Monday, October 6, 2014

October 5, 2014: Norman Fischer Live!

Poet, essayist, writer, and Zen Buddhist priest Norman Fischer joined us live in the studio this past Sunday and read from/discussed his collection, The Strugglers (Singing Horse Press, 2013).

Norman opened the show reading six poems (13-18) from the first section of The Strugglers entitled "Sixty Five," one of two memorial poems featured in the book. "Sixty Five" was composed after the death of close friend Rabbi Alan Lew, who died "suddenly at age 65." The 65 "passages" were written not only in Rabbi Lew's memory, but as a "direct communication" to him.

Next, we looked at the overall structure of The Strugglers discussing the individual character of each section: Sixty Five, The Strugglers, Mandelstam/Stone or The Russian Mall Poems, Personal, A Young Girl, A Hierophant, and Recognition. Each of the six sections celebrates a different tone, voice, and form (ranging from prosier long lines which demand page-space to shorter stanzas demanding lyric clarity). The collection's title poem, "The Strugglers," is a memorial poem written for/in conversation (in song) with Leslie Scalapino. Scalapino's final prose work, The Diehedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, served as the source text for Norman's 28-poem (each subtitled) series; he chose key words in passages and then composed his own poem of disasters that were appearing in the news at the time of writing: war, violence, tsunamis, earthquakes.

Topping our hour, Norman shared his history with Zen Buddhism and how it has influenced his writing. Early on it was something that he would "try to avoid," not wanting any one ideology to take over the work. Whereas today, Norman shared, he feels it's inevitably present in the work--evident possibly in the practice of using formal constraints. Structurally, each section of the book seems to organically find or sing out its own unique form. Citing Kay Larson's book, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists, Norman commented on how art and poetry have moved from a 20th century Modernist I/ego centered expression to a destabilizing Postmodern expression that's concerned with de-centering the self. For Norman, the one rule in poetry has become "no rules," and that's "good news" where the "self is a character"--every I in the poem is a distinct voice. His interest in the phenomena of human subjectivity informed the poem "Personal," and Norman next read from this 5-poem series (each titled, "Personal") that ultimately questions: what is a person?

We concluded with a reading from his most recent collection, Escape This Crazy Life of Tears: Japan 2010 (Tinfish Press, 2014), a "travelogue" set in his "Japanese poet persona"--slowed down, smoothed down, and pared down to an essential lyric. Click here to listen.

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