LITERATURE— ROBERT GRENIER and PAUL STEPHENS
CAMBRIDGE M’ASS, originally published by Lyn Hejinian’s Tuumba Press in 1979, marked Robert Grenier’s shift to visual poetry. Celebrating its recent reprint, Paul Stephens talks with him about the oversize poster-poem, where poetry is both map and maze.
I was delighted to hear, from Paul, that you will be able to publish our conversation about CAMBRIDGE M’ASS in its original/actual form ! I was sad to think that the complete piece might well not be able to be included in BOMB because I like it very much/’put my heart into it’, as they say, and think that it ought to be of considerable interest to your readers . . . be fun to read, & be informative to those who know something of my work & want to learn more about it.
This conversation is part of an ongoing form of ‘literary criticism’ I learned from Robert Creeley, initially (from two collections of his interviews-- Contexts of Poetry was one)--Creeley’s demonstration that one didn’t have to think in isolation/spell it all out in essay form (like T.S. Eliot, etc.), but could accomplish very much the same thing with the help of/in the presence of another person in conversation, in the ‘real time’ of a truly social occasion . . . if one had one’s wits about one, and had trained oneself to ‘operate’ under the constraints of said occasion.
In other words, doing a number of these conversations, I’ve learned to ‘tune myself’ to be ready to speak & think aloud . . . when the possibility of saying something in such occasion presents itself . . . This is what (I think) Paul & I managed to accomplish, looking at CAMBRIDGE M’ASS here in our house in Cabot that day.
It’s all ‘about’ the rhythm of the occasion, the pace (& sounded pattern) of what gets said, during the actual/’real time’ course of the exchange--that’s why I felt it was necessary to preserve the transcription of what was said (nearly) verbatim, as such. (It’s absolutely not about ‘gems’--whatever might be supposed by anybody (& this will vary) to be the ‘best parts’--’profundities’, etc.). It’s a kind of ‘musical score’ (you’ll remember the idea in WCW/Olson/Creeley that the written poem is a score for voice/later voicings) . . . a ‘score for thinking’ ?
But I don’t have to ‘extol the virtues’ of this form to you, who edit a magazine committed to exactly this kind of conversation !
Anyway (I’ve done my very best to make the piece truly ‘letter-perfect’), given this commitment I have to the form, please don’t try to edit the thing (to remove “redundancies”, etc.--there aren’t any redundancies (!)), at all--there’s no need, in this instance (& in fact to set about to ‘fix it’ is to betray the intent of the occasion, as I know & understand it).
Everything in the transcript (e.g., the British usage re punctuation of question marks, single & double, position of question marks in relation to commas) has been carefully set forth as is--it’s as ‘intentional’ as anything in any poem of mine, and I would ask you to respect the fact of the form it is/it’s in.
Thank you, very much (!), for determining to publish the piece--I’m really looking forward to hearing what anybody may have to say back to us, about it !
Cheers ! Bob Grenier