Getting to Know Michael Franco and his new book a book of measure

Available now from Talisman House Publishers

Michael Franco is a poet, playwright and artist. He has been contributing editor for  lift magazine , and a member of the poetry panel for  AGNI  magazine. For ten years he directed the Word of Mouth Reading Series in Cambridge, MA. In the fall of 2016 he inaugurated a new series, Xit the Bear in the Press Room at Oxford Street. His previous publications include:  The Library Of Dr Dee  (dromenon press for Pressed Wafer, 2006),   How To Live  (Zoland, 1998),  The Journals of the Man Who Kept Bees  (lift books, 1996), and others. He lives and works in Somerville, MA with his wife Isabel and son Thomas.

Michael Franco is a poet, playwright and artist. He has been contributing editor for lift magazine, and a member of the poetry panel for AGNI magazine. For ten years he directed the Word of Mouth Reading Series in Cambridge, MA. In the fall of 2016 he inaugurated a new series, Xit the Bear in the Press Room at Oxford Street. His previous publications include: The Library Of Dr Dee (dromenon press for Pressed Wafer, 2006),  How To Live (Zoland, 1998), The Journals of the Man Who Kept Bees (lift books, 1996), and others. He lives and works in Somerville, MA with his wife Isabel and son Thomas.

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover you wanted to write poems?
High School! I was "introduced" via an assignment a friend had in our sophomore year which for some reason set me off ... a move to San Francisco in 1968, where there was a significant amount of alone time, helped me along and then I fell in with a group of other young poets all circling around Fran Claggett at Alameda High School who held weekly readings, brought in poets from the outside world (notably Helen Adam and Robert Duncan), took us to readings nudged books at us and had us readings at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State very early on and of perhaps greatest importance ..took us seriously in our efforts to write and find our way.... by college that I was a Poet was central to whatever definition of a Self I had and organized me I began to confront and explore a wider range of books, writers and subjects.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I have had many writing routines: Early it was always after midnight.... now it is regularly in the morning ....But always my notebook travels with me... I can and do write anytime anywhere ....  it has always amazed me what a 15 min bus ride can tease out...  and that 15 min ...if perused daily can and does produce actual Work.... the idea of "I don't have time to write" is nonsense. You steal time like Loge stole the fire ...Quick & without looking back....

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Sound moving to sound clusters moving to phrases and their overtones all with the sense and trust that they will lead: Here is an example from an essay on Duncan and Dickinson I am currently chasing:

"[So then as example: 

To hover in the caesura composing over the words   “ Her      consistency”

I might in pausing hear in the word an overtone:                    constant  sea

      & so then :                                                       sight      (to see> Vision)

         or                                                                    .Oceanic.

 And of course:                             steady          •

which might then call up into the emerging poem, out of        Her        consistency:

                    a wine dark Ocean of

                       meaning   moving   in time

    to a rime of past in present always

forward moving 

        to see                     

the call of   unrelenting    horizon    


. . . which would illustrate this attention as I began to take it in the emerging of a possible poem.] "

Here you might begin to see how soundings can lead and open the would be poem to the poet's notice...

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Stein, Robert Duncan, Robert Hunter, Dickinson, Proust, Freud, Joyce, Camus, Charles Olson, Pessoa Robert Creeley, Cid Corman Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky, Robin Blaser: Fran Claggett, Michael Palmer, Nate Mackey, William Corbett, Gerrit Lansing, Susan Howe, Fanny Howe, Paul Auster: as "influence": Joseph Torra, Ange Mlinko, Edward Barrett, Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, Patricia Pruitt, T.J. Anderson, Gerald Burns, contemporaries: Companions of the immediate Field that calls my imagination toward a Participation in The Composition in which we Live...

Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was it a project book? etc.
Taking up from the Narrative possibilities opened by Stein,  A Book of Measure is structured around three central narratives: The Journals of “the man who keeps bees” the Journals & poetry of the 19th C Portuguese writer Maria Torres (which the “Bee Man” is in the process of steeling and transcribing) and a central narrator all  laced together by what I think of as Lyric Bridges moving in an a-linear structure of Circumferences. 

I actually think of this book as “traditional”. But it is the immediate Tradition of Black Mountain, and San Francisco [Robert Duncan, Blaser & Spicer (& the triangle of Duncan, Creeley and Olson)] and behind them Louis Zukofsky, Stein  [esp. the Stein of Wars I Have Seen] as well as Proust, Whitman, Melville and Shakespeare, that I see as Ground: The Boston Scene as well (where I have made my home since 1980) whose poetics– (yes there is one! Gerrit Lansing keeps us all fueled, Wieners remains even after his death a dignified Angelic presence who shepherds us away from the Harvard Gates); & Corbett for years held us all together, literally at the same table; (after a reading with Creeley and Steve Lacy (& such a short time ago to have them both gone) a young poet pointed to a Heaney broadside on the wall  and said something like “why is that  crap on the wall?” “BECAUSE it’s GOOD” was the  rather emphatic reply across the table);  and there is Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, Patricia Pruitt, Lubeski, Barrett and Torra and Feidt and a group of younger poets bubbling as well, who form a curious nest): All this, The Poetics of “the other side of Beacon Hill”, has both nourished, made me crazy and perpetually Challenged my assumptions in Poetry: This then the Tradition from which A Book of Measure emerged.

I also think of “A B M” as a huge poem and for years at readings announced it as such only to have both strangers and friends debate this with me. So I arrived at stance of saying that I had composed it as I had previously composed poems. In the end this indeed has proved far more accurate. 


How to describe it? I kept saying that I wanted anything to be allowed in… and to some extent I have achieved that- There are free floating thought narratives, [in some curious way these have always seemed related in my mind to Duncan’s “Narrative Bridges” in Adam’s Way the thought of which intrigued me all the way back in high-school days]; actual narratives (The man who keeps Bees in a china cabinet in his kitchen; His Journals, (which are being read by a Narrator, who found them thrown away in a bathroom trash can). These Journals in turn contain the Bee-man’s transcriptions & translations of The Journals and poems of the Portuguese writer Maria Torres [1752-1819?] which he has been secretly copying from the Library where they are archived in Portugal: Throughout there are numerous letters & books as well which are being “read” by the Narrator. Volume Two for example contains the text of an entire 5 act verse play The Library of Dr. Dee which is attended by the Narrator), as well as a short story from a set of Three by the late David Leering which is read in its entirety out-loud one night by one of the characters. In Volume One there is an appendix with notes on Maria Torres attributed to Pessoa, as well as a short narrative from the same source and translations of and the originals of Torres’ poems: A book by Malcolm Baxter, “Tales from the Portuguese” which is retelling the great Portuguese legends (the originals are wonderful & spooky); articles from The Journal of Anthropological Studies on the Palipet & their culture & so on. All these are woven into the overall structure as they are being read (sometime nightly, whilst others are returned to at greater intervals), across the Time of the composing of the book and so the Time of the reading of the book. 

IN it composition I had in mind the layering of The H.D. Book [Robert Duncan], but also wanted a return to Narrative [but Stein’s sense of Narrative], so that Story and Her attendants could return from banishment now with Open forms, (which as Duncan notes, the Open must inherently include the closed… an early discovery in his work which I took to heart (still do-): Thus the “allowing anything”. This is the measure of the Measuring that I have undertaken. 

On the good days I imagine myself as Lewis and Clark (yes both of them!), out surveying a literature that will be of our time and Place without the necessity of rejecting the old forms: On the bad days I worry that it is all wilderness without the Pleasure of stopping by the old stream!