Thursday, May 1, 2014

An interview with Grapeling

After flunking out of Mechanical Engineering, he studied Rhetoric at UC Berkeley, taking mandatory classes on The Rhetoric of Poetry for 2 semesters with “a Professor who wore robes to class, and might easily have been a court jester in the Middle Ages, or taught at Hogwarts”, he says.  

Allow me to introduce you to Michael, known among us as Grapeling, he lives in Laguna Beach with his girlfriend and sons, and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions for The Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

(Photo taken by Patricia O'Driscoll)

Kenia Cris: The first post ever made to your blog is a Buddha’s quote I particularly like very much: “The problem is you think you have time.” What is it you wish you had more time for?

Michael: Ahh. Yes. I had something very smart thought up in response to your question, then forgot to write it down. Damnable conceptual art habits are difficult to shake. There’s a saying - youth is wasted on the young. And a line from the Pink Floyd song, Time - "one day you find ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun." 

So it’s not so much I wish I had more time for anything… but that… time is the only currency that truly matters. Money is a derivative of time. Some might say time is fungible, but I don’t believe so. ‘Time is money’ is a metaphor, but it’s not a truth. It can’t be traded for more time. We look everywhere for symmetry - in faces, in dualities - left/right, up/down, back/front. We see two faces on every coin. But time uniquely is not symmetrical. It goes only … forward, science fiction notwithstanding. The problem is, you think you have time. But you don’t. Not to be trite or contrarian, but time has you.

KC: I’m borrowing some of Isaac Asimov’s words to make this a better second question: “I don’t like anything that’s got to be. I want to know why.” I want to know why you seem to often describe yourself as an uninteresting person/poet.

Michael: I Am Robot. Foundation and the trilogy are one of my favorite reads from teen-hood.

I suppose I’m more interested in other people. I deflect. Likely a result of being spotlighted when very young, of being told I had ‘potential’. A damning word, to me. I spent puberty and my adult life attempting to blend in, to be accepted, to not stand out. Perhaps it’s false modesty. Perhaps it’s a cry for attention, not meant to be taken literally, but as a challenge. Maybe it’s a way of setting low expectations, so that I need not excel. Or that I can over-deliver, having under-promised.  Or, perhaps, I’m just not that interesting. Occam’s Razor… (he smiles)

I was going to write a catalog of all the poets I admire but didn’t want to leave anyone out. Suffice to say, I find my words inadequate to convey my appreciation for what I read daily, and then find my own offerings pale, or pedantic, or trite. Or worse - boring, unreadable. But still I continue. Sometimes a phrase catches me, and I have no choice but to pen it. But I’ve been told I’m my own worst critic.

KC: Do you have a particular place in the house to write in? Do you ever handwrite your poems before typing them? 

Michael: On my laptop. At my prior apartment, at my dining room table. Now, on the couch. Never hand write. My scrawl compares unfavorably to an arthritic chicken. I can’t even read it sometimes, moments after having “written”. It’s atrocious. I shoulda been a doctor.

Laguna Beach, January 2014

KC: Maybe it’s because I can barely count (because I hate Mathematics and it hates me back), I noticed you’ve written quite a number of Fibonacci poems. Is your job connected with numbers?

Michael: Yes. Finance. Also, Hedgewitch posted a challenge in the garden last year the same week as one at dVerse, and I got infected with Fib fever. It’s terminal, I’m afraid.

KC: How much of your poetry is autobiographical and how much is fiction?

Michael: It’s factional. So, there’s poetic license, right? As it turns out, I believe that since language is a construct, and has rules and accepted conventions, and, that there are hundreds of languages, that the human conceit that ‘thought’ can be ‘true’ is also a derivative. In this case, a derivative of perceived reality, which itself is a derivative of actual reality. So language is a 2nd derivative of reality. Then it gets edited or censored to suit some ill- or well-conceived desires. Consequently anything I write, you write, any of us write, is maybe a 3rd or 4th generation approximation of ‘truth’. Ever see a photocopy of a copy of a copy of a copy? How the lines blur, and faces blotch to unrecognizable? That’s my view of writing, and especially, of poetry, compared to ‘life’ as it were. So is it autobiographical? Certainly… inasmuch as any simulacrum of a pseudonym can be. But I’m being obtuse. Some is, some is fictionalized but has ‘true’ roots, and some is flat out fabricated.

KC: Which dead poet would you like to have been friends with and why?

Michael: Wouldn’t that mean I’m also dead?

Rumi? Neruda. Rilke. Except I don’t think they’d have been friends with me. They understood subterfuge and eschewed pomposity. They were genuine, authentic, inquisitive. They gave us as close to 1st order approximations of reality as language can get. Poetry is that razor that by subverting convention and the orders of language enables us to see the mechanism, as it were, or rather, unmask the curtains that hide the fires that stoke us.

The longing in your poetry, for instance - its rawness, clarity, the unflinching and candid reveal - that is genuine. Glad you’re alive and I get to know you, if a bit, though. (he smiles) 

KC: If you could not express your feelings & thoughts through the medium of poetry, what other medium would you choose?

Michael: I think silence is an excellent medium.

(he smiles)

Music? No, that’s poetry integrated with sound, sometimes substituted for by sound. Painting? I have several friends who are artists. Brilliant stuff. I wish I had their talent. Engineering. I’d like to be able to build stuff. My younger son has a desire to build. I encourage it assiduously.

Michael at the age of 10

KC: Is there an unread poem in your blog you wished more people would have put eyes on? 

Michael: Hm. Night is now fellI dunno. Grit, Glossed?

KC: You said in another interview you grew up reading lots of science fiction because your mother and uncles did. Does your choice of reading today have any influence on your children’s choice? Do they read poetry because you write it? 

Michael: Laughing. No. I hardly read anymore, after having been a sponge as a child, and am continually astonished and subdued at how erudite Hedgewitch, Brendan, Kerry, ManicDDaily, Jane Hewitt, and others are in their commentary, and at the breadth and depth of talent both in the garden and other sites I frequent. I have tomes of Neruda, Rilke, Oliver, Rumi, Hafiz in a box waiting for me to unpack, having told myself I need to read or reread them. I learn of new (old) poets all the time, often in the commentary of other poets (nodding towards Hedgewitch and Brendan). Sometimes I wonder if I fear reading the best poets because it would reveal me as the hack I actually am. So ignorance is bliss.

My boys like what they like. I’ve tried to foist Sherlock Holmes without success. But they like the John Carter of Mars series (despite the horrific movie). My younger son reads voraciously, including Discover and Popular Science and Nat Geo magazines as well as lots of fiction. My elder son reads on his Kindle, recently Game of Thrones I believe. They’ve been cool to Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Robinson, Herbert, Harrison, et al, but that’s OK. So long as they read something... They don’t read poetry, and certainly not mine. Maybe I’ll let them know that I write, someday. (he smiles)

KC: You present the reader with questions in many of your poems (which always reminds me of Neruda’s The book of questions), some are rhetorical, some are meant for them, some are meant for yourself. So, to finish this interview, what I ask of you is that, other than a piece of advice, you leave us a question.

Michael: I’ll leave it to a much better writer and human than me - Mary Oliver, since I pretty much cribbed the ‘ask a question’ format from her anyways - in her astonishing poem, The Summer Day

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

KC: Thank you for your time and attention Michael. It was a pleasure to talk to you. 

You're all invited to answer Michael's/Mary Oliver's question. 

There are 34 pages (today) on Grapeling’s blog, I suggest you to go and discover the man written on the pages before the first poem you’ve read there. Here are my personal 10 favorite poems of his, pick a number and enjoy it. 

1. 23. 4. 56. 7. 8. 9. 10.


Susie Clevenger said...

It is so nice to know more about the man behind the poetry. Michael, when I read your work I realize just how inadequate mine is. Even your answers to Kenia's questions has me thinking I really have so many books I need to read.
Kenia and Michael, thank you so much for such an intriguing interview.

Kerry O'Connor said...

This is a remarkable interview between two of my favourite people! I felt my brain being asked to expand and acquire new knowledge, new lore, new opinions and impressions. I found myself nodding and raising my eyebrows and smiling as I went along.

I especially enjoyed your discussion of time: "But time uniquely is not symmetrical. It goes only … forward" and also your description of self, as the gifted child trying to hide his uniqueness away because it demands too much of him. (I'm a teacher - I look for these signs.)

In all, a fascinating piece and inspiring too. Makes me proud to be a part of the garden.

Sumana Roy said...

It's always interesting to know a bit more about a poet and i'm in awe
now...and it's good to know M. that
your children are voracious readers
even in these days...a precious piece..

Anonymous said...

Yeah, great interview, from both sides -- The person behind the poems doesn't usually appear except in the comments, so to get all the way out from behind the rock in whose shadow we all write in is a treat, a treasure. Intensity and humility I think are the reins of the noble rider, and Grapeling, Michael, I hope your questing questioning quarrelling mind never lets go of them. That quote from Mary Oliver was seminal to me, too. When Rilke saw the primal wilderness in "Archaic Bust of Apollo," he said, "you must change your life," which I think is the same thing. Thanks, too, for the generosity of your attention to other poets and appreciation of a standard none of us can reach though we try, we try. Keep trying.

Anonymous said...

My handrwriting too attests to a prior untended career option of becoming a doctor. I sure played a lot of doctor when I was a kid. One gets a certain appreciation for rapture that way.

Fireblossom said...

Sad to see the devastation and waste of a once-promising lad fallen into sloth and crime. But let's leave my cousin Bob out of it and talk about Grapeling! What I like best about his poetry is that it is spare, most of the time, and stronger and sharper for its brevity. Also, I do like that he not infrequently poses questions, especially in his final lines. As someone who uses questions in my own poetry a lot, think it engages the reader, makes the poem more personal, and is pretty much a nifty trick to have up one's sleeve.

Thanks Kenia and Michael for a fine interview! Now, if you have any advice for my cousin Bob...

Susan said...

Thank you, Kenia, for drawing this man out, and Michael for showing yourself with such confidence. That is the strength behind your words, each placed so exactly to give us the experience. I love your poetry, especially your examination of time running out and absence--which of course gives us the opposite: awareness of the gift of now and amazing presence. Thanks for the Mary Oliver question today too. I used to plan tightly, but now I often ask God.

Kathryn Dyche said...

Great interview Kenia and Michael, always fun to read more about my favorite poets. Michael, you definitely are your own worst critic. Love your thoughts on time . . . and the many questions you pose in your work. I always enjoy my visits to your blog and love your style of poetry.

DeniseinVA said...

This is a great interview Kenia and Michael. Enjoyed it immensely.

Maude Lynn said...

Michael, I love your thoughts on the "factional." Excellent interview, guys.

hedgewitch said...

Blurry as I am after only two cups of coffee, even my semi-somnolent mind can be stirred by the sheer language in this. " So language is a 2nd derivative of reality..." the photocopy image is like so many of yours, Michael, one that both simplifies and crystallizes.

RE: being marked as exceptional:I think as children we know that standing out can be fatal--it embarrasses us and puts us in a defensive posture. When one is told one has potential, it is more of a burden than a blessing, and it truly does make it difficult to judge ourselves by our achievements--but as far as what you are able to do with words, accept my personal dictum about it because it was never more true than here: We are not the best judges of what we write. We are far too close to it to focus and really see what it is. The best we get is a sense of...relief? satisfaction? when something really comes out as we believe it should.I learn something about process, and about the thing process can never give by itself, talent, every time I read one of your poems.

So glad I got to start my day with this-and loved both pictures--quintessential ones, I'd say.Great job, Kenia, for asking some penetrating and significant questions, and thanks, Michael, for putting so much thought and honesty into your answers.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

A fantastic and erudite interview. Thank you both. Michael, I so relate to having been made to stand out as a child. I fled from that as well. But you are far too humble, my friend. Your work is superb, always. You have your own distinct voice and I love your work.

Marian said...

just gonna leave a brief and lowbrow comment here: fascinating interview. thank you!

Kay L. Davies said...

I have often thought myself poorly educated and ill-read, and now I know it is true. How wonderful to see two minds like Kenia's and Michael's meet on the same page, conversing with just the very faintest hint of sparring.
Michael, I loved your "obtuse" paragraph because I couldn't understand a word of it.
Keep it up, kids, you're doing great!
Luv, K

Hannah said...

Your last reason for not reading the great and the oldies made me laugh...I totally get that, M!

Thank you for sharing so graciously with us...your life, your poetic views and inspiration.

Thank you Kenia for your expert questions as well!

Scarlet said...

Lovely to see M featured here in Real Toads ~ Thanks for the amazing interview Kenia ~

M, for me it would be to live & love passionately as long and as deep as I can ~

Wishing you all good day / night ~


Yvonne Osborne said...

Thank you for this interview and the opportunity to get to know you, Michael, better. The Mary Oliver quote is from one of my all time favorite poems. But, as always, when I deliberate on the question, I turn melancholy.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful interview of a wonderful poet. Michael, you seem plenty erudite to me (though I don't think erudition makes for great poetry!). But much enjoyed this and always look forward to your work. Thanks much, Kenia, for your thoughtful questions and also wonderful work. K .

Helen said...

Fascinating dialogue! How do you solve a mystery like Michael ~~ hand Kenia the reins and we're off to the races!

Great job you two ....

Herotomost said...

What a great interview. Kenia, your questions were fantastic and, enjoyable to get to know a bit more about you. I find your writing to be anything but subpar. It is first and foremost intelligent and in many different ways and the insight you are able to lend to experience and situation is almost always spot on. I really enjoy your writing.

Margaret said...

I read this with delight while on vacation over an extended weekend… Your intelligence not only shines in your poetry, but also in your answers to Kenia's questions. Thank you for sharing with us - both of you!