An Interview with Di Brandt

CV2: How can technology, which seems to so many writers and poets to be the antithesis to the natural creative process, and therefore viewed by many to be a kind of “art on steroids,” be the means to more effective poetics?

Di Brandt: As I said, I think the electronic media need poetry more than poetry needs the electronic media. They are the most powerful mode of public communication in our time and they need to be poeticized. The progress of modernity has been ass backwards in many ways: we keep inventing new machines and then figuring out how to live with them. This has us all scrambling and feeling spiritually and culturally destabilized all the time. What if we made spiritual evolution the priority instead of technical innovation? Then we could lessen the now frightening divide between our technical capabilities and our woeful inadequacy in knowing how to use them creatively, imaginatively, for the good. We could stop using them mostly to smash things, as we are doing now. Poetry is like honey, and poets are like honey makers, the direly threatened honey bees. Can they keep on making honey in the technologized, chemicalized world? If not, we’re all doomed. They are a measure for us, in this crucial time, when we are weighing the future of life as we know it on this planet, in the balance, of whether we will be able to scale back our technological inventiveness creatively and quickly enough to be able to save the bees and everything else we hold dear. Poetry is a medium that could help us understand how to scale back technology while improving the quality or creative intelligence or sensual richness of our lives. But it doesn’t have to be done only in the margins of the culture, it can be done right inside the powerful public media of our time. Why not?

CV2: Your own writing to date, while thematically and structurally innovative, remains fairly organic. By that I meant that it has appeared mostly in the traditional confines of print publications. How is working in multimedia changing your own creative process? Has it changed your approach to teaching creative writing?

DB: Well, not really. In fact, I have worked collaboratively with artists in many different media. My poetry has been adapted to video, film, dance, music, CD recording, installation, and sculpture, and has been exhibited and performed in art galleries, museums, legislative buildings, libraries, schools, parks, television, and radio. I grew up in an oral culture, remember, so print media have always seemed quite limited and limiting to me. I’ve always been interested in the oral performative and visual, musical aspects of poetry, and I would make the case, citing Walter Ong, that the electronic media represent a kind of secondary orality that returns us to multimedia engagement, in a way that text publication does not. The electronic media have been shown to be accessible and eagerly embraced around the world by oral cultures that had much more trouble with print. It’s partly a question of literacy, of the difficulty of learning to read and write, but far more than that, it’s a matter of strong resistance to the interiorization and abstraction of printed text. It makes sense to me to leap straight from the oral to the electronic, in a way that’s perhaps surprising to people who inherited centuries of print consciousness.

CV2: With the advent of on-line creative expression, there has also come the question of publishing—how to permanently preserve the fruits of this labour. It has been my experience that traditional means of publication are not adequate to display art that has been produced in multimedia format—a format that often goes beyond writing presented on a computer screen and can involve interactive voice accompaniment, including complex filmography, audioscaping, and graphic redrafting of the text itself. What kind of publishing culture would have to develop to provide not only a public venue but also compensation to ensure the proliferation and support of this kind of poetry?

DB: That’s a wonderful visionary question! Here’s where I put a lot of hope and faith in our students, who are growing up saturated by the electronic media, and can think multimedia in the technical and formal sense much more easily than we who grew up before television can. I saw how exciting it was for the students to seize hold of the means of electronic production in our little course. Imagine what could happen if we made that opportunity widely available, as I understand is beginning to happen in public schools now. I absolutely agree with you—there is need and room for drastic re-organization here. I think it will happen, and I’m investing my energies in nurturing these changes from the ground up.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.