Toronto Poet Jeff Latosik
Jeff Latosik contributed two poems to The Puritan: Issue 28. The Town Crier asked Latosik several questions about poetry, music, and his magnum opus, Werewolf Moving Company. He answered them here.
The Town Crier: Does your poetry from this issue have an interesting origin story or compositional history you’d like to share?
Jeff Latosik: I wrote a poem about the Internet because I can actually remember when I first heard somebody say the word “internet,” and it was in my job at a Burger King when I was 14 years old. I remember hearing some guys talk about it. I can’t quite say why this fragment is poem-worthy, but I do remember the words having a weird kind of power, as the Internet was this word for so long before many of us began to understand what it was. It seemed a fitting topic for a poem—often words before understanding.
I wrote a poem about Ikue Mori because I’m a big fan of hers. Interested parties can look to a track of hers from 1995 called “Slush,” an ambient piece composed on a series of broken drum machines that sounds like nothing else before or since.
The Town Crier: Was there a particular work of poetry that inspired you?
Jeff Latosik: The Mori poem was actually influenced by a Don Paterson poem called “Song for Natalie ‘Tusja’ Beridze” an ode to electronic artist Natalie Bedridze. It was nice to hear Paterson himself describe the poem as a jeu d’espirit, and I got to thinking of who else could use a poem like that. I’d known about Mori for a while and rediscovered her music when I was researching electronic music for a suite of poems about Hugh Le Caine, a Canadian inventor.
The Town Crier: Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately, or a poet/fiction writer you’re jealous of, or a story/short story collection you wish you wrote.
Jeff Latosik: I loved the story “Bang Crunch” by Neil Smith who I believe has a novel coming out this year. The story about a woman whose age contracts and dilates in an accelerated fashion works to bring the often unfathomable information science has presented us about the origin of our universe closer to human understanding, a sort of latent processing or even a fusing of an incomprehensible reality into the human world. It’s something I think we need and it’s something I think only art can do.
The Town Crier: Did music lyrics have anything to do with the poetry you’ve published with us? Were any particular lyrics important to you in your development as a writer? Is there any recent lyricist you’ve been digging, and why? Is there any piece of writing, by you or someone else, that you would like see turned into a song? Why?
Jeff Latosik: Not to be a putz, but Bob Dylan was huge. In “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” he sang “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun, crying like a fire in the sun,” and I remember being blown away by that last line. If you’re writing poems that good, you’re not doing half bad.
In terms of transcribing poems into songs, there’s an artist Mike Ross who did such a thing to Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies, and it is quite marvelous—though I think he looked at the book as a screenplay writer looks to adapt a book, which to me is an important caveat.
Poems and songs have a common ancestor, but they’re water and land-dwelling creatures at this point. Glynn Maxwell explains this in his book On Poetry where he says that, in music, the chords sort of reach out and invite collaboration whereas in poetry there is only silence—an important distinction. This view perhaps muddles a bit the way that poetic tradition and poetic community create collaboration, that language often seems to fall from itself as notes in an improvisatory session, but Maxwell’s point, I think, clarifies an important difference.
The Town Crier: In your practice, what would you say is the balance between silliness and seriousness?
Jeff Latosik: I’m someone who’s too serious for his own good. And so if the spirit of the question is to suggest that there should be a balance, I probably don’t strike it. But you should still read my book, Werewolf Moving Company.