Multiple Delicacies Awaiting Discovery: The Poetry of Jenn Zahrt

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You’re a wonderfully eloquent fellow, Marco. You have a grace in use of metaphor, trying to get at and accurately explain complex phenomena you perceive. You pretty much touch on all the levels operating, micro and macro - what I marvel at myself having read the one poem here by Jenn Zhart, "There is a Hydrogen Bomb on Your Raspberry Eyelid”. I read Jenn’s poem before I listened to this interview/conversation, knowing nothing about her. This is my first intro to her work. You, Marco, have succeeded in making me much more interested in her thinking and her art. I love how around the 35 min. mark of this interview you really get down to the nitty gritty of your honesty. Jenn must be absolutely delighted by how this interview/conversation turned out. The first gift anyone could give to artist, especially in this day and age of speed-reading, scanning, sound-bites, is actually sitting down and spending quality time with the work. Not rushing it, letting it sink in and unfold on its own. Interesting listening to Jenn talk about her work. She herself is incredibly articulate, informative, instructive. Wonderful. “Optical and aural dance together” - that’s great. Beyond anthropomorphizing, to get at the weird, strange underlying thing. Going down to the cellular level. The scientific sensibility woven in. I get all that.

Really enjoyed this. Jenn, if you read this, Greetings to you. Thank you!


This is an over-the-top generous response, @JDockus. To have listeners / readers / writers (???) like you is the ultimate reward of doing all this (to date unpaid!) work. Thank you for taking the time to reply with your own mind-popping eloquence. The moonlit microtones of these forum crickets is the sweetest song this night could offer, I think…

Maybe I do overdo it, Marco. It’s one of the ironies of difficult and complex philosophical thought and poetry which moves into really strange and original territory: it’s hard to find ways to keep the ball in the air, so to speak, the conversation flowing back and forth, or even just to begin it, and most of all to manifest or express gratitude. How many times can one say, “Oh, that’s so cool” or “Incredible, wonderful”? On the other hand, it also happens, due to an all too keen awareness of this, that everything swings to the opposite extreme and not enough direct gratitude and compliment is expressed. No lubricant and everything grinds to a halt. These void or empty spaces open up in the comment boards and forums: the crickets start chirping. It becomes like a staring contest, the first to blink - or cave and pour out some looser and more casual words - loses, everyone acting as if he or she is the featured statue in a museum, and cannot break the pose for fear of destroying the illusion of desired-to-be-perceived as Masterpiece. In trafficking so much with the gods, or the Daemon, or high and heavy thoughts, one more and more hides the sloppier more human side, even becoming ashamed and embarrassed of it. Artists can be some of the most… (I should cut myself off here…!)

I really like your honesty and sensitivity, the push and pull of critique and respect you have in the flow of conversation in considering work. That’s where the grace comes out. This isn’t really a compliment. It’s really there and a very attractive quality. It comes out in your own searching to grasp and understand, in your skillful use of analogy and metaphor. You do it in a very natural and intuitive way. (I love that metaphor you came up with, trying to get at what you experience reading Jenn Zhart’s poetry, of walking in a forest with a blindfold on. I thought, “Ah, yes, that’s it. That’s definitely a more relatable sense one gets reading her poetry.”)

You give a good interview, very engaging, though one thing one could say listening to this one, you do talk a bit long out of the gate, though it’s not self-involved or for no reason, but you sincerely trying to find your way into a vital and substantial connection with the interviewee/ poetess and her work. Actually that was enjoyable to listen to in its own right, you trying to find the right words, because after reading Jenn Zhart’s poetry I feel the same way. One is at first speechless before the inscrutable. One sees so much going on there, one doesn’t know where to begin, how to get at it. Then when one opens one’s mouth and starts talking, one feels a little foolish and embarrassed, at a loss, like one has never gone swimming before, and suddenly finds oneself out in the middle of a lake. I was pullin’ for ya’, buddy! I definitely would not have done better!

P.S. Yesterday night I just discovered Jenn Zhart’s “5 Poems” here at this site. Goodness gracious - I don’t have time now to share all the thoughts tumbling through my poor noodle. One thing I think, wondering what their purpose might be, is that these poems are like instruments for sharpening and refining the perceptual apparatus. The text is more crafted than created. There’s a self-contained quality, each poem a world in itself, all the micro and macro there. At least that’s the impression one gets as reader, trying to find one’s way in. Micro-perception I think is a word you mentioned in your interview of Zhart. There’s this level where it does seem like words arranged by computer program, but that’s deceptive. There’s feeling and thought through the human being in the poems, they definitely appear to have taken some time to write, but that Voice, what might one call it? Voice seems through the writing of the poetry, the working and reworking to get the lines right, to move more and more in and around the words - “Spirit” is concretized, materialized, the words themselves becoming objects, these truly Objective Things. Voice in the completion of the poem seems no longer to be in them. It’s like the absence or incremental removal of Voice, becomes a new and uncanny presence. We approach the text like an archaeological dig? Yet the finished poems are not necessarily ruins.

Call me king dyslexic. I just returned from an evening out with my Dad, some good heart to heart with my Pop, reread what I posted here, and realize I misspelled Jenn’s last name “Zhart”, which should be “Zahrt". I actually don’t have dyslexia, but there’s definitely a recurring pattern here with me, something fishy going on. I misspelled Jasun Horsley’s last name “Horsely”. I misspelled a couple times in the past Brian George’s first name, calling him “Brain" George. So we have Zee (german accent) Art, the Horse, and the Brain. And what am I? An ass.

You’re cuckoo, John Dockus. I love it. This is a forum of crickets and cuckoos, don’t you think?

Yes, what exactly does one say? Yet one has to say something…or what is the point of the forum?

Gratitude and appreciation are good places to start, certainly. Praise from a labyrinth is what I would strive for, if I was striving. One has to make a little bit of an effort, to appreciate the appreciation, to let it be real as it is, neither more nor less than what it is. It’s easier to fixate on criticism and avoid praise, for certain types.

I have to say, though, to keep somewhat on topic, the whole organismic approach to poetry was one of the revelations for me in Jenn’s work. The analogy of a poem being like a “protozoan” nailed it.

Some time before the inception of this project I had the idea that I wanted to approach writing as a form of “genetic engineering.” This, despite my proclivity for local, organic, non-GMO foods, etc. But I thought writing should really be about creating new life forms. (Viruses are only ambiguously regarded as “life,” it’s worth noting; so that’s not the kind of thing I had in mind.) So it was cool to find Jenn’s poetry, which was doing that in bizarrely intimate and stringy ways. How do you read protozoa? Yet there it is—it has a shape, a motion; it functions and reproduces in certain ways.

I’m more and more convinced that biological metaphors will overtake mechanical ones in the future common imagination. Even the robots will want to be alive!

Maybe life is a metaphor for something else, though. I don’t know.

The thing I wonder—and I’ll wonder out loud (it’s 4 in the morning and I haven’t slept, so!)—but since you bring it up—is whether “Jenn Zahrt” is really Jenn’s name, or whether it’s a nom de plum for her creative interventions, “Jenn’s Art,” and her birth-given name is something totally different, like Jennifer Binewski or something like that, and that she ran away from transdimensional carnival when she was 15 years old because her parents were carrying out cruel and unethical biology experiments on the child performers as part of a deal with the CIA (hence the strange poetic concern with inscrutable microbes). I will NOT ask her! She will have to read it here, or someone will need to bring it up (gingerly).

Am what am I? A slime mold.

Slime mold aka Marco More jelly. When my buddies and I ragged on each other in adolescence, I was called Dickus, Dorkus, Dinky Dockus, Dick Ass, Dork ass, all the variations. Now I’m just an ass. Dark star and hair hole, I’m now getting down to the vital essence of The John.

I think you hit on it with Jenn Zahrt’s poetry. One must look to lifeforms one is not used to seeing or referring to - under the surface - the protozoan. The larger organism is dynamically built up through smaller units, micro-organisms, and comes into a life of its own. There’s an undercutting or cutting back or circumventing of general go-to analogies and metaphors for describing. They don’t stick. I think this is frustrating but a very good thing. That’s a main part and challenge of Jenn’s poetry. I find it inspiring. I like this particular kind of difficulty. Stephane Mallarme, for instance, has it in his poetry. There’s the musicality, but also something which eludes understanding, which really gets one straining to understand. It can drive one mad. One thinks at times one is dealing with nonsense, either that or the Absolute. It’s that Archimedean point of purity where, on a pivot with the whole world at stake, call it a roll of the dice, a leap of faith, the primordial trust, there could be creation, the true creative act, or destruction, annihilation, a total falling apart into the void and silence: death. One might push so far out that words are no longer signifiers, but come into a life of their own, normal reference points no longer a help. The training wheels have been removed.

In Jenn’s poems, the sound and rhythm of technology is there, seemingly programmed in, because this is the world we’re now living in, it cannot be denied, but the “organismic”, as you term it, is still underneath it all, living and breathing. The heart is still beating. The whole is not a machine. (Not yet anyway: I’m not sure I share your optimism, but I do share your hope.) I like how in your interview/conversation with Jenn you finally come around, after approaching her poems from every angle you could think of, trying different analogies and metaphors, to admitting finally that the more time you spent with them, the more pleasure you begin to feel because of their resistance. You finally realize all the ways about them of “kind of, but not quite”, and in the elimination of those, get closer to understanding what is actually there, though they are still exceedingly difficult. It’s not like one can hold a micro-organism in one’s hand. If one thinks down far enough into something, down to subatomic level, the Thing disappears, and only when one zooms back out into perspective perceivable by normal human sense, reconfigures and becomes something with a “name” again.

There is “to read", in the pure sense of apperceiving what is there, then there is "to convert and interpret”, to change what is there into something else, to get another sort of reading, but there is where one begins to get away from the text as living organism, something “in itself” with its own language. There is human voice language and then there is the language of the new lifeform. The protozoa “speaks” for itself. What might that sound be outside of the “human medium”, in its true alien strangeness and otherness, outside of our habitual tendency to translate and interpret, to make things all around us into our own image? Jenn even denies us anthropomorphism, which - true - strictly speaking falsifies the phenomena apperceived, ending finally in cartoons and such, but it ups the ante and makes it much more difficult to relate to and talk about in everyday human terms. The result perhaps is not unlike the kind of inscrutability the layman finds trying to follow a specialist who speaks in highly detailed and conceptually difficult technical terms about a subject.

I find it a fascinating corollary that Jenn mentions she learns different languages very easily, absorbing them like a sponge, and here in her poetry, it’s as if she’s not necessarily trying to invent her own language, but has branched out learning languages, really pushing the bounds to challenge herself, now wanting to learn language outside of what is more recognizably human. To learn the language of the alien and strange, the Other, and not convert, translate and interpret it so much in human terms, dumbing it down so to speak, but to write in such a way that those strange and alien forms take shape, manifest and finally show themselves, “speaking” for themselves.

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John, you really have quite a way of putting things. Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply; it’s been a busy, protozoan, all too protozoan week. I’ve felt guilty about leaving you hanging here…at the same time, I’ve been wanting to give myself the needed time to respond somewhat thoughtfully.

It used to be, of course, weeks or months would pass as we (historical humans) exchanged correspondence. Now it seems I’ve internalized the expectation that all my responses should come within 24 hours. Oddly, I don’t expect this of others, unless it’s truly time-sensitive business and we’ve explicitly established a protocol; yet in my intellectual and even casual, social discussions, I seem to believe others expect it of me. Oh well.

What I’m curious about, in your statements, is that notion that there could be a text (poem as living organism) “in itself.” How can we read without imparting some “likeness” to the poem? (It’s like this, like that…or neti neti, not this, not that; either way in the realm, or performing the mental activity, of comparison)?

Is there language which is purely effective without being interpreted? For all my listening and feeling for affect, must I ultimately engage with the text creatively for it to have meaning at all? Re-write it myself—or riff off it—marking it up with my own pen, as I mentioned in the interview I had done?

That admission bothered me a little, when I heard it again. Why couldn’t I have just let the poem speak for itself? Taste it purely, a pure sense experience? Were my scribbles and approximations merely training wheels, as you say? Feckless jabs at comprehending a whack-a-mole language of ungraspable intimacies? (Multiple delicacies eluding prehension?)

Isn’t it precisely this singular, absolute, and irreducible quality that makes the poetry (any poetry) so generative?

Yet I think if the poem were purely mute, an obdurate turd and not a weeping stone, it would not even be alien, but truly gibberish. “Junk DNA” (or not!)

Perhaps it’s simply a matter of time; giving time. A process of relating, approximating, unfurling understanding. As Brian George indicates he wishes others will relate to his own work, the poem wants you to “live with it.”

Maybe it’s not a matter of me understanding it, but of letting it into my own biome (whatever parts of it get through the chemical gates) so that it reappears later (uncontrollably, ultimately) mingled into my native expressions. Genetic recycling. Memetic transmigration. This might be all “creativity” is…

In any event, I appreciate the reflections—even more so now than I probably could have last week. Thanks again for your generous reading and engagement.

This is beautiful, Marco. You are wonderfully receptive. What a joy to be around such a good and attentive listener. It’s amazing to me, and delightful, how you pick out relevant words, not only staying within the immediate context, or comment section, but carefully lifting details from elsewhere too, and returned, stitched lovingly into a little prose poem in its own right.

That idea of an “in itself” I agree is odd, perhaps strictly speaking is not logical or possible. In a way it’s like trying to hook around, stretching the limits of one’s spine, to stare up one’s own arse: waiting for the golden egg to come. Usually I end up squirting myself in the eye. The phrase “in itself” tries to suggest self-containment, the idea of something in its own integrity, something which has an objective life of its own before we arrive to it and observe it and engage with it.

It’s so hard to talk about such poems as those written by Jenn Zahrt! But of course that’s why we like them and find them so valuable. They hold secrets within themselves, are like codes which challenge us to solve them. One is forced, however, to use not only one’s rational mind. That leads not to deadends necessarily, but only gives parts of the puzzle. Brian George must be as fascinated by these poems as we are, because the labyrinth is in them. If you think linearly, narrative going one way, you find yourself stuck and knocking your head against a wall. One must ascend into the mind’s eye to get an overview, to find one’s way. One must use one’s own imagination, and other parts of oneself as well, which don’t yet have a name. New organs sprout into existence within oneself, ones which one feels one never had in oneself. That’s the thrill of it but also the horror. I read certain lines and looked, and a tentacle slithered out of my pant leg!

I totally feel the same as you, Marco, with the press of time to respond. We probably should slow down and catch our breaths, and return to deeper breathing. I feel I’ve been writing too much lately. I disappeared down the rabbit hole at the end of Brian George’s “The Snare of Distance and the Sunglasses of the Seer/ Part Two”, following Jasun Horsley down into his lair. Some mind-stretching and profound words there, with little ole’ me trying my best to maintain my simple humanity and sense of humor. My head’s about to explode. I want to work on my drawings for a while, but like you, comments call out to me, and I get roped back into writing.

I feel like I want to leave more comments around here at Metapsychosis, just to show my support at the very least. I totally embrace your whole project here, my whole heart desiring so much for this to be fruitful, to exceed all expectations. It’s just beyond my humble power to sit down and give a proper response to so many riches. I wonder at the position you’re in, at the center of it all, trying to make this whole project go and to keep the pulse of life in it. It’s too much for one man. You’re out there in the field tilling it, turning over the soil, planting seeds. You must be exhausted.

I love the photo you posted at Welcome & Introductions of you, such a handsome fellow, and dear old Mooby, with the cataracts milking up like mother of pearl. “The deep intelligence of the nose” - You handle things with such loving care, Marco, even other people’s lines, keeping words and phrases in circulation, everything passed around and shared in communion like bread and water.

I feel the love at this site. You can be sure, even when I’m not leaving a comment or seem to have dropped out of existence, I’m helping nurture the ground subconsciously with my good energy.