In Conversation

My Hunger is Singular: ghost ocean talks with Joshua Ware


Ghost Ocean: Your new book delves into how loss of love can lead to hysteria and isolation. I'm wondering, is this a long term concern/curiousity/obsession of yours or something that's crept into your writing more recently?

Joshua Ware: Well, I should begin by saying that this release, which Furniture Press Books just published, is actually two separate books in one tetê-bechê artifact. I mention this because the phrase about “loss” in the marketing copy is, primarily, the focus of the second book Vargtimmen. The first book, Unwanted Invention, has its own, distinct concerns.

Having said that, I would also like to mention that the subject of “loss” has not been at the forefront of my creative imagination lately. Although I revised and edited Vargtimmen during the past twelve months or so, I drafted the original manuscript while living in Cleveland, OH during 2013. In fact, I’ve written nearly nothing (a mere three pomes) since July 2014, favoring collage and visual art instead. 

With those qualifiers in mind, I will say that, at the time of its composition, yes, “loss” was at the forefront of my writing practice. I had moved from Denver to Cleveland for a job, I was going through a break-up, and (relatively) recently had left school. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of life changes occurring during that period of my life. Those changes generated a lot of anxiety. And if you couple anxiety with paranoia and depression, hysterical behavior, I think, tends to be inevitable. 

Luckily, though, I found a palliative in obsession; specifically, I found solace in a writing practice indebted to the moon. The moon in Vargtimmen is both an obsession and emblematic of obsession. In other words, it was the object of obsession and a symbol for all things I was obsessing over. My daily writing practice, which centered on the moon, kept me alive in an otherwise hectic moment in my life. I know it’s probably cliché to say “poetry saved my life,” or some shit like that; but, in retrospect, poetry did save my life. Immersing myself so intensely in the art form at that particular time allowed me to escape a lot negative feelings, thoughts, and issues.

Perhaps, I think, that might be why I’ve stopped writing pomes during the past fifteen months. I have a visceral, emotional, and psychological connection to the word and to pomes that removes me from my present and returns me to a previous life. Which begs the question: Then why would I publish this work?

I’ve, in fact, asked myself that question many times during the revision and editing process; and there have been several occasions in which I’ve doubted whether or not I should make this writing public. But, when all is said and done, I believe the pomes in Unwanted Invention and Vargtimmen are some of my best work. More importantly, I want to honor the pomes, the time I spent writing them, and the people, places, feelings, and experiences that inspired them.

GO: If Vargtimmen is indebted to the moon, to what would you say Unwanted Invention is indebted? How would you describe the relationship between them, the movement from one to the next? Did you always envision them as necessary companions?

JW: Unwanted Invention outlines the narrative, roughly speaking, of two lovers: an “I” and a “You.” I say “roughly” because the collection invests itself heavily in the confluence of reality and the imagination: that realm between sleeping and waking wherein elements of both states infiltrate one’s consciousness, producing an alternate space that is “both and neither.” The epigraph to the pome “Portraits” invokes Wallace Stevens’ Adagia, which articulates this concern most succinctly: “In poetry, at least, the imagination must not detach itself from reality.” In this sense, the narrative also wavers chronologically as memory fragments, and dreams augment or subtract from the story.

In the most reductive synopsis, though, “I” and “You” meet in a strange half-lit world, fall in love, and break-up. Then darkness descends and the speaker (and reader, for that matter) enter Vargtimmen, which is the deepest hour of the night: when dreams are most intense, ghosts are most prevalent, and most births and deaths occur. A more optimistic narrative structure would probably begin at that point, then pass into that confused waking state so as to conclude on a more positive, hopeful note. But that’s not this story. There is no redemption. While certainly not his best work, Ingmar Bergman’s Sarabande concludes with a section titled “Vargtimme”; he also directed a film titled Vargtimmen. Both films end in despondent, hellish nightmares. These books follow that downward trajectory.

Structurally, of course, there are more concrete connections between the two books that actualize this overarching concept. For example, the penultimate section of Unwanted Invention is titled “The Darknesses,” and it documents the onset of twilight and the first stages of night. The final section of Unwanted Invention, which is a single pome titled “Vargtimmen,” contains the lines:

Nothing of us remains in these irregular forms
except the light or dark speech that emanates from branches
of nighttime trees. 

In retrospect, I read those lines as the first “sincere” acknowledgment of loss: of form, of voice, of light, of hope, of sanity, of love, of home, of “whatever.” With that acknowledgment, the speaker presents (over gives) himself over to the darkness, to night, to the moon, to obsession, to the second collection of this compendium. To this extent, there is something inhuman about Vargtimmen; it’s more lunar, less self-possessed.

As far as intentionally yoking these two collections together, well, that was an afterthought. It wasn't until a year or two after I drafted both books that I realized they spoke to one another. Actually, there is a third manuscript that I wrote, tentatively titled After Emily, which is also part of what I’ve loosely coined The Moon Cycle. I feel as though After Emily, which I drafted between April and July of 2014, provides these two collections with a more proper denouement, as well as closure for me.

GO: You’ve mentioned that you’ve moved away from poetry and toward collage. Does poetry—the practice of reading, writing, revision, etc.—inform your collage work? Does it feel like an interim process, a vacation from poetry? A natural progression?

JW: Well, I’ve always relied on visual collage as an interim process or an alternate, artistic endeavor whenever I felt exhausted with language. But those previous forays into visual collage usually lasted only a few days, weeks, or, at most, a month. My latest poetry “vacation” has lasted approximately fifteen months.

It’s difficult to say when I’ll start writing again. I have some ideas or concepts at the intersection of film and the lyric essay that I’d like to explore; but I don’t feel particularly compelled to give up collage, at the moment, in order to pursue them. I mean, doing both is not really an option for me, as I am rather obsessive or myopic when it comes to my passions. My hunger is singular. 

As far as aesthetic or conceptual resonances between the two art forms—yeah, for sure, there are plenty. I mean, linguistic collage has played a large part in much of the literature I read and pomes I’ve composed. But, to be honest, the aspect of visual collage that nourishes me are those elements of the art form and process which have nothing to do with poetry or language.

For example, engaging tactile sensation is both important and pleasing to me. Feeling different paper textures, cutting, pasting—these are physical encounters indebted to touch and materiality. Likewise, the handmade or analog nature of my projects guarantee a disengagement with screen time. And screen time fucking sucks. I probably sound like a curmudgeon or an idiotic Luddite, but I’ve developed a disdain for computers and digital technology. Maybe that’s a sign of my cultural irrelevance; but cultural relevance is nothing about which I’ve ever had to worry.

Another aspect of my collage practice that’s antithetical to poetry is the manner in which I encounter the visual. Colors and shapes have secured themselves firmly in my creative imagination. Their relationships to one another—on a visceral, non-intellectual level—move me in ways not possible with the word. I feel less tethered to semantics, to meaning, to signifying, etc. when working on a collage. The act of creation and associating is more primal and imbued with sensation, less logical. I’m not saying semantic or signifying registers don’t exist when creating visual art (in fact, they do); I’m simply saying that they’re not as present, if at all, when I am in the process of creation.

GO: After working with an art form so tactile and visceral, does poetry still pack the same punch? Have your tastes as a reader of poetry shifted?

JW: I've learned to engage poetry differently over the past year or two. It does not consume my daily life in the same manner as it once did. I mean, I try to read a few pomes everyday; but I don't obsess over them, write them, or review them with the same fervor or frequency (if at all). Which, I suppose, is a good thing. My relationship to pomes is more organic and less dictated by the academic industry or my ego.

Having said that, I'm currently reading Tim Earely's Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery and Sueyeun Juliette Lee's That Gorgeous Feeling, both of which are interesting in their own way. Although, I've relegated my poetry reading practice to the bathroom, mostly, or for a few minutes during lunch.

I've also returned to fiction and prose during the past twelve months, which I had neglected for many years. I've recently read Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Joyce's Ulysses, Melville's Moby Dick, and Lem's Solaris. I enjoy the long-term, immersive nature of reading a book that is 600, 800, or 3,500 pages. It necessitates that I reorient the way in which I interact with language.

Joshua Ware's Vargtimmen/Unwanted Invention is now available from Furniture Press Books.