Dani: Hello Derek. I stole four of your lines. How does that make you feel?
derek: Totally fine. Um, in fact, kind of honored. First of all, I've been swiped by the best, which is cool. And, I don't think they were my lines to start with. As weird as it may sound, I don't think that poets own their work. They just borrow it from the dictionary. I encourage people to steal my stuff. I put it up online hoping that somebody will take it and do something cool with it. And the more that happens, the more I’m convinced that it’s the right decision. I think it’s kind of like going off to college, you know? If you're a parent and your kid goes off to college, ideally they come back and they dye their hair and they get something pierced and they have a good relationships or a bad relationship and they come back a different person. That’s kinda what I want. And the poetry is just like, I got you to this point, now go live free and come back weirder. And so I have no problem with you taking my stuff. I wish you’d do it more often. And, like I said, it’s not mine. Like, look at the lines, you stole. They’re “k”s. It’s just a bunch of upside down “k”s. And not only that, but you didn’t really, I don’t think you stole anything because you changed the medium. They were in Letraset and you shifted the medium over to typewriter, and then you digitally manipulated it. And it’s like, what you stole my “k”s? It’s fine. Great. Cool. Do it some more.
Dani: Would you care more if the work that you did was the kind of poetry that was, you know, being struck by the muse? If you were inspired and composing lines, would you care someone stole them that way?
derek: No. And I say that because even the work that I've put up that might be more academic or more emotional or personal or lyrical … all that stuffs on my website too. I have no problem with people taking the stuff. I find it very strange that poets would find it offensive or problematic if somebody stole their work. Because what is it that you think you’re losing? It’s not a money thing. There’s no money to be had. It’s not a fame and fortune thing. All they’re doing is shifting the location. If you made something cool enough that somebody would want to steal it or recreate it or respond to it, that seems to me like a real honor. It’s like if I put out an album, that’s good enough that somebody is going to bootleg it and put it on some Russian website. Cool. It means that it’s going to hit a whole bunch of people that I couldn't have even expected. So, no, I have no problem with it whatsoever.
Dani: I wonder if there's some kind of limitation to that or caveat to that in that … for example, you do a lot of work in your work, and then in your writing, of supporting younger writers and encouraging younger writers and pointing that direction. You advertise and discuss more emerging writers and you publish them quite a bit. You direct a lot of that attention outward. I mean, sometimes I worry about someone who—and I won't say any names, but certainly they will be conjured in your head—someone who is, say, a famous poet working in this appropriative fashion and is not pointing outward in the same way or fostering community and development in the same way. I worry about that, treating language like a plunder ground and then not putting anything back into it, you know?
derek: Well, everybody’s got a different idea of what the role of a poet is. And I don’t have to see eye to eye with all of my colleagues. To me, the role of the poet is not just to create work, but is to encourage the creation of other work. You’re not the only one. You’re supposed to fertilize the soil and not be the only one eating the garden. If you have an extra crop, you give it away and you help other people metaphorically eat here. I think about how rob mclennan years ago in an interview, I think it was, he said that he was getting heat for publishing so much. And I think at one point he said, “For every spot I occupy, I try to create two.” And I was like, I have absolutely no problem with that. This seems like a completely aligned way of thinking.
I love writing and I love poetry and I love publishing. And it seems to me that if I love it, I want other people to do it. And I wanted to make it as easy as possible and who would encourage participation in communities. And to me, the easiest way to do that is to get your work out there and don’t have any hang-ups, just share. I can't imagine how generosity could not be sustainable in your practice and if I can encourage that in younger writers, then great. I think the vast majority of poets I read and respect work in that area one way or another, either in the classroom or in publishing or putting stuff up online or dedicating themselves to a reading series or hosting events or the community service aspect of this. That’s the fun part!
Dani: Is there a reason that generosity is so common in our poetry communities? I wonder, is there something in experimental writing or the visual medium, or the way that those two genres work together, that for some reason fosters that? Because every one that I can think of who I like, who does experimental, concrete, visual poetics is pretty much like that. It’s pretty much wanting that community. Is there a relationship?
derek: I don’t think it's exclusive to just experimental writing, but there’s something in there about stakes. To me, the stakes are really low in poetry period. And the more poets realize the stakes are really low in poetry, the better. But, I think a lot of poets, particularly more lyric or more text-based sometimes think the stakes are really high and that this could actually be a lucrative opportunity. On the other hand, experimental poetry, with only a very few notable exceptions, tends to fly a little bit more under the radar and you tend to know your readers. Even somebody like Robert Creeley argued that he wanted to keep the print runs on his book small because he wrote for his friends and, like, a dozen other people.
I think that's great. Cause if I create something or publish something and it catches your eye or catches Eric Schmaltz’s eye, or Kate Siklosi’s or Helen Hajnoczky’s then good, I’ve accomplished what I was hoping to do. And I would like to think that more poets and particularly experimental poets see their work in conversation with each other, that we’re always talking to each other and pushing each other to be better in a collegial way. Like I saw what you did have you tried this, or I saw what you did. I wrote this back and it’s not seen as like undermining it shouldn’t be seen as generative. Margaret Avison said that the best response to a poem is another poem. I can’t think of anything cooler than getting unsolicited mail from somebody who read some of my work and thought they’d write back. And why wouldn't you want that? Why wouldn’t you want your work to be in conversation with other people and to inspire people? This is to me why I became a poet. I became a poet so I can work with my hands and hang it with cool people.
Dani: Let’s talk about working with our hands, because I don’t think poet is what people think of when they think of jobs where you work with your hands. We’re both doing that, I work with my hands also in a different way, but it’s still my hands. So, why have we turned to these idiotic analog forms when we don't have to, when there’s something else that’s easier?
derek: I think you answered the question! Because it’s easier doing something else. It’s harder this way. We want something that gets in your way. That that makes poetry hard. We do it cause it’s hard. If it was easy, anybody would do it. But no, it’s actually hard. And I think that we create these limitations and these restrictions, whether it be typewriters or dead media or whatever, or, you know, in Kate’s case, writing on leaves, because it’s hard. I don’t think we mentally know what the limitations of our own practice are without making it hard.
As an example, when I was in the classroom, I would tell my students that I want them to picture a map of everything that they think writing could be: prose, poetry, nonfiction, graphic novels, everything: a map. Imagine a map. Now it’s your job to walk up to the edge of the map and jump off the edge and add just a little bit more to your understanding of what writing is. And that’s where the hard stuff is. That’s where it's like: can I do this? Can I do that? You know, what are my limitations? Or what if I can only use a manual typewriter? The first question would be, where do I find the typewriter? And how do I fix it? And how does this thing work? That’s the fun part. Weirdly enough, that’s the freeing thing around one of the tenets of Conceptual writing, that idea of limitations and restrictions. It actually opens up way more possibilities because it forces you to push against your assumptions. It forces you to do things you didn’t think you could do. So why do we do it? Because it’s hard.
Dani: It reminds me, I always was so confused by experimental poetry is considered so elitist. Because to me it’s so the exact opposite. It’s more like, what can I play with today? And would you like to look at it? It seems to me so freeing. And for some reason, socially, there is this idea that it’s elitist or whatever.
derek: I agree with you completely. And I think the issue is that art is not seen as economically productive. So, if you have the time to be an artist, that means that you either are unwilling to participate in some sort of larger economics or that you don’t have to participate in some larger economics because of wealth or laziness or whatever. And so, poetry is seen as a space of the privileged, a space of the rich and wealthy. You know, there’s the myth of the average reader of poetry. There’s no average reader of poetry. Nobody reads poetry willingly except other poets. And so, once you move past that and realize that, of course it is pretentious. You’re talking to other poets, right? That's all we’ve got.
But, it’s not pretentious, it’s small and it’s boutique and it can be something bigger and stranger. But the fact is, I would say the majority of your students or your colleagues are taught to hate poetry. We’re taught to hate poetry. In high school and elementary school, we’re taught that it’s hard. We’re taught that it’s confusing and confounding. We ask, “what’s the poet really trying to say here?” And then you get something and you always get it wrong! And then it’s like, I don’t want anything to do with poetry. Poetry is stupid. And well, it is stupid unless you decide for it to be fun. If you can get away from the need to mean, and the need to point to some sort of something, and just be like, here’s a typewriter, make something, see what you can do and discover what the edges of your knowledge are. It’s practice-based research.
Dani: Yes. Yes. I learned an awful lot about myself and my writing by dicking around on a typewriter.
derek: And the other thing you were asking, how can we work with our hands? And it’s so funny that I find it really odd that many contemporary poets write the body and write through the body and write through physicality and a physical experience. And yet they seem to forget that they’re writing with their hands. It’s your fingertips on your keyboard, or it’s your fingertips with that pen in your hand! And if you write long enough, you get carpal tunnel or you risk begin to hurt, or your thumbs hurt, or those pinkies, when you're trying to hit those keys. It’s a bodily practice. It is a physical thing. And, and I think that a lot of concrete, particularly analog forms, emphasize that, and we don’t talk about it. We don’t realize the issue of actually typing this thing or laying these down one letter at a time or sewing leads together or whatever it might be. This is a very physical practice. And yeah, we get to play with Lego or arts and crafts and colored poetry. And once again, it’s cool because we get to hang around with the other dorks.
Dani: It’s so funny too, because when my book came out and it was doing all the press at the beginning, uh, interviewers would ask, what’s the hardest part about working on a typewriter? And my canned response whenever they asked me that was to say, “I like a long manicure and you can't have a long manicure when you're working on a typewriter all the time. It just destroys my nails.” And then I do have terrible carpal tunnel. So, poetry has messed with my body and in countless ways. And OO is very much about that, my manicure and a sore wrist and the banality of the pain of the body.
derek: Having spent a lot of time in school and a lot of time writing, you get a callus right here in your finger where your pen is. That’s the secret Mason handshake of writers. You look around the room and see who has a callus from their pen. There’s something very interesting about the fact that we're using dead media and where do you find them and how do you service them? So for Letraset, for every letter I rubbed down, that’s one less letter I have. Really. My earlier Letraset work uses type faces that I no longer have. So, there are some beautiful, intricate typefaces that appear like 10 years ago in my work that I haven’t done anything with. It’s not that I got tired of it, I can't find it anymore. It’s like, if you were an artist and every pencil that you shaved down is one is one less pencil in the world. They are not making pencils anymore. It has a kind of sense of urgency and reality, like finding ribbons, or if your typewriter breaks, it's going to be a real pain in the neck to get a new one or getting a new ribbon or getting it serviced, these kinds of things. It then starts suggesting a whole other set of skills that you need to have to be a poet. You need to source your material. You need to find a new typewriter or find somebody or learn how to fix them, or spend time online, ordering Letraset and sourcing it and this kind of stuff. And that's really cool too, that leads you towards a whole other side of writing that I think is a lot of fun.
Dani: Would you ever cheat and like scan in an old poem that has Letraset that you’d want and just like put it in a new one? Like, would you cheat?
derek: Uh, people have asked that before. There is a way, and I don't know what it is, but there is a way to create your own rubdown lettering. But, I’m like, nah, I don't want to do that. That’s no fun at all. Um, no, I rarely work in collage where I would write something and then cut it out and paste it down. Um, I mean I could, but I don’t. I like the limitations and the challenge of actually making it work because a lot of this stuff is really quite old and dated. The sheets are becoming brutal, but letters don’t stick as well as they used to. And so my practice is also getting a little dirty here because the letters aren’t as whole, they're not as crisp. They’re beginning to now degrade. I’ll have a sheet of Letraset that only has broken letters or lines and nothing else on it. So now that’s what I have. I don’t even have whole letters anymore. So then what’s the poem that you can make from the crumbs of the alphabet.
Dani: When you come to concrete poetry and the typewriter, you're just kind of imitating what was happening before. And they love the grid, nice lines, and clean stuff. And as I worked through it, you can tell which poems are early and which ones are later in the book. Cause I got messier and messier and now I only want a poem that's a big frickin’ mess. Not the unholy mess that, no offense Kyle Flemmer! I’m with him. I understand what he’s saying. But, I like the jumbled. I like the complications that come with that. Sometimes I think of your poetry as quite, I don’t know if I want to say clean, but like professional. They look like they’re like done by an artist and now that your medium is degrading, it’s forcing you into the mess. How does that feel? Is that good? Is that bad?
derek: I can see why you’d say that. I think the, I think that that’s one of the results of the medium of Letraset is that it’s crisp and it's clean. All the letters are the same shape. It was invented in 1950s modernist period so that type could be standardized. It has a cool experience to it and definitely echoes my time. If you go back to my Fractal Economies, it’s much dirtier. That was a lot of apprenticing as well. You know, that kind of sense of like going through other people’s work, seeing what Mary Ellen Solt or John Riddell did and asking, can I do that? You work through getting a vocabulary, getting a tool set, and you learn that tool set from emulating the people who came before you.
So, shifting from some of the cleaner black and white stuff through to Aperture, which is full color. Then next coming up is Lens Flare, which is coming up from Guillemot Press in the UK in January. It’s like a moving through time, cause some of the early stuff is very cool 1950s, 1960s Mad Men kind of vibe or early bpNichol, kind of cool modernist poems. And then I’m trying to move them into 1970s wallpaper, moving in that direction where it’s like your parents’ stove in 1975, dayglo wallpaper patterns, gaudy colors. Or from modernist into like San Francisco rock posters into 1970s wallpaper. That kind of moment is where I’m trying to go. It’s exploration.
Dani: I love it. Well, this has made me have ideas on what to write, which is exactly what we said it should do. Thank you so much. This was so nice.
derek: Oh, it’s so my pleasure. Thank you so much for doing this.
is the author/editor of over twenty collections of poetry, prose, and criticism, including two volumes of his selected work, Please, No More Poetry (2013) and Konzeptuelle Arbeiten (2017). His most recent volume of fiction, a, A Novel was published by Paris’s Jean Boîte Editions. Beaulieu has exhibited his visual work across Canada, the United States, and Europe and has won multiple local and national awards for his teaching and dedication to students. Derek Beaulieu holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Roehampton University and is the Director of Literary Arts at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
He can be found online at www.derekbeaulieu.wordpress.com
is a poet and a scholar and an adjunct professor. She's a co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, the Managing Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory, and the author of two books: OO: Typewriter Poems (Invisible Publishing, 2020) and Anarchists in the Academy (U of Alberta Press, 2018). You can find her online at www.genericpronoun.com.