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Transom:
You have suggested that these absurdist poetry prompts might be helpful in a genuine pedagogic context. Do you think absurdity is an important thing to teach beginning poets?

Svalina:
I’m not sure if I was serious or self-deprecating when I said that, but yes I do think that the absurd should be a tool presented to beginning poets. Partially, I think that all available tools should be made possible & that a beginning writer should feel a sense of permission & adventurousness with these tools, as opposed to a prescriptive approach to what makes for effective/efficient poetry. When I say tools, I’m thinking here of Bernadette Mayer’s tour de force list of journal ideas & poetic strategies. But beyond that, I feel like the art I’m most interested in actively skirts audience control; the absurd is one way to manifest this. Often I’ll see beginning writers feel overly intentional about their work—it reminds me of Tolstoy’s aesthetics of emotion-in-artist directly transferred to the audience via text, which might be for some people a fine way to read, but it seems like a dull way to write. A conscious recognition of the absurdity of both the project & the process of poetry circa 2012 is, perhaps, one way to go about resisting a dreary intentionality.

Transom:

For all their list-poem contemporaneousness, these poems seem to participate in older traditions as well. The end of each poem presents a reflexive turn like a Shakespearean sonnet. Do you think of these poems as straight lines, or as curves?

Svalina:
I’d like to think that I think of these poems as knots, the kind that when you pull them get tighter & then you pull them really hard & they become small turtles for sale in Chinatown, so cute with their stretched out necks, destined to a future of outgrowing the little plastic bowls & being surreptitiously dropped into the Hudson. I do love a good Shakespearian couplet, though. I love most zippy rhetoric.

Transom:

The end of “Twirlsy Horn” seems to lead whoever follows these steps not to a poem, but to an ars poetica. Do you think of poems as arguments?

Svalina:
I’d say yes, all texts argue as an extension of ideology/libido. Amid the stasis of conflict & violence & transformation even the ignorably rarified hobbyists of po-town make public arguments. But poems argue how a reality tv show argues or the choice between granite or quartz countertops argues: it’s entertainment. One of entertainment’s implicit arguments is what it means to entertain, an ars poetica, another concerns what one attends to for entertainment, the self in relation to a socio-political situation. But arguments don’t inherently make for development. I might read about atrocity to entertain myself as I participate in a system that commits or allows those very atrocities; the act of entertaining myself in this way does not make me more moral through the process, it only delineates taste. That taste & how it inspires me may allow for action in the world, but in itself it is merely an action of consumption. Poetry is inherently political, but so is brushing your teeth. And there is also the argument that has to answer an implicit question in any niche market like poetry, which is “Why the fuck do I spend all my time on this?” And the argument of the role of art in general & what its uses are. And then somewhere between dozens & thousands more. But I’d say these arguments are a reading strategy, one can just as easily read a poem & think that it is a marvelous work of individual genius. So, I guess I’m saying no, a poem is not an argument but reading is argument. So, in short, as some Germans say, yein.