Uptown interview about Clockfire

Winnipeg’s Uptown magazine interviewed me for an article on Clockfire. Click the quote to read the article:

“Great art takes us by the throat and does violence to preconceived notions, ideas about what constitutes the possible.”

Below, you can read the full interview, not available elsewhere.

Why write about theatre, and play scenarios that are impossible to produce? Do you think there’s there a problem with theatre?

Conventional theatre — and conventional art in general, especially conventional poetry — seems to me to lack “clocks” and “fire” — it fails to offer immediate, visceral, meaningful and immersive engagement. We watch plays and read books and view paintings and so on with a level of passive detachment, to amuse ourselves. This idea that we engage in art passively, as consumers, is further entrenched through global capitalism. But art is supposed to challenge us and engage us actively. Great art takes us by the throat and does violence to preconceived notions, ideas about what constitutes the possible. Whether I’ve succeeded or failed, with Clockfire I’ve tried to craft a work that demands the active engagement of the reader and challenges preconceived notions about the beauty and utility of art.

It’s kind of a cruel book, no? (I’m thinking of a number of the poems, like “Cell.”)

A lot of the thinking behind the book comes from Antonin Artaud’s thoughts on the “Theatre of Cruelty,” which to some degree attempts to make the audience the subject of the spectacle and force reactions from the audience. There is an undercurrent of violence in the book as a result — it’s a violent act, to demand this type of all-encompassing audience participation. In many of the plays, the audience ends up as the theatre’s victim, so I made sure to put myself in there and give the audience its revenge. In the play “Autography” I am the sole actor and the audience harrasses me to sign books in blood (the play ends when I run out of blood, worked to death).

It’s something of a genre-defying book, do you think? A collection of poems about plays, and are they even poems?

They’re plays, but you can’t perform most of them, and so they’re poems, but they’re written in prose, so they read like miniature short stories, though they often lack dramatic structure (since the audience must “provide” this structure through reading). Blurring these genre boundaries helps to develop the book’s theme of pushing against limits. One reviewer said the poems read like “horror film treatments” and certainly the book draws on the conventions of the horror genre. It might even be considered an experimental horror novel in which the reader is the victim, doomed to continually play out these nightmares.

I know you’re interested in audiences and readers reworking and retooling the poems. Why does that interest you?

I want people to do things with my books, not just read them. When you publish a book, it goes out into the world, and you don’t get to experience how it connects to people. When I see “remixes,” in a sense I get to see people “read” — I see what they got out of the reading, where it took their imagination — when normally I wouldn’t have the privilege of “watching” them read.

Why are the poems sequenced alphabetically by title?)

I wanted to emphasize the idea that the reader is responsible for “staging” the plays, so I arranged them alphabetically, as if Clockfire were a playbook wherein disparate plays were collected as a resource for actors and directors.

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