BlazeVOX extra

Literary Prestidigitations on Display

15 Questions: An interview with Larry Sawyer


Author: Larry Sawyer


BlazeVOX Book: Vertigo Diary


Bio: Larry Sawyer has curated the Myopic Books Poetry Reading Series since 2005. With Lina ramona Vitkauskas he also edits milk magazine. Sawyer is also the co-director of The Chicago School of Poetics. His poetry and literary reviews have appeared in publications including Action Yes, The Argotist (UK), The Boston Review, The Chicago Tribune, Coconut, Court Green, Esque, Exquisite Corpse, Forklift Ohio, Jacket (Australia), The Miami Sun Post, MiPoesias, The National Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Prague Literary Review, Rain Taxi, Shampoo, Skanky Possum, Tabacaria (Portugal), Van Gogh’s Ear (France), Vanitas, Verse Daily, Vlak (Czech Republic), and elsewhere.

His collection Unable to Fully California is available on Otoliths Press. Sawyer has read his work at venues including the Bonk Reading and Performance Series in Wisconsin, the Chicago Printer’s Row Lit Fest, Columbia College Chicago, The Hideout in Chicago, Myopic Books, The Poetry Center of Chicago, Quimby’s, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee.

15 Questions:

Tell me about your book.
You'll find a sonnet, a sestina, list poems, an ekphrastic poem, prose poetry, found poetry, erasure, but also a poem that carjacks the Oulipian n+7 constraint. This book goes through quite a few costume changes. I like variety. I often stray from a form occasionally whenever it seems to suit the poem. Writing a poem sometimes just means following it fearlessly wherever it may take you through a series of caverns: poetry should surprise the reader even if only to confound expectations. Poetry is exploration.
What influenced this book?
Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet “go into yourself.” Poetry is also self-examination but also a compression of experience by words made flesh. I’m writing a lyric poetry definitely influenced by this media culture that we’re immersed in.

I remember reading Lautréamont for the first time years ago and seeing how a metaphor could be extended throughout an entire passage of writing. I saw other sides of poetry by reading Hopkins, Dickinson, the surrealists. Breton, Soupault
, Péret. Also, I feel like I experienced the outer arc of poetry by reading Michaux. About long poems by reading Williams. Jim Carroll and Philip Whalen and Ted Berrigan. Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, Ashbery. Will Alexander. The simultaneism found in the work of Cendrars or Apollinaire figures into what I’m doing.
I'm also influenced by film. Wes Anderson and Alejandro
Jodorowsky. Imagery plays a major role in my work.

Prose poetry definitely. I love Gertrude Stein. Valéry wrote “Before Rimbaud all literature was written in the language of common sense.” Rimbaud wrote that “I is another.” Those influences are the ore.
If you had to convince a friend or colleague to read this book, what might you tell them?
Often I feel like our lives as consumers of media have been deadened. I would say this book refreshes and re-contextualizes. The poet Tony Towle wrote that the best moments in Vertigo Diary go “beyond context.”  
Trying to explain what I’m up to as a writer can seem like trying to explain to someone that they ought to try out my new untested teleportation device. I’m creating these foreign landscapes. Some American poetry doesn’t have any surface tension to it. I’m left with nearly nothing. I believe I’m writing a poetry that makes a lasting impression because of its far-ranging imagination. I’m interested in refreshing language that has grown stale because of its use in media.
The words in a poem have contiguous relationships and much of the force that results, the energy that is transferred, relies on a reader’s assumptions. Poetry for that reason can have a reputation as difficult, being that a line of poetry can simultaneously defy logic and yet create a new but as yet unformulated type of experience. The difficulty, and any pleasure for the poet, arises at these interstices of desire. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in what order the ltteers in a word are, the olny iprmoatnt thing is that the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. We’re conditioned as readers to make certain connections. I’m riffing on expectation and trying to successfully navigate a reader’s whims. Freud once wrote that everywhere his research led him a poet had already been there.
On one hand poets are the great revealers but at the same time they are merely collectors of fabulous gems and they want you simply to appreciate their unique beauty. At a visceral level a poem that works is a beautiful thing. The poet can, in the act of creating, cause a transformation, however. This can be a frightening prospect to some or to those who ingest art rather unknowingly or as a source of mere entertainment. Some of what I’m doing involves humor. Often satire contains a mother lode of truth and who doesn’t need a little more humor in his or her life?
Tell me about the last literary reading you attended.
Over this past weekend I saw Joel Craig, Chuck Stebelton, and Chris Glomski read and the night before that I saw Bill Berkson. A few nights previous I saw Richard Hell read from his new memoir. The weekend before that I co-organized a faux wake for a fictional poet with Bob Archambeau, which was a conceptual poetry reading—not a reading of conceptual poetry. We’re trying to take everything further. We’re lucky in Chicago that there is so much going on.
When did you realize you we're a writer?
I realized I am a writer when I began to write poetry that made me feel as though I had entered another world. I can’t really say why I write poetry. It’s more a feeling I have that I simply must keep doing it.
Tell us about your process: Pen and Paper, computer, notebooks ... how do you write?
I used to write in notebooks but now it’s all on computer. It all happens in the morning now, too, whereas I used to write late at night. The computer allows me to have access to the Internet of course, so I can research as I write.
How do you handle a bad review of your work?
Poetry gives my life an extra-dimensionality. I’m not sure how one could survive without it. It is said that the phrase “The place of the cure of the soul” was carved into the wall above the main shelves at the ancient library of Alexandria in Egypt. What the writer writes and the reactions to it can be seen as parts of a whole. I welcome any critique of what I do.

Which writer would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
Pablo Neruda. It often seems to me that Neruda was poetry. Mayakovsky. It seemed like his life was on fire. Also Gertrude Stein. She was the source of the line of aesthetic questioning that still seems most relevant to me.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a writer?
Interesting but I don’t really know. I just know I have a compulsion to keep writing poetry.

What’s the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
“Write what you know.” I think this works well for novelists but for me poetry is a process of discovery so the act of finishing a poem often leads to an increased awareness. Using the assumption that one already knows as vantage point from which to start is a precarious or possibly naïve position.
What scares you the most?
Somali pirates, Utah beer, running out of coffee, arranged marriage, interview questions.
Where do you buy your books?
The best bookstore in Chicago—Myopic Books. I curate the poetry reading series there: (
Who are you reading now?
Andrei Codrescu, So Recently Rent a World. You ought to pick it up. Definitely worth it.
Bonus Round:
What do you want the world to know about you? Make it juicy ....  
I was once an extra in a movie starring James Taylor’s wife. If you can find it you’ll see me wearing a biker jacket and a lot of eyeliner but those were the 1980s, everyone seemed in the midst of a fashion emergency back then. It’s crazy to see all that coming back into style.