Jung / Malena / Darwin
Cuddle up with your shadow self and watch this.
We talked with “Jung / Malena / Darwin” poet Albert Goldbarth and filmmaker Chris Jopp.
by Rosemary Davis
Your poem, “Jung/Malena/Darwin,” is filled with the duality of human psychology and scientific behavior, sensory aberrations and unusual visual imagery. Was there a significant thought or event that led to this poem’s creation? Does Malena refer to the poet, Malena Morling? Are you a reader of her work?
I think your phrase “the duality of human psychology” is very apt, and a useful understanding with which to context the poem. Malena is indeed the poet Malena Morling, whose work is grand, and who’s a grand human being to boot. (A poem of mine in the current issue of Boulevard uses a quotation from a Morling poem as an epigraph.) Since she is up-front about her synesthesia in her own public readings, I presumed the right to reference it in “Jung/Malena/Darwin.”
There is a magic in this poem – the layering, the juxtapositioning, and the imagery of a ragtag group of children playing music as loud as possible to a clew of worms. It is very human in expounding upon the faults of mankind and yet it shows how the mundane can be extraordinary. What does poetry, or this poem specifically, give to you? Or, what do you bring to it?
I don’t believe in talking about what the poem “means,” or “what inspired the poem,” or any of the other standard interview-style avenues away from the poem itself—which I intend, always, to be self-sufficient. But I will say I like your phrase “how the mundane can be extraordinary,” much in the way I earlier valued your phrase “the duality of human psychology”: they seem to be ideas appropriate to the poem’s intentions. And I’m glad you feel the rise of what you call “magic”—I’d be a poor writer, or you a poor reader, if the worm concert didn’t supply a bit of that.
What are a couple of main beliefs about poetry that you hold that you try to impart to your students? What can you tell me about the first poem you ever wrote? Do you remember it? Do you enjoy teaching poetry?
I’ve always written, from kindergarten age onward. When my writing sequed into what could be called “poetry” might depend on the definition of “poem” we were using. In any case, I care about the next poem, not the first one. Whatever “main beliefs in poetry” I have are probably made known circuitously and circumstantially, as work gets discussed in the classroom: it’s not as if I have a list of clearly stated, fixed credos that gets distributed. Do I enjoy teaching poetry? Deadhead administrators, miscreant colleagues, and nuisancesome students aside, teaching poetry—to the right people, who are there for the right reasons—is a wonderful way to earn a living.
In the PBS Newshour segment you did in 2009, you said you’ve been trying to be the best poet that you know how to be. How do you do that? What does that really entail?
Every day I try to write poetry (although occasions like this interview sometimes intervene), and have been for over forty years. Every day when I write I try to keep in mind my own poet heroes, and try to be honest about whether my own attempts seem to rise (or not) to meet the level of ability their work embodies. More than that, I can’t say.
Interview with filmmaker Chris Jopp
by Rosemary Davis
How did you get into the film/video business?
I was always very creative growing up, but could never settle on a particular art form. I enjoyed writing music, painting, sculpture, photography, creative writing. I stumbled into filmmaking and found that to be a way to tie all those art forms together, so I went to MCAD, majored in it, and fell into advertising afterwards. It’s a creative business, and I still make my own films on the side.
Who are your film/video heroes?
I was mesmerized by Fantasia as a child, so Mickey Mouse, maybe? I think Terry Gilliam was probably the first person whose work inspired me to pick up a camera.
What kind of film/video do you most like to make? What genre?
My genre tastes are all over the place. I enjoy 80’s horror films, romantic comedies, and coming of age stories. I think I’d like to make a film crossed between all those genres.
What is your experience with poetry? Do you read it? Like it? Have you ever written a poem?
I was really into Shel Silverstein when I was growing up. I wrote strange rhyming stories in the corner of my middle school notebooks about odd characters. You might call that poetry. So no, I’m not particularly experienced in the art form. But I do enjoy any form of storytelling, and could see myself reading more of it after this experience with MotionPoems.
What was your first reaction to Albert’s poem?
His poem “Jung/Malena/Darwin” while complex is in essence, a tapestry of the randomness of everyday life. It asks us to consider the multiplicity of worlds that exist side by side in our everyday life, like layers of an onion or Russian nesting dolls. The language takes a philosophical perspective, drawing on the fantastical dreams and aspirations of the seemingly everyday man and woman. My adaptation will shine an inquisitive camera on these everyday people and the ordinary moments that texture their lives into something extraordinary. For example, a woman at a suburban salon, dreams of space; a mustached office worker, fancies himself an actual werewolf; a child get’s a splinter and a doctor performs heart surgery; a grade-school teacher crosses her T’s, dots her I’s and a boy’s head is helplessly shoved into a toilet while a frat guy pisses the night into the snow. The end product will be a montage that hopefully represents the inarticulate oddness and beauty of everyday existence.
Have you done any collaborations like this before? What was it like to work with Albert?
I have not collaborated with poets before. After hearing Albert did not own a computer, I thought about calling him. I then heard, that he was a fan of letters so I decided to write him a letter through the mail. I always feel like I can communicate better through text anyhow and this was a way to more thoughtfully pick his brain without the nerve-racking reality of this award winning poet breathing on the opposite end of the telephone. In fact, I think our “analog” correspondence influenced the way I made the film. I wanted it to feel genuine and authentic, and something about sending and receiving actual inked letters through the mail made me stick to that idea.
Albert was very receptive through the whole conceptual process and then sort of handed me the reigns and was like, “Alright, you have my thoughts and concerns, and think I trust you, so GO FOR IT!” So now I’m just following my own intuition! He said, at the screening he’d either shake my hand or punch me in the nose. Hopefully, the first.
What has this project done for you? Learn anything?
It has changed the way I think about poetry.
Rosemary Davis completed an MFA in Writing from Hamline University after a 25-year career in video and film production. She’s had poetry and creative nonfiction published in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including Brevity, A View from the Loft and Minnesota Literature. Davis received a poetry fellowship from the Loft.