Interview with Tyrone Williams (page 7)
JMW: Can you give us a preview of the other (post-c.c.?) book on the way? It often happens that a poet's books don't appear in the order they were written (my fourth book will have appeared a full 2 years before my third)—what
can we expect from this one?
TW: "The Hero Project of the Century" is its title, taken directly from a NY Times headline some fifteen years—maybe longer—ago. It is much more a "traditional" book, a collection of poems that traverse the landscape of black social life, its internalization of the predominant culture's mores and ethos, and the problem of generations which, for those of African descent in this country, is almost inextricable from the names we give ourselves—colored, Negro, black, Afro-American, African American, etc.
JMW: And will you mind it being read as your "third" book—even if it's not?
TW: I actually consider it my second book—I have an even older manuscript that Mr. Bergwall might find all too much "in your face," the opposite situation of On Spec. Since I reject out of hand any kind of "developmental" ideology with respect to writing—it's a matter of framing, not "maturing"—I don't have a problem with the order of the books' appearances.
JMW: What do you hope poetry can do with respect to the political? Can it be an effective political agent or do you find poetry at a remove from this realm?
TW: All poetry has political effects—as does marching in strikes, registering voters, and lying down in front of a tank. And though these effects are distributed unevenly along a spectrum or scale we might tentatively call "history," their relative efficacy, as we know all too well, is never determined in advance. Still, poetry is pretty far up the causal chain—in a general sense—so those mediating links (for example, readers from all walks of life) are crucial to its dissemination. I see my own work as a contribution to the critique of calcification in all its modes—the objective/subjective divide, class/coterie scales, the construction of race and ethnicity according to a biologism dependent on an absolute nature/nurture distinction, and so forth. At the same time I'm interested in the very real paradox that political efficacy depends precisely on blocs, groups, social formations, etc. that, at least strategically, must put up a common front of solidarity...
JMW: Of On Spec, Hansa Bergwall writes, "Be warned though, this book is cryptic and often seems deliberately designed to confuse and obfuscate. If Williams were in the business of making crossword puzzles, I suspect he would incorrectly number the clues out of spite." How do you respond to this as the poet under discussion? Is this just part of putting a new kind of book out into the world?
TW: Well, it is a hard book, no question about that, and I have to apologize because late in the production process I realized I'd forgotten to add all the notes I felt would help contextualize—not determine—the work's public life. Both Rusty and Ken thought it might have been helpful to have notes but they did not feel that the absence of notes was a major obstacle to the work. But it is a book that, like c.c., I wrote with a specific audience—black people in general and innovative artists in general—in mind.