Check out my interview of H.L. Hix about his book, God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse in the new issue of Jacket Magazine.
Here's the opening:
"A Document of Listening"
H.L. Hix’s recent work, God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse (2007), comes almost entirely from speeches made by George Bush and Osama Bin Laden, which Hix transforms to create poems in various traditional Western and non-Western forms, from the sestina to the ghazal. It is a fascinating project, demonstrating an aesthetic attention that becomes a kind of ethical and political attention, a close reading of the first order. A document of close listening, God Bless aptly demonstrates the profound lack of listening at the heart of this administration’s decision-making process. Documentary poetry, in Hix’s rendering, becomes a kind of history lesson for the poet and his readers, a way of reading into the archive and thus extending the archive into poetry, poetry as “extending the document.”
Philip Metres: One of the things that struck me about God Bless in relation to your past work is the intense formal operation that underlies the book, its obsessive proceduralism. And yet, your work to date has not been quite this explicitly political. What procedural rules did you set for yourself to write these poems, and how did you try to make sure that you weren’t misquoting or manipulating your source material. In other words, for you, what are the aesthetics and ethics of collage?
H L Hix: The process itself, in some ways, was simple. I just hired an assistant to download from www.whitehouse.gov all the public statements Bush made in his first term and convert the text into a Microsoft Word file. I printed this giant document — several thousand pages of tiny type — and simply read through it, a month’s worth at a time, highlighter in hand. Then I would cut the highlighted passages and paste them into a smaller document, so that I would have everything in one place. So the gathering part of it was very straightforward — just reading and reading, collecting what seemed relevant.
Once I started composing, the primary rule I set for myself was that I could juxtapose passages, but not leave things out silently. So any time there’s a continuous passage with something that drops out, an ellipsis marks that it’s been chopped in that way. Otherwise, I’ve allowed myself to take a passage from here and from there and put them together. I’m sure this results in various forms of distortion — how could it not? — but my thought was that this project was in some way like caricature, where distortion of features is intentional: “yeah, your nose isn’t that big, but I drew it that big because it’s a prominent part of your face.” Even though the caricature is distorted, it’s recognizable. Maybe, in a certain way, it’s more accurate for the distortion. My objective was that sort of accuracy, that foregrounding of certain things. It’s too easy to take anyone’s words (Bush’s words, or anyone’s) and construct something just the opposite of what the speaker meant. I was interested in compressing things Bush said, putting together stuff said at different times but thematically connected, to test one by another. Political cartoons, a form of caricature, give one analogy for what I was up to.