Excerpts from an Interview with William Bronk by Edward Foster
from CONVERSATIONS WITH WILLIAM BRONK
The full "conversations" can be found in Postmodern Poetry, edited by Edward Foster (1994) Copyright © 1994 by Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. A longer excerpt can be found at http://attila.stevens-tech.edu/~efoster/bronk3.html
WB: Thats where Ive been lucky. I didnt have to use the poems as a way of feeding myself. And its a tremendous conflict or problem for any young artist. I mean how do you feed yourself? How do you live? Maybe its somewhat less for poet because a poet doesnt need space and doesnt need materials. A painter, a sculptor, a musician. . . . Even a musician has to have a place with a piano or something of that sortvery difficult to work without some kind of living quarters where you have a piano. A poet doesnt need anything, but theres a kind of similar problem because of the fiscal circumstances. Theres no money in it for a long, long time, and then there isnt a lot usually unless you consciously go after it and write to sell. Or paint to sell and so on. And it can be destructive. It can be the end. . . . With all the maneuvering you have to do in order to get connections, get the right gallery and critics on your side and so on. I have the luxury of being absolutely independent from that. Certainly some of the attention I get is from you and from Norman and Henry and so on, you people who are teaching and reading. And whether I would have been able to go on with no notice at all. . . . I have no respect for the American Book award, and yet I suppose that the fact that it was there is helpful. . . . I got a little of it without trying very hard, but it was very minor, and it was in a very small circle. Probably a great deal of it through Origin, and there are ways in which I owe a lot to Cid Corman. . . . If it hadnt been for Cormans Origin, I dont know where I would have been published. And a lot of the subsequent publication came about because my work was seen there. George Oppen saw my work there and got his sister to publish The World, the Worldless. If your name appears in certain places, then. . . .
Well, I think most magazine editors have no independent judgment at all, dont know what theyre doing, and they would publish because theyd seen him in somebody elses magazine: well, this guy must be all right. And in many cases, this guy is not all right. This guy is an absolutely terrible poet, but hes been published here and there, so he must be all right and is accepted by all sorts of people that have no feeling about poetry or anything else. Oh, this guys goodyeah, Ive seen himhes being published in lots of places. They have absolutely no feeling about the work at all. And I dont think any of my response has been on that basis. I think you happened on my work and actually liked it because it did something to you, and I think thats the same thing that happened with various people. Nothing is ever pure in itself, but I think that is largely true. Such acceptance as Ive had is very small, and I dont care whether the most respected critics are reading it at all. Im not writing for Helen Vendler. Im not writing for Harold Bloom or whoever superseded them, if somebody has. . . . Im writing for my fellow humans, most of whom dont care either.
EF: One final time. Are words other than the things they name?
WB: Well, they mean an awful lot of things, most words in English anywayas anybody who does crosswords is aware of. I dont know. Are they? What else do you want them to be?
But are words other than what they mean? One problem about them is that we dont know what they mean. We think we know what they mean, but I have had literate people totally, as far as Im concerned, misread a poem that Ive written. I dont understand. . . . How the hell did he come up with that? I didnt mean anything like that, and I think that Im a fairly direct speaker in a poem, and I think that clarity is something that I usually achieve. But often its a quite different clarity from what I intended. And I think its fair to say its a misreading of the poem, not simply that the poem has a reading that I didnt intend. I dont feel that.
EF: I dont believe one has complete control of language. It devises its own patterns.
WB: Oh, very much so in my own experience although I dont think that is the experience of a lot of other writers who work and rework a poem. My poems come to me in their own language, and if they were not in that language, they would not have any force. Sometimes before I get it written down, the language kind of slips, and I think: I dont know, that is not it, thats not it. Im saying something which is intellectually more or less the equivalent, but it is flatit doesnt work. And then if Im fortunate, it will come back to me: oh, yes, thats the way the poem is, and its simply a matter of changing the tone or changing the languagewhich would not be the case if it were a neutral kind of idea. . . .
WB: But you go back a few steps to what was said earlier about the words being in charge, the words taking control of expression. . . . I have repeatedly had the experience, when the poem gets written down, of saying, oh, God, no, I dont mean thatbut hesitating to change the meaning because it seems to me the way it has to be saidand then only later, maybe the next day, two days later, the next week: yes, I guess thats what I do mean. But the initial rejection of what the poem is saying because it seems to me something that I dont particularly want to mean, a meaning that makes me uncomfortable or embarrasses or contradicts something else Ive said or whatever. Having to accept that when Ive lived with it for a little while. . . . Admitting, yes, yes, I guess that is what I mean.
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