C. Dylan Bassett
Interviewed by Victor Florence
In Anti-, you have an Anti-Thesis in which you state that you are “against poems that think they know what they’re talking about.” What brought you to seeing rationality in poetry as something to be pushed against?
Recently a professor told me that poetry is a task of the mind, not the heart—that a poem should work like a science lab in its exactness and deliberation. I am less interested in this kind of certainty. I prefer to think of poetry as a playground, or a magic show, a landscape in which anything can and will happen. I want my poems to occupy the immediate moment as it unfolds in all of its anxieties, contradictions, absurdities, ruptures. By pushing against certainty, poetry can subvert that which we assume to be “obvious” or “natural.” Oddities and irregularities in poems arouse our senses, our sympathies. In this way, the act of writing poems is necessarily freedom-seeking.
What attracted you to the Book of Job? The relationship between God and Job is pretty irrational (and cruel), if you think about it…
I grew up in a extremely religiously conservative community. As a boy, the Job story was a source of great anxiety and wonder. The first time I heard it in Sunday School–I must have been eight or nine years old–I was confused because no one else seemed bothered by the story. It was as if some tragedy had occurred but no one wanted to talk about it. Our teacher gave us, the children, all the rote answers: trust God and receive your reward, etc. I specifically remember worrying about the ease with which Job’s family was replaced with a new at the end of the story.
I should also say that I feel a substantial amount of awe and reverence for the story, especially in the dialogue between God and Job. You know how it goes, God says to Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand,” and what follows is kind of grandiose tour of the universe. It’s really challenging and, as I read it, it complicates the possibility of knowing anything at all.
There is a strong sense of displacement (both time and placement) and loneliness in “When after too much, Job finally fell asleep.” Job is really the only person that exists in this world and he is referred to by name once. What brought you to focus on this overwhelming loneliness in your adaptation of the biblical narrative?
I thought to write in between the gaps of the narrative. The story as it’s told in the Bible is rather barren of personal details and I hoped to depict Job’s more private moments. I was also concerned with the nature of faith, which is, like knowledge, contextual, transient, impermanent. Religious worship, though traditionally considered to be community-building practices, can also enact in a kind of physical and psychological isolation. A worshiper is constantly threatened by the silence of God and fear of worshiping nothing. I sought to write in the wake of that nothingness.
Did you ever consider killing Job in your poem during the course of writing/revising it?
No, though I might have preferred it to the Biblical ending.
What is your revision process?
I revise as I write and I write very slowly. I wish I could say more, but unfortunately, that’s all I’ve got.
When exploring new ways to approach the world through your poems, do you mainly research other poems or do you try and explore different art forms?
I don’t conduct research per se, but I’m always looking for new ways to inhabit the world in poems. My reading is eclectic. I’m as likely to read a book about wind turbines or medieval mysticism as I am a volume of contemporary poems. A writer is always writing, seeking out ideas, images, and languages as a means of accessing the world, and not just in other texts or art forms but also in a constant attention to the present moment. Apprehension is the only prerequisite to making poems.