What is moving you at this moment?
Love at the moment, quite literally—I recently moved from Los Angeles to Paris for love, and we’re living in the Latin Quarter. She works in perfume and is introducing me to scents, which is an entirely new world and way of thinking for me, new ways to think of poetry in terms of extraction, distillation, combination, abstraction. Back in Los Angeles my car moved me around quite a bit, not only around the city, but I was taking lots of long drives up and down the coast this past year, San Francisco and Big Sur, the desert. I love driving. There’s such a freedom in it, and spending hours out on the road is like a kind of meditation for me, like doing the dishes, just moving from point A to point B, one focus, during which my mind relaxes and ideas can come in. Out here in Paris I spend hours walking around the city, exploring all the neighborhoods, a very different kind of movement, slowed down to a human pace, allowing me to observe everything more closely, touch things as I pass by, the detailed railing along facades, the footfeel of cobblestoned streets, a chat with the bouquinistes, crossing over the bridges and watching the flow of the Seine that snakes through the city. There’s all the rich history and art ingrained into the veins of these streets, so the city itself is inspiring. And then there’s Shakespeare and Co, a magic labyrinthine bookstore where I read. I like being out on the street, amongst people, anonymous in the crowd, people-watching, noting interactions, catching smells and strands of conversation. People move me, especially the wild ones… I love that Kerouac line:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
Ha. And it will be spring soon, and the city will bloom—I’ve always been one for the flowers and trees.
Is there anything you'd like to share about the work you do / projects you're involved in / your interests?
I think much about time, how it relates to memory and perception, and I guess that’s always something lying below the surface of my thoughts and the things I contemplate in my writing. We exist in time. It is the great equalizer, the democratizing force— we only have so many heartbeats, so many breaths, so many dawns, so many sunsets, each a time unit comprising life our entire lifetime. The only true and universal currency—one must spend it wisely, responsibly. We are paid for our time, and simultaneously pay with our time. We dwell on the past, become nostalgic; worry about the future, grow anxious. Neither exist in this moment—it is how we choose to spend the present that defines both.
Yet I also think of different movements of time, the malleability of time, ‘clock time’ we’ve devised, versus something like ‘experience time.’ The way we experience life, art, music, words moving in time, which all simultaneously hold the power to bend time, to speed up or slow down the hands and the sand— The way a work of art contains the biological human time required for its production, yet simultaneously contains perhaps the ‘clock time’ of an entire civilization’s history in that which it depicts, and then the way that work of art can potentially transport us back through time, into the past, through our ‘experience time.’ Imagine the way a scent can trigger an entire flood of memory, perhaps years-worth of emotional associations, experienced within a mere instant, where time flashes standing still.
At the same time we live in a time where the conception of time is being radically altered. Technology has helped reduce production time to instantaneity in many instances. It’s amazing to be able to look something up, learn about something in a matter of seconds. But with that, a kind of expectation has developed, for immediacy. We desire speed, to download information instantaneously. We want to move from point A to point Z, but there is much value to be had in learning the rest of the alphabet along the way. One should read a book through, listen to an entire song, watch an entire film, without feeling the need to fast forward… smell the flowers along the way.
Time aside, I have been interested lately in blue, all aspects of blue, as a color, an emotion, a music, phrase, sound. I am interested in memory and the experience of childhood. I am interested in the idea of travel, questions of travel, conceptions of home. I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of ‘traveler’s magic,’ a phrase a friend suggested one day— what is it when we travel that makes everything so ‘magical,’ so ‘serendipitous’ feeling; why are people unexplainably drawn to the traveler in town?
And then of course I have a special interest in words and language, the way language evolves, adapts, transforms, the sound and rhythm of words, their etymologies, associations, the way we use words and language to think, to express.
Can you remember the first poem, story, or song lyrics you remember falling in love with?
We had a large bookshelf in the den of my childhood home, full of books, and I’d ask my mother to read to me from these books every evening. I remember loving the stories from Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm. I loved the sounds of the nursery rhymes and the strange lands and characters in the fairy tales. It felt like a kind of magic that these books had, and I remember wanting so badly to learn how to read, to possess that power that would allow me to pick up anything off that shelf and be able to understand it. I’d pretend to read, just open books and look at the pages, makeup stories in my head as if I was reading. When I actually learned to read, I read a lot… I’d go through books and books as a kid, books at school and then books at home after school, lots of stories and novels.
I was really introduced to poetry though through my Language Arts teacher in the sixth grade. She’d read us poems, teach us about the different formal aspects—rhyme schemes, forms, devices and such—, would walk us through analyses of the poems, would assign us to write our own poems. I really fell in love with poetry through everything she was teaching us—I loved that these poems could cut straight to it in so few words, but could also mean many different things… I remember being strangely amused by “metaphors”— why say one thing and mean another? But it was fun to think of ways to describe things I experienced or thought about through my own metaphors, and fun to link the sounds together. She always told us about her brother who was a poet, how he wrote great poetry, and I was intrigued by this poetry business; so one day I asked my mom if her brother really was a poet and she told me he was a poet and a musician named Jim Morrison, but that he had died when he was young. My mom played me some of his music, some Doors tape in our family Volvo, and I thought it was pretty neat.
Can you describe your earliest memories of writing?
When I was very young— perhaps five or younger— we had this kind of “office” room in my childhood home. I remember this room clearly because the room faced southwest, so the light came in at a very particular slant, golden at sunset, which made the room warm during the afternoons and evenings, and with the combination of the light and the warmth it held a good feeling. My mother had a big wooden writing desk in this room, facing the window, and I remember sitting in the room watching her write for hours at the desk in this light, wondering what this mysterious business was that she would spend so much time and concentration on... it must be something important, I thought. I’d sneak into this room and rummage through the desk, which had all these different compartments holding writing supplies—pens, inks, stamps, papers— there was also all her correspondence at this desk, which must have been letters and business type things. I couldn’t read then, but I remember the way the writing looked upon the paper holding a mysterious quality. I knew it conveyed something, like in books, but was too young to understand what. The writing was like a power upon that page that I wish I had, if only I knew how to do it. I’d look at the letters, longhand cursive, note the intricate ups and downs of lines of words, the loops and whorls of the letters, and I’d pretend to write my own letters on pages of paper, imitating the script, just squiggly lines and spikes really, which probably looked something like cardiograph readings recording a pulse. But it felt so empowering to be “writing” like an adult, and I would turn out pages and pages of this gibberish.
The first “real” word I learned how to write though was a bad word. I was in kindergarten, and out on the playground one of my friends—he was a bad boy—told me to come check out what he learned. He had a yellow crayon and he wrote the letters ‘b-u-t’ inside of this kind of concrete obstacle that everyone played on. I couldn’t read the word but I copied it down too, and then he said it said ‘butt,’ and I thought it was funny and also kind of scary or something that he knew how to write bad words like that. It felt cool, but I was worried we were going to get into trouble.
Where do your poems come from?
My experience of the world, and my attempt to make sense of it all. They’re what I see and the way I see it, translated into words. They come from traveling around and recording those experiences. They come from thinking back through memories of childhood. They come out of curiosity, at getting at the meaning of something, thinking it through. But perhaps it’s less about simply describing an experience or being curious about something, and rather more about starting with that reception to experience, being compelled by some impulse to put it into words, and then putting in the energy and work to craft words into shape. Sometimes a certain line will come into my head, perhaps while walking or talking or driving or dreaming, and it will just feel right, so I’ll connect that line with a concept I’m thinking about, and that acts as a good starting point for me, building a house around something that feels solid. Sound is very important to me, so oftentimes it’ll be sound associations, the rhythm and the beat helping direct the words, finding what clicks right. I like to play around with words, to think about the different meanings a word contains, its associations, where the word came from, what results by cutting up the word, the syllables comprising the word—I like to use all those meanings and sounds and parts of words to direct thoughts into other words, and the poems take shape from there.
Could you describe your writing process?
I carry around a little notebook in my back pocket. I record many things into these pocketbooks as I go about my day: observations, thoughts, lines that come to mind, fragments of conversation I hear, various lists. I keep these notes with the idea that if I ever need material to write about I can just “default” to these recordings… Most of these notes go nowhere, are just a part of a daily log of my life. But then when an idea for something I want to write comes along, these notebook recordings seem to tighten focus around that concept. I think a lot about what it is I want to write before doing anything about it, to an almost comedic extent. Then I sit down and I write out what it is I want to write in some kind of purge upon the page, pen and paper, everything all at once, no form or anything, no organization—it’s pretty sloppy. Once I’ve gotten some of those main ideas out I start to make sense of it all, type it up, start organizing, shaping, finding the right form to fit it all into, cut it into lines, listen to sounds, find better words, research, rework, reshape, revise, repeat. Print it out, make handwritten notes, type it back in with revisions, notate by hand, type, notate, and so forth. I carry the poems around so I can make notes as I go about my day. Sometimes there’s certain words or sounds or lines that I know are just right, that just click, and that’s always nice. It’s a bit of a messy process at first but there’s a great deal of pruning and order that goes into it throughout. I side with the idea that something can always be revised, is never finished. But one has to move on at some point.
How do poems and words connect us as human beings?
They are our ability to speak to those who wish to listen, today, and to generations hence, across time and distances. Those words that endure offer comfort, inspiration, instruction, wisdom, pleasure, foundation… sometimes revolution. Words and poetry become an embodiment of shared human subjectivity, offering road maps of the past and navigation into the future. There are those that have captured into words the sentiments of an entire generation, of what it means to live within a specific moment of human history, offering a kind of recording or explanatory compass for their community— Eliot, Hemingway, Sartre, Billie Holiday, Henry Miller, Kerouac, Dylan, are some I enjoy reading… And then there are those that have captured the sentiments of what it means to be human, the universal human condition, transcending generational history, and that’s when we receive something like a spiritual text, like a Whitman or a Rilke.
What is the path of love?
I think it takes a lifetime to understand its path, if one might be so fortunate. My own experience with love is that it can make you and it can break you but you go full force into it accepting both sides of the coin when it comes because it is worth every laugh and every tear. It is a selfless openness you both submit to and act through.
What is the path of fear?
It is an inability to let go in an avoidance of the unknown, sacrificing potentiality to settle for a sense of security. Progress has always involved an openness and extension into the unknown— open the door. There is a quote I admire and try to live by:
“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
What is your dream for the world?
That everyone was a bit more sympathetic. And that if we humans can’t cut it here on earth then the plants and the animals will retake the ship.
Who would you like to see interviewed on We The Tender Hearted?
Jacob Lang and Elizabeth Pieslor, two people with who I’ve spent countless hours to all hours of the night and morning discussing poetry, life, love, experience. Jacob is one of those rare individuals in the world that knows how to talk, really talk, with an encyclopedic mind. Robin Fleming. Madalina Preda. Elsa Libaux. Keith Zarriello, a musician and Baudelaire. Jacob Van Orden, a living renaissance man. Cam Koester, a liver of life cut with a sharp mind and seasoned with a dash of sprezzatura.
Medium Format Photos taken in L.A by Jacob Van Orden 35MM photos taken in Paris by Madalina Preda