Paul Metcalf Interview

Having finally read one of Metcalf’s works, I went back and reread this interview (from the always brilliant interviews at Dalkey Archive). It is worth the time for a number of interesting takes on prose, novels, structure, organization, etc.:

I: When you eliminate so many of the conventions of the traditional novel (i.e., plot, and sometimes even characters), what becomes the principle of unity? How do you move from point A to point B?

PM: The principle of unity is “the rose in the steel dust,” and I can be no more specific than to say that this is something inside me, and that effecting its transfer, from inside my skin to outside it, is the reason for writing (as well as the process). The pattern may be clear in its details–or nebulous, only vaguely intuited–but the pursuit, the delineation of its outlines dictates every step–or at least dictates what is point A and what is point B. Then–how to get from A to B–this is best done abruptly. I learned long ago, from a very wise man, that “the only real work in creative endeavor is keeping things from falling together too soon.” A corollary to that notion would be that, having held the structural elements apart as long as possible, when they do come together, let them really clang. And this is not work, it is only the courage to move abruptly. Nothing softens and muddies a piece of writing so much as what used to be taught in writing classes as “transitions.” Let the relation of your particles be implicit, discoverable by the reader. When you have accomplished this, you will have a quality that Guy Davenport has used in describing my writing: tensegrity (which, as near as I can make out, is one of Bucky Fuller’s neologisms, meaning that when you erect a structure, if all the lines holding it are taut or tense, it will stay up. Tension=integrity.).

[…]First of all, I took and take seriously Dr. Williams’ remark that anything is legitimate subject matter for a poem. (As a corollary to this, I would want to say that the subject matter of a work of art matters only in that it be something about which the artist cares passionately.) Having accepted this, one looks around at language, and realizes that within the various complex disciplines and specialized areas of knowledge that have developed over the years in both the sciences and the humanities (and particularly in those so-called sciences of man, such as anthropology) unique bodies of language, representing idiosyncratic modes of thought, have grown up; these have remained more or less isolated from the broad areas of language that are generally drawn into literature. Why not mine then?–particularly inasmuch as so many of these linguistic organizations are so extraordinarily beautiful, They are part of our legitimate contemporary resource. Anthropology, ethnology, mythology, archeology, geology, physiology–all are there, waiting for admission into poetry. Furthermore, as you say, any object or process may be altered and freshened by the language we use to describe it. This is part of the excitement of literature, this chemistry of rich and varied language; this is a large part of why we read, the search for this freshening!