“The Next Big Thing” is a viral interview making its way across the literary landscape. Michael Leong tagged Edric Mesmer, who in turn tagged Matthew Hall.
What follows is Hall’s interview, published here in anticipation of the launch of his debut poetry collected Hyaline next week.
What is the working title of the book?
The title of my book is Hyaline. The working title was A Pastoral Artifice, which took its inspiration from Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s ‘A Poetic Artifice’, which I was given to reading and rereading at the time of composition.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The project sprang from my reading and trying to avail myself of Australian literature during the first years of my living in Australia, so it sprung from reading Kinsella, Louis Armand, and any number of other experimental poets (such as Michael Farrell), eco-poets (Stewart Cooke) and landscape poets. It came out of contemplating and mediating a relationship with the natural and trying to find a means of expression which mattered and which challenged the hegemonic constructs of the creation of language-meaning.
The notion of the radical pastoral that the book tries to engender in the poems came from Kinsella’s book, Disclosed Poetics, which contains astonishing readings of Australian literature. Particularly I was taken by Kinsella’s reading of ‘Speed, A Pastoral’, by John Forbes. In the book Kinsella lays out a definition of the radical pastoral and an engagement with the land that subsumes anthropomorphic hierarchies and privilege, and demands new ways of mediating our relationship with nature in a manner which is non-exploitive, finally moving towards an activist poetics, which would become his next large theoretic project.
Hyaline, I believe I first read in a poem of Jeremy Prynne’s, and you will see the word used by a number of poets who read his work with some dedication. The definition is chiefly anatomical or zoological and pertains in this way to cartridge, as resembling a glassy or translucent surface. In literary works the word is usually used in the description of landscapes: a hyaline sky, or such, which entails a vitreous characteristic to the surface described, that is, both reflective and refractive. And that is how I began to consider the relationship with nature of which I was writing, as both of reflecting a personal ethics, and refracting back a portion of the natural through an ethical prism, reflecting the promise and failures of humankind.
It is also a collection about loss, analogously the loss we face as humans with the continuing global destruction of ecologies for profit, and about the loss of connection to land which I felt strongly when relocating from Canada to the Australian outback. In this sense the poems which focus on the Australian landscape are dominantly about finding new ways of reading the land, of understanding how traditions, rituals and concept of land have been affected by colonialism, have been affected by the rise of the technological, by dislocation. Therefore the poems and their language reflect destruction, reflect damage, in lexicon, in description, in the failure of a model of lyric to measure up to the world. The corporeal body as damaged poem, the damaged poetic as the earthen dream. The damage and limitations of intent.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry. Pastoral. Eco-poetic. Radical pastoral. But depending on your definition these might also full under the rubric of anti-pastoral. In terms of forms, the book is a collection of serial poems, some in bound prose, and some in freeverse, some in formalised patterns.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
There are only a small handful of poems in the collection with people in them. Most are reflective of landscape, as endangered by and damaged by human inhabitants, but people remain predominantly absent from the works.
Regarding this absence, during my work on the book I got the opportunity to spend some time with the Glasgow/ Montreal based photographer Fiona Annis, who works in, alongside people like Tacita Dean, and formerly– Jas Ban Ader, what is referred to as Romantic Conceptualism. I took to thinking about my creative and critical process, and thinking about Romantic Conceptualism in contemporary art as a balance point between Sol LeWitt’s emotionless conceptual object and the pervasive emotional and subjective registers of Romantic art, and started to reconsider my own work in this manner. So I’d start by perhaps introducing the phrase Ecologic Conceptualism (note: we’re going nowhere near Goldsmith’s Conceptualism here), or Eco-conceptual poetics, by which I mean a poem which utilises and engenders voice and authoritative presence to speak about landscape and ecologies, and that the positions of the poems are contained within an artifice, a meta-structural frame which shapes and directs reading comprehension. The political and poetic impulses of conceptualism therefore determine the structure of the communicative exchange over the poem and pre-establish the theoretic and thematic positions wherein the lyrical or experiential poem functions. The ecological register of the poem is positioned within the working model, which asks for a re-evaluation and reconsideration of the structure of communication–under the effect of the conceptual register. Thus the materiality of the poem is determined by the conceptual platform.
Most readers, I trust, will read the poem for the lyrical-ecological aspects of it, and this is the normative reading; whereas the conceptual frame renders the poem with a different reading stratagem, a different register on the processes of the poem which results in a supplemental, political, or emancipatory reading.
I believe that the Forbes poem referenced above could provide an early register of this type of ecological conceptualism. ‘Speed, A pastoral’ (for those of you unfamiliar: http://jacketmagazine.com/03/speed-jf.html ) asks of the reader to consider the poem as a pastoral, despite the obvious fact that the poem is about drug use and Michael Dransfield’s mythos within Australian poetic communities. So the title entails a conceptual and poetic register that directs our reading of the urban, and vernacular poem. It is, in this way, also an anti-imperial poem, as the conceptual strata of the work forces the reader to reconsider antecedents, literary history, and the hegemonic and imperial presage of the “pastoral” as it defines and affects an Australian concept of the pastoral. Thus the concept works to actively subvert the poem’s intent by layering meaning and registers upon the poem.
I would like to consider the ‘Cairns’ series in Hyaline in a similar manner, in thinking about the physical object, the cairn, as an object denoting a path to an unknown destination ( usually to a sacred space, or closed cultural space). Whether this cairn, by the road side, or on a bush trail, is encountered, is noticed, is followed, and if the sacred space is discovered physically by the visitor are all possibilities related to the intentionality of the signifier. Even if followed, and a sacred space noted (in the Yi Fu Tuan concept of sacred space) the contextual, religious, and ritualistic understanding of the space will very rarely be culturally understood. This may be intentional on behalf of the person signifying, or the group whose space is being marked, protected. And I take a “cairn” to be a vernacular version (an example from Australian rural life) of signification which happens in urban and rural environments alike. We encode the spaces we occupy with signifiers which are only decodable by a certain portion of the populace. A piece of graffiti, a hidden book store in Melbourne’s back lanes… these are all embodiments of a particular conceptual framing of communication– its apprehension is there for the viewer to perceive, to begin to understand, even if this is not automatically or easily registered.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Hyaline is a poetic framework for ecological codices.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The book has been in the works for years. The collection, as it is now, is a selection of some of the poems which were published during my focus on the radical pastoral. The earliest publication was four years ago, more or less. At the time I was writing with a tremendous velocity, and publishing at the same rate. Things have slowed since, due to any number of factors. There was a level of excitement which drove the work, an excitement driven by a constant and continuous correspondence with John Kinsella, Peter Larkin, Mark Dickinson, Ali Alizadeh, Edric Mesmer, and a few other poets who share the same interests and the same sense of community. Much of the work was spurred on by them, by my readings; much was created out of these interactions and discussions.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A damaged planet. A damaged ontology. A damaged humanism.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope the book provides entryway for most readers. It contains lyric work, prose work and procedural work, all focused on ecologies of language, language usage, and mediations with the natural.