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Interview With Poet Beneficient Richard-Yves Sitoski

Hello all! Richard-Yves Sitoski and I have never met but we became friends through mourning of our common lover and friend Jennifer Lauren Reimer. His upcoming poetry project peeked my interest though I will admit this interview took place a couple months ago. It got put off simply because alot of stuff was happening in my life of late. I'm very, sorry, Richard! Enjoy.


Why poetry? What pushed you to this art form instead of art, songwriting or novel 

writing?


Truth be known, I do practise all those forms, and for the longest time saw myself primarily as a

fiction writer.  I came to poetry comparatively late in my (artistic) life, in my 30’s.  Oh, I’ve

always read it, but never found a way to access that inherent musicality that is within us all.  The

big push came when I began attending open mics here in Owen Sound.  This is a musical town,

with a musical culture far more significant than what one would expect given its size.  When I

moved here I got the feeling that this might not be the most amenable environment for a literary

poet, but wanting to be part of the scene, I knew I had to come up with something that worked

well in performance.  So I started doing spoken word pieces.  It was a significant development.


Folks seemed to enjoy them, and I knew I was connecting with people on a visceral level.

Perhaps as important, I was giving myself a real-time crash course in rhythm and melody.  A

good spoken word piece – and I don’t only mean the pyrotechnics of rapid fire slam, but any

good oral performance – requires a command of structure and technique.  What I had trouble

obtaining formally for years through academic means I picked up on the fly.


And now I’ve come full circle, back to what my friends refer to as “page poetry.”  There were

only so many things I could say in spoken word before I began repeating myself.  More to the

point, the things I really wanted to do I felt could only be done in print.  I got the idea for a book-

length poem on my town, and that is not something that lends itself well to oral performance.


How would you say poetry is different from other art forms?


I love the way a poem is an incipient thing, a set of ingredients that are only prepared, cooked

and served in the act of reading.  You can say the same of any form of writing, of course, but I

think poetry has particular aspirations.  If I may be allowed to be academic for a moment, I’d

describe the difference between prose and poetry in structuralist terms.  I think prose approaches

language more from the point of view of parole (specific acts of speech), while poetry is rather

about langue (language in the abstract).  The specificity of prose encourages an open, immersive

experience while the vagueness of poetry leaves you high and dry.  The former invites you to

place yourself under the spell of the text, while the latter requires a lot more conscious decisions.


All this to say that poetry has an immediacy to it, a compressive quality that prose generally

lacks.  Or rather, poems have an immediacy that prose lacks. You don’t have time to mess

around, and that creates a tension lacking in prose: you have to communicate directly (even if

what you are communicating requires misdirection), and while huge clots of clumsy prose might

not kill a novel, one false step can destroy a poem and break beyond repair the reader-writer

contract.  Poets live and die by artifice and technique.


How did you become associated with your publisher?


My publisher, Maryann Thomas of the Ginger Press, often attends the Sunday afternoon open

mics.  Between those and my readings of literary verse in town, she caught wind of the fact that I

was working on an extended cycle of poems about Owen Sound and some of its problems.  We

are both very engaged in local issues, especially civic betterment.  She asked me if I would be

interested in expanding the sequence into a full collection and I jumped at the chance.  It’s not

every day that an author is offered the opportunity to indulge all his interests, causes and

concerns.


How did the unraveling of industrial Canada influence your work?


My book, brownfields, came about because I was fascinated by the empty spaces in town that

were once the locations of major 19th and 20th Century industries.  They put me in mind of

archaeological sites that had been investigated, then backfilled and left to disappear into the

landscape.  Only they’re not quite that.  After all, they can’t disappear, as the city continues on

dynamically around them.  Moreover, they were never systematically excavated in an attempt to

meticulously reconstruct the past, but simply bulldozed over in an attempt to eradicate it.  I

realized that when our industrial heritage is gone, it’s often as if it had never been.


For me there was but a short cognitive leap from the historical to the present day.  A few years

ago I caused a bit of a tempest in the local thimble when I made a snarky parody of a “Doors

Open” poster.  It was called “Doors Closed Owen Sound” and it depicted a slew of shuttered

storefronts.  I was going through a particularly glum period in my life, and the weather didn’t

help – a grey and slushy March.  I felt as if the town were clinically depressed as well.  So I went

around photographing every closed business I could, and was astonished at how many there

were.  There was well over 10% downtown vacancy.  I later found out from my readings that 5-

6% is cause for alarm.  I made a little meme, posted it on my Facebook wall, and watched to my

astonishment as it went “municipally viral.”  And boy, did it polarize people.  Detractors accused

me of being a whiny doom-and-gloomer, while supporters recognized the meme for what it was

– a wake-up call.  This town is very proud of its downtown, yet the City has done very little to

encourage downtown development.  I quickly realized that it wasn’t just us.  Many communities

throughout the country were in a similar situation.  I wondered just what, if anything, could be

done.


My conclusions weren’t heartening.  Present day society seems to me to be in an unenviable

position.  It is helplessly watching historical change take place, and doesn’t know what to do.  In

the West, the move from an Industrial economy to a Post-Fordian service sector economy was

manageable so long as overall growth trends were aggressive and the rest of the world relied on

the West for both goods and services.  Who expected the balance of power to begin a tilt toward

non-Western economies which, based on sheer scale, would steal production away from the

West?  What’s more, the services sector of these economies is rising at a dizzying rate, and will

soon outpace ours.  C’est la vie.  Empires don’t last forever.  Throughout the course of history

centres of power have migrated to a few key places for a few key reasons.  I don’t want to be

pessimistic, but I get the feeling that our time is simply up.


What are your future publishing plans?


I’m at work on a pair of farcical novellas, and I am most excited about a project which I shall

soon begin researching, a novel in verse about the first European to explore eastern North

America, Étienne Brûlé.  He’s a wonderful blank slate; we know so little about him except what

was reported by bilious Jesuits and a very disgruntled Samuel de Champlain, yet he was not only

the first white person around in the early 1600’s but also the first white person to completely

abandon European culture, living full-time with the Huron and adopting their ways and

language.  There’s a lot to work with there.  Writers love ciphers.  And his spectacular death – he

was eaten by his former friends! – pretty much sealed the deal.

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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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