The poems of Moving In With the Dalai Lama, the debut chapbook by Lisa Gordon, hide in the interstices of language, and are anchored in the tentative relationships that surround us—so in a sense they aren’t anchored at all. A poetics of indeterminacy is here, a call & response as in ghazals, yet a call & response gone awry. Is saying what we mean an incorrigible impossibility? No, there’s always hope at issue, just not very clearly. Separating each couplet with an asterisk, and using umbrella titles, Lisa Gordon employs collage as a way of making and entering the poem without nailing anything down. Something almost-not-quite faithful and musical is going on.
Lisa recently spoke with BookThug intern Emma Hambly about her contemplative and poignant new chapbook.
EH: Your poem “Perishable Emotives” contains the line “I’ve found memory to be almost friendly, if I don’t apply pressure.” Does memory play a role in your creative process? When does memory become unfriendly, and even then can it still inspire you?
LG: Memory putting the pulse of generation back into sentient throats… There is an argument to be made for claiming all we have is memory, the present tense a throwback, yet that is not how we experience it. I speak in the present tense, a new thing is made, & then that echo of before writhing exhilarated. In the poems in this book in particular, memories play a part in bits & dribbles—it’s really language bouncing round the come & go of recognitions—the “I” & “you” tumbling acrobatically over semantic pressure points. That is the poetry here, you can’t say autobiography for frivolous nothing. Memory becomes unfriendly when you try but can’t succeed in getting a handle on it—also when you would like to think things were better than they were (scary). Nevertheless, tainted memory can inspire—to take you out, take you further, take you into…
EH: You structure your poems in Moving In With the Dalai Lama in groups of diffuse but thematically linked couplets. What draws you to writing couplets?
LG: I sort of began writing in couplets as a result of reading John Thompson’s ghazals & Phyllis Web’s glorious ghazals & anti-ghazals. Obviously my own poems aren’t really ghazals in the classic sense, but underpinning the poems are ideas of call & response morphing into actions & reactions, slanting juxtapositions, thoughts of indeterminacy peaking, play-play-play. I often feel like a poem is a part of a million poems, integrally incomplete, a fathoming world of possibles bumping up against each other. That said, I like the elegance of long lines in couplet form, the way they breathe-suggest-cling-rupture—oh, a loaded moment fizzling in a life, a challenge listing on an edge…
EH: What compelled you to address conflicts in politics, race relations, and world culture in the poems “Globally Disappointed” and “You Take Your Chances”? And, as you write in “Chinese Slippers,” do you think literacy could help save the world?
In Greek, Polis, which is the root of politics, is the business of the city, in the wide sense the business of any group of people. When witnessing, Polis comes up, a part of being-in-the-world for better or worse. Given the way human reality is, worse comes up a lot. In the poems I write, I’m more an apologist, less a rant-maker (or so I think). Literacy helping to save the world—well as the poem conjectures, why not—the start of a beginning in a written phrase hoping/explaining/suggesting—history trying not to repeat (oh dear)…
EH: Throughout your collection we see a number of references to other forms of media: theatre, fairy tales, movies, paintings, songs. Do you enjoy playing with the borderlines between genres and so-called high and low art?
LG: Even as life does, various genres of art provide metaphors for experience, ways of pursuing thought, emotions, explosive physicality. Art, as a part of life, figures into the whole of things, be it high or low. I like the sense in which linking memorable bits of creative past works can add layers to a piece—suggest continuance or change, chimera or magic realism. As far as borderlines go, creative work at this time seems to always be challenging them to a greater or lesser degree. I particularly like references to “low” art rendered permeable, to “high” art sitting stewing on a fence…
EH: Why don’t we end on a fun question. In “Perishable Emotives” you write, “If I ever hold the ultimate party, I’ll invite anyone willing to arrive.” If they were willing and guaranteed to arrive, who would you like to attend your ideal party, and why? Let’s say they could be anyone living or dead.
A fun question??? (big smile) Oh dear it is an almost impossible question, given that the list is for me endless—hence why I said ANYONE willing to arrive would be welcomed. Still, I of course can name a few, say part of the why – let’s see: Djuna Barnes who wrote the glorious novel NIGHTWOOD, both for discussing the mentioned novel & curiosity about the many years she lived as a recluse; Vincent Van Gogh for ever so many of his paintings, not the least of which would be STARRY STARRY NIGHT—also his LETTERS TO THEO—I am in love with the energies at issue; Anne Sexton for her wild confessions (particularly in the books THE AWFUL ROWING TOWARDS GOD and THE BOOK OF FOLLY)—it takes guts to dream that desperately; Phyllis Webb for insight into the decades she was part of Canada Lit, the beauty she created; Leonard Cohen for being among the first poets in my teens that I got magically lost in; Albert Camus for philosophy & novels both—THE MYTH OF SYSSIPHUS opened up a whole world for me as a young adult; Charles Simons because he seems to speak authentically as well as humorously; John Ashbery—I never stop learning from John Ashbery—if I could manage not to be too shy I would have a thousand questions to ask; All the poets I have met over the years—some semi-famous, some lively in the shadows—would like to catch up; Miro, Picasso, The Group of Seven, Klee, Kandinsky—painters in general—also so many singer songwriters, would like to break bread around a table of painters & musicians. Actually, I prefer one on one encounters more than big groups, so you see how difficult this is—maybe I should have been limited to 4 choices!!!!!!!!!!!
Lisa Gordon has had work published in Mipo, Poetry Sz, Writer’s Hood, Junket, Syntax, from east to west: bicoastal verse, Vallum, and The Antigonish Review. Previously, she was the lyricist for a local Quebec band called Hejira over a lively five years. Of her poetry, she says: “My writing is about witnessing and reacting—to the world, to language, and to others—a collaging of trial and ordeal, a querying embrace of what-means-being-in-the-world both up close and at a distance. There’s fractured storytelling, the odd song, the surreal in the everyday, and only sometimes getting the world right.” Lisa resides with her philosopher husband in Montreal.
Emma Hambly is a Master’s student in the Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson, with a degree in English Literature from McGill. It is rare to find her without a book.