|Contact Print from Bob Christensen, Thunderbird Bar, Placitas, New Mexico|
Note: Date of interview is probably 1976 when Artspace did an article on my poetry events. I am amplifying the transcript a bit as I go over the recording and I'll update this text accordingly.
Interviewers: Jim Ruppert, Terry Boren and Mark Schiller.
Larry Goodell: I really don't know what it is to be "Southwestern" or "regional." So I don't worry about it. As John Brandi said, occasionally there are certain things that he writes about that are classified as'"Southwestern" or "New Mexican" – like place names and so on.
Terry Boren: That's "place poetry."
Mark Schiller: You could call Charles Olsen a "place poet" because he was writing about specific places.
TB: I've always thought that a regional idea should be defined in the broadest sense. I mean, if you are going to put together a regional anthology, you have to make one or two decisions: Not whether the poets are writing about the region, but simply what's being produced in a region, or from a region. You could define it so that anyone living there was included, or people that have come out of there – regardless of what they wrote about.
Larry Goodell: Some people comment about the fact that there are various references to the Sandias in my poetry, hell, the mountains are right there! If you look out the window and something’s there everyday, then it's naturally going to come into your writing. But it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your feeling about "the area," unless you’re consciously writing, say, science fiction which has no place except the future, it's just a natural consequence of writing that those things appear, including corn, and living in an adobe, & all those "clichés."
Jim Ruppert: I wouldn't mind doing an anthology in which every poem had to have the word "chile" in it.
Larry Goodell: It's just as viable as having a volume in which all of the poets' names are "Charley."*
Terry Boren: It's just a way of defining your territory.
Larry Goodell: It's like consulting the I Ching, it gives you a set of something with which to look at something bigger through. So why not have a "Southwestern" anthology? It's just that I don't like the kind of pompous, self-defeating stance about what poetry should or should not be that is often included in the idea.
Jim Ruppert: The word "shamanism" has been associated with your performances, but I wouldn't use that word to describe what you do. I guess it has confusing connotations.
Mark Schiller: Well, I think that an association is made – especially in this area where they have the Koyemshi in the Zuni and the Koshari among the Pueblo Indians, where they have a priestly caste of jokers. A lot of Larry's performances have a great deal to do with that.
Jim Ruppert: Well, they are ritual, for sure, but I don't know if you can borrow that sort of cultural concept.
Larry Goodell: I think if you were just a "typical poet," writing poems (and it’s pretty easy to do because all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil or pen – you don't need to spend a lot of money on acrylics like you would if you were a visual artist), you could reach a point where you might become really fascinated by, say, paper or the pencil you were using, and you become interested in making your own paper or providing your own writing tools. Then you would be involved in a step beyond your "typical poet's" activities. And that's what I got involved in. By going to so many actual ceremonies, festivities, gatherings and dances – especially like at Zuni or San Felipe – I was aware of how certain objects would take on a nuance within the occasion. For instance, a Shalako priest picking up a dyed red eagle breast feather and tying to his head. The simple act was an indication of his standing at that particular ceremony.
Jim Ruppert: But doesn't a shaman's job imply something like the propping up of' a religious and cultural superstructure?
Mark Schiller: Don't you think a poet has a place within that? Doesn't he prop up a superstructure?
Jim Ruppert: I see him more as tearing it down than propping it up – or restructuring it.
Larry Goodell: I think that in relation to tribal societies, the independent discoverer who is taught certain things from his father or teacher, is the person that you may be relating to. It's not a group of people performing something within a group, but it is more one particular individual who is doing a certain thing. Like in Fino-Ugric shamans, where the guy has a shallow drum and wears feathers and bells – feathers to fly to the spirits and bells to announce his arrival. And he's a separate individual who puts himself in a trance by way of beating the drum and dancing around with all his feathers and bells on. Now, that is something that a poet can be related to in a sense – but only foggily – because it's something you read about in another culture.
Jim Ruppert: But all of the people who made modern literature have not been shamans, they haven't been people who have been their cultural heroes, they have been people who have been sort of outside, trying to push new ways of thinking, of expressing, of developing against a society that was basically conservative and not interested.
Mark Schiller: Sometimes the poets are actually more reactionary than others, trying to reach back to the old values. Like the movement towards poetry as performance – what Larry's involved in – is, I think, a move towards the older values, like the poetic performance in Homeric times. The shaman was a poet.
Terry Boren: Well, some people look at it from different ways. If there is a superficial resemblance to older modes, is it trying to instill older things, or is it really searching after something else? Performance as poetry is very old, but it doesn't mean that new works are functioning in the same way.
Larry Goodell: Many of my earlier works involved trying to break down the barrier between the poet and the "audience" – in which there has always been too exclusive a number of people.
Jim Ruppert: Do all of those objects (things) that you bring in for a performance help break the barrier, or do you think they create more distance because they give something more to look at and mesmerize the audience.
Larry Goodell: Well, some of my earlier works were an attempt to get people involved. But in the "Trilogy” [of Ometeotl] I’m concerned with not so much audience involvement as my active participation in extending the poem itself into everything that I, personally, can do. There really is no audience participation except in reacting to what I do. Occasionally I ask for some help from the audience. But in an earlier work called "The Fool" I had the audience do the reading while I was in the middle involved in a stagy, mock-rite, mock-ceremonial-like performance.
Mark Schiller: Why do you call it a "mock-ceremony"?
Larry Goodell: Because I feel that true ceremonies occur from group pressure and I didn't really feel that there was that much group pressure and/or tradition where a ceremony could literally, like folk music or something [traditional] just occur. It was something that I made up, really. It was, in a sense, an idea. The idea of it was just as important as the creating of it. The creating of it does not mean that you have an idea of it because that has to do with inspiration and all of that – what comes to you out of the blue. What I was doing might today be classified as "conceptual." I did feel that I was certainly not a serious priest in acting these things. In a sense I was like mock turtle soup. I wasn't exactly the real thing, but I was doing what I could do and enjoying the outrageous scene.
Mark Schiller: Do you ever feel that you are performing the function of priest?
Larry Goodell: Only in private, certainly not in public.
Mark Schiller: What specifically do you feel is the connection between shamanism and your performance?
Larry Goodell: First of all, I don't understand shamanism at all. I've seen some pictures, I've read a little bit. But I think it should be discounted all the way around, in so far as what a poet actually does. Just because I might use costumes and a backdrop and stuffed "ritual objects" doesn't mean that I have anything whatsoever to do with a shaman. I don't because, as I said, it is something that is passed down to a certain person that puts his self into a trance [according to what little I know]. I'm not sure that I'm ever in a trance. Certainly tribal shamanism has nothing whatsoever to do with a contemporary Mary Hartman follower who has something that could be classified as a shamanistic interest. I don't think that a contemporary person really can have more than a kind of bookish interest in shamanism. If there is a relevant shamanism involved in my life work, it must remain forever private. In a sense there is a relationship, but I'm also saying that I don't understand what shamanism really is all about because it is not part of my given culture. Again, it is something that's coming from the outside as a classification that's trying to pin itself on me – which I resent. I am not ''regional," I am not "Southwestern" and I am not currently "shamanistic." However, that doesn't mean that I don't fend around the best I can. And behind everything I’ve used visually or in so-called costumery for my readings, there is something more relevant than a typical theatrical production relevance, which is, that instead of making something up just for the occasion, generally a lot of the things which I use are things which have occurred over a slower period of time. I’m not just saying that this is a costume I need, rather, those things seem to have a relevance in so far as the materials used, etc. I mean, I would never use plastic in anything I do or use.
Jim Ruppert:s You don't use anything mechanical either do you? Except for lights.
Larry Goodell: I have used a rheostat light, but I switched to an old, multi-levelled floor lamp, so that I can govern the level of light. And that's a major point. Poets ordinarily read under flourescent lights and are unaffected by their environment. My pet peeve concerning poets is that visually they are numbskulls. Which may or may not be "right." But you can control your environment with a little effort. I feel that I am an animist and everything that surrounds me has its own nuance and life and aura. I simply don't read in a place unless I can do something about the "evil" decor. I feel that an environment conducive to the reading of a particular poem must be reclaimed.
Terry Boren: You can't reclaim some auditorium spaces with what you have, but when you put those things up, it's a comment on the environment.
Larry Goodell: I have always identified more with the musicals and spectacles of the 1940's and ‘50's – those large-scale cinematic productions. I was always involved with a kind of colossal backdrop. I was never really concerned with what one person could do – unless he had to do it, which was my case, in that I had to do what I could do to change the environment. I was primarily concerned with a major production. In other words I wanted to be the director. And then there's the circus – which at one time even had the special environment of the tent. Or the Bread and Wine Mission in California in the ‘50's. Of course, I'm not speaking for other poets, but, for me, I've always had a fascination for large forms. And the only way I can achieve large forms is through taking a little more control over the environment that l'm given for a particular reading. I do this by making certain movements, having certain objects in front of me, using costumes, taking advantage of a mask. In a sense I'm really interested in a kind of Yeatsian point of view toward theater. It seems there should remain a distance between the performer and the audience. In the earlier works I did ("Making It" and "The Fool"), I was after audience participation. But in the "Trilogy" I was trying to achieve more separation between me and the audience – although I'm very interested in the audience's response. Still, by using masks and other things, it's been possible to represent the voice that is given to me at the time that I am writing – which is unrelated to any audience. Thus I can take on some of the nuance of the writing.
Mark Schiller: Are the costumes and such really just for the audience or are the costumes necessary for you in terms of the poems themselves without the perfomances?
Larry Goodell: Just about everything that occurs visually in a reading occurs apropos the particular poem at the time of the writing. It is never subsequent to the writing – except in the actual making of it. Usually when I'm writing, I make little drawings as ideas occur. When I'm actually making a costume or prop, something remarkable happens wherein I'm bringing into existence something that had only appeared as a kind of outline, something that was dictated at the time of writing the poem.
Jim Ruppert:. A concrete poet once said that concrete poetry is the "Iconization of the verbal" – turning words into objects. What relation do the objects in your performance have to words? Did they start out as word-concepts in your head and become objects later? They don’t exist independently of the words, do they?
Larry Goodell: Robert Creeley says, "Form is an extension of content" and these "things" are simply extensions of the words. I find exploring the relationship of the ears to the eyes to be a challenging thing to do.
Mark Schiller: Would you ever publish the "Trilogy" apart from the performance aspect of it?
Larry Goodell: Yes, it should be published this spring by Truck Press, the full "Trilogy": "The Book," "The Staff," and "The Bowl of Ometeotl." "The Staff," which was the first of the performance pieces, comes from a piece of cottonwood,about 6ft. long with 3 scrub-jay feathers on top. "The Bowl" is involved with a ceramic bowl having a bump aligning with each of the 4 directions."The Book" is a rebellion against the theatrical aspects of my writings and is simply a book bound in cloth from which, as an old man, I am supposed to be reading. There are a few things that occur during "The Book" that are theatrical: like at one point I destroy the American version of the calendar and try to resurrect a new one. The new calendar is a sort of ceremonial calendar which contains events worth looking forward to other than birthdays (although they're important), and a ghastly Christmas and a blasphemous Easter. If you could affix importance to certain stations during the year, it might be more interesting. But that has to do with a sense of community and with people sharing feelings. Harvesting your garden can be an oocasion for celebration. I particularly like the possibility of writing what they used to call "occasional poems." The only way that the poet can get out of his ivory tower is by breaking all of these barriers and denying all of the stereotypes that have been handed down since the Eliotine freeze, which just about froze everything. And Robert Bly thought that there was an equally icy freeze that occurred after Olson's prominence. The "Trilogy" was a definitive attempt on my own part to break through the cliches and stereotypes of the contemporary poetry reading atmosphere and the institutional demands that are made on poets.
Mark Schiller: Did it work?
Larry Goodell: Yes, but I think a lot of people who have seen these readings have thought that the trappings were merely theatrical. Not to put down theater, I want to again emphasize that these objects are something that grow from my daily life and are made up of materials that are extremely important to me.
Jim Ruppert: Do you think people see the trappings as merely theatrical attention-catching devices, rather than a deepening or extending of the content, because they are so humorous – and people don't tend to take things which they laugh at seriously?
Larry Goodell: Generally, when I give a reading, things turn out funnier than I thought they would be. There are definite satiric and hilarious aspects to the poems. There is a quasi-Camp aspect, there is – what might be called – a "Pop" aspect, there are certain easy, tricky phrases with lots of sexual overtones – like a kind of extended dirty joke which can be taken on more sophisticated levels. I basically find that I'm interested in humor more than anything else.
* cf “Two Charlies” featuring Charlie Vermont and Charles Walsh