Derek Pollard is co–author with Derek Henderson of the book Inconsequentia (BlazeVOX). His poems, creative non–fiction, and reviews appear in American Book Review, Colorado Review, Court Green, Diagram III, H_ngm_n, Pleiades, and Six–Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak, among numerous other anthologies and journals. He is Assistant Editor at Barrow Street, Inc.; a Black Mountain Institute Fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and is on faculty at Pratt Institute and at the Downtown Writer’s Center in Syracuse, New York. --------- Derek Pollard Interview, with Mia Avramut Derek Pollard, you lived the life of a gypsy, and lived to tell the tale. Share with us your story, and the reason why you left behind the nomad existence (if you truly did).
Interestingly, I am currently reading Oksana Marafioti's American Gypsy (Oksana is a Bennett Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute, where I, too, am a Fellow) and have become increasingly sensitive to my appropriation of that term, even though I have always used it knowingly and with the greatest respect. Perhaps it is best to say that I have lived a wanderer's life, moving from place to place, from city to city, since I was a child. Most of my relocations took place in Michigan, at least until I left school at the University of Michigan in 1992 and began to travel in place of my academic studies.
From eighteen on, I traveled the country and lived in various places: Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Manhattan and Hermosa Beaches, Iowa City, San Francisco, Austin, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Red Bank, Syracuse, Highlands, and now, Las Vegas, which has fast become the most wonderful ─ and wonderfully unsettling ─ of homes to me. The trajectory and the chronology of my travels always get slightly blurred whenever I try to recount the many years between eighteen and now (which is far, far on), but I know that I left Michigan as an adolescent hoping to see this vast, strange, often incomprehensible country and to feel at home in it, despite my many abiding reservations about it.
On April Fool's Day 1995, I returned to Kalamazoo after an extraordinary three years with Samara Golden, whom I had met in San Francisco while we both prepared to matriculate to the Art Institute there, and with whom I lived on the streets for the six months we were in the city and attending classes (or trying to attend classes as we survived the often debilitating challenges we encountered daily). After San Francisco, we lived in Minneapolis, while Mara finished her BFA degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, traveling together during the summers until we decided to part.
When we did part, I left for Michigan in order to finish a collaborative writing project with my doppelganger, Derek Henderson, with whom I had been working since we started Blue Night Press together while students at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo. That project was the collection of poetic assemblages "22 23," which became the first section of our book Inconsequentia. I had intended to be in Kalamazoo only for as long it took to finish the manuscript and publish the collection as a chapbook, perhaps a month or two at most (we had been working on it via regular mail for months before I left Minnesota), at which point I thought that I would return to Austin, where I had lived briefly during the late summer and early fall of 1994, when Mara and I spent several months apart.
Instead, I stayed in Kalamazoo for seven years, during which time I continued to move from house to house (until I finally bought a condo in order to provide some unaccustomed stability), living mostly with my younger sister, Jenna Pollard-Sage. I worked an odd assortment of jobs while attending classes full-time in order to complete my BA degree, which I did at Western Michigan University in 2001. It took a couple of years for me to arrive at the decision to re-engage with my academic studies, but the confluence of work opportunities (at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, where I was hired as Head of Security in order to create a newly designated department; at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where I worked in the Art Department as a lab tech and supplemental instructor in the Photography program; and at New Issues Poetry & Prose, where I had the great good fortune to work closely with the late Herb Scott) spurred me to do the one thing that I had long ago promised myself I wouldn't: attend my hometown university.
After taking my BA degree, I moved to Salt Lake City, where I had been granted a fellowship to complete my MFA at the University of Utah. I took my degree in 2004 and moved with my ex-wife to Red Bank, New Jersey, in order to begin teaching at a small private K-12 day school in Howell that had been founded some thirty years earlier by the late Lois Hirshkowitz, who was also one of the Founding Editors of Barrow Street, Inc. I taught at Monmouth Academy (formerly Lakewood Prep) for three years, until my ex-wife and I moved to Syracuse, where I taught at the university for a year before moving across town to Le Moyne College.
After those two years in Central New York, I returned alone to New Jersey, this time to the Highlands, in order to resume my teaching duties at Monmouth Academy, which I did for a year, before the school unfortunately succumbed to the financial crisis and was closed. I then began teaching at Brookdale Community College, which I did for two years, prior to relocating to Las Vegas to complete my doctoral course work at UNLV.
Although I have long dreamed of settling, of having a place to travel from and come back to, I am beginning to think that after a lifetime of moving every two to four years, such a thing may not be possible, even that I may not want it to be. Whenever I think about it, I am always reminded of Bob Dylan's answer to a question, posed during an interview within the past decade if I remember correctly, about why he was still touring regularly: he responded by saying that he had no home to go back to, that the road was all he had known for so long that it had become the only place he could be. It may be that my home, too, is this always-moving uncertainty, which, if we can link uncertainty to possibility, might prove fitting, at least metaphorically.
Why “the Dereks”?
The cheap and easy answer is that we are both utterly enamored of the cinematic work of the Brothers Quay and decided to model our collaborative authorship on their example. The deep connection and identification in and through such sustained work is simply astounding, and something that Henderson and I could relate to from the moment we were first introduced to those astonishing, nightmarish short films.
Perhaps more tellingly, Henderson and I have known one another, and have been writing together, since we were sixteen. We have shared so much of our lives that it truly seems at times as though we are as close as twins, sometimes even closer. And, too, the way in which Inconsequentia was constructed, the ways in which the poems happened, how they were first written, then pulled apart, then reconstituted, led to an incredibly rich dislocation, where we both began to lose touch with who had written what. This disorientation still persists, and we are often unable to say for certain which of us wrote what poem in the collection.
You are an Ordained Clergy Person through the Church of Spiritual Humanism, headquartered in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and can perform marriage ceremonies in Massachusetts and Florida. What moved you to become a clergy? Why the Church of Spiritual Humanism?
Yes, it is perhaps an odd adjunct to my other activities; and yet, in many ways it is indistinguishable from them. There is, after all, the persnickety business of being a conduit. That said, I first became ordained merely as a matter of convenience. Henderson had been ordained in the Church of Spiritual Humanism in order to marry my ex-wife and me. Our ceremony was at my former father-in-law's house in Ayer, Massachusetts. I then became ordained in order to serve as the officiant at my sister's wedding, which took place at Sand Key Beach in Clearwater, Florida. My experience as officiant was unexpectedly moving (and not merely because I was involved in bringing together my sister and her husband, although certainly that too), so that after years of being unconscionably cynical about weddings, I am now glad, and grateful, to share in others' gladness on those days.
Does your birthplace inform your poetry at all?
I was born in Flint, Michigan, roughly as it was in the first throes of collapse. Both of my grandfathers worked in the auto industry there, and although my mother and father left for Kalamazoo shortly after I was born, I still have family there and in the surrounding suburbs. Of course, I identify more with Kalamazoo, as that is where I spent much of my early life, and later it became the place I would return to during my travels; but Flint, because of its particular (if not, sadly, unique) history, certainly continues to inform my work, even if not as readily as some of the poets, writers, and filmmakers with whom we are most familiar. Perhaps because it is such a broken and downtrodden city (my paternal grandparents' former home, for instance, was on the market last year for $5,000), I derive a strange sense of pride in identifying with the area and with the people invested in somehow trying to rescue it from decades of destabilization and decay. For all of its ugliness, it is where I come from, and so, I have had to find ways to embrace that, in my life and in my work. I have to say that as a Michigander, that has always been easy for me.
As to how Flint enters into my work, as with so much else, there are intuitive connections and proclivities, things that I am often not conscious of as I work, but that are present, even if only in shadow form. I would love to say that the mechanics of what I do as an artist and a writer can clearly be linked to my experiences in Flint, but that would merely be fictionalizing. I do, however, always pay careful attention to the other writers and artists who share that heritage, to see how their work and their particular vision engage and influence mine. And who knows, perhaps someone else will eventually become as achingly fascinated with Auto World and the debacle that was, at the time, the revival of downtown, as I am. If nothing else, someone must continue to fit Angelo's Coney Island and Bill Thomas's Halo Burger into poems...
“Inconsequentia” is a sparkling, intriguing fusion of poetic sequences, written in collaboration with the “other Derek”, Henderson, and published in 2010 by BlazeVOX. Tell me about the birth of this project and what it means for you.
First, let me say that I adore the word sparkling, and I am grateful that you feel it a fitting description of Inconsequentia. As for how the project started (and I use that word deliberately, as neither of us envisioned Inconsequentia as a book in the conventional sense), Henderson and I were early on captivated by the collaborations between William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin and by the cut-up method that Burroughs made an integral part of his writing process. That unstitching of individual poems based on our own interests (at the time, alchemy, magick, the mathematics and the number of language, etc.) became the guiding architecture for the project, with both sequences being assemblages of the two initial poems respectively. Almost all of the cut-ups were the result of rigorous disassembling and reconstruction based on specific linguistico-arithmetic formulae that had relevance to us at the time.
Of course, almost none of that is overtly present in the text now (in fact, I suspect that the attention of the poems in the collection is often and easily confused with a concentration on surface, on emptying out of syntactical and grammatical meaningfulness), but it is interesting for me to look back and to see how deeply invested we both were in searching so exhaustingly into the poems for meanings that only such explorations could yield – or even that we thought that our engagement with semiotics (of which we knew almost nothing at the time) could yield anything resembling these unforeseen and richly destabilizing meanings. It is as if we were operating under the premise that by letting the language of the poems drift to such a degree we might discover the connective tissue that held the poems, and all of the parts of those poems, together, and that that was worth – for the reasons I mentioned above and for others – the twelve years we spent working on the project.
We continue to move Inconsequentia off the page and toward formats more in keeping with its indeterminacy and its ongoing nature, and so, in that regard, it continues to mean a great deal, although for new and for different reasons. And, as a book, or as a printed text, it certainly means a great deal to us both, as it was our first. Geoffrey at BlazeVOX did a phenomenal job bringing it together, as he is routinely doing with his ever-increasing catalogue of poetry collections, and I am glad that it took the form it did, even as I look forward to it taking others.
Do you have any pet peeves as an editor? As a poet?
Although I utterly adore Lynne Truss's book Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and the wealth of other witty, contrarian literature surrounding this question, I am at a point now where I do my best to set aside whatever pet peeves I might have had. Perhaps this is just the result of my having been in the classroom for as long as I have: recognizing that such biases only ultimately add unnecessary complication to my life, which I find more and more is already far too complicated. Of course, having been not only an instructor but an editor for over twenty years, it is hardly easy to be so charitable, and I often lapse into proscriptivism, even if I love how wonderfully messy and promiscuous English is as a language. On my best days, I actually applaud what I suspect will later, historically be seen as a pivotal transition in English language development, where our very grammar began to change in response to its interactions with our new communicative technologies.
What book or journal that you have edited is nearest and dearest to you?
I can honestly say that I have yet to be involved in an editorial project that I felt distanced from or uncomfortable about. It has been my great good fortune to work with incredible colleagues and with incredible writers, from the students at Monmouth Academy, who were producing the journal Cafe Blah Blah, to a number of our most respected emerging poets, a few of whom Henderson and I published in Prechelonian, the journal with which we launched Blue Night Press while still at Loy Norrix together. Establishing working relationships with other writers and being involved in bringing their work into print (or online, or into other formats) is such an intensely rewarding experience, and I feel privileged to be in a position to do that.
Is there a reading or teaching experience that will always stay with you?
This is such an incredibly large question, one that I feel ill-equipped to answer outside a memoir; and, because of my wavering ability to write prose, that seems an unlikely event, at least for now. I will say that I couldn't possibly remain in this profession if I wasn't constantly being energized by my interactions with the students with whom I work. As much as we hear about how much they take, whether they are aware of it or not, they also give in tremendous and unexpected ways, sometimes even in spite of themselves. Whenever that happens, I am able to laugh again at my RateMyProfessor evaluations and return to my work, whether it is teaching, writing, editing, or something other, in gladness and with the same thoughtful and mischievous bent that I have carried with me since I was a child growing up in Kalamazoo, where yes, there was a gal, and perhaps is still...
Speaking of large questions: I have THE burning question for a poet and clergyman. Where do you think this world is heading?
Frankly, I have no idea. Collectively, we seem determined to make wrong decisions whenever we are presented with the opportunity, so I remain cynical in that regard. And yet, each of us has the ability to be a truly kind, decent, giving person, and in all of my travels and in all of my experience, I have seen that willingness to be generous as much, if not more often so, than unmitigated cynicism would allow. Sadly, though, I cannot become carried away by such largesse, and it is terribly, horrifyingly clear that we are capable of unimaginable cruelty and violence to one another, and to the world and its many other creatures. I hope in some sense that Sun Ra had it right: that space is indeed the place...
At the very edge
Of winter, when our
Just that, and nothing
The way we are
Awash in its ache
How every small thing
In its darkness slows
To a held measure
Then to a full stop
Before crashing out
Of the motionless
Earth, to make motion
To bridge our longing
The small and nimble
Joys of this hollow
Place, our place among
The avenues of
Those that we give
And those that we can
Not free ourselves from
The Sun Shuddering Across
Two words placed
Side by side
A minor yet impressive
Run of the tongue
Across the back
Of the teeth
Voice a too–thin
Thread the word
Escaped the summer
Light long abandoned
The sun shuddering
Across its drunken
Awaiting April’s fast
Greening we turn
Our eyes toward
The sky Here I am
Is glossed with grey
The mirthless merriment
With which we began
I No Longer Remember
With Robert Faiges
You have often
In the barren
Not in the hope
Nothing can be
Long lost in
The grave, from
New can be
Amidst the brushes
The rent of
No, humble friends,
They are slaves
They are slaves
That is why
To die and
Not the good
Derek Pollard Interview, with Mia Avramut
Derek Pollard, you lived the life of a gypsy, and lived to tell the tale. Share with us your story, and the reason why you left behind the nomad existence (if you truly did).