[re:con]versations :: Hopping the Imaginary’s Obscure Islands with “Lost City Hydrothermal Field” poet and author, Peter Milne Greiner
[a conversation with OS Managing Editor and Founder Lynne DeSilva-Johnson on the occasion of the launch of Lost City Hydrothermal Field. Purchase this singular volume of Poetry, Essay, and Science Fiction direct from the OS here! And: read a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly *here*.]
Thank you for talking to us about your process today!
Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?
I’m PMG and I’m a travel writer. I’m from Massachusetts, where I was born in the valley and raised in the hills. I live in Brooklyn and I work at a hotel.
Why are you a poet/writer/artist?
Part of me wishes I knew; part of me hopes I never find out.
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)?
Born this way.
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 think one thing poets are interested in the most is order, as in reason. It’s sorta like when someone says something and you “look” for the joke you could make. There is a hidden order or reason underlying complicated things and sometimes it’s really easy and obvious, often it’s negative, but the upside is that understanding something better is necessarily a form of relief. People always say that about mathematics. Poets are sort of in the business of finding that exact order and reason. Comedians do the exact same thing. We all know why they’re here. They’re motivated, above all, by communication. But like I said that’s just one thing.
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?
At a certain point I realized that poetry and science fiction as speculative endeavors have a lot in common, and putting LCHF together was about showing how that works for me. Making the distinction between a hybrid work and a mixed-genre work is — very crucially — of no interest to me, but I predict it as being a topic of conversation about the book, which is fine. That conversation has been happening for fifty years, at least, and I’m happy to perpetuate the attitude that stories — whether they’re stories, about people, that look like stories, or poems about whatever poems are about (?) that look like poems — are more important than classification. A book that I looked to again and again while assembling this book was Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out At Night? And Other Animal Presences by Ursula K. Le Guin, who I could talk about all day and all night. It’s a novella backed with selected poems and stories that she put together scrupulously. It’s different from my book in an important way because the poems and stories had already been in other books she’d published, but she chose them to accompany the novella in an effort, I think, to show her audience something specific about her work that maybe wasn’t very obvious, but was obviously important to her. And the subtitle, And Other Animal Presences, is a coy and deft way of not saying what the book is or contains, of avoiding classifications. Again, I literally can’t shut up about her, but the point is that I wanted to make a book sorta like that, but starting from scratch.
Did you envision this collection as a collection or understand your process as writing or making specifically around a theme while the poems themselves were being written / the work was being made? How or how not?
Once I started writing science fiction I knew what this book was going to be like. I definitely make and abandon lots of plans always. I actually am not so much a poet and science fiction writer as a person who takes a lot of notes and makes lists and forgets about them. Somewhere in there, though, I knew what I wanted the book to be about and how I wanted to work against that. It was my quaint little mass/energy equivalence.
What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?
Obvious practices include, in the poems, the avoidance of periods and punctuation in general, which shapes the poems visually in a huge way, which come to think of it might not seem obvious. I don’t use periods because I don’t think poems or images ever really conclude, except that they do so who knows what in the world I’m saying when I say that. As far as the way I work and write goes, I definitely learned a lot — and continue to learn — from the essays of Theodore Roethke and UKL. Both are extremely, extremely technical writers who are very good at disguising that. They are also both very intuitive writers, and there’s a mystery there that I don’t have much to say about.
As a science fiction writer I am, for better or worse, very fixated on the 60’s and 70’s, on the growing pains of pulp, and on when people first started to point out that SF was really important — and how those things led to where we are now. And sometimes I tell people that I use the science fiction short story as a poetic form, but that is, as UKL would say, a telling. I guess I would say that it’s writers like Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delaney and Stanislaw Lem that sit on my shoulder the most — only because I’m too new to the game to put what I’ve learned from Jeff VanderMeer and Ted Chang — who are at the top of said game — into practice. Yet. Which is not to say that the latter are somehow writing some sort of more advanced SF than the former — it’s just to say that so far I have written from what I’ve read and that tends to be older things. I definitely don’t consider my science fiction to be contemporary or old-fashioned, either. I don’t consider it to be anything because I don’t actually know what it is at all.
Speaking of monikers, 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 lost city hydrothermal field is a geological feature of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a cluster of methane and hydrogen vents which are sometimes called “chimneys.” I became attracted to this phrase because it superimposes certain human, architectural, and folkloric narratives onto a geophysical one. Carl Sagan might’ve called this a chauvinist act; today it might be called an anthropocentric act. I associate this particular type of act with a phenomenon in psychology called pareidolia, which is when the mind looks for and finds human faces and figures everywhere it looks. Sometimes the mind is wrong, as when it was thought that there was an earthwork on Mars created in the likeness of a human(oid) face. I see these acts and mistakes as being pretty central to a lot of dilemmas our civilizations face in the 21st century — and moving forward — as we learn that the human face and human presence in general is not everywhere.
As far as titles go in general: I have two answers to that. Somewhere in Witold Gombrowicz’s notorious Diary he states that one names one’s book as one names one’s dog — to distinguish it from others. I took this to heart many years ago when I first encountered his very humorous and devastating work.
I was also, as a very young poet, urged to carefully and bombastically create titles — by a professor of mine at The New School named Sekou Sundiata. There is a poem in this book that addresses this issue head on, conveniently! Sekou was very captivated by placenames, specifically, and their power to evoke narrative tension, even if the word was seemingly meaningless. His famous example of that was always Braintree, Massachusetts. This almost absurdist impulse still seems oddly out of character for him, but it’s an impulse that carries over to creating a title no matter what it had to be (see his amazing poem “Mood For Love”). Make the poem work for it, he said. So I always try to, and I think of him every single time without exception. He is my pool of light.
What does this particular work represent to you
…as indicative of your method/creative practice?
…as indicative of your history?
…as indicative of your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?
OK breaking the third wall with this one. I do the work for nothing because that’s my greatest reward.
What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?
Against hyperobjects, human beings promise deluxe resistance. The truth is out there.
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? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?
First of all I hope that this book makes the next book super hard to write. I know that already. That’s for me. Also I want my friends to like it. I want Kesha to like it. Also I got lucky. And I wrote whatever the fuck I wanted to, and everyone deserves the same opportunity and license. Kurt Vonnegut said something about that. We out here. Find us. We’re not alone. I hope someone I don’t know at all finds this book and discovers something in it that I didn’t know was there. And makes something out of it I could never predict in my wildest dreams.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social activism, in particular in what I call “Civil Rights 2.0,” which has remained immediately present all around us in the time leading up to this series’ publication. I’d be curious to hear some thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, privilege, social/cultural background, and sexuality within the community, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos.”
This question is at the heart of the ethos of The Operating System, and it’s the heartest to answer. In Harold Bloom’s (don’t vomit [big ask]) The Flight To Lucifer, a sequel to David Lindsay’s A Voyage To Arcturus (by some definitions an early work of science fiction) (Bloom has disowned his first and only novel just as many people have disowned all of his work) there is a strange tower at the edge of a strange lake. A kind of silo. At first there doesn’t seem to be an entrance to this tower. One word that comes to mind when I hear this question is marginalization. I’m not sure I have accomplished anything, or have done anything. I didn’t do anything because process and the work that emerges from process does not (always) happen that way, although it sometimes does; sometimes it often does, depending on how you look and where you look. A willingness to look is what I’m talking about. And recognizing that process exists, to paraphrase the Vulcans, as an infinite diversity in infinite combinations. And this entanglement of human stories exempts no one. Everyone is responsible. And everyone, contrary to what I said before, is everywhere. My tiny piece of the puzzle is a little silo, a word worth reclaiming; they are ubiquitous; we consist of them. There’s a silo of sorts on the cover of this book. It’s a defunct particle accelerator. It has been superimposed over a strange landscape. It has a troubled, complicated history. One we might never really understand. We all have histories like that. Kazuo Ishigoru said something like that. The only way we will ever learn from such things is to place them — squarely, securely, and with accountability — in the record.
Peter Milne Greiner’s work has been featured in Motherboard, Dark Mountain, Fence, SciArt Magazine, and elsewhere, and has been lauded by the likes of Jeff VanderMeer and Claire L. Evans. He studied poetry at The New School under Sekou Sundiata, and is a scholar of the history of the Roaring Forties. In July of 2013 he sent a poem into space through the Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel Valley, California. He is the author of the chapbook ‘Executive Producer Chris Carter.’ Lost City Hydrothermal Field is his first full length collection.