“An animal I’ve skinned.” Like Holy Land, the poems in your latest book, The Moon’s Jaw (Black Ocean, 2013), have no titles. Bare and screaming—all of it. I think the lack of formalities allows for one hell of an immersive experience.
Yeah, I think it’s like walking or dancing or just standing with arms spread wide apart in a spacious butterflarium versus looking at one butterfly after another (or groups thereof) pinned under glass. Or dragonflies flapping around in jars. (O, man, what a bunch of bullshit!). But, seriously, since the poems (or pieces) aren’t titled it makes the reader (or at least I hope) read and feel and view each piece as part of a sequence. A whole. They aren’t exactly stanzas but they’re kind of like that. But kind of each their own little world. Like stars in a starry jar. Kind of like butterflies. Huh? (again, what a bunch of bullshit!)
Right now I am thinking of the cathedrals and abbeys of Gothic architecture—their ribbed vaults and pointed arches—the ways the lofty aesthetic draws (forces) one’s eyes upward and into the sky: the great glory of God! Now I am thinking of Rome’s own colossal dimensions. Swells of idealized marble erected to make humans feel small. This brings me to your own anti-? architectonic: “A temple, reclaimed, by the jungle.” Contorting royal iconography juxtaposed with screaming, blossoming animalia. Are you waving your finger at a tyrant sky?
Yeah, I’m waving my finger at a tyrant sky. But that finger’s doing other things too (sorry couldn’t resist). But, seriously, I’m also being crushed by that tyrant, am lying, male and female, squirming, lost and yearning under that tyrant. I believe, sure, that the sky somehow is going to save me. That a winged genius-beauty will lift me, male and female, up into a safe eternity with concerned granite counter tops. It’s no secret that I’m charmed by churches. And temples too. They are, of course, the language of yearning and brave faux-certainty that grinds against my sad and angry and arrogant atheism.
Your crayon illustrations are definitely not something I’d expect to see from a child, but isn’t that the brilliance of it?!—and I think that’s why it has such a visceral impact. Much of The Moon’s Jaw is not what it appears to be at first glance. “I am no one.” But it is important to note that there is a “But” that follows “I am no one.” You appear to be crayon-ing humankind’s history of mortality and contradiction. Collision after collision. Our various moments of “Hard & Calm.” We often forgive or tolerate ignorance. I feel your work—your writing and your illustrations—have much to say regarding the violence of ignorance.
I think that it’s in Holy Land where I’m most concerned with and most eloquently get at the “violence of ignorance.” The following poem may be one of the better examples of this:
People mean well. Then they grab your dog and beat him to death in front of you. You’re listening to the news, and you find yourself ironing your daughter’s chest. Sewing up her cunt. This world comes down to you, and you pass it on.
Yeah, we’re mortal and yes we are filled with contradictions and it’s usually not so elaborate and vain and beautiful and rusty and romantic as Whitman’s famous boast. Whitman, great God of a writer, but also terrible pervert and con-man, should be more ashamed of himself. And ashamed of his trash death-talk garbage. His endless recruiting, cuddling and coddling. He’s a truly great feel-good drug. And now and then he deserves a good spanking!
There is death in these poems, but there is also life. Do you agree? Do you feel too many artists try to impose a social order on many things undeserving of categorization?
Yes, my poems are filled with death but they are filled also with bright, vivid and lively striving against that death. So, yes, life, decadent, and rotting, increasingly so. But, life. I have no problems with artists trying to impose on things, impose on their subjects, the words, their images, their readers even. In the end, really, artists are trying to enslave their subjects and their audiences. For a period, anyways. But I do feel like some artists are using the wrong chains and electrical boxes, the wrong chocolates and flowers, the wrong starvation, coaxing and rape techniques. The wrong sweet nothings. Certainly I am not real big on socially PC bullshit. Bringing that stuff to your art doesn’t seem, to me anyways, like a good idea.
You and I have had some conversations about the occasional audience member being visibly distressed by everything coming out of your mouth during a reading. How great is that? Seems pretty difficult to make anyone feel anything these days.
My feelings about making people “visibly distressed” are mixed these days. When, four or five years ago, I was reading from Holy Land I occasionally would look up and zone in on someone who seemed a bit, or more, bewildered by what was coming out of my mouth and this was encouraging. But it was encouraging, I think, because I was achieving a kind of solidarity with the audience. Holy Land, you see, is I think mostly a victim book. The universe is fucked up. Bad things happen. And in Holy Land I stand with a fist against that and this is something a lot of people can relate to and even champion. But in The Moon’s Jaw the vibe’s more decadent. More Bad Caesar. More perverse, self-indulgent and monstrous—and I guess I’m not yet 100% comfortable with being a monster, in person, that disturbs, distresses and grosses people out. This is something I need to work on.
Okay, soooo . . . you’ve recently been commissioned to design a parade float for National Poetry Month. Any ideas?
My first idea, of course, would be a beached and rotting whale carcass. Then of course maybe a kind of Mt Rushmore (Tony Hoagland and a few other stooges). Or a grandma knitting in a rocking chair surrounded by thousands of fat toothless cats. Or a fancy guillotine, decorated in red and purple velvets, with a long line of stunted little weasel creatures (some of them sonnets, haiku, blah, blah) waiting for the royal treatment. Or it could be a Botswana trash site where legions of aging and inbred rats fight to the death over scraps of an acceptance letter from the “Red Barn Rabbit Review”.
And I might even bring Tim O’Brien on board to collaborate because even though I’ve said many times (just kidding, just kidding) that I’d like to kill him I do like how uptight he got about that “old koot” who came up to him after a reading and told him how sorry and sad she was for that poor little baby water buffalo (the one he’d fucking made up).
Rauan Klassnik's second Black Ocean book, The Moon's Jaw, was just released. Rauan lives quietly in the pacific NW. Visit him [here] or [here]