Micro-Interview with Joe Fletcher

Christopher Murray

Summer 2014, Joe Fletcher contributed two poems to Gulf Coast as online exclusives: "Driftless" and "Immanuel Kant." Online poetry editor Christopher Murray had the chance to discuss post-modern, modern and classical elements and how they live together in his work.

Christopher Murray: I know you are a project manager at the William Blake Archive. Do you feel that the work you do there has a significant impact on your own poetry? What quality in William Blake's work most speaks to you?

Joe Fletcher: The actual work I do at the Archive — managing workflows for editors and assistants, cataloguing images, communicating and coordinating with folks who want to reproduce Blake's images in their own work — isn't terribly exciting, but I'm glad to be contributing to the Archive's overall goal: to make Blake's widely dispersed and difficult-to-access works free and publicly available in high quality digital formats. I've long loved Blake, but like most, my exposure to him was largely textual; I was vaguely aware that he illustrated his poems, and fleetingly admired the few print facsimiles of illuminated books that I did see. But since I've been working at the Archive, in conjunction with writing a dissertation on Blake, I've spent a lot more time in close quarters with his immense body of visual work: not just his own illuminated poems, but also the illustrations – to Milton, to Young, to Dante, to the Book of Job – paintings, drawings, and the vast amount of commercial engravings. It's been a revelation to see these images in great detail. Like his textual work, the images have an immediately accessible quality that I admire: they're dynamic, bright, clearly delineated. But, as with the texts, they're also inexhaustibly mysterious and they frustrate reason's attempts at comprehension.

CM: One of your poems featured at Gulf Coast Online is a prose poem. How often do you write prose poems rather than poems with line breaks, and how important do you consider the distinction between poetry and "prose poetry"? Who, in your opinion, writes first rate prose poems?

JF: The last several manuscripts I've written have tended to be about half prose, half lyric. The decision to write one or the other isn't something I belabor — it usually gets made during the act of composition; if the poem seems best expressed without line breaks, so be it. I've never made much of the distinction. I think there are a lot of masterful poets wiring in prose out there; my favorites include Michaux, Nerval, Rimbaud, Bishop, Tate.

CM: What have you read, heard, or seen lately that has been particularly thought-provoking or inspiring?

JF: Speaking of prose poems, I recently read Guillermo Parra's translation of José Antonio Ramos Sucre's selected works, which I found very exciting. Same with Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, which I was sad to finish of late. I never wanted that to end. Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote was another thought-provoking recent read.

CM: Your chapbook Already It Is Dusk (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2011) features several poems that feel both pre-modern and postmodern. Do you feel that your simultaneous immersion in the works of 18th century thinkers and contemporary poets and fiction writers is responsible for this ambiguity? Or are there other reasons for it? The Górecki piece from which your chapbook takes its name feels both old and new—is that a coincidence?

JF: I think it's fair to say that the ambiguity comes from what I read, though I wouldn't limit the pre-modern to just 18th-century folks. I do like the deliberately archaic strategies of Spenser, or Chatterton, or Coleridge, and I think that tapping into older linguistic forms/styles can be fruitful, but I don't self-consciously set out to do that. Also, doesn't the old sometimes sound new? I find some pre-modern writing to be surprisingly contemporary. For instance, the way certain early modern alchemical texts purposefully and beautifully obfuscate and deflect comprehension in order to create the illusion of an unachievable initiation into a shadowy and powerful cabal; this to me has parallels to contemporary anti-representational and conceptual practices in poetry, some of which can also be quite intriguing. Though I must confess that I spend far less time reading contemporary poets and fiction writers than I would like, which saddens and frustrates me. My feeble excuse is that my research and work involve prior centuries, but even there I constantly feel behind. Flailing in the ocean of the unread. And yes, I agree about the Górecki piece. But I was also drawn to the awkward syntax of the title, the roughly translated feel of it. Who would make that pronouncement? Would he have a graying mustache? Or would she be kneeling beside a hedge, speaking in a low voice to a whimpering child? And that slippery non-referential pronoun, the mysterious substratum underlying phenomena: what is "it"? Here it is dusk. For Coleridge it is an ancient mariner. And then Górecki's music: both frightening and devastated.

[Chris Murray bio will be inserted here]