Interview with Poet Ish Klein


Interview with Poet Ish Klein


So basically I  want to know what the deal is with being a poet now, today. Because it seems so daunting! On the one hand there’s this thing, people want literature to be pithy—‘twitterature’ and all that—on the other hand nobody gives poets credit, nobody thinks you can really survive as a poet.

I think maybe one or two people survive on poetry—Billy Collins and John Ashbery. And they probably haven’t always. I don’t even know about those two, frankly, it just seems like they’re doing well for themselves. But, speaking for myself I don’t really have steady employment. Poetry is just a sort of thing you have to do because you somehow must do it.

The poets that I like are doing what they do and they use technology to serve what they do. They don’t cram what they do into a ‘twittering’. They might use that sort of thing within their aesthetic or, the voices that they’re trying to bring together. I think technology is great as a tool, but poets are going to do what they do. They’re kind of impossible to predict. It’s kind of like any art, it reflects the world around it. The fact that you can’t make money out of it I suppose makes it a little more pure.

I never thought of that as making it more pure, but it’s totally true. And yet it’s weird—poetry and prose are not things that really collide. I feel like you can either write one or the other, and when you try to crossover it’s really jarring. Every once in awhile someone does it well.

One of my favorite novels was written by a poet. The Lives of the Monster Dogs—Kirsten Bakis. It’s interesting—I think it would be really cool if fiction writers wrote poetry, if they wanted to or tried it out. Just to see what would happen.

Is it something that’s appealing to you? The thought of going into prose?

Screenplays are interesting to me—plays in general. I’m not very good at writing stories or prose. I think because I have a difficult time with linear thinking and expressions and that sort of thing, which is really crucial if you want to keep people involved. I wouldn’t really want to go into avant-garde prose, because no one would understand what I was doing. I think it would take a lot of time and work to do a timeline, and then it’s like filling in all of the spaces. I think it would take a lot of time for me to work on it. Whereas poetry for me is exciting and immediate—I feel immediate even about revising.

Non-linear is good. Because it usually is really horrible when prose writers try to break up time—it’s such a stately form, but with poetry, it’s kind of like everything is ‘one’. There are all these alternate universes you can see at the same time, in this one tight thread—

I’m glad you think so.

Was it like a study? Did you find yourself writing poetry first and studying poets later?

I’ve never really studied it, but I’ve reread. You know what I mean? Like, you’ll take literature classes and you’ll do it for the grade initially but then a couple of years later when your experience sort of blends with what you’ve read that’s when I tend to reread—and that’s when I tend to understand things. I’m sort of slow in that way, particularly with older stuff. When I read that I didn’t have any particular emotional experience that could link up to it so it seemed kind of confusing. Or I thought, you know ‘in the past they were just very different.’ But it was just that I hadn’t quite experienced those feelings. But I think it’s very good to read everything you can, especially from the past, just so you could kind of calibrate or try to figure out how the world changes people, you know? In the past it seems to me that since life was physically more difficult and demanding it requires more…I mean this is just what I hear, that it was harder, you know the 800 house or whatever, you had to make everything with your own hands as it seems. Just like a different mentality would come out of that.

Totally. And a lot of poets used to be kind of working people—Walt Whitman. Really butch, working guys. Or just people shut up in attics.

Oh. Emily!

Yes, that one. She’s good.

I like her.

You tap into a lot of Shakespeare.

I really like that guy. I love A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In terms of the forest—the chaos, love as chaos.

I liked the poem you did about Hamlet.

Alternate Hamlet.

Yeah. Because that play is like—everyone talks about it, everyone writes about it, everyone has their own theory—it’s another thing where you’re kind of dislocated from it when you’re reading it and yet it’s this brilliant work that you have to keep coming back to if you’re a person who thinks.
I love when that comes back—when somebody really looks at it. When you get to the base of it it’s so good because it’s just about someone who’s dissatisfied and pissed off for any reason and no reason.

And his stepfather killed his father. And you never know, but you get the feeling that his father was the good guy, and the new guy is a bad guy—his mother is involved, it’s really—

It’s a mess.

Especially when you have ghosts talking to you with tasks or requests. That would be hard for the most stable person.

I love that whole concept—which we don’t do anymore. Shakespeare kind of had this go-card, his people never live in the real world—I mean they do, but it’s always infused with fairies and warfare and stuff—they’re being affected by all these things that only exist today as really boring metaphors. We don’t get to go and allegorize. The closest we can come to it is like, True Blood. Poetry has room for that though.

Yeah, it does. I think it can do whatever it wants, which is why I like it.

What are you working on now? You just had a tour.

We finished last night in the triptych series at the 11th street bar. It was really fun. I’m going to go back to Amherst. I’m working on another manuscript. It’s called Science Fiction Society,  tentatively. I don’t know where I am along with it—because I’m not sure how much I’m going to use of what I’ve actually written. But that will probably come out in 2012.

That’s perfect. Science fiction. End of the world.

Or beginning of the world. That’s what I’m hoping.

That would be nice.

Wouldn’t it? To think we’ve just been incubating all of this.


Read Ish’s poetry here

And listen here