The Volta | Masthead | Archive | Contributors

Interview with Tyrone Williams                     (page 3)

JMW: Word play and punning are bound up with political and racial aspects of our subjectivity in your work. I'm thinking of (from c.c. ) "White sale. Will not last." and "I'm a black...I mean, African, American..." Even the punctuation here is integral to how the language is split, doubled, and re-cast. In On Spec, this seems true also: "black tape masking yellow // White sacrifice," and there are dozens of other examples that are layered in the cultural meanings they dredge up but also play with. Could you talk about how this approach to a poetics works in your writing process?

TW: I've always been fascinated—since the age of 13—with the Black Arts Movement and some of its practitioners who insist/remind us that we always speak the language of those who kidnapped and enslaved us. At the same time, this "we" is crucial to my sense of our historicity, the obvious fact that "I" and everyone I know have only known "this" language. But the gap between what happened to our predecessors/ancestors and the experience of those born in the Western hemisphere is the space of play, of irreverence—I don't "revere" the English language but I use it and, on occasion, abuse it. Having written that, I am a grammarian—I was taught by pre-integration "Negro" teachers who taught what we today call "linguistics" in ordinary English classes in elementary and junior high school. And what I learned from the Mrs. Ewings—for example—of the world is that every grammatical marker is purposeful, that every torque of the language renders "meaning" problematic—which seems to me the precise "condition" of African-American existence in particular and "American" life in general...

JMW: I'm curious, also, to know how you read this aloud. You seem very much to be a "page" poet—only insofar as there is a lot of extra-textual architecture in your books that would be difficult if not impossible to convey in a reading. What's your relationship to the live reading? Is some of what's on the page necessarily lost? Are there certain pieces you avoid or like to do especially for readings?

TW: The readings offer me choices—and sometimes I read a poem one way, sometimes another. For example, the poem dedicated to the dancer Katherine Durham, a kwansaba entitled "Limb(o)er," ends with the line "Under, away from, which b(l)acks arched toward..." Both the title and last line force a speaker to make a choice—I've said "limboer," "limber," and "limbo" in different settings. For example, recently, for an audience with a somewhat "older" African-American population, I said "limbo" because I knew they'd understand the reference to the dance...There aren't any pieces I avoid because of the difficulty of reading them, though sometimes, for students or those relatively inexperienced with poetry, to say nothing of my kind of poetry, I will try to choose pieces that are relatively listener-friendly...

(Tremolo | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 | next page »)