There Are Answers in the Trees
Interview by Ken L. Walker
When Chris Martin and I began brewing ideas to conceptualize a different kind of interview, we didn’t have to talk long. His newest book, Becoming Weather (Coffee House Press 2011), joins an incredible roster of Coffee House Press authors and has already been choreographed and performed by dancers as well as scored by musicians. A traditional interview highlighting the work of the poet was not in order. The poems in Becoming Weather engage a specific kind of outlook — appreciate the unexpected, stare into the unequal and asymmetrical with an honest gaze. Readers are forced to comply with the title, to externalize their gaze into a world devastated by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, locust invasions, dwindling populations of esoteric and not-so-esoteric species. Yet, readers are also tricked to turn the external arrows around and notice the boiling rivers of disequilibrium that occur minutely and lengthily within. The book is divided into three sections (with a coda) which split philosophical brevity and stylistically-structured image-matic mini-narratives. Martin kneads readers into a zone where the unstable is acceptable. When a river rises, one can’t quite be faithful to one’s own truths and when the breeze journeys or reaps, it’s still emanating from the same unidentifiable origin. These poems inspired me to include more of my philosophical background into my own work. Finding poets who can stitch ideological repercussions into reality’s chameleon cesspool is a great thing. What the two of us did was examine various weather databases which then began to guide the questions and the foundation for each increment of the conversation. This is quite possibly the rawest “interview” I’ve ever been a part of. There is a little something for everyone — jazz, hip-hop, Gummo, the Midwest, Ireland, Japan, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Brooklyn, Queens, Iowa, and Minneapolis and the New York Yankees.
KW: The HPRCC’s Weekly Nebraska Soil Moisture Report claims that “most areas [of the state] did not see much improvement.” Some farmers may be alarmed. But I think both you and Nietzsche welcome this kind of thing. One state’s soil is not a “whole body’s thought”?
CM: The forms of farms are far from exhausted. So much of our unconscious work involves tilling and toil. To allow some part of us to go fallow, to follow barren thought until it turns over. Our bones systematically replace their internal structure every 13 years. Every breath creates life and brings us one step closer to death. Every step is but one aspect of a protracted fall. And yet the unconscious is not incautious.
The chance of snow in Jackson, WY is “near 100%” tonight. How does one reckon with the fraction that eludes certainty? Does the nearness of snow’s inevitability in Jackson advertise a belief in its appearance? Is all belief a form of expectation? Does the leftover sliver of no-snow lodge itself in the heart?
I was at the Yankee game last night and, in the middle of the third inning, it started to rain/snow/sleet. In the lights of the stadium, the rain/sleet looked like tack-nails falling mixed with (the snow) torn pieces of thin cardboard slowly tangoing toward the bleachers, toward us. This enhanced the memory of a great baseball game. I do think predictions in the modern age are slight advertisements. Check back in later with your nearest newscaster and believe their smile like it were a religion. Impending doom. Canned goods. Bottled gallons of water. Why is it snowing so late in the season? The season of what? Expectation, I am starting to see, ruins everything about being, as well as, simply hanging around the moment like the orangutans we used to be. Don’t expect. Accept.
The Nebraska Wind Monitoring Program states that “the only way to know the actual wind speed at a location is to monitor the location for several years.” So, really listening to the wind is like a good romantic partnership. Hmmm.
I’ve always thought of the wind as a kind of patient embrace. It sweeps up the trees and swings them into dance. It occurred to me at some point that weather is really the original artist. The wind is a choreographer. Rain paints the landscape a darker color. The clouds are cinematographers looking for the perfect light and shadow balance. Snow is almost nihilistic in its desire to collapse form and color into a single hump of white. You can imagine Louise Nevelson staring out her window the morning after a big dump and saying I could do that. Weather is also the only thing that keeps the human ego in check, now that we’ve killed off all our predators. In that sense, weather has a unique relationship with humility.
The weather in Cork, Ireland tomorrow calls for AM fog. How does the weather of the mind work? Are our hypnopompic mornings always strewn with fog? What would constitute brain hail?
I’d think, stereotypically (as I’ve never traveled there), that Irish seaside areas would edit that forecast as “redundant.” It’s either AM or fog . Like San Francisco. But different, too. Then there’s the desert woman’s dream of light rain. Field trips to the city museum from the rural elementary school. It seems we are always trapped between “complete wakefulness” and “absolute dream.” This is possibly the paradox that Heidegger termed “terror.” Anxiety is one thing. Unceasing state of gray Dasein is another. Though I estimate that Irish folks have merged their foggy anxieties with music-making, songwriting, pint-drinking, and other cultural practices in order to respond to the unnoticed out beyond the sheet of un-seeing. Perhaps the rejoinder to the redundancy of a forecast is conscious counting of every dry grain for every water molecule. This would solidify the other 87 percent of the brain and thus begin to compose the constitution of hail.
First 17 days of April, 2011: 87 confirmed tornadoes (as well as 66 unconfirmed) in 15 states, along with 3,900 reports of “severe weather” throughout the entire U.S. which has caused the deaths of more than 50 people and uprooted over 1,000 trees. This kind of rhetoric represents a drastic social need for “spectacle” but gains poetic interest when the compilers of the database say: “final information is continuing to be collected.” Does that phrase not sum up all meteorology’s existential crises as well as science’s overall paradoxical presence?
Severe weather wreathes several in reserved theaters. But in reverse. Like that Built to Spill album . All dance is born from abundance. And the complement of body as non-totalizable system, forever overspilling with mystery in reserve. Weather’s unknowableness is just as unknowable inside the body. For a culture that’s become (perhaps suicidally) hyper-visual, this is a disconcerting fact. The spectacle keeps it in abeyance. What Bataille called the intolerable secret of being. I once brought this up with a stranger at a party and she told me I must stop talking or she would puke. We can’t see the majority of our bodies. We can’t know even the minority of our bodies’ goings-on. We are beginning to represent a portion of it to ourselves, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into intrinsic knowledge. The goings-on of the body, what a body does. This is Spinoza’s great question. Heidegger needed to dance more. And avoid the phone.
First 17 days of April, 2011: 87 confirmed tornadoes (as well as 66 unconfirmed) in 15 states, along with 3,900 reports of “severe weather” throughout the entire U.S. which has caused the deaths of more than 50 people and uprooted over 1,000 trees. Back atcha, friend. Let’s talk about tornadoes. Let’s talk about Gummo. Let’s talk about trees. How the woods spell.
Sometimes when strangely “new” patterns begin appearing everywhere (tornadoes that killed numerous people yesterday in Arkansas, earthquakes, thunderstorms, flight delays, etc…) our collective amnesia begins to make its own storm. This is precisely what DeBord calls “commodity fetishism” and the domination of the intangible. If CostCo would sell me a tornado, or a make-a-tornado-at-home kit, I’d buy it and see what happens. Once the intangible enters the tremulous
realm of the all-too-tangible, it gets real fucked up. That’s Gummo, standing in the front of the mirror like a little nihilist and lifting dumbells beyond your physical potential while your mom tap-dances behind you in your dead father’s black shiny shoes. We have no idea how to handle the tangible and so the products of the idealized/all-too-realistic tangible cut us off from ourselves once their envelopes are opened. We finally check the real mail.
Sometimes I do think of Heidegger having a Facebook page. That shit’d be hilarious. He’d have to have only above-the-neck photos or else everybody would know he’s as short as Thom Yorke. Speaking of not seeing the majority of a body. I find transcendental comfort everyday but then I feel like I’m beginning to ooze out a certain level of “false” consciousness so I merge the two — Marx and Emerson, to see what a tornado like that can do. Tell me about Gummo in light of this most recent Arkansas storm (“Arkansas residents couldn’t believe the weather they were seeing.”). April is weird man.
Gummo came to Brooklyn last summer. I was reading in a Harlem apartment when it happened, so wasn’t present for the destruction, but things felt eerily metal when Mary and I stepped off the subway in the dark. There was a tree in the street, but otherwise it looked like a pretty normal night. When I left for work the next morning I could see that things were far from normal. There were trees everywhere. Some were sleeping in cars. Some had ripped the awnings into throwaway sardine tops. That’s how consciousness works sometimes. You traipse past destruction, which hides just beneath a patina of dusk. That’s what I was trying to say with my poem “This False Peace.” All the newsprint was erupting with bloody splurts, but its pursed lips said otherwise. The very word news was ripped into sinews and muscle, left flapping for all its meat flag life. Turn on the life and the veneer vanishes. Paul Thek has redecorated. Nothing will ever be the same.
The website Wunderground cites “patchy frost” in Iowa City. How does one approach a pun fashioned from radical politics? Alternatively, how might patchy frost describe theory’s relationship to criticism?
I walked around Bushwick and Ridgewood and took lots of pictures after the tornadoes hit Brooklyn last September. I have one of a headstone split in two, the trees completely destroyed in Maria Hernandez Park. Issa and I walked around for a while the Saturday after just thinking about a park that has to wait two years to have its trees replaced–ACL surgery for the green space. I think if a Ross Bleckner painting and a Paul Thek installation had sex that’d be wonderful wunderground action, also it could be like a ouija ressurection for victims of AIDS. “Patchy fog” is like Chomsky and Foucault — all deconstructionism, no solution, no utopia. It is interesting how the news, since its inception, is probably the ugliest palimpsest project of all time; it is what we refuse and what we lie about, hiding beneath the flesh. All my journalist friends are information junkies — they pull out trump cards at every conversational event whether major or minor; they slap the underside of their forearms for more stories, more stories, more stories, more stories! A pun, fashioned from radical politics, like from the Invisible Committee or from Gilles Deleuze is simply like fingering your own anus; it’s grotesque but silently you love it, as long as you can grasp it. At its core.
Check this out: http://www.myfitv.com/videos/824466/ktvi-st-loius-army-corps-to-blow-up-cairo-levee . And, here’s the explanation, from the NY Times: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers exploded a large section of a Mississippi River levee in a desperate attempt to protect the Illinois town of Cairo. It was over in just 2 seconds, so the string of blasts is repeated in this video.” I lived in New Orleans on and off for quite some time. This is imaginable. Imaginable.
I used to live by the Mississippi River in St. Paul. There’s a famous coffee shop in Minneapolis called Muddy Waters. Atmosphere raps about it. In Becoming Weather‘s title poem, if it can be said to have one, Muddy Waters is depicted during a performance recorded by Scorsese in The Last Waltz, wringing the air and repeating, “I am a man.” It takes several people to become weather. A chorus of voices, swirling in their own tatters. Biggie Smalls, arguably our generation’s Muddy Waters, name drops Cairo in his song “Kick in the Door.”
How do you save Cairo? Blow the fuck up. Thomas Weatherly wrote a terrific book of poems called short history of the saxophone. Who are the great weather artists of our time? Albert Ayler? Tim Hecker? Joan Mitchell?
I can’t reply with Albert Ayler cause that cat ain’t of my time. “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe” is the late 60s man. I think Explosions in the Sky would be on that list for me. But, in the sense of Muddy Waters and the Notorious B.I.G. . . . well, if they had a baby (as Muddy Waters once wrote about), it’d probably look like Theophilus London and sound like Eugene McDaniels. Now that’s a tornado. Then again, Swizz Beatz sampled Muddy Waters once on a DMX track. Sampling, I think, among the remix arts, is the greatest way to enter into weather, not to necessarily become it but to enter into it, to walk into the eye of the storm, pay your respects, show your knowledge of the dialectical process (even in music) and then walk back out, head held high. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Mystikal are hurricane fighters. BlueSkyBlackDeath definitely make a climate of their own. But, really, I think the Anti-Pop Consortium have long been the best outer-planetary weather I’ve experienced. Life’s too fast. We need to take it slow. Get out of here every once in a while. And, get in somewhere else. The cold sunshower of Donny Hathaway.
What’s your weather artist look and sound like?
A couple years ago in an essay I wrote for Yeti, I hailed artist and friend Saul Chernick, along with Franz Kline and Janet Cardiff, as being a “seer of the veer.” I think weather artists are probably veer seers; the one’s so close to moment’s zag that they trace change itself. Weather is an important figure for me because it walks the talk of disequilibrium. Gertrude Stein wields the weather of grammar. Without dissing Anti-Pop, I’d say the best weather rap song ever belongs to Latyrx: “Storm Warning.” Form is never more than an extension of content. I think Lateef said that. Storms aren’t merely about force, but about forces. The vectors of endless collision where we all, finally, coincide. We’re all weather artists. Some just storm imperceptibly.