Thursday, June 19, 2014

Felino Soriano Interview Part II: The Writing Process

Editor's note: Last issue featured the first part in a two-part interview with the prolific, innovative poet Felino Soriano. This issue we feature the second portion of the interview. This time around, we focus on Felino's writing process. 

I have previously compared the experience of reading Felino Soriano's verse to struggling through an interminable labyrinth of tunnels. And that still holds true, but my newest analogy is that the experience is akin to wandering through a densely layered forest: tangled with trees and vines and shrouded in mist, just like Felino's intricate interwining lines and jarring juxtapositions shrouded in convoluted mystery. At some point you exit the chaotic confusion of the forest into the lucid light of day; with a Felino poem, the revelation is that there is no tangible truth to be acquired, but rather a subjective, subconcious truth. Which, if you subscribe to Kierkegaard's philosophy, subjective truth is the only kind of truth to be had.

This is not to say that universal ideas cannot be gleaned from a Felino poem - but if they can, I would venture to say that the "cosmic truth" inherent in the poems is that language is a magically malleable, endlessly elastic expression to convey the difficult-to-understand, giving challenging ideas and works of art and music an idiosyncratic idiomatic dimension.

I have also made the analogy that if MC Escher's drawings were dismantled and versified, they would look like Felino's poems. I still think that's true, of course. But I also ask you to imagine eavesdropping on an illicit conversation between Kierkegaard and one of MC Escher's pictures. What might that look like, transcribed? A Felino poem, perhaps?

Felino Soriano's verse: enigmatic, riddling, tautly architectural, employing a kind of geometric minimalism, abstract, philosophical phrasing, and, least explicitly but most importantly, nuanced humor. It's challenging reading, to be sure - cerebral, elusive - but also downright FUN. That is the part that I think many people miss when settling in to read a few of Felino's head-spinning poems (for if you read too many in one sitting you might need Dramamine): the mischievous joy , the ebullient celebration of language and jazz and art and philosophy, and how these all intermingle and coalesce into one giant jumble that's a chore to unravel but a thrill to muse upon.

At least, that's my experience with Felino's poetry; you yourself may have your own dialectical interection with this compelling writer's wickedly experimental verse.

But enough.  Let's let Felino speak for himself about his own poetic process, shall we?

Everyone has their own "mode" when they are writing poetry. Walk us through a typical Felino poetry-writing session. Spare no details!

Environment conducive to concentration is imperative. Although I am comfortable with writing in varied environments not necessarily contributory to a lack of chaos (rhythms of noise’s varied aggregations), I prefer a very specific area to compose my writings. I am fortunate to have a small writing room/study in my home, which has allowed me opportunity to construct several of my poems. It is painted a very dark gray, —near-black, which enables in me experiences of comfort. I have a wall of books—jazz, philosophy, art, poetry, etc., accompanied by family photos, my stereo and jazz accumulation, and various collectibles. Further, dressing the other walls are floor-to-ceiling pieces of art, quotations and more family photos. The environment is reassuring, and constructs the conduciveness I speak of earlier.

Recently I acquired a new writing table (replacing the desk I had for nearly ten years); it contains adequate space for my computer, typewriter and other needed writing supplies. The majority of my writing is done on my computer however, as I type rather quickly, which enables me to get down my thoughts immediately. (A typical poem takes me a few minutes to write.)

Since late circa 2006, I’ve listened to jazz when constructing the majority of my writings. As I’ve stated many times, the music alters my perception, and thus my language, driving the collocation of odd words and images.Usually, I write in gatherings of three poems, nearly-daily. I am not sure why I write in the paradigm of groups of three, but this has been my practice since 2006.

Your stated objective is to collocate philosophy and jazz within your poetry. Discuss the philosophers you read and how you incorporate their ideas into your poetry. Give us examples from your work to enhance our understanding of your explanation.

Some of the philosophers I currently enjoy reading are Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Graham Harman. I am mainly concerned at this time with the functionality of existence based on its varied and multilayered adaptations and with interaction and purpose of involvement with whatever/whomever it is I am attempting conversation. This transfers into my writing through finding language appropriate for the poems’ texture and essential becoming, —through an examining (interpreting) environment and reactive language associated with in the moment evaluations. Philosophy has taught me the importance of using authentic language, a language not predicated on formulaic foundations coming from others’ renditions of approach. Philosophy has also instructed regarding structural importance of critical thinking and analyzing/countering supposed truths others posit as universal. My poems are aspectual identities established on fruition of my immanent approach to language and poetics.

When you are interpreting a jazz piece into Felino-verse, do you listen to a given piece over and over during the process of interpretation, or is one or two listens sufficient to translate the essence of the piece?

Jazz has various functionalities in my writing. When deliberately interpreting a jazz record, as with those I did in my Approbations series, depending on the length of the poem, I will listen to a recording for as long as it takes me to finish it. In 2010, I had a book length poem published calledArtist in Residence which was a collection written after Jason Moran’s 2006 album of the same name. I listened to each recording several times, and the ten-poem suite took me over two hours of total writing time to compose.

In 2012, I wrote a collection called Quartet Dialogues, which delved into a function of jazz that fascinates me: the dialogical occurrences within a recording or live performance. I used the traditional jazz quartet paradigm in constructing this collection, focusing on the structural components of the musicians playing together (conversing) in the beginning of the collection, then breaking off into solos (while the others listened), and bringing it back into the group dynamic to finish off the conversation. I concentrated on piano, saxophone, bass, and drums, using Of as the lead-in to each instrument (e.g. Of piano) as an illustration that the poems are in the context of that specific conversation, and could become an altered aggregation of thoughts if a different set of instruments/musicians were part of the dialogue, instead—further identifying my belief of language’s ongoing capabilities. For the “solos”, I would listen to either records with wonderful solos of that specific instrument, or records with leaders playing that particular instrument. This collection has led to others including myAggregations: the quintet gatherings, and Quintet Dialogues: translating introspection, which is currently awaiting a publication decision from an excellent publisher.

Describe your process when writing ekphrastic poetry. Do you attempt to get into the skin of the artist or into the skin of the art itself, or is it some other process that is more elusive? If so, make it as tangible as possible for us!

Ekphrastic poetry started for me in January, 2009, when I began a series called Painters’ Exhalations. It started, as with writing poetry in general for me, with a very strong desire tointeract. Fundamental. Art, in its communicatory abilities is cornerstone for me in Ekphrasis; a dialogue must be present through the function of attempting to understand the language of what it is I am trying to interpret, and subsequently transmit in my own language. I try to figure out a parallel between my writing (listening) and what the artists’ intent is. And because I may never fully know what their intent was, I must attempt to create a poem predicated on my reactive premise to the work. When interpreting a painting, it is very similar to interpreting a jazz record: my language stems from what the artists communicate through their language, and I might rely on fathom, nuance, angles, color, title, to cultivate the narrative or message, as all of these are apparent in both mediums, though they affect-first disparate senses.

In my view, writing poetry is part subconsciously "inevitable," part consciously deliberate. Therefore, I believe that though much of our writing flows naturally and unfettered, there is that deliberate aspect to it where we consciously acquire a certain style. To that end, I ask: How did you come up with your unusual phrasings and startling juxtapositions and overall strikingly unique style? This is something that has evolved over time, clearly, as your earlier poetry is not quite as densely layered. Describe your evolution as a poet, and how you came to rest within your signature style - even though that style may be constantly regenerating itself.

I agree, a poem becomes through the naturalized direction of motivated deliberateness. All my poems are an attempt to interpret, and gauge communicative functionality within the spectrum of the interpretation. My style is a systematic spectral response to various emblems of important interaction that began very early in my writing; but as you also indicate in your question, regeneration occurs. The first, and most important piece of advice I received was to never use clichés when writing, for they are an enemy to good poetry. Upon hearing this, I hadn’t written or read enough to ascertain what clichés existed within poetry, and therefore, I spent some time looking into discovery. Circa thirteen or fourteen years after receiving that advice, I still adhere to it, but as you mentioned earlier, my language has changed through the addition of layered communication. My current and, as you mentioned signature style is an attempt to write using a dissimilar poetic language, one that is absent of cliché, in addition to ensuring a lack of transparency. I believe this is why my writings are often described as being dense and difficult. Following the anti-cliché advice, several other occurrences has given me opportunity to respond with, or evolve into my current approach to writing:

· a dedicated study of poetry—alliteration, prosody, line/image quality, etc.
· writing poetry in the context of environment subjective to what I wanted to communicate
· understanding the important role interpretation has in my writing
· discovering Duane Locke’s writings, and subsequently forming a friendship with him; through my communication with him and simply reading his writings teach the importance of musicality within poetry
· finding the connection of philosophy and language, and building this connection into my own poetic language
· discovering jazz alters my perception and language
· befriending and collaborating with Heller Levinson and Linda Lynch on our Hinge Trio collection; these aspects assisted me in finding the value in collaborative projects
· coming into contact with so many kind editors, publishers, and other artists over these years; on many occasions, this contact leads to encouragement and camaraderie and friendship

All of this, and much more condenses and expands articulation of my writings.

There are the symbolists, the surrealists, the you take any inspiration from those movements, and if so, how? For me, your poetry, though unique in its own right, bears some resemblance to the symbolists, especially. Do you feel a kinship?

Tennyson’s indication of “I am a part of all that I have met” might be acceptable here through perhaps an unintentional company of style. Any similarities to poets from the groups you mentioned though, is not an intentional brand of paralleling identity, but perhaps it stems from again, a subconscious enactment of poets I’ve read. When I first read Octavio Paz’s A Draft of Shadows, I was in the early epoch of poetic development. I hadn’t yet a “style”, and thus, I attempted to emulate the angled rhythms of the poems in that volume. I read that book many, many times. Another poet I admired early (and very much still do), although I wouldn’t state he’s from any “school” or predetermined classification of poet—is Ed Pavlić. His excellent volume from 2001 called Paraph of Bone and Other Kinds of Blue stayed on my writing desk for a few years. Pavlić’s interest in jazz burgeoned-too on the page. Regarding kinship, I do feel a connection to poets using a language that is atypical—whose poems have a deliberate but unpredictable rhythm, and whose poems are indeed musical in directional oscillation.

Deconstruct a Felino piece for us, if you will. If you won't, then tell us why you are against deconstructing your own poetry. 

In my attempt, I’ll use a poem you published in the last issue of Clockwise Cat, from my collection Espials:

I cannot recall the number
etched by early-breathing crows (a burn a eupnoeic reactionary rhythm)
speckled speaking, turntable high speed
or when-now isolates into solitary folds of inward innovation
I lean into a silent shout
my body’s lexicon
shortened by varied pages
or now-and realization burgeons hybrid analogies
one/two or more
than the pluralized invention
within the enclave of crows’ leaving my memory

I’m choosing this text as it displays what I typically use in the creation of a poem: white space, angled placement, and openness without regard to punctuation. This falls in the paralleling aspect of my belief in the poem(s) can interact and facilitate a deeper and alternative brand of meaning.

Here is the poem again with italicized, parenthesized commentary:

I cannot recall the number (a leading to drift of memory or acclimation of mirage)
etched by early-breathing crows (a burn a eupnoeic reactionary rhythm) (breathing equating to the proficiency of living, and the reactionary purpose of the watcher’s desire to continue the visualization of movements)
speckled speaking (calling back toward not knowing how many crows were seen; tiny, faint caws), turntable high speed
inventions (remarkable, accelerated shapes formed by the curving patterns of flight)
or when-now isolates into solitary folds of inward innovation (the immediate presence is visualized and when the action is realized, a focal examination by the watcher places itself into the originality of the architectural shapes)
I lean into a silent shout (awed)
my body’s lexicon
shortened by varied pages (awe often provides a lack of verbal reliability, as then the physiological response is a more accurate representation of what is being seen)
or now-and realization burgeons hybrid analogies
(an attempt to define sustain what is being seen)
one/two or more
than the pluralized invention
within the enclave of crows’ leaving my memory
(quick in two contexts: arrival of the crows’ inventing/their absconding and leaving the clarity of visual presence)

What matters more to you in a poem that you write - imagery, or sound devices?

Both of these are natural occurrences within the kinesis of a poem; they can create dualities of interest (towardwriter|reader), hinges, and have ability to etch residue subsequent to the reading. Regarding sound: because of my fixation with listening to jazz when writing, a natural music occurs (akin to practicing until the nature of it is a naturalized occurrence), as the recordings’ rhythms build analogous internal monologues in their guiding of the poem’s shaping. Prosody, alliteration,—these are the practiced foundations of the poem’s sound, and occur with a deliberateness toward enhancing a poems’ cycling rhythm. The often-angular presentation of my poems, the white space—acts as a function of sound. Pianist, Bill Evans’ Peace Pieceis an absolute favorite record of mine, one I interact with frequently. Throughout the record, one can acclimate to the rhythm that is partly created by the pause-between, /the silences; I attempt these nuanced breaks from sound in my poems that use angulate phrase structure and accompanying openness. Another example of rhythmic silence that inspires me is the excellent trumpeter, Christian Scott’s record Isadora. In similar identities to Evan’s record, the silence between each phrase dictates pace of the interwoven resonances, quite beautifully.

In my poems, imagery is happenstance, an accidental aggregation coming from the often odd appositional phrasing. This arises through my desire to collocate asymmetries, in the context of describing/interpreting through the use of unusual idiom. My poetry has been described as being difficult, dense, dizzying. I find these descriptions interesting (and complimentary), as my intent is to identify and posit—not necessarily unreadable/unknowable/unexperienced dimensions of existence—but rather often times, very common objects and ideas. The goal though, always, is to use a language that is not transparent (cliché), and is viewable from various perspectives, creating multiple identities. Further, both devices parallel and interact, enhance and build through relation of unconscious placement. 

What is your goal with your poetry?

Goal with my poetry? I have several: to write as often as I can; to create a unique and dissimilar language; to create a legacy of publications my daughter can visit as she is growing; to be considered a great poet.

You said: "My style is a systematic spectral response to various emblems of important interaction... My current and, as you mentioned signature style is an attempt to write using a dissimilar poetic language, one that is absent of cliché, in addition to ensuring a lack of transparency.”  Expound on this, if you could (for example, some people would adamantly disagree that poetry should be opaque, as you are seemingly suggesting.)

The origin of my poetic language is an attempt to describe my environment.  This subjective and widened vantage point possesses and points toward myriad opportunities to present what I see in the context of interpretation and guidance from the music accompanying the writing.  My writing style is reactive—it delves and becomes, not from the prearranged but from the extemporaneous.  I do not have the temperament to sit down and plan a poem, nor does my disposition match with the patience needed to agonize over if I am using the “correct” word to create the image occurring within the moment.  I am confident in my phrasing, as I am confident in the act of writing; the confidence though isn’t akin to placing self-value into the work; it is a definitional instruction to myself, acknowledging comfort in the naturalized direction of the poems’ fruition. 

The “lack of transparency” is a personal view of the writings.  My poems are occurrences within, in that meaning is created upon engaging the responsive language itself.  This is purposeful and pronounced through collocating uncommon words and phrases to describe what appears.  Opacity is a reaction predicated on the reader’s interpretation of the work.  Opacity is not the goal; it is a rendition of realization from the perspective of unusual language.  I realize my poetry is difficult; some have simply stated “I don’t get it”, —some have indicated it is “too out there”, “too confusing”.  These descriptions though, I do not hold in the dim light of dismissal, for they are reactions to the art I am honored and determined to continue.   

You said: "My poems are aspectual identities established on fruition of my immanent approach to language and poetics." Now THIS is opaque. Can you clarify it for us lesser linguists?

My fixation with language drives and expands my experiential understanding with all aspects of my life.  From interaction with my family, friends and those I work with, —to the communication with music, and of course, in delving into the functionality of writing a poem.  In the context to the quotation above, the poems I am writing are guided by the process of interrelating with the nisus of my writing: portrayal of my environment using a language of comfort predicated on the needed subjectivity in creating art, rhythm, shape, tone, etc. with the poems’ reactive language.  The fruition is when the poem is completed and I move onto the next.

You said: "Philosophy has taught me the importance of using authentic language, a language not predicated on formulaic foundations coming from others’ renditions of approach." Discuss your idea of authentic language versus more formulaic language.

Authentic language for me, is often the designation of defining a language that occurs from a spontaneous and unplanned perspective.  Jazz does this—particularly live jazz in the function of improvisation.  Although I’m quite introverted, I am fascinated by conversation that delves into an unsuspected and unexpected meaning.  I am unskilled at “chitchat” or “small talk”; these versions of conversation cause discomfort in me; why?—I am unsure, wholly.  The conversations I truly enjoy are those that lead to revelatory thinking, which, in my experience, stem from directional unknowingness, in that the path of conversation—even if the topic has been predetermined—alters itself based on a reactive, unplanned language used to describe one’s perception.  The language springs from a silence and frees itself into clarity or confusion; either can be valuable in the learning of self and the process this takes in becoming.

I think of formulaic language as being a language that is expected, thus, clichéd.   

You mention some similarities in interpreting music and painting, but what is the main difference as far as your PROCESS in interpreting music versus interpreting a painting?

The disparateness relies on the differentia pertaining to artistic medium.  Painting and jazz, topographically, appear quite different, yet they are rather similar in their fundamental purpose ofcommunication.  Senses.  The senses are informed differently depending on what it is I am interpreting. A painting engages the eye first, leading into what is heard or explained in its language of communicatory desire; this is the listening component.  Ekphrasis is a brand of communication… in a painting, my listening dictates the language of ensuing poetry.  With jazz, the auditory devices speak, first.  A jazz quartet is conversing, —I am eavesdropping.  Depending on what I am hearing (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the synesthesia I have translates sound to color), images leap rather quickly, informing then, the language being used within a poem’s desire to portray. 

Have you ever attempted to poetically interpret an excerpt from a work of philosophy? If not, would you? Why or why not? Who would you choose?

Wonderful question.  No, I have not, although the idea has burgeoned.  I’m so very fond of Heidegger’s philosophy of language as it relates to poetry, I would probably attempt to analyze and further, interpret some work he dedicated to that topic.  His language is quite dense; whenever I read his work, it is done very slowly.  His quotation: "The poets are in the vanguard of a changed conception of Being." hangs on my wall, and delivers insight into an angled commentary on why I write in the configuration I do. 

All poets who have reached some level of success, as you have, encounter detractors. What have your detractors said about you? What do you say to your detractors?

I’m unsure as to any detractors commenting on my work; I can, however, speak of editors’ responses and their language within rejection letters I’ve received, which typically consist of various versions of language stating my work was too difficult to access: too experimental, out there, esoteric, philosophical, difficult, avant-garde, and others.  My response really, is experience into moving onto the next opportunity to submit my work to journals.  Rejection is part of the process, and therefore, is expected and predetermined.  Opinion is tied to preference is tied to perspective.  Years ago, rejection letters bothered me, and early on, caused a reevaluation of my writing.  Now, however, rejection isn’t a fathom of causational introspection any longer.

Felino and I have had many e-mail exchanges over the years, and before we conducted this interview, when we were having a casual conversation about writing, he showed me one of his earliest published poems, which he allowed me to publish below. When I read it, I was struck by its naive lines, which are especially remarkable when juxtaposed with his much more complex verse of late. The imagery is lovely, and the lines refreshingly apprehensible, but one realizes that the best Felino poems are those that are convoluted enigmas, like impossible-to-solve riddles that are nonetheless enjoyable to attempt to decode. 

This poetic evolution shows that Felino has made good on his promise to eschew cliche at all costs! 


The meteorologist was right this time.  
Light was in abundance with fog
composing another town’s ceiling.  
I’m usually cynical about weather predictions
and the smiles that accompany
the phrases, after the weatherperson
forecasts a truth rarely found to hold
that given name.  A trip to the beach though,
could give me a chance to catch up on things:
sleep or breathing, or understanding
that I can’t catch up on such things.
The sand shaped tiny paths between my toes.  
Hurry!, I thought (in a childlike rush!)
and follow where the paths 
widen!  There, a gathering
of seaweed, resembling a cluster 
of ripe grapes 
pushed salt into the air traveling 
between the hair.  I built my hands 
into a rusty vintage ladle
and scooped up the belly from the slippery
ocean mess.  It was as if fingers tangled  
inside mine, for connecting with something
not before in my grasp was lively—I observed it,
licked the salt to taste its skin
and felt abandoned that I’ve never done
this type of thing before.  Around
my neck, I put one strand and wore
it home to show my pet fish.

Felino's website, Of the poetry this jazz portends

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