Bruce Holsapple | Interview

Kenneth P. Gurney. Bruce asked if he could make a statement instead of answer the  interview questions and I agreed to deviate from my usual practice.

Bruce Holsapple. What intrigues me in general terms is agency, my role in personal and cultural change—books can change people— and I view poetry as a way of knowing and of doing.  I write to make a kind of action occur, a transformation, tho not in simple political terms, not as advocacy.  It’s more akin to what inspiration does, imagination.

My work takes its initial impetus from the experiments in free verse by Williams and Pound a hundred years ago.  By my lights, that “experimental tradition” was advanced by the Beats and the Black Mountain School in the 1960s and has its roots in a Romantic project which understands poetry as performing cultural work, sees the work poetry does as advancing culture, as a kind of investigation into the given— language for instance is a given— and an investigation of what “person” is, how we make our lives meaningful, what it means to be human.  The alternative is to reiterate the status quo.

As an instance, you might think of romantic notions of nature and of romantic arguments about what is natural for humankind, one that continues to this day, as an attempt to ground or remodel our behavior, or of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal [amazon] as arguing (and effectively demonstrating) that beauty is beyond good and evil (if beauty is, then so are the people who perceive that beauty), or of Rimbaud’s alchemical work as exploring the spiritual nature of the real, of what is real about us as persons.

Modern ideas of the poet’s role in society emerge at about that time, in figures of the bard and minstrel, but romantic alienation emerges as well, the poet as outsider (again, think of Baudelaire).  It’s a curious fact, then, that we’re both communal and individual, social and antisocial, that we have both of those directions.  This opens several questions.  Do those dispositions cancel each other?  How does one determine who to be, or what a person is . . . from society?  Is “person” an endowment, or is it something to achieve?

Or that we learn how to behave from others, school, teachers, and conduct ourselves socially, in fact that behavior is institutional— we have literal scripts to follow, how to dress for the job, order food in a restaurant.  And we are constantly in conversation with ourselves and others about those roles.  So one naturally asks, how does language factor in becoming a person, in being social? in realizing who we are?

What this orientation would allow for is thinking about the effect that poems have on others, the explicit way a poem like Howl might change listeners, not simply by its content but also by its approach, its music and manner, its organization, its inspiration.  It’s designed, I believe, to inspire action, not simply to be an object of contemplation.

My point is notions of “person” are in contest, evolving, and my poems would explore that change, the imagination of person.  I am especially interested in uses of voice, in imagination and emotion, how we imagine “self.”  My focus tends to be the lyric subject, the speaker, on self-talk, and on the role of value in making decisions, hence who we become, if not in becoming who we are.


One thought on “Bruce Holsapple | Interview

  1. Bravo. Your statement gets at the social-cultural and aesthetic purposes of poetry: Particularly in our times, that tension between the individual’s role and the perception of self in the community which helps to shape that self. I see that discussion, that notion of self–especially focused on our national character or ethos–reaching something like critical mass now.


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