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Michael Ruby interviewed in rob mclennan's blog

 

Friday, March 06, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Michael Ruby

Michael Ruby is the author of five full-length poetry books: At an Intersection (Alef, 2002), Window on the City (BlazeVOX, 2006), The Edge of the Underworld (BlazeVOX, 2010), Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010) and American Songbook (UDP, 2013). His trilogy, Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (Station Hill, 2012), includes Fleeting Memories, a UDP web-book, and Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep, an Argotist Online ebook. He is also the author of three Dusie chapbooks, The Star-Spangled Banner (2011), Close Your Eyes (2013) and Foghorns (2014), and is co-editor of Bernadette Mayer’s forthcoming collected early books from Station Hill. He lives in Brooklyn and works as an editor of U.S. news and political articles at The Wall Street Journal.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, At an Intersection (Alef Books, 2002), was published when I was relatively old, in my 40s.  Before that, I wrote many books’ worth of poetry, but I never thought about publishing a book. I didn't even start trying to publish a book until I was 38.  I was happy with what I had written, but I didn’t feel that it had to be published.  After my first book, I guess I became addicted to publishing and wanted to get my work out there (though most of that earlier poetry has never been published).

My recent books, American Songbook (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013) and  Close Your Eyes (Dusie, 2013), feel very much of a piece with what I've been doing since the early 1990s.  Close Your Eyes is a sequel to Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (Station Hill Press, 2012), which was written from 1991 to 2005.  American Songbook, which was written from 1999 to 2013, uses the same compositional procedure as most poems in Window on the City (BlazeVOX [books], 2007), written from 1995 to 1997, and Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010), written from 1999 to 2007.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When I started writing as a teenager, poems are what came out.  I wanted to be a novelist, but poems are what came out.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
For many of my poems, I create careful sketches and then compose the poems using the sketches.  I often spend far more time creating the sketch than composing the poem from the sketch.  Sometimes, I compose totally different poems from the same sketch and choose the one I like most.  The compositions usually are similar to the final poems, but shorter, because I cut anything I don’t like.

In general, I've always been in the habit of doing most of my new composition during the summer, preferably sitting outside at a park, or in farm country, or on a rocky coast.  For the past 15 years, I've also been in the habit of writing many books at the same time. In the first decade of the millennium, for example, I would break up the summer into parts and devote, say, three weeks to American Songbook, three weeks to its offshoot, The Star-Spangled Banner, three weeks to Compulsive Words, two weeks to the unpublished From the Mouth of the Bay, and whenever I was worn out but had mental energy, I would dictate into a recorder poems for Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep or Close Your Eyes or the unpublished Visions.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A poem begins for me in an infinite number of places.  As for books, I most often write a group of poems and then realize that they could become a book.  That’s what happened with The Edge of the UnderworldWindow on the CityCompulsive WordsThe Star-Spangled BannerAmerican Songbook; the unpublished From the Mouth of the Bay and Trance Position; and the unfinished Sounds of Summer in the Country and Dreams of the 2000s.  That’s one model.  Another model is writing a book without realizing it.  For years, I wrote down memories on worksheets at work and they became a book, Fleeting Memories.  I wrote down dreams in the morning and they became a book, Dreams of the 1990s.  With several other books, such as Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep and Close Your Eyes, I decided to write a book from the start, but about psychic phenomena that had interested me for a long time.
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Michael Ruby interviewed in The Conversant

 SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

MARIETTA BRILL WITH MICHAEL RUBY

Photo of Michael Ruby 3In American Songbook (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013), Michael Ruby’s fifth full-length collection, Ruby responds to recordings of 75 American vocalists, each an homage of sorts. Many musical traditions inform the poems, including blues, jazz, gospel, country, folk, bluegrass, electric blues, R&B, rock, disco and hip hop. This interview took place both in person and by email.

Marietta Brill: What inspired you to write American Songbook?

Michael Ruby: I’ve always been unhappy with the political direction of this country, ever since the assassinations and Vietnam War of my childhood.  Carter and the slide to Reagan were very hard to bear.  In the late ‘90s, I could feel it again, the slide to George W. Bush and everything that came with it. I felt so unhappy about America that it somehow triggered an opposite reaction in me, a desire to find something beautiful about America. What’s more beautiful about America than American singers and songs? Isn’t that our most influential art form worldwide?

While my initial gesture might have been celebratory, I don’t believe the poems themselves turned out that way. My unconscious, apparently, isn’t a patriot. My unconscious probably went too far in some poems. It blasphemed. It was perverse. It was criminal. Language contains infinite blasphemy, perversity, criminality, when words are truly free to combine with other words. Language might contain far more monsters than it contains real beings.

MB: The songs are solely 20th century—some are very obscure. How did you select them?

MR:  It certainly isn’t the greatest hits of the 20th century. I’m sure there’s some ideal view of American songs in the 20th century that would pick out a better selection, from a position of greater knowledge of all the genres, and more singers, and obscure American singers. But I’m just a person who listens to music, listens to the radio, hears a singer they like and listens to a bunch of their songs and wants to work with one or two songs poetically.

It was the transport of listening that led to the transport of engaging artistically.

There are many singers and songs I wish I had used, and I hope to work with them poetically someday. Oddly, I didn’t use many of my favorite songs, or my obsessive favorite songs—you know, songs you play five times in a row. It wasn’t really about my favorite songs. It was about the songs I wanted to work with artistically. But I do hope to work with more of my favorite songs, too, someday.

MB: Are there through lines that connect these poems, aside from their being from the 20th century?

MR: That’s an interesting question. I have a book built on “through lines,” or “through phrases,” called The Edge of the UnderworldAmerican Songbook doesn’t have through lines as such. With one exception: “In the Good Old Summertime.” That poem, one of the last written for the book, was constructed exclusively from what I call “compulsive words” in the older poems in the book. Those are words that are repeatedly displaced from my total vocabulary during composition.  I suppose compulsive words are, overall, “through words” in the book.


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Check out Michael Ruby's BlazeVOX Books here 

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