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May 8, 2014 | Interview

SKY RAT Q&A

Gary J Shipley

SKY RAT Q&A photo

Rauan has died before now. This revelation was not something divulged one evening when the blood had cooled and certain admissions are made all by themselves. No. He’s never said so, this Leopardian mummy. But there’s a certain style to the ones that have been forced to come back, to resurrect themselves from the shit of the earth, and make what they see good again, good as the simulacrum of the good of the sleep they left behind. I tell as much by the jubilant desperation in the Holy Land, in The Moon’s Jaw, in this Sky Rat, in the things that glitter and shine that he tries to make a world of, of the killings and the agonies that are varnished with light and newness, and it feels like every day, every day peopled with names I’ve never met, with resized animals, with disenchantment and this retching of hard-earned enthusiasm. Yes, it feels like every day.

 

 

Why are there no pigeons in this book? In other words, why ‘Sky Rat’?

 

I’ve always liked pigeons. At my childhood home in South Arica we raised and trained racing pigeons. It’s hard to imagine, at first, I guess, the rat or the House Mouse of Sky Rat actually flying. I mean it wants to fly. Desperately. And it does even. With the long gnarled tail. With balls tied back up against its buttocks. With its big fat ears.

 

Soooooooooooo, Sky Rat as a kind of angel then. Or a God. The ultimate God. The rat.

 

Rat made and equal, of course, to Sex— The force that thru the

green fuse drives the flower drives my green . . .

that blasts the roots of trees. . .

…and I am dumb. . .

 

 

The supernal rat “cums over and over” but there’s the feeling throughout the book of characters and situations incessantly on the brink. And you say “We are almost.” where, without ellipsis, the ‘almost’ becomes the final state.  Do you ever imagine something beyond this verge, or is the verge where it ends?

 

People have always been fascinated with the twilights of possibilities in which people are at their passionate extremes. I recently re-read Ted Hughes talking about Shakespeare and Ovid in this way. Ovid dealing in extremes that culminate in transformations. One creature to another. Shakespeare, though, mainly with transformations of personality.

 

In Sky Rat (enough of the clever ones) I think there is an incessant itching towards transformation. An incessant itching within a hall of mirrors where (RON=SEX=DEATH=RAUAN=A GOOD GIRL=RAUAN=DEATH=SEX=RON) the actual and dubious transformations are bound up with in one system (or hall) of equivalences that a monster gluts himself on from time to time.

 

And I guess this is kind of more in line with Genet’s creative cosmos where characters have no free will but are just around for Genet to torture and to enjoy. For Genet, by proxy, to suffer through.

 

Like the red and green apple of the self turning and turning.A snake in retarded jerks.

 

 

In what sense is Ron Silliman the equivalent of sex? Does he embody the act, or the gender you share with him? Is the equivalent the same as in that Silliman line: “First snow in the Sierras = cold showers here.”

 

It’s essential that there’s a sharing, an equivalence, between myself and Ron. Between my voice and Ron’s voice. My body and Ron’s body. There is a tenderness here, besides the violence. A real romantic love identification. Pure, proper sadomasochism. (Love in the flesh… RON=SEX). A romance that can be seen as homoerotic, or straight, or masturbatory. Tender, laughable, horrible—vivid and real.

 

That being said by using Ron and Seth (and I mean “using” in the bad sense of the word, as in “he/she used me) I’m being cold and mean. I mean it’s funny, right? But it’s cold. Cruel. And there’s no really defending it. But!! –this coldness, like a glass of wine, pairs nicely, I think, with the tenderness, meaty violence, and heroism on offer.

 

And I guess snow is snow. And cold is cold. And when interviewers whisper-quotes Ron Silliman to me I need to dash off and take a cold shower. So, please, excuse for me a bit, . . .

 

 

Is Zach Schomburg really someone we can trust, a man whose daughter was never born, a man who’d have us believe he is sometimes no less than the entire Arctic Ocean?

 

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I think Zach Schomburg (the writing, certainly and maybe the man .. ?) is a huge uncontained state of mourning. A vessel of uncontained grief. Varied, volatile and multitudinous. Capable, as grief is, of anything. A surrealism with heart. A wonderful writer. And a wonderful reader of his poetry. Like the sea goes at the shore. An overlord of certainty.

 

And in this something (much larger than all the oceans) how can we not trust ? So whether it’s trees full of dead hummingbirds, telephones, ponds, cold northern climes, or the pedestrian matter of recommending someone who can dish it out rough, really rough—Zach is someone we can definitely trust.

 

 

What or whom do the trumpets hail? Is it any more or less than the arrival of the phallus? And if so, are fanfares due for the aleatoric?

 

I am—beyond the dreaming Fantasies forced in me by my God Shadows and liabilities to hear the heavenly, ecstatic cords—a total atheist.

 

And since I assert, rather heavy-handedly, that in addition to being equal to Sex that RON=DEATH it follows that the music has nothing and all to do with the phallus. All and nothing to do with the dice…And so why not kneel down over the spoils before during and after the war waiting and demanding trumpets?

 

I mean why not have trumpets for anything and everything? For the peacocks and the shadows? For the way we make a box? For the way we sweep out or foul up a tent? For the way we take a rod from the kit we carry everywhere with us? For the cats? For all the readings in a Brooklyn minute? For the way Poetry lies maimed in the parks, streets and asylums?

 

For the way the cripple walks and twists its wrist?

 

 

 

As a remedy to the scourge of Aids, limiting sex to virgins is, while open to abuse and absurdly unsustainable, at least coherent. On the individual level, as a purgative medical treatment, it smacks of little more than wishful thinking.Point being, is Ron Silliman’s presence in an Aids orphanage in the former Orange Free State the latter of these? Or is he just there to witness the World coming in?

 

Yes, I think the Greeks and Romans held similar coherencies involving cures, virginity, rules, laws, rape, death, etc. Inherited, no doubt, from even more primitive/coherent societies that knew how to deal with silly matters of red tape.

 

And since the South African witch doctor communities believe(d) that condoms were some sort of small-pox blanket trick I think we can say that Ron is there to witness, as well as participate—for I think,in my heart of hearts, of Ron as an Egyptian goddess come to help us into the boat that will sail us out of our giant pointy tomb. And then blissfully entwined (death, agencies, disease and life) we’ll triumph among the stars.

 

The Sky Rat, too, is a curious creature. And there is also a simultaneity effect at play throughout the book I think. Meaning to say that different things and times are happening at the same time. Entwined. The way we are filled with parasites. A complex.

 

 

 

Death (or DETH) is frequently associated with a certain fairytale naivety, a time of unsoured desire, a place to return to, a time before we got lost grinding our genitals into ever finer dust – and we are somehow made “ecstatic from all these exertions.” Is this the fabled ecstasy of the suicide, achieved in tiny enervating increments, L’Inconnue de la Seine made that way by a series of small repeated acts and only polished by the river? “And horses in their death throes (a kind of puberty)”: againit seems as if death like the past is a foreign land(the dogs are castrated there), but is this a connection you recognise?

 

 

Some crazies (certain scientists, mainly, I think) believe that after we’re all gone and everything’s condensed into an infinitely tiny nothing (a tiny everything) and that nothing explodes, blossoming out into its everything, an infinitely large expression of energy, then all possibilities and permutations (past, present, future, of mind, body, personality)will be realized in a flash.

 

So everyone’s resurrected. Made real and flesh again. Water again. Water again in this exploding cosmic river. So, yes, I think Death in me and Sky Rat is a foreign land, a treasure box of fantasy where all the bodies hanging in ultimate tree(s) jerk up and down for a moment, electrified and alive again. (Man, o, man—I wish I’d brought my GPS with me).

 

Drifting, hollow hope. And worth dying for. If you’re brave enough.

 

 

Sex refuses to die. It sinks “deeper and deeper in lost accelerated sinking” and all those calls for its death are then enacted, and yet it remains larger and richer than before. Cocks are enlarged, and cunts then to accommodate them, the size of Sex itself growing. And then its grandeur is such that love repels it, glues knees together –Sex left looking into a mirror. Amongst all this preponderance of swelling, are there maybe smallnesses, innately that way and still very much present, which can nevertheless provoke in you certain unmistakable symptoms of mourning? Or, to use the vernacular of the Rat, is there something of the House Mouse about you?

 

Certainly there is something of the Rat in me. Something of the House Mouse. But that doesn’t make me special at all. It’s like being made of DNA. The House Mouse is in all of us. Ron Silliman. Melissa Broder. The Viper (Paul Cunningham). Alec Niedenthal. My mother. Jonathan Franzen. Absolutely all of us—susceptible to smallnesses: a susceptibility which can of course be ugly but which can also vault you into the demesne of the imagination where anything is possible. And I am speaking here, again, of mourning. Of longing.

 

Life is large. Life is wonderful. But I mourn it. Mourn all its rat-ness. Mourn it because to mourn, with action and imagination, is greater than any Alt Lit or Nobel Laureate party. And I mourn it in fear. Mourn it in the form of a cute juvenile mouse staring up at the descending boot as a sensitive and sensible, matronly voice booms out over and over: KILL IT NOW.

 

I believe the more serial killer documentaries you watch the longer you will live.

 

 

All these melancholy frustrations put me in mind of the movie Shame, of Michael Fassbender, his knob tied in a knot, whiskered and big-eared, and sad and cumming and cumming into himself until he ruptures. Is your liberal use of parentheses and strikethroughs an effort to depict the attempted curtailment of this inevitable disintegration?

 

Joe Hall, a poet and friend of mine, has used the word “static” to describe some of what’s going on in Sky Rat. And I think there is an e e cummings sort of childishness (serious and playful) to the typography, mutilations and all.

 

Maybe the parentheses and strikethroughs are me just being ornamental like a drag queen touching up with all sorts of glitter—but also maybe they’re an attempt to thwart the momentum of air or whatever’s going into the balloon that’s about to explode.

 

But, I think, too, that they’re the fuses that help detonate the explosions. Or the ball bearings and nails in the bomb. There is a part of me that wishes I’d been more “liberal” and hadn’t restrained myself, and that I’d just gone nuts with all the plague marking. The decorating. The fussing. All the tracks in the arm.

 

 

You mention “the glorious moment of Euthanasia”, and I’m wondering if you recall that 16-year-old Brazilian boy who wanked himself to death, how it took 42 small deaths to make one big one?

 

I hadn’t heard about that. But of course that’s amazing. (amazeballs??). And with masturbation (as with stalagmites and stalactites) there is certainly an incremental power that marbles up and down as we ride into a sense of impending glory and collapse that comes on and on.

 

I am thinking, of course, of Guyotat’s compositional methods (writing with one hand while self-stimulating with the other) which I think Kathy Acker practiced also.

 

God, Death, Sex – all coming directly out of the body.

 

The only way to really own Time is to incarnate your own body.

 

 

There’s obvious delight here in illuminating the human grot and dirt and slime, in emancipating it from murky corners and throwing it on stage, fully lit, and watching it quail. It’s the remedy of Poe’s demon of perversity (railing against passivity), replete with show tunes and titillation turned negative spilling over into aesthetic mania. (“And. . . I’m praying drunk sniffing at a child led upstairs / and into a small room. And the smell’s a lighthouse, / snivelling, as we kneel together, in tinted, blown / kerosene.”)A question, then: Do you think the happy and the decent and the perpetually well-lit would quail any less in the dark?

 

I’m glad you used the word “delight” here because there was a real and sacred kind of glee at play in the making of Sky Rat. A kind of mandorla glowing about me. As though I, the author and medium of what was happening, was a kind of Saint. A rat with a real shine.

 

And part of the cold-ness of the book is the fantasy, the hope, that the “decent” and the “perpetually well-lit” would quail even more when dragged up or down or sideways into the dark basement that exposes everything like a Holocaust.

 

That being said, it’s impossible to guess ahead of time who would be a hero or coward in a time of crisis. Most people think they’d do good, be strong, tough. But, then again, most people think they’re better than average looking.

 

 

From Holy Land to The Moon’s Jaw, and now into Sky Rat, I get the sense that a state of frenzy is building. Are you conscious of this increase in agitated intensity?

 

I think I am. And this seems to be happening also in the crayon drawings that I do for fun. As far as writing goes the sentence making part(s) of my brain seem to be rusting, blurring, becoming more and more disinterested. While at the same time my sense of sound and image sequence and shape seems to be intensifying.

 

There’s a kind of something (a plague, a blot, a rot?) in my blood that’s making me want to rough things up. Fuzzy them up. Burn. Bleed. And boil. And it feels impossible to resist.

 

Even as I struggle to keep the structures more and more coherent (like the inside of the Blue Mosque, for example) the need to deface, stall, crack, blur, keeps rearing up in me like the most deliberate orchid. It’s kind of an addiction, I think. A compulsion for sure.

 

My work now, it seems, could go one of two ways. Calmer. Or more agitated. And I’m probably kidding myself if I believe I have a real say in it.

image: Aaron Burch


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