Brian Teare
May 2009

 

Brian TeareBorn in 1974 in Athens, Georgia, Brian Teare spent his next twenty-two years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where, after dropping out of high school, he earned his BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Alabama. He received his MFA from Indiana University in 2000, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend Stanford University as a Wallace E. Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing. A former Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University, he now teaches poetry and nonfiction in the graduate creative writing program of the University of San Francisco.

Brian is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony, and has published poetry and criticism in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Ploughshares, Provincetown Arts, St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter, Seneca Review, and Verse, as well as in the anthologies Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, Joyful Noise: An Anthology of American Spiritual Poetry and Against the Barriers: The Poetry of Thom Gunn. His first book, The Room Where I Was Born, was winner of the 2003 Brittingham Prize and the 2004 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. Two new books are forthcoming: Sight Map (University of California, 2009) and Pleasure (Ahsahta, 2010). A resident of San Francisco, he’s currently studying hand bookbinding and letterpress printing at the San Francisco Center for the Book.


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The Poetics of Sight Map


1) Transcendental Theses:

In one reading of Emerson, the material world is a certain catapult for the individual soul toward otherwise, a source of metaphor for how the theological and self-reliant mind converses with divinity. In one reading of Dickinson’s prosody, she knits into her grammar the impossibility of the material world remaining consonant with theological readings of it; her dashes juxtapose materiality with abstraction, here yoking Eternity to image, there keeping the planes of matter and Ideal from touching. One could say that in Dickinson’s prosody, Emerson’s Ideals meet a kind of Modernism, a “Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz” interposed “Between the light –” and the transcendent self. In my most recent work, I’ve been interested in writing directly from the crush of matter against reason, and in poems like ‘The Word from His Mouth, It Is Perfect,’ juxtaposing faith with a particularly queer and gnostic materiality in order to explore, through aural and formal structure, how prayer is etymologically the root to precarious.


2) Questions for the author:

Describe Sight Map for me.
A) On the one hand, it’s a travel narrative that tells the story of a relationship that fails during the poet’s journey away from and back home; on the other, it’s a book whose main concern lies in interrogating the relationships between language and consciousness and experience, especially by testing the ability of lyric language to link through image and formal experiment the material and the immaterial.

Q) Some readers might call this “nature poetry.” What makes Sight Map different?
A) The book is concerned with thinking through and arguing with the American legacy of Transcendental philosophy, and thus it’s deeply connected to a tradition of writing about the spiritual and ethical relationship of humans to the natural world; however, it’s also interested in the contemporary practices of site-specific and conceptual art, and thus all the poems were written in draft on foot, through three very different terrains, in an attempt to record an engagement not with “Nature” as an abstraction only, but also with actual matter.

Q) In what way does the book engage the idea of mapping, or of being a map? 
A) First of all, three of the four sections are headed by latitude and longitude, and thus are not only locatable on a real map, but in sequence describe a journey westward across that map; secondly, the poems were written on foot through both natural and urban terrain, and thus beneath their surfaces, they often “map” a literal, particular site; lastly, the book’s title puns the on site and sight, and I’d hoped that it would lead readers to question the ways in which American “vision,” at least since Emerson’s “transparent eyeball,” has been the technology that’s fused cartography, poetry, national identity and spiritual belief.

Q) Your first book won the 2004 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, yet Sight Map initially seemed to me less engaged with questions of sexuality and identity. Why?
A) I suppose the book could read this way to some readers, and perhaps this has something to do with my being interested more in describing the dynamics of a specific relationship than in a specific kind of relationship. In the years since I wrote my first book, I’ve written poems that stress the first half of the phrase “being gay,” poems whose central question is what constitutes Being, and thus, without ever losing sight of the life of desire, the journey described in Sight Map is as spiritual and philosophical as it is physical.

Q) Sight Map collects poems written in radically different forms, many of whose formatting pushes against traditional lineation and the traditional margins of the page. Why?
A) This is the literal answer: the poems began in the pocket-sized journal I took with me on walks, and no one who’s writing and walking at the same time can keep his or her notes left-justified and of regular length. In transcribing the notes onto my computer, I found that they kept some of the erratic formal qualities of their origins while also becoming composed in a very different sense: their initial look on the page suggested grammatical rhythm, more regular stanza patterns, and aural music that fueled their evolution into finished poems.

Q) The jacket copy calls Sight Map “a pilgrim’s Gnostic progress”; what does that phrase mean to you?
A) Well, in a very literal, narrative way the book is a travelogue, while in a more figurative sense it’s a spiritual autobiography. During a yearlong journey from east to west, the speaker attempts to address the tension between the life of matter, of being a body, and the life of the spirit, of being a thinker—and so in the sense that this tension can be painful and alienating, Sight Map partakes in a kind of Gnostic dualism. The poems secretly think, though, that this essential split might be salved or soothed or proven to be an illusion, and so they hold out hope for a kind of “progress” to be made in the matter.


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