Passion lies deep inside, like a statue in a stone, waiting to be freed, imagining its creator chipping away at the layers covering it. It is the seed of a belief. A flame on the bottom of the sea. Blue and restless. It is a wave always moving through you and carrying you away and along.”
F.A.L.D. #13 Artist Feature : Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright impressed Nostrovia! with his many interests while submitting for Fuck Art, Let’s Dance Issue #013, sending along both art and poetry that caught our eyes. Not only an artist, Jeffrey is also a critic, eco-activist, and publisher, being the co-founder of Live Mag!—that said, he’s best known for his lyricism, having published fourteen books of poetry, including “Triple Crown, Sonnets” from Spuyten Duyvil and “Radio Poems” (forthcoming from The Operating System). It’s clear Jeffrey’s life is interwoven with activity and passion, and as such, N! is excited to share the following interview, conducted online!
interviewed by Christopher Morgan
N!P: Being both a poet and an artist must offer a range of perspectives when considering future projects. How do you find your work informed by these different backgrounds? And how do you decide which of the two best presents your purpose?
JCW: I’m very interested in the concept of a persona. I choose images and stances that have a metaphorical quality in both my poems and my artwork in a quest to re-present myself, and my world.
I find textural and visual motifs that fit with the persona I’m continually constructing (or deconstructing). For instance, I habitually use rock and roll lyrics in the poems and rock and roll stickers in the artworks. They evoke an esprit de corps and outlaw élan that fit my heroic stance.
Jesters, race cars, chimeras, mythological characters, animals, and insects all carry an aura that is expanded by copying them. The figures become avatars that explore notions of being, expression, and projection.
The figures I draw become alive for me. I name them. I like them. When I look at them they amuse me. They are animated. In a successful artwork or poem there is a combination of voices, images, conceits, that when put together in a certain order, begins to hum and operate as a perpetuating entity.
All of my creative output is like a glorified diary… celebrating family and friends, commenting on life in the East Village and what it means to be a defiant denizen of Hipsville in the days of climate change. Anyway, as Robert Creeley decreed—’If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.’ One must always keep the spirit of play close at hand.
N!P: Beyond your poetry, I can tell editing and publishing also mean a lot to you. As the co-founder of Live Mag, how would you describe this publication to somebody unfamiliar with it? What kind of work do you champion? What kind of vibe do you rock?
JCW: When I first came to New York, my mentor Ted Berrigan told all of us younger poets to start a magazine like C Magazine which he ran. He advised us to publish ourselves, our friends, and the most famous people you could get. There were a few magazines around the East Village then so I started publishing postcards instead. I published myself, my friends, and the most famous people I could get (like Allen Ginsberg). And I took it a step farther and reached outside New York.
And then from 1987 to 2000, I published Cover Magazine, the Underground National and we had some national distribution. It was called Cover because we covered all of the arts, with regular sections on dance, the various visual arts, literature, theater, and a big section on contemporary music.
In contrast, Live Mag! is yearly, not monthly. And we only publish art and poetry, with a few reviews. It started as a live event at the Bowery Poetry Club. Bob Holman asked me to put on a show and that’s how it started. We solicited poems from the audience and read them, declaring they’d been “published” in Live Mag! The magazine has evolved into a print and web publication that divides its content equally between art and poetry.
I’ve always liked the combination of visual and textual imagery. I worked as a typesetter for years and did a lot of fliers and postcards. I made them for some of the many readings and performances I was involved in that were happening in downtown New York at venues like Club 57, the Ear Inn, Darinka, Life Café, St. Mark’s Church, Chico Mendes Community Garden, and PS 122. I liked spreading the word that way and it was also valuable to have a physical record of an event.
N!P: Live Mag! definitely has had firm roots in the New York scene for many years now, and that community is especially important to you. And yet you’ll be also attending the New Orleans Poetry Festival in the Spring next year—how do you decide between the obligations of nurturing a local community and the rewards of reaching out to new potential audiences?
JCW: It’s true I love New York and especially the East Village. I’d be happy to stay here all the time but it’s always fun to go somewhere new.
N!P: Along the lines of New Orleans, what other places do you and Live Mag! travel to? And what do you find most enriching about these kinds of experiences?
JCW: I don’t leave my hood that often, there’s so much to do here. I go to a reading almost every other day. But I did go to Montevideo this year to their semi-annual, international poetry festival. It was a super experience and I met some super people. Also, I hung out a lot there with Bill Lavender who is one of the main shakers in New Orleans and a prime force behind the New Orleans Poetry Festival. So you can connect some dots there. It’s always good to have contacts and it makes a difference when you actually get invited somewhere.
It’s fun to broaden your horizons but it’s also important for the host community to show their stuff and we need to support those efforts when possible. And of course, the broadening of the poetry world is a step toward increasing our capacity for genuine, responsible communication.
N!P: Being somebody who’s been in the poetry + publishing biz for many years now, how have you found your process changing with time? Do you find yourself gravitating more toward one central theme for your writing and editorial aesthetic, or have you found yourself branching further out into unknown territory?
JCW: Writing is a struggle. The goal is to maintain what you feel is your own voice while keeping it fresh and vital. My girlfriend told me, “You should read 20 poems for every poem you write.” That is good advice. I find that after I read something I have new ideas and insights about subjects and structures.
So, I’m still focusing on themes I’ve developed over a long time, like exploring and incorporating mythological characters and song lyrics. And at the same time I’m being true to my style, I’m trying to be innovative and react to work I’ve read or heard.
As a publisher, I seem to have my own quixotic way of selecting work that hasn’t really changed since I started. I took Ted’s advice. Live Mag! is still built around artists, poets and reviewers I interact with. And it expands beyond that to include work my restless antenna find and want to share.
N!P: I had the pleasure of reading one of your recent books, “Triple Crown: Three Crowns of Sonnets,” and was blown away by the depth of your inspirations and sources. From cross-continent mythology, to the old literary masters, to your home in New York and the contemporaries found therein, your writing is an ecstatic celebration of the written word across time and tradition. How did you find this passion?
JCW: Thank you for that upbeat, complementary assessment. The poems since “Triple Crown” are in a manuscript called “Blue Lyre” which continues most of the major motifs. Stylistically however, the two collections move apart although most of the new poems are still sonnets.
In “Triple Crown,” practically every line was a stand-alone line. Every line began with a capital letter and I didn’t use punctuation at the end. The lines added up aesthetically to express a total picture but they were very epigrammatic in nature. “Stay with me here, lost in the Map Room.” It doesn’t need anything to stand by itself.
“Blue Lyre,” is definitely a recalibration. As its title suggests, these new poems continue to seek rapport with the gods. They are still in touch with a bon vivant spirit. But they are also more centered and centrifugal than Triple Crown, the poems spinning inwardly. They are punctuated and the lines are more directly integral to each other.
Now I’ve begun a series called “Dopple Gangster.” The overarching key is an exploration of the persona and its relationship with the muse. These new poems establish a self-conscious state of fluidity between myself and my representation of me, as I move through the world, with its loves, victories and losses.
In my latest poem “Hekate’s Gate,” I draw on mythology again to set the scene. Hekate represents a transitional state and here I seek equilibrium within a realm of limbo. To make the texture more immediate, I included relevant personal details in a way that establishes contemporaneity framed by eternity. The poem becomes an offering as well as a record of passage. That’s where I’m headed.