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Stan Mir and Mark Wallace on the Conversant - Discussing The Quarry and the Lot

 

STAN MIR AND MARK WALLACE

Mike Wallace and Stan Mir
Mark Wallace and Stan Mir

Stan Mir: What would you say some of the most formative experiences have been for you as a writer?

Mark Wallace: One thing that occurs to me to say is that I grew up not liking poetry, or thinking that I didn’t like it, like almost everybody in America is trained to think. Fiction was what I was mainly doing, and when I went for a graduate degree in creative writing, I did it in fiction, a collection of short stories. I think the thing that changed me about all of this was while I was at SUNY-Binghamton in the creative writing program; Jerome Rothenberg showed up and taught there for one year. And that one year that he was teaching there, Robert Creeley gave a reading. I didn’t really know Bob Creeley’s work. I didn’t really know anything about contemporary poetry at all, and I had one of those classic, cliché light bulb moments when Creeley was reading, “Oh, I get this, I love it. I want to do it.” Before that I had played around a little bit with poetry here and there, but not seriously. I think there was something about the contemporary nature of what Creeley did, the angular rhythm, which shook up my conventional idea of poetry. I had read the Romantics in college and just wasn’t interested. So I think that is the moment, and I started writing poems instantly after that. I walk into a reading and I walk out with a completely different perspective. And later on, I worked with Bob a bit, because he was at Buffalo.

SM: So did that influence your decision to go to Buffalo?

MW: Oh yeah, very much so, because I was getting a creative writing degree, an M.A., at Binghamton. It was certainly on my mind that I would go and study poetry with him. That year that I was at Binghamton and Rothenberg was there, we also had a big literary festival, I can’t remember the name of it. That was the first time I heard Charles Bernstein perform, the first time I heard Steve McCaffrey perform and do his “Library of Cruelty” piece, where he dresses problematically, orientalist, but it was still brilliant and the festival had a fascinating mixture of unique performances. I met all of those people, and of course, Charles was not at Buffalo at that time. He wasn’t a professor at all. I had been at Buffalo for two years before he became a professor there. He came in, I think, in my second year, as a visiting professor for one semester. I had class with him my second year, and then my third year he was there permanently. I forged a very good working relationship with him, and have tremendous admiration for Charles, not only for the quality of his work, but for the extra steps he goes with the students who want to work with him. So if you want to talk about formative moment, that’s one, where I suddenly got very interested in contemporary and experimental work. Right around that time there was a Boundary Two issue that collected a lot of Language Poets, and someone I worked with there, who was a theorist, a professor named William Spanos, who basically was a Heidegger scholar but was also into some contemporary poetry, was then the editor of Boundary Two. He didn’t put together that issue, but he was responsible for the Creeley issue and the Olson issue. I read the Language Poetry issue very heavily. I had only met Charles once before, but studying with him later I learned more about that context.

SM: Before arriving at Binghamton and encountering Spanos and McCaffrey and Bernstein, had you ever experienced any type of art that worked the way their art was working, maybe in terms of fiction?

MW: That’s a good question, and I’m trying to figure out what the answer is. I had taken a postmodern fiction course taught by Spanos, and we read Gravity’s Rainbow, and If on a winter’s night a traveler, and other books of course, and I felt very open to the idea of new approaches. But my collection of short stories that I wrote for my Master’s thesis is essentially conventional realism. My earlier writing was more influenced by people like Jack Kerouac, which probably doesn’t come as any surprise.

I was also involved—although I’m not a musician —with a lot of friends in the D.C. music scene. I was involved in the punk rock and new American rock scene. I was a big fan of the Minutemen and stuff like that while I was in college. I wrote and published reviews in college. The Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime and the Meat Puppet’s II, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade were albums released and big back then, so I was already interested in non-mainstream practices. I’m not sure when I became aware that there was a similar kind of split going on in the world of literature.

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Answer by Mark DuCharme reviewed by Mark Wallace

 


I really enjoyed the complex, playful, sometimes impressively contorted rhythms of Mark Ducharme’s recent book of poems,Answer, published by BlazeVox. Those rhythms combine well with the book’s rich and frequently surprising vocabulary. While some lines in the book are bluntly political, more often the poems create a moody and shadowed (yet somehow also deadpan Midwestern) romanticism, one in which clarity of thought and action repeatedly finds itself deflected by misunderstanding and uncertainty.

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