but to knowledge that induces flow. To fully live within intuitive conservation. This does not enable limitation, on the contrary it ignites voraciousness, for instance Thomas Kuhn / Cheik Anta Diop, Charles Fourier / Aime Cesaire teem as simultaneous flow. One gathers nutrients and the mind becomes akin to subconscious plasma. When I wrote my essay on Fourier the first line ignited as a lingual surge without prosaic foregrounding. It was as if I saw Fourier penning his Harmonian utopias. I wrote this essay by means of inward pitch. Details followed. I aurally opened my mind to Fourier and after the flow had ignited cognizant activity transpired that included his ideas in the form of biographical data. This was the principle that energized all the essays. It can be said that the actual body of the texts sprung from poetic mystery. Paz and Leiris speak of lingual grace. In my case there exists this kindled through-way to non-cognitive levels. These levels are always analogous to me of what the late Chilean psychiatrist Matte-Blanco refers to as symmetrical, and as I understand it, reaches levels where the asymmetry of difference via the ego transmutes to deeper strata, not unlike the invisible mathematics of the Egyptians that Schwaller de Lubicz refers to. This is an active conduit open to all as Lautréamont once put it. This is the conduit that Breton so fruitfully extended. In other words, elements of Egyptian psychology continue to permeate the modern world via the Moors, the Sufis, Romanticism and the Surrealists. Rather than the superficial codification of matter, one touches upon an inner power that is related to the pent up centimeters of empty space with each centimeter representing the energy of a trillion atomic bombs, and empty space is commingled with collective solar creation. This energy being not unlike the elements that populate Dogon culture and comes through in the works of Cesaire and Afrocentric elements within Rasta culture.
CH: I recently heard you read from your chapbook Based on the Bush of Ghosts (Staging Ground, 2015) in LA, in which you invoke Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola* as the poem’s propellant. This seems like another important part of your practice, figuring also Philip Lamantia in The Brimstone Boat (Reve a Deux, 2012), & even marrying with collective populations as in Asia & Haiti (Sun & Moon Press, 1995). You likewise mentioned forthcoming work taking on Artaud, Lecomte, & Cesaire. But I get the sense that these moves are not conventionally commemorative elegies, nor are they persona poems from the subject’s point of view. What is involved in summoning these texts?
WA: Tutuola remains a living field, not of course as a biological destiny, but as expanded activity via language. Because our languages intertwine across differing dimensions, the particulars of Abeokuta Nigeria of the 1920’s and Los Angeles California of the 21st century spontaneously desist as grounded obstacles. So there exists, at this level an interaction, a free communion between the living and the dead if you will. There is nothing deliberate or analytical about the manner in which I connect with Tutuola. He is not some monument, or a ragged dialectical abstraction extracted from the mists, but a perpetually living presence. He is not some pointless candelabra to be revered as a terse incanonical figment, to be registered in the secular ledger. At this level one is never prone to the static registration of corpses, to static admiration of a living experience. As a living Egyptian carrying trace amounts of American Indian, I understand that the cosmos is a living experience that can’t be separated into fragments. Like the Thai I have never been mentally colonized, so as I once stated (in an old Callaloo interview) I am a “psychic maroon,” a runaway who has no use for the disorder caused by the false distribution of the cosmos. Since the Egyptian pyramids were constructed 1,700 years prior to Thales, and Thales is regarded as an inalienable originator, this tells me that I have been forced to function in a climate of not only scholarly but general prevarication. Until human electricity is sorted out at this level it will continue to end in more and more obstreperous entanglements, being more and more subservient to technologies that give the illusion of movement. Take Tutuola’s language, contrasted to the colonized English of his Nigerian critics, and as is said in sporting terminology, there exists no contest. Because they had copied the British there remains no maze of circuitous magnetism. In the poem I speak of his “living example,” with its “ability to singe,” “to stumble as haze through incitement.” The creative person can never be detained by his or her status. Tutuola, if I recall correctly, was a Junior Clerk during his composition of The Palm Wine Drinkard (1952). As far as outward circumstance was concerned he had no credibility, no right to instil verbal bravado. But hasn’t the greatest work come into the world sans degrees and official accreditation. Poetry is in the electricity of the language itself, its ability to mesmerize even at the level of its smallest particles. When entering a Miro drawing, or listening to Miles Davis play “Teo” with Coltrane, one gets the shivers because its aural profundity literally invades the neurology providing an actual physical sensation. So it is with Tutuola’s language, it enters one as would a flood of ciphers, as if each phrase existed as a-structural neutrinos, magnetized by non-cognitive velocity. So when his seemingly educated critics first witnessed his works they could only adhere to their European training. For me, having come to English in a similar manner as Tutuola, I recognized his power immediately. When we look at Tutuola it is sans the sophistication of the capitals, sans London, New York, or Cairo. When Cortazar and Lezama Lima composed their towering works, Hopscotch (1966) and Paradiso (1966); both books astonished in different ways. Because Cortazar’s background included cosmopolitan locales such as Buenos Aires and Paris it provided a modicum of context for his spectacular foray into world presence, whereas Lezama’s rise created puzzlement. Such puzzlement continues to whirl about the oeuvre of Tutuola because even at the highest levels creativity is many times thought to derive from the lack or from the largesse of one’s circumstance. In Tutuola’s case the imagination evinces an unmistakable fruit in spite of the paucity of his daily circumstance. In my case, Abeokuta was not unlike South-Central Los Angeles, where expectation of the intellect has tragically plummeted over time. Given the objective graph this interview should never have happened. Like Tutuola I was supposed to have been diverted along the way shunted away in the provinces forever. But the cosmic principle persists of life perpetually springing forth far beyond the cognitive mind’s ability to understand it.
CH: Your work is often claimed as a bastion of US surrealism, and you’ve already mentioned touchstones in both old and new world lineages (Lecomte, Cesaire). How do you see your language of cosmological risk that we’ve been discussing here in relation to the tradition of surrealism?
WA: When Paz and Breton strode for the final time through Les Halle in 1964, Breton expressed the fact that Surrealism was entering a zone of neutrality and was in a state of surpassing itself. That surpassing in my view is none other than psychic entry into the interstellar medium. The interstellar was akin to music in Breton, sans engagement. He distanced himself from the interstellar in the 1962 issue of La Breche, but what remains with me are the implications of his conversation with Paz. It has passed like a spore through manner of circumstance with music and the interstellar medium as part of our organic context. This seems to be part of our natural state at this time post Coltrane, post fly-bys of Egeria and Jupiter, along with the Hubbell and James Webb telescopes as prime explorational mechanisms. I recently heard a documentary on the four major moons of Jupiter; they are 450 million miles away, and possibly when the Sun expands in billions of years a place such as Europa may be more Earthlike. Such scale brings into scope capacity that surpasses the human, but it can’t be denied that our psychic environment has spread far beyond local planetary confinement, with our biology now provided the field where it can phase into potential exo-states. This is where shamanic internal praxis transpires, which brings to mind Aurobindo’s* transmutation of the cells, implying a state other than human. But the hostility of the heavens requires an incalculable level of adaptation. Rather than an attempt to overcome of its elements via human facility as we’ve known it, there is the necessity of the unthinkable, something I’ve explored in my drawings, evolved figures that carry only the residue of the human. Aurobindo has gone on to say that the human is not static, that it has the potential to generate impalpable electricity over and beyond its visible station. These are levels that were being explored by the original Egyptians, by aboriginal shamans across the globe, so clearly we have lost perhaps the equivalent of two millennia of work at this level. When we compare the capacity extolled by Descartes it partakes of both tragedy and comedy. Humanity has been given over to the mechanisms of matter infected by global racism. Thus, we have not been able to practice the true alchemy of the species. I’m thinking of the famous Dogon example and their discovery of Sirius B without the aid of Occidental instrumentation. This notice drew ire and doubt from certain quarters, but what I am speaking of supersedes every level of limitation that we have been conditioned to conceive. This being entry into galactic maturation, a maturation sans the pernicious embranglement of the European skill set. Not that this skill set should be negated, but to understand that it needs to harmonize at the general level without need to separate itself from the collective effort. Such an effort at this hour needs be re-ignited through language. Artaud, in the midst of his magnificent enunciation to Andre Breton (“Letter To Andre Breton”) uses the words “electrical revolution” which have stayed with me. Invigorating language with alchemical pulsation is the dawn of magnetism, bringing to view something other than vernacular habitation. This is an alchemy the supersedes the absurd. It is a reality where the mind as we know it in use tends to break down. It is analogous to Van Gogh’s taking off in a “train to a star,” a particle from one of his letters. It enunciates a protracted level that vernacular experience can never prepare us for. I’m concerned here with consciousness capable of movement into deep time, this being part of the alchemy of species transmutation. In this state of reality, war, the exchange of capital, life and death as we know it would transmute as well in the wake of such experience. Our present mind, in order to even approach such apperception must at minimum engage in oneiric exercise so as to experience its realia as alchemical seepage.
This is where surrealism has prepared the way, not through ideology but through praxis at the level of the anonymous energy. Oneiric language tends to subsume individual concerns so that the author as separate entity tends to de-exist, submerged in language as alchemical electricity. When we work with language in this state we can begin to get a sense of the Earth before humanity was formed; an apocalyptic balance and intelligence prior to the formation of creatures. It must be understood that historic dating falls within the space of only 10,000 years. When we compare this to the spinning of the Earth as it existed 400 million years ago we can begin to truly understand the ratio between human action and cosmic action. To cease to respect the latter retains a realia shot through with blasphemous staggering, especially egregious when this staggering represents the microscopic sliver of human action distorted by its European component. Thus, we are compelled to occupy a reality that is asinine and again, completely egregious.
CH: Surrealism seems to be something that US poetry has at best begrudgingly accommodated, at worst tried to quarantine/expel. Why, in your experience, do you think this is?
WA: Surrealism remains a threat to a scripted delimited locale of consciousness. There is always the linear as threat hovering in one’s presence. The whole of reality is permeated by a yes/no construct. There is never gradation or experience of the liminal, or a both/and grammar that allows expansion beyond one’s mental partitions. Having had the opportunity to participate in a number of collective writing projects over time, my experience has been one of liberty, always feeling a sense of psychic aeration and relief. Working with Andrew Joron, Janice Lee, Carlos Lara and Byron Baker, work has always gone smoothly, rather than feeling a sense of confinement. It has felt as if my mind was permeated with a powerful elasticity and from my collaborator’s feedback they’ve felt much the same way. There was never the thought of one person’s writing over the person’s work. A field was shared; minds were at ease. When the mind is at ease it accelerates absorption, effort that would be turgid, frustrating as isolated effort. When I sat down with Janice to go over the proofs for The Transparent As Witness (Solar Luxuriance, 2013), the work was completed at one sitting and flowed without complication. Such experience seems somehow foreign in a land dedicated to the isolation of the individual, always barbed with competitive angst. Thus, one roves around in life blinded by the observations of others. Hence, the pejorative term “consumer.” Say, the human race was connected at levels other than distraction, perhaps an interesting galactic community could be formed, but there has been long term disfigurement truncating the mind at large. What immediately comes to mind are three nodes of regression: The Council of Nicaea, the fall of Granada, and the Berlin Conference in 1885. In all three instances the African or aboriginal mind was suppressed via murder and most importantly the embrangling of the mind to favour European auspices. Simply by renouncing murder as a prime tool of power Asoka* towers over world leaders as a source of possibility.
This is why the philistines reacted to Breton so strongly when, as the cliché goes, he jumped ship, and language has never returned to the old closed off roads, to recto-linear standstill not unequal to a maze of shopping catalogues. In poetic matters Lamantia castigates Ginsberg and others for communicating at the level of Time Magazine. Never absenting the push and pull of the cognitive, or the superficial cage that sputters with the language of commerce, can do nothing other than condone the criteria of stasis, of things as they remain, while brandishing at times a patina that seems to exhibit liberty. As Lamantia clearly states, this is writing sans imagination, sans circuitous absenting that inhabits linguistic empyreans. In other words, a modern day Latin given over to surcease. A superficial understanding classifies Surrealism as being immured in French. Certainly its original proponents used its properties with unusual adroitness, yet, as Miguel Carvalho demonstrates in his spectacular compendium Caleidoscopio Surrealista (2011), Surrealism functions in French, Spanish, English, or Dutch with uncanny power. Collective thought, use of various cultures and languages certainly poses a threat to authorship spawned by Pound and his cohorts, who, at base, remain apologists for original Nazi culture seeded in the early modern world by a triple curse of gold and race: Cortes, the African slave trade, as well as the Inquisition. It is from this human negation that 1776 arises with many of the early American presidents being active participants in this tragedy as slave holders themselves. As a species this idea of “liberty” so extolled across the past several centuries has never really existed when we consider Jefferson’s remarks concerning Phyllis Wheatley. These are remarks that remain a perpetual insult, and when compounded by general Saxon exclusivity in the published annals we have, as I’ll call it, a protracted inferno. Can we see Cesaire’s welcome by Breton into the core of Surrealism replicated in a welcoming by Eliot into the poetic elite? It was the latter who won the Nobel Prize off of the strength of Pound’s reworking of his Wasteland, this prize being the prime symbol of individual authorship. In contradistinction, when language ignites from the impalpable it sweeps away analysis and cognitive stultification. When I worked with the artist Byron Baker on The Codex Mirror (2015) we were joyously amazed that our differing genres spontaneously erupted as harmony, allowing us to complete our book sans interior carking by the ego. This same spirit suffused my work with Carlos Lara and Andrew Joron when I worked with them on separate occasions over geographical distance. These examples are now unlike a scientific proof applicable in all directions. In fact, all of my friendships and meetings seem facilitated by the telepathy of consciousness. Breton always spoke of the “ease” by which things are accomplished, this being an ease which has nothing to do with the Protestant work ethic.
The droll coteries of the intelligentsia seem completely desperate and out of date as does the whole circumstance out which they’ve evolved. They are disappearing, symbolized by the original inhabitants of Goslar in Germany, being inevitably replaced by the genesis of what could be termed the genetics of new Syria. Certainly a new shift is transpiring.
Chris Holdaway is a poet / editor / linguist from New Zealand, where he directs Compound Press. He received his MFA from Notre Dame, & his MA in linguistics from the University of Auckland, where he also studied some cosmology & astrophysics.
Poet, essayist, playwright, visual artist, & teacher Will Alexander is a lifelong resident of Los Angeles. He is the author of some 20 books, including Asia & Haiti, Inside the Earthquake Palace: 4 Plays, Compression & Purity, & Towards the Primeval Lightning Field. He is the recipient of the 2016 Jackson Poetry Prize, & has taught at various colleges in addition to nonprofit work with the Theatre of Hearts/Youth First organisation.
(Author photo credit: 2013 Raman Rao, Venice CA, Featured image credit: Beyond Baroque)
See Also: On Dar El-Hikma by Will Alexander