<Previous      Next>
These two poems come from your forthcoming book, Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless.  That title suggests that there are important differences between texts conceived as "sermons" and those written as "lectures." But don't both genres use rhetoric in order to persuade or educate the listener? What's the difference, for you, between a "sermon" and a "lecture," and why have you brought these forms into dialogue with your poetry?

Can you believe that I’ve been avoiding thinking about this? I think I had to in order to write the poems, but now that they’re written I definitely need to dive into the wreck of it, these distinctions…

I guess my immediate response is that, while it’s true that both sermons and lectures use rhetoric to persuade and/or educate the listener, their focus is different. Sermons typically deal with moral/spiritual matters while lectures are given in the service of elucidating, exploring, or intellectualizing the facts as we know them (or so that we can know them better). Put another way, sermons connect us to the Mysteries. Lectures connect our minds with our bodies, our perceptions and experiences with explanations and reasons. Obviously, this is an oversimplification. I’m not at all certain that there are always such clear-cut distinctions between the two genres. And clearly in these poems, one of my goals has been to blur/collage them together.

That said, what’s more important to me than the differences between sermons and lectures is that the two aren’t typically rendered as poems. And yet, all three usually involve a speaker and an audience, and, when they’re done well, a call and response. There’s a rhythm/a music/a pulse to the delivery of any one of them, and there’s a performative aspect as well, i.e. whether one is giving a sermon, a lecture, or reading a poem, one has to be convincing in order to achieve the desired effects.

The other issue here for me is that I grew up in a sort of hellfire and brimstone church where the preachers would, figuratively speaking, breathe fire. They’d take a deep breath and then something bewildering would blast out of their mouths—lions, demons, the Wrath of the Lord. It was scary and exhilarating, and this had a lot more to do with the way they performed the sermons than with their actual content (which I don’t remember/tried to forget).

As a teenager, I started singing and playing guitar in a whole string of punk bands. My models were the Sex Pistols and Black Flag, The Germs and The Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat and The Circle Jerks. All of these bands were super high energy musically, with volatile, damaged and/or damaging vocalists. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that performance-wise being the lead singer for a punk band isn’t all that different from being a hellfire and brimstone preacher, or for that matter a really stunning lecturer either. In particular, I had some Philosophy teachers in college who were intense, wildly insightful and even bizarre in the ways they stomped around and yelled and carried on in the classroom. They delivered the material like it was the only thing that mattered. Ever.

In writing the Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless, I was trying to find a form wherein I could deliver sometimes philosophical, sometimes daily, sometimes inspirited and/or contradictory messages WITH FIRE—not in that typical performance poetry sort of way—but with a sense ecstatic abandon. I wanted to write poems that would allow me to shake myself out of myself, to make the audience believe I might fly apart at any second—to make them believe that they too might fly apart at any second, or transcend everything wildly, with grace.

Of course, there are peaks and valleys. Dynamics are key. The two pieces in Transom are a couple of the more measured pieces—though hopefully they’re no less forceful, dramatic, punk as fuck.