Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Interview with Poet Myles Gordon: A poet who explores what it means to be human.
With Doug Holder
At our table in back of the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville I asked Poet Myles Gordon what he felt it meant to be human-- a theme his poetry is deeply involved with . Gordon hesitated and seemed to be wrestling with the question. He finally opined: " We have great thoughts and deep emotions but we have to live in the real world, pay taxes, feed parking meters-- all this at the same time." Gordon is a poet of the profound and banal--and he is indeed a very human poet.
Myles Gordon is a writer and teacher living in Newton, Massachusetts. Prior to teaching, Myles worked as a television producer, earning four New England Emmy Awards for his work at Boston's ABC Television affiliate. He also co-produced the independent documentary Touching Lives: Portraits of Deaf blind People. He holds a Master of Education from The University of Massachusetts, in Boston, and a Master of Fine Arts from The Vermont College of Fine Arts. He has published poetry in several periodicals and is a past honorable mention for the AWP Intro Award in poetry. He is winner of the Grolier Poetry Prize, and the Helen Kay Chapbook Competition from Evening Street Press. His latest collection of poetry is Inside The Splintered Wood ( Tebot Bach)
Doug Holder: Myles--you worked for Channel 5 in Boston, an ABC affiliate for many years. Can you tell me about your Emmy Award winning documentary Touching Lives: Portraits of Deafblind People? Deaf and Blind people have heightened senses of smell and touch to compensate for what they lack with their other senses. Do you think they are similar to poets in that poets are viewed as having heightened senses as well?
Myles Gordon: That is an interesting question. I think poets have some sort of innate heightened awareness of the world either internally or externally. I know for myself there are things that I focus on or obsess over. I have themes that keep coming back that I am keenly aware of.
In terms of the documentary--I was working at Channel 5, but I made my own independent documentary. It concerned a number of folks that were deaf and blind. I got into doing this because of my wife. She is an interpreter for the deaf. I met a lot of deaf and blind people through her. I thought it was a very fascinating world. I wanted to explore it. We profiled 4 individuals and one couple We followed these deaf and blind people through their lives. And we watched the challenges they faced. It took about 3 years to make.
DH: You are a child of Holocaust survivors?
MG: Well-my mother came over from Poland in 1938 to the States with her small immediate family and everybody who was left behind was killed in the Holocaust. They were from the town of Brestlitousk--that was part of Poland at the time. It was a shtetl. There was a large Jewish population, and it was a real hotbed of Jewish learning, and had been for hundreds of years.This is where my mother's people were from. My father was born in this country, but he was a combat veteran of WW ll. He was involved with the liberation of the concentration camps. He was involved in the liberation of Buchenwald. So I grew up hearing a lot about the Holocaust.
DH: I have talked to other authors who have shared your experience--it gets into your blood. It gives you a certain view of the world. I remember interviewing Alan Kaufman, the editor of the Outlaw Bible of American Literature. He was a child of Holocaust survivors. He said this left him with a legacy of pessimism, paranoia--and he always felt his very survival was constantly on the line. Has this entered your work--your sensibility?
MG: Yeah. It is a big part of my identity- and it is a big part of what I write. It has been widely accepted that my own family, before the death camps, were led to a certain location where they laid down in pits and they were all shot to death. Every now and then I think about that and how disturbing and angering all of this is and how it has created a sense of grief.
DH: In your chapbook Recite Every Day you deal with the illness and the subsequent death of your mother. Did you ever think that you might have exploited your mother's misfortune for your art?
MG Sure. I wrestled with that concept.. I find that it is in my nature to wrestle with every concept. Hey--that was the reality at hand. I have been writing a long time. I never did one of those MFA programs until I was in my 40's. I was doing a low-residency on top of my job. At the time my mom went into hospice care. I was writing prolifically for this program and this was what was going on in my life. So I went with it. I think it was a loving tribute. I had to write it. I didn't have a choice.
DH: In your poem Passing another client at the psychiatrist's office you write about your embarrassment when you pass a fellow patient outside your therapist's office: " That's why we turn/ away to avoid in each other/ the truth of our inadequacy:/we must come to this place/ not our homes not our wives not our/lovers not our friends not ourselves."
MG: In the poem you reference I was actually leaving the psychiatrist's office--walking upstairs, when I passed a client coming from the office. And this is a very awkward moment--when neither of us look at each other because of embarrassment. I wanted to capture that. In that situation I am communicating inadequacy because here I am a grown man and feel like I should deal with my life without a crutch.
DH: There was another poem where you came outside from an appointment with a Rabbi and cried at your car, and the relief you felt at your psychiatrist office was short lived. It seems there is only a short respite from the maelstrom of life?
MG: I think that is a good observation. Everything is good for a time. Then we go back to the down swing. A lot of my poems go in that direction. Even with my poems I never feel they are good enough.
DH: The poem is never finished just abandoned, huh?
MG: That's true. You say to a poem "we are done"--and then you have to send it out to the world.
DH: I like your poem Here Comes the Sun in your new collection Inside The Splintered Wood . Your father tried to instill a love of Benny Goodman in you, and you tried to instill a love of George Harrison in your kids. Using music is a good literary device--here it explores the continuum.
MG I just got into this thing where certain songs got into my head. And from there poems would spring up. And Here Comes the Sun is such n lovely and optimistic song. The music inspired me to create the poem. To my kids the Beatles are archaic--the same way I thought my dad's 78s were. I tried to explain to my kids about the importance of the music. Music and poetry are intimately related. I turn to music the same way I turn to poetry.
MG: In a blurb on your back cover of your new book it states that your poetry tells you what means to be human. What does it mean?
DH: For me being human consists of randomness, illogicality --and we take ourselves too seriously. We have great thoughts and deep emotions but we have to live in the real world--pay taxes, feed parking meters--all at the same time. One time I went to see a Rabbi. And I had all these deep questions. He was running a summer camp for kids. We had an appointment to talk. But there was a problem with the buses transferring the kids--so he excused himself because he was on the phone. When it came down to it it was these kids' safety that was more important than the profound conversation I had envisioned.
Here Comes the Sun
I wonder, when my two sons
totter into the kitchen bleary eyed
and I am listening to Abbey Road
while packing their school lunches,
if the music is as exotic to them
as my father’s music was to me
those times he would turn on the 78
or the station he liked,
taken to a world of Kay Starr
and Benny Goodman; and sometimes
even dance a few steps
around the living room
and I could smell his cologne,
the tobacco on his shirt.
Do my children, already able
to click and drag MP3s, see me
as I saw him - a man with
his own life and music before
I came along, who had a father
I never met who shaped him,
just as my father shaped me?
I spread the peanut butter and jelly
and wrap the sandwiches in
cellophane, put in the carrots and chips
and cartons of chocolate milk
listening to “Here Comes The Sun”
and tell my boys that that’s George Harrison
and no one ever played guitar like that before
and no one will ever play guitar like that again.
- Reprinted with permission from Tebot Bach