With Philip Rowland

The Conversation Continues

ROWLAND: So the concept of the whole work was conceived in process, as it were, rather than in advance.

CORMAN: That's right. Precisely. And I had no idea there would be... Five volumes is exactly right.

ROWLAND: In Volume Three, at the centre of Volume Three, there are a large number of autobiographical poems, about your childhood -

CORMAN: Right, that's the pivot of the whole work. Before I started writing poetry: it's about my childhood before poetry.

ROWLAND: Are there any similarly central themes in Volumes Four and Five?

CORMAN: I don't think in such terms, except that it's life, livingdying (which is my word of course). But this is what it's all about: human existence, and life in whatever form.

ROWLAND: Ok. Perhaps I should say "motifs" - for example, "breath" is one of those.

CORMAN: Well, yes. Just as, I think it's in the fourth volume, there's a whole segment, just Rembrandt poems. I do things that nobody else has ever done, and the first sections of every volume are translations or other people's words - not identified, although as I said, easy to identify if you really are interested in doing that - it doesn't matter - and they're in chronological order, but it doesn't really matter so much except to feel the growing. There are some Old English poems involved, simply to bring it back, anonymously, all this, so that anybody can identify. The second sections are all poems about others, other real people, or about legends also; the third section always first person poems, I-we poems; the fourth sections are all you-poems; and fifth section, not people, so, everything -- is included -- or just straightforward messages as it were. All the books -- in fact all my recent books -- larger collections -- are five-part; and this New Directions [Nothing/Doing], this one too is a five-part book. It draws on poems from the eighties and nineties, so it repeats quite a lot of poems that are in earlier collections. And some are from this book [All Yours]. This book [Nothing/Doing] is a Selected, although there are a number of poems in here that had never been published before. But this a perfect example of the kind of work that I do.

ROWLAND: Are you talking about Nothing/Doing or…?

CORMAN: No, this one: All/Yours. And I realized only recently that I had used this title before -- but I've done this a number of times. But I've written so many books I don't keep track, I don't keep track of my books, so I don't even know. So when I pick up a book -- the recent ones even -- I don't know, the books surprise me, because I'm too busy writing new work to keep in my mind ... So it's good, they have a fresh impact on me. But this poetry is unlike any other poetry that's ever been written, although it has some kind of relation to ancient poetry in some ways, to Sappho, and to Catullus, and people like that who wrote directly. So: "Assistant," the first poem:

As long as you're here -
Would you turn the page?

Myself; pocked pimpled
skin -- double chin --
mouth straight and thin -
eyes knit by wrinkle --
forehead almost all
gone to skull. But
in the glass the child
awakens to
his absence. Not what
anyone pre-
dicted - merely what
everyone knows.

"The Coming of Age" - and this is true: I had some weird things in my childhood. My mother and father when I was fourteen sent me to the race-track to gamble for them -- my choices, and I never lost. This was how I earned money: I would be given half the winnings. I could read the horse charts very well, early on. My folks loved to gamble, my father especially: he used to have the charts, so I used to study them from an early point and I got very good at it. I could make a living at it. And then friends used me the same way. They were working, they would give me money and I would split the winnings with them. And then, this poem tells what the upshot of it -- "The Coming of Age":

I gave up gambling
the day I won most -
far more than deserved
I realized then
the waste of winning
with so much to lose.

I was throwing away my life on the horses. The time I was spending studying those charts and forth wasn't worth the trouble, no matter how much money I earned.

It isn't for want
of something to say -
something to tell you

something you should know -
but to detain you -
keep you from going -

feeling myself here
as long as you are --
as long as you are.


Will we ever understand
we live for each other or
we dont live at all? Alas --

all the evidence implies
to this day the answer is
an unrhetorical no.

"Enuresis" - Do you know the word?

ROWLAND: I do, from your previous interview, published in the apr. Bedwetting, right?

CORMAN: Ah, OK. Yeah. Ed is George Evans, that is a nickname for him: Ed.

Terror is not - Ed -
sitting in one's piss.
I know - I've sat there -

I've slept there and did
most of my childhood.
     That was warmth - in fact -

     and comfort - in spite
     of the unconcealed

     smell. Terror? That was
     and always will be
     mother cursing Dad

     and there there I am
     alone in that night
     hearing that door slam.

ROWLAND: Does that last poem bear any relation to one of those you gave FlashPøint, "AUTODIDACT"?

CORMAN: No, although the bedwetting probably does come from some of the fact of upbringing, because, you see, I'm one of three brothers: my older brother, I'm the middle, and my younger brother, and there's only a year between us. Well, my younger brother is dead now, my older brother virtually dead, he's catatonic and he's on intravenous feed, twenty-four hours home care, can't speak or read, and sometimes doesn't even recognize his wife of over fifty years. So... I don't know, he told me years ago he was afraid of dying. He's a man who made plenty of money: he was a psychoanalyst early on, very well trained, Freudian; and earned more money by the time he was twenty-one than I've ever earned; and he's lived a very comfortable life, four kids... Because my older brother was brought up to be a genius, he was expected to be, and that has been a pressure on his life. My mother, I don't know if she was ever fully aware of this fact, maybe not, that... It's hard to know....

ROWLAND: We've been talking about some of your past, and some of your American background, and I wonder how American, as a poet, and person, you feel? Or how important it is to you?

CORMAN: Well, in one of the anthologies that has my work, they put me under the listing of "Expatriates." The word "expatriate" makes me feel like I'm supposed to be an exile or something, and I don't. This is home for me. I have no desire to go back to America, actually; I don't see myself living there again.

ROWLAND: You have no regrets about having passed up some of the opportunities that you were offered?

CORMAN: I'm a man who has no regrets. I've made mistakes, but I don't regret them. I've done everything, I've tried everything that I felt that I could do or wanted to do. So that I've lived my life in order not to have regrets. And I don't... As I say, I made my mistakes and so forth, but nothing so terrible: I've been poor all my life but that I expected; and that's not a really deep, important thing. Actually I think it's good that I have been; I think it's a positive thing. This is the largest house I've ever lived in, the largest space -- tiny as it is. I've lived most of my life in a single room -- like in Paris, a real small space, less space than this room.

ROWLAND: And does this feed into your "poetics," if you like?

CORMAN: If you like. It's very down-to-earth, like the way I live. I'm out, I love to walk. I don't drive, I've never driven in my life. I've never been on a bicycle in my life. I'm probably the only person in Japan, apart from the maimed, who can't. Obviously I could have done it if I'd wanted to, but I've never learned; I've no desire to be on a bike. I've been on a motorbike, in Paris; and here, Gary Snyder, I've been on his motorcycle, once. He loved to drive fast. Somebody else mentioned it to me recently, that they knew that too. He said that driving fast on a motorcycle was safest. But I was thinking at the time, "Well, this could be the death of two key American poets" [laughs]. But it was all right; I just was not used to it.

ROWLAND: A comment that I picked up from your Gist of Origin introduction [Grossman/Viking 1975], to do with Olson, and Creeley: You wrote "His [Olson's] encouragement and stimulus were valued but he rarely, if ever, grasped where I was at. He realized that I was not where he was at. Since Creeley's intentions and his were closer, their eventual editorship of the Black Mountain Review was both logical and desirable, and welcome." Could you say a little more about how where you were at was different from were they were at, and if that has changed much over the years in your case?

CORMAN: Well, Olson's work -- the early work especially -- I liked, quite a bit. It was not decorative at all, it had eliminated all the usual standard rhetoric, although there's a touch of rhetoric; and Olson was really -- and Creeley too, to some extent -- really a teacher; and the work itself is almost like a teacher. Like Gary Snyder is really a teacher, too. And they worked and thought along such lines.

ROWLAND: You don't consider yourself in any sense a teacher?

CORMAN: Not a teacher. Just a poet. Because everything is poetry for me. Just to share it with others, that's all. Really, I feel there's nothing that needs to be explained, or taught to anybody. So I write poetry that's really designed not for the usual readers. It's designed for everybody. For anybody: child, or people who have never read poetry before. In fact the best audience I ever had were nine-year-olds in San Francisco, who probably had never heard a poem before in their lives. Even the teacher, who was in her late twenties I think, had probably never heard poetry read before. And they were wonderful. One of the kids even quoted one of my poems back to me. And I didn't explain a word: I read sixteen poems from one of my little books -- the whole book. No introduction: I just read the poems to them -- no explanations -- and they were absorbed, it was obvious. It was perfect. My perfect audience: nine-year-olds, mixed group, half of them black. And I was invited because we were staying with a family friend, a doctor friend of ours, in San Francisco at the time, and the little girl... After supper I read them this little book, as a form of thank you; and the little girl, nine years old, said, "Will you read that, to my class?" And I said, "If the teacher says OK." And she did, so I went ahead and did it. That was the best reading I've ever had. It's the kind of reading I like. I often read one on one, which is my preference: I don't like large crowds, and I've never drawn large crowds -- it's not my thing, and I'm not really interested. Maybe on radio is perfect, because nobody was there, except sometimes another poet.

ROWLAND: The ultimate in intimacy.

CORMAN: Yeah. So that... No, Creeley was coming on -- he was my age, a little younger -- but he was coming on very fast at that moment. The influence of Dr. Williams clear -- on all of us actually -- but I was going my own pace, and I've always been independent. It's disturbed some of these people: Zukofsky and Olson were a little disturbed, and even Dr. Williams to some extent. Because, you know... Young poets have come to me, they're reading their work to me here... There was one young American in his mid-twenties, came here, and he brought his poetry, I didn't care for it very much, and I had indicated as much; and I was telling him stories like I'm telling you, and he got suddenly very angry at me. He said, "All you do is talk about yourself!" I said, "What did you come here for?" He said, "I came here to be validated." First time I'd ever heard anyone use the expression, and I had to ask Bob Arnold and some of the younger friends of mine what this meant. And this is the new phrase: he wanted me to tell him that he's good, you know, that he's going to be good if he's not, and so forth. ...Well, it's against my principles, actually. I'm willing for anybody to see my work once it's published, and finished, but I don't want people to see my working, and to give me advice of how to do it and so forth. I know what I want to do; and I want to let myself discover. I don't need people to tell me what to do. And I was going to go my own pace. I know it was slower than they wanted, and I was not going at their speed, but -- fine. So I was very happy when they started their own magazine, that got them off my back.

ROWLAND: When you say "not going at their speed": not going at their speed towards what? You mean in terms of experimental writing, or...?

CORMAN: Well, they weren't experimenting, they were just writing poetry that was more mature than mine. Actually, my work really began in Europe, because of the experiences, and perhaps, the total independence that I was suddenly in. And I was having extraordinary experiences. So that everything opened. And the oral poetry thing no doubt boosted me, although it was very subtle, because I didn't have the chance to hear it again. But the fact that I had simply done it opened up the possibilities for me, and then Matera was obviously a turning point, in my life, and I think Sun Rock Man is a classic. It's not a tourist book, it's a lived book; and I've never been a tourist. Most tourists in Kyoto in five days see more than I've seen of Kyoto - of the famous locations and so forth. If I stumble on them, if I just happen to wander in, ok, but... I lived opposite Notre Dame in Paris for six months before I ever walked into it. It was just enough to see it, in different daylight, and at night, and so forth. And Paul Blackburn was there with me in Paris the first month I was there. (He also had a Fulbright that year.) He took me there, by backstreets, so that we'd just stumble on it, and it was lit up at night, so suddenly I was there.

ROWLAND: Coming back to the Japanese context, I was reading recently in a few of your books published by Gnomon Press, translations of haiku mostly by the old masters. [One Man's Moon, 1984; Born of a Dream, 1988; Little Enough, 1991.] You call them "versions": it says on the front of the books, "Versions by Cid Corman." I wondered whether your choice of word there indicates an attitude to translation, an individualistic approach, or --

CORMAN: I have no rules in translating, so... I've done a lot of translation -- am still doing -- from the ancient Chinese. Every time I do a translation I do it in a different way, so I don't have any one way of doing. And I've done some of the Basho in many different versions. There are two versions of many of the poems in my... Oku no Hosomichi has been reprinted a number of times; and the one that White Pine Press did has different versions of the poem -- many of them. But the newest version, that Ecco Press did, more recently, a couple of years ago [1996], goes back to my original version. OK with me -- both versions are OK. But different ways of working the stuff. I'm trying to get -- not to add words, but to keep to the minimal structure of haiku, usually (where haiku is concerned). I've done Chinese translations different from anybody else: I follow the exact syllabic structure of the Chinese, in many of the versions -- not always -- but I indicated in one way or another in any event, because usually it's in very rigorous form, Chinese poetry, the ancient Chinese stuff.

ROWLAND: In what other ways would you say your translations of Chinese or Japanese are different from most others?

CORMAN: So this one here is, what is it, Issa, I think. I've done many versions of this particular piece: "a dewdrop world ay / a dewdrop world but even / so -- but even so"

ROWLAND: Can you remember another version?

CORMAN: I'd have to look. Not so different: just a few word-placements different. But some of the poems... So now, my version of the famous frog poem is:

old pond
                         frog leaping

It's nicer, because you don't need so many words, you don't need so many syllables to say; but it's word for word the Japanese. But I also point out by the structure that it's one phrase that's really all modifying the word "splash." [Reads the poem again.] And that deepens the poem -- if people read. But, of course, many people don't. There's far more happening than is on the surface; and you have to read the poems over and over again; and you must say them aloud, if you want to understand the work: My poems are meant to be voiced -- all of them; and you won't get the layout of the poems without feeling that. I don't know when I start a poem what it's going to say: I have no idea. I'm always surprised.

ROWLAND: Even those very short poems?

CORMAN: Even the shortest poem. I have no idea. It's like my improvised work; I learned from that. I don't know what I'm going to say, in advance. I don't want to know: I want to find out, let the words tell me. And I don't know what structure the poem is going to be in, I don't know if it's going to be 5-7-5. But I work syllabically, generally. But there's no rule I will not break. I've worked in every style imaginable. From the earliest years I tried everything, long before others even began to think along such ways. The Lang. Gang people: I was working that way before they were born. They don't know it, of course, because the stuff was published in magazines that are long since dead, and were thrown away in the beginning. So that I've done everything, virtually, that any poet has done in our time.

ROWLAND: This may be a too-difficult question, but usually at what stage in the process of actually writing a poem do you opt for one syllabic count or another?

CORMAN: I don't know... I see the way the words start to fall, with what the words tell me -- what falls most naturally together. And I always use a syllabic structure that is obvious. I want a child to be able to see; I want it realized that this is syllabically structured. So Marianne Moore works syllabically, but she works such long lines that nobody would know; it doesn't really matter that it's syllabic -- except to her, working: it governs the way she works. But for me it's so transparent. I just want every syllable in a poem to work; and I want it to be clear. So it really breaks words up; it forces you to read each word more carefully than normal.

ROWLAND: To weigh each.

CORMAN: That's right. Even simple words like a, an, the, but - whatever.

ROWLAND: I think it was Zukofsky who said -- I can't remember where -- something along those lines.

CORMAN: That was correspondence with me. We discussed this at some length. And he picked up from me some things. He was, I think, the greatest technician that poetry has ever had. Unbelievable, the technical things that he could do, and did do. He was sure of every syllable, and he worked. If you read the letters to me, you realize it.

ROWLAND: Was it in this context that he said something like: The words a and the bear as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve? [See Prepositions (University of California Press), p.10.]

CORMAN: Right. I don't know if you know this: In the first printing of A, he and his wife did the index. It's the only long poem, I think, which has an index -- that the author helped put together, and got his wife to help him. But the words that he indexes have never been indexed in history before: a, an and the are indexed! So if you want to understand what he's doing you have to go to those pages, and there are many pages involved. But he doesn't index every use, only some uses. Why? And there are many on the same page sometimes, so where do you look, how do you know, what he's pointing at? It leaves a kind of mystery, but he forces you to read very close.

ROWLAND: You said - coming back to the 5-7-5 form of syllabic count, usually seen as a traditional haiku structure -

CORMAN: The syllabic structure. But it's rare that I fall into the other elements of haiku.

ROWLAND: Right. You said in a previous interview, the apr interview: "I also sometimes use a haiku structure, but my poems break all the rules of haiku because I'm not interested in their rules." I was wondering whether that implies that you're more interested in the "spirit" of haiku, or…whether that's just jargon as far as you're concerned?

CORMAN: It's a brief form, haiku, and I use tanka form a lot too -- as much as haiku. And as I've pointed out too, many times, people sometimes think Japanese influenced me, but you'll see I was writing short poems long before I came to Japan. I had no familiarity with Japanese structures, but I had been reading a lot of Chinese poetry, because my mentor was Chinese, and he introduced me to a lot of Chinese poetry. I wanted to translate with him but he said "No," because you can't do it: Chinese poetry cannot be translated - the ancient work. And he said, "The allusions in Chinese poetry are so deep," and we don't even know what is being alluded to 90% of the time, because the old poetry is lost. They were referring to other poetry; and we don't know what that poetry was. So it's impossible: there are so many levels in the Chinese poems -- the great ones, of course -- that it's impossible. And of course I wanted to translate the best. But I said to him, "You know, other people have translated the stuff anyway; maybe we can do better." He wouldn't buy that. So we never did translate much together. We did -- I helped him a little with Chuang-tse and with the Wen Fu when he did a second version of it, that was published. (I have a copy.) He did an original version of the Wen Fu with Archibald MacLeish at Harvard, but he wasn't satisfied with it, so he did it again, with me. That was published in a Mexico quarterly, when Creeley was in Mexico (university there). I forget the name of the guy who was the editor, and he wrote some poetry too. But Chinese poetry has more meaning than most Japanese -- of course, Basho and the haiku poets that I translate, Ryokan and so forth.

ROWLAND: Are you interested in any contemporary Japanese haiku poets, or in translating any of their work?

CORMAN: No. I would like to see some good contemporary Japanese poetry, but I haven't seen any. I keep looking -- asking people to send me if I they see anything interesting -- but I don't see anything. I think there must be some, but I don't know what it is. Shuko Miyatake, in Tokyo there, is promising. (She's a young lady there who has edited, knows English, and has translated some of my work and others that I've sent her way.)

ROWLAND: What do you think of the appeal that haiku has held for people of other nationalities, the growth of a global "movement," very popular now?

CORMAN: Yeah, it's very popular. I spoke to the Haiku Society of America in 1971 at the Asia House there. My first words to the group that was sitting around me -- there must have been about 20/25 -- and I said (this was all recorded, so they have it, I think they probably should do): "Why are you bothering, writing haiku?" I immediately toned it down, of course, but... I can understand, it's a hobby, it's therapy, therapeutic -- something to do.

ROWLAND: But you didn't think their work stood up, as poetry?

CORMAN: No. There are some people who do not write bad poetry -- I've been published with -- they know me: Vincent Tripi, and several others, who do pretty good English haiku. And they're very friendly towards me, all of them; and of course, I'm printed in a lot of haiku magazines, although my work is, of course, not at all standard stuff.

ROWLAND: But there are some poems of yours that would "qualify" -- by such standards. (But then there are others that obviously would not.)

CORMAN: I don't think in terms of it. Sometimes it happens, but -- all right. I don't debate with these people. If that's what they want to do, do it. I've told people in the past... When I was first editing Origin, a lady from the South in America sent me some poems (I don't remember them, of course, but they were terrible) and I wrote back and said, "Stop writing poetry." And she wrote me back a letter and said, "I'm going to come up there and kill you" [laughs]. I've tried not to do things like that again. I wasn't exactly worried --

ROWLAND: You didn't move house or anything.

CORMAN: But recently I've had this problem again, with others. One of my old friends has stopped writing me for several years now, because I... He sent somebody my way, a former student of his -- this is a poet, Lyle Glazier, I don't know if you know his work, an excellent poet -- he hasn't written a great deal, actually. But he was from Harvard, the same year that Richard Wilbur was there, and they both tried for the same prize from Harvard and Wilbur came in first and Lyle second. But, actually, I like Lyle's work better than Wilbur's. I think he's a much better poet. And he's lived a quiet life, a professor at the University of Buffalo for many years, and taught elsewhere. I met him during the war period actually, when he had his first teaching job. And he came from a very poor family. His mother and father committed suicide because they were so poor -- father had just lost his job.

ROWLAND: Speaking of lesser known poets whom you admire: Among those you published in Origin over the years -- among those who are still neglected (I'm thinking of people other than the likes of Creeley and Bronk and so on) -- which hold enduring value for you?

CORMAN: Well, there are a number of poets. Margaret Avison, the Canadian poet, is a very good poet; although like Denise she turned rather religious, I'm told, in her later years -- I don't know if she's still alive. She was an offbeat character; she's led an unusual type of life for a Canadian woman. She was part of a bike gang in the mid/late '40's.

ROWLAND: Bike gang?

CORMAN: Yeah, motorbike gang. Very intelligent woman, very erudite. And, of course, I featured her in Origin too -- although she was a little angry at me, because the first work she sent me, by invitation, I refused. She was very upset by that. It was like LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) who also was pissed at me because the first poems he sent, at my suggestion, I turned down. I just thought there was better work that I could get from him, that's all. Ed Dorn, too, later, also was angry at me because I turned down a poem of his -- although I'd published him earlier -- I liked his work in general.

ROWLAND: From what I've seen of Origin, among those names that I met for the first time through Origin, I was drawn to poems by Frank Samperi.

CORMAN: Yes, Frank is one of them. In fact, I just got a letter, my most recent letter from Bob Arnold yesterday, saying, "Shouldn't we do a Selected Samperi?" And I said yes, we should, as soon as we have the means. I have contact with his daughter, who controls his work now -- of course, he died some years ago -- and his letters to me, as I've said a number of times, I think are his masterpiece -- his letters from the beginning of his career to the time virtually of his death -- six months before his death. (He was a little angry at me at the end -- for no reason, really. I think his ill-health contributed to it. It was a silly thing to argue about with me -- not important.) His last letters then were to Clive Faust, an Australian poet, because I put them in touch and they got along fine (maybe because they never met). But Frank was an offbeat character in many ways, very gentle person, very sweet, very handsome guy. He had no parents, he was brought up by nuns; and they didn't treat him very well. He was obviously a very gentle and retiring, shy person; and they took advantage of the boy, I'm afraid. So he had very mixed feelings -- although he was very religious, not a church-goer, not that kind. He became a scholar, of theology, and also a very fine mathematician. And he never finished, I don't know if he finished high school, so he couldn't get a job as a teacher. He should have been a university professor; that probably would have kept him alive longer too. He ended up marrying one of the ladies in his life. They came over here right after they got married, because of me, and lived here for several years. They had two children -- well, one was born here and the other one was conceived here. And they lived in a much better situation than I did. Through friends we got him a teaching job. Of course, the fact that he wasn't a university graduate didn't matter very much. So he taught in Osaka area...

ROWLAND: You mentioned that Samperi and Avison were or became quite religious...

CORMAN: And Denny Levertov probably through Margaret Avison, in her last years.

ROWLAND: What about yourself? I mean, in the very broadest sense, or in the root sense of the word --

CORMAN: Maybe in the root sense, yes.

ROWLAND: For instance, recently reading your introduction to The Gist of Origin, your concluding remarks there: you speak of "that life of poetry which is the event of human being aware and careful of its indivisibility from whatever there is." Which seems to bespeak a certain religious attitude.

CORMAN: I have never belonged to groups, you see. I don't like it. I speak individual to individual.

ROWLAND: But in the sense of "bond"...

CORMAN: I feel bond with everything, everyone. I've never hated anyone in my life. As I've said, if I had faced Hitler, with a gun near me -- and he was even pointing a pistol at me, so that my own life was at stake -- I wouldn't have killed him. I wouldn't kill anybody. As I've said, during the war, if I had been inducted... Actually I was poor and I was very sick at the time and didn't know it; it came out, and so I was safe -- that's how I could be a poet actually: my mother didn't care once I was out of the military possibility, it was OK. She had three sons of military age and none of us were in the war. ...Let me tell you a story that makes it clearest, maybe of all: On the boat going back (I went around the world by boat, as it happens -- it was just one of those things) -- I went back to America after being here -- I was away for six years. I was getting to feel very anti-American, and so I decided I'd better go back and see. Living away -- other countries -- there was a lot of anti-American feeling around. I went on this boat, second-class of course -- it was the last Japanese passenger ship going from Kobe to Vancouver and Seattle. And on the evening before we landed in Vancouver, the second-class passengers, we all decided to have a little party amongst ourselves -- there were about 50 of us or so -- a mixture of Japanese and Americans, Canadian. And everyone was to do something for about five minutes to entertain the others. There was a platform, a little stage and a chair, you could do whatever you liked. And this Japanese professor who was going over -- he was a scientist -- to work in Vancouver for a while, he got up. As always in such scenes I sit in the first row, so that my attention is completely focused, at poetry readings and so forth, usual style for me. And he put this to us: he said, "How many of you here, if you had the chance, would like to go to the moon?" I didn't see what the others answered because I was up front, I couldn't see, I was the only one in the first row. I was the only one that didn't raise my hand. And he smiled at me and he said, "You're the only clever one: I didn't say anything about coming back!" I immediately said, "You didn't understand my answer. I love Earth; I don't want to leave it."

ROWLAND: But at the same time, I find that in your poems, yes, on the one hand there's a great love of Earth, and joy, but there's also a kind of hopelessness.


ROWLAND: In fact, one of the poems here [for FlashPøint] begins: "Helplessly hopeless." This is just how you see it, I guess.

CORMAN: Yes. This is the way it is. And as I've said many times too, "I've never met an honest person in my life." It's impossible for human beings to be honest -- least of all with themselves. Everybody lies to themselves, because it's impossible to live with the way it actually is. I'm no exception -- I make no bones about it; and I'm not blaming anybody, complaining: I understand exactly how people are. You can try to be honest, but it's impossible. So religion itself, all the organized religions, are ways of being dishonest with oneself. For ample reason. Life -- as human beings especially have to go through it -- is impossible, in countless ways. Before you're alive very long, you know you're dying. You're going to die -- everybody knows that. But how do you run away from it? How do you not have to face it? Well, you invent a life after life: this is common. It's almost part and parcel of all religions. Even those that don't even believe in God still have something of this order: you're going to be reborn, and so forth. But, as I say, what God, what in God's name would any God want to create human beings for? What the hell reason can you think of? Can you even think of any possible reason why God should want to create human beings? What is the meaning of being -- alive? What is it supposed to mean? It has no meaning: this is the point. So that I end up with mu, with nothing.

ROWLAND: This is the point?

CORMAN: But it's not negative, it's not a negative. Although what I'm saying is the case, it doesn't make any difference: We're alive, we've got to live. In Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen's film, he's arguing some of these points in the film actually, when he's in the action. He's a guy who's troubled, he thinks he's going to be dying, he's always -- he's hypochondriac, and he's thinking in terms of religions, he goes to all the religions. He's Jewish in birth, he wants to be a Roman Catholic: he goes to the Jesuit priest for advice and he gives him a lot of books. He goes to the Hare Krishna people, he looks everywhere for something that will help him, resolve all of these issues. He goes home to his parents, who are Jewish, and he puts this to them. "What the hell are you worrying about so much," they say, "We have to live today!" "What about when you die, what about when we die?" "Well when we die we die," they say. You know, they put it to him very straight: "That's the case."
     So, I can say all this, but at the same time I'm saying, "Hey, we're alive, now!" This is what we have to deal with, we have to do it, we have to live. We can be aware, we have to be, there's no way we cannot be. And there's no reason to hide from it. Actually, it accentuates the fact that we are alive. That adds glow to every moment, actually, to realize that. And much of my poetry circulates around this; this is central to the work -- is to face the situation, not to make heavens, except right here. It's hell enough, without your having to do very much. But human beings find it almost impossible to live with each other: Love thy neighbor is an impossible thing; and if Christ had lived longer he would have known it too [laughing]. He never was married, he never had children, there's a lot of experience he didn't go through. And he still had complaint for God at the last minute -- not without cause. But he was responsible for his life, and if Christ is God, it becomes even sillier, the whole thing. And if he had to come back and see what had been done in his name, that would make him wish he had never been born -- like Sophoclean thought. And maybe he did think along such lines when he was dying. But this is the situation, that's all. It's incredible: life itself in any form is a miracle. People are looking for life way off there somewhere, there's some sign of life: it's meaningless. And one can only hope in a way that there isn't any, but the forms on Earth, and obviously Earth is an unusual planet, that just by accident -- really the word "accident" I think is exactly it -- these things got together.

ROWLAND: Actually, I've always found the idea of life after death rather frightening. I pray that there is no life after death!

CORMAN: I mean, even to live -- trying to prolong life -- I mean, what? So that you live in a wheelchair, in a hospital, in an old people's home for a hundred more years or something?! What would be the point of it, you can't do anything, you wouldn't have the physical power, and even if you did, what's the point? We call them years, but there's no meaning. It's what you're doing, how you're living. And when you're 80/90, it's very hard to do anything. I feel very young for my years, so that I feel, given a little luck, maybe I can be around and doing work. I'm writing more today than I have ever written before, and my agent says he thinks I'm one of the few poets that's writing stronger now than ever before, and I think so too.

ROWLAND: What kind of work routine do you keep these days?

CORMAN: I write every day, of course. I write a book, as I said, every day. As soon as I get into bed I'm still writing. I could write twenty-four hours a day, actually. I have to stop myself, once I get going, and I get going pretty fast. But also I write down many of the poems that come to me. And in my manuscripts I indicate that they were written in bed. In the bath, I also find myself writing. And walking outside, taking walks, I have to carry paper and pen with me, because I have to write the things down, otherwise I will forget -- generally. (Sometimes I do remember.) You see, for me, every moment is poetry. This:

Life is poetry
and poetry is life - O
awaken - people!

In fact, I write mostly in the morning; that's the reason I meet people in the afternoon.