Interview with Steve Timm

Why poetry?

It is the natural medium for me and my voice and my music-oriented mind. I am neither a narrator nor an expositor; poetry creates an amorphous frame in which to frolic and riff and change directions and blow multiple horns at once à la Rahsaan Roland Kirk and squeak and squawk with English and non-English phonemes and indulge in sometimes-gratuitous (and sometimes not) punning.

Who are you currently reading?

Right now I am reading Jordan Dunn’s new and profoundly gorgeous Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action and a book of translations of the soulful Telugu poet, Afsar Mohammed, Evening With a Sufi. I am always reading and rereading poets, foremost among them are the ever-astounding earthy-celestial nature-ecstaticized Abraham Smith, and my touchstones, Leslie Scalapino and Clark Coolidge.

What poet/artist has had the most influence on your work?

It is impossible to name one. I can offer a list of poets–Spicer, Scalapino, Coolidge, Gertrude Stein, Vallejo—and a list of musicians—Cecil Taylor (see next question for more on him), Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy.

Where does a poem start for you?

In general it begins with a line that suddenly enters/is generated by my brain tend – what has been variously known as the muse or Martians – some wind spiring in. I work in projects (series), so what blows the line in depends a bit on the project. I am now working on a book focused on birds called Ornithocracy. These poems arise out of past and present encounters with birds. The poems here in Black Stone/White Stone began springing up like manic mushrooms – once a series begins, I can’t stop the lines coming in. The alternating narrative and non-sequiturish meditative poems just kept coming, like a continuous flow. Sometimes poems start with actual music, as in the case of Rule of Composition, a book of 100 works composed while listening to 2 Ts for a Lovely T, the 10-CD set of the Cecil Taylor Feel Trio (side bar: yes, the same Feel Trio as in Fred Moten’s book, which came out while I was working on my book). The process (the “rule”) was putting in a  CD and typing until it stopped (going through the entire set 10 times).

Where does the title of this work come from?

It comes from a line in one of the poems. When my great friend and ear-wizard, the afore-mentioned Abraham Smith, heard the line, he immediately (well, after he stopped laughing) said “there’s your title.”

I’m curious as to what sort of warm up process you have, or I guess I should say, do you have a process for getting in the right frame of mind?

I do not have a set process. I think of it as being open, or receptive. It is as though I have receptors for, or activators, and when they are all firing—open—the stuff of poetry keeps flooding in—like it is always out there seeking somewhere to land Maybe like proteins do – expression of genes. Something like that. Like “flow” or being in te zone as the athletes put it. It is a state of tingling readiness.

When I am in it, it is constantly calling for my attention. During the making of Rule of Composition, I sometimes had 2-8 liines even before I could start the CD playing. Working on Glee Ha Glue Time was often similar.

Getting into that state is another rmatter. Reading poets I love is one way. In the case of Rule, I had been in a dry spell and then thought to try a  musical ekphrasis with 2 Ts (Inspired in part by a friend’s succeess doing ekphrasis with paintings—I am not am image guy, I am a music guy, so Cecil’s work seemd the right place to be. Seriously good intuition on my part. (& I am a very intuitional poet.)

When out of it, I also just keep snatching at scraps of poetry that seem to float along. Eventualy something comes together in the idea of a project. Whch leads to your next question, I believe.

And as a sort of follow up, was there a rule for the poems in this collection? 

I believe you are referring to Glee Ha Glue Time. I had the inspiration in part from looking back on Un storia and on some later period Coolidge to do some faux narrative work and see where it took me. So I worte one and then pout of nowhere a “response” as faux as the narratvie came to me. Immediately another narrative piece came, and I latched on to making the name different everytime but always starting with a G (and occasioanlly a last name starting with P). & then I had ot “repond” again, and that lit te flame totally. (The ms is still in a raw state, consisting of well over 100 poems,and thus requiring a serious winnowing.

What is one aspect which your worked has evolved?

I am not sure about this. The most recent work is in a way a return to days of long ago when I thought I could write poems that epiphanized (I believe what is referred to as lyric poetry?) or had quote something to say unquote. A partial turn away from a more fuly “language”/sound-focused aesthetic, though certainly the bird works often come out of the music of birds (to the point of including occasionally links to websites for musical or bird-song mid-poem interludes). So these poems seem to speak more directly or with a sense of discursive or even expositional “coherence” (though I of course argue – and I am right – that my more extreme-seeming works contain their own very tight coherence) that even a non-lover of my other work could get into (athough I have been told they are stll recognizably mine, so there’s a caveat—or invitation, depending on your taste).

What are some features of poems that you enjoy when you’re reading? 

Challenges in my attention: Ambi- or poly- guities; Surprise of image and sound and language; frustration of direction (i.e., as when I mixed the Latin and Greek in my prefixes for “guity” – ha ha, guity as charged! (and that is how a poem can start)) (e.g., closure that leaves openings, non sequiturs that explode) and a refusal to “mean” in any sort of regular way. It is the same as when I listen to music or look at artworks. It is also why anyone seeks art for deep pleasure – to be swept into and inhabit (or perhaps co-inhabit) the work’s new and self-sufficient world. A transcendent feeling-aliveness.

For those interested, here is Steve reading from the projects talked about in the interview. Steve’s reading starts at about 52:10.