An Interview with Ed Sanders
An interview with Ed Sanders, as conducted by KC Orcutt and Chad
Lowther for Barzakh.
CL: In Investigative Poetry you said, “If a man or a woman does not live/ in the thought that he
or she/ is a history, he or she/ is not capable of/ himself or herself,” (26). How might this
statement relate to a poet’s involvement in connection to his or her local scene, and to a broader
community of poets?
ES: Part of what I call “time-tithing” is to take time out of the electromagnetic distractions to
study your local “scene,” your local government— town level, for instance— and acquire a
better level of knowledge, so as to figure out what is really going on. Make notes— open up
chronological and alphabetical files say, on a local issue such as water quality, or lack of a
recycling program, or Meals-on-wheels, or your town’s programs for youth, and keep track of
things, but also bring in your own life, keep a journal on relating to the local scene, as well as the
local literary world— how it all Coheres. Be sure to date and number all note pages, and spend
enough time to organize research files so that, in the future, they are instantly readable,
understandable, and usable.
CL: How might an investigative poetics be enacted through modes of discourse other than
ES: Well, investigation techniques involve taking photos, taping interviews, making videos,
preparing Question Lists, and keep voluminous journals and notes— then the trick in
Investigative Poetry is to turn those “raw” files into line breaks, and verse. I always say start
writing your fresh observations and note files— in their first versions, into poesy, or line-break
CL: Considering your stated enthusiasm for Egyptian mythology, and thinking also of Olson’s
devotion to the study of the Mayans, in what ways is the idea of the poem’s function in distilling
historical data sympathetic to ancient image-based systems of communication?
ES: The Glyph, ancient and modern, is strongly affixed to the recent Rise of the Visual, and a
Good Glyph can assist wonderfully in the distillation of good poetry: as in
what Basil Bunting told Ezra Pound: “dichten=condensare.”
CL: These subjects of study, however, are both removed from, and, perhaps, at odds with the
cultural experience that is familiar to the investigator. How then might the poet or the community
look to an investigate poetics as a means of exploring itself, of calling its own values and
practices into question, or as a means of documenting its own existence?
ES: Poetry is just another method of annotating the Time-Flow. Investigative Poetry, as I
originally envisioned it, would provide a fact-based way of improving the economic benefits to
its practitioners, as well as helping to “mine” the Absolute Data Flood that has been prevalent
now since at least the mid-1960s arrival of the cassette tape recorder, and the 1970s arrival of the
CL: Investigative Poetry seems to provide the poet with a means of defending both herself and
the important values of her culture from acts of violence designed to uphold convention, and acts
of convention committed against non-normative culture. In what way is a community’s
awareness of its own, and of surrounding circumstances necessary to the success of an
ES: Well, one way to hide from a hostile uberculture would be to commingle the ancient concept
of the Dithyramb with stark modern fact-based Investigative Poetry techniques. With poetry, you
are “performing” for an audience say 200 years from now anyway, as well as for the often toofew
who scan your stuff in an on-line website or limited-run broadside.
KCO: During the 13 issue run of Fuck You did you ever contemplate compiling and printing a
volume of the issues? Did you have a wider truth or theory behind your editorial role of “printing
anything,” or was it literally that simple?
ES: I never wanted to publish a volume of the complete run. I liked, during the time of the
magazine, 1962-1965 to sandwich poetry by acquaintances such as those who would hang out at
my Peace Eye Bookstore with the “great” writers who were sending me poetry to publish, such
as Olson, Duncan, Ginsberg, Malina, Wakoski, DiPrima, et al.
There was still a lot of censorship going on in the U.S.A., so my cry “I’ll print anything” had
more import than if I uttered it today.
KCO: There’s an exclusivity with the small press that makes for several interesting
circumstances, including limited readership, as well as the ever-present challenge of continuing.
Did you want to keep the distribution small (and free) in preservation of the allure of the small
press, or did you ever see it growing as a wide-ranging series?
ES: How many people actually read the poetry in small press publications? 500? (If you’re
lucky). “The ever-present challenge of continuing.” Sometimes when you give up a run of
publishing something, you can shout “Hallelujah! No more angry poets whose poems you reject!
No more hustling to raise money! No more depleting your savings account! No more boxes of
back issues behind the bed!” On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like editing, compiling,
designing, making image and photo selections, pasting it up, and then receiving a Fresh Issue
from the printer!
KCO: Do you see a place for small presses in today’s world or do you think the industry will
devalue publication with the wide array and accessibility of Internet publishing?
ES: As long as there are Rebel Cafés where poets, dreamers, novelists, inventors, painters, etc
gather together; or even on-line poesy discussion sites, there will be Small Presses.
KCO: How do you consider your works in America A History in Verse? Prose history, poetry, or
a creative catalog?
ES: History in verse.
KCO: The vigorous and expansive range of historical content in this work specifically also
mentions your own involvement in the time, such as in Vol. 2 where you mention Ginsberg
living down the street and for one example, “with him we founded the Committee to Legalize
Marijuana,” – was this inevitable?
ES: It’s not enough to read the Best Minds of Your Generation, it’s also very useful to hang out
with, even kill time with, the Best Minds of Your Generation.
KCO: Did you want to remain detached from the work or was there a conscious choice to be
subtly connected where poetry itself was the best use of language?
ES: Poetry allows a confused, loner, unselfconfident egomaniac— nervous, irritable, shambly,
confused, nail-biting, wanderlusty— to create a Wall of Silence between his/her poesy and the
Rest of the World.
KCO: How did you filter out what data and events to include, and what to pass by?
ES: It’s the old Negative Capability letter of John Keats. You have to say no to tens of thousands
of whizzing-by facts before you say yes to one or two, and then figure out how to place them
aptly into the Data Cluster.
KCO: How does the relationship between private and public history influence poetry?
ES: Well, it goes back to the quote from Olson about daring to make yourself part of the Flow of
History. You can’t be like Zelig and place yourself stupidly into the throes of the Time Track,
but you can aptly and honestly mention your place.
KCO: How did you differentiate the desire to seek out information from the point of view as a
poet from that of an investigative journalist?
ES: The proof is in the line, and the creation of euphonious, interesting and even now and then
thrilling clusters of lines, which trace with accuracy the items of time you are describing.
KCO: How do you balance your creativity in your writing with being concise such as
ES: You could write a two-thousand page book on almost anything by downloading and
sequencing material from the Internet. That’s why I’ve thought of a new Muse, called
Condensare, and another muse called Sequentia— both of which make it possible, through
condensing/distilling, and through apt sequencing, to create text which is possible to be read by
distracted, overly-excited, nervous readers.
KCO: How does preparing to perform differ from your writing process?
ES: Need a clean shirt.