Subversive words, material world
Tim Kahl’s new poetry book, Possessing Yourself, is his latest published work; he’s appeared in many literary journals and he’s translated poems by Portugal’s only Nobel laureate, José Saramago. Kahl is “Victor Schnickelfritz” on The Great American Pinup, a poetics blog; editor of Bald Trickster Press; hosts a Monday reading series at Sacramento Poetry Center; and also teaches at Sacramento City College. Read Kahl’s poem, “Sales Pollution,” in Poet’s Corner on page 48.
What is it like to have your first full-length book finished?
It’s gratifying to have it done and to have some of these poems out in the world in a way they haven’t been before. It’s a good introduction for readers to see who I am, who I have been and who I pretend to be.
These poems explore what it is to be “American”; what is this tension and your relationship to this?
“American” is a brand name that I can only half identify with. I use that product because it is convenient. There are aspects of being American that I find distasteful: its rampant consumerism, its foreign policy, its history in dealing with minority populations, its spiritual malaise.
On the other hand, every day amazing things happen in the United States. It’s home to major innovations and a generosity of spirit.
How do consumerism and corporatism relate to your poetry?
One way that these are addressed is in finding an alternative experience to them. Can one live, how we say today, “off the grid” and not expose oneself or one’s family to deprivation?
Another sense of this antithesis to consumerism is in the poem “Headspin Sandwich,” where, after having a marvelous, revelatory experience of eating a sandwich in a Chicago deli, the speaker realizes that after such a revelation one must root oneself in one’s experience and obligations to others and not rely on one’s purchasing power to allow detachment from how the material world manifests itself.
That sets up a tension between the material world and religion; are these antagonistic forces?
I often think that most writers would prefer to live in the realm of the symbolic and the metaphorical. I’m no exception in that regard. But I also realize that if the material world didn’t exist, one would have to invent it in order to write poetry. For this reason, there is a good bit of cross talk and overlap between the realms.
There is a lot of synergy between these two realms. Poetry seems to be one pretty good vehicle for accessing both simultaneously. This is often the layman’s dictionary definition for poetic, something that transcends the material world.
I want to go to that other world for as long as my passport is valid.
You use a lot of exaggeration, hyperbole.
Sometimes I will move my language into a place that is highly motivated by sound. This might make it seem elevated at some points. However, my main concern in doing this is avoiding the trap of having the language sound too uninformed by the sound. I don’t think anyone should abide poetry that isn’t fun to say or isn’t sonically pleasing.
I think it’s very important to have different tones in a poem. For one, it makes the poem much more interesting to read aloud. The other important aspect of having the outrageous punctuate a piece is that it subverts the expectations of the reader. It surprises.
What is the role of family in your book?
The book is primarily about the construction of self, how one can approach an integrated sense of self with a steady autobiographical narrative, yet also understand and enjoy the fact that the self is a many splendored thing. The family is the place where you get to move between the monochromatic self and kaleidoscopic one.
The book has two kinds of poems: the self contained lyric and longer, multipart poems. Why do the lengthier poems seem to mandate a sense of fracture?
I think this is partly done with the audience in mind, that if he/she is going to sit through a longer piece, it shouldn’t be stagnant. They are attempting to be “systems.” These consist of nodes that exchange information, not isolated fragments.
The segments of the longer pieces connect and reconnect, point backward and forward, like rhizomes. Hopefully, they do this in a way that seems organic and relevant.
Will your future work head along a similar path or in a different track?
Both. There are many different directions I’d like to explore. I’d like to find a forum for my more cerebral/conceptual/abstract work. I’m also interested in writing pieces that are strictly performance-oriented, in putting together a collection of works that focus on taboo subject matter, in exploring the relationship between science and poetry and between music and poetry.
Any upcoming readings?
My next reading is at the Poetry at the New Vox [1931 H Street] series on Friday, October 16, at 7 p.m.