Saturday, 23 April 2011
Poetry Month: David Seymour - Corpsing This Century
David Seymour’s first book, Inter Alia (Brick Books, 2005) was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Award for the best first book of poetry in Canada. His essays, poetry and reviews continue to be published widely in literary journals. Some of the poems in Inter Alia were also used as lyrics in songs by the alt/folk band The Warped 45s for their debut album 10 Day Poem for Saskatchewan. Most recently his poetry has been short-listed for the 2009 CBC Literary Award, and twice selected for the Anthology of Best Canadian Poetry. David is currently living in Toronto, where he is at work completing a third poetry manuscript for publication, titled For Display Purposes Only.
TTQ - What role do you see poetry playing in an increasingly digital world, and do you feel the e-book will ultimately take the place of the printed page?
David Seymour - The reason people write poetry and the reason people continue to read poetry is not a quantifiable sum, and remains unchanged, I think, regardless of the popularity of its reception or its method of conveyance. This has been the case unequivocally across the ages. In terms of whether the so-called digital age or information age spawns greater isolation between us and whether poetry can somehow eschew this outcome, one might argue that modern digital technologies are only extensions of the first telecommunication technology, writing, of which poetry is, of course, a part. Writing induced perhaps the greatest form of isolation thus far in its ability to transfer meaning while simultaneously disconnecting that meaning from its dialogical context; the transmitter from the receiver. Blanchot called writing the non-absent absence, a gap in the universe, and in his fairly cryptic way touched upon the aloneness the act of writing has always entailed. Etchings on stone placed in a gunnysack for transport down the mountain is equally isolating as writing an email to a friend on one’s Ipad or tablet. The degree of isolation isn't much changed, only the time it takes for the message to travel across that imposed distance, and the medium within which it travels. Poetry, as such, persists.
I believe the e-book (or by extension let’s say any of the various digital/virtual modes of communication) has been gradually taking the place of the printed page, oh, for a good couple of decades now. I’d wager there are children growing up in our lifetimes that will never crack the spine of a book and yet be no less well read for it. The debate we read and hear today on this topic is an after-effect brought about by a blend of residual fear of the change that’s already occurred and our ongoing nostalgia for the loss that change has incurred. The transition from paper to screen is well underway, but I’m interested in the fact that, like vinyl, paper persists despite its culturally agreed upon obsolescence, its primitive wastefulness. It’s no accident that the length of a poem often neatly conforms to a standard 8x11 sheet of paper, nor is it an accident the computer screen and the word processing software we use accommodate that specific design in their default formatting. A blank piece of paper has become a parcel of thought for us and it will be some time, I think, before we relinquish the size and shape, the comfort, of this limit. Long after the ink has run dry in our printers. For the record I still write and edit on paper and will read paper books as long as I have sight, used as I am to the old ways.
Corpsing This Century
I know what you are about to say and you know what
I’m about to say. This turns our conversation into a gas.
Despite the vocal exercises I still avoid your eyes, stare
at the space due left of your head, and pretend I’ve just
come to, try to forget what you’ve said and will say again;
but anticipation throws my better, composed self into a face-
eating grin. When you repeat words like that I can’t help it,
the fascination’s morbid with me; history, politics, eject
like Wernher von Braun plastics from their seamless moulds,
unpatented, synonymous with landfill. The miscues are
grave and the retakes no picnic. Because we’re never not
aware of our surroundings, if you and I were in a Herzog
these would be the lines we couldn’t get past, landing on the gag
reel as a gaff, though they’re the lines we’d continue to recite
until we nailed the scene. But we’re not. In a film, that is, so
the replays keep playing on their loop. Similarly, art resulting
from the exhaustion of easy living provokes a stifled laugh.
I should say absurdity sets in earlier and earlier. Whose was
that exhibit, the sculptural gack suspended in the dark only after
the opening ended, the patrons gone? There’s a memory, too,
that makes me crack; a friend falling in slow motion from another
friend’s horse. I’ve reduced it, for quick recall during crises,
to his look of surprise and the expression of air leaving him
on impact. The serious is so ripe, a cathedral for hysterics, really.
When I convinced myself the man slumped against me in emerg
last night was only sleeping, scanned the room for loved ones
to come nudge him awake, nothing seemed remotely funny. Even
allowing the silence and proximity. What happened next, as you’ve
guessed, was approximately the same as what didn’t. It depends
on timing, not equating deadpan with a winning performance.