Writing on the Border

I cannot quite explain why my writing has, for many years, explored the intersection of genres, but I suspect it derives from a combination of influences, beginning around 1960 and continuing to the present:

My father loved different ethnic foods and experimented with herbs when he cooked.

In 1966-1967 I played electric oboe in The Orkustra, a San Francisco band whose members came from different musical traditions–classical, jazz, country, and rock–and whose music straddled genres.

In the early 1970s, under the influence of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Stimmung and Jerome Rothenberg’s Shaking the Pumpkin, I began writing sound (or text-sound) poetry, which, though a hybrid poetic/musical form, often privileges sound over music. I was a musician and had a degree in music, so writing poetry with a strong musical emphasis probably was not out of character. Thus, after culinary and musical genre experimentation, began the first forays into poetic genre experimentation.

After moving to New York City in 1974, I began writing poetic essays and prose poems, the latter influenced by John Ashbery, my professor at Brooklyn College.

More recently I have been exploring, increasingly, the prose/nonfiction hybrid and also dabbled a bit in the poetry/prose forms used by writers like William Carlos Williams in Patterson, Jean Toomer in Cane, the medieval Persian writer Sa’adi in the Gulistan, and the medieval Jewish writer Judah Al-Harizi in the Takhemoni. Patterson combines poetry, newspaper articles, and prose; the novel Cane intersperses poetry and prose in his novel; the Gulistan’s prose breaks out into poetry; and the Takhemoni alternates poetry and rhymed prose. I write very little fiction, and what fiction I do write tends to read more like prose poetry. I also have a penchant for writing short nonfiction pieces that contain made-up information and that read more like prose poems, reflecting the influence of Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favorite authors. And, I like the way the anti-guru J. Krishnamurti “essays” in his Commentaries on Living series combine keen nature observations with his familiar question-and-answer exchanges with people seeking his help.

I must confess: I have a hard time staying in my lane when I cook, write, or teach.

What this is about psychologically, I do not know, but it is the way I function. I really wish I could write a regular poem, or a regular short story, or a regular piece of nonfiction. Well–I can and sometimes do, but more often do not. I begin something and soon drift into the boundary zone between literary forms.