The Animal of Existence, Black Square Editions, 2022
Hear Jared Daniel Fagen read from The Animal of Existence
Author website: Jared Daniel Fagen
Beginnings: How did this book come about? What were you thinking about? Did the pandemic affect the process of writing it?
JARED DANIEL FAGEN: The Animal happened spontaneously. I had been working in prose fiction and thinking about my weariness. The weariness was written all over me. That’s when things changed. I could no longer withstand the weight of narrative’s accumulations, but I thought maybe I could find relief in their collapse. Poetry does this, I think: makes itself present at that brief while of spillage.
Maybe this is what [Emil] Cioran meant by the “lyricism of last moments.” A letting into oblivion. I’m still not sure. I’m certain I won’t ever be.
The Animal is an impaired object of this uncertainty, showing all its seams. At first I was writing what I believed were little exorcising fragments, to re-gather my strength. I published a few here and there, figuring last moments don’t last long. But after two or so years, I understood the spillage was an overflowing, that a moment is made sustainable in the event of its elusiveness, becomes abundant by memory. It was around the start of the pandemic—where an altogether different kind of weariness gripped me—when the idea of collecting these “poems” into an impulsive book first occurred to me.
What was your favorite thing about writing it? What gave you the most satisfaction, what was energizing or enlivening about it?
JDF: Realizing that the stakes of writing were much graver than I’d been led to believe.
That to write is to venture, to let go, to shatter; to be exposed, deprived.
That as I shattered, erased myself more from the act of writing, I could see some other part of me more visibly in the work, one I’d haplessly kept hidden, one I recognized I’d strayed from, the one who’d been attempting the hand all along.
That this self-materializing absence was simultaneously generating a space of dispersing presence. That from the spill spreads, like the mute shadows of a sundial, not the “truth” of being but its error (hi EL), its vanishing verisimilitude, mocking truth’s every movement.
That I could write in prose without the requirement to lead you anywhere but back to yourself—enjambed, deferred, rendezvoused.
That I could inoculate form to make room for my alterity, to put construction in dialogic contact with collapse.
Writing The Animal poems, I grasped that the work exceeds itself, and at the same time writing begins, at the threshold of form and language. I was enlivened by how words are belabored and breathed. But with hesitation, by fits and starts. The satisfaction was in the powerlessness, in letting poiesis wash over me.
Was there a section or poem or part of the book that you felt doubtful about including? What made it so? How did you come to the decision you did?
JDF: The prelude and closing poem gave me pause. They came later in the writing, or after I believed the writing of The Animal poems had at last gone out of me. They appeared differently. Sounded differently. They rang false. I thought they were respite poems. Indeed, they’re the only texts I’ve composed that even resemble poetry, whatever that means. They felt like failed philosophies. I don’t mean any of this disparagingly. They were sure of my doubt.
When the accident occurred and I began planning the manuscript, I envisioned the book as simply a record of the sway: the swift and undeliberate change in my relationship to writing. Including “Rather/Insomn” as the first poem in the collection, and “Tear” as the last, shifted The Animal from the failure of thought to a failed experiment inherent in the amalgam of genres: the prosaic and prosodic.
Their inclusion gives the book a certain inevitability—if not also variation—and encourages a conceptual reading, I hope, of the book as a kind of emergent process, albeit one that deteriorates. As a bonus, my initial reluctance to include them brought me to the discovery of other poems in the mix that I had forgotten about, which were also subsequently included.
What are some lines, phrases or images from the book that stay with you, either because they capture something that feels very true, or they came to you in a way that felt whole and generative?
JDF: It’s all stayed with me, just as the poems no longer belong to me, have no reason for me. The parkway benches, the mountains, their cliffs, and my vertigo, the lexical omissions and syntactic violations, “the ash blush of sun,” “the words almost,” “the inner rift extinguished,” the eves, the tire swings, the trespasses, the heel blisters, the diaper rash, the cosmogenic longing, the obscurity of window reflections, the plurality, the lapses, the burning candles, the wounds.
They were all there, dormant, before I could give them words. I think it was I who came to them, dug with my tongue. Since The Animal came out, and I’ve been fortunate to read some of these poems out loud in front of people, I start every reading with “Yearns.” I can’t say why, and this might change in the near future. What feels “true” to me is the upheaval, “to combat the combustion I feel against words.” Poetry’s not a performance. It’s a ceremony. The quotidian strife is the recital. The performance, I’m learning, is all else that brings me to the poem whose burden is to evade me.
Can you share a few other works or experiences that influenced you in the writing of this book? Do you think these influences will be visible to your readers? Would you like them to be?
JDF: I have a terrible memory, but here it goes: returning to, and endlessly touring, neighborhoods in which I no longer live (except at night). Day drinking at Enid’s, Matchless, Soda Bar (RIP). Ghérasim Luca’s cubomanic collages. Post-impasse Beckett and everything by or on Maurice Blanchot. Celan’s Atemwende. The essay films of Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Carolee Schneemann, Isaac Julien, and Barbara Hammer (hi Wayne). Confronting and reading, for the first time, my adoption documents. Heaving watermelons off the Manhattan bridge. Quitting jobs. The first time riding my John Deere D160 lawn tractor (and everytime afterward). Genya Turovksaya’s The Breathing Body of This Thought. Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis.”
I imagine some influences will readily reveal themselves more than others. But I imagine I’d be happiest if readers would see what’s not readily seen, and find it in their hearts to surrender to what it means to think or feel deeply, to feel flooded.