CC: Oh wow. Oh, I’d love to see that.
TD: So I guess it was a big influence for him too.
CC: Sure. He used to talk about it a lot. I never saw the book. I wonder where it is.
TD: I don’t know.
CC: Anselm remembers seeing it in Ted’s hand? Years ago?
TD: I guess... he gave a lecture on Ted last night at the Boulder Bookstore and said that he had this heavily annotated copy of Silence.
CC: Oh he has it.
TD: No I guess he’d seen... or Ted had heavily annotated a copy of Silence I’m not sure where it ended up.
CC: Yeah, I don’t know if Alice still has his complete library or what. Ted got rid of a lot of books and lent them or sold them. So I don’t know how many books he had left. Of course, he made that fake interview with John Cage. But that was made out of other people’s interviews, I think mainly.
TD: Do you think in the way Cage will let in street noise, or somebody coughing and shuffling their feet into the work that your work would also include things that were traditionally excluded from the work as ‘noise’ or so-called ‘nonsense’?
CC: Right, sure. I think very much. Including, one of my big sources is just the way I can mishear things. You know you walk down the street and you overhear a little snatch of conversation, but you can never be sure you heard it right. But, so what! You take whatever it is that appealed to you and you... I remember Ted used to do that, used to pick up a lot of stuff walking down the street. In fact, I remember John Ashbery one time when they came out with those little tiny pocket tape recorders he had one and he tried for a little while walking around New York with that, but I don’t think that it ultimately worked for him very well. I think he was already set up to do that with his ear anyway. It wasn’t that much good to just record. Plus, if you do that obviously you get a lot of noise that you don’t want to, you can hardly hear anybody. Imagine walking down the New York streets you get buses and trucks, but Cage would say well that’s music that’s happening!
TD: I was also wondering, kind of a big subject obviously, but improvisation, whether you still feel that’s a good way to describe what you’re doing in your writing.
CC: I think so, yes. I think it’s so basic to me that I can hardly imagine doing it any other way. To me it’s an endless line that just keeps going; I might change a word here and there when I type it up, but not enough to feel like I’m really doing drafts in the traditional literature way it’s done. So that was my strength that I picked up from Kerouac. I was absolutely struck that that’s the way he was doing it. So the relation to the jazz line is obvious and I think that stood me in good stead for my projects, whatever it turns out to be. It’s still going on.
TD: How does the drumming relate to your writing? Sometimes I get into these sections where there’s a lot of one-syllable words and there’s that feeling of an evened out beat or something and it almost sounds like hits on a ride cymbal . . .
CC: It probably is although I wouldn’t consciously notice it. I obviously have a lot of bop-flavored 4/4 time going in my head that probably without even thinking about it I’ve been relating the rhythm of a lot of words to. Not necessarily drums only, the whole sound of that music. I play drums just about daily just to do it. I just love doing it. I think as the years go on, I see less of a close relationship probably between that and the poetry, but maybe because the deeper I get into the music the more I see how specifically different it is. Obviously there’s tremendous feed between the two arts, but it’s not real easy — I get asked this a lot — and it’s not real easy to make a direct parallel. Because I think that music might just be the ultimate art in the fact that it doesn’t relate to... it’s totally abstract and yet it’s totally emotional. It has shapes and it moves and it does things to us that nothing else does and carries us and so on. Is that clicking, can you hear that? Is that you?
TD: Yeah I guess that our little...
CC: Is that your machine?
TD: I guess
CC: Uh oh.
TD: Well, the heads are going around!
CC: I’m waving my wire, but I don’t think that’s doing it. Well, proceed anyway.
TD: OK. So Kerouac is still the main impulse behind the improvisation? Were there painters doing that kind of thing in the 50s and 60s who influenced you in that way?
CC: Painters. Well...
TD: For instance is De Kooning improvising?
CC: Well, yeah, in another way those guys were I suppose. Although that’s another medium entirely. I always tended to think of their paintings as kind of a time-art too. In fact, I talked to Guston about that, that you put... sometimes I could tell him what the last image or stroke that he put on a picture was and he would be amazed. I would say, ‘Yeah, but I’m kind of reading it as if I see the way you’re moving it in time. How you started here and you did that and you did that.’ Sometimes I could really see that. So we got into thinking of it that way. Obviously it is. I mean you can’t put it all on in one big flash, you have to start and sometimes there are erasures and cover ups. So, yeah I suppose I’ve looked at it that way. But Kerouac is real real obvious. I mean real clear in that way. No bones about it as they used to say. He said he wanted to play like Lee Konitz plays. I could really identify with that.
TD: What about free jazz? Do you think there’s a correlation between the way Kerouac pushes beyond just telling his autobiography, pushes beyond story and plot lines, and how those guys go beyond things like ‘tune’ or ‘beat.’
CC: Right. Yeah well he heard people like Cecil Taylor and Ornette.
CC: Oh yeah. Do you know those columns that he wrote for Escapade magazine? I think they’re all in that one called Good Blonde. One of them is almost a list of names of jazz musicians by instrument. I believe he mentions Ornette and Don Cherry and Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, those guys. He obviously heard that group at the Five Spot. Of course there are works of his that are supposedly more abstract, Old Angel Midnight obviously and great hunks of Visions of Cody are good examples. I always see him kind of going you know... if he left off of his travel notebooks or his memory narratives he naturally went in the direction of a kind of pure poetry, word-to-word illumination. And Cody is really a great book to see him move from one thing to another, sketches to narratives to memories about Neal, to whipping out his notebooks from his own trips and blowing on those. And going off on a great kind of Joycean gibberish, however you would say it. I remember Ted used to refer to some of my works fondly as ‘gibberish.’ We used to use that word instead of... we didn’t want to call it abstract or... It’s not that the word abstract is wrong, but it’s not abstract, it’s actually more concrete in a way.
TD: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking; so concrete we don’t recognize it and call it ‘abstract.’
CC: But you’re always told it’s too abstract, and to me abstract is this vague concept. So that’s just another problem one has if you use the same medium to talk about your medium, you know. I think writers have that problem, but a lot of them might not think it is a problem ’cause they just think they talk all the time anyway. Ted didn’t think that was a problem because he loved to just talk. Sometimes he’d talk more at his readings than read poems. Just like Charles Olson. If we shut up it’s good sometimes; let the work get up there.
TD: What does that... I’m thinking that part in Good Blonde & Others where Kerouac is talking about Old Angel Midnight being his most experimental work, and how when he got the energy back up he’d go back ‘up there’...
TD: Do you remember that?
CC: Yeah, yeah
TD: It sounds like he did have that impulse to go where Coleman and those guys were headed. Kind of ‘out’ as it were.
CC: Sure. I always wonder if there was more of it you know. Whether it really was finished or not. I suspect that he did do more but until the estate allows us to see more of his unpublished work we won’t know. But I understand there’s a tremendous amount of it.
TD: Oh really?
CC: Yeah. I mean there are novels. There are a lot of poems, plays, tons of journal stuff. Like Burroughs said, ‘He was a writer.’ That’s what he did, he never stopped.
TD: What about these free improv guys? Have you heard about Derek Bailey and Han Bennink and Tony Oxley and all them? Do you think it’s possible to actually... just... is there such a thing as free improvisation really?
CC: Yeah, I’ve done it myself! In the sense of starting without a theme or chord changes, or even a rhythm you know. Just: somebody do something and then somebody else react to it. It’s actually almost a tradition now. A lot of those English guys like Oxley have been doing that at least since the 60s. Bailey, all those guys, they used to have those festivals, free stuff in the park. Somehow, I think it almost caught on more over there or in Europe and Germany than it has here. Here we tend to think that jazz kind of stopped or something. Now the Ken Burns’ thing has kind of crystallized that unfortunately. This is the traditional kind of education about it, that jazz got freer and freer until finally it was just every man for himself and then they kind of hit the wall and drew back. Then we had fusion, and now we have what they call neo-Con or Wynton Marsalis in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra or whatever. While as you know a lot of that free stuff went to Europe and those guys picked up on it.
TD: And it’s still going.
CC: It’s still going and there are some terrific... I mean Bennink has got to be one of the most amazing drummers of all time. I’ve never seen him and I just have to catch him, once. I know some people who know him and they say he’s funny as hell too. He has an incredible sense of humor. He played once from the wings of a stage, played his drum set with 20 foot aluminum rods that he found backstage, never actually even came out of the wings. He’s just gone beyond. It’s interesting too that the best of those guys actually have a tremendously developed sense of humor. You can’t be really deadly about this stuff or it is deadly. [Derek] Bailey is supposed to be an amazing comic with a tremendous sense of humor. Have you ever seen those guys?
TD: Just on video tape, I haven’t seen them live at all.
CC: There is a video of Bennink isn’t there? I think I saw some reference to it recently.
TD: Yeah, I can’t remember what the... I think it was Derek Bailey’s group that he had in the 70s, I can’t remember the name now.
CC: Oh, it was a guy’s name?
TD: I think so, yeah.
CC: Like, oh shit, I even have a recording of that group, but I’ve forgotten the name of it. Yeah, yeah.
TD: It’s in that Improvisation book too that Bailey did. Do you know that one?
CC: Right. Oh sure, yeah. I have to look that up. Some name like Edmond Briscomb or something like that. In fact it was deliberately named I think after somebody for a particular reason but I forgot what it was. [Note 2]
TD: Oh, that’s right.
CC: I’m sure it talks about it in that book. But I’ve heard of a solo Bennink video of just him playing the drums. I think at one point he ties the whole drum set together with a rope and shakes it.
TD: There’s Jamie Muir too, who goes to the dump and picks up all this stuff brings it in that day and starts banging away on the stage on all this different stuff, so that each time his kit is different, depending even on what the weather’s like that day.
CC: That’s a great impulse. Bennink does that too. I remember an early Merce Cunningham performance I saw where they all did that in the early 60s when they were all traveling around in a bus together and didn’t have any money. Rauschenburg was with them and he would find signs and pieces of wood and make a set out of that wherever they were. And then this one I’m thinking of was at Brown, in Providence. It was one piece they did where the whole sound, music, to it was John Cage taking one of those window sticks with the metal point and dragging it down the rubber strips, those serrated rubber mats between the rows. It was making this BZZZ noise. He’d go around the back and then down to the front very very slowly. There was a pipe organ there and David Tudor was just holding down the lowest foot pedal note, so you couldn’t even hardly hear it. It was just like a vibration in the building. So they were using whatever they found there and that was inspiring.
TD: Would you consider your Rova Improvisations to be in that free improv mode? Are you just kind of reacting right there to whatever you’re hearing and putting it down?
CC: Yeah, of course that’s in two parts. The first part was doing that and the second part was reacting to the reaction — just looking at the writing and doing another writing off it. But those guys [The Rova Saxophone Quartet] are very much in that area, except that they’re really interested in destroying the barrier between written music and improvised music. Very often in their performances you can’t — unless you know the score so to speak — you can’t tell what’s improvised or not, when it really works.
TD: Don’t they have little games or structures that they’re working through when they play?
CC: Yep. There are a number. All the way from putting up fingers, to gestures, they’ll even have little paddles and things, little balls and things, colors that they would hold up. I saw them do a whole performance like that about ten years ago. Game form. John Zorn used to do a lot of that and I think that influenced them. I know they’re good friends of John’s. But all this stuff is going on. Of course Rova is able to work even today more in Europe than in the States and they’re much better known there apropos what I was saying. There’s even audiences... although, actually I was talking to Larry Ochs the other day and he said that there’s less now than there were maybe ten years ago. You know it’s not quite as great as it once was, for whatever reason. I don’t know if that’s the Americanization of Europe, or the world, or corporate...
TD: Everybody wants Britney Spears or something.
CC: Oh yeah, yeah. They gotta have Britney. Maybe if we cut her up and redistribute the sound? Although actually it wouldn’t be that interesting probably.
TD: So in writing how do you keep that ... the responsiveness or the collaborative nature of improvisation alive? I guess you’re working off television input or notebooks?
CC: A lot of these short poems recently have been working off the movies on the satellite. I just do a real fun thing with it ’cause you can do so much with it; you’ve got image and you’ve got sound, you’ve got words, printed words sometimes, or certainly heard words. I’ve got this pretty well developed sense of mishearing things or even mis-seeing them I guess where I can just sit here with a pad and whatever’s going on I could write off it, just riffin’ in and out of it. Not the worse the movie is, but really strong works of art are very hard to work in that way. Often the ones that are kind of crummy or just aren’t working very well and have a lot of funny spaces in them are wonderful to use. They seem to want you to do something with them, or they need something done. But you know like a great Godard movie or something you can’t... oh well actually that’s different. I mean he does give you a lot of things to do. Maybe more like a Bergman or something. An Orson Wells movie. You just kind of have to sit there and let it pour into you, ’cause that’s the experience. So it’s pretty easy to sort of collaborate quote unquote with that. That’s pretty much where I’m at on a daily basis at the moment. There’s endless movies now, so far. I remember one time thinking years ago that I’ve seen probably all the movies that came out. Oh man was I wrong! No one could.
TD: I love that... is it in Smithsonian Depositions where you have all those...
CC: Oh the titles
TD: ... all the B movies made in Hollywood in one year or something?
CC: Well there was this... I think that was a list of ... I discovered that there was this thing called the PRC Company some name like Producers Releasing Corporation or something like that who had done all these really great B movies, including a lot of crank ’em out westerns. Maybe a couple a week. They all had great titles like ‘Thundering Gunslingers’ and stuff like that. No time to really work on it so come up with a name quick, move on. I guess I was also inspired by Smithson’s pile of words, and no ideas. [Note 3] Like a quarry full of slag or something.
TD: I was wondering too about that whole sense of the blend, or the fudge, or the blur that comes through a lot in your work. Versus say the somewhat more static visual image that you get in somebody like Ron Silliman. He’s often giving you a very clear...
CC: Right, crisp...
TD: ... I was wondering does that come from your sense of momentum in the writing because you’re on the fly or is it...
TD: . . . out of painting ...
CC: I think it’s all of that and more. Also the idea, probably out of Cage but also free-jazz, that you can have those blurs, you can have stuff that’s in between the pitches, that’s more like what they used to call noise than music. If the work lacks that I find it misses some... it feels like it’s missing something to me. That would be one thing I would be critical I guess of with Silliman, in that it’s a little too clean for me, it’s a little too demarcated and has that kind of evenness to it. Sometimes it looks like a whole page of that is the same color. You can write a certain kind of poetry where it seems like there’s a gap, there’s a slot every 30, well I don’t know, every few seconds that’s going to be filled with a certain image, word, or color and when it becomes too even, I lose purchase on that surface. I just can’t stay with it. To me it has to be full of more dirt or...
CC: ...you know. Mistakes...
TD: Not quite so settled or something...
CC: Yeah. To me that goes for the worst of the language stuff. It’s like examples of a theoretical idea. That you could have a poem that would be like figure 87, referring to the text and the real text would of course be the discursive layout of your theory. To me that’s going the wrong direction. I was always trying to get away from that, towards something a bit messier, more lively, more organic, or animal-like or whatever. So... you know Silliman’s got his project and he’s done what he wanted with it certainly, but I wouldn’t have quite that same impulse.
TD: I need to flip this thing here. Is that sense of the mess like, I get that in Guston too, where you just see those piles of odd, irreducible objects that you can’t ever really pin down but they’re still kind of just staring at you there.
CC: Right. Also the feeling there that they come from trying to work up the images or, there’s stuff that’s painted out or that you couldn’t quite make work that metamorphosized into something else or.... It’s got a bit of the marks from that process on it, or some of the pieces of the earlier image. Yeah, that’s all to the good I think. I forgot what your original question was.
TD: I think it was the blend...
CC: Oh the mess, yeah and the mess. Of course that comes from Beckett too, when he says you have to... when asked who the artist is... [He said, ‘The task of the artist] is to find a form to accommodate the mess.’ It’s a wonderful conundrum to think about. Accommodate, what does he mean by accommodate? You have to let it in I think is what he also says. You can’t just say it’s out there somewhere, you know, forget it, I’m not going to deal with it, but it has to be let in, or you’re not really working, you’re not dealing with where we’re at. But his work is also clean too, but it gives a sense of that. It’s another way of doing it.
TD: Was he a big reviser or did he...
CC: I think so, yeah. I get that sense. I’ve seen some manuscripts and he did seem to change a lot, or I guess it’d be more like he’d do version after version.
TD: Big chunks, he’d redo?
CC: Yeah. Or maybe a page or a page and half or two pages. Particularly in those later works, those short — what did he call them? — things like ‘Imagination Dead Imagine,’ or ‘Ping’ Those things that seem to be from much longer works that he reduced down to a page or two. At least that’s the way he’d refer to it. It’d be interesting to see more of his pages, just to see how he worked. Supposedly Joyce dictated a lot of Finnegan’s Wake, right? In fact some of it to Beckett, I believe, because Joyce was going blind by that time and couldn’t really deal with the page. But then when the proofs came back from the printer he would want to change everything. Almost like he’d see another little layer that he could add to it. I feel like it wasn’t so much, ‘I didn’t get the right word there,’ but that once you start that kind of amazing momentum going you just want to keep adding to it. It’s not that you’re going to get it perfect or anything. That’s not the idea. It’s an incredible layering of puns and rhymes and finally everything seems to rhyme and pun with something, with everything else. You end up contextualizing everything else.
TD: That whole Kerouac sense of insertion rather than revision; you’re always just piling stuff in there.
CC: Right. Whalen had some of that too. You know those little sections of his poems where there’d be like a whole bunch of little stones or little gems or something that he’d just put there. It’d be a little pocket full of... I always took to that real easy. I must have something like that in my brain too.
TD: Are there other... I noticed On the Nameways poems, there’s volume one, are there a bunch of those that you’re working on too?
CC: Oh yeah, that’s going on. The second volume is at the printer right now. It should be out by April.
TD: Is that from The Figures too?
CC: Yeah, The Figures. It should be out within weeks. There’s supposed to be... he [Geoffrey Young] said he would do three volumes and it’s gotten way beyond that. I don’t think he’ll want to continue and do the whole thing, but also the title may change. I never envisioned that title to go for thousands of pages. Of course titles pop up all the time. It reminds me of that... I was looking at Gregory Corso’s book, Happy Birthday of Death which starts with that page of alternate titles. He thought of about 30 or 40 titles and took one. I have pages of just titles that I may use, but I probably won’t use most of them. They remain titles. In fact I’ve tried to make works out of just a list of titles sometimes.
TD: Interesting. So Kerouac’s Blues are in back of that on-going work, choruses almost?
CC: Yeah, well that too. In fact I did actually do, the first year I was here in this house, I did a blues, because I always think his blues have to do with places particularly. I did a thing called ‘Potato Hill Blues’ because this hill we live on was once called Potato Hill. And it’s like that, it’s choruses; I was sitting out on my porch listening and looking, trying to practice the way he did. But yeah, that’s behind a lot of the stuff. I hear him a lot in my head. He can’t get rid of them. Talk about irreducible!
TD: How did the reading with Michael Gizzi go when you guys read with the jazz band behind you?
CC: Oh with the jazz band. That went great. We did one last September back east with some real good players with no rehearsal really. Just getting up and saying give them the tempo — ‘Play a blues,’ or ‘Do whatever you want,’ finally. We were real pleased with it. Of course that wasn’t recorded either. Like a bunch of dodos we didn’t think about it. Actually, the drummer was intending to record it and forgot to bring his tape machine. I think finally you have to say, ‘Well it’s just not going to happen that way. It’s just gone in the air.’ That’s the way those things are. You were either there or you weren’t there. But yeah, we intend to do more of that ’cause it went so well. We read, we started out reading his ‘San Francisco Blues’ and then we read our own things. The Kerouac goes so perfectly with jazz. Of course, he read a lot of his things on that album with [Steve] Allen and Zoot [Sims] you know, the Book of Blues was actually ‘San Francisco Blues.’
TD: What were you reading off?
CC: Well, we read alternate sections of ‘San Francisco Blues’ and for the second piece we did we did our own things. Now that I think of it... I don’t know if you ever saw that book Lowell Connector, well we used those poems which were written from walking around Lowell looking at his houses, different places. They’re pretty musical Kerouacy and have long lines that went good with the jazz. Sometimes we’d just stop and the tenor guy would take a solo. It was great. It was very free actually. They were, I guess it was just a matter of the right people, the right chemistry — it always is, or it isn’t. If everybody’s in tune. We’d actually done one earlier in a different place with some guys that didn’t work so well. It’s still always kind of exhilarating when you get up there and do that. I’ve always liked to read other people’s work too, which isn’t something that you’re sort of asked to do, something [that only happens] in a classroom situation maybe. I was thinking recently how Gregory Corso died and there didn’t seem to be anything happening around that that I know of. I was really shocked. This major poet just died. Does nobody remember him? Jeez. He was a great inspiration too. I remember his book Gasoline just totally knocked me out. I was talking about it with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago and we were saying yeah, it was just the way that cover looked with the red and the white and the word ‘Gasoline’ like in 1958 or whatever it was — that was crazy ! Poetry wasn’t like that! It was from some other space... which we’ve finally found out it was ! I think a lot of people ran into the awkward side of Gregory’s personality and prefer to forget that, but my God! Then the poet dies and the work is there and you have the work and you celebrate the work. I’m really shocked at my fellow poets.
TD: Yeah, they should do a big commemorative reading of something.
CC: Sure. I think maybe it’s just slow. It will happen. I mean I was talking with Anne the other day about it and she said well she thought something was going to happen eventually probably at the [St. Mark’s] Church but it just takes months to put it together. I always want it to be instant, or as Kerouac said, ‘More instant and interesting.’
TD: Well I think that... I don’t want to keep you too long here.
CC: No, that’s OK; if you have anything else while you got me...
TD: I was wondering about the whole sort of investigative aspect of your work. I always get the feeling that there’s a bumping up against some kind of subject matter or something. Especially in those longer pieces like Alien Tatters; that you’re really going into all the different nuances of what your mind will spark when it bangs up against this... all these cultural myths about aliens. Do you feel like you’re kind of investigating things and finding stuff out as you’re going along?
CC: I suppose so. Alien Tatters is the result of having read a tremendous number of those books on the contactees, and the abductions, and just always having had an interest in that, watching it develop right from the beginning. In the late 40s I remember that guy who saw the saucers over Mount Rainier I guess it was, and some newspaper guy thought up the word ‘flying saucers’ and that was the beginning of that. Yeah it’s that, but then I think when I really get down to doing the work it’s more like that’s a whole field of voices and vocabularies to use, and so that I’m not so much putting out the results of any kind of knowledge I might have gotten but kind of playing with those tones and those colors, these incredible whatever they are. We don’t even really know what that psychology is about. It’s fascinating, whether it’s real spaceships or not. I’ve sort of tended to think that it probably isn’t. As one of those guys said it isn’t anything as boring as metal machines, it’s something a little more ‘out’ than that probably. Like your mind having developed enough to be aware of something that one couldn’t have been with a previous mind. That would be something. So that’s I think where Alien Tatters is going, in that direction, trying to pick up on that wavelength.
TD: Trying to write the static that’s in the background, or overlooked, or something?
CC: Yeah, I mean I was fairly serious about it. I wanted to actually have some contact with this. Of course you want to, that isn’t enough obviously because I never have. Although I’ve seen some strange things but... . I’ve certainly never been, as far as I know — knock on wood — abducted, experimented with, or whatever. Although they say they can make you forget it. Start looking around madly for pieces of missing time. Can I account for my entire life? I don’t really think anyone can. Although there are probably some that would claim they can.
TD: So were you working off these actual books? Were they sitting there and you were just glancing over and picking up a word here and a word there, or were you working more out of the memory of what you’d read?
CC: Both. Sometimes I would look at a page and just start going, and I might write 10 pages without looking back. But then sometimes I would look at it more. I also had some tapes. I had some what’s his name, Bud Hopkins, you know who he is?
CC: He’d done a lot of hypnotic sessions with abductees and somebody, a mutual friend, got me copies of some of them. So I actually had the sounds of some of these people presumably under hypnosis telling these outrageous stories. So that was... I had a sonic input too, not just my eyes reading it. But there’s a tremendous number of books. I even thought of putting a list of them at the back of the book but then thought oh no, that’s too much dust. It doesn’t matter, people know what they are if they’re interested, the stuff that’s come out in the last ten, fifteen years.
TD: It reminds me of those Burroughs experiments where they set up microphones in empty rooms and there are all these weird voices, in something like eight different languages.
CC: I know. I read that book once that he mentioned. I somehow got a hold of it. I don’t remember the title. I don’t know; I can’t say that I was tremendously convinced at a technical level, but whatever Burroughs picked up, great. That’s almost like something he wrote you know, I mean an idea of his; that if they hadn’t come up with it he would have. The Dead Speak, Dead Fingers Talk I mean, that’s one of his own titles. Yeah, Burroughs is another major influence too. I read all the cut-ups and things years ago too. I mean somewhat inspired by Cage and of course then Burroughs when he started talking about the actual cutting or folding of the text. That’s were a lot of the outrageous humor comes out of it too. These stories that Larry Fagin and I have written over the years where we use that method where you take a story that’s in columns and you take one fragment just the way it lies across the column and try to attach it so that the syntax works with some other fragment somewhere else in the story. You get some really hilarious things.
TD: You guys have done some n+7 things together too right?
CC: Yeah, we did that On the Pumice of Morons. Yeah, that was so much fun just to make it [Maya Angelou’s ‘On the Promise of Morning’ delivered for Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1992] into something worth attending to. However, I immediately found people taking it way too seriously on the political side.
TD: Oh yeah. I think Bob Perelman wrote a ten-page essay on the social praxis of... or something I don’t know...
CC: Right. Charles Bernstein was teaching it to his class that way and Clayton Eshleman put it in the front of an issue of Sulfur. We were just peeing our pants laughing thinking, ‘These guys all think that we’re making this incredible revolutionary act!’ You know, if it is, fine. I’m not against it, but it certainly wasn’t the intent. Somebody as deadly serious as that couldn’t have enjoyed it the way we did and do. I actually wanted... when we got it printed so it looked like her little pamphlet, I wanted to go around and — at that point those were are all sitting next to cash registers prominently displayed — sort of slip them in so people would accidentally buy our poems. But I chickened out. I think I thought they’d think I was stealing the real ones or something. I guess I would have had to, right?, replace them. What am I going to do with them? Oh well, I should have hired somebody to do that.
TD: Did you ever do any cut-up stuff in the sort of pure cut-up the way Burroughs did it?
CC: Oh yeah. Way back early in the 60s probably under the influence of Naked Lunch and those early books. Yeah, I did a whole lot of that and then by the late 60’s I got into the tape experiments when I was doing stuff in the Mills College tape lab. That was fairly primitive compared with what they can do now with computerized choppers. Then you pretty much had to splice tape or use primitive switching or sequencing methods. That was the notion anyway. I made a lot of big, noisy tapes in the old reel-to-reel days. Probably the oxide is all floating away.
TD: Is that part of the whole breaking down words and seeing what the possibilities are impulse you described earlier?
CC: Yeah, I also did some things I remember with tape loops where I put one word on each loop and then kind of let them all run. The loops would be different lengths so you put them all down on to one tape and you could see how close the words have to come together to actually make some kind of sense together. I remember getting the feeling that you could almost time it to the micro-second how close a word had to be in time to another word to adhere to it and make a kind of sense or phrase. You could feel it going out, you could feel it going the other way and just kind of loosing any kind of syntactic magnetism. So that was almost sort of experimental in the real sense — just to try to do that. But of course it came from all my usual impulses.
TD: Well I think that’s about it.
CC: So you’re writing a thesis?
TD: We have this 25-page paper we’re supposed to write.
CC: So it’s only 25 pages?
TD: Yeah it’s not a big... .
CC: So it’s not a big PhD thesis or something.
TD: No and Andrew’s told me, ‘If you bring any deconstruction jargon in here I’ll smack you around.’
CC: Terrific, yeah (laughing)
CC: So Andrew’s your guy?
CC: Great. Tell him I said hello.
TD: I will
CC: Well if I get out there one of these summers. I’m sure I will if we all still exist.
TD: I guess the last time I saw you and Michael would be at the Old Angel Midnight reading.
CC: Right. You were there?
CC: Oh great. And they have a tape right?
TD: Yeah they do. The wind was like really blowing that day I don’t know if you remember.
CC: I sort of do. Yeah, the canvas flapping.
TD: Right. And it kept on blowing on the mike so there’s these parts where it gets blown out.
CC: Oh that’s too bad. We should have put those big fuzzy things on, foam. But shit that’s too bad. Damn. We have a very good tape that we made, what do you call that, a DAT tape about two years before that and it was all supposed to come out with this press and then everything fell apart, but we still have that... We couldn’t get the permission of the Kerouac estate which was being sued by Jan Kerouac at that point, but the tape exists. I think the Naropa library has those as well. You ought to check. Anyway I hope they’re somewhere besides in my house. Although the one we did at Naropa I think was kind of a big audience and it had more of the excitement of a performance than the other one, but we did go through the whole thing. I think we probably read it better that time too because we were more experienced reading it, kind of free, able to relax and do it. I’m sorry to hear that. I’d forgotten about the wind although I know that tent very often has a problem.
TD: It’s only in a couple of spots, but still, it’s not pristine.
CC: So how long have you been there?
TD: I guess that was my first summer when you were actually here last. I was fresh out of Canada and...
CC: Oh you’re from Canada? Where are you from?
TD: Toronto and Montreal basically.
CC: I thought I heard something in your voice.
TD: Yeah, the ‘out’ and the ‘house’
CC: Do you know Christopher Dewdney’s work?
TD: I was going to ask you that. Yeah.
CC: I’ve always liked him and am interested in his work. I lost touch over the past few years. I don’t know what he’s been doing. I know he got kind of more professionally published though.
TD: Yeah he’s got... he’s still actually working on that sort of geological fieldnote documentation of Southwestern Ontario.
CC: He’s still doing that?
TD: Yeah, he’s got another volume that just came out. I was looking through it the other day because I remembered that both you and Michael Gizzi have dedicated poems to him.
CC: Yeah. Well we know him. I haven’t seen him in years, but it’s always very nice to get together with his amazing head, unlike anything else. Is he teaching I guess or... ?
TD: I guess. I can’t remember what’s he’s doing.
CC: But you say another volume of that just came out?
TD: Yeah, and I think another one since I’ve had this one so it’s seems like somebody’s taken up the project and is committed to getting it out there a little bit.
CC: That’s great. Well I’d love to get a hold of it. You know it’s hard to get a whole of a lot of Canadian books. I don’t know whose intent that is, or why that happens, but we don’t even hear about things like that unless I talk to somebody like you that knows him. You probably got it up there right?
TD: Yep, I did. Well I can send you this new one if you want.
CC: Oh great. I’d love that.
TD: It’s called Signal Fires.
CC: Signal Fires ? [laughing]
CC: I remember those concretions that he got off on; those big spherical stones. Remember that volume? I think it was one of the volumes of that history of the...
TD: Natural History?
CC: ... Natural History of Southern Ontario whatever it was. And he had one of those things in his house. It was a door stop. This big, kettle-shaped stone. He’s serious. I remember him telling me once that he tested out titles of his books by carving them into this stone ledge up at his summer place on a lake somewhere. He showed me slides that he’d actually done it.
TD: With a chisel?
CC: A chisel, yeah. I took him a whole summer to do it or something, and his house got hit by lightning and he had a whole documentation of that, slides. He’s an amazing guy. Glad to hear he’s still cranking it out.
TD: Oh he’s still doing it, yeah.
TD: Oh here we go, he’s [reading from book cover] writing and teaching Cultural Studies at York University.
CC: Right, right. He’s something. He’s hard to keep up on though. I don’t think he’s ever had, except for Geoff Young, I don’t think he’s ever had an American publisher has he?
TD: I think that’s his only one. Now he’s with McClelland-Stewart. The whole Canadian small press poetry thing is pretty sketchy these days.
CC: Yeah, what happening with Coach House these days?
TD: They’re back, but they had their government funding taken away and that basically sunk the press for about three years. But now they’re up and running. I saw some new bp nichol stuff out now.
CC: Actually I’m just looking here. The last book of Chris’s I have is called Last Flesh and it’s published by Harper-Collins, so that’s actually American.
TD: I think maybe McClelland-Stewart is a division of Harper-Collins. But I don’t know if that’s right.
CC: Actually the address here is given for Toronto yeah. So that’s a fairly big house. Last Flesh that sounds like Cronenburg or something. The New Flesh. What’s he doing? Do you know what his new movie is? Since Existenz I haven’t heard anything.
TD: And Crash — did you see Crash?
CC: Oh yeah, I love Crash. I’m a great Ballard nut too. And so was Dewdney. He had all of Ballard’s books. In fact he even met Ballard. I think Ballard came over there on a tour and he got to talk to him. Of course they’re like-minded in a lot of ways.
TD: I saw Dead Ringers just the other day again.
CC: It’s pretty great. Yeah I love his movies. I always wonder what he’s going to do. I know he’s always threatening to do a kind of straight sounding car racing movie. So I hope he never does. Evidently one of his hobbies is racing fast cars. But I got a feeling... well now wait a minute he was... God what was it? I did hear something where he was going to do some project, a very Hollywood sounding thing. Maybe like a remake or... but it was definitely a kind of sci-fi or horror subject. It wasn’t standard. Or was it a Steven King? I don’t remember. One day it’ll turn up in the press. Of course he already did the Dead Zone which is terrific too. Very great Walken performance. Well we could talk forever on these subjects but if you think you got enough for 25 page paper. Of course now you’re going to have to transcribe this right?
TD: Yeah, I think I can get somebody who’s a fast typist. I’m a bit of a hunt and peck kind of guy...
CC: Me too...
TD: ... So maybe with all these folks who can touch-type, if I give them ten bucks they’ll do it or something.
CC: You can put the transcript in the Naropa library for any other freaks that want to look at it.
TD: Do you want me to send you a copy when I get it done?
CC: Yeah, if you want. You know, don’t... it’s not anything I need to demand, but I’d like to see it. You know just to... be curious what it turned out to be. I was just babbling away.
TD: No, it’s been great.
CC: Actually I just did a more formal interview for Jacket on-line magazine. Do you know Nate Dorward? He’s the editor of that. I think he’s in Toronto. But actually a guy named Tom Orange interviewed me from... he goes to Georgetown. They’re doing a whole issue on me and they wanted an interview.
TD: Is that the new one coming up? [Note 4]
CC: I think so. I don’t think it’s up yet. But not having the machinery, I really can’t check to see if it’s up. They tell me they’ll keep me informed. Actually my daughter who lives about 30 miles north of us has a computer, so I can go over there and impose on her to look me up on the thing.
TD: That’s John Tranter right? Isn’t he the guy who...
TD: John Tranter, isn’t he the Australian guy who...
CC: Oh, is that Jacket ?
TD: I thought it was.
CC: Well maybe it is. Actually now that you say Australian I wonder whether... of course I’ve been dealing with Dorward who’s Canadian. Maybe he’s, I think maybe he’s just the editor for this particular issue. Yeah, you’re right. I remember seeing a notice about that a few years ago, Jacket, and they wanted submissions. It was Australian.
TD: I remember something about this being a collaborative issue with New American Writing or something.
CC: Yeah, well Hoover’s going to take some of the material and use it in his next issue, including the interview. In fact, I talked with him the other day and that is what he’s doing. So those of us who are page-bound still get a chance to dig it.
TD: OK. And that’s coming up soon?
CC: Most of it is on the site. And actually I’ve got a site being put up by those guys at SUNY Buffalo. They have a whole program to establish author’s pages and so I gave them about 200 pages of unpublished, some of it very early work. I figured if they’re going to do this I might as well give people a treat. Although then I think well, yeah but what about the people like me that can only see it on the page? I heard the other day there was an ad in the New Yorker for a Kerouac that was only coming out on the internet called Orpheus Emerged, which didn’t sound to me a lot like Kerouac. I’ve been told that it will come out in print in four years. That drives people like me wild. It’s the kind of thing you can’t download either, you can’t print it out. You just have to read it on the screen.
TD: Oh that’s torturous.
CC: Right. I’ve heard it was a very early work of his, which makes some sense since the title didn’t sound much like him. God knows what it is! I have no idea. Influenced by Tennessee Williams? Saroyan maybe? So those things are happening beyond my intention. I never would have gone for it, but these people are into it. You want to put them up, great.
TD: I was always wondering why you didn’t have a page up there.
CC: I mean I’ve been hearing from more young readers and writers that say that their only exposure to me is via computer. You know seeing things on there that they hadn’t seen, or can’t find the book. They’re not easy to find, especially the older ones.
TD: And if you don’t know about SPD (Small Press Distribution) you’re kind of screwed.
CC: Yeah it’s getting kind of narrowed down. Well, anyway, Tyler it’s been nice talking with you.
TD: Yeah, thanks for your time, Clark.
CC: Good luck with your project. You know if you get anything you have to ask additionally you know just feel free to give me a ring. I hope we... you’re going to be... how much longer are you going to be in Boulder?
TD: Probably until like May or June.
CC: But you’re out of there by the summer?
TD: Yeah, but I think with a buddy of mine, we’re going to try to get down to your reading in Venice there, to that Figures reading. Aren’t you on a panel on music and poetry or something?
CC: Oh, he wants to have a panel where we’ll talk about the influence of music. So great. Well I’ll see you there then.
TD: Yeah that’d be cool. I’ll throw this Dewdney book in the mail with the interview when I get it typed up.
CC: Thank you very much.
TD: Sure. Thanks a lot.