Interview with the poet S. K. Yeatts (SKY) by Steve Koundouriotis (SK)
Recorded at Sky Studios on May 20, 2021
SK: For this video interview, I have the Adelaide Books’ poet S. K. Yeatts in the studio for a brief chat. And to add a little fun to this interview, I thought it would be interesting to share some of your “Post-Photographic Impressionistic” art panoramas in the background while we talk if that is OK?
SK: We only have a short time so let’s jump in! You have used the term ‘Hologlyph’ in the title of your initial collection of poetry and now again in your new book – Hologlyph? Is that a word?
SKY: Hologlyph is a neologism which is a combination of two words – in this case Holo (meaning whole or complete) and Glyph (defined as a symbol or image that conveys information non-verbally). So – Holo Glyph – which stands for “Whole Image”.
One of my fellow poets once called me a post-Imagist, but the term Hologlyph seems a better moniker – again, if one must have a label put on their work.
SK: So, do you revere Imagist poets like Ezra Pound, H. D., & Amy Lowell?
SKY: I would not say ‘revere’, as in my opinion a lot of what they wrote didn’t really work, but the Imagist concept was (and still is) an important movement for poetry. At the core of the Imagist credo was Ezra Pound’s vision of what he called the ‘Luminous Detail’. Pound’s envisioned “luminous detail” can be considered the opposite of inductive fact, or polarized point of view. From Pound’s perspective, the luminous details of history always remain unaltered, even if specific notions wax or wane in periodic cultural favor. Pounds says:
“…The artist seeks out the luminous detail and presents it. He does not comment…”
Pound, even if he was often overly ‘intellectual’ with his poetry sensed the necessity of the non-intellectual to covey a deeper current of meaning. In his Literary Essays he wrote:
“An image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time… It is the presentation of such a complex instantaneously which gives a sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits; that sense of sudden growth… It is better to present one Image in a lifetime that to produce voluminous works.”
I like to think that Hologlyphic poetry comes close to realizing this vision. And similar to a zen koan – such a poetic style possesses the ability to create a jolt of insight by stopping the rational sequence of thought with archetypal imagery, creating a breakthrough for the reader.
SK: Are any of the popular poets – say, Mary Oliver or even current laureates such as Joy Harjo, or Natasha Trethewey writing in this style?
SKY: Not so much. You would have to go back to Wallace Stevens, or W. B. Yeats to find echoes of the Imagists. Over one-hundred years ago, Ezra Pound was lamenting about the deteriorated state of “modern” poetry in Britain when he said:
“…most of it is not even baked, and just a doughy mess of third-hand Keats, (and) Wordsworth…”
And at that time, from the sheer proliferation of literary art “rebellions” at the turn of that century it was obvious that the Poet’s voice had been drowned by precedent and convention. Now, well into the twenty-first century, the pendulum has swung to the other side and we see that the artist’s voice has been parched by the focus on “temporal protests” of the current era where in large part even venerated poetic traditions are being shunned. The Pulitzer prize winning poet John Ashbery was once asked if he appreciated “Protest poetry”. He replied “Protest is protest. Poetry is poetry.” While that may be an oversimplification, I think his comment is directionally correct.
SK: OK – well if today’s popular poets are not writing in what you describe as your evolution of the Imagist’s rubric – you mentioned poets like Stevens and Yeats that are closer to you stylistically, but are there other examples?
SKY: I think so – Federico Garcia Lorca, Friedrich Hölderlin and the T’ang Dynast poets all wrote poems that were often image-driven. The concept of putting a resonance of imagery over intellectual thought in poetry can best be sensed by looking at painting. Take for instance a quote about the imagery of Georg Inness. The literary essayist Royal Cortissoz said:
“Inness was emotional and mystical…rather than intellectual”.
Just as Inness emphasized atmosphere over form, the Imagists professed to be more interested in an atmosphere than ideas, as impressions presented via luminous images portend a vaster canvas on which to work than can be evoked by abstract “intellectual arguments”.
What Cortissoz is pointing out is that an atmosphere soaks the full ground of awareness and replicates raw experience more closely than intellectual concepts or explanations. It can be argued that for poetry, something is lost in imaging; much is lost in mere description; and all is lost in telling. So, this meta-logical reliance on archetypal imagery in art can be a fine surrogate for the Post-Imagist or Hologlyphic approach to poetry.
SK: A lot of poets today are writing on topics of race, gender, or politics. I don’t see any of that in your work.
SKY: Poets should write about subjects they believe are important, for me that takes the form of meditations on time, memory, and the mysterious universe.
People get numbed by the small distractions of the day and often forget what a mysterious world we live in. For example – our currently understanding of Quantum Physics and Einsteinian field equations (e.g., the mathematic of the very small and that of the very large, respectively) – are completely at odds with each other, which suggests our models and perception of reality are incomplete. Even the radar videos of Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) first published by the New York Times back in 2017 and recently acknowledged in 2020 as being authentic by the US Navy and Pentagon – shows graphic proof of physical objects violating our current understanding of what physics says is possible. So, as Shakespeare said through the character of Hamlet to Horatio:
“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.
SK: I noticed that several pieces in your new collection allude to Nick Bostrom’s ‘Simulation’ theory. Would you agree?
SKY: Yes – Bostrom, the Swedish-born philosopher who is I suppose better known for his work on A.I. protocols authored a well discussed 2003 white-paper titled: “Are you Living in a Computer Simulation?” in which he concluded that it is a likely possibility that we all occupy a vast simulation created by post-humans or other meta-intelligences. Whether that is the case is still being debated. Yet, all these data-points present a fascinating possibility that what we perceive as ‘real’ may only be a grand illusion. So out of such existential doubts is where art and poetry gain relevance. Gustave Flaubert did not create the concept of the arts asserting their role in filling a void for the repository of meaning in the world. Ernst Fuchs quote about the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin is just one of many examples that illustrate such a point: he wrote:
“Only an understanding which goes beyond aesthetic considerations and scientific fact and touches upon the very structure of the imagination will reconquer its truth and reality for us, so that we, like the peoples of classical antiquity, can learn to perceive the world through the figurative work of the artist”.
SK: Ok. Well, I have a couple of last questions, as we are almost out of time. Your first book which received multiple literary awards, did weigh-in on several of the larger topics you mentioned, but a few critics have also observed that some of your work retains a darker edge. Could you shed some light on such comments – so to speak?
SKY: One person’s darkness is another’s beauty. While I don’t consider my work as being ‘light’ – let’s just call it introspective. How’s that?!
SK: Touché! Is there any last thought you would like to add?
SKY: I believe that art in general, and poetry in specific should aspire to the Japanese concept of Yūgen (幽玄) – which can be roughly translated as ‘Mystery in Beauty’. I would propose that much of the poetry that is still in print today from Chinese translations of Li Tai Po or Tu Fu to the German of Ingeborg Bachmann encapsulates the essence of this concept. I can only hope that some of this Yūgen is present in my work as well.
SK: S. K. Yeatts – thank you for sharing your thoughts as well as your “Post-photographic Impressionist” art we have been seeing in the background. I can’t help but see some similarity between your visual art and your poetry – but that discussion will have to wait for another time.
SKY: Thank you Steve!