Infinite Culture

Music. Art. Culture. Writing.

The Significance of Place: An Interview with Barbara Henning

Not Enough Night: Naropa University’s online publication at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

Part interview, part story, this piece explores the idea of place in Henning’s work, including her most recent collection of prose poetry and short fiction, Cities and Memory, published by Chax Press in Tucson.

My interview with Henning appears in the Spring 2011 edition of Naropa University’s online literary magazine, Not Enough Night.

In the interview, Henning discusses the way place affects her writing and her process, the difference between creating new work while living in New York and Tucson, the influence of the New York School of Poetics on her writing, the hazy line between fiction and nonfiction, and the reason a Tucson writer can’t really be a New York School poet.

Clips from the interview:

Rafael: It sounds like you are in a constant state of awareness about how your environment affects your poetics.

Barbara: Well, I’m trying, wherever I am, I’m usually taking notes. We’re all in the world and related to each other. Place is wide-open. I like to bring what is far closer to what is near. And to discover the relationship between near and far. Our lives are affected by events on the other side of the globe and what we do affects them, too. That’s why I try to include details from far and near. Our “place” now is very large. And yet as we move from one locale to another, everything changes.

Rafael: We can hold a tremendous number of experiences in our consciousness at one time.

Barbara: Everything I write is part of my consciousness, so when I edit and add and read and revise, I’m changing my consciousness as I go along.

Rafael: It makes me question the line between reality and fiction…

Barbara: It’s always reality and it’s always fiction, right? I have a poem I’m writing now and it’s about going to meet my grandson when he’s three weeks old. But when I started editing, I added some details about the oil spill, except the oil spill occurred long after he was born. So I created a fiction by bringing the pelican babies affected by the oil spill into my story.

After the interview…

In the center of the soccer field, it seems as though the suppressing heat of the one hundred and seven degree day suspends all movement. I can feel the dry heat move to the back of my throat and into my lungs. At the corner of the park I see a cluster of cactuses, prickly pears, chollas, and one large saguaro with thick, waxen, water-filled arms that curve up into the sky.

A quote from William Carlos Williams comes to me in pieces, “The good poetry is where the vividness comes up ‘true’ like in prose but better.” And then, “The bastardy of the simile. There is no need to explain or compare. Make it and it is a poem.”

For an excellent examination of the link between poetry and history, read Henning’s essay, The Content of History will be Poetry.


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All content on Infinite Culture, unless noted otherwise, is copyright © 2016 Rafael Otto. All rights reserved.