Kamstra’s got your Tongue? Talking to the poet about taxes

I will confess, I like Ryan Kamstra’s work a lot. And I like him. I’ve been familiar with his work for a long time. I published him in my litzine Tupperware Sandpiper at the onset of the 21st century. We both also like the word “cerebral.” I don’t mind putting Kamstra over, because Kamstra is already over. (In wrestling the word “over” means accepted or respected in the hearts of the audience, within the context of the industry).

For years now, poet Ryan Kamstra has been an elusive biohazard poet, interdisciplinary artist, Jack of all tirades. His new book inTO tHE dROwNED wORL_D (Insomniac Press), his first in several years, was released as 2008 came to an indecisive close. At times, in this cruel, cruel post-sacred world in which we live, the work seems too smart for its own good. Kamstra addresses the popular singer Madonna for approval. A lovely choice considering, when it’s all said and done, no one can truly follow Madonna. (Morrissey once quipped in a 1988 interview: “Who can follow Madonna in terms of a female pop icon?”) So Kamstra is letting us read his diaries. But it’s the Kamstra filter that excites. Who fucking cares that he’s addressing Madonna. Bitch! He’s addressing us, the world, the cognitive world in decline with the passion and nervous, but earnest, innocence of a young Catholic trembling during confession. The book is exciting and brings to mind one of my favourite quotes ever. Now don’t you go using this anywhere:

“The way I see it, there is no greater spiritual beauty than fanaticism, of a sort so sincere it can only end in martyrdom.” Isabelle Eberhardt.

In the hyper bare world of minimalist nano-nonsense poetry that continues its unhealthily, low word count as a polarization for saying absolutely nothing, (and living in a world that seemingly has nothing to say) Kamstra is refreshing panacea. (To those who doubt we’re living in the post-sacred era please note: when I spell check Ryan Kamstra’s last name the computer suggests I am attempting to spell Kmart.) The best thing you can do at this point is go and get Ryan’s new book. The rest is just talk show levity.


NGM: You write music and poetry. What is the biggest difference between these two media?

RK: Broadly, music is very physical for me, writing very cognitive. I also think music is more based in the exact present locale it is being performed whereas poetry is archival–both more concerned with the past and looking towards a, perhaps, more hospitable future. When I’m working with/in music it feels very much like I am slugging it out in the present, and I feel the process bodily. And a live audience who can experience what you are experiencing in more or less exact sync can be both a dangerous and thrilling thing. I’d likely explode if I didn’t have the release of the more visceral/legible/public/performance-based medium. I’m a little high-strung. I’m also a little too downscale and northern Ontario frumpy to ape the arch purity of an aloof, totally cerebral avant-garde figure.

NGM: What is your opinion on the long poem? What sort of tradition are you emulating/destroying in creating your latest poetry book?

RK: My opinion on the long poem is not much different from my opinion of the short one. The place I see for poetry that other media don’t do as well (I think) is to confront compositionally the fragment or the quotation as the foci where contemporary meaning gets created (in relation to other fragments). The demanding thing about the long poem is you have much more fragments to work with, rubbing up against one another, much more unexpected chaos. My particular interest in this book with the long poem is finding a sort of middle ground between a very lyrically stringent verse style–which lATE cAPITALIST sUBLIME, for the most part, was–and the more casual, chatty, improvisational tone which one finds in prose or conversation. I also experimented much more with diversion, digression, which is pretty much the main strategy at play in contemporary intrapersonal communication, speech, email, text messages. I am fond of the direct punch of the more satirical short poems. I find the long poem with its meanderings potentially more seductive. But like all things seductive, one should be on guard that the content below the form is not getting lost in the frillery of the delivery.

NGM: The future Ryan? Any hope?

RK: I also actually see hope on the horizon. I did not in 2001. lATE caPITALIST suBLIME, grandiosely, I imagined being dug up by a future socialist-robot excavation team after our culture doomed itself by means widely publicized to us currently. But with the world actually coming to terms with, shall we say, the downside of absolute unregulated capitalism, it seems change might really have to come. It’s destroying bankers now as well as the most vulnerable. It’s insane but that’s hopeful. iNtO tHE dROWNED wORlD is actually bizarrely hopeful to me. In lATE caPITALISt suBLIME I felt like a solitary observer of an impending disaster in a world of solitary observers unable to communicate with one another. In this book, hell, we are all drowned, so all of us have been impelled to act among the floating wreckage. Both me and the government of France… and even the pope in Rome. It’s so less lonely!

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