Anselm Berrigan digs irrelevance. His most recent book, Notes from Irrelevance (Wave Books, 2011), excerpted at length in our spring 2011 issue, is a sixty-five page poem that grinds its way into that space where we become irrelevant even to ourselves, our desires changing and reshuffling with a dynamism no less swift than the flux around us. The self is not only not stable; it is not, in any precise sense, relevant. But Notes from Irrelevance is no dawdling meditation: the poem loads itself with greater and greater urgency as it progresses, and we’re thankful to Anselm for sharing, below, a little about where that urgency comes from.
Because wrapped in machinery I confess my ashamed desire. That’s actually a line from Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Why Is God Love, Jack,” a shorter A.G. poem I’ve always been fond of that uses “Because” as a line opener all the way through. I had a flash of doing an answer to the “why write?” question by stringing a lot of because-sentences together, but realized the only furtive impulse behind it other than the bogus ease of encapsulation–and the question does implicitly demand the summary axe–was gonna be figuring out where to drop the Ginsberg line for maximum impact of ambiguous nature (a form of amusement). That’s something to do with timing, and I write at this point in part to make arrangements with words, the sounds of which I love, and abhor, occasionally, and sometimes upon request, to set in time. I do not write to make images or metaphors or to reveal or to be expressive or unexpressive. I do probably write out of mad word love and also because it was something I realized at some point I could do and keep being surprised by (the doing). I wasn’t sure if I could -do- anything when I was between the ages of 12 and 18. I started writing when I was 17, for a college paper’s news desk. I started writing poems about two years later. The poems were and are the response I was looking for, and that’s always being written, that response, so I’m writing to keep at that.
You could write because you could be good at it (and then actually become good at it, the way becoming is riskier than being, sometimes) and you could learn to make it be a filter between your consciousness and the world pouring in. That kind of thinking can contain a lot of “reasons” to write, and so may let you be various in your practice of writing. I’ve shifted to “you” to take on an affect of inclusivity and to let you in and to turn the situation around slightly, but that also makes the tonal space being constructed by this writing advice-like, and I don’t want it to be that, or be like that. I’m currently very upset with likeness. I write to have a practice I can continue and alter, and the question of how to change keeps getting raised as a result. There is entering a tonal space, building a tonal space, trying on a tonal space, stealing a tonal space, and there’s finding yourself stuck with one you didn’t realize you were in until totally immersed. There are more tonal spaces than that last sentence gets at. I do not write in order to play at or react to or fight with being contemporary or classical.
I can legitimately say that in recent years I have written across months-long periods of time out of (this will be non-chronological): 1) a fear of being stupid; 2) a desire to stretch my ability to make and understand thought in sentences; 3) outrage, with specific regards to the ease with which this country’s general populace can be manipulated (by and through language of various stripes, in order to be rendered a weaponized generality); 4) desperation to maintain a practice in the face of life-altering changes; 5) a clear need to depressurize my practice (which meant writing poems that I didn’t think could be reproduced, thereby disarming the question of publication); 6) it’s interesting to be working very fast and very slow at the same time, all the time (I know that doesn’t grammatically connect back to “of”…what’s really at stake for that of?); 7) a recent recognition that I’ve been very serious the past thirteen years, and my body needs a break, since I’m prone to damaging it under conditions of high seriousness.
I write because duration is so strange. “Everything lasts a certain amount of time; that’s very odd,” I heard the poet Kenneth Koch say one day.
ANSELM BERRIGAN is the author of five books of poetry: Notes from Irrelevance, Free Cell, Some Notes on My Programming, Zero Star Hotel, and Integrity and Dramatic Life. He is the co-editor of The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan and poetry editor of The Brooklyn Rail.