Artist Interview: Katherine Factor

The next Artist Interview Project installment features Katherine Factor, a poet and writer. Her poems can be heard here, and her music writing here and here.  
Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.
The full text of her interview with a student is below.
Upon a Nectar Era crop

Image provided by artist

Interview Transcript

What’s your writing process? When you write do you have a specific image, a specific feeling, a specific structure in your head? Or do you just begin and let the words take you where they may?
The process for me is an arrangement of sound, image as symbol, as well as story (defined widely and wildly) on the page. I am open to the way a poem starts, unless I am working procedurally… i.e adhering to formal restraint such as the sonnet, N+1, or Including Your Own Hey. Otherwise, form follows content: the container for the poem will manifest as the urge unfolds. One of my favorite essays—and earliest relationship to craft— is Denise Levertov’s, “Some Notes on Organic Form,” which states that there is a form beyond forms. And our perception is the mode of making it known. This is a bit like Phenomenology and Semiotics, my favorite areas of Philosophy.

In that way, the poem adheres to the invisible, organic, patterning via a greater fluid and meaning coursing through our reality. The poet does the revealing—similar to how the music experience lifts the veil between the visible and invisible—illuminating spirit.  I love Gerard Manley Hopkins’s insistence on what he called inscape: the workings of god, the underpinnings of energy, are seething with a rhythm and sound available in this dimension—if we pay attention! I’m into the philosopher Spinoza when it comes to this. He gets “it.”

Generally, I do not “just begin” because art is a cauldron of idea, accident, and channeling. But I do let the words take me “where they may,” because often the music of a syllable will take over meaning. I worship the power of the blank page, but usually have a fragment, an idea, or a wisdom tradition that I am working with. There is a mental pressure also that wants to condense, like Emily Dickinson. Dickinson took loaded words and stitched them in ambiguity, open to interpretation. After all, she wrote: “I dwell in Possibility.”

What do you feel is the most persistent theme that comes up in your poetry?
Pound’s maxim,“Poetry is the news that stays news” is now: Poetry is the news that fights fake news. Poetry is the news that connects us with oneness, with the subconscious/ dream logic. It hinges us to connection to source; it pushes against orthodoxy and consumption, which we desperately need. We must live in the questions and not the control. We need to promote the jam. This is what Keats meant by “negative capability.” We must exist in the mysteries not meaning. See Susan Sontag’s seminal work, “Against Interpretation,” for more on this.

Thusly, my themes are simply against the patriarchy: Colonialism of form, of creativity, of the indigenous, of economies, of voices. My poems immerse you in a feminine power. I’m interested in letting something take over that knows more than I do. I’m trying to light our gnostic spark—which is more Orphic, but I’m surely speaking from a maenad’s point of view. Maenads were these womxn that ditched their domestic duties and followed the Dionysian music from town to town, reveling in the mysteries and abetting magic via nature and sexuality. Those who refused to conform to the colonial power, seen best in Euripides’ The Bacchae, when the mother of King Pentheus cuts his head off after he creeps on them,  the divine feminine. Granted, she is driven into a frenzy, but I love the image of that as a metaphor for dismantling the forces that destroy nature. Also, the maenads knew how to handle a pinecone, which is our best representative of the third eye/imagination. This chopping off of tyranny (thinking) from the feeling is what the Surrealists mastered, creating magic to neutralize the machine of war.

Do you feel like beauty is an essential part of art? Why or why not?
Ah! Good question—one now complicated by how important it is that society today works to decolonize our programmed notions of beauty: youth, perfect bodies, wealth, heteronormativity. Beauty can—and should—incorporate the other, the unknown, the “ugly.” There is so much poetry that is not typically lyrical or beautiful or insisting on meaning: there are distortions of sound and syntax, cut-ups, erasures of texts, noise poems. I agree with the Romantics to include the Occult, the chaos of nature, childlike wonder, and the sublime. Here I will defer to my father, a retired Philosophy professor: “What isn’t beautiful is commodity, redundancy, mind-numbness, censorship.” To this I’ll add: lack of experiment. A band, for instance, that relies on formula and not risk, that’s questionable to me. American poetry since Whitman—and music since Charles Ives— these are our highest offerings.

What do you feel is the most essential aspect of poetry as an art form? What makes it stand out among the other written forms of art?
Experiment is the most essential aspect. And the white space that happens within that. It’s capacity for silence and slowing down. Largely, but not always, these aspects come from line breaks.

Do you have a particular poet who you look up to? What makes their works admirable?
H.D. is a prominent figure. She wrote this tight, epic, experimental work, Trilogy, during WWII. In the “Walls Do Not Fall” section, she is rummaging in the ruins basically calling on the Ascended Masters and ancestors for help. She mixes images of the ancient ruins with the bombing of London that is actually taking place around her. Her and her lover were resisting the occupation; while she types, the rhythm of the bombs dropping are there. This is her most admirable work, but along the way she made her friends mythic, had experimental lovers, worked with Freud, and studied astrology. Some of the other great poetic witches include Dickinson, Hilma Af Klint, Helen Adams, Alice Coltrane, Anne Waldman, Patti Smith, Mary Ruefle, and Brenda Hillman.

Do you feel that there is a difference between the written and spoken poem? If there is, what do you think it is?
There is a difference! (I won’t address Spoken Word here which relies on the confessional and topical.) For me, the written poem is the act and the spell of creating. When creating, I align myself mostly with Projective Verse. This is the work of the San Francisco Renaissance. . .  an ignored gateway between the Beats and the music of psychedelic rock and improvisation. Essentially, the page/canvas will be projected upon while Spirit enters and leaves the body, its blood made of surprise.

However, my work is likely more alive in the spoken, or audio work, because apparently I cannot help but be behoven to incantation.

What emotion do you most frequently wish to invoke in your writing?
Prayerful anxiety mixed with playfullness. A continued plea for awe and wonder.

Pyramid Power

Image provided by the artist using source material from Klimt, and Jager DiPaola Kemp & B.C. Kagan.

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