For part one of Greg Santos's interview with Canadian poet, click here -- and read some of Camlot's poems here and here:
GS: In your poem “The Death of Roland As Peanuts Panel” you’re referencing the French epic poem, Le Chanson de Roland, which from my understanding is one of the oldest major works in French literature and you juxtapose it with Charlie Brown. It’s a very funny idea. You have this balancing act between a comic and a work of literature. Is there a line that divides popular culture and literature?
JC: There’s certainly a line for people who write about culture. I think if you’ve ever read a review of a
David McGimpsey book, you’re aware of that.
One way to re-sk your question is, which is better poetry? Chanson de Roland or Peanuts? I think you could have a pretty serious
debate about that. I don’t know if
you’ve read Le Chanson de Roland but it’s a pretty ridiculous poem in a lot of
ways. There are historical reasons for
that but it’s a very cartoonish poem and there are historical reasons for that
as well. The Debaucher is a lot about
rhyme and humor and about death. I
think that the Peanuts and Chanson de Roland convergence was more about
the death element of the book than anything else. There are two sections about the death of Roland and I witnessed
the death of my friend and former teacher, Rob Allen, the year that I was
writing that book and in different ways I was thinking about the dearth of my
vocabulary, formal poetic vocabulary, for somehow making sense or even just
formalizing what I was witnessing. I
did turn to Le Chanson de Roland because it was a very formulaic
representation of death so it seemed to me in certain ways consoling because
there were obviously protocols at work in the way his death was being represented
but at the same time it seemed empty and existentially cartoonish to me as
Peanuts does. I felt as alone as
Charlie Brown in a panel while I was reading it. The convergence there just had more to do with how much certain
Shulz panels move me and seem to be about death in as or more interesting ways
than Chanson de Roland but it seemed like a natural convergence of two rather
flat paneled ways of formulaically representing death. There are other attempts to represent death
in that book so it seemed like one way among a series that I was experimenting
GS: In the last line of your poem “Summer Caravan” it reads “Please, Professor, let me get a laugh.” How does humor play a role in your poetry and in contemporary poetry in general?
JC: I’ll tell you first, in my own poetry it seems to me a part of a larger interest in tonal registers. I write a lot of persona poetry and a lot of poems are really exploring either gradual or quick shifts between tonal registers. Sometimes it’s a drier drollery. Sometimes it’s more laugh_out_loud type humor but it seems part of this larger interest in the continuum of tonal registers that can be achieved poetically. That’s what my real investment is. Also, I find the absurdity of life is probably best expressed through humor and that’s something, I don’t know if I’m interested in, but something I just happen to believe in.
As far as
the place of humor in contemporary poetry, there may still not be
much place for it. I think that it is a
certain kind of condemnation when someone praises a book of mine by calling it
“fun.” I don’t mind it because I hope
it’s going to be fun. Or describing a
book of David’s (McGimpsey) or Jon Paul’s (Fiorentino), for that matter. They’re fun and comedic. It seems in a lot of critical vocabulary
that to praise a book for that, necessarily seems to preclude other things that
are also going on in the writing.
GS: Besides being a teacher and a poet, you’re also a musician. You’re in the rock band, Puggy Hammer, with David McGimpsey. What is the relationship between music and poetry for you?
JC: It’s close in some of the kinds of poetry I write. I’d say, I work in lyric modes and then I work in long poem modes. I think the long poems have very little to do with songwriting. They’re a totally different project in my mind. Some of the lyric poems, especially the rhyming lyric poems, are very much a result of my continuing interest in writing songs and some of the songs appear in my books. In The Debaucher I wrote a poem, “Petition to Be Entombed at St. Viateur Bagel”, that’s based on a George Brassens song. I wrote it with the music and melody of the Brassens song in mind and the strict rhyme scheme that went with it. I love writing songs. I like the constraints of writing songs.