21 January 2013


Nick Courtright is a poet who lives and writes in Austin, TX. In addition to writing poetry, he is the interviews editor for The Austinist and teaches literature and writing courses at several universities in the area. Courtright’s first book Punchline (Gold Wake Press, 2012) explores the confluence of philosophy, art, and life in order to come to terms with “our being and seeking” (75), one poem or “organized plan at a time” (7). The poet graciously took some time via email to answer some questions regarding his work.

Near the conclusion of Punchline, readers will find the poem “Ghosts,” which ends with the line “Being: of all the poems in the world please let just one figure it out” (72). The sentiment of this line, it would appear, is the belief in a singular poem that will clarify ontological problems or issues. Do you believe that such a poem exists? I ask, I suppose, because it would seem to me that the process of writing or reading poems, or perhaps thinking poetically over the course of a lifetime, could be one essence of Being, in and of itself. What are your thoughts on this?

The way I see it, it's less a “belief” in a singular poem that will clarify problems of being, and more a plea: in short, and at first blush, Im highly skeptical that such a poem exists. That, of course, doesnt stop me from hoping that one could exist. Could that poem have been written two thousand years ago? Sure, why not. Could it have been written this week? Yep. But has it been written? I doubt it, and not because I don't think poetry is perhaps the best method for tackling ontological questions. Its more because I recognize that poetry is a human art, and I have grave doubts about human beings ability to know the answers to much of anything, let alone the severest issues of our own existence. But I know that the true skeptic must doubt his doubt, and by such measure, every poem ever written is very very much the absolute and undeniable essence and immanent embodiment of utter Being. Right? What everyone is doing right now is THE TRUTH. Because how couldnt it be?

You divided Punchline into four sections, and each section begins with an epigraph: the first by a physicist (Einstein), the second by an astronomer/entertainer (Sagan), the third by a poet (Lorca), the fourth by a mystic/religious figure (Suzuki). To this extent, you seem to be suggesting a relationship or correspondence between these people and their discourses. Could you speak to how you conceive of the relationship between science, poetry, philosophy, and religion? What are the commonalities? What are the differences?

This is a dangerous question, because answering it is a necessary spoiler for a future text. So, profoundest of plaudits to you, dear interviewer, for asking it. I see a fundamental connection between Philosophy, Science, Religion, and Poetry, and, in fact, those are the four sections of a book I am working on. The basic argument, and answer to your question, is as follows: "Humankind has employed three methods in its search for truth: Philosophy, Science, and Religion. Each of these methods employs a different tactic: Philosophy uses logic, Science uses experiment, Religion uses revelation. The word that means “philosophy + science + religion” is “poetry.” Poetry, using everything, is the art by which the search best speaks." And that little section there in quotes is actually an introduction of sorts for the book I'm working on, tentatively titled The Humors, and not the book that is coming out next year. This whole entangled, complicated thing is, obviously, an audacious claim, and I just began to tackle it in Punchline. I'm excited to push it even further in the future, because I do believe all of these methods of comprehension to be not different elements of existence and its understanding (a la Descartes), but just different manners of looking at the exact same thing (a la Spinoza). And, at its root, I believe that poetry, for better or for worse, is the best way to bring them together.

You have a book coming out next year? Congratulations! Can you talk about the relationship (both the similarities and differences) between this new collection and Punchline? Likewise, tell me a bit more about The Humors. Obviously, based on your previous answer, it engages some of the same ideas as Punchline; but how does it differ? Finally, how would you explain, in general, the aesthetic and conceptual concerns of your poetry (particularly in Punchline) to both someone unfamiliar with poetry and someone deeply entrenched in the discourse/art?

The new book is actually a lot different than Punchline, and I'm really excited for it to come out. I've yet to post about it on Facebook so I suppose that means it's not yet real. The new book is called Let There Be Light, and (and this is the first time I'm explaining it in writing) it's built around the first seven days of creation according to Genesis 1:1-2:3. Except in reverse, so Day 7 is the first part of the book, then Day 6, then Day 5 on down to the very beginning; Day 5, for example, is the day fish and birds were created, so that section, obviously, has a lot of fish and birds in it. It's not a religious book by any means, but it is a book that explores what myth can do for us in the real world. The poems are different because they are more, I suppose, traditionally lyrical and self-contained than the ones in Punchline, which tend to spill over from one to the next. I'm terribly thrilled to have this book come out, because it was a long time coming, as it was a tortured wreck for years before it found its present form. As for The Humors, I'm still working on it, but I see it as more of a sequel to Punchline; whereas Punchline was about uncertainty and tolerating what we can't know, The Humors is more about what we can do about it. It's triumphant and tragic, and wouldn't have had a chance to exist without my having survived Punchline.

And how do I explain my aesthetic and conceptual concerns of my poetry? Aesthetically, I like white space and pacing via lineation, as I'm a big advocate of a friendship between the work on the page and the work read aloud. Conceptually, I'd say I'm very influenced by the tradition of poets as wise mysticst—he Rumis and Blakes and Mirabais and Lao-Tzus of the world—and I want to try to tap into that. Not just poetry as entertainment or intellectual plaything, but poetry as guidebook and inspiration-for-epiphany. Whether I get there is highly debatable, but it's what I'm shooting for.

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