Mathew Abbott is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Ballarat. His first book of poems – wild inaudible – was published by Australian Poetry last year. He blogs at beetleinabox.tumblr.com, tweets as @wild_inaudible, and plays in Canberra punk band Life and Limb. He has published poetry in Overland, Cordite, Otoliths, and Foam:e; he has published philosophy in Angelaki, Glossator, Parrhesia, Sub:Stance, and the International Journal of Philosophical Studies. His book on Giorgio Agamben is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press.
4The species code 4 her. Litter trinkets pep the ice on the field's top edge: bitty rain that sprinks the lids. Cold encrypts as bird with sight straight split: code of branches at her nerve. Mouth repeat the code & eats: there is no secret in this kind world. Nor true copy of. Nor spin on her. Code 4 talk & how she shed her text: O the lit, the byte unbit.
Who are you reading now and why do they turn you on?
I’ve been rereading Barbara Guest, who always gets me thinking about what abstraction means re: language. I’ve been rereading Robert Creeley who, after many years, is still teaching me stuff. I’ve been rereading Fiona Hile’s chapbook The Family Idiot, which maps territories between poetry and philosophy in a way I find enthralling. I’ve been rereading Keston Sutherland’s Hot White Andy, which is just overwhelmingly intense in its rapt horror at what capital has done and is doing to the lifeworld. I’ve been reading Corey Wakeling’s Goad Omen, which is generous, perplexing, and fun in the extreme. I’ve been reading Timothy Thornton’s Jocund Day, which seems to do ‘beauty’ in a new way. Outside of poetry, I’ve been reading and rereading Adorno. I believe the force of his writing is moral, and that force is present as much in how he says what he says as in what he actually says. The exhilaration you get from reading Adorno, and the terror of it, comes from his ethical mercilessness: he doesn’t let you get away with anything. That could mean: a trite or clichéd thought; insufficiently rigorous punctuation; any sort of reconciliation with the present; etc. I’ve also been reading about and around Iranian cinema, because I’m in the early stages of a book on the philosophical significance of Abbas Kiarostami.
How often do you write? Do you have a writing practice?
I write poetry erratically; it can be ten poems a week or no poems for months. I write philosophy very slowly, in just the way they tell you not to: editing as I go and obsessively crafting each paragraph before moving onto the next. I write lectures like a demon, reeling off thousands of words in an afternoon. This is to say that I write very often, though at different paces and for different reasons. My practice is as all over the place as that implies. I do have one trick: sometimes I reverse the usual rule and write sober, revise drunk.
When you think of Australian poetry, do you see an elephant in the room? If so, what is it?
While there are obvious and serious problems with the very idea of a ‘national’ poetry, I think the relation between poetry and geography is very important. This is because of the connection between poetry and land: all poets – not just ‘nature poets’ – respond in their writing to the physical claims of the particular bits of the earth on which they spend their time. Now this is particularly interesting and difficult in the case of Australia, because our relation to the land has been marked, in a brutal and perhaps irrevocable way, by the act of dispossession with which this country was founded. If poetry always speaks to and from the land on which it is written, then what happens to it in a country whose landscapes have been marked like that? More generally, what happens to experience in the context of the destruction of cultures and languages? I think the basic problem for any poet today is the destruction of experience: how to respond to that without dishonesty or flight. Perhaps this is particularly true for poets in Australia.