This week Doug talks with Geoffrey Gatza, editor, visual artist, and award-winning poet. Geoffrey is the founder and publisher of the small press BlazeVOX. The fundamental mission of BlazeVOX is to disseminate poetry through print and digital media both within academic spheres and society at large. They discuss the purity of poetry, what writers can learn from chefs, and the virtues of being an artist in Buffalo.
Poetry is going to exist forever, as long as people are speaking…and I’m really excited about that.
Geoffrey Gatza is the editor and Publisher of BlazeVOX [books] and the author of seven books of poetry: Kenmore: Poem Unlimited and Not So Fast Robespierre are now available from Menendez Publishing; HouseCat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children is also available from Meritage Press. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY (1993) and Daemen College, Amherst, NY (2002), and served as a U.S. Marine in the first gulf war. He lives in Kenmore, New York with his girlfriend and two cats.
Geoffrey Gatza is an award-winning poet and editor. He is the author many books of poetry, including Secrets of my Prison House (BlazeVOX 2010), Kenmore: Poem Unlimited (Casa Menendez 2009), and HouseCat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage Press 2008). He is also the author of the yearly Thanksgiving Menu-Poem Series, a book-length poetic tribute for prominent poets, now in it's tenth year. His visual art poems have been displayed in the gallery showing Occupy the Walls: A Poster Show, AC Gallery (NYC) 2011 occupy wall street N15 For Ernst Jandl - Minimal Poems with photography from the fall of Liberty Square; and in Language to Cover a Wall: Visual Poetry through its changing media, UB Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY) 2011/12 Language for the Birds. Geoffrey Gatza is the editor and publisher of the small press BlazeVOX. The fundamental mission of BlazeVOX is to disseminate poetry, through print and digital media, both within academic spheres and to society at large. He lives in Kenmore, NY with his girlfriend and two beloved cats.
Loren Kleinman (LK): Why write Apollo? Talk about its premise? What's the goal of the book? What are the main conversations?
Geoffrey Gatza (GG): I was drawn to write Apollo after falling in love with chess. While studying the game, I realized Marcel Duchamp, arguably one of the 20th century's most important and influential artists, was an intriguing figure in the chess world. Apollo traces the central strategies and themes of Duchamp's work. Movement, displacement, doubling, isolation, pun, and metamorphosis are the tactics used by Duchamp to estrange the ordinary. More than just a collection of poems, this book is a readymade, taking the form of a souvenir ballet program detailing a one-night-only performance of Apollo by Igor Stravinsky to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, in which Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 caused a sensation during its exhibition. At its heart, this book is about Marcel Duchamp but it is also about chess. It was thought for a long while that Marcel Duchamp gave up art to play professional chess. However, this was found to be not true with the revelation of his last major artwork, Étant donnés.
Using the form of a ballet, this work calls attention to the acts of performance, movement and choreography as well as the rhythms and balance of dance. These ideas are also found in chess. The conversation between dance and chess runs through this work. Each character is represented by a chess piece and their movements are conveyed and correlated as dance, thus the reason this book takes the form of a ballet. Marcel Duchamp, his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy, Dorothea Tanning, Leornona Carrington, and Gertrude Abercrombie perform the ballet. Max Ernst leads the orchestra and Dizzy Gillespie performs a special solo.
The ten sequences in Apollo are performed in poem sections unfolding with specific functions towards the production and appreciation of the creative act. Duchamp famously said, "The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act." This book establishes a more active role for the reader, who is asked to participate in creating meaning from the text. The work becomes collaboration between the audience, the poet, and the tradition that they've all inherited. The diversity of these works echoes the complexities of the subject, but together they posit something specific, the heightened relationship between the interior self and the exterior world.
LK: Is Apollo a conceptual poetry collection?
GG: Indeed, this is a conceptual collection; conceptual with a lower case 'c.' I say this to distinguish this book from some of the Conceptual poetry being written by Kenny Goldsmith, Vanessa Place and Divya Victor.
The whole book is an art object, taking the form of a souvenir program of a ballet performance that never took place. In the proper spirit of the performance, I sent out invitations to the ballet, giving an address and performance space that did not exist. The text of the book needed to move beyond the ordinary form of poetry, so a Stravinsky ballet was chosen to act as the template/stage for the work to happen.
Opening with an introduction narrated by Duchamp's female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy sets the stage for the evening's performance and as hostess for the evening, tells the story of Tiresias. The first tableau details the birth of Apollo and how Apollo created the game of chess for Caissa in an Ovidian style of mythic writing. This is followed in turn by the myth of how Duchamp gave up painting for other forms of more engaging art.
A dada chess poem and a photo ballet of a chess game are used to illustrate the moving perceptions of chess. Highlighting Duchamp's work, forms a relationship with it, and gives relative weight to the subject.
Three long poems look at the work of three prominent female surrealist painters. Dorothea Tanning's painting, Birthday, is contemplated in "The Twelve Hour Transformation of Clare," a story of a woman who disappears into words. Leonora Carrington's work is thought through in "Recipe for Water," a poem of time and contemplation of relationships within a mystical space. The Ivory Tower by Gertrude Abercrombie is enacted in a retelling of the Lady of Shallot.
Duchamp Draws Rrose Sélavy is a three-act play that sets up an imaginary scene between Marcel Duchamp and his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy. They play a game of chess in the final moments before Duchamp completes his last major piece, Étant donnés. At the end of the play, the audience is trapped in the tableau of Étant donnés, left in a museum. To complete the book, the ballet takes the form of a complaint letter to the director of the Albright Knox. Detailing the true story of how I was kicked out of the museum for carrying an umbrella, the ballet ends on the outside steps with the author anticipating the redundancy of death.
BlazeVOX [books] 2012, 38 pages, free at scribd.com, ISBN 978-1-60964-099-6
For readers of Gatza who have already come to expect the unexpected; for those fascinated with emerging innovation in book-structured polygraphies, then House of Forgetting is yet another contribution to what is becoming a prodigious oeuvre. For those who have come recently to poetry and poetics, or desire a greater understanding of Intermedia poetry, House of Forgetting offers an attractive entrée.
While there is a “heart” to House of Forgetting (human figures with human concerns) and an ekphrastic narrative (the death of a beautiful woman/gifted revenant), there are also elements of language-image that transform temporal and human identity. Such transformations themselves form book “frames”; generate a hypertextuality, (“of moving frame to frame”) as Charles Bernstein notes; an alternative to the perceptual limitations of “frame fixation” and “frame lock.” Such transformations seem to invite the display of “an art of transition through and among [interpretative] frames.”
The idea of elastic, transitionary frames in which material assumes the provisional form of the book is as true of this collection as it is of Gatza’s other work: the five seasons of rewoven myth in Black Diamond Golden Boy Takes Bull By Horns; the hagiography of saints and celebs among word images (coinages consisting of gray-scale mutations and other unique treatments), seemingly aleatory and unrelated, found in Secrets of my Prison House, and the most notable of these may beKenmore: Poem Unlimited, that four-volume satire on American suburbia, a pataphoric world risen on a foundation of assumptions, fantastic as they are amusing, revealing angles of cultural significance.
House of Forgetting consists of two temporal frames: each interacts with the other in transfiguring human form and identity. The first is “The Twelve-Hour Transformation of Clare,” a woman who morphs into words, and the second section, “Recipe for Water,” is that of an artist who is drawing his wife’s portrait while she is in her deathbed, beginning “Now,” going into the past (“17 Days Ago,” “Last Saturday,” and fragments with similar titles) to conclude with “Five Years From Now” told in the voice of cultural assumption: a radio announcer. The “artist” becomes a reported figure; the “subject,” a fictional image no less real than the figure it re-presents. These are not pairs, but multiples. Their reappearance in alternative contexts suggests, rather strongly, an operative multeity of figures, an ongoing dance with interchangeable partners.
It is my great pleasure to congratulate Geoffrey Gatza on being named as one of The Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry (2013) @ the Huffington Post. This list, complied by Seth Abramson, includes Bob Dylan, President Obama, Michelle Obama, Patti Smith, and Stephen Colbert. This is a huge honor and we all at BlazeVOX are very proud of Geoffrey’s hard work. Please take a moment to read the whole article:
A big controversy in the poetry world these days is the discussion surrounding Buffalo-based small press BlazeVOX [book]'s (now discontinued) model of charging some authors a portion of the costs of publishing their poetry books ($250, as I gather). In the closing months of last year, the revelation of this practice inflamed passions in the generally staid world of independent literary publishing. The controversy just got an enormous boost with the recent decision of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) banning poets from listing books published by BlazeVOX on their grant applications.
Questions arise about the viability of poetry publishing in an age of narrow audiences and little financial reward, and about gate-keeping, quality control, editorial integrity and the technologies of dissemination.