Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Attitude" in Multimedia: An Interview with VERNON FRAZER

KIRPAL GORDON: You’re a fiction writer, editor, critic, post-beat poet/scholar and jazz bassist, but let’s start with “Attitude,” your latest video. I particularly like the star bursts, the twirling box of words, the way the (alto?) sax comments on the bass and spoken speech. The words seem/seam to work in so many ways---is this a visual example of what Charles Olson called projective verse?

VERNON FRAZER: You are right on the money when you say it’s the visual example of projective verse. All of my texto-visual work started when I transferred Olson’s “composition by field” from the typewriter to the computer. “Attitude” is also part of a series of poems I started writing a few months ago. Do you get gibberish spam that looks somewhere between langpo and the Wizard of Oz? I decided to avoid the commercial links attached and appropriate the text. It’s different from my working vocabulary, so it extends my range, after a fashion. I’ve written 10 or 15 poems using the “accident of offered language.” I had to create SOME visual interest for “Attitude,” so I decided to add the visuals before the poem returned to the left-margin text. I’m glad you like the sax and the way it fit in. Actually, it’s a recorder with an alto mouthpiece. Mario Pavone had one in 1966.  I made one of my own the next year and have played it ever since. I think Dewey Johnson, from “Ascension” fame, was the first to make one. You can’t really play it in tune, but it’s great for free playing. I always felt the poetry band I had from 1988-1993 offered the most complete presentation of my work: the text, the voice, the music, and now, thanks to the Mac, the visual element as an added factor is that. These days I see my multimedia work more as an auxiliary to my writing than a main emphasis, but I think it can give viewers signposts as to how they should view my other work. It’s my way of keeping a hand in jazz poetry as well.

KIRPAL GORDON: What came first, chicken (lyrics) or egg (music)?

VERNON FRAZER: On the one hand, I started out using heavy editing in “Attitude,” which I figure is OK since I’m making a recording, not a live performance. On the other, editing and overdubbing the soundtrack didn't work as well as I wanted, so after a period of frustration, I went for broke, eliminated all the previous tracks, and just recorded each track as one take with no editing except for adjusting the volume. I didn’t play and recite at the same time on this one. I’m doing that less often because my home-level equipment records the bass much louder than my voice when I do both and I can’t balance it because voice and bass are both on the same track. And even though I can play and recite at the same time, I think I give a stronger recitation when I’m not multi-tasking. Then there’s the whole effort of timing the animation and synching it to the music, and how converting to different formats throws all of my transitions just a hair out of synch. It can get very tricky, and I’m still learning.

KIRPAL GORDON: I saw your essay, “Extending the Age of Spontaneity to a New Era: Post-Beat Poets in America,” and the book anthology you edited, “Selected Poems of Post-Beat Poets,” favorably mentioned in Jim Cohn’s new “Sutras & Bardos.” What was the experience like? You went to China to present?

VERNON FRAZER: Yes, I did go to China to present it in 2004, but that’s almost the middle of a ten-year story. In October 1997, I met Wen Chu-an, who I believe was a visiting professor at Harvard, while I was selling my books at the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival. As we corresponded, I talked about the Post-Beat writers the publishing industry seemed to be neglecting and sent him work of writers I thought were taking the contributions of the Beats a step forward. He got their work and mine published in several literary magazines in China, then talked to me about editing an anthology which he would translate, after he finished translating On the Road into Chinese. I started working on it January 1, 2001. In making my selections, I tried to stay away from the most obvious choices and give voice to equally good but less-known writers. Prof. Wen limited my choices by expressing his preference for writers similar to Allen Ginsberg because the Chinese audience could relate best to poems of personal experience. Consequently, I had to withdraw some invitations to several writers because their work explored more abstract or experimental areas. The Post-Beat anthology was supposed to come out in Spring 2004, around the time The Beat Meets East conference would take place in Chengdu. In addition to presenting the paper about the Post-Beats there, I was hoping to promote the book. But a month or two before the conference, the publisher decided he couldn’t make any money on the book and decided not to publish it. I still went to China to attend the conference and present my paper there, as well as to read in Nanjing, and to lecture and read in Beijing. But the Beat Meets East conference frustrated me in a number of ways. It seemed to me that the conference showed how the American publishing industry and the academic industry have transformed the Beats from a vital force into a niche market. The conference featured the standard acts of most Beat events. Prof. Wen had placed a lot of pressure on me to make an excellent presentation of my paper. Then, the day I was supposed to deliver it, my time got cut from thirty minutes to ten. After traveling ten thousand miles on my dime and enduring the professor's tremendous pressure for excellence in my presentation, I was livid. I channeled my anger into a revamped presentation, reciting Steve Dalachinsky’s “We Are the Post-Beat Poets” with full-bore intensity. I read Post-Beat poetry from the paper, but only touched on the highlights of what defined Post-Beat. I’m told I woke up the audience. My visit to Nanjing was much more rewarding. I met a community of poets who were talented and fun to be with, then, thanks to the efforts of Professor Zhang Ziqing, gave a nationally-televised reading with a trio of traditional Chinese musicians who had just completed a world tour. Reading with different instrumentation was a challenge, but the musicians were excellent listeners, despite the language barrier. And the audience in a post-reading Q & A was surprisingly knowledgeable about American literature, especially the Beats. When I got back from China, the Post-Beat anthology was still on hold. Prof Wen died suddenly of a heart attack late in 2005, so he never got to see the book in print. Prof. Zhang and the poet/editor Chu Chen kept the hopes of its publication alive. It took about two years, but they believed in the book and, as an editor, Chu Chen persuaded his new employer to publish it. Prof Zhang and I worked on the final details of the translation together. I’m pleased to have a book like that published. Sometimes I joke I'm probably better-known in China than the United Sates. Despite the things that went wrong in China, so many things went right that once I got home and had time to reflect on it, I realized I had just been through one of the greatest experiences of my life. 

KIRPAL GORDON: What else have you been up to? 

VERNON FRAZER: I seem to move in so many directions I can never pack it all into a simple answer. I’ve published a huge backlog of my unpublished work online and through Enigmatic Ink recently published my novel, “Field Reporting.” White Sky Books just published “Unsettled Music,” a collection of my left-margin poetry. I’m writing left-margin poetry, text-visual poetry, visual poetry, multimedia pieces and dabbling with new fiction for the first time in a number of years. I’m pretty much doing what I’ve always done. As usual, I never think I’m producing enough to satisfy myself. Then, when I step back, I’m surprised at what I've done in so many different areas. All I can say is that I’m working and the results will take whatever shape they take.

KIRPAL GORDON: How can Giant Steps readers stay in better touch with all of what you do?

VERNON FRAZER: Since I think of my work as hiding in plain sight, it’s really pretty easy to find. Googling Vernon Frazer will give you pages and pages of options. I’ve published a lot of poetry at and published my multimedia work on YouTube. I think people can subscribe to my work on Scribd and YouTube and receive news of new releases. My web site is In addition to my poetry, you can find my fiction and some of my recordings there, as well as a link to my blog, “Bellicose Warbling,” which I don’t update nearly as often as I should but which has links to my publications. A number of my books are available at I have a Facebook page. Between my personal notices and my posts to various writers lists, I try to let people know when I’ve released new work. Basically, I’m right there. All you have to do is look. I’ll welcome the visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment