On Writing, with Mark Goldstein
Mark Goldstein's first collection of poetry was After Rilke, published in 2008. This spring, he returns with Form of Forms (BookThug), which explores the bureaucracy around adoption.
Mark talks with Open Book about writing Form of Forms, his second life as a musician and the "destructive force of the poem".
Tell us about your book, Form of Forms.
Of Form of Forms, Jay MillAr has written: “The subject of the long poem that makes up Form of Forms is, to paraphrase poet Betsy Warland: Motherloss. It deals with the emotional and bureaucratic nature of identity from the often bewildered and fractured point of view of someone who was relinquished as an infant. Now, as an adult, Goldstein is seeking ‘information’ on the self through the layers and fields of forms one must look through to gain access to that information. These layers and forms are what make up the framework of the poem, and the reader is brought face-to-face with the slippery nature of identity as seen through the lens of adoption.”
The bureaucratic nature of forms features in this work. How did dealing with this type of writing, perhaps perceived as un-poetic, inform your process?
Poet Phil Hall has said that if we’re not careful we may explain the poem away. With this in mind, I’m willing to admit that some of the processes and methodologies employed in the “writing” of this text are ventilation, erasure, combing, “writing through” and homo-linguistic translation, to name a few. However, these processes are and will always be ancillary to a deep need for melodic language.
What were some of the challenges and pleasures of writing about adoption?
The pleasures are few for managing the “destructive force of the poem” is central to my practice. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy writing … I do. But when in a work I struggle with the push and pull of a text. With specific regard to adoption, over the years that I’ve worked on this book I was at times uncertain of what I was doing and where the poem was leading me. In the end, I had to submit to its demands. And in so doing, the work gradually brought itself to completion.
You're also a musician. How do you find that work influences your writing?
The two are inseparable, and my musical training is central to my poetic practice. For well over a decade drumming was my sole occupation. And as I returned/transitioned into writing I discovered that melic composition is an extension of the body’s natural sense of rhythm. Recently, I’ve been studying guitar as an adjunct to my writing practice, and again, nodes of rhythm, harmony and melody have made themselves felt in my written work.
Is there a book or books you've read recently that really knocked your socks off?
Recently, I reread “A Piece of Monologue,” by Samuel Beckett. He is a poet’s poet and much of his later work (Ill Seen Ill said, How It Is, etc.) approximates a kind of pure poetry that I aspire to. The same can be said of Susan Howe, or Louis Zukofsky. Their work sustains my own.
What are you working on now?
I’m preparing to edit a number of texts that will appear under the title: “Part Thief, Part Carpenter and other Assays.”