Ben Mirov on Ben Mirov.
I feel confronted by space in Ben Mirov’s work. It is a physical presence. A temperate ether. I am reminded of 1987 when I was on Epcot Center’s ride, Spaceship Earth. I was unaware that I was hearing Ray Bradbury’s penned narrative, preparing me for the future world, perhaps. But what was significant to me was around the ten-minute mark, where you were suddenly thrust into a large blackened cavern, some representative flickers of stars in the distance, and below, the illuminated visage of planet earth. I felt vulnerable. I was frightened. But the following three times I looked forward to that moment in space; I felt its weight, I felt the cool jets of air conditioning, I felt holy.
In a matter of forty-eight hours of first meeting Ben, we had traveled 982 miles, played ping pong to ELO cassettes, altered our states of mind numerous times, vomited blood, potentially went to the hospital, saw the demise of our host’s house cat, and did a reading. In Ben’s poetry there is truth, there is proverbial surrealism, there are alternate versions of his one self. Ben is aware of these holograms, these are his chakras. I looked forward to discussing his new book, Hider Roser, out now on Octopus Books, through the following email exchange.
Eric Amling I spent a summer Sunday reading Hider Roser. There was Campari and no breeze. But the tranquil dexterity of the lines made the heat bearable. Being familiar with your new collection of poems in its various stages, I’m still left with the feeling of being in a temple inside of a space station. I feel this is accurate, not as your projected goal, but that the poems leave you in this superior loneliness. Is that okay with you?
Ben Mirov There are several people in the world who have an instinctive understanding of my poems. You are one of these people. I think it has something to do with the way you value images in your work. We have an affinity for images as things in themselves. Not image as a means to an end, but as an end in and of itself. In both our work, images are like points of valence offering many different meanings, not vectors directing towards singular meaning. They are meaning potentialities. I think I realized this by reading your poems, and then later, after I became a devotee of your collages.
As far as loneliness goes, for me, the best images are the ones that inspire a “superior loneliness.” They exist in their own dimensions and pull observers into that dimension, where they are ultimately alone, outside the relative stream of time. For me, this is one of the indulgences poetry offers; a chance to feel a “superior loneliness,” one that’s ambivalent and freeing. Not a pejorative quotidian loneliness that takes you away from the world, but one that offers a sharper perspective on it.
EA What I find interesting about constructing collage work is the use of antiquated elements to produce contemporary statements. With the image as a driving force, I’m always impressed with your ability to hone in and present one with the tightest language. This astral-morsel-on-bone-white-china effect. I suppose I imagine your mind as a spotless room with perfectly stacked disasters. And, as a reader, we gain a sharper perspective from the solitude you create, and we develop these natural mirrors, like reading poems from your alter ego. So how does the Ben Mirov that appears in poems like “Winged Boot,” “Lifetime Achievement,” “Transmission from the Center of Ben Mirov,” or “The Poem Addresses Ben Mirov in a State of Inconsolable Grief” perceive the grand landscape differently, or how does that Ben Mirov free you, the author?
BM I think putting Ben Mirov in my poems as a kind of poetic maneuver is pretty lame. It’s not an original trope. But I feel compelled at times to insert him as a way of ending a poem, or to escape the poem. I don’t know what to say about the Ben Mirov in my poems. It’s like he’s an actor playing George Washington, only he’s more like George Washington than the actual George Washington. He is an extension of me, or I am an extension of him. The space between us is what matters, like the darkness that separates a man wearing a gorilla suit from the outside world. All I can feel is the darkness, while everyone around me perceives the gorilla suit.
EA In the process of reporting on the world, there is distortion; either within the self, or the environment surrounding oneself. And though I never wish anyone to feel down; it’s tough in the poetry ghetto, Ben. What you have in your book is the brilliant space between rising from bed and entering that daily distortion. When lines appear like:
All of my friends exist on earth
and if you punch their face for long enough
it will become a common type of gem
On the subject of love
I have only a single observation—
if you love a grapefruit, you cut it open
and eat its flesh.
it seems there is a necessary balance in your work to maintain the conjugal practice of sincerity/surrealism?
BM I don’t know what to say about the mix of sincerity and surrealism reflected in the poems I write. I think my unconscious plays a huge role in my writing. I usually feel like my brain is a mess. Like the part of my brain that organizes my life is a sort of a nightmare. But my unconscious works pretty well. I don’t have much control over it, except that once in a while I drop an image or a word down the well in the hope that it gets barfed back up at some point, which it often does. My unconscious is pretty stable and somewhat reliable and even ingenious at times. So once in a while it spits back up some poetry that seems totally foreign to me, and I put it in a poem. In that sense, I think of my self as a surrealist, in a very traditional sense, like I believe in the power of the human mind to produce disruptive art. Even though I’m the complete opposite of a social revolutionary, or even an artistic one, I still believe art can transform solid matter, humans, war, etc.
Sincerity, I think, is a way of getting to those good images; like I want every move in a poem to stand on a foundation of sincerity that’s not contrived. Once I find this footing while I’m writing, that’s usually when the good images and sounds come together. I guess I feel you have to write poetry with a pure intent.
EA I’ve felt this way while watching golf on television. I don’t know; I don’t play golf. That isn’t political, or anything. I’d like to. I find the game sincere. You’re sincerely adjusting to the environment, negotiating the geometry of the course. All of this pomp to find a notch artificially placed in the earth. It is surreal. I don’t know. I’m romanticizing. A golf course is contrived, but me playing on a golf course is sincere. I suppose poetry is similar. You have to reign in infinite space and negotiate with it.
BM Sometimes I feel writing poems is something like this:
Only I’m the camera and poetry is the organism.
EA So as a fetishist to enigmas, poetic interventions, space, the other Ben Mirov; you seem to come from this place of acceptance versus explanation.
BM I value poetry above its explanation. I prefer poetry over hearing some asshole explain a poem, even if that asshole is me, explaining my own work. There’s something fucked about finding yourself in a context that necessitates having to explain what you’ve made. I always feel like the subtext is interrogative, like there’s a dynamic that naturally occurs between speaker and audience, one where the audience demands an explanation that will fulfill, or exceed the embodiment of the poem as an art object.
But I also I feel obliged by my poems to create discourses about them that will make them more appealing to a potential reader. It wasn’t always like this for me. I used to write in a complete vacuum. No one read my poems, except other versions of myself. It wasn’t until I decided to become a known poet that I began to become an explainer of poems, to the best of my ability, to the extent that poetry can be explained at all.
It’s a totally messed up thing we do to get our poems known. It’s like Prometheus one day deciding he’s going to describe the giant eagle that’s eating his guts. Totally absurd, but like what else can we do? I even went to school to be trained in the art of explaining my poems. I got an MFA in poetry, from a wonderful institution, full of teachers and poets I still care about. The main thing I learned in this MFA program was to explain, which is what I wanted from it, because explaining is how you become a known poet. You have to explain, and in your explanations, you learn to demonstrate your intelligence and your integrity, so that a potential reader will be seduced by your persona, and read your poems, or buy your book.
A lot of poets have learned to do this so well, they don’t seem to need poems anymore. They just craft a persona that uses poetry as a way to establish their integrity, or their sincerity. The poems get used as a platform upon which the edifice of explaining gets built. I’m ambivalent about this. It’s just something that’s happening more and more, especially on the Internet.
Also, just to be clear, I blame money for all this, not the poets or the institutions. If there wasn’t the crazy need to make a little cash off the art you waste your life producing, poets wouldn’t need to be explainers. They could just be poets.
EA Oh and here I am ready to talk about my love of money and its faultless instigations. Another time. I’d agree that persona has become the jail bait to a poet’s validity, but I don’t see that differing from other art forms. In fact, at times I feel the self corralling nature of the poetic community ostracizes its own efforts to participate in a broader scope. If poetry had a larger part in the public psyche there possibly would be less of a condo panel deciding your entrance to the Houses of Obscurity and Irrelevance. I suppose it’s a game of willingness and acceptance. A persona is another way of contextualizing the world; it works really well in Art and in Music. Poetry in a high-impact, high-retail market could be a great thing. Though my rolodex isn’t slimed with the ghost of an MFA it seems that acceptance and validation stem from showing your credentials more than other mediums.
BM I’m okay with anything anyone does in poetry, and pretty much in all art. I follow persona poets with equal parts interest and frustration, but I still follow them.
One of the things I love about poetry is that its effects are immeasurable. When people speak about poetry in relation to culture, it’s always in terms of its peripheral relationship to a perceived center where shitty movies like Twilight get all the attention. I feel like this is exactly as it should be. All the attempts to move poetry into popular culture, and poetry’s resistance to being popularized seem like necessary tension that can’t be resolved.
I’ve been struggling with this for like five or six years now. Watching the Internet every day, I see a lot of writers take off and get successful based off of persona. It’s pretty amazing how savvy lots of poets and writers have become, but it’s something I feel conflicted about, everyday.
I feel like I am part of maybe the last generation of writers to practice poetry or whatever, before the Internet became the symbiote it is today. I still have memories of being a poet sans Internet and what my relationship to poetry was before I relied on social networking and email and blogging. It’s weird to think a lot of writers and poets never experienced that. I feel lucky that I can remember what it was like to write something on a piece of paper and not have anywhere, or anyone to send it to, immediately after it was done. So when I go online and I see this entire infrastructure, I know I can do that, too. I can construct a persona; I create a status update; I can market my shit; but it feels horrible, like an addiction; like I’m jerking off to holograms.
I can honestly say that my relationship to poetry is mostly fucked, and has been for years. I’ve built up expectations surrounding my poems that they will somehow give me something; fame, a job, life experiences. And when they don’t, I feel totally disappointed, which is ridiculous. I think the Internet has a lot to do with this. My personality, as well, but also the Internet. The infrastructure that surrounds poetry is the worst, but it’s there and it’s important and helpful, mostly. So I wake up and make coffee and send my pathetic ghost into the ghost network, everyday. It’s like I’m begging for the mother-brain to shine its sleepless eye on my life and grant me absolution from all the life-force I’ve spent writing carefully chosen words down in particular orders.
I’m always reminding myself that poetry infrastructure isn’t poetry. I get the two confused because they’re so integral to each other in my daily life. My attitude towards the one, bleeds into my distrust of the other. So now I feel like poetry is suspect, like it’s there to feed on me or something, which is fine because I want to be food. But I still get the two confused, which is the source of my problem.
I still cling to the idea that poetry functions the best in secret, as the nexus between a poem and some person at a particular moment in time. When I think about the most significant reading experiences in my life, none of them have happened on the Internet. They all happened when I was alone and some book or poem chose me to read it and it changed my life. I don’t want to be remembered for my Internet presence. I don’t want to be remembered for anything. I want to be slowly erased by time. I don’t have illusions about my poems surviving, either. There’s nothing worse than some poet telling you they write their poems for posterity. That’s like saying you jerk off to holograms for the sake of future generations.
Now I just try to write to be inside poetry for a while. I like to feel time become elastic, or to feel it disappear while I plummet through space. There are times when I’m writing a poem and I’m like a zero. Like I’m the closest I can be to being nothing at all and I have no identity. Ben Mirov is just another thing outside the sphere. That’s why I write now. To be inside the sphere.
EA Onward with your existence, Ben Mirov.
Eric Amling is an artist and writer from Brooklyn, NY. His chapbook, Legal Pure, is available from Greying Ghost Press. Slow archives of his collage work are at the site, HumanHair&Co.
Hider Roser is available from Octopus Books.