Marías at Sampaguitas
Interview with Erik Fuhrer & Kim Androlowicz
1. Your latest poetry collection not human enough for the census is highly experimental, not just for the artwork it contains or the use of the language you distort but with the creative idea about humanity (or I should say post-humanity/compost). Can you tell us about the design you came up with for this book?
Erik: I am interested in human and nonhuman assemblages and other slippages between species and bodies, human or otherwise, as well as the ways that species categories are established, utilized, and upheld by the process of marginalizing bodies that don’t fit into a specified code of belonging and being. The scatter of words across the page allows the pressing of the text toward the right margin in poems like [the creature of dark habits] and therefore a visual representation of the squeezing of the body, dehumanized as “fleshboy,” by others, into narrow categories, which literally crushes the narrative of this body against the margins. Kim’s work forms a mesh with these ideas, providing images of incubation, or perhaps silent slaughter, without indication of species. The ambiguity of Kim’s work extends into the horizon line— are the creatures below rising to freedom, or like “fleshboy” being crushed?
2. In not human enough for the census, your central theme is the cosmos itself -as far as I perceived- and how we humans connect with the cosmos of nightmares, dreams or nature, or the whole universe. Do you think that writing poetry is a way to connect our inner-selves with the cosmos?
Erik: For me, writing poems rarely gives me clarity on the questions I am asking. If anything, it makes things murkier, which is actually perhaps kind of what I was looking for anyway— for things to blur, rather than come into relief. I spin this positive because then I have to keep writing to interrogate the tide of all those large concepts you mentions— especially the cosmos, which, until you mentioned it, I hadn’t really thought of, but your definition of cosmos (including the cosmos of nightmares) is so expansive, so thank you for that new way of framing and thinking about the cosmos and my own work.
So, I guess my answer might be no, I don’t think that writing is a way of connecting our inner-selves with the cosmos because I think these things are always and already connected and enmeshed. Writing does, however, help us navigate, untangle, and get down in the mud with the cosmos. Perhaps to write you have to get a little dirty.
3. What do you think about the musicality of your poems?
Erik: Poems are tiny instruments without fixed sonics. I suppose other instruments are capacious too— a violin can be bowed, plucked, smacked, slapped, and rapped— ditto the guitar—ditto the orchestra, play John Cage after Beethoven and you will be somersaulting. For me the page is not a left-hand cage but a musical, an u-u-utter across the page. I listen to music a lot when I write… no that’s not quite right… music is playing, but also the tv, and sometimes I’ll let my phone alarm go off for a bit.
I was addicted to noise when I wrote the first section of not human enough for the census but I was also attuned to the white noise that grew in the absence of this noise as I wrote. My poems were perhaps infected by these noises. This is all to say that, although I am careful about word choice and musicality, I find that a lot of this quality stems from what I absorb.
4. This question for you both. Who was the first one that came with the idea for including Kim’s art with Erik’s poetry? Do you work on the same themes usually? Because there is much to connect Erik’s poems with Kim’s images.
Erik: Kim’s image, which we ended up calling not human enough for the census, after the book, haunted me for some time. This goes back to the kind of muddiness I spoke of before as, though the image was not necessarily directly in my mind as I wrote the book, it was always rooting itself somewhere into my thoughts. This is true for all Kim’s images, even those not yet created, as the ecology of her work is something I feel like I know pretty well, and always want to know better. I believe I was the first one that broached the possibility of including her work in the book, because it has so much resonance for me, perhaps because it was always the visual sap that was dripping into my mind as I wrote.
Kim: I am interested in the nonhuman as well and was thinking about this theme at the same time Erik was writing the book. I made the painting that’s at the beginning of the not human enough for the census section of the book during that time. When Erik approached me to include that painting in the book, it became the inspiration for the rest of the images in the book.
5. Kim, your works are breathtaking. Can you tell us about your muses? What usually inspires you?
Kim: Thank you. Erik’s poems inspire me. They are so rich in imagery and emotion and there is so much content to draw from. I am inspired by an impression of a poem and use that as a starting point in my painting. When I read a poem I get a feeling from it and try to translate that feeling visually in the painting and then subject matter follows. I am also inspired by the energy, color, and abstraction of the Abstract Expressionists, such as Joan Mitchell. I am also fascinated by the drama latent in the Old Masters’ paintings, particularly by Rembrandt, Titian, and Caravaggio. I am interested in the use of dramatic and compositional elements found in those figurative paintings, such as light, movement, and tension. Another artist that I look to for inspiration is Harry Ally. I love the way he abstracts the human figure.
6. My favorite lines from the book are “of carbon atoms that split/and chatter/pattern upon/the sky that was just a stain of blood” from the poem “god is liquid in the tempest.” Erik, how is your relationship with nature/cosmos?
Erik: I have recently been interested in anthropologic modes of communicating and connecting, leading me to a short-lived volunteer service at an animal sanctuary, where I negotiated space with an Emu and learned that I am absolutely terrified of very small birds (something about the rapid movements and risk of flight, the way their head cocks at you as you cower in the corner of their cage trying to pick up their droppings— I’ve never felt so strong a signal that I was not in charge). My anthropological inquiries were failures in many ways— I didn’t leave with any kernels of knowledge other than the affective relational etchings of these encounters, but these quick enmeshments with other beings were perhaps enough— as are the daily interactions interactions I have with my dog— i.e. the puzzling intimacy of our morning routine when he places his face directly on top of mine, and we sit like this, still, for as long as I can manage… it always appears that he would stay like that all day if able.
I’m not sure I think I know how to parse out my relationship with nature with a capital “n” or cosmos with a capital “c,” or that I even believe that such broad concepts exist in any sort of totality— rather, they seem like enmeshments of particularities (of relationships, of encounters) that form networks of knowing. The lines you quote have mentions of God, a figure that I do not believe in, at least not in the all encompassing, all-knowing, Christian interpretation of God. Yet, I do believe in energy, a scientific fact, and something about God being a node in this network of energy, or being a type of matter that flows in scientific currents, makes sense to me, and particularizes, perhaps even particalizes, a concept that has never worked for me in the forms in which I’ve personally encountered it in the past.
7. Kim, are you planning to write something? Or will you stick with painting?
Kim: I am very interested in puppetry as well and have written a couple of puppet shows. I find the visual storytelling in puppetry to be fascinating. I love the way that nonhuman and inanimate objects can be used to poignantly speak to and illuminate the human condition in a theatrical experience. In the future, I plan to write, design, and perform puppet shows for adults and kids.
8. Erik, when did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?
Erik: I was not a reader when I was younger, but I was an avid video game player. I think my first introduction perhaps not to poetry but to the poetic was probably Final Fantasy 7, still one of the most beautiful art experiences I’ve ever had. And then there was the American Beauty soundtrack. Not the movie, which I continuously find myself recoiling from more and more, but the soundtrack. The minimalist drip of the score stunned me. I was really into cataloguing beauty in my teens, admittedly pretentiously, but earnestly enough that it led me to very deep and impactful discoveries, such as Tori Amos. After hearing “Silent All These Years,” I immediately went to the CD shop and bought all of her albums. My love for her music led me to a poetry workshop in college, in which I discovered more wonders such as César Vallejo, Terrance Hayes, Sylvia Plath, and multitudes of others. Music still informs a lot of my work, in both process and product. I still listen to Tori Amos for inspiration-- I can loop “Little Earthquakes” for hours.
9. Do you participate in spoken word/slam poetry? If so, where can we find your performances? How is writing spoken word different from ‘traditional’ poetry?
Erik: I have read my poems at events several times, but I have never really performed them, at least not in the way I would like. Since sonics and spacing are so important to me on the page, I would like to locate a physical language and rhythm by which to represent these concepts verbally and perhaps even spatially. I saw Steve McCaffery perform his poetry in Glasgow in 2009 as part of an experimental sound festival and the pure sonics of his performed piece inspired me to find new ways of conceptualizing my own readings. I think I have a lot to learn from theatre performance and monologues. Kim has also introduced me to the world of puppetry, and since I am interested in the nonhuman, I wonder if object theater might get me somewhere in a performative reading of my work. Current readings of my work can be found on my website: https://www.erik-fuhrer.com/readings-1.
10. What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’ or ‘artist’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?
Erik: When I have writer’s block, I try to shift my environment. This sometimes means simply moving to a different room of the house. I then, personally, need sound. For a lot of people I’ve spoken with, melodic music without words seems to work best for them. I prefer noise, so I’ll turn on many different sources of sound at once: the tv, music with words, sometimes even alarms and the sound of the shower. I find that noise allows me to be flooded with different sensations but also encourages distraction, so that I find myself staring at my doorway, not really knowing why. And then, a poem pops in. This method only works for me if I am ready to accept the fact that I’m probably going to write a lot of things I am going to end up discarding. I suppose it’s a type of automatic writing in a sense.
Years ago, I had a first-year writing course in which I was testing out some creative methods of teaching. Since up until this point the students had been writing very intentional essays and blog posts, we decided it might be cool to shake things up a bit. They expressed enthusiasm at actually being encouraged to be distracted, and in seeing what that might produced. So I very arbitrarily chose Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and the fabulous “Hush” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cranked them both up on high and told my students to just write. No rules at all: they could be inspired by the music or visuals or they could just stare out the window people watching (or do a combination of each). Whatever they wished. I then had them post this exercise as a blog post (with their permission of course) and the results were very interesting… some people wrote quite autobiographically, with bits of Buffy and Pink Floyd peppered through, some people wrote more critically, commenting on how the sound and image worked together, and some people just wrote through the noise and didn’t comment on anything that they were hearing or seeing.
While this method works well for me, and my students also found value in it, I will say that I never really go far when trying to force a poem. If this method does not work for me when I try it, I abandon it and decide that this is not the time for me to write. Allowing writers’ block to be a natural and acceptable phenomena is important, I think. We all need to take breaks from things, sometimes long breaks. I’ve had quite a couple of months of time where I’ve written nothing, and then moments where I feel like the words are flooding out. I know some people who write a certain amount of words a day and if that works for you then that is awesome. If it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean that somethings wrong. Some writers work best with organization, some need rupture, and disorganization. If you’re the latter type of writer, trust me, you are less alone than you think.
Kim: When I get artist’s block it can be very frustrating and difficult to overcome. I usually start making marks and putting color on the paper/canvas without thinking about the end product and try my hardest to be in the moment. I try to suspend any critical thoughts and let one mark or brush stroke lead to the next.
11. Are there any live events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?
Erik: Kim and I have another collaboration forthcoming at the end of the year titled, in which I take myself hostage (Spuyten Duyvil Press). Content Warning: The book explores struggles with bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation through porous human and nonhuman boundaries that signal visuals of infection, cosanguinousness, and spreading spores. Kim produced all original images for this book, producing one for each poem. We will be doing some readings to launch the book, so stay tuned to erik-fuhrer.com for developments.
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.