Q. Do you think emotions and different mental states have different colours?
SUSANNE – I indeed connect emotions and mental states with colours. Let me give you a few examples from the book. It reaches along the whole spectrum of colour – from a pure white (‘niveous’) over red (‘Flammeous’) and blues (‘Smalt’, ‘Glaucous’) to blackest black (‘Melanic’). In Flammeous, I address an urgency, a red alert. Glaucous, which is a blue-green-grey, is about the sea and a cleansing. Melanic is my darkest one in the collection, it is depression personified.
Since I am a painter, I do very much relate colour to emotion in my visual work. I am thinking of the saying of the ancient Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, “painting is mute poetry, and poetry is speaking painting”. For me, this ties together the two disciplines I am most comfortable in and in which I am able to explore colour as both material and concept. Also, Lessing said that while painting speaks to the sense of sight, poetry speaks to the imagination. Starting from a colour in this collection to me was like starting from a painting, a material and bringing it into the imaginative realm as a concept.
Q. How do you feel your poems work together and did you see each other’s before completion?
SUSANNE – We agreed to read the poems to each other for a colour only when both renditions were finished. We were aiming for the purity of the two poems with the same title without them bleeding to each other. Within the whole concept of the book, we were open to influencing each other from what we had disclosed already. In the collection, my poem “Maroon” describes the process, the reading of our new poems to each other as the book developed.
It was an exciting method of working and surprising to see the individual poem pairs next to each other and be able to draw parallels. For example, Kevin’s ‘Melanic’ is about the same darkness as mine, but it comes from a different angle. Incidentally, our poems ‘Ibis’ have a similar set-up, the narrators find themselves outside a house, on a porch, in interaction with nature. So we have poems that are polar opposites and poems that achieved chance synchronicity. We feel we have achieved what we set out for with the concept of this book and are offering the reader sets of poems that are open to be compared, contrasted and connected.
Q. Which poets have influenced your writing and how?
KEVIN– For ‘Schizo-Poetry’ it’s hard to say. When I was writing this book with Susanne I never had any other poet in mind particularly. For my first book ‘Vibrations Of The Soul’ I had a definite rock I was chipping away at. A kind of a T. S. Eliot, Postmodern American Poetry, Poe, Wallace Stevens, Jacques Derrida type rock. But for ‘Schizo-Poetry’ it was more free, I wasn’t trying to emulate anyone as is my usual approach. However during ‘Schizo’ certain poets were never far from my mind, poets like Charles Bukowski, Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, John Donne’s ‘Anatomy of the world’, Rimbaud, Henry Vaughan, Leonard Cohen, Hart Crane, Philip Larkin, Auden, Osip Mandelstam and Miroslav Holub among others.
But I must say, it wasn’t just poetry that influenced me, novelists like Marcel Proust and Dostoevsky, Jack Kerouac and George Bataille played a part. Also I think a key to my writing in “Schizo-Poetry” was my deep reading of Buddhism, Derrida and Heidegger. And I think a major influence on my poetry was my experiences with Psychotherapy.
I also feel an affinity with the shamanistic poets as for example my poem ‘Nil Hue’ was written in seconds with no editing, it just came out. I didn’t have much control, I just had to hang on for the ride. I’m now reminded of the Charles Bukowski quote, which goes something like “A good poem should come out like a good hot beer shit”. I guess he was saying a poem kind of festers inside you, feeds on you, till it’s strong and grown enough to make itself known. And when that day comes it declares an exodus and you don’t have much say in the matter, you kinda just get out of the way and it comes just like Bukowski says.
My poetry also owes a lot to music and songwriters from Steve Reich to Captain Beefheart to George Gershwin to Thelonious Monk and the word Jazz of Ken Nordine among many others.
SUSANNE – With the plan for the book, I was reminded of my all-time heroine Else Lasker Schüler. A German Expressionist poet, the colour blue was a central theme in her work. Some critics interpret the meaning of blue in her work as a spiritual marker. My two blue poems resonate with that. She also illustrated a lot of her work herself. I have recently completed illustrations for a poetry book, 30 Days Dry by Chicago-based playwright and writer Eric Robert Shoemaker which will be out in October. I also have made an artist book of my three-letter-word poems with my own artwork.
Also, Stephen Dobyns’ imagination is inspirational, also his playfulness and wit. My “fun” poem in the book would be “Rubious”; “Dark White” is in a similar vein. Further, I always have Sylvia Plath in the back of my mind, it cannot be helped. Exploring her own mental turmoil in her work strikes a chord with me, I have numerous poems about my mental anguish, ‘Melanic’ being one of them. As for a contemporary, Ada Limón is very influenced by the visual arts, too. In terms of visual influences, I channelled a bit of Mark Rothko; his colour fields are so affecting.
Q. Paul Muldoon once said something along the lines of ‘lyrics need music and poems have their own music’, do you agree?
KEVIN– It’s an ancient debate as I’m sure you know. The earliest poetry is believed to have been recited or sung, employed as a way of remembering oral history. The earliest poems exists in the form of hymns like in the work of Sumerian priestess, Enheduanna. So you see at one time, music and poetry were kinda like two lovers, unified. But eventually in time they parted, and if you ask me, ever since there’s been a part of each of them that still somewhat secretly longs for the other, and this longing manifests itself in statements like Muldoon’s. I get a negative feeling from Muldoon’s statement. In the sense that he cites lyric as somehow in ‘need’, whereas poems ‘have their own’. In some ways it’s kind of a common statement from a poet, championing his own discipline over others but the root of the statement is a living narrative throughout history (the speaker is in some ways unimportant) and this narrative all began with the two lovers.
Incidentally I compose music and have released my debut album entitled “Fredrick & The Golden Dawn’ with Eire Supply label. The album took eight years to write, some songs individually taking four or more years to complete. In the middle of writing this album, my first book ‘Vibrations Of The Soul’ was published. So I was straddling both disciplines simultaneously, and this debate came up for me time and time again however I never collapsed into statements like Muldoon’s. I’ve too much respect for the genuine gravity of each of the art forms and in my own way I feel that on some level, love never really dies and that for those ancient lovers, ‘poetry and music’ who have parted, I recall the words of Leonard Cohen, from his song “Hey that’s no way to say goodbye” when Cohen sings, “our steps will always rhyme”.
Thanks both so much for this. An article to come back to several times I think.
For further details look here: Kevin Nolan and Susanne Wawra
1 thought on “Part 3: Schizo-Poetry: Fragments of the Mind”
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the 3 parts of the interview and getting the back story on this wonderful idea for a collaboration – and the results. Thanks.