An Interview with Josh Bettinger
[This is part of a series of interviews with GASHER reading interns. In this installment, intern, Konstantin Nicholas Rega, chats with author of A Dynamic Range Of Various Designs For Quiet, Josh Bettinger.]
Konstantin Rega (KR): Although this may be a rather obvious question-- often the first question of an interview, I think, are meant to be a bit head-on—How are the titles in this collection working with the poems themselves? What do they represent and how can we best navigate the book with them?
Josh Bettinger (JB): Head-on is definitely the way to walk into this book I think, as they're a bit confusing to the 'unaided' eye. This project went through three major revisions with the current one being the most connected to the ethos of the title. The titles are word.syllable.character counts from the original versions of each piece, so some are accurate to the versions in print, and others are off by a few — intentionally. I wanted to incorporate the process in the product. That made it more Dynamic for me. Plus, each grouping of numbers produces the Range, and the Quiet (hopefully) exists within the narrative. I mean, at least that's what I was going for!
KR: Were there any texts that influenced the conception of this chapbook, or that guided the writing process?
JB: Chilean poet Jaime Luis Huenún's Port Trakl, translated by Daniel Borzutzky had a profound effect on me, though the content of his book / translation is very, very different. Having said that, the solid and repetitive despair in that book and the way each poem is tethered to its prior and post informed my concept of making a semi-linear narrative. If you, dear reader, haven't read Port Trakl, Action Books published an awesome bilingual version in 2007. I won't give a full-court plug, but Angela Woodward has a great review up at Tarpaulin Sky. I strenuously suggest that you all read it...
KR: How do you see the poems in this collection both acting to conceal and reveal the intentions of the poet? In other words, what do you think are the ties working in the collection that help piece together meaning for the collection as a whole?
JB: Hmm, honestly this project as a whole is really one that is a feat of engineering — written primarily in Bangkok, Tokyo and New York City over the course of, like, 6 years. I always knew that the central thematic presence would be distance but didn't want for there to be specifics other than one location. There were details that had to be flattened, so to speak, in order to produce a sense of real mundanity. In the end I think that they were pieced together fairly honestly, which in turn injected the whole with its desired feeling.
KR: The tone in this collection marries conversation to drama. Were there times when you struggled to keep this tension consistent? Where do you see acts of constrain and release happening throughout the collection?
JB: I like this question. The tone was a tough one to settle on in a consistent manner — I wanted it to be confessional yet conversational as well. And that was difficult to sustain throughout, and I'm not certain I did so 100% successfully, but the pieces were all written in very different places — physically and psychologically — so the tone in the last edit had to really help the pieces to coalesce. The speaker is (clearly?) going through a sustained loneliness both mentally and emotionally. I look at it in three acts, roughly, that are grief, restlessness, and apathy. But not in that order. I've said too much already!
KR: You talk of "growing in the dark"; how do you think the process of writing and developing this work helped you to grow as a writer or how has this collection influenced what you are writing now?
JB: Because of the way it was *assembled* it really always was about process. It was always kind of like a receptacle for pieces that were kept far away from other poems to prevent any type of cross pollination. They all were born and lived one moleskine, and then on a different computer. It sounds artificial, sure, but I am pleased with the result. As far as how it has / is influencing current and subsequent works — yikes, not certain on that but I'd say that finishing / executing / publishing it has provided me with confidence to complete my first full-length collection, and to submit to more publications. It's crazy — we live in a time where there are more literary publications and presses than ever before — I'm pleased that I found one that shares my sensibilities as a writer.
[You can buy a copy of Josh Bettinger's book A Dynamic Range Of Various Designs For Quiet here.]