In Conversation with Michael Farrell at the 6th Prague Microfestival 2014

-In conversation with Julie Zackova-

Photo by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Michael Farrell is the current BR Whiting studio resident in Rome. His recent publications are Open Sesame (Giramondo), same! same! same! same! (Sus) and the thorn with the boy in its side (oystercatcher). Michael is a guest of the 2014 Prague Microfestival, and also read here in 2009. 

JZ: What is your favorite word that you often use in your poems? What is your favorite word that you don’t use enough in your poems?

MF: These first two questions seem to contradict each other? I don’t want to point out a word that I have perhaps overused, like ‘blue’, ‘honey’ or ‘banana’. I could say I don’t have favourite words; this would perhaps be contradicted by using one often: but not by not using it/them. Liking words doesn’t necessarily make poems good, so many of these uses are not seen. Yet, ‘good’ words energise or generate poems; these words change, and are up to readers to notice. I suppose thematic concerns bring a set of words with them and it’s my job to work them.

What I meant here was if there was maybe a particular word that you like for its sound/form/whatever other reason (I personally like the English word “raspberry” for no apparent reason other than how it sounds) but would not likely use it in a poem of yours…

I don’t think any words are unlikely in theory … it depends on the kind of poem … it would be good to run my poems through a program to see what percentage of even the Concise Oxford vocabulary I’ve used … probably quite low … There are words I feel comfortable with, and then there are words that I bring in that counter that comfort, through procedures (like in ‘debit of a pirate kino’ in open sesame). Then there are long words that feel unwieldy or prosaic that might require a certain tone or context like ‘organisation’. But these are probably not going to be words that I like. I’m probably more likely to use a long plant word, like ‘delphinum’ than an abstraction (though I use both these words in ‘luke and henry’s storyline’ in Out of the Box). (This was a realisation not a contrived answer …)

What is a word that you feel is overused by contemporary poets?

‘light’ – especially as an end to a poem; is this a Czech cliché also?

And nowadays by people in general?

‘my’; also ‘dark’ as a fake or ironic negative (by Anglophones; is this a Czech problem?)

Is there a tendency amongst contemporary poets that you despise?

worldliness; which often leads to false naivety; such as racist etc. language (cf light and dark above)

What do you imagine your typical reader looks like?

An ice-cream cone with glasses, leaning

Do you know or follow any Czech poets?

Ouch; who do you recommend?

I would suggest starting with something classic. My personal favorite is Vitezslav Nezval and his “Basne noci”, in English “Poems of the night” that was published in 1930. Are there any other Czech artists that you like (filmmakers, painters)? Or anything else Czech that you came across and found interesting?

[Checks Wikipedia] I’m sure my answers are uninteresting and obvious. Vladimir Holan interested me a few years ago. I quote Holub in ‘described by the dead’ in ode ode. But Holub isn’t on the poet’s page of Wikipedia…?

Milos Forman is wonderful, his use of music particularly. I’ve seen a couple of the 60s Czech films as well as the later American ones.

Vlak is fantastic of course.

What has been the most exciting poetry reading that you have been to?

Martin Harrison at ‘open fields’ in Sydney, 2010

Why is that?

It was an unpredictable performance including fake mistakes, giving it an improvisatory quality. It was unrepeatable in that it wouldn’t have the same effect again (on me).

What should the Prague Microfest Festival audience know about you?

That I was not formed in a city.

How would you describe yourself in a poem?

Increasingly distantly.

What role does your homeland play in your poetry?

It makes it possible.

What devices/tools do you use when writing? Do you research specific terms/words online? 

I occasionally use dice; sometimes I use a pen; sometimes I use the ruler on Word. Yes, I use Google/ wikipedia for terms, place names etc.

Why the dice?

I started using dice as an alternative to the I-ching, after reading about John Cage. It seemed like a good way to create new kinds of poems, to avoid habits. It provided a structure that wasn’t formalist or free.

Could you tell us how do ideas intertwine with form in your poems?

I tend to write in a mode for a while then change: these changes are generally an equivalent of a new formal idea I’ve encountered, whether from dance or art criticism (for example)

How important is the physical presentation of your poems (your chapbooks etc.) and why?

I have to like them.

What poet/writer would you recommend as an absolute must for a poet-beginner?

It would depend on the person. I think Gertrude Stein and Frank O’Hara are great informants. But they are American, and I think it’s important for people from cultures that are not as dominating to read their own writers.

What would you say is the best strategy for those times when you find yourself at a point when ideas simply don’t come?


Do you ever listen to music when writing? If yes, what kind of music? If not, why? 

I used to. Both pop and electronic music.

What time of the day is the most productive for you (in terms of writing)?

After sleeping or late at night.

When you write, do you rework your poems, coming back to them, correcting them until you are fully satisfied with them or are you more of an “instant poet”?

Both. I don’t spend forever on a poem that’s not great. I read my poems over and over for years (before book publication). If there’s something not right, they’re gone.