KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Nonfiction: 597 words [R]

“Touching is the television of blood”:
An Interview with John Olson

[two excerpts from the 5,000-word original]

by Jared Demick

Jared Demick: How does a John Olson poem get born?

John Olson: Some poems come to me jet-propelled. I can’t write fast enough to get them down with their life and spirit still intact. It’s like trying to stick a piece of lightning to a sheet of paper with Krazy Glue. But this is rare. Exceedingly rare. Most of the time it is like milking the air, yanking away in a hot sun trying to get a lawn mower started. Bruising my ankle on a stubborn motorcycle. Flying a Boeing 787 through the eye of a needle. You get the idea. Coaxing the muse requires preternatural seductions.

I draw a great deal on notebooks. Notebooks are crucial. They provide a space of complete freedom. It’s vital to create a space for writing with no expectation of an audience. This is the purest way to come in contact with language. Language is preeminently public. It is a public medium. It is as public as a bus stop. To use it as an artistic material, in the same way a painter uses paint or a sculptor uses bronze or clay, is assume language has properties charged with a different kind of energy. The energy of art. It is to see that words are capable of doing more than representing an idea or feeling or directions or news. There is something else. There is haywire. A splendid anarchy. If you remove the social function from language, you discover a marvelous knowledge. The glint of autonomy. But to arrive at that awareness you need a special space. For me that space is a notebook. My preference is for the 9½″x6″ 80-sheet spiral notebook produced by National Brand.

Once I get my hands on a notebook I [begin] to fill it. I fill it with wordplay, observations, Oulipian constraints, celestial navigation, revolts, rhapsodies, exquisite corpses, mass-energy equivalences, crewel embroidery, mime, quoits, quotes, clumps, clucks, whirling liquids and Catherine wheels. Notebooks provide the raw material for what later will become a prose poem, or Vaucanson duck. The rest is a matter of smelting, welding, and slag. Again, it’s that junkyard thing. I feel I am in league with artists like Joseph Cornell, Jean Tinguely, Marcel Duchamp, and Facteur Ferdinand Cheval.


Olson: ...Any culture that promotes imagination and reverie above the pursuit of property and power is a healthy culture. A culture that marginalizes the life of the imagination and becomes obsessed with the pursuit of wealth and power is a doomed culture. This recent obsession, for instance, with plastic surgery, and trying to find a standardized look instead of appreciating the inherent beauty in the diversity of traits and morphologies. There is something barbaric in that.

Or resumés: a lot of businesses now use a point system, registering key words or phrases in a resumé rather than take note of how well written it may be. This, too, is barbaric. Barbarism is not always about chopping off heads and pillaging villages. Barbarism can assume many forms, such as someone having their toenails clipped in a nail salon, a celebrity who is a celebrity simply by virtue of being a celebrity, or an elderly woman in a wheelchair dying on a sidewalk in New Orleans from a simple lack of shade and water. It is absolutely stunning how diverted, infantalized, and protected from actual crisis the public has become. The tabloids at any supermarket are just as barbaric as the Visigoths, Vandals, and Huns laying waste to the Roman empire...

—From “Touching is the television of blood”: An Interview with John Olson by Jared Demick in The Jivin’ Ladybug (22 April 2011); excerpts appear here by permission from Demick and Olson

Jared Demick
Issue 8, August 2017

is the author of a poetry collection, The Hunger in Our Eyes, and his poems appear in BlazeVOX, Sugar Mule, Long River Review, OMEGA, and Gastronomica. He edits The Jivin’ Ladybug: A Skewered Journal of the Arts.

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