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Geist blogger and Editor-In-Chief of Poetry Is Dead, Daniel Zomparelli, will be organizing an ongoing series of interviews with poets, and people doing interesting things with poets. If you are a poet doing interesting things or have a tip off for Daniel, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Garry Thomas Morse is the author of Transversals for Orpheus, Streams, Death in Vancouver, After Jack, and Discovery Passages. He is a poet who challenges genre, or rather, busts it. Geist.com met with Garry to talk about his genre busting prose.
Daniel Zomparelli: I was explaining to you one day about how you muddy the waters of poetry and prose. And I meant it in the nicest way possible. In your short stories in Death In Vancouver, you move the reader quickly through the narrator’s thoughts, to the visuals of outside, to the subtext, to dialogue in an unrestrained fast pace. I was able to go back and read through parts and find different scenarios of what I thought happened. To me, this is what poetry does, do you approach fiction/prose with the same approach to poetry?
Garry Thomas Morse: For my own part, I cannot approach fiction in the same way because of my own wacky poetic process. This method of writing poetry has been derided at least since the Romantics, but the poem does arrive to me in lengthy bursts of inspiration. It’s been a source of irritation since my young years. I become moody as a gravid mare while carrying around the poem, if I can even say that. I write it as a form of exorcism. Since writing After Jack, I only tend to write serial poems or long poems instead of what Jack Spicer called "one night stands", which we see a lot of in journals and published books.
So when I interpret the poem, I feel the language is revealing itself to me, and if there is an audience, it is eavesdropping on this state of being in which I am merely an instrument, supplanted by the language and what it has to say and what voices emerge, etc. I have been criticized for having this viewpoint, and while it is perhaps an arrogant egocentric stance to take, in surrendering my ego to the text, I feel subject to this unwieldy force that leaves me tremulous in its wake when interpreting a text. It is exhausting, which is why I don’t necessarily like to do readings, and I delight in my own lonely discoveries more than an audience might ever perceive.
With fiction, for me, there is a different kind of work ethic. There is still inspiration but it is something I have to trigger, to initiate by putting pen to paper or clack to virtual canvas. And I mean it’s something one goes to like an imaginary job, even when not working at one's business or "real jobs". I find it helpful to set hours or a routine. I wrote all of those stories in notebooks in a number of Vancouver pubs, so there is perhaps an experiential authenticity to its “slurreality”. You are quite right about there being different scenarios of happenstances because to me the book was like the same story being retold from various perspectives with similar characters. And there is some overlap here and there between stories, although merely as shadows in the eyes. That means YOU are telling the story to some extent, depending how you decide to gather what really went down.
There’s also a nod to the novels of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, and their own Bergsonian experiments with narrative space and time. By this, I am referring to narrative shifts based on vague formulae inherent in the content instead of an all-knowing omniscient narrator. Sometimes the proximity of another character is enough to cause a reaction in the narrative and sometimes a sense of consciousness erupts in the middle of the telling. And I owe a great debt to Daphne Marlatt and one of her writing workshops, as it was in one of these workshops that due to her presence and inspiration, I began to find my knowledge of poetic structure was being informed by an emotional sensibility that enabled me to enter into prose, starting with the prose poem. This goes against the grain of T.S. Eliot's notion of depersonalization, because for me the intellectual and emotional form an aesthetic synthesis that "feels" quite natural to me, even as I am aware it is and is not a type of artifice. And what is the result? Chicanery or sincerity? Who can say, eh?
And the short answer is HELL YES, because I am a poet attempting prose. Be gentle with me.
DZ: I love the idea of Fitzgerald, Gatsby and Zelda finding new forms in your work. My favourite part being how Gatsby is the handsome DJ whose name pops up everywhere, but the Fitzgerald is having trouble getting any attention at all. Please tell me this is an allegory for avant-garde writing.
GTM: Well, if there is something running through the whole book, it is a sense of the pathetic or the unfulfilled, or quite simply several characters who feel they have all the time in the world to do whatever they really hoped to do, until they are rather rudely interrupted and as Shakespeare says, "it is too late." I was often thinking of Joyce’s story “The Little Cloud”, although F. Scott Fitzgerald does express this concern about one of the characters in The Beautiful and Damned, whose writing starts to decline after his first success due to his social obligations and writing watered down pieces for Hollywood. That’s if you don’t have time to read A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, which is more of the same worry for seven volumes.
And I'm not sure it's avant-garde so much as our reading habits have changed over time so that our expectations are lowered to the point that we resist something that challenges us and call it avant-garde when it is merely pushing around our expectations a bit more. I often wonder why we are so desensitized to blatant misogyny, jarring violence, litters of prettified corpses and patronizing formulaic propaganda we find in most films yet balk if an expletive or derogatory expression pops up in the mouth of a fictional character. Of course, now that The Great Gatsby movie is being redone in 3D, we won't need any more great books. Phew!