‘Energy is Art’s force’: Dan Disney in Conversation with Joyelle McSweeney

By and | 15 September 2022

DD: In terms of cause-and-affect, or constitutionality, as a post-Australian writer, I am always astonished to see Australian poets take up with the sonnet, that most laudatory of English forms, in any way other than ironically. Can we talk a little about your ‘Toxic Sonnets: Crown for John Keats’? What compels these experiments in ‘weaponized clarity’; are these texts an attack on phallocracies, on canons / canonicity, on the epistemic violence of empires that scope out, snuff, seal? Are these texts decompositions, decayings, mutant détournements that re-sonnet the discourse of power in its myriad modes?

JM: I think the sonnet is an Anthropocenic form, formed at the dawn of Conquest and in a shape designed to hold, reflect, deflect and flatter power. It is always needing to be undone. At the same time, maybe anytime you draw an artificial line around a space, mark it off and study what passes through the frame, that’s a method of divination. Why can’t a sonnet crown be like that, a space for scrying?

DD: Can we talk for a moment about your astonishing monograph, The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults . . . when exploring art and ‘influence’, you raise three reservations with the totalisations imbricated within that term: influence is a ‘method of conserving property and wealth, ownership of originality; its copying over of heterosexist, male-dominated bloodlines and the reproductive futurism that goes with it; and its commitment to linear notions of temporality – that what comes before causes what comes after, that the dead precede and may be sharply delineated from the living, and that the most important thing is to move forward in time’. Thinking of power relations as discursive, hegemonic, epistemological, and understanding your energies as investing deeply in counter-canonicity, counter-narrativity, counter-truths, can I ask which are the social functions of a poem? Which are the epistemological possibilities of a poem?

JM: I think you nailed it here. Poems carry counter-canonicity, counter-narrativity, counter-truths. They bury like ear-worms in the brain and change the brainwaves. They carom off the plate of the pate and go off elsewhere. They are here and not-here. They are going somewhere else.

DD: Staying with The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults, in ‘Expenditure (Or, why I’m going to die trying)’, you write, presciently, that:

we live in primitive circumstances. There are wars of attrition going on all over this planet that have no end in sight, wars that, regardless of their recent dates of inception, seem immemorial. In place of “immemorial,” let’s try “expiration date.” It’s time for the showstopper that brings down the house.

What do you mean: which kind of showstopper, and what happens after the show has stopped?

JM: I am devoutly hoping for the end of the world but I don’t think we’ll be that lucky. My biggest fear is that there will be another world after the end of the world that will somehow recapitulate this one. But I think some poets, like Kim Hyesoon and Aase Berg and Hiromi Itō and maybe Dickinson, give us a glimpse of what might happen after the end of the world, a dilated and distended place of (possibly femme?) possibility. I love how Cesaire’s Notebook comes right up against the beginning of the end of the world. To read their work is to almost glimpse a nextness, like the moire in the fabric of this world.

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