Jared Schickling lives outside of Buffalo, NY. Not only is he the author of several collections of poetry, such as Zero's Blooming Excursion and t&u& lash your nipples to a post history is gorgeous, he also edits Delete Press, eccolinguistics, and the online poetics journal Reconfigurations. Schickling's newest collection The Pink (BlazeVOX, 2012) was recently released, and he graciously took some time to answer a few of my questions about the book via email.
The title of your newest collection is The Pink, which resurfaces (albeit altered) toward the end of the book in the poem title "the pink, B:" Tell me a little a bit about the title: why and how did you decide on the name, how does it relate to the collection and the broader concerns therein, and what is the relationship between the title of the book and the title of the poem?
I want to reinforce that, as the piece you refer to does occur closer to the end, the elements of its title, “pink” and also “B,” do occur up to that point, insofar as they are at the root of whatever is happening in the book. They are also specifically written. You’re right, though, that the words don’t appear together until the point you indicate. I’m not entirely sure what to say to this, other than to say that establishing a context was important to the manner in which I would go about treating of my subject, which is, ultimately, perhaps, the coupling of these two things: “The Pink” is the book’s title, and “B” is at the heart of it.
I don’t want to attempt to begin spelling out what each means, as that is what the book is trying to do. I think it’s a real failure in that regard, and I knew that would be the case in advance, so I can at least say that the book has succeeded on some level and also that as much was reason enough to try writing it. Along the way, through many iterations, the biggest flaws were augmented, rather than suppressed.
I can say a little about what they refer to. Not withstanding its textual function, “B” refers to our daughter, Beatrice (Mollie is her mother, and “Mollie” also occurs in the book). Beatrice has an immediate ring to it, that literary foil, so I’ll say no more at this moment. The actual poem title you reference, “the pink, B:”, should be read as me showing “B” something; much like “and not even this, B:”, which occurs shortly thereafter. The book should have done enough up until this point to make the reader understand this identity, or at least to be pretty close, intimate with whatever its dimensions are.
“the pink,” in the context of that piece, operates in several ways, with the preceding pages establishing conditions for its expression. They’re the genome of the phenome, you might say. But more specifically, that poem or piece began with the Grimm Brothers fairy tale by that name, “The Pink.” I extracted a key sentence from most, maybe all, of its paragraphs, preserving their order, and then proceeded to negate by transforming into the opposite each element, whether tense, verb, noun, conjunction, quantifier, qualifier, phrase or phrasing, meaning, etc. and often all at once, making for a chaotic first draft. The next step was to figure out what resulted, and construct a narrative of that. The result is what’s there, of course.
Another piece in the book works from the same fairy tale; it occurs later and acts more like a fairy tale should. There is a sinister moral at work in “The Pink,” whose themes and motifs are wholly recognizable to anyone of Disney’s audience, and the motivation for the book was to inquire into things like that. I should say that several pieces in the book work similarly from a variety of like-minded sources (as indicated in my back-cover synopsis), and that the “subject matter” I would fail to write accurately would be my daughter, Beatrice. I wrote this book for her at a later date. I guess I could say that she is “The Pink” (to me, of course; right there’s the sign of the trap).
Regarding the title of the book, “The Pink,” any and all things the reader already reads into it apply—gender (history), ick (beginnings), whatever. I do mean these comments to be suggestive, as I don’t want to erroneously give the wrong stuff away while convincing anyone potentially interested to not read it. There is a lot to “the pink” and to “B.”
Much of The Pink, as well as your previous collections, focuses on non-normative uses of language that often experiment with both fragmentation, linguistic theory, and sound. But section IV of The Pink (while still somewhat oblique) embraces a more straightforward aesthetic predicated upon narrative. Could you explain the motivations behind such a shift? Also, how did altering stylistic aspects of your writing affect you and/or your process? Does section IV offer any insight into the direction your writing is moving?
Brother, that’s a tough one. I don’t rightly know. I think the route there is indirect. You mention section IV’s straightforward narrative mode, in contrast to the other sections and my other books. Yes. I would say that those other sections of The Pink have a narrative dimension to them, but it will take a minute. Certain re-appearing markers make for an emergent pattern of organization to the individual pieces as the reader moves from cover to cover. Often these markers get their own page, so the reader can’t miss them. This way of organizing it was in line with much of my reading at the time, which concerned the applications of systems theory to the field of biology in order to understand emergent phenomena in organisms and environments. Proponents of this approach define organisms and ecosystems as patterns of organization far from equilibrium whose phenotypic expressions are not explainable by the causal, mechanistic interactions of subordinate parts; all such patterned scales of organization are seen to have spontaneously appeared, while this idea of a “pattern of organization far from equilibrium” accommodates the persistence of uniqueness, novelty, divergence etc. within any already described system. A good illustration is the phenomenon of sight: at what point does it cease to be rods and cones and areas of the brain? Sight-proper spontaneously appears at some critical threshold, and each person’s knows its own glitches, and sight is but part of a larger emergent pattern of organization defining the organism. Mere cause-and-effect mechanics are insufficient here; the process is nonlinear and requires leaps. Because I wanted to explore the emergencies I was experiencing as a new father, and the ones my daughter was or would soon be experiencing as a new entrant to this world, and the ones my wife was experiencing, I endeavored to inscribe the conditions for a spontaneous emergence into the text, so that I might learn something, if nothing else. The text was, therefore, simultaneously my means and object of inquiry.
What all that is meant to say is that there is a narrative hanging about the book, namely, its own construction. You can see the parts, but what it means is sort of a meta-text of the text and it isn’t clearly spelled out. But this does lead to section IV where a crystal clear narrative structure abounds. Because I was hyper-conscious of the impossibility of writing objectively on my subject matter, making the process of engaging myself part of the story, I felt I had to bite the bullet and include some hardcore story making (as I said, I had decided to augment some of the more apparent flaws along the way). Specifically, fairy tales seemed most appropriate, for a number of reasons. So I worked with them and what’s there kind of resembles the fairy tale mode.
Also, surrounding section IV, the general sparseness and, hopefully, crystalline refraction of what lines and words occur on the page came from my desire to produce a romping, child-like work (about parenthood no less)(among other things). So indulging in some straight narrative hegemony, one that is aware of it as such, seemed appropriate.
Another part of my decisions in this book simply concerned my desire to write in a way I hadn’t yet written.
As to whether section IV signals a new approach for me that will continue, I don’t know. I suspect that it will, and also that it won’t. I do know that I am working on a large work of prose poetics due out next year. And the poetry I am working on, one section makes hefty use of story telling, but I completed the general template for this work prior to The Pink. I suspect that the mode won’t last too long, because my taste for sustained inquiry and methods across works is basically nil. I hope each of my books is as different from the last as I can muster. But that’s just a hope as I’m susceptible to whim and fancy and I’ve gone through a thorough indoctrination process already, having gone to school.
I want to return to something you mentioned early that I found interesting: that, while writing The Pink, you "augmented, rather than suppressed" the "biggest flaws" in/of your writing. Could you elaborate a bit more on the manner in which highlighting the "flaws" in your work became an aesthetic imperative and a concept you embraced?
Hmm. Well, to be upfront, I should probably begin by saying that, although there is a lot of contemporary poetry and poets whose work I love, there’s a whole lot more that I don’t like, particularly that poetry subscribing to the notion that the “emotional center” of a poem is what matters, and which that kind therefore tries to enact. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s an antiquated notion for one, though much of it recently owes itself to Lewis Hyde’s sentimental suggestion that the artistic field of poetry represents a gift economy, which when scrutinized looks like an evasion of the exchanges and cultural-capital formations, often politically motivated, that any published writing participates in (I’m mutilating Kenneth Warren). It therefore represents to me a selfishly incomplete poetic practice; it is also a safe approach to understanding poetry as a project. So, I thought I might myself explore the selfish emotional center available to me through this project. Where I thought not to go was where I went, even if the ripple effects across the work took things further than such a mere exercise.
I wrote in there my “I,” surrounded by a narrative point of view, in a book about a form of birth. It is also inquisitive regarding the root causes, enduring functions, and reasons for personal and even historical narrative—for lopping off a lot of life from the full story, basically which, as mentioned earlier, pervades this book, for which I used a lot of people. The situation is not grim, if you ask me, because the sensitivity itself (driving the work’s patterned organization) makes for the chance that there was actually something else more interesting going on. Which is an approach that made sense to me, at the time anyway, in light of for whom it was written.