Marcus Reichert's new book of poems Confessions was published on 1st November 2010 and Dom Gabrielli’s book of poems The Parallel Body was published on 1st March 2010. Both were published by Ziggurat Books International, London & Paris.
DG: I’d like to start with the notion of multiplicity and identity. You work with seeming ease in several media. You were a great film-maker. You write novels, you paint, you’re an amazing photographer and, perhaps above all, you are a poet. Strangely it seems that your poetry is least represented in your remarkable career. Is that because as Pasolini said, you do everything as a poet?
MR: Absolutely. What we know about life is what we can’t express, but we go on trying to find a means to express it. That which is most elusive, most joyous, most painful is what we have at the centre of our beings, and it’s this awareness that we feel compelled to communicate. In poetry it’s understood that there isn’t any sort of concrete statement, such a statement is impossible. What we do slips and slides between our acknowledged selves and what is most often called reality. But the poet knows that there is no such thing as reality. Of course there are buildings made of steel and glass, there are clothes made of fur and plastic, and men with guns intent upon killing each other, and people lying in the baking heat or the numbing cold suffering, there are impassioned souls making love in a bed somewhere – but do these things constitute a reality? It doesn’t matter what or how many media we work in as long as we feel that our compulsion to express ourselves is a worthy one.
DG: That is a very emphatic statement. I would be inclined to say that those ‘slips and slides’ between our so-called selves and our so-called reality is where identity lies. Hence, precisely because of your definition of the act of poetry as exploration, I see poetry as the most innovative viewpoint from which to understand the mysteries of identity. I do nevertheless see this moment as a phase or stage to be superseded. Ultimately, poetry should lead us to lose identity altogether, to be the nameless, close to nothing but permanently criss-crossed by intuition and sensation. As Deleuze and Guattari wrote, we only say ‘I’ for convenience but we don’t really believe in insides and outsides anymore. We keep speaking with 19th century terminology but we all realize instinctively that we have been multiplied. In this sense do you consider yourself to be ahead of your time as a multi-identity producer or is it more complex? Is for instance painting more 19th century and film more 20th? Is there a medium for a given epoch?
MR: I don’t believe I’m a multi-identity producer. I don’t believe that identity has anything to do with what I do. Perhaps the contemporary or modern interpretation of self is the composite that is our sensibility – our existence, and our awareness and knowledge of that existence.
Certainly we learn things as we go along and that learning constitutes a kind of knowledge, but it is often this knowledge that also constitutes a misconception. This is because we are essentially subjective beings who find it extremely difficult to achieve any objectivity. When we make a poem or a painting or take a photograph, we are striving to achieve a kind of objectivity. We are striving to know ourselves in the context of our existence. This, as you know, is not so easy. And the time-frame in which we work is only relevant to the time-frame in which we live: we can only know what is immediately around us, unless of course you believe that memory is a kind of knowing, or that reading a book or looking at a picture is comparable to any other sensory experience. So we go back to the understanding that time is an abstraction, that it only exists because we need it to exist. Technology – the tools with which we work – are irrelevant. If we truly have anything to express that expression will find its form. Your new poems found their own form.
DG: With The Parallel Body I hope to begin to chart this place which undoes identity to benefit something greater, something from the Outside. Similarly, in this place (for want of a better word) there is a whole other sense of Time. As you rightly say: How artificial are our notions of time? What happens when we break down these coordinates and find ourselves without any safety netting? What time is that? Are we in a delirious space, a mad space where fear and panic dominate? Is it the Unconscious where babble and stuttering impede clarity and speech? Or is it possibly some amazing peace, something like what Rimbaud called ‘the sun eloping with the sea’ – beauty itself – moments which last an eternity, precious scars on our virtual bodies. Probably all of these. There’s a whole journey to be lived and re-lived.
MR: And the soul is transformed as the body is transformed. Someone once said that we inhabit a completely new body every seven years. Our bodies remake themselves every seven years even though in the process the entirety is made of older and older stuff. It’s a kind of paradox. Certainly we are living and re-living our experiences within ourselves
DG: That’s why we need to think in terms of multiplicities. In my particular case: a tri-lingual nomad carrying on several parallel lives/jobs/activities – whatever you wish to call them – crossing frontiers several times a week. How can I, the poet, fit into any identity? Am I the same Dom Gabrielli when I speak and live in France as the Dom Gabrielli who travels to London where he grew up? Who am I when I’m a farmer in southern Italy making olive oil? What does this multiplicity bring to bear on poetry, on language, given that I have chosen to write in English? And strangely at the same time we also have an aura, a mystical grace, which we were born with and which seems to transcend all these differences and brings us back to the kind of mysterious and unknown unity which you speak about, and which poetry expresses without us knowing how or why. But in our time, what is left for the poetic sensibility? What do you think is the best way to address our current apocalyptic situation artistically?
MR: By letting our emotions run amok, at least in the initial stages of the creative process. I think you would agree that the unguarded moment is the best moment to begin. The inclination is then to refine our initial outpourings and make them more accessible to an audience, but I’m not at all certain this is what we should be doing. You often write about the need for a new poetry, a poetry that is equal to the apocalyptic reverberations we now feel all around ourselves and within ourselves. You’ve quoted the philosopher Michel Serres who believes that we must find our own Ark, an Ark that will be a new form of language, that will
Certainly, every poet who is sincere in what he writes seeks a new language to express his revelations. His revelations must ultimately be those of the reader, so they must in words strike a chord, they must find that essential moment of recognition. Artaud wrote The New Revelations of Being, a work written in an impossible language about impossible things. But now, today, we ask ourselves: are these two things impossible, is it impossible to find a new language to express new experiences?
DG: Artaud only trusted the words and images that he wrung from his passionate and wounded body, or what was left of it – his breath, his blood, his scream. He invented the body without organs because he was fighting a war against the tricks and spells psychiatry and society had spun on him. He didn’t trust the intentions of his organs. They were already polluted. He managed to annihilate representation by losing his organs and losing his relation to an-other via his organs. His body wrote and his notebooks testify to this. They are his greatest testimony, his masterpiece. Image and word, voice and letter, music and noise, pain and beauty, in the very same instant in the very same sign. My first book, The Eyes of a Man, has several tributes to this greatest of misinterpreted poets. The Parallel Body comes after that storm, a part of which I lived through and somehow survived. There are signs of peace now. The parallel body, as a concept, is the peace after that storm. It is the first structure for the Ark. It is a platform – something hidden from sight and yet constantly present, something more physical than a soul, and yet also dreamlike and beautiful. The parallel body is a producer, it is immanence.
MR: Having edited The Eyes of a Man, I am as familiar as anyone, I imagine, with your sensibility, with your sense of what poetry is meant to communicate. When I encountered the poems that would become The Parallel Body, I felt I had passed into yet another world, but a world more completely of your creation, more completely about you and how you intimately experience your life. There was virtually no editing for me to do because this world – the world you had expressed – seemed so complete in itself. It is occasionally a difficult world to enter, even though it is a world that seeks to embrace the reader. Perhaps I’m making these poems sound more complex than they are, or than you intended them to be. How, as simply as possible, would you describe this new collection?
DG: The 43 poems in The Parallel Body were written over a very short period of time. They have a sense of unity of time and place as they are all set in the hot southern climate of Italy. There are wild and arid landscapes, aromas and seascapes. There are many sensations which recur throughout this love poetry collection. I don’t always speak to the same you but you will know who I am talking to. I dreamt the title of the book when it was already finished and I realized that’s what I had created – a parallel body of words to the love I felt, a lyrical and necessarily romantic vision, but one which was wholly spontaneous and honest. Poems can be dreamt. They fall in idle moments stolen between encounters, houses, cities, countries, languages.
MR: As you know, I’m now very much a recluse. I used to travel a lot more but now I have embarked on a kind of work that requires a highly concentrated scrutiny of my immediate surroundings and my relationship to those surroundings. I’m trying to subdue that which one might find oppressive by exploring a given enclosure in such exquisite detail that the universal manifests itself in that detail. Each of us is conceivably working his way through a chosen premise – in my case, the microcosm is paradoxically and simultaneously the macrocosm.
DG: I’m a traveler and hence concentration is vital. I need the parallel body in order to write as I fight my way to survival. The nomadic life demands this. It requires poetry to stay complete between one place and another. Writing becomes a register of sensations. It is necessary to write very fast. Sometimes you won’t have a pen, you won’t have paper, so you have to speak a poem. You have to repeat it to yourself so you don’t lose the thread, so it is parallel and therefore constantly present. Maybe these words are the stability the nomad lacks, that home he knows he cannot have. They accompany the poet as he tries to earn a living doing the jobs a normal human being must do while knowing he is not exactly that, because he has a parallel existence in words. We are getting ready for the Deluge.
MR: It’s interesting that you should drop that in there – the deluge. I often feel that the deluge has already consumed me. I accept that the deluge is now consuming the world in which we’ve struggled to live without giving much thought to the broader picture. This is what I see as the struggle to overcome our subjective nature and step outside our given confine into a space where we can finally perceive things with some objectivity. You may recall that I wrote about this not too long ago. I wrote a prose poem entitled Suspended in Doubt: Notes on the Deluge of Thought which attempted to draw a parallel between subjective thought and its often incoherent manifestation in the so-called real world. It is about the dangers inherent in negotiating – or thinking one is negotiating – one’s thought through those treacherous bodies of water one perceives as the objective, i.e. the real world.
DG: When I arrived in New York in the late eighties I had the impression I had landed on another planet. I remember writing a lot about the noise, the loudness of everything, the ‘larger than life’ feel for a boy from Southern England. I was already secretly experimenting with notions of chaos. In fact, I recall a story I wrote where a gentleman called Dr. Doom presents a young student/ephebe with a machine called ‘the chaos machine’ and tells him to learn to use it to make sense of the mess. It was a kind of science fiction metaphor for the unnatural insemination which the young poet undergoes whilst reading his greater elders. It seems now that we are really in it. The end of the cold war and the rise of terrorism and absurd ethnic violence leads us to think we are living a genuine regressive collapse. I hesitate to use the term apocalypse because of the religious connotations it has but, for want of a better concept, let’s say we are living something rather similar. How appropriate would you say poetry as a sensibility is to recount and be equal to this chaotic moment?
MR: Perhaps I can answer that best by quoting from the prose poem I mentioned earlier: “Thought now is impulse. The banks of the river have disappeared. The water is rising to turgidly lap the shop fronts as the town’s people watch anxiously from their balconies. There is an unknown excitement in the air, it hovers everywhere like vast swarms of mosquitoes. But no one sees us in our stillness, being swept along as if upon a buoyant chaise, our arms outstretched in anticipation of that phantom obstacle that never lunges up out of the relentless flow and into our path to destroy us. We simply move along, helplessly empowered by the deluge’s currents…What we had once ingested, loaded with toxic aesthetics, is evacuated while we simultaneously gorge ourselves on the crystalline air that suddenly sweeps across every surface before us and into our emptying souls, as if an entire meal of abrogations the unpalatable rules of someone else’s game were being swallowed whole.” Much of what I write these days strives to “be equal to this chaotic moment” as you put it.
DG: This poem, Suspended in Doubt: Notes on the Deluge of Thought, from which you quote, suddenly springs into perspective. The first time I read it I didn’t take in its full portent. Some of the lines are devastating. It leads me to think that you, a hermit hidden in a southern French town, are the unknown avant-garde. Michel Serres could have quoted from Suspended in Doubt: Notes on the Deluge of Thought in his latest book, and I can’t help but sense the prophetic dimension in your writings. Would you say that’s a necessary characteristic of poetry? Accepting your manifold artistic endeavours are achieved with poetry at the helm, what about the meaning of your poems themselves, the full portent of your poetic sensibility? Who today is ready to hear what you have to say?
MR: Thinking, it seems to me, is now very much on the periphery while action is the dynamic of the day. I’ve noticed with this year’s films that nearly every opening sequence is a fragmented jumble of images that are calculated to distract us from thinking. The jerky camera work, the quick cutting are the signals that tell us we are dealing with the contemporary sensibility, which is essentially no sensibility at all because there is no room or time to think within this artificial mayhem, a mayhem contrived to keep us off centre. Every child who watches TV is now on speed.
DG: Poetry would then be slow, necessarily slow, slow in disgust, slow against this shameless thoughtless speed. Do we agree that poetry has no place whatsoever in our society of spectacle? Isn’t poetry rather the enemy of spectacle, as feelings are eliminated for more light-hearted matters?!
MR: Such as AIDS, helpless economic ruin, ethnic cleansing, barbarism in the guise of religion? You’re absolutely right when you say that poetry is the enemy of spectacle, because spectacle has lost its sense of poetry or, rather, spectacle is the poetry. Artaud nailed this one in the 1930’s when he said that spectacle would fall out of the sky and it would destroy us. It began with the bombing of Guernica and it continued on to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and now it destroys villages in Pakistan. The bombing of Beirut by the Israelis in 2006 was a profoundly gratuitous and grotesque spectacle. And of course the sequel was the recent destruction of the Gaza Strip. The true poetry is in the anguished eyes of the survivors of these spectacles.
DG: I completely agree. My disgust with this world has never been greater and you are right to insist on the poetry of the survivor. No one can say they don't know anymore. All they can do is pretend. Once the society of spectacle had an audience, now it has a cast of pretenders singing to dead mirrors, smiling to fake crowds, having sex without knowing why. And it’s all executed with the impersonal and seemingly irrefutable logic of cash. They don't even know how to enjoy it. This new cast of pretenders has become interchangeable, inter-fuckable. As long as you don't analyse too much and don't open your eyes too wide in search of clues, you can participate, you can even become rich. But if you have an inclination to look under stones and ask awkward questions, they will banish you in a hurry. They will efface your existence with lies. In this regard, I support your choice to become a recluse. Maybe I yearn for that too. Of course the spectacle for all its technology and efficiency obscures countless real problems. One need only befriend the psychiatrists and sexologists to understand the latent psychological disarray and panic. I think you would agree that both of us in different ways have taken the pulse of the current malaise. There is confusion all about us, and fear is the primary engine in the minds of many.
MR: I often wonder if it’s fear that’s driven so many Americans to religion. Superficially, their beliefs are consistent with what constitutes a healthy competitive system. In other words, their Judeo-Christian beliefs must be in competition with someone else’s beliefs, in our current dilemma with the beliefs of Muslims. What on earth does this sort of competitive compulsion have to do with a spiritual reckoning with life and death and our fellow man?
DG: I discredit and discount any religious interpretation of our current situation. There is no angry god castigating us for our immorality. There is no god of revenge. Extremisms must be countered intellectually. We as humans must accept our current apocalyptic situation as our own responsibility. The time has come to grow up. We have brought this mess upon ourselves and we’re going to have to fight our way out. Yes, as Michel Serres says: we need another form of Ark, an Ark to save the earth’s diversity, those differences that are not simply images. Poetry is such an Ark, a medium where song and meaning become entwined, an expression of truth which the individual gathers from deep within, from the miniscule opening inside to the vast outside. And we need it badly. Poetry cannot be political or false or moralising. The first mission then is to get the mind straight. We must dance away the demons.
MR: This often isn’t an easy task. The demands of writing poetry, I feel, revolve around the need for objectivity when we are essentially subjective beings. Some would argue that as we grow older objectivity obscures and defeats our most private visions and our intuitive sense of what life is about. Is childhood a period of revelation or insanity?
DG: All of us have moments of poetry as children, but when does the necessity arise, when does the mechanism of writing slip into place? And when does the child’s natural inclination to be poetic erupt in so-called adulthood? Or is the poetic a refusal to be an adult? I would say childhood should be the time when you don't have to answer that question.
MR: Sometimes I think we don’t have any choice. I mean, we simply are the way we are – the child remains within the adult no matter what.