an excerpt from
Reparative Strategies: An Interview with Di Brandt
I met with Di Brandt on April 6, 2006, in the Academy Caf&#eacute; in Winnipeg, a few days after hearing her read from her new series of poems, “Nine River Ghazals.” Brandt has been working with the ghazal form since “Dog Days in Maribor” in her Griffin-nominated [_Now You Care_], and because I had just included “Dog Days” in [_Speaking of Power_], a selected works of Brandt’s poetry published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, I wanted to ask about her use of the form….
p. *an excerpt from*
h2. Reparative Strategies: An Interview with Di Brandt
bq.. I met with Di Brandt on April 6, 2006, in the Academy Café in Winnipeg, a few days after hearing her read from her new series of poems, “Nine River Ghazals.” Brandt has been working with the ghazal form since “Dog Days in Maribor” in her Griffin-nominated [_Now You Care_], and because I had just included “Dog Days” in [_Speaking of Power_], a selected works of Brandt’s poetry published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, I wanted to ask about her use of the form.
*TM:* We’ve talked over email about how John Thompson and Phyllis Webb use the ghazal, and I keep thinking about Thompson’s description of the form as an “alien design” that is also “natural.” Can you say something about the ghazal in Canadian literature?
*DB:* I really love John Thompson’s little essay about the ghazal form. He says the logic of it is “drunken and amorous,” the way it stumbles from one disjunctive couplet to the next. It allows us to escape the sober linear sense of intentionality we are so practiced in, because of our rationalist schooling. The ghazal form is a lovely strategy by which to deconstruct our intentionality, and open it up to the unpredictable and the haphazard. It certainly works that way for me, but on the other hand all of my poetry has a random quality to it. I am always drifting from one thing to the next, haphazardly, not really knowing what I’m doing! And yet there’s always much more coherence and design to it in the end than I intended or imagined.
*TM:* Do you experience the coherence, the narrative, afterwards as a reader of your own work?
*DB:* Yes, I do. As I get older, I start to be more aware that there are all kinds of grand designs that are all around us and in us that are beyond or beneath what we carry around in our conscious minds. Perhaps it’s not so much designs as evolving networks of interdependence, interconnections, that come more into view as you get older. It’s interesting to play with forms that allow you to disrupt assumed mental habits, to uncover other kinds of coherence and connectedness than we’re used to thinking about. It’s all kind of a mystery, what it is and how it works.
*TM:* Poetry’s restrictions work with its freedoms to create art. Even though a system appears to be chaotic, it may have an underlying order.
*DB:* I was recently reading Alice Fulton’s essay on “fractal poetry.” Fulton proposes fractal symmetry as a model for thinking about poetic design. She talks about how the coast of England can be measured fractally, as a pattern that appears random but in fact is not. I suppose you could think of the formal order of the ghazal in that way. Though it’s not how I experience it when I’m writing it—I experience it as, “Okay, close your eyes, and jump off the cliff, and now where are you? Now close them again, and jump off again!” (Laughter.) Or, “Step off the path. Now where are you? Okay, step off that path. Now where are you?”
*TM:* I like the cliff metaphor for how it speaks to the design of the ghazal, the “leaping” quality that mimics that form. I also wonder what you thought of Webb’s line that parodies the ghazal as “this stringy instrument scraping away / Whining away about love’s ultimate perfection.” She’s writing about the traditional ghazal as an erotic and intimate love poem, and she said that she initially set out to write modern ghazals and then found herself resistant to the form, so she wrote anti-ghazals instead. Not that I think of your “Dog Days” ghazals as whiny in any way, but I loved that “stringy instrument” and I thought of “Dog Days” in terms of the landscape as the perfect beloved that has been butchered and martyred, and, as a result, quite distanced from “love’s ultimate perfection.” I liked that Webb takes the form to task so explicitly.
*DB:* You know, even though I obviously took Webb’s poems as the model for my “anti-ghazals,” I never thought about romance as one of the questions I was considering, she took the form so far off that grid for me. It’s wonderful to read “Dog Days” this way. There is that haunting image in Webb’s poem of the “Beloved bored in her naked flesh.” In this case, the beloved is not so much bored as rather suffering greatly under the weight of over-industrialism. The beloved as the land, the earth, yes, yes.
Webb argues with the drunken excesses of Ghalib in one of her poems, the famous Urdu poet from whom we inherited the ghazal form. But I’m more interested in Hafiz, his 14th-century Persian predecessor, for whom the trope of the drunken poet staggering home from the tavern filled with ecstatic thoughts of the beloved was a trope, we are told, for the Sufi mystic’s vision of God, a religion that was forbidden by Muslim orthodoxy at that time. Ghalib secularized and literalized these images several centuries later, but now, it may be time to go back to their older, more spiritual interpretation. It’s interesting that ecstatic meeting with the spirit world and simple living have become forbidden again now, or at least strongly disbelieved and discouraged in the mainstream, while drinking and sex and materialist lifestyles are actively promoted by the capitalist masters of our time.
fn0. _Arc_ 57, Winter 2006
see issue for Tanis MacDonald’s full interview with Di Brandt