Kristin Prevallet is the author of four books of poetry, including I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time. She is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship and a PEN translation fund award. She teaches Trance Poetics (an ongoing writing and somatic process workshop) and combines integrative methods of hypnosis, energy psychology, and life coaching in her work with clients at her office in Manhattan. Recent poetry and essays are forthcoming in Fourth Genre, Spoon River Review, and the anthology “I' ll Drown My Book”: Conceptual Writing by Women. Go to www.drunkenboat.com for more information on the call for work on the forthcoming Hypnopoeia folio. www.kayvallet.com
CB: You reference the Poundian notions in poetry of phanopoeia, melopoeia, and logopoeia foundationally in positing the new state of “I make” - hypnopoeia. I take this to mean making from a state of trance, which is resonant with the Surrealists and the automatic writing that Ginsberg, et al., were attempting. I love how you are extending this also to the reader, to connecting to the reader in what you call “mind-focus.” You mention that trance-states are “embedded” in specific poems. Can you give an example?
KP: The trance-experiments of the Surrealists and the Beats were about experimenting with a wide variety of altered-waking and near-somnambulistic states of mind in order to generate the artwork or poem. And of course that's very interesting. But a trance-state is not only about creating works of art. It's the state of inner-directed focus that most of us experience 95% of the day. It's the chatter in your mind and the thoughts that are leading you shape your reality (or helping you to undermine and destroy it.) When a poet sits down to write a poem, even if that poem is non-referential and purely sound-based, that is a state of trance. When that poem is published or read outloud, readers enter into a trance that enables them to either connect with the language, sound, imagery, etc., or to drift off into their own mental space and think other thoughts.
Certainly there are poems that specifically induce readers into following them into what Pound calls Phanopoeia ("Throwing a visual image on the mind"). Some do this overtly like Eliot's "Four Quartets":
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But it doesn't need to be an image that gets thrown onto the mind. It can also be the residual effects of language (The Crystal Text by Clark Coolidge is a good example) that create an emotional response or a more fleeting sensation. Is it the music of the language that does this, or is it the ambiguity of his use of images?
CB: Ellen Esrock's work on the body in the reading process comes to mind. I associate the internal verbalogue with primarily the brain, though certainly the organ and the whole influence each other. This isn't antithetical to trance or anything you are saying as far as I'm concerned. I'm just interested in incorporating these processes into the conversation. So Esrock, in an essay called Embodying Literature posits that the reader uses her somato-viscero-motor system to reinterpret the text. That the reader, to internally shorthand the material of the text, will use one component of the SVM system to stand for another in the writing. There's a lot to her work that I won't go into here, but it is interesting to me in this context because it resonates with the idea of trance somehow. That there are bodily and mental states and processes that are engaged at many levels when we encounter language. All this to ask you, what part does the body play for you in this approach to poetry?
KP: Thanks for the reference - I hadn't seen this essay before. But absolutely - when we write and when we read our heart-rate, breathing, and posture adjust to the rhythm and meaning of language. After all, language is a sound (even when read silently) and thoughts, memories, dreams, etc. are all responding to frequencies that resonate at the cellular level, in our brains and bodies. Which is why muscles hold memories.
But you know, people spend a lot of money on various healing practices which essentially direct them to a place of deep relaxation where the mind can come into sync with its connection to the body and effect a change in mood, attitude, outlook, etc. I think people can tap into this deep state of relaxation on their own, and one really good self-hypnosis strategy is to read or listen to poetry read out-loud; or, when writing, to notice the effects the writing is having in our bodies. In creative writing workshops students wonder what the teacher means by the "flow" of a poem. I think it's somatic -- you feel the language, quite literally, flowing as an energy frequency in your body. And that's a trance state.
On my blog TrancePoetics I wrote a post about the relationship between rhythmic language and the modulations of the heart. Although most research done around this issue says that poetry needs to be metered in order for a person's heart rate to change, I think the body responds to all kinds of language, whether rhythmic or droning, a-syntactic or jarring. I have no scientific proof, but if you listen to a poetry reading without worrying about meaning; if you breathe more slowly and repeat the words that the poet is saying in your mind as they are spoken; at the same time if you visualize the syntax of these words flowing quite literally via your blood stream into your heart. And if you waver in your attention, just notice what you are thinking about and when you’re ready, return to the meditation. Let's just say that this is a total listening experience that resonates deeply on many levels, specifically the meaning of language that resonates in your body.
CB: In your call for work for Hypnopoeia: Poetry, Mind Ecology, and Imagined Futures for Drunken Boat, you write that this internal state has the potential to influence the external. Many of us are thinking, rethinking via the Commons for example, how the individual and the collective can intersect in ways that avoid some of the pitfalls of previous societal experiments. You write of “outward scales and manifestations of larger human consciousness(es).” Do you yourself yet have any imagined visions (poems?) for the enactment of this move from internal to “larger” external? How would/could this work?
KP: Well - that's quite a question and I'm not sure I would presume to even try and answer it! But I will say that as a writer I have been working for a long time on figuring out how to integrate my work as a poet with larger political and social levels of action and awareness. And I've met many other writers who have similar projects, although perhaps they articulate them in ways that challenge or expand anything I have to say. So the goal of this folio is to bring together writers and artists whose projects expand the territory of inner language and mind's-eye vision (trance, or dream) to include an outward vision of how to redirect the future of the planet. Many people are talking about the necessity of a shift in consciousness to counter the insular, protective, self-serving habits created by first-world nations that feed global strife and environmental destruction. Well, ok - so what are the poets and artists thinking and doing? The folio will bring at least some of them together. Not with the presumption of effecting some huge movement or sudden change, but with the intention of coming into relation and conversation with each other. That's one thing I can do as a poet.