Whither (Fortune Lines of Palm)
By Nicholas DeBoer
abraded ice cap
streaks our courthouse
with burnt lime
fortune lines of palm
camera lens grays
assimilate ----out of an age of tailspins
as if to remove
stretch our eulogy
in harmonic signals
into a play of dance heliographic amidst
an ocean vineyard full & pale dot
where strawing hands row deep
archiving in the open
smokestacks fume gloam the body
in the tree top
of a loss my
words hollow o u t
in the lark of an attempt
as i was beyond giving up
it happens something like this
empty in halves
words scar the stomach lines
a tussle of knots
lost in fumarole fields
i am beyond a wrath of god
darkening nerves in this passion play
of nest taper light
last looking glass
copycatting my scrawl a near
the veins sympathize
i am beyond a wrath of god
darkening nerves in this passion play
of nest taper light
last looking glass
copycatting my scrawl a near
the veins sympathize
Nicholas DeBoer moved to Philadelphia a little over a year ago, & it has been a pleasure to get to know him & his work since then. Nicholas’ work has a certain magic to it, an espionage-quality; his poetry often contains long & lucid lines that are quite startling. When engaging with his poems, I feel the necessity of reading his lines many times, lingering over them, sensing them, & I acquire a new way to look at the world after I do. His poems have a certain sonic quality that is often musical, sometimes mechanical, sometimes like machines breaking or polyphonic riptides. His poems also make a wondrous use of space – often engaging with the open field of the page.
After reading one of Nicholas’ pieces, I am often thrown into a hijinks-space of thinking about the 20th century as a vested notion of space & time preconfigured to announce the passing of a vital period. Of course, reading his poems, I am brought to greet people like Ezra Pound, Orson Welles, William S. Burroughs. Sometimes after reading one of his pieces, I feel like I am floating in outer space, or somewhere in my inner space, dwelling on a near-future, or NASA-moment.
Besides writing poems that throw readers into another world, or a more magical version of this one, he also contributes greatly to the Philadelphia Poetry community. With Jamie Townsend, Nicholas runs con/crescent press and the con/crescent reading series, which brings some of the finest poetic talent to Philadelphia. At a Jubilant Thicket reading last spring, he read some of his essay on Ezra Pound. His critical writing is also exciting, & should be noted.
I hope you enjoy this interview with Nicholas Deboer, a truly innovative poet & human.
Debrah: I am excited to converse with you about your poem "Whither (Fortune Lines of Palm)" & your ideas of poetry in general. To begin, I am interested in your line, in the first part of "Whither," in which you declare: "assimilate ----out of an age of tailspins / as if to remove / downed / islands of / self." Would you say that this is a direction you are giving to the reader? Do you feel that we live in "an age of tailspins?" If so, what does this mean? What are "downed islands of self?"
Nicholas: Yes. I am giving the reader a direction, or at least a 'form' of insight. History has such a wide notice to speak for itself, whether through its institutional frames, or through its 'arms of critique' and by having a system that is dedicated to 'critique as action' you get a whole age of 'propaganda wars', where the prevailing power economy is built on an endless circling tailspin. It's almost as if you dropped a 'whirlybird' from the Empire State Building. Yet, I'm also pointing out 'assimilate' as a kind of 'this will appear after' the 'age'. It's that old 1939 coin of World War II saying that only through war can we have unity, where I'm saying that only through a downward spiral can we assimilate, which I guess in a way is both positive and negative, although, I get how the vibe is on the minus side of things.
Further, I direct the reader because, although I can't confirm an image or really give them the full force of the law I'm laying down, I want them to maybe have a chance to see what I'm seeing, or to attribute a meaning as I have. It's important in my work that I am a voice that is speaking, maybe not just for me, but for anyone that wants to include their-selves, 'critique of arms'. I don't want to play that game that is full-on-blow-explode of 'ignore deep' of 'language', I'd rather get fucked up on it. So, moving forward, 'downed islands of self' points to that sensation of living through an age of destructive capitalistic selfishness. You are 'downed', through both what you have experienced and what you have become. I don't use this example foolishly, but there is something relatively rational about the response to all the assassinations of the 60s. I'm not trying to talk here of 'generation' as everyone, but more to the 'media accepted historical view' and how what it is really saying, is that we can kill your hope, one by one, Evers/Kennedy/Hampton/King/Kennedy/Malcolm X and there is an uncomfortable American dialogue that comes out with Nixon as the savior, and you see that reappear in both Reagan & now. The generation who made it through a time period that tumultuous gives over to a pulling away and assimilation out of fear, and into the islands of self, downed, afraid. So, I guess it has that 20th century vibe too.
Debrah: I am very interested, then, in the kinds of historicity this poem engages. Looking to the assassinations of the 1960's as a lens through which to look at the ways in which people respond to the "media accepted historical view" of the past. Or the present. Positing Nixon as the heralded savior, and you state "in both Reagan & now." Who is deemed savior today? Do you think we see those who were assasinated as saviors resurrected through a capitalist t-shirt making regime? Who is the savior in "Whiter (Fortune Lines of Palm)," or do you decry that there really is no savior? You state in the last section of this poem, "i am beyond a wrath of god/ :stalemate: / i am / mettle / passing / beneath / history." What do you mean by wrath of god? Does the "i" of the poem speak of a generation, or the speaker of the poem, or something else? Is it even important to consider these things when engaging the work of Nicholas DeBoer?
Nicholas: I like space. It's a good time. Whatever ways we take in and verify the past, we are never content or satiated by it. I look back at the Women's Suffrage movement, and I think, 'fuck yes,' but there is that silver line that intensifies with the patriarch. I mean, look how the cigarette companies responded to that moment, they saw that women wanted an independence that was wholly their own, so let’s have them break a taboo: cigarettes, or 'torches of liberty' as they were called. There was a 20% increase for that quarter. It's sick. Barnum & Bailey showboating with human life, the real of it.
I think that's always something that will interest me, those moments that look like now. Some people call it hindsight, but I always call it nostalgia; that streak of sense people put in their teeth to 'hark back'. Warren G. Harding ran on the 'return to normalcy' ticket in his run up to the White House. You can call it whatever the fuck you want, it's still breaking bread over a prison yard when you refuse to be present. But that's a politician’s trick. I think if you go back to campaign ads of 1968, you'll see this really perfect moment for the Republicans. You'll see the tragedy of Robert Kennedy's death, the lack of a viable Democratic candidate, Johnson's poll numbers shitty, Hubert Humphrey stuck and then there it is. You see blood, guns, the Democratic National Convention, a light and spark on the confusion. And then that fucking voice over a light NBC synthesizer: "It is time for an honest look at ORDER in the United States. DISSENT is a necessary ingredient to CHANGE, but in a system of government that provides for peaceful change there is no cause that justifies resort to violence. Let's recognize that the FIRST CIVIL RIGHT of every American is to be free of domestic violence. I pledge to you we will have ORDER in these United States."
It sounds pretty damn convincing, until you realize who you are talking to; this fuck of a boy who raises troop levels like it’s a score card. The tactic is get the old to vote against the young. At the end of the ad, you have, "THIS TIME" come in on a slow fade and followed by, "LIKE YOUR WHOLE WORLD DEPENDED ON IT." I mean, this is some big fear shit. Four years prior, LBJ won, on a little girl picking a daisy apart counting off to what turns out to be a nuclear holocaust and this message: "These are the stakes, to make a world in which all of god's children can live or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die. Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd, the stakes are too high for you to stay home."
I mean, BAM. That's where the blood starts to get ankle deep, where nothing resembles a face any more. It’s that little girl, the focus of the camera bleeding through her life. So, I can't play it. I can't play who is 'savior' because I don't think that word exists like it has. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the face of the Civil Rights movement, but without Baynard Rustin would you have had the 1963 march on Washington? I don't know. I mean, here's a guy who had to stay in the background because of his homosexuality, who helped transform King into this amazing leader. I mean, that's what we lost, that's what showed up as a tide of blood rolling over our shores.
It was easy to put leaders in solid bronze, platform it up to the heavens and watch that slow wither of their 'importance' into a crawl of birds shitting on their faces. But with a t-shirt, it’s a different kind of neutering. You don't have the abandonment of a statue, of a once important space, but rather, you see a commodity becoming faceless, becoming a stone that is sinking with a whole host of humanity. It's a fading of the image into our own faces; it isn't an act of honor as much as an act of 'recuperation' in that Debordian sense. The status quo taking the revolutionary and slipping it back under the surface of the 'gears of the machine.'
Upon the proposition that there is a 'savior' in the poem itself, I would have to say, 'I do not know.' I give clues, I paint portraits, but we are big enough as species to just make it and match it later.
If the 'I' represents that space it is an 'I' that posits that the unknown is our only virtue as humans. 'lowering hard footsteps/trials to reach thin/the march of/time' newsreel' or 'my bag of bones burns'. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's simple. We other ourselves when we read. We are both the 'I' and someone else's 'I' and that's awesome. Powerful. Crack a whip on the hot warped wood and wake it.
In the last section of the poem, I am in only one position: inferior and evolving. This is, whether I like it or not, a roar of confusion mixed with arrogance. I am beyond a wrath of god, because I cannot posit 'a god or the god', for I am human, beyond (both in knowledge and in the lack of knowledge) wrath. I will never be smart enough or dumb enough to subsist in accordance with the universe or myself. I am a little of either/or. I am mettle, I am invariable (as I am the only thing that doesn't change perspective) and I cannot be objective (the only thing that does change in my perspective). So, I'm a mineral ore that is under the current of history, I'm passing. It's this thing, where 300 yrs ago, life expectancy was small, 40 to 50 yrs max and time was slow, nine months to get me to England. Today, our life could be a 100 yrs and our time is so fast, we have our knowledge splitting at the seams of our own conscious import of it. I'm perplexed in the poem. I am at awe and dumbfounded (a sparrow hit by a pellet from a gun).
I admit. I am thinking of my/yours/the generation. It is whoever is around to listen and listen up. It's my people, cause we are alive on spaceship earth together. 'Is it even important to consider these things when engaging the work of Nicholas DeBoer?
Sure. Why not? If the best we can do is take a rocket and toss it so high in the sky that it leaves this 'space' and tops out for 14 yrs (of our time) to reach an asteroid in 2030, if our best effort is trying to inflict social change on an institution that is so afraid of it that its rhetoric is vacant enough to drown art out into cholera infested streets, if our argument for living is little more than 'Hope' could get us out of 'nothingness' for something like and/or better than 'nothingness', Sure. I'm free Saturday night. Hell, I'll even pick up a case of beer and a packet of smokes to equalize the pressure.
Debrah: We other ourselves when we read. Do you think we "other" ourselves when we write poems as well? I am moved that the "I" of this poem, as you've described it, is "perplexed," "dumbfounded." "A sparrow hit by a pellet from a gun." Beyond this notion of the "I," there are also particular places in this poem in which you make note of "the veins" ("the veins empathize," "the veins sympathize"). What is your purpose in drawing attention to veins, and personifying them with two of the most emotional human capacities?
Nicholas: I think it's entirely hard to actually have any kind of a 'solid' identity in ones poetry. Perhaps, it's an easier function for visual artists, or musicians, but I doubt it. The problem, as I see it, is that, well, even in this conversation, I'm flowing out a simple algorithm that I'm used to, something I've known as a speed-personality that is really easy to utilize, shape and form into things. Sure, you can call this identity, but it's all pretty tough to follow. Akin to that old axiom of having to hold a picture of your youth and explain that that was you as a kid so that the person you are speaking to knows that connection. I think that's from that Waking Life movie. I think. But, if you catch it, right there, I'm getting slightly vague about what movie right? I could look it up, or I might know instructively that it is that movie, or I further know that a lot of friends over the years have told me they don't like that movie, so I can pitch different here, and say 'I think that's from that..." so I can curve the error of the predilection of the movie or I can further suggest that I liked it. So, yes and no. I think that we do 'other' ourselves in our work and I think sometimes we just allow that flow of an 'us' and let it shift however we want it to. In my own work, I gather that I'm looking through my eyes sometimes, sometimes I'm looking down at myself or up at myself. It depends on how the cinematographer wants it.
In regards to the veins, I've been obsessed with cymatics these last few years, this technique where one studies visible sound and vibration. I loved this idea of sound being able to focus and form patterns on objects/particles, and as I got longer into it, I figured it was something easy to apply to the blood. I wanted an emotional impact, an event that would cause a neural storm, an excess of brain activity that would be akin to something in the body. I mean, clearly this is all my own doing and not something that is easily exchanged to the reader and that's fine. It's not my job to fit all the pieces, but since you asked, I feel like it's chill to tap out the telegraphic thoughts I had. Getting back to that, I kept thinking about cymatics in the sense of the blood in the body being available to showcase emotional abilities, and that in the context of global warming for the poem, I wanted the earth to have those cymatic values as well. I mean, it's all balderdash isn't it anyway. I'm just trying to articulate a sensibility and hope that it leads the reader to some form of confrontation with elements they know all too well. But, it's a helluva show, you know.
Debrah: Thank you, Nicholas, for your responses to these questions & for lending some wonderful insights into your work & ideas about poetry, politics, etc. Now, for the final question. Since this interview is for Starlight, Philadelphia, I would like to ask you if you think your work has changed as a result of being in Philadelphia? Have you felt the city leaving impressions on your poetic imagination?
Nicholas: I'll say this. I moved to Philadelphia with the intention of being around and of poets. It was one of those decisions that has continued to be a part of my life in the most beautiful of ways. I know it's a pain in the ass, but I've always been into the Founding Fathers, even if they were fuckers. I guess what gets in my poetic imagination is the ease at which ideas flow to and from the people I've met here. I will always see Philadelphia as one of those creative leaps. I find my writing looser and a little more free because of my interactions with people here. The impulse to come here was for the press, for Jamie Townsend, for he and I to begin our journey as a poetic enterprise. Philadelphia has been a treasure to find, whether it’s the poets here or just being on the East Coast and not in the Mid West, it's a fucking treasure. I mean, in the final analysis, once your heart belongs to poetry, it’s the prison guards that get to go home.
Nicholas DeBoer was born at 1024pm with a temperature of 29.1 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind gust a bit, around 5.8 mph under a clear sky in Chicago, Illinois. It was the Michael Reece hospital, designed by Walter Gropius. He certainly still likes to think about it. Later on, he attended schools, they were nice schools & some of his friends were met there. He found out that he could get obsessed with things around the age of 11, when his mother told him he could listen to their vinyl & found an image of Edgar Poe in the Beatles seventh album. It got worse, over time. By his early twenties he had found out that he really liked Guy Debord & the Situationist International, & really thought it was important at 18 to watch Citizen Kane something like 100 times. Now, it's Ezra Pound, then it's Charles Olson. He went to Naropa & Western Michigan University. People have been nice enough to take some of his words in poetry journals, such as Fact-Simile, Bombay Gin, & other(s). He was born on the 23rd of October, 1981.