kevin mcpherson eckhoff Interview @ The Torontoist
My interview with B.C. poet kevin mcpherson eckhoff is now up at the Books @ Torontoist website. His new collection is a series of visual poems inspired by high-concept languages like Unifon and Pitman Shorthand. It’s a wild and crazy little book, you might like it. Buy it here from Coach House.
Not knowing much of anything about the traditions kevin’s been working in, I came into this one with a lot of trepidation. But I came out with what I think might be the most interesting final product of this series. The interview touches on a number of issues, but ends up being concerned with what’s lasting and essential in the poetic process, what his work has in common with, say, lyrical poetry. Also, it was in this interview that I learned how making a promise to have closely read the interviewee’s book beforehand can serve as a challenge to have them do the same thing to their interviewer. kevin’s reference to my own work made for a much more challenging conversation.
Here’s a selection. But what you should really do is read the whole thing. We’ve reprinted one of the poems at the bottom of the interview. Somewhere, in that book, there’s a really great tattoo just waiting to be poisoned onto the body.
JMM: I understand I’m being a bit of a jerk to that word, “experimentation”. I had a chemistry professor once we called us up to the front of the lab to admit, with all the shame of a man admitting to an affair, that real scientists don’t think in terms of the scientific method. They all just muck around until the find something, then they go back and try to recreate it with the scientific method. So that idea of hyper-controlled experimentation is kind of a myth, even at its source. But the kind of experimentation you’re talking about, experimentation as anarchic play, is common across genres and styles, I think. Everyone’s an experimenter, or at least they should be.
I like very much that last sentence in your previous answer. That idea of the fine (and, I imagine, often crossed) lines between kid and master is exciting. What about as a reader? Specifically with this book, would you advise people to try and learn something about the source alphabets first, or experience the text ignorant? There seems to be multiple readings available: as education, as theatre, as visual art, as abstraction. And all of these depend on how much you’re willing to learn about Unifon and Pittman Shorthand before, during, and after your first reading.
kme: Hokey mutt! I hadn’t thought of the book as being so multivalent! Well, the poetry seems to work as conceptual writing in that readers shouldn’t need a glossary of HOW Shorthand or Unifon embody sounds, but it might help if they knew that both were effectively designed to do so and are now silent, which is addressed in the notes section of the book. However, I wonder if the poetry asks that readers be unfamiliar with Shorthand and Unifon. Maybe.
Ultimatumly, I think what readers get out of the collection—obvious police: as with any book—will also greatly depend on the knowledge and attitudes they bring to the writing. Don’t expect. Most of the “meanings” are only (or less than) half-present. I suppose my hope is that readers become master-kid-observers themselves and approach this project confidently and curiously and individually.