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2004 Writers' Forum
Martin Marriott

Martin Marriott is a surrealist who votes for the unconscious, the unreal, the unfettered human imagination, the release of energy. Martin says, "I believe in Truth and Beauty and Love. I believe that we are capable of overthrowing capitalism." He welcomes your e-mail at marriott_martin@hotmail.com.
Conversation with Curator Belle Randall
In this interview, recorded March 5, 2004, Martin and Belle discuss the avant-garde and surrealism, inspiration, politics and art, the writing community, music, visual art, improvisation, teaching, and more.
Listen to this Interview (MP3)
28:00
MM The Future Like a Giddy Turnpike Rushes Up Behind Me…
[reading]
BR

Thank you. That was Martin Mariott, reading… what's the title of that poem, Martin?
MM The Future Like a Giddy Turnpike.
BR


Martin is the co-founder of Seattle's Surrealist Group and also the open mic series at Through-Traffic Molly!, well really at, is it "On the House?"
MM On the House, yes.
BR

Would you tell us something about those? Tell me about the Surrealist Group.
MM Well, it's pretty surreal. What do you want to know?
BR




Well, you're a surrealist, so finally I kind of want to know… what that is. You have talked about a predetermined state of intellectual passivity from which your poems arise. Maybe you should talk about that. Is that state encouraged at the surrealist group?
MM








Yeah, but at the basis of surrealism, going right back to the formation of the original surrealist movement in 1919, 1920, the basis was automatic writing, and that's at the center of what we do, in our group when we meet. We do different games or types of work or types of production that are based on automatic movement, physical movement, automatic movement, automatic drawing, and automatic writing. And automatic speaking (that we don't record). And by automatic we mean without intellect.
BR

Do you find yourself always able to get into the state of mind that produces automatic writing?
MM

Yes. Yes, whenever I want. But I've been doing it for a few years. Practice helps.
BR And you're genuinely surprised by what you write?
MM







Yeah. Anyone would be. Everyone is. If you can combine your hand holding a pen and your hand moving that pen across a piece of paper, but without thinking of anything, then certain words will come out, which de facto you have no idea what they're going to be. You have no intention, no subject you're writing of, no desire to convey a certain emotion. You just simply have a… as an artist, a necessity to express your insides. So it's always a surprise.
BR




And yet, at the same time as a poet, you're sometimes a political poet. And that would seem like that's more intentional, isn't it? The surrealists themselves were a political movement in a way, right? They were very rebellious.
MM



















Well… the surrealists… as thinkers, as thinking people in the world, through this century, have always been very politically minded, and involved in various communist and revolutionary movements, political movement and organizations, but have fought against social realism. That part of their meeting with Freud and the discovery of the subconscious and the inner space and the desire to explore and move into and come from the inner space was a rejection of naturalism. And later, with the rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, and a rejection of social realism and utilitarianism. The idea that—sometimes they were harder or softer on it, but they never called it more than occasional verse—and said if you want to explain your political views write an essay, and write a book, and stand on a soapbox, make a speech, try and convince the people. Render under Caesar that which he seizes. So surrealists stopped writing surrealist poems, picked up guns, and fought in Spain in the Spanish Revolution against the fascists in '36 and '37, but they didn't turn art into propaganda. You know, they were always in favor of pure expression, not utilitarian.
BR













Good. That's a good answer, I think. So, they were politically engaged, but that's not the purpose of poetry as you understand it, or as a surrealist understands it. Your mentioning Spain maybe reminds me of the fact that, in the Spanish language tradition it seems as if surrealism is the main stream. I mean most Spanish poetry is surreal. You think of Neruda. Just these torrents of something that we call surreal. I wondered if you had ever thought about that as its place in different languages. It seems as if it only comes into the English language tradition through the French, and the, more recently the Spanish. And you said that you're also influened by the English Romantics and the French Surrealists, I see more of the Surrealists than the Romantics [in your work], I guess.
MM























But everything I write out,wherever it starts, kind of ends up in love with something. I guess, the Spanish… I mean, Neruda certainly had a surrealist phase, a short surrealist phase in his youth. A lot of famous, respectable, institutionalized poets, usually their first book's the best, and usually it's a surrealist influence. And the second one isn't usually worth reading. The Spanish... I think that the passion-you don't have to be a surrealist… if there's a strong current in your art of passion, of passionate expression… well, like you say when you're passionate you get carried away. Your words will tumble out, you race, you know your mind's racing, you feel physically stirred, and… you don't need the theory of surrealism to just suddenly get into a glut of... millions of people—poets or not—get engorged in their journal, or in writing a love letter, or a hate letter, and will use words that they never normally use in conversational speech, and phrases that make no literal sense, and it will be a release of energy, like a dam breaking. And there's certainly a lot of that in the Spanish. Which is why guys coming 'round in the '30's, and also that with Neruda, would look for reinforcement for a period from the Surrealists. But I think passion leads to lack of control. And so, it can sometimes lead to a similar place, with a lack of control of the unconscious.
BR





Is Through-Traffic Molly!—the name of which I'd like an explanation for—but, that's the open mic reading that you're a cofounder of and, how important is embodying your poetry in the spoken word, to you? Is it not complete until you read it? Is performing it a form of publication for you? Tell me about the name of Through-Traffic Molly!, and tell people what it is.
MM








No, I can't, I can't. Well, what it is, is a poetry open mic, happens every two weeks in Capitol Hill, and it tends to the innovative, and the mixed media, and certainly someone would hear some surrealist poetry, and also non-surrealist poetry. But I think it's… art happens there. Art happens there. It's not a living death. And it's… there's no competition. There's no bosses. So, that's very different. Egomaniacs are not encouraged whereas egomaniacs tend to be in charge of every other poetry open mic.
BR I asked you about performance?
MM












Oh yeah, performance. God, I dunno. There is something about communication, there is something about 'we.' The first ever surrealist exhibition in London, which Roland Penrose organized, and he called it "Ten Thousand Years of Modern Art," —which is sort of a joke and not a joke— and where he put ancient Egyptian relics and so forth together with Ernst and Magritte and so forth... and I do think that surrealism is part of the true poetic line that goes back to the magician and the alchemist and the druid, and it goes back to the clan, and to the shapeshifter. In every tribal tradition there's the shapeshifter. So the surrealistic poet, any real poet is to do with magic, and does so with part of… with a sense of clan, a sense of the collective.
BR


The relationship between the modern and ancient is demonstrated by the table cloth on the table that Martin and I are looking at.
MM Oh, is it Chagall… it could be a Chagall.
BR



I thought maybe it was Picasso, and then people said that, no, this is a reproduction of drawings in the caves at Lascaux. But that's not right because there's a little house in here that looks very modern.
MM


Yeah the house looks kinda Chagall-y. Do you know J.S. Lowry, the Manchester painter? He's not really known over here. He used to do a lot of stick figures like this.
BR

Well, anyway… so some things can look sort of simultaneously very primitive and very modern.
MM




I mean Jean Miro's paintings, that's truly timeless. I mean, even put on some stuffy museum wall, they seem so much part of ancient drawings and carvings, and at the same time so modern. And I think real art doesn't date. Occasional verse and occasional…. The blues doesn't date, either.
BR


Mm hmm. And I feel that way about the jazz I love, I mean, it just, it really is a kind of classical music, it really feels so timeless and perfect.
MM






























Well jazz is very—I mean jazz is really part of …the surrealist movement was over its peak when Coltrane and Mingus and these guys started innovating. And… but absolutely there was… an opening up in the West in the 50's and 60's, which jazz was a part of, and a freeing up in poetry and so forth as well. But particularly in theater improvisation, and in dance, the rejection of… the development of intuitive dancing. Previously, dancers were really pieces of bone and meat that were just instructed to move in certain ways that were marked right or wrong by the choreographer or the troupe leader. And there's no real concept in western dancing that the young person, or that the trained dancer would have any right as a human being to express themselves through their movement, that wasn't what dance was. And same with jazz, and same with-well Lenny Bruce opened it up in comedy. He would do a run of shows, and people would go to his shows and steal his jokes, which was normal in those days, and they'd say to him "but… we're stealing your routine… but every night you just drop half the jokes and half are brand new," you know, said "when do you find time to write, 'cause you're on every night?" And he said "what do you mean write? I get up on the stage. And I'm different every night." But that was new. It was normal that a comedian would have the same script and would talk that script for five, ten years, that was their script. So improvisation, innovation, picking up a saxophone and just blowing yourself through it. Coltrane turned his back on the audience and said "this is not entertainment. I'm expressing myself as an individual. You can experience someone being themselves… if you want."
BR



Well, I know you've been out of town a lot lately and you went back to London for the first time in like five years and then you've been in New York. Did those visits have anything to do with poetry? Were you...
MM











No, no. But obviously when you're in different cities and not doing your normal work, then you have time to do that notorious thing of going to art galleries and things like that. So I did actually see a lot of Ernst and Miro and so forth. And also to look at other… to look at some of the most recognized works of impressionism and German expressionism and abstract expressionism, and modernism and… and so forth I don't normally get. So I was something of a culture vulture. Didn't find much that I liked. And I went to the Dali exhibition, they put on the biggest ever Dali exhibition, Salvador Dali exhibition. Which was truly horrific. Cost me ten dollars, for the most depressing exhibition.
BR







Why was it depressing? I've seen, this house that Dali built in Spain, now a museum he built… it was ten years ago, and I've forgotten even the name of the town that it was in. But he's in an interesting place between surrealism and something very contrived that seems to go against your own sense of surrealism. Is that the way you felt, that it was too contrived to be genuinely unconscious? Or—you said it was horrific...
MM















Yeah, extremely… well, one, they were playing church organ-the host, gallery, were playing-there were like three hundred pieces of Dali's work, and they were playing organ music, just organ music, Catholic Church or what have you, very sort of-very depressing, very very gloomy. And I thought 'bloody hell, they've got the nerve,' but then when I looked at the pieces I saw that in fact they had every right to do that… that, it was very, the whole tone was very narcissistic, and very much… to see so many things executed with such amazing professional craft, combined with no soul… and there's something pornographic about that. And it's so extremely… no one ever had been better at draftsmanship than him, Michaelangelo whatever, but then you see how, like they say, you know, he can write but he's got nothing to say. You know it's that sort of thing, it's like, "I'd rather you did nothing, than create this abomination."
BR





Mm hmm. Well that's interesting. I think you express that very well and there must be a sort of way that we can translate that into poetry, too. You know, what is your own process? You say you get into this state, but automatic writing has got to be a long way from complete poems like the ones you read.
MM No. All these are automatic. All these are unedited.
BR Really?
MM























Yeah. No, the thing about automatic writing is that you don't-the splits that took place in the surrealist movement were around, basically, around the question of editing. Well, you know, that's putting it really crassly, but… about whether things can come up through automatic expression that you can then manipulate and use to create something… get some raw materials, from what I'm writing in there and shape something… or whether that is …or whether not to. Whether there's a moral goal and a personal goal in surrealism of embracing the integrity of your inner space, not using it to make confection, to make concoctions for other people's… you know, for middle class people's dinner parties…. I do edit sometimes. Edit in the sense that, you get to know your space enough, that, you know when you're going out of it, you know when you're faking it, or whether… normally 'cause it's a cliché-almost everything from the intellect is a cliché. So when it's a cliché you normally know that you were thinking, that you were messing with the process, and so you could cut that out. But generally the whole stress is that… that it's quite a precious relationship you have getting to know your own internal landscape and, there isn't a second function to it like making money, or something like that by, turning it into journalism or…
BR










Oh, no, of course. And even, fairly traditional poets, a very traditional poet, like Robert Frost, and I hear many poets say this over and over again, that a poem has to get someplace that surprises them in the process of writing. And that seems to contain an element of what you're talking about too. You know, if, he says that, if you know where a poem is going to end when you begin it, it's not really a poem it's a trick. And that's that same kind of feeling, that… somehow you have to open yourself up to the unknown and go someplace that you know you're not in control, in order to have a poem.
MM













I mean it… definitely has a connection with eastern religions, from that point of view, of not being goal-orientated. And not being needy, but it's simply expressing… and finding ways to bypass or swamp your ego. …The ego is, generally speaking a very ugly little monster, and finding ways for your pre-consciousness and your subconscious-whatever the hell it is, your DNA memory, collective unconscious, whatever this inner space is, we don't know much about it scientifically still… since Freud wrote we don't know that much more for sure— but finding ways to access that and to swamp or simply just turn a different direction from where your ego is trying to block you into self-consciousness and knowledge. So, it's kind of like an internal…
BR


So are you ever able to connect with this part of yourself and improvise poetry in performance? Have you tried to do that?
MM
















Oh yeah, yes. Yes. It's much easier to do it, not with an audience, it's much easier to do it in a room with fellow surrealists, simply because you're less self-conscious. So, you know if you were in the average poetry event, you're in a room with people who are not… you're making a decision to really expose yourself. To take a big leap into the unknown, in a room where other people are not doing that. So, the sort of consumer approach to poetry that predominates, and acts as repression, and your tendency is to meet other people's egos with your own ego. So you need tremendous confidence. Which I do sometimes have, but you need just real confidence… the will to go to the subconscious, and the hell with everyone else around you, and what they think, that "this is mad" or "unrestrained" and so on. But you can do it. And you can do it in a disciplined way. And, it's contradictory but you can will yourself to the unconscious.
BR

Yes, and that's very interesting, and that's what a lot of this depends on.
MM






Will, yeah, totally will. Self-confidence. If you're beaten down you can't do it. If you've been beaten down by school and bosses and family and so forth, that you're just a little person, who can just put out pale little occasional verse, then you won't do this and… but if you want to turn things upside down, if you think your own internal world… if you trust yourself… yeah.
BR


Why don't you read or invent if you want or whatever, another one of these poems, now that we've heard something about how they're made.
MM Ribcage somnolence…
[reading]
BR

Hmm. I liked that one. I like the commuters streaming out of their piñatas.
MM




But you can probably—when you hear it, you probably—especially when we've had a chat—you can probably see, or you can sense that when I write a line, I don't know what I'm going to write next. "Like a bicycle in a forest with its six hooves."
BR Uh-huh.
MM













Which would fit inside a nostril. So, there isn't any formal, there's an internal, there's a dream logic. And of course dreams are very much associated with Freud and then in the art world with surrealism. There's a dream logic, you know, dream one minute you're in an elevator, and then a lion walks in and then you turn around you're in a field, and then your mother walks in, and then you're in a forest and there's a dead body there, and you go into a house that turns into a, and so forth. And again, you can freak out in a dream and say "what's it mean, what's it mean?" Or, you can make friends with it and… yeah, you can gain knowledge. Art is knowledge, poetry is knowledge, the same way that science is. It's a very different form of internal knowledge. An internal road map.
BR



Is this something you articulate in your own poems that you see… as one in analysis or out of it might interpret a dream, do you interpret your own poems in that way, or just that part of the self-consciousness that you think helps?
MM








Well… I don't analyze my own poems, no. I'm aware that in automatic writing, in a certain month or certain year or whatever that certain things, maybe moustaches keep coming up, cheese might keep coming up. A porch might. So forth. It's just, that's just… well, look around your living room or your bedroom. You could analyze all the things you collected. And… 'what does this show about…' but… or you can just look around and go… "yeah." Just go "yeah." That kind of knowledge.
BR You just dig 'em.
MM

But that's really important knowledge. It's getting friends with yourself.
BR Yeah, I think this is important.
MM And it's liking yourself.
BR










I feel like people are almost losing the sense of the mind as having, well certainly the kind of depth of unconscious that I remember people used to have, I think… we've talked about it in some of these interviews that it may be the result of people reading less and relating to screens more and therefore they're not really creating internal space in the way you do when you read, when you create all the images, internally. Instead, as a culture we tend to just receive them, images that are just created externally, but the unconscious can be a vast place, and a place where you're connected with everyone else too.
MM






























Well, I mean, damn but, even, back in his old age in the 50's Breton issued this thing, saying we need more realism-the imagination is being so—that people are being so swamped, and art had been so unimaginative, that he had to issue a call for even realism, we need more, even realism would be a step forward. And certainly the constant swamping-of course with cell-phones… that now, you don't even actually experience …shopping. "yes, I'm in the shop, and blah blah blah." You're on your cell-phone, and so you're not even experiencing— you're not involved, you're not fully involved even in what you're doing, never mind your inner… And one thing about surrealism, and why it's always been put forward not simply as an art movement and is… that cultivating this and being into this has big repercussions for how you live. And, to live open to this—'cause you learn things—it's like going in a gym to work a certain muscle that's weak, that when you release energy in this way, it starts to change… it doesn't start to change your life but it stimulates certain things in your life that makes you more open to being fully involved in your experiences, more open to surprise, less goal orientated, but more simply existing and taking… it's an adventure, it's an adventure, it's an unscripted adventure. And… that's the kind of life I want, that's the kind of life everyone wants, an unscripted adventure. Not censors and poetry police and thought police and job police. We want freedom. And that's why surrealism has always been very connected with revolutionary politics. Because revolutionary politics is against capitalism and it's for social, and economic, and political freedom, and surrealism is just as strong for absolute internal freedom, freedom of internal and absolute artistic expression without any rules.
BR


Well, thank you. I mean, I understand those connections more clearly now. And, it's been great talking to you. I think we're kind of running out of time, but it's been good.
MM Can I say something?
BR Sure!
MM
























Yeah, 'cause, I've been sounding very critical there're a lot of things that have to do with capitalism in the art world—and I am. But I went and did some teaching. Un-teaching. I went to a high school and did some un-teaching. Played some very surrealist games. Four different classes two weeks ago. These are 17, 18 year olds. And again the education system is geared towards someone being in charge, if you want to pass an exam 'this is what you write,' 'this is what you think, and say,' and so forth to get ahead, et cetera, and you learn to be obedient and so forth. But in these writing classes, we played these games, and when I suggested, and encouraged a room full of young people—not with this heavy theory—to write without thinking… in this game if you think you're wrong, you have to write the beginning of the sentence, finish this sentence. Exquisite corpses and so on so forth. Whole number of games. And to see the really wonderful and amazing things that people came up with, and how much they enjoyed it, and how much they liked reading it out, and hearing… and how comfortable they were with things not being explainable, but simply being wonderful. So yeah, I certainly would rather hear the writings of exquisite corpses by high school students, than most poetry magazines in a book store. So, there's plenty of life there. It just needs to be encouraged again.
BR





Well that's true, and it's good to hear it from you, and it's my experience also teaching that the spontaneous games and things, people often write their best poems that way. At least the most delightful. The most fun for us all. So, it's been good talking to you, and I look forward to hearing your poetry again soon.
MM Thank you very much, Belle.
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