Paolo Javier and Thomas Fink
(Note: Originally conducted in 2012 and 2013, this brief exchange was supposed to be part of a longer piece including discussion of a subsequent book. At this point, the post-Feeling Is Actual section is incomplete However, given recent events, thematic dimensions of The Feeling Is Actual are just as and perhaps even more timely as they were when the book appeared, and the participants agreed to allow Dichtung Yammer to publish the exchange now.)
Thomas Fink: Do you perceive a marked shift, an abiding continuity, or something of both in your poetics and praxis as you moved from the time at the end of this writing (Ahadada, 2004) and 60 Lv Bo(e)mbs (O Books, 2005) and from the second book to your third, The Feeling Is Actual (Marsh Hawk P, 2011)?
Paolo Javier: All three books are quite restless in their conceptions & designs, & they certainly don’t sound nor look the same. As I remember it, I took inspiration from the indie full-length album for the time at the end of this writing, a self-conscious debut that shows off the poem’s range while humbly submitting its poetic influences & idols across fifteen poems. While editing my first book, I worked feverishly on 60 lv bo(e)mbs, an experimental long poem generated initially (but not wholly/ultimately) by/through/with aural procedures. I published these two books with different small presses in consecutive years, after which I decided to take a long break before entertaining a new full-length. The Feeling Is Actual appears six years after 60 lv…, & this recent book draws from my close engagements with comics, found poetry, assemblage art, film narration, new media, & international cinema of the past decade.
Perhaps such restlessness offers an “abiding continuity”, as you’ve put it in your question, in my books thus far. What do you think?
Fink: By “restlessness,” I would take you to mean impatience with self-repetition as you turn from the writing of one book to the next.
In thinking about the string of “close engagements” that inform The Feeling Is Actual, let’s start with “film narration” and “international cinema.” I take “Ladies and Gentlemen—Mr. Bill Murray,” which concerns the romantic transcendence of what you term “grand gesture” romance in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, to be film criticism that also includes the re-narrative element of the viewer’s identification with the Bill Murray character, the middle-aged actor doing a liquor commercial in Tokyo. For me, the critical aspect is more important to the poem (prose-poem?) than the re-narrative component, but maybe the poet has a different view. And “Monty & Turtle,” written as a movie, alludes copiously to the cinema of Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle and, in passing, to Lost in Translation; your acknowledgments page states that it “was filmed at the Be Kind Rewind installation at Deitch Projects. Shot and co-edited with Vicente Pouso” (153). I’ve seen “Monty & Turtle,” in fact, at two of your readings. So what can you tell readers of the book that can help them follow some particulars of how your engagement with film narration and film in general animate the intentions that you bring to the actualization of these two texts? And while we’re on this topic, are each of them poems in a book of poetry or hybrid texts—i.e. poem/movie, in the case of “Monty & Turtle”?
Javier: “Monty & Turtle” was written after the fact of its video—quite the reversal of a narrative film’s typical stages of production, to be sure, but certainly true to the cinematic praxis of Wong Kar-Wai, among my poem’s main subjects. I initially made the video with the intention to screen and perform it with live narration at my wedding later that summer, but the plan got shelved due to the logistics of an outdoor afternoon ceremony in the back garden of a lovely, immigrant-owned French bistro just around the corner from our apartment. I’d always wanted to experiment with live film narration, a practice with origins in Japan, but found its (post colonial) equivalents in other parts of Asia. (The Korean response, for example, would feature a pyonsa, or film narrator, known as a “poet of the dark” who would use the narration to subtly critique Japanese imperialism.) Critic/scholar/poet Walter K. Lew introduced me to this practice, and should be credited for its spread in popularity in the 90s among American poets, particularly within the experimental community.
Unfortunately, and through no fault of Lew’s, a great number of these poets (continue to) resort to contemporary versions of What’s Up, Tiger Lily? that are far more Orientalist, racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic. So when I debuted “Monty & Turtle” a year later at the PageTurner Festival in Brooklyn, I realized I was attempting several gestures in the work: 1) an intermedia-tation on the tender beginnings of my relationship with my wife through the movies; 2) a Marker-ish essay on the art & politics of Wong Kar-Wai’s cinema; and 3) an emphatic response to past and present Neo-Benshi minstrelsy.
And while I generated most of the work in TFIA through a close engagement with other art practices, I wouldn’t call the results “hybrid texts”; it’s just different means to the same end. Nevertheless, “Monty & Turtle” gives TFIA its thematic focus and design. By this, I mean, that you can read the poem—and the entire book— also as script, comics, essay, assemblage.
Fink: “Pinoy Signs” features prose-blocks and photos of the signs themselves that comprise a “TV” “field report” attributed to the celebrad Nury Vittachi. The text testifies to the linguistic—shall I say, semiotic— resourcefulness of Filipino owners of small businesses who trope on U.S. cultural references to sell products and be funny. Yes, in this case, too, “’poem’” as a label “will do just fine, thank you.” And I maintain that the poetry in the poem or prose-poem comes from the catalog of instances of what Henry Louis Gates and other scholars of African American culture would call (Filipino) signifyin’, as well as the resistance of those instances to be contained within the reporter’s interpretive frame. How would you characterize your intention in “Pinoy Signs”?
JAVIER: To be signifiant, of course! I first made the poem as a companion performance to my projections of images from ‘LMFAO’ during the latter chapbook’s launch at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace. “Pinoy Signs” is similarly interested in humor and assemblage, and when performed live, offers some kind of mirror to the viewer/listener’s politics. You are spot-on when you describe its text as “prose blocks”, because they are appropriations of an online news article by Vittachi. My mom would send me emails about these hilarious signs circulating in the global Filipino community, and always I’d find myself saving the images thinking that some day they would find their place in a poem. But I didn’t want to force the issue; I remember some early attempts to make poems filled with Wronglish (my term), but these would end up lacking the critical edge that I felt should honor such distinctively postcolonial slippages. Vittachi’s article landed in my inbox at the right time, I suppose.
In terms of its place in the book, I was thinking a lot about the jokes my wife would (affectionately) make about marrying an F.O.B., since I often would slip into Wronglish and misstate idioms similar to what’s found in “Pinoy Signs.” I realize that these slippages occur during unguarded conversations between us, or sometimes among other immediate family members. “Pinoy Signs” offered a good balance for text-images that are domestic and private in “FYEO”, the second chapter of TFIA.
I also think of TFIA as a book of poetry that I made rather than wrote, given how much I employ collage throughout most of the selections. Please note that I didn’t use the movement that rhymes with “barf” to describe this strategy.
Fink: One section of the book that seems less involved with collage than others is “Wolfgang Amadeus Bigfoot,” a poetic drama populated with “Bigfoot” believers who are also right-wing conspiracy theorists; they get worked up, for example, over President Obama’s birth certificate. I notice that these characters are not merely foils for your ironic critique. You also foreground their human qualities. If I’m right about that, how did you manage to do it?
Javier: I made the piece through transcription (from an actual Art Bell show featuring these real characters), juxtaposition (of lyrics by French hipster rockers Phoenix from their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix), and poetic in(ter)vention. The belief in Bigfoot by Art Bell’s guests is fundamentally underscored by bitter class resentment, as well as a rejection of science and technology, of urban expansion and immigration. Rather than go the way of Thoreau’s Walden, Bugs et al opt instead for the Wildman. As ludicrous and farfetched as the statements are in the live broadcast, I found the pauses and cadences in the voices of these individuals quite compelling, and wanted to experiment with making this apparent as a script rendered as a dramatic poem. Parody would be too easy here, obviously. Why not articulate the poetry lurking within such an exchange?
Fink: One more question about “Wolfgang Amadeus Bigfoot”: I recognize the poetry within the drama in line breaks, in sound play, and in ambiguous language, but how, in writing it, did you try to actualize the poetry in the drama?
Javier: I believe you answer your own question here, Tom! Though perhaps the poetry in the drama can’t be actualized until the play is performed live.
Fink: Court of the Dragon (New York: Nightboat, 2015), which begins with a long poem, then features an even longer one, and has a third section with numerous shorter pieces, will likely be the subject of a future exchange between us. This new book returns to the linguistic density of 60 Lv Bo(e)mbs. Is there any sense in which this book picks up any of the work that 60 Lv Bo(e)mbs was doing? And did you have a desire to build a text in dialogue with or consciously departing from The Feeling Is Actual?
Javier: Whereas The Feeling Is Actual was borne of my love of cinema, comics, and assemblage, Court of the Dragon proceeds from a lifelong interest in the occult and magick, in the weird tale and the Apocalypse.
I also see it continue my exploration of the long poem begun in 60 Lv Bo(e)mbs, though I wouldn’t call the former a sequel, per se. Both books are occasioned by very different periods in my life, and their disjunctions are fairly unique to each other, I think.