KOO: In Poetry Is Not a Project, you write, “There’s a lot we have to do in
this new century to make our world better and to make our world better
for poets. Let’s start first by valuing poems over projects. When we do, we
might begin to realize what about our cultivated world is still new, unique,
and wild.” How do you differentiate between a poem and a project?
LASKY: The impetus behind writing this was that I saw the idea of a
“project” as being something that shut out particular people who might
not know that term, or might not know how always to construct their
work in a particular form. Some people took this as an attack on conceptualism, which it really wasn’t at all. It was more about an elitist use
of the term “project”; when you can say I’m writing a project about, you
know, jewels in the ocean or whatever, when you articulate it in such
a way, it’s easier to get a grant or get a job, as we know, in contrast to
somebody who is—I guess I’d use the word “authentic”—authentically
writing their poems and just being forced by whatever force to write
those poems. Those poems will be equal to if not better than the person’s
who can use his brain to articulate a particular project. When Emily
Dickinson says, I know a poem when I feel as if the top of my head has
been blown off, there is something to that. Using a particular meta part
of your brain when you articulate something as a “project” really isn’t
what’s happening when you are writing poems.
KOO: In contemporary poetry today, are too many people overly obsessed
with “projects,” and is that a negative aspect of academia and all the pressure to get jobs and grants?
LASK Y: Yeah, this is a problem because it’s shutting out poets from the
conversation who don’t necessarily know how to articulate their “
project.” And, you know, when funds are tight it’s important to give everyone
a fair share. Some people have gotten mad at me for writing that chapbook because they saw it as an attack on the project as a generative force.
But Bernadette Mayer is one of my all-time favorite poets, and she uses
the project as a generative force—I love that use of it. It’s more just the
feeling that the term “project” can shut out a lot of people.