A. Given the wide use of re-mix and mash-up in my work, the obvious technical answer to this question would be hip hop. But my cadences–the actual musicality of my poetry—are often drawn from my memories of my mother’s sermons. Their sound, not necessarily their content, but my memory of the way her voice moved with a certain exuberant reverence as she preached. Poetry is a sort of worship of language, I think, a celebration of the living nature of language. So hip hop hymns? Is that a kind of music?
Q. Did you choose your writing style, or did it choose you? What does your style allow you to do with your poetry that other styles would not?
A. I suppose working post-productively chose me. I wrote my first erasure poem out of Allen Ginsberg’s America, WikiLeaks War Logs, and a speech from George W. Bush. Making the song emerge from these disparate sources fascinated me. And after that I was hooked. No text could remain sacred. Everything became potential material. But having written two full length books in this style (BlackMarket, 2013 and The thousand Throated Third, forthcoming), I’ve chosen to force myself back into “creative” poetry for a while, working on a collection of love poems that move through alternative definitions to common words. The poem that accompanies this Q&A is an early entry in that collection.
Q. How do you choose what a poem will look like on the page?
A. Where erasure poetry is concerned, the choice is ostensibly made by the text itself, by what is sacrificed. However, at times, I’ve made certain choices like allowing a faint shadow of the source text to remain in certain poems or erasing sections of a page on pure aesthetics before trying to call out the hidden song. For the rest of my work, I typically write in a single long stanza without any break, each poem is like a gust of wind, a sudden sweeping rearrangement of language.
Q. How do you choose your punctuation, or lack thereof? Does it have more to do with grammar, visual cues, or auditory/musical cues?
A. Punctuation is very important to me. One of my earliest poems was an ode to the semicolon called the Semiotics of Fear (Between Two Worlds, Patasola Press 2012). In the poem, I envision the semicolon variously as a whale bone, a flagpole, an eyed talon, and a poison dart. I think the poem serves as an assertion to the content of punctuation, an argument that punctuation isn’t just a sign system for breaths and pauses, but rather, a collection of meaning-laden devices that can be used just as words can, particularly on the page. This gets a little more ephemeral off the page, but just because something is ephemeral does not mean that is does not exist.
The ampersand (&) is one of the best examples of the meaning veiled beneath the functional aspect of punctuation, because it can be directly contrasted with the written “and”. Even if we can’t quite put our finger on exactly how it is so, we know that though they denote the same function they carry very different connotations both on and off the page. I think that just about everyone reads an ampersand aloud with a certain emphasis that a simple “and” does not get.
Q. Do you think that punctuation can be equated with musical notation symbols such as note value, rests, and dynamic markings? How do you think of white space? Between words and stanzas? As it relates to the size and shape of the paper your work is printed on?
A. To say punctuation and musical notation can be equated would be erroneous, simply because they neither perform precisely equal functions, nor guise equal meanings. But they do render some equivalent functions, that is, the measure of breaths, space, and tone.
Interestingly, I don’t think of white space on the page as empty space per se, but rather as void. How do I distinguish these? Empty space is simply unfilled. Void is non-extant, it simply does not exist (or exist yet). That is why I am particularly terrified of the blank page and working with pre-existing texts to create new work has always been attractive to me. Even in the “creative” poems I am writing currently, most of the time I start with some sort of sentence or quote, stretch it out so that it is like a spine, and write around and through it.
I’m also interested in page that is not page. Writing on the body, on dresses, on trains, on leaves. Hiding poems in HTML. Letting them fade into the wet sand of a beach. Weaving them into conversations.
Q. Do you think your poetry gives visual auditory cues to the reader? Do you think the reader hears the way you read your poetry by sight alone? If not, what do you think impedes this transfer of information?
A. I hope so. If they do not, then they are not complete.
Q. How do you notate your poetry to make up for the lack of your voice being there? Do you try?
A. There are so many different ways to embed voice into page, and not all of them are notational. The notational ones are easier to point out: punctuation, line breaks, stanza breaks or isolating words using white space can all function as ways to imply voice. But I think the more important ways, the ones that require more proficiency and understanding of the way language “works” are the ones that embed the voice through techniques like alliteration, syllable limiting, consonance, cadences, and meter. I try to use all of these in almost every poem.
Q. Do you consider yourself a performer of your poetry, or a reader? How come?
A. I will try to avoid making the asinine observation that (at least since Barthes) reading is always already a performance. Oops. I said it.
Getting past that bit of canned Lit-Crit saber-rattling, I would say that though it is impossible to avoid the page/stage binary that has been forced onto the poetry community, it is possible to work for its collapse into a field in which all poetry is living, regardless of its habitat. This is to say, my first concern is to create poetry that brims with life and even spills life into the lifeless. That, at its best, poetry is not a thing to perform or read, but rather a way of being and moving through the world.
I think my work in material poetry (FOOT|KNOTS, 2012 and #Bookdress, 2013) has best explored this for me, but I think it is regularly explored in traditional poetry. Take Bishop’s “One Art”. It isn’t just a poem. It’s a recipe for living with the knowledge of death. And once you take poetry to this level, I don’t think the question is about whether it is read or performed, but rather, does it breathe?
Q. How would you describe your performance/reading style? Do you think that popular reading styles have shaped the way you read, or have you actively worked against the pull of mainstream performance style?
A. For a long while, my performance of poems was consistently drawn from a very theatrical, stylized rendition of preaching. But more, and more, when deciding how to perform my work, I’ve become attentive to the audience, to other readers, to the general ambience of a room, and to the constraints of a space. This gets a little tricky. And sometimes my aims are very different. Sometimes I want to tone down my work to be respectful of a space or be in better conversation with less theatrical readers. Sometimes I want to shake an audience out of their quiet reverie. Sometimes I was to try to lull an entire room into calm, or seduce a single individual in the room (in the poetic sense, of course). So, now, I tend to wait and feel out the situation, think about what my aims are in it, and then deliver my work accordingly.
Q. Do you think you’re the best performer/reader of your own work?
A. I very much enjoy hearing my work in the voice of others. It’s a rare opportunity for me to truly listen and gain insight to my strengths and weaknesses in getting language to sing, to have life, to breath.
(video by Ananya Sundararajan)
The barometer rose between us,
and then we broke, sudden,
as the blossom of the heavens
in July. Flow (verb):
to let the tongue fall free,
into the curl of ear,
into the give of skin,
into the depths of body
oft obscured by the carapace
But she is not and didn’t need to be
and this is how we flow.
Flow (verb): to fill the chamber of the lips,
to fill the chamber of the hips,
to feel the blunt force of the body
moving with the deep beat swelling
in sanguine rows of crest
that guise the fragility of flesh.
Flow (interjection): I don’t know
why we disappear, but we do,
though, if fortuned,
into each other.
Joseph A. W. Quintela writes poems. On Post-its. Walls. Envelopes. Cocktail napkins. Twitter. YouTube. Clothing. Skin. Anything he gets his hands on, really. His first full-length collection (BlackMarket; Edit Mode Press, 2013) was released by Publication Studio Malmo as the inaugural title in their Plagiarism Series. Other work has appeared in The Collagist, ABJECTIVE, GUD, Bartleby Snopes, and Existere. As the senior editor at Deadly Chaps Press, he publishes both an annual series of chapbooks and the quarterly review: Short, Fast, and Deadly. He is the creator of the #Bookdress Project (now directed by Gabriel Don), a collection of living poems that have appeared in galleries, bookstores, and museums across New York City. His works of Sculptural Poetry have been shown throughout New York City, most recently in a solo exhibition at Dumbo Sky and in ongoing installations at The Strand, The Nu Hotel, and Salinas. josephquintela.com