Poetic Status Updates of the Here and Now:
An Interview with Heidi
Heidi Reszies Lewis is a poet and visual artist, cultivating her garden in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She serves as Design Director at H_NGM_N Books, and is an MFA candidate in Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in the following journals: FORTH Magazine, roger, Willows Wept Review, and Forklift, Ohio.
In the Winter of 2014 I met Heidi Reszies Lewis at an MFA residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts where she was a graduate student. I was intrigued by her “craft” items which she had set up at a small craft fair there, and mesmerized by how she spoke with her “customers” about her works. I was so interested with the creative images that I had been following on her Facebook, and by her presence, that I decided to sit behind her table to watch and converse with her for an hour. Later in the year, I found myself looking forward to her FaceBook posts called “Friday poems," and following their evolution diligently.
These posts at first were images she would title. Then the images became images with language mixed in. These I realized were extraordinary. I could not stop viewing them. To me they were not collages in the usual sense of that word (mixed or fragmented images glued together). Something about them was very unique, very powerful, and very new. Each image depended on the language, and each scrap of language depended on the image. And somewhere in that interlacing was their “poetry” and the “poem”. I began to think of them as a type of hybrid poetry. I looked into the history of hybrid poetry and its current state of affairs, and decided to ask her some questions about her work. Those questions and her answers appear here with some of her pieces. She has since devoted an entire blog to these Friday poems. You can view her blog here: https://apaperlikeness.wordpress.com/.
S: I want to be clear about the history of the Friday poems. Am I correct in not capping the word poems? And is it fair to call them a series that stands alone, although some are companion pieces to the prose poem series you are currently working on as well?
HRL: I didn’t capitalize the word poem in that first Facebook post, so I’ve just stuck with the same format throughout: Friday poems. Yes, I think it is fair to call them a series. Working in series feels natural. I wouldn’t necessarily consider any of these ‘companion’ pieces to the prose poem series—although some do borrow text from those prose poems; they are companions in the sense that they are all part of the process/work, in one way or another.
S: Your blog carries the quote by John Cage, “Poetry is having nothing to say and saying it: we possess nothing.” Could you speak to how this quote relates this to your work?
HRL: I jotted down that John Cage quote in a notebook, and rediscovered it while I was working on a critical essay on collage (both in visual art and poetry). Cage’s quote relates to my work on several levels. I often sit down to write at my desk, at the window, and begin with the phrase: I have nothing to say… This becomes both an opening and an o p e n i n g for the poem, and what follows is a sort of emptying. In the revision process, I take out that first sentence, because it seems unnecessary.
As an artist (poet, painter, …whatever) I find myself carrying on a conversation with that inner voice that sometimes says: There is nothing I can say/express in my work that hasn’t already been said countless times before. There is nothing new to say. Mary Ruefle wrote in her essay/ lecture, On Beginnings, that you can look at hundreds of poems’ opening and closing lines, and they are all essentially the same. And for the most part, I think this is true. Poets are all writing a life-long sentence—perhaps the same life-long sentence—using language. Arranging and rearranging words: one more layer on the existing palimpsest.
We POSSESS nothing. Language is something we share. I’m inspired by the work of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Susan Howe, Harryette Mullen, and Rosemarie Waldrop: poets who appropriate fragments of found text in their writing. I’ve applied this practice in some of my own work; I have a series of prose poems in process that were inspired by fragments found in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, for example. And many of my Friday poems include found/borrowed/recycled text.
We possess NOTHING. I consider what nothing means to me and the infinities I’ve yet to discover in nothing.
S: In contemporary French hybrid poetics, one cannot separate the forms being used to create with from the whole. For example, Jacques Rauband is crossing mathematics with poetry, and the two elements of math and poetic form cannot be separated without losing the poem or its meaning.. Nathalie Quintane is joining philosophical prose with poetry in such a way as to render her work neither prose nor poetry (something entirely new!). And Ariane Dreyfus is combining the forms of the fairytale, the cinema, and dance into exciting new poetic forms. These are all language based examples of hybridity, yet good ones of the type of fusion going on in poetry. I experience your poems as an interlacement of image and language, and I see your work as a type of hybrid poetics. Not Concrete Poetry (as the shape of language is the focus of that), Not VisPo (as that seems dependent on digital technology) and not really Collage, because I do not see the image as separate from the language or as a mere support for it, or vice-versa. It seems to me that the very fragile meanings behind you work, as well as the “poetry” of your work are dependent on this interlacing of both image and language. I sense a fusion of two arts going on. How do you see language and image functioning in your work? And do you agree with me that it is a type of hybridity VS what we have come to call Collage (mix) or Visual Poems (where image is predominate)?
HRL: Your argument for hybridity in my work makes sense. Yes, I agree that this is not collage or visual poetry. I think I tend to avoid the label hybrid because my horticulturalist/organic gardener brain associates the term with F1 hybrids. I won’t go into the details of plant genetics here, but hybrid plants are bred under controlled conditions using parent plants with very specific genetic traits. Unlike open-pollinated plant varieties, hybrids are not self-sustaining.
In my work, I try not to overthink things. Things naturally/intuitively evolve. It’s nothing. It’s making: poiesis. I make things. Sometimes an image I make becomes an opening for language/text, and vice versa. Sometimes the connection between things—the image and the text—becomes a thing itself. Making involves as much of what I don’t know as what I do know.
The Friday poems began simply as status updates on Facebook. Because I had nothing to say, I posted a photograph with the text: Friday poem. I guess what I was really saying is: I look for poetry everywhere. Can a Friday poem even call itself a poem? Does a poem exist before it is called a poem? The Friday poems have become a sort of diary, continuing in this vein of status updates. I’ve posted a poem every Friday for almost a year now—since April 4, 2014. For the most part, these are spontaneous—like gesture drawings, they are composed in a matter of minutes. They say: this is what I’m doing in the world right now. They’ve evolved from photographs to a combination of image and text. You could say I’m trying to articulate the continuum between image and text, or the separation between the two in that simultaneous moment: that blur.
S: Who are your favorite poets and artists who you feel have influenced you?
HRL: I have so many favorites and/or influences, but here are a few that immediately come to mind: Gertrude Stein, Agnes Martin, Martha Graham, John Cage, Louise Bourgeois, Susan Howe, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Kiki Smith, Rosemarie Waldrop, Jean Valentine, Lorine Niedecker.
S: Your poems seem to have a Zen like quality, and an Asian Influence, to them. Do you practice Zen?
I have studied Buddhism, and although I do not call myself a Buddhist, I do apply some Buddhist philosophy to my life; if this is evident in my creative work, I would say it’s just a natural progression. As with Zen meditation, writing a poem is often a matter of showing up and getting quiet…or taking a walk and just noticing.
S: Do you have any advice around the practice of Art for readers new to writing poetry?
HRL: First, I’ll reiterate the importance of getting quiet. It wasn’t until I heard Jean Valentine discuss this that it really made an impression on me. Our everyday lives are full of distractions, especially where technology is concerned. Agnes Martin said that she painted with her back to the world. “If you’re alone and quiet, you see the new things.”
Also, some of my favorite advice for artists can be gleaned from the list of 10 Rules for Students and Teachers (I’m attaching a facsimile copy for you) which I found on the internet a couple of years ago. These ‘rules’ have been attributed to both John Cage and Sister Corita Kent (a friend of Cage)—most sources say that Kent actually wrote the list, inspired by Cage and even quoting Cage in some instances. Cage’s partner, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, kept this list of rules posted in his dance studio. I find myself quoting from this list all the time, especially: Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.
S: I want to leave the word collage out of your work, because I think the poems go beyond collage, but I could be wrong. I like the idea of calling them poetic status updates of the here and now? Are you ok with that?
HRL: That sounds perfect!