Increasing the Mass of the World :: a conversation with Richard Lucyshyn

Elæ Moss
Elæ Moss
Jan 20, 2019 · 8 min read

Richard Lucyshyn is the author of “I made for you a new machine and all it does is hope,” out now from The Operating System

Greetings comrade! Thank you for talking to us about your process today! Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?

Hi hi hi! My name is Richard Lucyshyn, and I live in Richmond, VA with Kelly, my spouse, our two young children, and our two rescued dogs Bunk and Mitch (an albino Pomeranian we literally found wandering down the street by herself). We used to have some cat friends living with us, Milhouse and Ely, but they have both passed. We miss them dearly but are lucky to have shared a world with them for such long times; Milhouse made it to fourteen, and Ely to just shy of thirteen.

Why are you a poet/writer/artist?

Making poems is one of a very places/times where I am able to play with and use language, words and sounds, in the ways that are most natural. There is no immediate need or pressure to wrangle myself into an approximate shape of “this is how people communicate and interact with each other.”

Perhaps I’ll never really be certain, but maybe it really is as simple as that.

When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?

Some folks find themselves keen on poems when they’re bitty little kids. Some of us don’t realize that we’re curious until we’re older, maybe a lot or maybe a little. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a reader. I read a whole bunch way back then, and I read even more now.

But I think the first time I was hipped to poems other than those things I was taught in school was during my junior (or it might have been senior) year of high school when a friend gifted me a copy of C.K. Wiliams’s Selected Poems, the one that came out just a few year earlier in 1994. I’m not sure I “liked” it a whole lot back then (nor would I say I “disliked” in any active sense), and I certainly hadn’t learned how to read them yet. Luckily I was at self-aware just enough to realize that I was looking at poems doing things I hadn’t seen done before. At least in what poems I had encountered up to that point. And for whatever confluence of reasons, it was a pretty easy leap for me to make, starting from “well, if that dude can make poems do things I didn’t know poems could do” to “gee, I wonder what else poems can do.” I’ve been chasing that tumbleweed ever since; playing with sounds and words and language, trying to figure out how it works and how far I can stretch it before it breaks.

Probably for now I’m going to set aside much discussion of whether I am “comfortable” calling myself a poet. The short answer is no, that my brain locks up when others refer to me, or ask me if I am, a poet. Because my instinctual and gut-determined response is something close to “oh gosh, like, poems are things I make and do sometimes and think about a great deal of time, but I make and do lots and lots of stuff. I make a bunch of mistakes and mess. Also, sandwiches.” And I tend to get stuck there, because I don’t mean those things in any sort of glib or sarcastic way; I don’t mean it to diminish poems and the people who make them, or whoever is asking me if I am or calling me a “poet.” Depending on how any particular person or people define, or otherwise conceive, the “idea” of poetry, of what a poet is, my natural response could very well be perceived as disrespectful, as minimizing something hugely important.

It’s difficult enough to articulate even in writing, when I have all the time in the world and all the space I might need. Truthfully, I’m still working to figure it all out, and maybe I never will. And that’s ok!

Having said all of that, though, I don’t take issue with folks if and when they say “Richard is a poet” or whatelse. So, if you don’t mind me standing there for a possibly awkward amount of time before I respond when you ask “are you a poet,” looking as if I’ve been overcome with some existential crisis (which is a way it is, because I am in fact reconsidering my identity or what even “identity” is) then we can totally be friends. It’s just a thing that happens to me, and that’s also ok!

Needless to say, I lead a tremendously rich and exciting inner life.

What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway? What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)?

I’m most soothed by the functional sense that a poet is just a mind that makes a poem or maybe even makes lots of them. However they feel a poem can or should be made. In whatever form they thing a poem can or should take at any time.

I’ve never found any treasure in the idea that in order to make a poem a person must have some special whatevers. Or that they must be maybe tuned with any magic everythings.

Which is not at all to say that poems can’t be magic. Probably most of them aren’t, but plenty of know know and trust that some of them are. And how much more beautiful is it that those poems — or paintings or songs or you-make-its — that are magic were made by any old so and so.

There’s grace and hope in that. Maybe it’s so much than that and that’s what hope and grace are.

Dollars to doughnuts, when some particular anybody makes a serious attempt at the project of poem-making, consciously or not they are trying to make a poem that is necessary. Or that was always “supposed” to exist but, for reasons, just hasn’t been born yet. Something was missing and then it wasn’t. And then everything is different. Like, everything in the sense of every thing ever. The impact or size of that change doesn’t really matter a lick, I don’t think. A poem could be read by/connect to millions of people or three. Or one. The change still happens.

And that’s so rad! That we can increase the mass of the world just by figuring out how to make something it was always meant to have. That anyone can do it just if or because they feel like it.

I don’t know, but that seems pretty darn special to me.

Talk about the process or instinct to move these poems (or your work in general) as independent entities into a body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?

I spent the last 13 or 14 years, ermmmm, trying to teach myself to learn how to make the poems I had “in my head” but hadn’t seen before. Somewhere about 2 1/2 years ago, plus or minus some change, I noticed I was making those poems. Or, really, that I was about as close as I was likely ever going to get.

What does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.

The title “I made for you a new machine and all it does is hope” actually evolved out of a small painting I had made a year or three before most of the book had even been written. A recurring image I sometimes or often return to in my visual practice, paintings or drawings that are actually just poems meant to be looked at, is a creaky tripod like structure (like, maybe picture the offspring of a giant pyramid mated to some scaffolding) that is often (except when it isn’t) broadcasting light or color or sound from its peak. Anyway, I made, gave away, and subsequently totally forgot about one of these paintings on which I had also written “I BUILT A MACHINE AND ALL IT DOES IS HOPE.”

Cut to a year or two later when I was shining the manuscript up, getting it ready to send out. I shared it along to an old and dear friend of mine to give it a read and some thoughts so that I could gauge if the poems were doing what I trying to make them do and, if so, how well. I had slapped “A Newly Book of Uncommon Prayer” (or something in that neighborhood anyway) on as a title not so long before, thinking it would get the job done. But I was never really committed to it.

A couple or few weeks later, my pal got back to me with a small handful of suggestions. One of which was basically “dig…that title is doing either too much work or not nearly enough.” I was instantly like “yup!” His next pro-tip was to think about “I built a machine and all it does is hope,” from that painting I was gabbing about a couple or few paragraphs ago. As I mentioned up there, I had forgotten all about it until he poked me in my memory palace.

And it fit. Well nearly fit. It needed to be longer. And to express as a gift which is really a plea. And it needed to be way more iambic which is entirely iambic for no other reason than that’s how it’s supposed to be.

So it grew itself just a bit into a 7-footed lope. And then it grew itself again into a sonnet sort-of.

All according to plan.

What does this particular work represent to you as indicative of your method/creative practice? your history? your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?

I can’t wrangle together an answer, that feels any way honest, beyond that these were just the poems I was trying to make over those months that I made them. Once I figured them out I felt “oh yeah, these are them I was looking for.” And then I was able to stop looking for them quite so hard.

What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?

This book is simply a series of attempts to learn something.

What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond?

I hope to learn. To have my mistakes and errors and wrongs pointed out to me so that I might listen and learn. And continue always trying to be better than I am.

What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?

Hope. That’s all, really. I hope. And I hope.

Is there anything else we should have asked, or that you want to share?

A good pencil just feels right. And I could talk to you about pencils for longer than you might prefer.

Richard Lucyshyn lives in Richmond, VA with his family. He currently splits his time teaching poetry and creative writing at The College of William and Mary and being a stay-at-home parent with his young children.

The Operating System & Liminal Lab

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The Operating System & Liminal Lab

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.

Elæ Moss

Written by

Elæ Moss

is a multimodal creative and social practitioner, curator, scholar, and educator. Founder/Director @The Operating System. Faculty @ Pratt. [they/them] #resist

The Operating System & Liminal Lab

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.