> Rencontre avec Aaron Shurin

Rencontre avec Aaron Shurin

Par |2017-12-30T12:47:05+00:00 20 juillet 2013|Catégories : Aaron Shurin, Rencontres|

Interview with Aaron Shurin

Poet Aaron Shurin lives in San Francisco, California, and is the author of over a dozen books, both poe­try and essay col­lec­tions. He cofoun­ded the Boston, Massachusetts-based wri­ting col­lec­tive Good Gay Poets, and was the direc­tor of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing pro­gram at the University of San Francisco.

Shurin’s newest book is Citizen (City Lights Books, 2012). The poems in this col­lec­tion star­ted as a res­ponse to a Martin Puryear sculp­ture exhi­bit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Shurin explai­ned, “I star­ted wri­ting down words that I saw as his mate­rials, from the museum tags des­cri­bing the pieces. It could be wagon — there was a wagon, cedar — which the wagon was made of, yel­low — the color some­thing was pain­ted. . . . I felt like for this show, that my res­ponse was that I would write poems using the same mate­rials that he used, except that my mate­rials were the words of his mate­rials.” To get a feel for how Shurin tur­ned his notes into poems, lis­ten to Shurin read “Gloria Mundi” from Citizen here :


In the fol­lo­wing ques­tion and ans­wer set, Shurin ela­bo­rates on the struc­ture of his new book, what rea­ders might take away from Citizen, and his thoughts on the wri­ting life.


Do you have a phi­lo­so­phy for why you write ?

Poetry is atten­tion, and it is the means of atten­ding expe­rience. Attention is the key word both for what it requires and what its nature is.


How does the struc­ture of a piece influence your work ? What’s the rela­tion­ship bet­ween content and form ?

Structure is just pro­cess, it is the way that I com­pose. Because topi­cal­ly Citizen is about any­thing, I wan­ted it to have cohe­rence. I threa­ded it with a few ope­ra­tive struc­tu­ral ele­ments to give it a sense of uni­ty, rather than being a ran­dom col­lec­tion.


There are contri­bu­to­ry figu­ra­tive ele­ments that are dyna­mic in Citizen—the constant resta­te­ment and its inces­sant use of dashes and ellipses. I wan­ted there to be a sense that lan­guage was shim­me­ring, which is to say it could always be resta­ted. Language was never per­ma­nent and that kept the world in flux, and per­haps more life­like.


I’m also constant­ly pro­po­sing lit­tle col­li­ded pairs of words that re-shift the focus, and restate the shift. It was easy to col­lide words in unu­sual pai­rings, lit­tle “scin­tilles,” to use the French word that des­cribes the sparkles from fire­works. The pairs are lit­tle scin­tilla­tions that erupt in the middle of the poem as it shifts.


There are about half a dozen things that were simul­ta­neous the­ma­tic or struc­tu­ral cohe­ring points in Citizen. The first was the pro­cess, the second was the use of ellipses and dashes, the third was these col­li­ding pairs of scin­tilla­tions. Then there were the the­ma­tic phrases that appea­red : “Perhaps it is,” “It is or it isn’t,” “It may well be.” Those become motifs, as does “Once I was,” and then there a num­ber of poems about the sky. I didn’t start out with all of those, but did attend them. As some came up, I rea­li­zed that I wan­ted them to reap­pear. “The beau­ti­ful nights dance like bears,” comes up, and it is actual­ly sto­len from a poem of mine from a book writ­ten almost twen­ty years ago.


What do you hope rea­ders will take away from Citizen ?

I hope they take extreme plea­sure in the sen­sual and intel­lec­tual syn­the­sis of lan­guage at play. I’m not sure I can say much beyond that.


Well, I’ll tell you a lit­tle bit more about the back­ground of Citizen. There were seve­ral threads within the book, and one was the struc­tu­ral one I just des­cri­bed. Another was that I wan­ted it to be per­meable to the world, as nar­ra­tive is incli­ned toward the world. I was tra­ve­ling a bunch, most­ly to Mexico and some to Arizona, and so I made the deci­sion to let the sights, sounds, arti­facts, and expe­riences of my tra­vels come through. As for what people take away, eve­ry­thing that I put in, I wish for them to get — the mee­ting point of the ima­gi­na­tion and the world.


One of the things that I tal­ked about with my publi­sher is the title, and it has occa­sio­nal­ly given some rea­ders trouble. Some people had pre-for­med ideas of what a book cal­led Citizen should be in this cli­mate. In my view, Citizen had mul­tiple layers. It was also situa­ting myself as a citi­zen of the ima­gi­na­tion, which seems to me the pri­ma­ry locus of poe­try, and also as the cover sug­gests, that I am a citi­zen of the book, of the lan­guage of poe­try. I would love for all of those layers to be active for rea­ders.


What do you find most chal­len­ging about wri­ting ?

Challenging in the sense that one wants a chal­lenge ? So, what is that : the art.


What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a wri­ter ?

The best advice I was given as a wri­ter was not ver­bal, but mode­ling. I had the great for­tune of having stu­pen­dous friend/​teacher models : Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Diane di Prima. It was their prac­tice that is the best advice that was ever given to me. Their com­bi­ned autho­ri­ty and figure of how to live a life as a poet was the richest infor­ma­tion that could have been depar­ted to me. It was a touchs­tone all my youn­ger years. To have them as models both for tea­ching and for wri­ting, models of poe­tic inte­gri­ty — that meant eve­ry­thing.



About Aaron Shurin

Poet and essayist Aaron Shurin was born in Manhattan, New York, and grew up there, in eas­tern Texas, and in Los Angeles, California. He ear­ned a BA at the University of California, Berkeley, where he stu­died with poet Denise Levertov, and an MA in Poetics at the New College of California. Influenced by Robert Duncan and Frank O’Hara, Shurin com­poses lyric poems that explore themes of sexua­li­ty and loss. 


Shurin is the author of more than a dozen books, inclu­ding the poe­try col­lec­tions The Paradise of Forms : Selected Poems (1999), a Publishers Weekly Best Book ; Involuntary Lyrics (2005); and A’s Dream (1989), as well as the essay col­lec­tions King of Shadows (2008) and Unbound : A Book of AIDS (1997). Shurin has won fel­low­ships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Gerbode Foundation, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and the California Arts Council. He cofoun­ded the Boston-based wri­ting col­lec­tive Good Gay Poets and was the direc­tor of the MFA pro­gram at the University of San Francisco. 


(Biography source : http://​www​.poe​try​foun​da​tion​.org/​b​i​o​/​a​a​r​o​n​-​s​h​u​rin.)


Marissa Bell Toffoli

Marissa Bell Toffoli lives in Berkeley, California where she works as an edi­tor, poet, and crea­tive wri­ting tea­cher. She holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts, where she focu­sed her work on poe­try. In 2011, TheWriteDeal publi­shed an e-chap­book of her poems, Under the Jacaranda. You can read her inter­views with authors at http://​word​swi​th​wri​ters​.com. When not rea­ding or wri­ting, Toffoli loves to tra­vel, and kick back wat­ching Bollywood movies.