John C. Goodman — in conversation with John Wisniewski

John C. Goodman

 

in conversation with John Wisniewski

 

concretepoetryWhen Urban Graffiti first decided to conduct interviews with notable independent underground writers, artists, and publishers — John C. Goodman, editor of the ezine ditch, was among those who initially came to mind. Launched in August, 2007, Goodman singlehandedly created a site showcasing Canadian avant-garde poetry, along with representatives of international avant-garde poetry, and made it more accessible, gathering under the tagline, “poetry that matters”, some of the most exceptional avant-garde poetry being created. I invite you to enjoy “John C. Goodman — in conversation with John Wisniewski” — another in an ongoing series of evocative and probing conversations with contemporary experimental, transgressive, and avant-garde writers, artists, and publishers. ~The Editor

John Wisniewski: Where did you publish your first poems?

John C. Goodman: I first published in a local literary magazine called Hammered Out run by a friend of mine, Frances Ward. I was also fortunate enough to land some work in a few hand-made micro-press magazines. From there I began submitting to online magazines and since then, except for a few print publications, have pretty much published everything online.

I also did some self-publishing. I would read at open mics whenever I could and I made up a series of little chapbooks so I would have a book to read from and to sell. I charged a couple of dollars and sold one or two at every reading. I remember one memorable evening when I sold five. My first commercial poetry book was published by Raymond Farr’s Blue and Yellow Dog Press in Florida, and then I had another published by Alec Newman’s Knives Forks and Spoons Press in the UK.

 

JW: Could you tell us about “Ditch Poetry”? What do you look for in the work of new poets?

JCG: The work on the ditch, website is wildly eclectic, with some work of stunning brilliance and some that’s maybe not quite so luminous. Basically I look for something unusual: unusual use of language, unusual structure, unusual imagery or subject. Mostly I concentrate on the language, how the writer uses language in a unique way. I am interested in how words and language structure can be manipulated and still communicate something meaningful to the reader. I tend to shy away from narrative and concentrate on more non-linear forms. I think most of the poetry on the site is pretty magnificent and points the way to the future.

 

JW: Why do you write? What about the nature or the art of writing interests you?

JCG: I write because I am a writer. What I find most interesting is how language can create a reality – we can change a perception by how it is described by language. I like fractured language, language with the beauty of ruins, language that allows us to see through the cracks in the structure and gives a new perspective on what is real.

 

JW: Can readers see any glimpse into your life and personality through your writing?

JCG: I think I am too close to it to say. For me it is intensely personal, but whether others see it that way or not, I wouldn’t know. It’s all material I have experienced one way or another, internally or externally, or both. I try to encode emotions in experience. I have an aversion to sentimental me-me-me poetry, so I try to anchor everything in objective reality, which is a constantly shifting ground, perfect for expressing emotional imbalance. Even in The Shepherd’s Elegy the capital ‘I’ and small ‘i’ personae are objectified, blurring the distinction between inner and outer reality. It’s hard to distinguish between physical events and psychic events – in the end they are the same thing.

Dreams are very important to me and a lot of my inspiration originates in dream states, so in that sense the poetry is a window into the workings of the subconscious.

 

JW: Why did you call your poetry collection “Naked Beauty” and do you see writing as akin to painting?

JCG: The ‘naked’ of the title refers to seeing the world stripped of the veil of narrative we use to order experience. Without narrative we can sense the raw, essential beauty of reality beyond the clutter of opinion and judgement.

The thing about perception is that we never perceive raw data, we perceive an overlay of emotion and assessment, we perceive our own ideas – we perceive ourselves. If we see something that is funny or sad or beautiful, we don’t experience the perception and then afterwards add the emotional category, the emotional reaction is part of the perception, we experience things as funny or sad or beautiful – we perceive our own emotions triggered by external stimuli. Our whole existence is really a reaction to stimuli.

So the poems in the book are perceived experience of the world the way we encounter it in the psyche: a jumble of impressions, memories, thoughts, colours, feelings, desires, aversions, sounds, etc., that are all assembled into a unified, meaningful whole. The process follows from the Modernist stream of consciousness and the Projective Verse perception leading to perception, although on a more emotional rather than intellectual level.

Writing and painting can share concepts, but they are very different. Language and visual perception are processed in different parts of the brain. We see disconnected images all the time and accept them as normal, but disconnected words are perceived as nonsense. With language, the sounds or written symbols must be interpreted, syllables formed into words, words associated with meanings and the words arranged into syntactical strings in order for the sounds and symbols to make sense.

This is what makes abstraction much easier to present visually than linguistically. In painting, you can elicit a meaningful emotional response abstractly, using only form and colour with no objective representation. But abstracted language requires removing the subject content and abstracting the context – using subverted meaning and disrupted context to evoke the emotion.

 

Mood so

 

all the ideas he had while sleeping

seeped into his pillow

absorbed by white feathers

 

somewhere a man is tracing the

line of a woman’s throat

how it cleaves the shadow

into light

 

the past is always with us

the tinted lens that taints the present

twists the future

 

a savage dog

chained with a spiked collar

straining snarling salivating

 

a drunkard reeling through time

reverberating in seconds minutes hours

days weeks months years millennia

ages eons infinitudes emptinesses

 

the claw marks have faded from her back

four faint red stripes against milky blue skin

four memories growing beneath

 

I gave her meaning in a heartshaped box

tied up with a ribbon so red…”

 

I’m a moody bastard,

always have been…

 

the river in full flood

has torn the banks away

exposing ruins buried in the silt

long forgotten

 

“…and hate what I have become…”

 

(naked beauty, Blue & Yellow Dog Press, 2010, p.34-35)

 
JW: Along with Ditch you also manage Trainwreck Press-any poets that you wish to tell us about on Trainwreck?

JCG: Unfortunately, Trainwreck Press is currently closed, although I have hopes of resurrecting it in the amorphous future – if I can figure out a more practical business model. The poets I found most interesting were John Moore Williams, Kane X. Faucher and the late Robert Chrysler.

 

JW: What inspired your novel “Talking to Wendigo”? Are you a spiritual person?

JCG: More mystical than spiritual; I have had a number of encounters with, I wouldn’t say God, more like the presence or awareness of the universe. I’m not talking of New Age ah-ha moments, like, “Whoa, dude, the universe is one.” I mean transporting mystical experience.

This has taken me deeply into questions about the nature of reality. As part of these investigations I studied shamanism and trance states, which supplied the background for Talking to Wendigo. When I can’t sleep I make up stories and one of them developed into a mystery story involving a shaman. The long poem, The Shepherd’s Elegy, also draws on shamanism and trance states.

My delving into dreams and trances and mysticism and shamanism is actually grounded in rational thought. I took my degree in Philosophy, so I have a background in logic and reasoning. After years of study, I realized that Philosophy boiled down to one epistemological question: how do we know what we know? I’ve been trying to answer that ever since. It’s not a question that can be answered rationally, because we don’t live in a rational world, logic only exists in the mind, so it requires a more experiential, emotional approach. Reality is an experienced feeling, a felt-sense, not a thought.

 

JW: Do you see life as a spiritual journey, as you wrote in The Shepherd’s Elegy?

JCG: Life is a journey towards death, and spirituality is part of life, as are intellect, emotion, our physical bodies and all the other aspects of human existence. I think spirituality gives us the resilience to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; it’s the source of meaning. I have an aversion to authority so I am always seeking direct experience rather than relying on what someone tells me is true. If someone tells me that a religious text is the word of God, my first question is, “How do you know that?” Usually it is because someone told them. And how did the person who told them know? It all comes back to that basic question: how do we know what we know? How can we know what is divine inspiration and what is not? How do we know there is a divine?

 

JW: The Shepherd’s Elegy reminded me of some of Herman Hesse’s work – is he an influence?

JCG: Oh, that’s interesting. I read a number of works by Hesse in my teens and was captivated, but haven’t been back to him since. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some influence there, especially the whole Magic Theatre sequence from Steppenwolf. Now I’ll have to read him again!

As far as influences go, I read as widely as I can, but when I feel like I am losing direction, there are a few texts I go back to again and again. When everything is possible, what do you write? I find these texts grounding: Howl by Allen Ginsberg, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth and Song by John Donne.UG

J GoodmanJohn C. Goodman has published two collections of poetry, Naked Beauty (Blue & Yellow Dog Press) and The Shepherd’s Elegy (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press); as well as a novel, Talking to Wendigo (Turnstone Press) which was short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award. He also authored the non-fiction work Poetry: Tools & Techniques (Gneiss Press). He currently lives in the Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada where he is the editor of ditch, (www.ditchpoetry.com), an online magazine of experimental poetry.

John Wisniewski lives in Long Island, New York. He is a freelance writer and has written for Paraphilia Magazine, Grey Lodge Review/Aliterati, Horror Garage and other publications.

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