Conversations, Keith Flynn with Richard Jackson, 25 October 2013

Inspiration, Structure, Rhythm, Music, Editing


Inspiration: "Lincoln's Life Mask" was written at the Lilly Library when I was speaking at Indiana University and was written in fourteen minutes. I've never revised it at all. . . . Typically, it takes me six, seven years for books. . . . I have poems that have taken twenty years to complete, and I carry notes around that are sometimes decades old. This poem came very quickly. You know, I often say if you want to be struck by lightning, the way to do it is to put antennas on your golf cart and go looking [for] the lightning. You can't really wait for inspiration to strike--constant, constant preparation. Chance favors the prepared mind, and you constantly prepare your mind by looking for all these possibilities for your poetry, and then, when the lightning of inspiration strikes, then you have this huge amount of work to pick and choose from. . . . Jack Nicklaus . . . hit a ball, and the ball went straight up, out of the rough, hit the pole, fell into the hole, and . . . somebody in the gallery goes "Lucky shot." And Nicklaus . . . said, "The more I practice, the luckier I get." The same thing with writing. It's sort of a ceremony of writing. At a certain point, the ceremony takes in all the aspects of the environment around you. But you got to go to the well every day. That's what keeps the water pure.

Rhythm and Structure: Colony Collapse Disorder [seven years in the writing, has] a fairly sophisticated architecture. . . . I always believed that poetry is language with a shape, but I feel a book should have a sonic architecture and a scaffolding that supports that rhythm throughout. The title for it was taken from a phenomenon from 2006 . . . when all of the beehives in North America were starting to collapse. It was discovered that a tiny Varroa mite was attaching [to] the backs of the worker bees, and they were getting this whole host of diseases that they were taking back to the hive. I thought this was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in our post-colonial world. So many of the Third World countries that were released from the axis of colonial governance were suddenly in dissaray. Alvin Toffler wrote a book called The Third Wave, and in it, he postulates that there are three distinct periods that every civilization goes through. First is an agrarian period, farming, agriculture. Then they advance into an industrial age, and those processes take place. And, thirdly, they go into an information age. What happens if the world powers like the United States, India, China, Brazil, Western Europe, Japan, all those countries who are in the information age now, what do we say to the 66 or 67% of the world who are just now getting to their industrial age, and we know that, by them doing that, it's going to guarantee the end of our civilization? We know it. The planet cannot sustain that. So, how do we tell them, "You have no rights to the fruits of your labor that we have enjoyed for almost a hundred years, and you have no right to create a viable middle class," which was also created by the industrial revolution? So, to me, that tension, and that communication and dialogue is what the book is about. The structure itself--it's an abecedarium, in that, there are two places for every letter of the alphabet. Each of those places has a poem. So there are 52 poems in all, corresponding to the weeks of the year. But the book has a hive mind, circular like a Mayan calendar, in that each poem is connected to the poem in front and behind it by a word, a theme, or an image. So, hopefully the book becomes multidimensional when you're in it, and you're constantly aware of what was just said or what is coming. That's my hope anyway.

Influence of Music: I was a musician--I had a band for fifteen years called The Crystal Zoo, and we were signed to BMG and Warhead and made some albums for them. My poetic voice has always risen out of my singing voice in many ways because rhythm is what it's all about. The page is a cold bed, and poetry has to live in the air. That speaks to performance, but it also speaks to construction of poetry from the ground up. The elements of poetry that assimilate into beat are always rhythm, and to me, what sets poetry aside is its music. . . . It gets into the redemptive force of your imagination, and, slowly but surely, it's insidious, and it stays in your imagination. You don't know that's even happening until later you realize, "Oh, I'm looking at the world a little differently because of the line I read two days ago." Even right now, on this campus, there are poems that are nosing through the ashcans and alleyways, looking for the readers that they were meant for.

Editing: [I]t's important to compose in a flood, edit in a trickle. It's hard to be wise and in love at the same time.. . . [M]aking poetry is an act of love. . . . The creation of poetry is an extension of our personality. I often tell my students that I don't know a ton of writers, or famous writers, but I know scores and scores of famous re-writers. And it's the re-writing that sets apart the professionals and the visionaries from the rest of the pack. I've been editing the Asheville Poetry Review since 1994, when I started that journal. I've been amazed and astonished at the ways that other poetry affects my own poetry. I think it expands your horizon as a writer to be an editor as well. Also, part of it is that it's some of our responsibility to give back some of the gifts we've been given. To shed light on neglected poets or other cultures. For instance, you've [Jackson] done that very well with your work in Eastern Europe, but I think that that's important. I've always thought that translation is important. [Although] reading translation is a little like kissing through a shower curtain. . . . You get all the thrust, but you miss the nuance.

For more information about Keith Flynn, see his bio page.

© 2013, Chattanooga State, Keith Flynn, and Richard Jackson. Used by permission.
Producer: Meacham Writers' Workshop
Director/Editor: Jeff Hanna, Media Services, Chattanooga State Community College.


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