Christopher J. Johnson of the Collected Works Bookstore staff interviews Thomas Heise, author of the recent MOTH; or how i came to be with you again. Heise is a poet and teacher who spends his time between Montreal and New York City. He is an Associate Professor of English at McGill University.
CJJ: The structure of your book is very unconventional. There are uniformly no paragraph breaks in your book from chapter to chapter. The sensation I receive from it is similar to viewing uncut blocks of sculpting stone, but rather than bare stone the sides have been painted on. On what level does this aesthetic play into Moth and its story?
TH: The book is all form, but that is not to say there isn’t a “story.” I think of story as the sensation or the affect created in the reader by form. Feelings of breathlessness, exhilaration, disorientation, wonder – that is Moth’s story. For me, the closest analogy for Moth isn’t sculpture, but film, because of its built-in sense of movement through time – sliding into the past, propelling into the future – but also movement in time, the time of reading, that duration for the sedentary traveler for whom there is no break, no place to pause as the theater of the mind moves.
CJJ: Your book has a rolodex of authors and artists from the more well known like Goya and Turner to the less known and obscure like Khlebnikov and Lili Brik. Is this a little bit of Thomas Heise’s passion slipping into the metaphors or is it uniquely the unnamed narrator’s preoccupations?
TH: The distinction between the narrator as a character and the narrator as the author is blurry. The opening of the book, as well as a few other encounters, suggests that the difference might be minimal. I take to heart Rimbaud’s rabbit-hole of an insight, “Je est un autre,” or “I am an other.” So the short answer is yes.
CJJ: Your book presents a number of places, for instance, a café that are destroyed in some way or in a state of disrepair. Is this a response, say, to the eerie and personless worlds of the popular imagination found in books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? I read in your book a sort of post-rapture tranquility, is that simply my own doing or is it an intended thing?
TH: Ruins fascinate me. Decaying factories, abandoned houses, industrial lots that are turning back into fields: these are places where we can see time, where time becomes visible through the erosion of the material world. When we enter such spaces, we come “after” but we can see “before” because it leaves a trace in the dust, the crumbling walls, the shoes scattered on the floor, the drawers filled with papers. Such places are haunted with memory, but they also are evidence that we ourselves have survived.
CJJ: The title of your book, MOTH; or how i came to be with you again, refers to what? I guess I’m asking if there is a light somewhere in the “you” of the title that the rest of the book is drawn to?
TH: Among other things, Moth itself is short for “mother” and it contains the letters of my name, “Thom.” I like this interplay, which the book also plays with in scenes of pregnancy and writing. The narrator, at one point, imagines his mother pregnant with him and then re-imagines the same scene as his mother pregnant with the need to write as the seed of an idea begins to gestate. That seed of an idea is the writer giving birth to him- or herself. I suppose the “you” in the subtitle is anyone and anything for which we are always in pursuit, for which we desire, but which we can never light upon for long without risking the extinction of desire.
CJJ: When you are writing a poem or a book how do you keep track of your ideas? Do you keep notes in a notebook or put them down as suddenly as they come onto napkins and credit card receipts or, perhaps, type them into your phone? Is your process nothing like this at all at all?
TH: I keep a notebook. I write by hand and I write by computer. I do so to capture image so I won’t lose them. But whatever I imagined I would say about them invariably changes when I finally sit down to draft.
CJJ: Lastly, a standard; if you had only two books, but you could carry them easily in your coat sleeves and so have them with you always, what would those two books be?
TH: An impossible question, ha! But let’s go with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood.