The HyperTexts

R. Nemo Hill, interviewed by Tom Merrill

It was my idea to have this public exchange of viewpoints with R. Nemo Hill—an idea I'm glad I had.

I proposed it to Mike Burch [editor of The HyperTexts] knowing very little about Nemo. Except for a handful of his poems, and a couple of remarks of his I'd seen at another poetry website and that recalled some observations of my own, I was pretty much operating in the dark. But there was enough for me to sense in him a kind of kindred outlook, what I call a shared perspective, some points of convergence in our ways of looking at things. In the exchange that follows, he reveals himself as a staunchly independent thinker, a man of eclectic taste, generous spirit, and thoroughgoing individuality. I'm glad to have made his acquaintance, and am enjoying our continuing private conversation.

It's a real pleasure for me to introduce Nemo to THT readers, whom I only ask to forgive me my pretty obvious lack of any knack for interviewing. All I can say to them is: let them with endurance persevere!—Tom Merrill

R. Nemo Hill is the author, in collaboration with painter Jeanne Hedstrom, of an illustrated novel based upon the processes of medieval alchemy, Pilgrim’s Feather (Quantuck Lane Press, 2002), a narrative poem based upon a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, The Strange Music of Erich Zann (Hippocampus Press, 2004), and a chapbook, Prolegomena To An Essay On Satire (Modern Metrics, 2006). Editor of the independent poetry chapbook press, EXOT BOOKS (, his poetry, fiction, and photographs have appeared in various print and online journals—Poetry, Smartish Pace, Soundzine, Shit Creek Review, The Flea, Big City Lit, Ditch, American Arts Quarterly, Umbrella, Sulfur, Autumn Sky, Lilt, First Things, Lavender Review, 14 by 14, Shot Glass Journal, Think Journal, as well as in two Uphook Press anthologies…and The HyperTexts, of course. His travel blog, ELSEWHERE, can be accessed at He lives in New York City, but travels frequently to Southeast Asia.

TM: Well Nemo, now that we've had a chance to get a little better acquainted via email, are we ready, do you think, to shift our tete-a-tete from the private domain to the public?

If so, I thought we might start the ball rolling by continuing where we left off, which was sharing some thoughts about Wallace Stevens. You indicated that for you, Stevens was still largely undiscovered territory, a poet you'd been putting off getting to know for fear of being "overwhelmed." In reply, I mentioned that one year, I must've re-read his whole poetic corpus at least a dozen times, never tiring of him (which doesn't mean he can't put me to sleep). "It is a world apart," you answered, I suppose referring to whichever poems of his you may know. I certainly agree that it is. I personally tend to regard him as a freestyle poet, since he just doesn't sound—ever—like any poet I might label a formalist. He sounds to me like one who'd determined to break all the molds, to write in a boldly unimitative way at whatever risk. His poetry reminds me of no one else's.

I wonder if there are any poets you never seem to tire of reading, and if there are, whether their perennial intriguingness means anything special to you?

RNH: To be clearer, I have procrastinated investigating Stevens not out of fear of being overwhelmed, but rather out of anticipation of being overwhelmed. I've also never had an edition of his poems that I liked the look of, one that I liked holding in my hands. That's important for me.

The list of poets that stay with me would make strange bedfellows, I think. This may stem from an eclecticism which is the result of self-education. Not having gone to university, my footloose path of study has followed a less than linear line. I tend to impulsively immerse myself in the life & work of one poet at a time, and then take dramatic detours as suggested by unexpected biographical or critical details. Though I may never return to them, I like to think they remain in the marrow even if they slip from the memory. I find that certain poets, at certain moments, just demand intimacy—and we all know how inexplicable relationships can be. Right now, on my nearest bookshelf, John Clare is nestled up against Robert Desnos, and they both seem to be getting along famously with several volumes of Henry Miller.

I honestly don't think I could really elevate any single poet over all others. Perhaps I am only protecting my own “uniqueness” from lopsided influence, or perhaps immersion in one voice seems to drown out all others for a time. There are sentimental favorites that linger at various crossroads of my past, Rilke especially. I tend not to trust anyone who turns their nose up at Rilke. And there are Pope and Byron, who taught me meter and rhyme for an extended period—as well as how to take myself both seriously and not seriously at the same time. And there are the Surrealists who I never tire of and who I always return to in order to refresh myself when the well runs dry. Also the filmmakers—I return to them perhaps even more faithfully than the poets. I’ve always found it odd that poets only find poetry in poems.

That said, St-John Perse is never far from my desk; nor, more recently, Edwin Arlington Robinson. There are many die-hard formalists who might not even consider Perse a poet, and many who do not embrace Robinson’s later, longer blank verse works as enthusiastically as I do. In both cases there is something about the men themselves, or the persona that arises from their work, that will not let me go: the wide lens of exile, the defeated introvert. Are they unlike anyone else? Well, I think maybe it is the reader’s responsibility to hear what is ultimately unique in a poet.

TM: I should thank you, first, for such a meticulously composed reply—and such a very thoughtful one, too.

I'm not sure how my own acquaintance with Stevens got postponed so long. I had his Collected Poems for a couple of decades (a nice hardback edition brought out by Knopf in 1954, which a friend had given me sometime in the mid-80s after seeing some poems of mine that I'd succeeded in getting published). Somehow I didn't get around to giving it a serious look until just a few years ago. That's probably a good thing though, because by then I was ready for him, better prepared to understand and appreciate him. Over time, my perspective on things like art, life, the human predicament had changed, evolved enough to put me in a considerably better position to grasp and share his. These days, as I remember telling you in an email, pretty much all I look for in poetry is shared perspective. At any rate, I'd call Stevens a real poet's poet. He can certainly be challenging, but to any persevering reader hungry for unvarnished realism, he's sure to be full of rewards.

I'm not familiar with the French poet Perse, but his being unlikely to meet with the approval of “diehard formalists” sounds like a point in his favor. Stevens, in my opinion the topmost poet America has yet produced, in terms of both originality of style and thematic substance, conceivably might be rejected by them too. And wouldn't that be an irony of ironies, “poets” rejecting or refusing to acknowledge one of the very best among them. Certainly it would make their evaluations seem a tad curious, not to say a smidgeon suspect.

But I'm curious how you feel about the dictums of those diehard formalists regarding what poetry should or must be. It would also interest me to hear you expand a little on those intriguing-sounding things that appeal to you so much in poets like Perse and Robinson: “the wide lens of the exile, the defeated introvert.” I just hope we both can be succinct enough not to lose any listeners we may have. I'm reminded of the last time I saw my friend (since deceased) Morton Bradley, who'd been an interim Director of Harvard's Fogg Art Museum. His cellphone rang as he was escorting me to the door to see me off. He listened a second, then, cupping his hand over the receiver, looked at me and moaned: "She's ancient and longwinded." I took my cue, gave him a final wave and departed.

RNH: What you called shared perspectivecan, in a certain sense, lead to shared technique—lightning does occasionally strike twice in the same place. But as far as The Club Rules, be they formalist or free verse, traditional or avant-garde, I have little use for them. Pearl fishers cannot afford to be doctrinaire. I guess my aversion to steering by dogma stems from the fact that I am not sure I believe in so-called progress. Rather than the straight lines which people comfort themselves they are traveling along, I conceive of motion as more cyclical. (It’s all the time I’ve spent in Asia, perhaps.) Everything serves its purpose at the particular moment when it comes round again—and again—and again. Whether one is in the breaking-down or the re-building camp, according to the dictates of time and temperament, there is no need to get all high and mighty about one's own curl in the gyre, no need to get all territorial about one's own plot of shifting ground.

OK, I'll confess that I have much less tolerance for the cries of anguish from traditionalists who see the Temple of Pure Poetry being profaned yet again by every new set of blasphemers—less tolerance than I do for the tricksters who gleefully play their parts in the various rejuvenist therapies, be they ironic debacle or serious spectacle. But even they tend to take their moment in the fickle spotlight far too seriously as they gradually assume the sedimentary mantle of the bourgeois norm. For me, the effect of all these gyrations is cumulative, I can pick and choose what I need—though given the volume level of the various parties involved, I often find it salutary to both enter and leave by the back door of the theatre.

I do find that too much critical perspective on the part of a poet can be a damning thing. I don’t mean poets should not reflect seriously on their own work and the work of others, dead and alive. I don't mean poets shouldn't be educated. But the tendency of some to sketch themselves right into the timeline of history, and to compose toward that self-assessed position—that seems more than a silly presumption, it seems a real danger to personal poetic praxis. It’s too programmatic. There’s no need to imprison oneself in history, whether it be the past or the future. Others will do that for you. Or time itself will do so, without comment. Past and future can take care of themselves—it’s the ineffable present that has always needed the tireless assistance of poets to become the real.

As for my attraction to poets like Perse & Robinson, the exile and the introvert, perhaps it is because they are not front-door poets. I envision Robinson’s writing room at MacDowell as all back doors, and I can’t quite picture Perse in a room at all—only in a landscape of elements. Robinson was quietly ambitious, whereas Perse was somewhat embarrassed about his active participation in literature, somewhat dismissive of it. Robinson wrote some of the most fastidiously unassuming blank verse I have ever read. Perse wrote long lines that stretch past verse into some sort of rain-soaked, wind-lashed encyclopedia of eternity. Exile and introversion seem opposite ends of the spectrum on one level, at least if we are to believe their prefixes. But they meet unexpectedly: for the introvert finds himself outside, exiled from the rest of the world; while the exile, a stranger at the very edge of that world, finds himself thrust back in upon himself even as that self dissolves in distance. An introvert myself (painfully so in my youth), it was difficult for me to learn to travel. But I have never turned back. I didn’t need to. That curve that connects the parts of me is perhaps the angle of perspective that I share with Perse & Robinson. As I said, strange bedfellows. I wonder if they ever read each other.

TM: I imagine they probably didn’t, except on a very slow night.

I wonder if poetry writing is mainly a pastime for you, as I like to say it is for me. I find it helps move the days along. Which isn't to say there aren't enough causes and circumstances and strong feelings to fuel the activity. But whatever reasons you may have for writing poems, and for presumably going to the trouble of making them as finished as you can, I gather that " sketch {yourself} right into the time-line of history...." isn't one of them. I'm guessing that by ascribing such an objective to “some {poets}” you're implying that you don't much care which segment of that finite line your own poems may remind anyone of. I'm reminded of those two yet-unpublished pieces of yours you emailed me, “Pastel” & “Invitation.” You indicated, if I'm not mistaken, that they both were fairly fresh off the press, and both of them indeed seem to confirm an unconcern on your part about kowtowing to any currently prevailing trends or biases. Lines from the latter, "I'll care no more for truth than lies/When I am meat for future flies," could suggest that you don't mind at all if your poetry evokes somewhat earlier poets. One of mine, an early one, has always sounded to me a bit like Dickinson, whose straight-out style I indeed may have had in the back of my mind when writing it (Its 1st stanza goes: “I threw off love the other day/the only thing I'd keep/I flung it at the giver of/my very peace in sleep.”) But since I also know, from other poems of yours I've seen, that you seem just as happy writing poems with a decidedly more contemporary feel, perhaps the right thing to conclude would be that you write according to mood, or the inspiration of the moment, or as the words unfold and begin suggesting a tempo and arrangement of their own.

Writing in forms doesn't bother me personally at all. I've done quite a bit of it myself and see no reason not to. Forms may not be in favor with many poets and poetry promoters these days, but I'm not sure the various substitutes presented are often too successful, or all that enviable or prepossessing. Many experiments are failures. As are many, if not most, attempts at emulating earlier masters. But given an engaging enough theme or perspective, and deft enough handling of language and cadence, I don't think a more classic style is doomed to disappoint modern readers.

Nonetheless, like you, I've grown quite a bit fonder of those “tricksters who gleefully play their parts in the various rejuvenist therapies....” and somewhat less fond of rigid formalists claiming that poetry, to have any real chance of being remembered or appreciated, must be cut-and-dried and never cut-and-try, must always stick unswervingly to one or another pre-set pattern. I much prefer Stevens' freer verse, his capricious, eccentric, highly idiosyncratic poetic speech, to the typical style of several of America's better-known masters, like Frost for example. Certainly Stevens took the greater risk, not only by writing just a tad cryptically, but by writing so differently from more standard-issue poets as never to evoke, for this reader at least, any other example of the species Homo Poeticus. I suspect his being a good deal tougher to get to know and understand hasn't helped too much in making his name a household word. But the extra effort required to begin to penetrate his poetic mind isn't likely to be wasted by anyone interested enough to keep at it, and perhaps sufficiently on his wavelength. It at least hasn't been wasted by me.

I'm curious if you're an expatriate. Many poets have been expatriates, Eliot & Pound for two famous examples. You mention your years in Asia. I suppose you've become acquainted with Asian culture as manifested wherever you lived (live?) there. Has it been imported into any of your poems I wonder?

I like your observation, by the way, linking shared perspective to some possibility of shared technique. I think it might be worth expanding on that, if you'd care to.

Finally, I'm not sure just what you mean when you say that even those aforesaid gleeful tricksters “tend to take their moment in the fickle spotlight far too seriously as they gradually assume the sedimentary mantle of the bourgeois norm.” I've pondered that observation a bit. Do you mean—at least in part—that once such a trickster wins the Pulitzer, he begins losing his individual identity and going mainstream? If so, let's be glad Stevens didn't win it till the year he died, giving him no chance to surrender his independence and singularity as a thinker and writer. But maybe what you mean is that only poems like “Whose woods these are”—which I don't mean to imply isn't a fine poem—end up getting much airing even when the corpus of a celebrated poet contains works a great deal more out of sync with any pedestrian outlook and perhaps considerably more satisfying to any reader with a more individual or radical perspective. Or maybe you mean something else.

Well, so much for succinctness I guess?

RNH: Though I find your sly, curmudgeonly diffidence toward making poetry quite charming, Tom, and though I am disarmed by its delightful humility—I must confess that for me writing is far more than “a pastime”. Rather it seems a matter of life and death, a matter of fertilizing soul. “The aim of art,” wrote Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (son of poet Arseniy Tarkovsky), “is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul.” I am certain that even without any audience whatsoever I would go on writing and writing because in the end I do it to enlarge my inner life, to build some sort of interior castle to dwell in; and later, perhaps, to haunt. Mine is an essentially religious view of art, as opposed to an intellectual one, or a social one—and so for me each feat of creation becomes a self-transformative act, an initiatory practice that provides entry into that imaginal realm which it is, at the same time, constructing.

As Otto Rank set out to prove (in his tome Art and Artist), art was originally the purest of religious acts, an individual’s attempt to give collective form to the ineffable, to provide evidence of the existence of one and thus all-soul. It was only much later that it became an entertainment, that lexical parlor game that some deem it always to have been. Whether or not, as Rank believed even already early in the twentieth century, it has perhaps evolved past its usefulness, for me the original urgency of the need to make Art remains—to compose my own Book of the Dead for navigating looming non-temporal realms. So when I say I am largely unconcerned with my place in some historical/critical continuum, that is only a reflection of my sense that what is more essential is going on elsewhere, within or under or around or above (the notion of direction seems to break down at a certain point)—. Let’s just say beyond, and characterize that elsewhere as compassed by a sur-history that may bear the same relation to time as sur-reality bears to the material world.

I aspire, if my ego is capable of it, to inhabit the humility of your “pastime”—with its connotation of the quietly personal—and yet wed it to some task that might, for those allergic to words like soul and Art with a capital A, seem more than a bit grandiose. In a secular society such as ours, bound by the tyrannical consensus of materiality, where the realm of imagination is reductively considered only the imaginary, any hint of the visionary is often summarily flattened with irony or deflated by good utilitarian common sense. But even conceptions of a more collective realm of soul, one to which each artist makes his own personal contribution, need not take on a shrilly Romantic or hyper-Jungian tone. The day to day weaving of the supra-sensory thread can be a far more self-effacing act than the activities of more muscular and material builders. For me the rewards for such private labor are far greater. Anyway, I’ve never felt as if I had any choice in the matter. I’ve built my whole life around this landscaping of the soul. As Australian novelist Patrick White wrote: “You had to throw overboard everything known good loving trusted which might interfere with the wretched trembling act of faith.”

Of course, Patrick White also claimed that many of the novels he wrote he only began because he was…well…bored—which brings us back (with a wink and a vaudevillian rim-shot) to your notion of poetry as a way to pass the time. A certain deflationary tendency is an undeniable tonic for an intoxicated soul, or for an intoxicated spirit masquerading as soul. And it is true that on most mornings one wakes up, mornings when one is not being asked publically for one’s views, to no more than the soulless ticking of that infernal external clock. Yet I think that even for a more wry sensibility, such as yours seems to be, what I am propounding at length above can still make a sort of solid sense—in the words of Edmund Wilson (a critic if there ever was one!): “Well, art has its origin in the need to pretend that human life is something other than it is, and, in a sense, by pretending this, it succeeds to some extent in transforming it.” Is there such a thing as a jaded visionary?

I didn’t mean to give the impression, in my earlier remarks, that I have anything against received forms. On the contrary I tend more towards formalism in my work than any other strategy. But I also tend, more and more, to prefer to invent my own forms as I go along. Still, there is no denying that what came before is in the soles of the shoes I walk in (no matter how many times I like to think I’ve kicked them off to run barefoot).

I agree with your suspicion that “Many experiments are failures. As are many, if not most, attempts to emulate earlier masters.” But then again, I do tend to hold to Rilke’s by now proverbial comment that “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness, and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism.” Of course, this calls into question the whole notion of success and failure. Though in the past few years I have become an active member of a thriving community of living poets, I confess that when it comes to serious reading my preference is still to study a poet’s work posthumously—so that I can examine it thoroughly, as a whole. I often find that it is in those works which have not succeeded critically, that the keys to the inner project of any given poet are revealed most powerfully, most intimately. The essential cornerstone (like the alchemical gold) is not necessarily the most objectively flawless, and it is the overall living and still breathing psychic architecture which I am most interested in—not its tidiest, most perfected balcony or minaret. Critics are more interested in the realized object. I find myself more interested in the eternalized process of subject.

My experiences of critique (passive and active) in the world of online poetry workshops have only strengthened that interest. I cannot hold to those general standards which some seem to think of as critical common sense: ‘everyone knows a good or a bad poem when they read one.’ I don’t really approach a poem in that way. Rather, I approach a poem as a voice that challenges me to hear it from the inside out. Studying the mechanism that connects voice and ear is what poetic craft is all about. This can be done in a myriad of ways, some emotional, some cerebral—some even, yes, historical. But critique, for me, proves rather a distraction when it works from any but those criteria set up by the individual poet, within the poem itself. Measuring up to some external ideal can too often create an enduring if brittle artifact; likewise too strict an adherence to a received form. And though I am not immune to the nuance of the classical, I often find the heroic defeat of the romantic far more edifying. It certainly makes me a better listener. I think this speaks to your interest in hearing me expand on the sometimes felicitous overlapping of “shared perspective” with “shared technique.” Once one is able to inhabit the voice of another without imposing one’s own, questions of shared technique can shed their ballast of ego and become quite fascinating. Until then, however, they can be treacherous.

Am I an expatriate? No, not politically speaking—though I suppose my youthful introversion marked me with a permanent streak of alien-hood. To a certain degree, my love of travel is an attraction to literalizing that outsider status. I am not much of a tourist when I am on the road. I tend to find some out of the way spot and settle down quietly to learn the lay of the land—to absorb it gradually rather than appropriate it. I am far more interested in the local barbershop than in the National Museum—in fact I never feel I really know a ‘new country’ until I’ve had a haircut there. I have indeed spent a great deal of time in Asia, Southeast Asia—first Indonesia, then Thailand and Burma—usually for about three months of the year, though less so now. And that time away surfaces in much of my work: both in my poetry (much of which is culled from images in the travel journal I have kept for the past 20 years), and in my more commercial occupation in the waking world, that of importing hand-made textiles through EXOT, the company I run with my partner. That soul-making and money-making overlap at least slightly has been a psychic if not a material comfort to me for the past twenty five years.

As for the role of “sedimentary mantle” which the various poetic strategies “assume” over time, well, all I mean is that even the most radical becomes familiar at a certain point in the great series of cycles—

                as what seems solid soon begins to flow,
                and what is fluid soon begins to slow,
                congeal, and freeze, into far different forms
                which quickly set themselves up as new norms.

Ad infinitum.

TM: Well, I guess for my part Nemo, I think I'd feel pretty lucky if I could “enlarge my...inner life” or “build some sort of interior castle to dwell in” by writing.

Alas though, I'm afraid that in my case, no matter how many poems I write, no matter how often I seek refuge in the challenging occupation of trying to re-create my own special brand of endured experience in durable language, after every spell in the work-zone of creative enterprise, where time tends to pass unnoticed, a bit as in sleep, I always seem to end up back where I started, in the same old self, with the same inner life I had before, with the same preoccupations and the same general outlook, and in the same seemingly moveless dimension. Only when some extraneous, mood-modifying element enters the picture do things ever start looking or feeling any different to me, as when some prayer is miraculously answered and lifts you out of the eternal doldrums. But writing, whether poetry or any other kind, if not exactly an anodyne, can still provide some temporary relief from consciousness of the clock.

I'm reminded of the final stanza of a poem of mine I've always been especially fond of: “But in this blind and watchful mood/which stalls the flow of time/since dreams are far, I move the sun/by wrestling out a rhyme.” Writing can help take one's mind off one's inner life, for a while anyway. At least it has seemed to serve that purpose for me on many occasions, both past and more recent. If the writer is lucky in his self-imposed exercise, in his tackling of his self-given task, he might end up with a semi-precious stone in his pocket as a reward. But I personally haven't yet had the good fortune to end up, as the result of writing a poem or anything else, inhabiting anything I would call an interior castle. Too bad too, since it sounds like such a pleasant place to dwell. No wonder you'd keep writing poems even if there were no audience for them besides yourself. You must sometime share the secret of how to build such a delightful-sounding mental domicile. Even people who formerly scoffed at poetry might start dashing off sonnets....

What might be more likely to set my interior space aglow, would maybe be something like luck in love. I gather you've been enjoying some of that yourself, as would seem to be confirmed by comments you've made to me in recent emails about the addressee of your love poem “In Clover,” which it now seems as good a time as any to re-unveil to the world:

                In Clover

                         —for Julio

                It’s not that I regret the days
                spent searching, never finding.
                Or like a traveler curse the ways
                the road has of unwinding.

                It’s not that I repent those miles
                and years I’ve spent—a rover
                dragged along by my own wiles
                through fields of common clover.

                The distant shore, the pale mirage,
                the priceless pearl still beckon.
                The mystic grail remains at large,
                the gold in lead unreckoned.

                The moon still tempts the tops of trees.
                The wishing star still rises.
                When did that fourth leaf lost in threes
                stop promising surprises?

                The day that you appeared, my eyes
                were downcast and averted—
                my bent-backed scavenger retired,
                divining rod inverted.

                Perhaps each step has brought me here—.
                Or destiny. Or chance.
                I only know life’s engineer
                dissolved in love’s first glance.

                So now this early bird sleeps late—
                he’s lost his taste for worms.
                Let others swallow hook and bait.
                Desire’s changed its terms.

                It sings no song of epic quest
                but just this simple ballad
                to thank you for the unearned rest
                and the four-leaf clover salad.

The “rest” the poem speaks of, the former early bird's, who now sleeps in late, calls to mind a line from that stanza of mine I quoted earlier in our conversation, “my very peace in sleep.” But perhaps you'll agree that the waking moments can be a tad more anxious.

“The tainted cup of happiness” is what I call love in another old poem of mine, written at a time when I couldn't help feeling the apprehension that is always part and parcel of that much celebrated and tumultuous emotion. I think Yeats, in his little poem “The Pity of Love,” which has been a favorite of mine since I first stumbled across it aeons ago in a fine old anthology, is calling attention to exactly the same thing: the blight at the core of bliss, how the deepest sadness is inextricably bound up with the greatest joy, how the sense of fulfillment is always accompanied by a vastly heightened sense of vulnerability to every element in the universe:

                A pity beyond all telling
                Is hid in the heart of love:
                The folk who are buying and selling,
                The clouds on their journey above,
                The cold wet winds ever blowing,
                And the shadowy hazel grove
                Where mouse-grey waters are flowing,
                Threaten the head that I love.

But a deep mutual affection may nonetheless, despite the uneasy emotions it's sure to give rise to, be the best dwelling place for the spirit that we can hope for. At any rate, I wish both you and Julio all the happiness it's humanly possible to have.

I love the Patrick White quotation by the way. My own religious faith was cured, around the age of fourteen I'd say, and with something like the suddenness of an epiphany, when my eyes opened up one day, and all I could see in the actions of God's self-appointed representatives was rank hypocrisy. They just didn't practice what they preached. From that moment on, the apostolate's spell was broken, and if I still attended services, I was just going through the necessary motions.

Decades later, after the premature death of my first lover, whom I loved more than I have ever loved anyone, grief, a profound and unremitting grief that for quite a long time shattered my composure daily and remained beyond my power to conceal or contain, started me regularly entreating the void just in case there was even the remotest chance it could do any good. It was my plea, my testimony on behalf of the most unmalicious person I have ever known. There was nothing else to be done for him, and I did it for two decades, daily, although the spasms of emotion fortunately abated somewhat after the first eight or nine months, owing in part to the lucky distraction of a new attraction. It was, I suppose, a super-seismic reaction to the obliteration of my whole world, of my only source of contentment and my greatest cause for concern. But anyway, to cut this digression short, I guess the moral of the story is that in sufficiently devastating circumstances, even the most convinced of unbelievers can backslide.

I suppose that crushing experience may even have “enlarged my inner life,” by bringing prayer back into it. It certainly imported something unexpected into my daily mental routine. I seemed to be allowing for the possibility of the impossible. Nor can I deny that I still seem to allow for it in my private mental practice. Such maybe is an example of the “transformative” power of love. It is very hard indeed to resign oneself to the irreversible destruction and permanent loss of someone you cherish. Were it not for its being so difficult to resign oneself to such an unbearable fact, religion would have no raison d'etre. Who would care about surviving eternally without a cherished companion? It's hard enough being all alone for a day. It's hard enough being all alone your whole life long in your “inner life,” in the sort of isolation cell of one's mind.

I confess that after sending you my last answer, I had some second thoughts myself about what I said there about failed poetic experiments. I wish Rilke's observation were as proverbial as you seem to think. Poetry is hardly performance art. It is, to whatever extent the poet is willing and able to reveal his secret heart and mind, a risky kind of self-exposure. Such a gift should be handled with care. What is of primary importance to me, as a reader of poetry, isn't so much the success or failure of linguistic experiments, as mutual understanding between me and the poet: my understanding of him, and his of me. I take it for granted that any poet worthy of the name will have a quite solid command of language, call it mastery even, and may even be able to invent ingenious new kinds of poetic speech. But I don't read poets like Housman and Stevens so much for their linguistic virtuosity as because their poetry speaks to me. Wavelength has a great deal to do with my interest in anyone's poetry.

I very much dislike criticizing anyone's writing. Writing is such a personal thing, naturally people are quite sensitive about it. I'm sometimes a bit appalled at the insensitivity of some of the critics at those online poetry workshops you mentioned. Who are these critics anyway? Not anyone, I don't mind telling you, whose opinion of how a poem should be written is of any great concern to me. If they have the right recipe and requisite skill, I suggest they cook up a masterpiece and let that serve as a shining example. No one ever taught me how to write a poem. I admired the poets I admired, envied the poems I envied, and all I can hope is that maybe some of it's rubbed off. I did have a sound grasp of the rudiments of language, having had them hammered into me as a child and absorbed them by rote, and went on to read Fowler's The King's English when I was in college—it was a gift from a professor of mine—and in fact have been meaning to re-read it. But I've never sought anyone's advice on how to write a poem, nor would I be at all inclined to heed such advice were it offered. Anyone cut out to be a poet is far more likely to learn by example than by attending the presumptuous dictums of self-appointed experts. Inspiring envy in someone is a far more effective teaching method than pretending to be the last word on "how to." A poet's greatest influences are likely to be his greatest admirations.

I don't approach poems from the good or bad standpoint either. For me, a poem's either exciting or it isn't. Exciting or intriguing. If it isn't either of those, I don't waste any time on it. If it is, I may return to it often. I'd re-read Dickinson's complete works if I still had a copy. I'll reread Stevens'. These days, I have a decided preference for the mavericks. Even Emily, with her little linguistic deviancies, in effect said to hell with it. I just hope she was fully conscious of what she was doing, and had an inkling that any recognition would be posthumous.

I like your idea of hearing a voice from the inside out. I think that's a very sharp observation. Perhaps the voice must be distinct enough before that is possible though. Often when I read poets I hear someone trying to keep time, somewhat tentatively. Voice somehow gets lost in the effort, the more so the more obviously it is an effort. The real voice would be leading the beat, it seems to me, not trying to follow it. The orchestra should be scrambling to follow the singer's direction. That may be part of why I like Stevens so much: he so seldom seems to surrender control of the pace of a piece.

As to whether poetry's become a sort of anachronism, or has outlived its “usefulness,” it certainly seems to keep a great many people busy these days. Still, it's often observed that its audience is composed only of its practitioners. I suspect that's always been true though, that only those who aspired to be poets paid much attention to the stuff. I personally read almost no poetry these days, so little of it touches on my personal concerns, so little of it that I've seen anyway. I go on writing it because it seems to be a sort of natural vocation of mine. Whether anyone else will ever be glad to read any of it I couldn't say. Poets talk to themselves, and if the conversation interests others, I suppose they stay tuned in.

I was a bit startled when you spoke of my “....sly, curmudgeonly diffidence toward making poetry....” It made me think you thought my calling it a “pastime” was a sort of ruse. But if it is, I'm not really aware of it. It's just my typical way of characterizing its “usefulness” to me.

I think it's fair to say at this point that any hope of succinctness must've been a pipedream.

RNH: Perhaps I sounded a little too sure of myself when I spoke of my passion for building an interior landscape—for my empathy is immediate and undeniable when you say: “I always seem to end up back where I started, in the same old self, with the same inner life I had before, with the same preoccupations and the same general outlook, and in the same seemingly moveless dimension.” I think that is one of the most basic conundrums of the artist: the let-down, the come-down, the post-compositional as post-coital—a state which Rilke described (after the fever of the Sonnets to Orpheus, I think it was) as nothing less than a humiliation. One reaches these vivifying heights and then finds oneself still standing on the same tired ground. The book, once closed, just lies there—until opened once again.

It all comes down to what sort of change one is looking for I guess, and where and when one is expecting that the evidence of such change is to be discovered. Coleridge wrote: “I may not hope from outward forms to win/The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.”

I guess my embrace of the imaginal realm, of my perpetual elsewhere, is such that I am often able to find the return to the intractable quotidian not only a rude awakening, but also a captivating lesson in the complex relation between esoteric and exoteric, the elusive layering of inside and outside. Consensus cartology places inner and outer in a spatial relation that I am not sure is accurate when one is speaking the more fluid language of the soul. Science has one language, an effectively structured one for dealing with the exoteric world; but esoteric reality has a language of its own—one just as valid when understood on its own terms. In the words of Henry Corbin (the great scholar of Persian Mysticism from whom I’ve borrowed the term ‘imaginal’): “It is only upon condition of being thus re-conquered as a world living in the soul, and no longer a world into which the soul is cast as a prisoner because it has not acquired consciousness of it, that this spiritual cosmos will cease to be liable to shatter into fragments at the contact of material or ideological advances from other sources.”

As I tried to teach myself in a poem recently:

                This is the mystery
                of extent
                without space.

I am not talking miracles here, and certainly not answered prayers addressed to some force outside myself. Of course, my books just lie there in the morning like everyone else’s. It’s more a matter of the ultimate Chinese Box Game. It’s more a matter of infinite quest, rather than finite accomplishment, when I assert my determination to write from and toward some inner ‘temenos’ far from the critical arena. Such a quest is not exclusive of other tasks (that’s one of the most compelling mysteries of the inner/outer marriage). But for lack of a less freighted word, it is the “faith” inherent in such a quest that keeps me going. And I do suspect that, insofar as I have been able to embrace moments of creativity from that angle, I have been changed as a person, gradually, over time.

You know, Tom, love just came to me. Or so it seemed. As I tried to say in my poem "In Clover" (which was originally published online in Soundzine) love was not something I was actively searching for at this time in my life. So why did it arrive? And why did it refuse to take my well-rehearsed no for an answer? Why do those external changes we prepare ourselves for indirectly, with “eyes downcast” and “divining rod inverted”, often prove the most fundamental? On a certain level, the “rest” I speak of in the poem is really a rest from the conscious search for something that I had all along: not the love, but the ability to love. What a relief to find oneself capable of such a thing, and what gratitude to the other whose existence makes that capacity concrete.

Those “uneasy emotions” you speak of seem to me to stem mainly from the fear of loss, the fear of return to some empty state. But I love that empty state as much as I love Julio! And he too seems at home there, especially after one too many tequilas and a heavy dose of mental Mariachi. Perhaps I am kidding myself (it wouldn’t be the first time!) but I don’t feel the sort of attachment that separation can threaten. And I have challenged myself on this point, in fantasy: Julio is, after all much younger than I am, I will be a doddering old fart or six feet under when he is still collating experiences like I am now; and we are both HIV positive, so we are in the conscious crosshairs of mortality (though far less so than we would have been ten or fifteen years ago—thanks to the language of science). Still I just can’t quite conjure the panic of separation. I can conjure the sadness—. Oh yes, the sadness—. “But cheerly, cheerly, / She loves me dearly,” this Keatsian sorrow. “She is so constant to me, and so kind.” You write: “Who would care about surviving eternally without a cherished companion? It's hard enough being all alone for a day.” Well, the mythic exile in me can foresee that situation, and does not shrink from it. In fact, a day alone usually makes me long for another. And yet the exile has fallen in love, no doubt about it. The soul, it seems, can not only endure such conjunctions of opposites, but seems to thrive on them.

If I may indulge myself for a moment, referencing Emptiness, I would here like to quote one of the characters in my novel, Pilgrim’s Feather: a large Bluebird named Beryl who, though dressed as a ballerina, is a practicing physician and grand mistress of the art of alchemy. Along with her apprentice, a large brown Bear, she attempts to heal the wound of the book’s titular main character, its Pilgrim. Few people read far enough into the book to have heard her speak, so you’ll pardon me if I can’t resist letting her voice be heard in a wider context than that of the seldom entered chamber of Chapter 8:

    “So what are you telling me?” snapped Nicolas, interrupting, “that nothing is real? That it’s all an illusion and I should just sit down right down, right here, right now, and never take another step since I’m not really moving anyway?”
    “On the contrary,” Beryl assured him, “or exactly.”
    “Nothing means two different things in your sentence,” prompted the Bear.
    Nicolas scoffed, annoyed to see that even the Bear was joining in this rhetorical game, and he tuned his ear back to the mysterious song in the wind.
    “The Requiem,” the Bear concluded this time, as the invisible song whispered the same phrase as before into the boy’s ear, more insistently now, “and caught beneath the wing of sleep . . . I cling . . . to . . . ”
    “According to the Philosophers,” Beryl was still rambling on and on, “the theorem that nothing is real, when taken to mean that none of things in the sense you habitually use them are real, could perhaps be proven to be true in many, if not all, cases. The Philosophers refer to this as the constantly challenging experiment of negation. However, if one were to interpret this nothing as one thing as well, and not merely as the many no-things or lost certainties of a valuable life of experiments in the operating theatre, if you mean by nothing the monadic loss, the sum total of the many tiny losses, then you have passed beyond the disorientation of negation into the experiment of affirmation, where that one thing, nothing, is indeed real, and where a body need be given to only that one proposition, a proposition that can always be proved, every time, in exactly the same way under exactly the same set of infinite circumstances, for in the realm of affirmation Truth is one and yet it is many and yet it is not at all in a continuously emptying spiral of hosanna in the highest!”
    Beryl burst out laughing.

Of course, it’s all much more painfully messy than such playfully hermetic discussions of it can express. But our conversation is destined for The HyperTexts and not for the pages of the National Enquirer. So the arcane high road it will be! No mention (for the moment) of mood swings, chronic flatulence, credit card debt, martyr complexes, drugs, alcohol, fallen arches, house fires, fascism, etc. But it should be here noted, to protect me from accusations of being some sort of spiritual Pollyanna, that the inner dreamscapes I surrender to include nightmares as well; and the changes I speak of go hand in hand with suffering: to suffer change is one of my favorite phrases. The soul works hardest in the dark. I am convinced, as you suggest, that the “crushing experience” in the depths of the vale of tears “enlarges the inner life”—certainly as much as the peaceful view afforded by the occasional mountain top.

As far as the, ahem, notorious workshops, the online poetry workshops—I can’t really disagree with anything you say. And yet I do continue to frequent those critique boards. I do think they have been of great benefit to me, and that I have on occasion returned the favor to others who frequent them. I have noticed, over the years, that many poets tend to come and then go, to use them and then outgrow them. Most of the poets I first got to know online, many of whom I watched develop in impressive ways, have since left the boards—some quietly, some in a confused storm, some in a justifiable fit of pique, a few involuntarily shown the exit, fairly or unfairly—but all as strong individuals who were helped and not harmed by the experience. And yet I have remained, and I remain active. I’ve had my major flare-ups, my fundamental disagreements, and I have made, no doubt, a few lifelong enemies. But I have also made a few lifelong friends, as well as some startlingly concrete discoveries about the mysterious intimacies of voice and ear that demarcate the boundaries of a poem.

The experience of posting a poem on the boards is a far more engaging one than having a poem published in a magazine or an anthology. If engagement is what one is after, then this is an invaluable resource. But engagement is messy. Publications are museums, whereas the critique boards are laboratories. In museums one finds a polite silence (which one can interpret as affirmation). In laboratories there are often noisy explosions. The stench of chemical reactions is not for everyone, and everything bad that one can say about such places is probably true. Peer standards of critique, salon bullyspeak, persistent pedantry, prevailing poetic fashions, de facto censorship—whether or not these things actually exist outside of the dialectic of obsessive argument that constitutes the Po-Board Universe, I am not convinced any callow souls, be they young or old, have been irreparably damaged by venturing into the lion’s den. It’s a voluntary arena after all, and a little raw meat can be quite salubrious for even the tenderest of palates.

It isn’t always clear to me what and who I like, what and who I hear most intimately. That takes time and a willingness to listen past the sound of one’s own voice. The ensuing dialogues based on such earned intimacies (which are wildly varied in nature) (international, both literally and figuratively) can be revelatory and inspiring. Such fruitful dialogues are what continue to sustain my modest publishing project as well, the series of chapbooks that I launch under the imprint of EXOT BOOKS. Without the far reaching network of the poetry boards I am not sure such a venture would continue. Yet even the vast gaps that yawn between my ear and certain voices less compatible with my own can prove illuminating. Bad examples are powerful teachers in their own right.

From square one, some poets are simply horrified by the whole brouhaha—this may be merely a matter of temperament, I think, and such poets should just stay away and not lose any sleep over it. There is, of course, no infallible authority to turn to for poetic judgment. Thus the volatile nature of such places is an inevitability—the tenuous balance between private and public that is the paradox of poetry will always engender these cycles of passionate debate. So be it. And like everything else it touches, technology magnifies these age-old dynamics to often monstrous proportions. That’s the world we live in now, the one we have created for ourselves. I can picture myself turning away from all that at some point in the future—a castaway under the influence of some inner directive. So be that also.

Perhaps this is the moment that I should mention that during my recent trip to California, I picked up a volume of Wallace Stevens that seemed to sit nicely in my hand.

                The essential poem at the center of things,
                The arias that spiritual fiddlings make,
                Have gorged the cast‑iron of our lives with good
                And the cast‑iron of our works. But it is, dear sirs,
                A difficult apperception, this gorging good,
                Fetched by such slick‑eyed nymphs, this essential gold,
                This fortune's finding, disposed and re‑disposed
                By such slight genii in such pale air.

So at least our conversation has effected some small concrete change in my circumstances: as soon as I get through Artaud’s Heliogabalus and Dave Mason’s Ludlow, I shall dip deep into Stevens with your blessing. In the meantime, I wonder if we should begin to wrap up this long chat before we start repeating ourselves—. Or before I pontificate myself into an uncomfortable corner—.

TM: Your referring to our discussion as a conversation reminds me of the “interview” that was originally envisioned. We indeed seem to have departed a bit from the standard Q & A format. It seems to have developed more along the lines of an epistolary exchange. Well, as I remember warning you before we went public, I never supposed I had any knack for interviewing, and I guess there's now abundant proof of that.

As to your taking the “arcane high road,” which it strikes me you've done pretty consistently throughout, I'm wondering if it isn't owing as much to a fascination with philosophy on your part as to any deference toward the supposedly more respectable setting of our interchange (I say “supposedly,” because it's my impression that The HyperTexts isn’t the least bit squeamish about giving either earthy or radical material airtime.)

I'm reminded that one of the poems you recently submitted to The HyperTexts was dedicated to Martin Heidegger. The recondite ruminations of philosophers can make for quite a challenging study. I personally find them the most elusive of writers, at least when they're writing for other philosophers. When now and then they write for a more general audience, they engage me more. I recently re-read Santayana's novel The Last Puritan, and found it afforded a more intimate view of his personal outlook than any of his more specialized writings. I also like his autobiography Persons and Places, as well as all of his so-called “fugitive” pieces. In poetry, he didn't seem to mind remaining a sort of latter-day Elizabethan.

Questions of being and becoming seem to be a preoccupation of yours. Suffering change would seem to be our common fate, the fate of all flesh, and indeed of all material things. Certainly on the most palpable level, there's never been any stopping it, if time's ravages are less obvious from day to day than from year to year or from decade to decade. Everyone exemplifies the perpetual flux, and no one escapes its treacheries and transmogrifications. And in the end, as every unrepentant unbeliever will insist, all that remains of us is the skeletal apparatus on which our whole precarious existence hung, or else a bag of pulverized bone-bits. Happy Halloween.

Along the way to that cheery conclusion, our inner lives do seem to get their share of changing weather. I suppose the circumstances in which we find ourselves, our view of our future prospects, the undertow of personal biochemistry, the combined impact of whatever's happening, or perceived to be happening, within and around us on our individual make-ups, must account for mental vicissitudes as much as anything. While habits like reading and writing may rub off on us in subtle ways, and solidify our self-understanding, and even move us along toward a more integrated perspective—which is perhaps the point you've been trying to make about writing's effect on our inner lives—I wonder if any sort of accruing advantage from such activities is likely to have much determining effect on our outlook on the world at any given moment. I doubt that a career of absorbing and producing written works, even ones of the highest calibre, is likely to rescue anyone from unwelcome moods or states of mind, which seem to be brought on by events and conditions beyond our control, and to which we remain just as vulnerable no matter how many fine words we've read or written. But it wouldn't surprise me if I'm still missing your point altogether, and if so, apologies for my obtuseness.

As to your loving empty states as much as you love Julio, well, I can't help wondering if you would love them as much were there no Julio in the picture, no sure prospect of relief of the emptiness. He may be absent at times, as “after one too many tequilas,” but doesn't knowing that such absences are only temporary, and not permanent and final, help keep you content during the times you're apart? As long as the expectation of reunion remains, as long as you know he'll soon enough be returning despite any little getaways, don't you still feel he's with you, and thinking of you, and aren't you still supported by your awareness of that? I personally, at any rate, have always found such awareness sustaining. My favorite line in your poem “In Clover” is “Desire's changed its terms.” I know that experience quite well myself, of losing interest in the smorgasbord due to an all-eclipsing new attraction or attachment. I suppose that for anyone who's been to heaven, anywhere else must seem like purgatory. I know that in my case anyway, returning to an empty state after such an experience has plunged me into despondency. I confess I've never had the alleged Stoic knack for reserving a corner of one's heart to oneself when in love. Montaigne advised doing that as I recall, but I have yet to find any such reservable corner in my own heart. Whenever the lovebug has struck, my heart's been taken whole.

A young friend of mine got hit with an HIV diagnosis a couple weeks ago. His drug habit isn't going to make his health any easier to hold onto. He's been struggling to conquer his habit, and I've been trying every trick I can think of to get him into a more circadian routine—various things to divert and consume his energies mainly, hi-calorie meals among other things—but it can sometimes seem that nothing short of an exorcism will free him from its grip. No wonder people fall back on prayer and hoping for miracles. At any rate, I hope for both you and Julio that the T-cells stay up and the viral loads stay down, and that the new anti-viral drugs keep doing their good work and holding the nasty interloper in check.

I like your observation that “bad examples are powerful teachers in their own right.” Even bad experience has positive value, by being educational. Enough experience of deception can certainly serve as a cure for naiveté. Seeing everything as a learning experience can help transform bitterness into gratitude. I've more than once thanked people who've hoodwinked me one way or another. While their intentions may not have been commendable, at least they advanced my understanding. But in poetry, I'm not sure I've ever found unenviable examples particularly useful or instructive. For me, they're in the class of passing things that make no impression.

Finally, and before I leave to you the last word in our exchange, which by the way has proven a pleasant pastime for me, I might add that poetry workshops are fine for anyone who likes, for one reason or another, to participate in them. I've never been interested in them myself, since I prefer following my own lights in writing. This doesn't mean I've never gotten a useful suggestion from an editor. But it does mean that neither the shape nor the substance of my poems owes anything to speak of to the advice of others. Every serious writer must fall into his own style of saying whatever it is he wants to say. I suspect that the poets that have come down to us have been pretty exclusively their own editors. I suspect the masters they admired were their only guides, before they eventually went on to become models themselves, with a unique irresistible influence of their own. Has any modern poet inspired more emulators than Dickinson? I doubt any of her poetry features the handiwork of any editor but herself. But I admit that from time to time, I've thought it might be fun to try renga, I mean the collaborative kind. And maybe someday I will. It would be an interesting way of discovering what one poet's mind might suggest to another's. Maybe we should've tried one before starting this “interview.” It might've helped keep us more succinct.

As a footnote, I'm glad Stevens has begun to snag you. I've read his Collected Poems at least a dozen times. I'll read them again. For me he's indeed a uniquely irresistible poet. See if you don't agree that except for an unfortunate handful of racial epithets, words we would not use now but that were too thoughtlessly used then, there's nothing dated about his poetry. Maybe if we resume our confab in private, you'll share with me any thoughts you have about his poetry or particular poems. It would be interesting to learn if he grows on you.

RNH: I am not an ideal reader of philosophy, Tom, especially when, as you put it, “it is written for other philosophers.” I lose my footing quite quickly in thinking that is too systematic. I keep changing my mind. My attraction to Heidegger is that he often writes about poetry itself—usually about Hölderlin—and that his language seems more the language of poetry than of philosophy, more a language of conjuring than of analysis. He seems to hit the transparent nail on the transparent head with the transparent hammer when he suggests that poetry is "...a disclosing that lets us see what conceals itself, but lets us see it not by seeking to wrest that which is concealed out of its concealedness, but only by guarding the concealed in its self-concealment." Perhaps what I enjoy most about a somewhat philosophical approach to poetry is that no matter how much systematic clarity of language is employed, the final insight will always remain tantalizingly out of reach. If language did not ultimately fail to reveal the truth, we poets would be left with little to say.

The reason I brought up the idea of suffering change was not to dwell on the obvious aspects of the human condition, but only to point out the implication which the union of the two words into a single expression helps clarify. To suffer means, in this context, merely to be capable of change. There is really nothing particularly negative about it. The negativity comes from resistance to the process of change. The pain of suffering comes from attachment. I’ve landed squarely in Buddhist territory here—. Which reminds me of a gentle debunking I once received from a dear departed Buddhist friend of mine, Don Iocca. To my blithely professed embrace of suffering, desire, change, all those things one ought to wish to escape from—he responded, with a twinkle in his eye, by reminding me that suffering, change, desire, etc, had no need of my permission to act upon me. “Why not try,” he implied, “to do something more challenging than suffer change?” Ah, what a beautiful smile he had! Several years after his death I had a profound feeling that he was near me while I was circumnavigating the principal stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda on my second visit to Rangoon, Burma. I sat right down on the warm tiles, beneath an adjacent banyan, and tried “to do something more challenging than suffer change.” But it was so terribly hot, even in the shade of the tree, and my discipline melted away.

As to whether the prospect of a return to togetherness is what fuels my flirtations with emptiness, I can only say that the reverse would seem to be true as well—without that sense of the void, I am afraid I would soon wither in loving company. Thanks goodness I do not have to choose between them, they both just seem to be a part of me by now.

So. The effect of perpetual transformation on the body is not open to argument. We all know rot when we smell it, each of us has the same two nostrils: “those two pipes in the skull,” as Patrick White referred to them, “exposed to unreasonable torture.” In the world of the imagination, however, it is process itself that seems more primary than substance. Soul relates to change in a different key, a non-temporal key—where both is and was are but different gradations of seems. Whether what seems creates what is, or what is provides the ground for what seems, that’s all part of the dizzying process—. Moments of equilibrium are all I can aspire to. That—and, to quote a phrase that’s been a favorite of mine ever since my youth—‘to see what isn’t there’.

As for exactly what effects all of these inner transmutations, these dreams, these poetries, these constantly morphing interior architectures have upon our lives—I don’t think the equation can ever be a simple one, I see no neat and tidy tit-for-tat, no accessibly crisp karmic equation. And though I intuit a sort of balm in my case, I would never try to calculate a quantifiable profit. The late and very great archetypal psychologist James Hillman warns: “When we move the soul insights of the dream into life for problem-solving and people-relating, we rob the dream and impoverish the soul. The more we get out of a dream for human affairs the more we prevent its psychological work, what it is doing or building night after night, interiorly, away from life in a nonhuman world. This lifelong activity of nightly imaging is distinct from what we do in the day with these images, applying all the humanistic fallacies—egoistic, naturalistic, moralistic, pragmatic. Dream activity might better be conceived as soul-making, or in D. H. Lawrence's words, building the Ship of Death.”

That poetry has absolutely nothing at all to do with material life as we experience it in our waking hours would be to overstate the case, to over-systemize our provisional maps of inner and outer, and unfairly minimize the lifeline it extends to those less fortunate than I, those more materially oppressed. It would minimize the effect that poetry has had in changing human hearts and minds, or in keeping human hearts and minds alive at all, in dignifying them through such periods of otherwise unbearable violence and chaos as I have so far been spared. How it does so remains a wide open and often contentious question.

Yet I remain convinced that anyone who devotes his or her life, above all else, to making or finding poetry in any of its many elusive forms, will develop over time, even beyond time, a sort of subtle body whose mode of being can only be apprehended by and through those senses sensitive to it. I am well aware that this is a sentiment that will not go down well in an age as materialist and literalist as the one we now live in. Thus, this might be as good time as any for me to duck and run for cover.

But not before I offer my heartfelt thanks for this conversation, Tom, and for your willingness to stretch the parameters of the interview format. Julio also sends his warm regards. And I trust that emptiness itself (as made mysteriously palpable in poetry’s cognitive gaps) sends you a warm valentine as well. Offering up a heart that has yet an empty corner reserved deep within in it, one for love to leap, can be a very special form of surrender.

The HyperTexts