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Poet/Musician Bruce Bond expresses gratitude in new book, The Throats of Narcissus

by Maggie Paul

Bruce Bond is both an accomplished poet and classical guitarist. Having received an MA in Music Performance and a Ph.D. in English, Bond combines his love for both arts in his fourth collection of poetry, The Throats of Narcussus. He is also the author of Radiography, The Anteroom in Paradise, and Independence Days. Recent Director of Creative Writing at the University of North Texas and Poetry Editor for American Literary Review, Bruce will be reading at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Tuesday, September 11th, at 7:30 PM.

Maggie Paul: Can you tell us about the title of your new book, The Throats of Narcissus, and what it signifies in relation to the poems in the book and the book as a whole?

Bruce Bond: It's not as though I knew this would be the title of my book when I started, but as the poems began to accumulate I noticed a recurring tension in them, a longing to get beyond the self, to engage the world in ever more intimate and challenging ways, erotically, aesthetically, and ethically. It seems to me that our culture at this point in history wrestles with this challenge constantly, ever marketing a love affair with the most superficial aspects of self. The myth of Narcissus is particularly compelling since it explores not only some of the tragic implications of ego weakness and its compensatory expression in ego inflation, but also the possibility of self-transformation. What some may miss about the myth of Narcissus is the surprising outcome--that is, his reemergence in the form of the narcissus flower. This flower presents one possible emblem for imaginative work in all its initial narcissistic allure and its eventual immersion in something beyond the self. Similarly imaginative and amorous life transports one inward and outward at the same moment. The way out of the self is through it. What you find in my book are not only poems like "The Throats of Narcissus," "The Sirens of Los Angeles" and "Echolalia" which explore various problems of personal and cultural self-regard, but also poems such as the jazz cycle which pay homage to various heroes of creative resurrection. The word "throat" refers to the concept of expression as a means of dealing with narcissistic wounds. The plural "throats" refers to the eerie sense of doubling, the sense of one's self and one's reflection in dialogue, longing for resolution by way of that dialogue.

MP: You have said that you “have always been attracted to poems that listen as they speak…” Does this mean you prefer poems that have some amount of white space in them, enough breaks and pauses for the reader to absorb what he is reading but also to contemplate what he has read? Does it indicate a preference for the lyric poem as opposed to the narrative?

BB: Yes, white space is one way of suggesting a kind of silent listening, an openness to the strange and what the language longs to accommodate, how words are taken to their limits. I like poems with silence in them, both the formal resonance of literal silence, and silence as a metaphor for the unknowable, the erotic, the sublime. 

MP: The second section of The Throats of Narcissus, Solo Sessions, is devoted to such jazz greats as Art Pepper, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Lester Young, among others. You hold an MA in Music Performance and have worked many years as a classical and jazz guitarist. What influence has jazz had in your life, and on your poetry?

BB: I've loved jazz all my life, though in my twenties when I played music for a living, I performed mostly classical. My interest in jazz intensified about ten years ago when I started playing a lot more of it. What attracts me is the simultaneous abandon and discipline it takes, that sense of tradition coupled with a highly energetic rebellious quality, so saturated in unconscious life, so richly individualistic, so accommodating of dissonance and other cultures. Also I found myself growing very fond of the figures of the jazz tradition, people like Monk and Coltrane who poured enormous energies into their art, and I wanted to express my gratitude somehow. 

MP: The first poem in The Throats of Narcissus, “Cruor Dei,” begins with the enactment of  receiving communion in a Catholic mass, while the last poem of the book, Bodhisattva, moves closer to a Buddhist approach to life. Have you adopted more of the eastern philosophy of Buddhism is closer to your own spiritual path than that of European Christianity?

BB: I am interested in all spiritual expressions. I don't discriminate in favor or against any particular myth or moment of wisdom on the basis of who thought it up or who lays claim to it. I would hate to limit myself in that way. I think the sacrament is wonderfully weird and sublime and suggestive. So too is the figure of the Bodhisattva. The test is whether I could feel strongly enough about something to have a dream about it. I suppose when I was an undergraduate, Emerson and Jung had a great influence on me, and much of their openness to other cultures and their commitment to the centrality and spiritual significance of immediate imaginative life has rubbed off on me. 

MP: What role does teaching have in your work as Director of the University of Texas Creative Writing Program? How/when do you find time to write? 

BB: Well, actually I've just stepped down as Director. I enjoyed doing what I could to help build what I firmly believe is a great program. Administrative work can be creative, of course. But I'm glad to have more energies available once again for my writing. Teaching in moderation is wonderful for my writing. I'm constantly learning from my students in addition to discovering what it is that I never knew I knew. But I need breaks from teaching as well. Thank god for summers.

Bruce Bond reads from his work at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz on Tuesday, September 11th at 7:30 PM. . He is joined by Santa Cruz poet Maggie Paul. 

Bruce Bond will give a separate interview and reading of his poetry for the locally produced radio program, The Poetry Show. This one-hour interview and reading will air on KUSP (88.9 FM), 8 to 9 PM, Sunday, in the near future 

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