Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Interview with Mike Basinski: Curator of the University at Buffalo Libraries' Special Collection.

Mike Basinski ( Curator of  Special Collections at the University at Buffalo, N.Y.)

I caught up recently with my friend Mike Basinski, curator of the University at Buffalo Libraries/ Special Collections. The University at Buffalo website states that the poetry collection is ".... the library of record for 20th- and 21st-century poetry in English. Founded in 1937 by Charles Abbott, the Poetry Collection now holds one of the world’s largest collections of poetry first editions and other titles, little literary magazines, broadsides and anthologies; a substantial collection of artworks; and more than 150 archives and manuscript collections from a wide range of poets, presses, magazines and organizations."

The collection has just about every Ibbetson Street Press title we published, and provides a huge service to the literary small press. I interviewed Mike about ten years ago--so I wanted to revisit him.

Doug Holder:  So, if you are game, tell me what is up for you for the past decade—professional and personal

Mike Basinski:  Well, I take care of the realm of the poem. As the world should know, libraries are changing. I don’t mean just the digitizing of certain materials. What is digitized is always somebody’s selection and things are selected for… money, power, prestige, and politics, for example. There is a selection process so democracy always at the end of the line. Not to gloom. I don’t. Libraries are changing and there is less publicly supplied funding for libraries. But what I am saying is that poetry and the poem is still small, relatively, and still lives in a book. Care is about funds to buy poetry books, subscribe to poetry magazines, secure poetry broadsides.  The State of New York only funds 11% of the University at Buffalo, so poem funds have to come from someplace else and it comes from friends of poetry and the poem.  I beg. Tin cup in hand. The priority for the Poetry Collection is expanding. Always I wish to maintain first our first edition collection but to do that we need friends. I have lots of ties, around my neck and in the community, community of art, the realm of the poem, anywhere. I say, this is a public institution so this Poetry Collection is the public’s collection and by facts we are all curators of this collection. So, what do I do at work: Keep the doors open so in may waltz and walk the poem. These are strange times. Fear not, I have my finger in the dike!

And, well, I am happy to say, I am on guard. And we have friends and more friends each day. A friend a day keeps the apple away. I am not just being old time. Tis a modern world. I don’t blame the State or the University. I also pay taxes, too many. But I also call to arms. Being a poet is being responsible for the world of the poem. Be poetry’s friend – write me and will work it out:

I keep making the poem with real letters and visual letters as has been my form forever. Each day the poem summons and I respond. I am thinking of a poem of just end lines. A poem that is a text for pure improvisation.  I keep thinking of one phrase in Ulysses, which is “a form of forms,” which is in one sense jazz but should be the poem. There is where I am happy. I am looking for the right combination of sounds which will be the spell that introduces magic back in this sometimes very stale and sour world. I know it is there.

What else? My wife and I have a home near some woods, some of which is ours, and there are deer and fox and such, and provides else viewing. I sit in the heaven of the woods. What more! 

DH:  Any poets you have your eye on?

MB: Eye Catching poets? I am at the stage of rereading. H.D., Pound, Basil Bunting. Like listening to old records – great. Kerouac. I like reading myself.  I like reading new books by Lisa Jarnot, Dodie Bellamy, and Susan Howe. I always stop and read them. And I found the poems of Ruth Fainlight – all wonderful moons. And the poet – Patrick Riedy. He is a real poet – he is the Keats of Lackawanna, New York.

DH: Any magazines that strike your fancy?

MB: I am a local guy, so I like local literary magazines. Our freshest in Buffalo: Yellow Field . Edric Mesmer molds each issue. It is NEW! Yellow Field, attn.: Edric Mesmer, 1217 Delaware Ave. – Apt. 802, Buffalo, New York 14209. yellowedenwaldfield[at]yahoo[dot]com

DH: Your philosophy of poetry and good writing?

MB: I like all poetry. We have to join together and forget our camps and agendas and I am this poet and your write like that. We are all Ring Tailed Lemurs and the society is cutting down our Madagascar. All of this your kinda poem and my underground and ivory tower – poets, watch the hell out! We are one big union and have to think that way. Or it’s over the edge.

Good writing? I have no woRms of wisdom.

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