Gary Parrish interviews Feliz Molina, January 15th- 19th, 2009
GP: Can you pin point yr first encounter with poetry growing up?
FM: Pinning the point..hhmm. The first time I encountered poetry was in 5th grade. I was hearing voices in my head and may have been schizophrenic as a kid but got over it. I consider it somewhat of a poetic feat having to listen to those voices for a couple of years, the voices telling me what was going to happen in the world like "there will be big earthquakes and hurricanes, people will die." I kept a notebook. My parents freaked out while the voice also said what kind of airlines to take when I have to flee America. While it was happening, I didn't realize that the voice was my own, that somewhere in my head I wanted to journey very far away. Now about the earthquakes, I don't know where that came from. Mostly it was a female voice and sometimes it was a male. I was deeply religious as a kid and may have associated those voices with mother & father archetypes without knowing it.
In 7th grade I started to write what I thought was poetry. I went to a catholic school and someone in 8th grade handed me a note with a William Blake poem; I forget which but it had to do with eternity, an hour, some sand, something about a palm of a hand. I remember the tiny piece of torn Mead notebook paper it was written on with voluptuous letters like the hips of Marylin Monroe. My friend took the time to write Blake's poem during class and handed it to me during recess or lunch. I remember taking it, reading it and smiling on the playground. That was my first encounter with poetry.
GP: What was the atmosphere like growing up in 1990's California and how has that terrain informed yr writing, out look on pop culture, political culture?
FM: Aahh, the 1990's--a subject I love from a distance and am embarrassed about when standing at the center of it. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California which already felt like a rusty theme park in itself. The neon desolation of endless strip malls, palm trees lined on the street like plastic imitations of themselves. It all seemed very real walking to school with my older brother in Reseda where I lived until about age 7. My parents had board and care homes that housed mentally retarded individuals so there was lots of us in the house. There was a 7 Eleven down on Sherman Way St. across from a big cream catholic church called "Saint Catherine's of Siena." There was a Vons supermarket that had yummy fat potato fries and bright pink cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles glowing through the display glass. I wore plaid blue & green jumper uniform with a button up white collared shirt, white Vans on my feet.
One time my brother took me a house party somewhere in Northridge. I was 8 and he was 15. There was a drive by shooting and it turned out that a 14 year old Korean boy got killed in front of the pale green suburban lawn lined with sprinklers. The cops came and everyone went to the Northridge Police Dept. for questioning. I remember us being there all night until my mother came and picked us up in her fat white Cadillac the next morning. It was just another 3rd grad school night.
The Valley in the 1990's seemed to be a conglomeration of varying sectors: Hollywood movies representing racial stereotypes, coming of age TV shows that told one how to dress, talk, and act "cool", and of course the racial barriers between Whites, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics. Being Filipina, it was accustomed to kick it with other Filipinos, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. For whatever reason, there were racial clicks even though some of my bestfriends were also white and hispanic and some of my cousins were half black and half white. From what I remember in the Valley, there was a period in the early 1990's where the "older generation" (my older brother's age group) of Asians were heavily influenced by MTV and the DJ Culture, break dance, house music, and the happier old skool hip hop like A Tribe Called Quest, Heavy D, DJ Jazzy Fresh, Naughty By Nature, Notorious BIG, De La Sol, Digable Planet, etc. as well as the R n' B of SWV, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Foxy Brown, Boys II Men, Keith Sweat, LL Cool J, Total, Jodeci, Babyface--all those owing homage to The Jackson 5, and break beats stemming from the electric funk waves of Kraftwerk,Whodini, Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam, Doug E. Fresh, etc. being remixed and dubbed on mixed tapes blaring from a Sony boom box in a backyard boogie of someone's house when the parents weren't home. I remember a time when boys' haircuts stood 5 inches high from their scalp whipped with a recipe of Rave hairspray and a stressed out blowdryer. Those boys sporting baggy Dickies or saggy jeans worn backwards with letter belts touching down to the floor with a 3-button pager hanging from the belt loops. I remember when the Kid N' Play knock off haircuts evolved into 3 inch spikes, and gelled to stick up like a porcupine with long bangs and bleached blonde bangs drooped over their faces only to swoop back in one casual River Pheonix gesture with a Newport menthol hanging out of the side of a mouth or car of a dope fixed up manual drive Honda Civic or Acura Legend with fixed up rims and front benders dragging across the parking garage of the Northridge Mall. What the fuck, it all seems so colorful from a 10 year distance.
I remember a Pager Language where numerical paging was a language only known to those who were cool and had a pager. But weren't pagers also closely associated with drug dealers? Sometimes one had to flip a pager to read the nuermical text upside down to read a word sensibly and often one had to guess.
a=2 411 meant somone had info. to share
b=8 911 meant to hurry the fuck up and call
c=0 143 meant "i love you"
d=0 823 meant "thinking of you" because of the amount of letters for each word
e=3 187 meant someone was going to kill you
f=4 637 meant "always and forever"
g=9 247 meant 24 hours 7 days a week
q (no one used this letter)
w=111 or 177
x=(hardly used either)
We used to page each other during school if we ditched It was fucken ridiculous. In 8th grade I had a pager and had friends who were older than me and would pick me up from school to go to the mall or something dumb like that. I remember the Filipino boys at my school were thought of as "gangsters" and we were sent to the principals office for being stereotyped as "trouble makers" or some bullshit. When I was 14 years old I hired a DJ and threw house parties at my parents house. It was my bestfriends 15th birthday and somehow kids from outside of LA found out about the party and there were over 200 people who showed up. The cops came, there was a fight between two gangs in front of the house, an ambulance showed up, my brother was already a paramedic at the time so he was treating someone who got jumped. It was out of control. Back in the day my brother had a break dancing crew called "Bahay Tribe" and it also seemed to be a gesture away from the recklessness of gang banging. The concept of "Fly Girls" also took flight from the TV show In Living Color and beautiful sexy hot asian teenage girls started their own dance crews rocking skin tight outfits with long auburn or black hair thrown around whenever they swung around dancing poles. Every Asian Valley Girl had her nails done in acrylic and sometimes spray painted with a view of a beach sunset. Her nails she also used to de-tangle her way through a head of wavy dyed hair full of mouse. There were no cellphones then. Her boyfriend would most likely pick her up in the middle of the night and parked his car down the street smoking a menthol light with Jodeci song blowing in the tape deck of the car radio. They'd most likely go to some secret public place to go make love--like the parking lot of a mall or video arcade. If she had a feeling that her father found out she wasn't home she'd call her girlfriend and ask her girlfriend to lie for her in case her father called. She'd recite the plan she had already plotted while putting on makeup in her bedroom and looking out through her window at a neighborhood littered with lazy streetlights that made the ground feel like it was floating before anything digital was ever known to the Valley. She'd probably sneak the cordless phone from the charger in the kitchen to check the saved voicemail he left "hey babe I'll be there in 5 minutes. love you. bye."
GP: What brought you to Naropa and then a little further down the road to Brown University for yr graduate work? Both programs boast a wide range of accomplished poets and writers from Anselm Hollo, Anne Waldman to Keith and Rosemary Waldrop, do you find their influence in yr writing and who are you reading today?
FM: A few times during junior or senior year of high school got on a Greyhound bus to San Fransisco to visit my brother and would go to City Lights Bookstore to sit in the poetry section for hours thumbing mostly thru Neruda. My boyfriend had given gave me Diane DiPrima's Memoirs of A Beatnik for my 17th birthday.
At City Lights there was a flyer about DiPrima leading a writing workshop and wanted to have a reason to get out of LA apart from really liking her book. My first semester of college I'd commute from LA to SF once a month to attend them. I remember her being a strict and funny force in the room with soft edges that could easily turn sharp and a voice that sounded packed with sand. I remember being in a little beat up 2 door Toyota, her stomach basically touching the wheel while she inched her way at what seemed 10 miles an hour through traffic and lights with big hilarious looking sunglasses characteristic of what hipsters wear today. I wanted to LOL through the windoe while she kept switching gears. I couldn't stop staring at the wheel pressing against the belly of her t-shirt and remember wondering what the hell I was doing with this historical lady. We made it to her apartment. There were thangka paintings hanging from her walls and didn't know that the deities symbolized a neurosis I obviously wasn't aware of. We sat across from each other on chairs and looked over poems. I forget now what she said but remember what she asked "what do you want to do with writing, what're your plans?" I said I didn't know and she went on about some school called Naropa with a writing program called the Jack Kerouac School of Poetics. I was sketched out and nodded "ok".
While at Marymount College in LA I had the urge to go to Nepal to study Buddhism and went to college counseling office, found a study abroad book and did a bibliomancy technique where I randomly flipped a page and saw that it landed on a study abroad program to Nepal that so happened to be sponsored by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I skipped to the campus pay phone and called Naropa telling them I wanted to go to Nepal. Turns out, the program switched to Sikkim, India (a neighboring state) b/c of political unrest.
When I came back to the States, I decided to try the writing program at Naropa. I remember the snow being out of control, like entering a snow globe of mind control. The first semester I attended Anselm Hollo's poetry workshop, about fifteen students and all of us sitting at long tables forming a square while Anselm sat the head of it. I remember Anselm having an unusual, fluffy, and angelic sense of humor that floated through the white aether of whatever budda family--a concoction of padma and vajra electricity or what have you. We wrote comments on each others pomes and even went so far to autograph them. We were assigned the basic Donald Hall Anthology of Post- Modern Poetry on a dark blue cover with 3 women poets danging inside it--Levertov, Guest, Niedecker? Students would hang around during the break smoking American Spirits or getting chai at the cafe. I remember laughing more than talking. talking more than meditating. Sometimes I'd tuck myself into the vajra blue maitri room and fall asleep.
Then Professor Donald Preziosi showed up and introduced some of us to Walter Benjamin and we tripped out about spectatorship and subject-object relations (whatever that is). I dragged Anna out all the way from Sonoma State in California to sit in on Preziosi's class for a spring semester. We shared an apartment and would stay up for hours into the night reading Deleuze, Bergson, Benjamin-- cliff hanging from one part of a concept and switching to the latest fashions in W Magazine, turning on the TV and reciting poetry over infomercials, getting hooked on one concept and applying it to our experiences at the Mall or Target.
During a Summer Writing Program at Brown I took a week long course with Thalia Field after having read Point and Line. For the first time I met someone who stretched non-pretentiously encouraged experimentation in terms of form and content on the page. I was hooked. I loved her immediately, what she was doing, how she got involved. I felt that she was tapping into far away gold mines, throwing around wrenches left and right and telling us to go and find them. It was like an easter egg hunt, we went around blindfolded digging through air. It was in her class that I realized I could touch any object and pull a poem out of it, that a poem was waiting to happen. I attempted to pull a narrative out of a phone book by writing up scenarios pertaining to addresses of businesses. Font styles also started to come to life, every different type of font had personalities of their own. When the week ended she asked what I planned to do after graduation. I had no idea. She suggested that I consider applying to Brown.
One night I dreamt of riding in a car going down a neighborhood street that felt like Providence. Another morning I woke up to a phone call from CD Wright.
At Brown I found myself in the presence of Thalia Field, Keith & Rosmarie Waldrop, Forrest Gander and CD Wright. I felt drawn to Rosmarie Waldrop's work straightaway, particulary Curves to the Apple which I'll hold onto for as long as I'm walking on this earth. I don't know why I trust her perception so much. I don't know if I'm saying this right. "...A name, I said, cannot go from mouth to mouth, a clear mirror unclouded by breath[...] And we can't logically correlate a fact with a soul, even if fiction sustains the tone of our muscles.Your lips trembled slightly as you said that logic could take care of itself."
-The Reproduction of Profiles
There's nothing to dissect from this. It just makes sense and displays a rendering of thought when the sentence progresses into a further escalation or deflamation--like a set of escalator stairs and every step tucking into itself the further up you go. A line ends and is pulled toward or away from itself. Regardless of its direction, it's heading toward the same source (of gravity) in the poem, on the page, while it takes you on a detour and asks that you put on a pair of spectacles to view what your are walking/reading into.
"...Or the word "me." As if one could come into language as into a room[...] I sat down in it. No balcony for clearer view, but I could focus on the silvered lack of substance or the syllables that correspond to it because all resonance grows from consent to emptiness. But maybe, in my craving for hinges, I confused identity with someone else."
-The Reproduction of Profiles
I don't know what the spectacle's prescription is. It shifts. The prescription of the lens changes per poem perhaps. For whatever reason I am drawn to Rosmarie Waldrop's leap into a field of visual syntax, as though sometimes objects are floating without intending to. I toy with thinking that it might have to do with being in the technological time we're in--that somehow I am floating in this Hotmail email account while writing this, that there is no volume here inside this Hotmail while it feels as though the words are floating. She is an influence without having to explain it.
Recently I've been coloring outside the crayola lines of astrology trying to get a grip on what the fuck a birth chart is and if I've already been pre-programmed according to the alignment of the planets at the point that I fell out of my mother. Today at Symposium Books I picked up a memoir on Wittegenstein by Norman Malcolm, a grey book called "Things in the Night" by an Estonian writer named Mati Unt, and William C. Williams "The Great American Novel". Before that, there was a Kenyan safari happening towards the end of Obama's "Dreams from My Father" lying on the bed.
GP: Can you describe yr creative process, tell us what an image is to you, what it becomes in the text? I often find myself grounded in yr poems with lyrical qualities that seem to push the poem forward from one space and terrain to another. Can you comment on metaphors in yr poems?
FM: What is an image?
How can this be answered without being diluted by what other people have had to say about it? I don't know, perhaps an image is something you can and/or can't touch. A tangible object being a simultaneous image of itself, an intangible object being one that's in the cocoon of cinema or that is imagined. Perhaps it goes back to Williams' "No ideas but in Things." Not sure if there's a difference between ideas, image, & things. All the ideas, images, & things are already out there. I think maybe it has to do with aesthetic sensibility--aesthetic in the sense of honesty & sincerity. We're in a time where "ugly sweaters" are the new beautiful. But I believe that what drives thin distinctions between the beautiful and the ugly is a sort of push toward a place of sincerity while also attempting to let go of threads of apathetic irony (the ugly sweater) that signifies "cool".
Now let me take off the ugly sweater & turn it into an image.
Suddenly, when its no longer worn, the image is just an image without "myself". This seems to be leading to one's sense of perception in relation to an image or object which goes back to your original question "tell us what an image is to you". This is where the poet has total responsibility with regard to the image because it belongs to nobody, not even the poet. For as long as the image survives, the poet can too. But the image can keep surviving on its own while all the poets have been wiped out. This is why its important that poets meditate for themselves on what their relationship is to the image. I haven't done that yet so it makes it real fricken hard to answer yr question. First of all, I'm not sure of who or what I am to be able to see what am image is to me. But I do know that an image is neutral until you project whatever your feeling into it. You don't even have to know what it is you're feeling and that's why its useful to write. Writing helps to arrive at the original feeling or thought, an unraveling of self prescribed tricks or that Trungpa saying "one need not have gone through the journey" or something like that. I think maybe the image chaanges once its in a piece of text. If the image is extrapolated from elsewhere, a mode of translation happens when trying to insert it into MS Word or paper. That's why in the moment of writing, you're hanging from a string trying to hold on to the original feeling or thought while also trying to be sincere on some level--trying to sincerely hang onto the string and that's a genuine point of honesty--in the despair. What does the image become in the text? If there's a genuine relationship to the image, it becomes eternal. In the poems, I'm totally oblivious to whatever lyrical qualities--they're not intended. As for metaphor, it goes back to concept with a twist of feeling and pushing through a newer field of perception--its a constant development of new perception, imagining what's possible and going for it. That's why certain philisophers/theorists are so fun & exciting too--they construct new terrains of perception. Perhaps "No metaphors but in things."
GP: It's been said that Rock n Roll and the Internet are the two biggest generational gaps in the last 60 years. We've seen our political landscapes change here in America with this last election, and also a kind of end to "the baby-boomer" generation's hold on old boy politics, total economic failures and dolt diplomacy. What effects, if any will this "turn over" have on poetry, on life in this country?
FM: Don't take whatever I say for truth b/c I can only make whimsy associations. First, we won't feel any direct changes happening straightaway with the Obama administration depending on where we are geographically and whatever social groups/networks we're affiliated with. Without being a part of Obama's campaign trail we're left with the internet, TV, newspapers, magazines. Would he have had as many votes without the internet and Change.gov? It’s likely not.
The fact that people from different parts of the world were celebrating his election is remarkable and new in itself. I don't understand what you mean by "political landscapes" and them changing. I think maybe the changes are felt more so in different parts of the country than in other parts. I'll be in D.C. for the Inauguration and I bet the energy will feel different there than in Providence, RI. As for the economy, Rhode Island is the 2nd most unemployed state in the country adding to the hilarity of my daily existence. No one wants to hire an MFA degree so I'm having pseudo fun working at a cafe flipping chocolate chip pancakes and eating them. The economy is making up for not giving me a higher paying job by feeding me more pancakes. It's not so bad or is it just plain fattening.
In relation to the economy, have you ever heard of the Uniform Commercial Code? Its a real fricken hologram of a maze, but there are a few social movements in this country tied to the fundamental belief that the federal government turned against the original ideas of liberty and individual rights dating to the American Revolution and that the government is basically reaping the benefits from its citizens through what's also known as "sweat labor" as a form of credit in and of itself. From what I heard going back home to California and talking to some people connected to the Sovereign Citizens Movement, American citizens' identities are being used as collateral by the government as credit because this country has been bankrupt since Woodrow Wilson who said "if the country ever finds out what we did to them, there'd be a revolution tommorrow". Basically, our birth certificate, social security, and forms of I.D. have our names written in all upper-case letters. Supposedly, we are living under two drastically different forms of identity; one being what's called the "public", and the other "private". The "public" identity is also known as the "strawman"--the name that bears one's name in all uppercase letters. The "private" identity is the one which has rights in claiming oneself to be "sovereign" and basically protected from having to pay taxes through "proper UCC filing" using documents from the Internal Tax Revenue and going through a process of sending those properly filled tax forms to your Secretary of State, receiving them with some sort of stamp, and then forwarding those stamped tax forms over to the US Treasury which then forwards to the IRS for background check to confirm the filer/person's debt for tax exemption. The logic goes that one's debt is actually one's credit. I know, it all sounds bizarre and perhaps that's why these social movements dedicated to this are casted in the conspiracy theory category. Between California & Florida making up about 39% (LA Times, Sept. 2008) of home foreclosures in the country it seems worth questioning what banks are up to in those two states with regard to money lending and why the value of houses drop absurdly to the point of families having to pay about double what the house is actually worth. People have options: tell the banks to go ahead and take their homes, file for bankruptcy, or keep paying the insane interest until beyond the grave. I'm only writing from what I see my family going through and the pieces of info. collected here and there. At some point it's a pain separating fact from fiction or just accepting both. Currently living in one of the 8 states that are above the foreclosure average (Rhode Island being one of them), I am also living in the 2nd most unemployed state wondering if I should just wander back to California, New York, or teach english in Spain. I'm rambling, bare with me.
As for the generational landmarks of rock n' roll in the 1960's and the Internet of today, I guess what it also comes down to is: what does it now mean to be living in an "real or frozen time" overflow of information which can also serve to be a subtle yet obvious form of distraction? Everytime I get on the Internet it feels like having to swat flies swarming in and out of the screen. With the set up of Facebook we're in a framework where we can post & share whatever we want to expose about ourselves or however we want to make our faces look on the book. While its also a way to share what kind of music or books we like, what we're "doing right now", who we want to send cookies or an animal to, it can also be another "interfacial" layer. How often do our faces and profiles get makeovers? (There's a book collaboration underway called The Psychology of Facebook organized by some dude at Stanford by the name of Daniel Berdichevsky--should be interesting to check out.) In the time we're in it also seems that we can have our rock n' roll and Internet too, and some. An abundance of everything which is just a reflection of the phenomena of the Internet itself, multiple & simultaneous, and not surprising that on a clinical level Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) is a leading actor on the stage of our generation's theater. Maybe I'm just trippen but there must be a connection between the supposed mental disorders our generation is faced with along with advances in technology---that statement is vague as hell and that's why I'm a dreamer.
Blogger communities seem to be a popular form of virtual real estate except for us poets who don't get any reveune out of it. It's a labor of love, really. It's the same concern for print culture vs. electronic culture or traversing back and forth and the Green issues at stake for not killing trees and having sustainable Green energy to keep our laptops powered. I don't mind not being able to touch or hold my Blog or cuddling it to sleep. But of course that desire to do so, to squeeze the damn internet, creates tension I sometimes wonder is productive outside of it being purely conceptual. I'm not sure what the elements are that lead into some sort of "turn over" or what the turn over currently is. But from what it looks like today, there are poetry readings happening in different cities and towns in this country, while the definition of "poet" has also turned into the double life of a "blogger" for some. Maybe I'm not wording this right. Self-promotion is also a readymade tactic provided by blogger.com, myspace, and facebook. That doesn't go to say that self-promotion (within the land of poetry) is a vain or nasty thing--it's just a medium to say "hello world, this is what i'm thinking, feeling, writing...come and see if you like!" After all we're alive at the oldest the earth's been for cying out loud. Let's do whatever we want to get to know ourselves and be ready and open for whatever lies ahead--with honesty & sincerity even if people don't want to be kind to one another then maybe people can at least be nice about it.
As for poetry, the poems from whomever will speak for itself. Maybe a poem happens one day at a time without the anxiety of what will happen to it in the future or what Beckett said "Fail, fail again. Fail better." I think its safer to think one's poems are a constant failure because, ultimately they are. We're writing towards a failure in humanity with every hopeful key that we press on our laptops. And its beautiful to think that every word was a failure while we hoped that it wasn't. It's a failure, all of it, because we die.
Feliz Molina is a poet living in Provincetown Rhode Island.
She is a graduate of both Naropa and Brown University
Check out her work here in the Boog City Reader.