Culture & Conversation

Making sense of nonsense


While corresponding with Michael Nardone during the time of this interview, his brief Facebook messages were filled with delightful descriptions of wherever it was he found himself (he was in Montreal, New York and North Carolina during the time it took to compile this interview). Michael strikes me as being a kind of 24/7 writer, carrying his love of language wherever he goes.

“I’m settled in at the most beautiful place here in the French Quarter, taking a day to write and listen to all the sounds from the street pouring in,” his most recent message says. In reading Michael’s answers to this interview, I was moved by his sharp sensitivity. His answers are vividly rich and generously descriptive.

Born in Pennsylvania, Michael Nardone has called Berlin, the Northwest Territories and Montreal home. His writing has appeared in such places as n+1, Poetry Is Dead, Lemon Hound, The Coming Envelope, La Merle and The Conversant. He is currently completing his doctorate degree in society and culture, merging poetics, sound and media theory.

Aside from writing, Michael also serves as managing editor for AMODERN, poetry editor for Hobo Magazine, and assistant editor for Jacket2.

Hello. Who are you?
Michael Nardone.

What have you been reading?
I’ve recently come out of a year-long period of reading and writing on poetics, sound, and politics. Now, before me, I have a time to read as I please while traveling down from Montreal to Louisianna’s bayou and back. I’m in New York as I write this and have beside me a small stack acquired during these last days.

The first book is George Ciccariello-Maher’s We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution. I’ve been closely following Ciccariello-Maher’s reportings since Chavez’s death. He is one of the only commentators I trust to give a nuanced perspective of what’s gone on in Venezuela and what’s happening now. We Created Chavez presents the social movements and activisms that produced Chavez as a revolutionary leader.

Then I have Cecilia Vicuña’s Spit Temple, published by Ugly Duckling Presse. Vicuña is a Chilean poet, artist, and filmmaker, and Spit Temple is a collection of writings by and about Vicuña: an introduction to Vicuña’s work and fascinating life by her translator Rosa Acalá, an autobiographical work, poems, a selection of her performance writings all by Vicuña, ending in a number of short critical pieces on Vicuña’s works written by Juliana Spahr, Maria Damon, Rodrigo Toscano, Jena Osman, and others. I’m quite certain this is a book I will be living in for a long while ahead.

The other book I have is Tamara Faith Berger’s Little Cat. I picked up Berger’s Maidenhead during the holidays. Intending to read the book’s first chapter before falling asleep that evening, I stayed up through the night and read it cover to cover. Maidenhead is so perfectly paced and erotically acute. I wanted more from Berger the moment I put down Maidenhead, and now can’t wait to get into Little Cat.

Why do you write?
I write because I can barely speak, because I make no sense at all, because I stutter in thought and that often trips or stops my tongue, because when I begin to respond to another person 17 different lines of thought come at once and I struggle to string those lines together in a way that gives form to the way I feel them, to the way I am aware, to a way that an other can comprehend, and because I want to speak from that awareness and because I crave that exchange, writing, then, becomes the space where I begin to make sense of that non sense, that stutter, a space where I can come to understand its syntax, where I can work and play within the grammar of this strange awareness that is individual but always tied to that exchange with another.

Where is your favourite place to write?
I moved to Canada, to the Northwest Territories, in 2006 and for several years I spent as much time as I could living out in the bush at a place called Blachford Lake, about 100 kilometres east of Yellowknife. At Blachford, I lived in an old tent-frame cabin: a wood platform with a canvas tarp for the walls and roof. The cabin had a porch that faced the lake, and I set up a makeshift desk to write there each morning and evening. During the spring, I’d write there, wearing longjohns and with several wool sweaters on, listening while the lake’s ice thinned and broke up. During the summer, any time writing slowed down I’d run off the porch and jump in the cold, cold water. I haven’t been back to Blachford since the summer of 2010, but keep fantasizing that I will make my way back up there one of these Septembers, to wander in the woods as the forest floor and all its lichens and leaves and berries burst in autumnal colours, to see the aurora as it returns after the long nights of summer, and pass the evenings on that old tent-frame’s porch, reading and writing by lamplight.

What books or authors have impacted you the most?
From my teenage years into my early 20s, I read a lot of Walt Whitman. I was moving around a lot during those years– from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, Boston to California – and took with me everywhere the deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass. I loved and aspired toward the panorama and itinerancy of Whitman’s poems, the moments of meditation achieved amidst and through constant movement.

While living in Berlin, I began to learn German through reading, and in order to read, the poems of Paul Celan. His insistent fracturing of a dominant language – the German language by which was officiated the murder of his family during the second world war – into shards of partial meaning, and through these shards reassemble some new exacting sense stunned me. It stuns me still. I take walks at night often with Celan’s mutter on my tongue.

Then there’s Jack Spicer. There are many reasons why Spicer has been so important to me, but to focus on two mere qualities: his notion of language reception and his position against the individual poem. Spicer offers a poetics of the poet as listener, as host, as antagonist and comrade. Against the idea of the individual poem, Spicer writes, “Poems should echo and reecho against each other. They should create resonances. They can not live alone any more than we can.” For me, these qualities challenge the singular product of poetry, the poem, and, instead, emphasive what I am far more interested in: the practice of poetry.

What is good writing?
I’m sure there is some framework I could sketch that would outline some general principles for what I think good writing should do – to be linguistically innovative, to have language that is lived within and achieved through some sort of insistent experimentation, to have arrived at some peculiar sense of subjectivity or trans-subjectivity, to be aware of other subjectivities, to be contemporary and to be aware and engaged with the contemporary even if concerned with some past occurrence – though what often ends up being actually good writing will somehow touch into this framework and find some peculiar way to exceed it.

Do you have any favorite words?
Through, of, if, amidst, without.

Could you recommend 3 books?
Juliana Spahr’s The Transformation. This book is also on the stack beside me to read again during the travels ahead. I read The Transformation a few years ago and it has since echoed in my mind since as one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever come across. It’s about the ecology of Hawai’i, the island’s colonial history, the second USAmerican war in Iraq, political art, and a triad of lovers who have moved to the island to live together. The book is about these things, yet the language moves beyond these subjects in an extended lyric meditation.

Fred Moten’s Hughson’s Tavern. I haven’t been able to stop reading Moten’s work for nearly two years now. His poetry and his critical writings are always provocative and staggeringly imaginative. Moten is a pleasure to read, but he’s also my favourite writer to listen to: the cadence he embeds within his phrasings and the sounded associations that echo across lines emerge in new ways once given his voice. It’s like all that’s glorious in jazz and old school r&b has made its way into critical thinking, and it’s a fresh new space to be and think within. Read the work on the page, for sure, but with that go to Moten’s PennSound page and listen to the way he sounds out his words off the page.

Finally, I want to include a book by Lisa Robertson, but I can’t decide between The Men, a slim and succulent lyric book, or Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, a heady collection of prose writings on art and the city. They are formally different works, yet both are sensuous, ruminous, guided by a voice so attentive to the movement of bodies through and across the surfaces of the world.

Catch him reading at Drawn & Quarterly on June 6th with Donato Mancini, Laura Broadbent and Emma Healy. 211 Bernard West, 514-279-2224.

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