My Interior Vita was written by Will Alexander as an introduction to his new book of poems, Compression & Purity (City Lights, 2011). It was also posted on the Poems and Poetics blog by Jerome Rothenberg, which you can access here. As it also works as an excellent introduction to Will’s forthcoming novel, Diary as Sin (Skylight Press, 2011), he kindly assented to letting us reprint it here.
Will Alexander: “My Interior Vita”
[From the forthcoming Compression & Purity, poems (City Lights Spotlight No. 5)]
I was born under Leo, under its signpost of heat, and what has evolved from such colouration is a verbal momentum always magnetized to the uranic. A verbal rhythm prone to the upper hamlets of starlight, my predilection being instinctively honed to the fluidic motion of the sidereal. This is not to say that the protean aspects of earth cease to amaze me, or cease to enthrall me with its natural magic. The winds, the bays, the deserts, ceaseless in my mind like a teeming field of Flamingo flowers, or a sun-charged clepsydra. Yet above all, the earth being for me the specificity of Africa, as revealed by Diop, and Jackson, and Van Sertima, and its electrical scent in the writings of Damas.
Because of this purview I have never been drawn to provincial description, or to the quiescent chemistry of a condensed domestic horizon. I’ve always been prone to exploring the larger scope of predominant mental criteria as exhibited by the influential civilizations over the span of time which we name as history. For instance, within the Roman or American criteria I see the active involvement of what is called the left brain and its natural gravitation towards separating life by means of active fragmentation. Yet at a more ancient remove there exists the example of Nubia and Kemet unconcerned with life as secular confiscation, but with the unification of disciplines, such as astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, law, as paths to the revelation of the self. Knowledge then, as alchemical operation, rather than an isolated expertise. So when various knowledges fuse in my writings, insights occur, revealing an inward light whose source is simultaneous with the riveting connection between flashes of lightning.
For me, language, by its very operation, is alchemical, mesmeric, totalic in the way that it condenses and at the same time proves capable of leaping the boundaries of genre. Be it the drama, the poem, the essay, the novel, language operates at a level of concentration modulated by the necessity of the character or the circumstance which is speaking. My feeling is that language is capable of creating shifts in the human neural field, capable of transmuting behaviours and judgments. Humans conduct themselves through language, and, when the latter transmutes, the human transmutes. The advertisers know this linkage, but to a superficial degree, so when language is mined at a more seminal depth of poetic strata, chance can take on a more lasting significance. And I do not mean in a didactic manner, but in the way that osmosis transpires, allowing one to see areas of reality that heretofore had remained elided or obscured. I’m speaking here of an organic imaginal level which rises far beyond the narrow perspective of up and down, or left side and right side, which is the mind working in the service of mechanical reaction. Rather, I am thinking of magnetic savor, allowing the mind to live at a pitch far beyond the garish modes of the quotidian. One’s life then begins to expand into the quality of nuance naturally superseding a bleak statistical diorama.
I was always drawn to realms outside the normal reaches of comment even at an early age. I would sustain imaginary dialogues with myself by continuously creating imaginal characters very specific in their cryptic ability to spur continuous inward rotation. Imaginal kings, warriors, athletes, angels, always igniting my mind with their ability to overcome limits, to sustain themselves beyond the confines of normal fatigue. And it was during this period that I had my first confrontation with a spectre. It spoke to me in the dead of night, commanding me to rise from my bed and follow its presence into I know not where. I remained frozen as it spoke to me, and as I vividly recall I could utter no sound. I knew I was not dreaming, because as I stared into the darkness its strange niveous image formed in my vision, and took on for those unbelievable moments a staggering animation. Of course I was not believed the next day when I reported my contact to my mother. And years later she could never recall me recording the incident or my reaction to the incident, something totally out of character for her. Nevertheless it confirmed for me the activity of the supra-physical world which has remained with me in all my subsequent moments. Thus the rational world has never been able to annul my alacrity for what the mechanically-sighted call the invisible.
This reality was further strengthened when first hearing the recordings of Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. It was during my early teens and listening to the music was absolutely electric. It made me feel that I had allies, that there were others who knew that the material world was completely permeable, and that none of the rationally stated boundaries could contain the imaginal. Of course all of this happened before I knew anything of poetry. Yet I was already in the poetic, the music already opening me up to creativity linked as it is to the inner and outer plane. The inner burst of creative power and its circulation in the world on an international scale. Eric Dolphy in Berlin, John Coltrane in Antibes, Cecil Taylor at Moosham Castle in Austria, Duke Ellington in Dakar. So by the time I read a book on Rimbaud some seven years later I felt a definite relation between his inner experience and my own. Close to finishing the book I found myself writing my first poem, and I immediately felt a great liberty transpire within me, a liberty which suddenly flashed to creative fruition.
And I’ve found over time that this liberty continuously burns, and is capable of transmuting all that it touches. I’ve found no discipline which is foreign to it. Architecture, politics, mathematics, mysticism, all prone to a higher verbal kindling, to a different archery of usage. This is not to say that poetry serves as a didactic device, no, but as a magical instrument with the prowess to overcome the mortality of the temporal. It is fiesta outside the limits of the measured diurnal regime where the constraints of the conscious mind vanish without trace. So by the time I discovered Surrealism and the writings of Artaud, Césaire, Breton, Lamantia, and Bob Kaufman, I felt ripe for exploring the subconscious levels of the mind. Then connecting the power of such writing with Sri Aurobindo’s supra-conscious mind, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Egyptian connective between visible and invisible domains, I was able to develop within an instinctive motif of linguistic arousal. And as was for Cesaire earlier, the Surrealism opened me up to animate use of language not unlike the ancient African atmosphere of consciousness. Life being an unbroken motion of consciousness, poetry is for me the celebration of that unbrokenness.
Creativity being an ongoing praxis, is a continuous trance, in which one deals with the unification of worlds, rather than fostering inclement fragments. Insights, worlds within worlds, which include not only scintillations of the conscious mind, but more importantly, its ability to both elevate and descend, thereby traversing the triple levels of the mind, the conscious, the supra-conscious, and the sub-conscious minds, creating in the process a concert of worlds.