Ben Mirov on Dancing While Being Flagellated

An interview with Ben Mirov, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Ben Mirov is the author of two books of poetry, Hider Roser and Ghost Machine, and the chapbooks I is to Vorticism, Vortexts, and Collected Ghosts.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them … ?

I usually tell them I’m a teacher. I don’t usually tell them I write poems. I prefer to think of my relationship to poetry as a completely isolated aspect of my life. It feels good to protect it, like I don’t need to incorporate being a poet into my identity to make it a thing. Even though it’s integral to who I am, maintaining the illusion that my role as a poet is relegated to its own dimension is important to me for reasons I’ve never fully explored. I just take the impulse as something of value.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

I feel cheesy saying this, but I think poetry is my “biggest struggle,” although the word “struggle,” seems inaccurate to me. Is there a word that combines the concept of dancing with the concept of being flagellated?

I assiduously avoid conflict in my life. Even when I shouldn’t. But when it comes to poetry, I try to invite difficulty. I love the idea that you can live your life with poetry, or in it. That somehow, poetry can be the ether you travel through, like space and time, maybe even more real than space and time. Often I feel my most critical engagements with reality occur in the realm of poetry. It’s this perennial engagement that you could call a “struggle,” but really it’s more an asinine adventure, or some kind of exchange of energies between my organism and the energy I call poetry.

There is an excellent quote by Pablo Neruda, whose work I’ve rarely read, and don’t particularly care for: “One by one, I have been leaving my books behind me, substituting, reconstructing form and meaning each time. I am the foremost adversary of Nerudism.” This is the kind of thing I mean by “struggle.” Every time I come into contact with poetry, or I am allowed to experience its confluence, I have to “reconstruct form and meaning each time.” This sort of engagement with poetry via my “self,” is the struggle I’m talking about. The difficulty of being a cipher. The problem of how best to write something that seems to fit the minute calibrations of my brain and the world around me.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

I don’t like to give advice.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I’ve achieved some things I’ve wanted to do with my poetry, so in that sense I feel successful. But I don’t really care, either way. It felt good to have some books published, but then the feeling was replace by dread that I would never write anything worth reading again, and a more general feeling that the imminence of death makes most considerations about achievement seem extraneous.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

I don’t use YouTube videos to make myself feel better. But I do enjoy playing video games. I’m playing the recent Starcraft 2 expansion, and this online game called League of Legends. I’m ok at both. When I feel like shutting down and not thinking about things, I usually log on and get schooled by a bunch of kids, and then return to my normal life.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

I always thought my grandfather was a cool person. He immigrated to California when he was 17 from Fukushima, Japan, where his family had an apple farm. When he came to California, he picked fruit, I think around the Sacramento area. He was put in an interment camp at Tule Lake for a few years at the beginning of the war. I still have pictures of him from that time. He looks stylish in the pictures; in one he’s wearing a clean white shirt with the collar open and wide-leg slacks and boots, I think. In my memory of this particular photo he’s smoking a cigarette. I think he took pride in his appearance. He was a naturally good looking guy with a square jaw and a charming smile. He had a really dry sense of humor and was particularly thoughtful about his use of language, specifically the amount of talking he did and the clarity of what he said. He worked difficult jobs his entire life. Many of them were manual labor that took him away from my mom and grandmother for long periods of time. When I think of the type of person I’d like to be, I think of him, or my memory of him.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I don’t remember admiring anyone. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I still do.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.


How much money do you have in your checking account?


What’s wrong with society today?

People. Mostly men.

What is your fondest memory?

I prefer to not think about the past. Nothing in the past seems superlative. It all seems flat.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

I’d like to see video games evolve into “real life” altering art forms. I think there is so much potential for game designers to redefine the parameters of reality. Like if somehow we could create a game that effects the real world in a structural, ideological manner, so that people are building and manipulating forms online that have critical implications for things like epidemiology, or architecture. I feel like video games, more than any other art form, have the potential to change the world. As an art form they attract some of the most intelligent people in the world, and there’s so much money in the video game industry. Granted it’s not yet going to the people who are making the most revolutionary games, but hopefully it will in the future.

I was recently reading about a game called Chain World, created by an Australian game designer named Jason Rohrer. He only made one copy of Chain World and put it on a flash drive and took it to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco where he gave the game to one person. The only instructions he gave them were that they were to play the game until their character died, and then pass the game on to another person. There was no attempt to market the game, or make money off of it in anyway (although, later in the game’s existence someone did try to profit from it). I think the game is still out there, being passed around from person to person, having its world altered a little each time someone plays. It’s gaming ideas like this that make me really excited for the future, and the potential video games have to help humanity evolve into some kind of more advanced collective.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a book of poems. It’s difficult to talk about it in an organized manner. I can talk about aspects of the book. For example it’s intended to be read sequentially in a single sitting. It attempts to create a sort of artificial intelligence, or at least it represents a capacitor for some kind of life force, but I also accept that it might only be the evidence of failed experiments towards these ends. Some of the poems draw from the anatomy of deep sea organisms. Others sample language from other poets, or from other places, or from myself in the past. Many of the poems are calligramatic, that is, they attempt to embody their content in an organic manner that might be considered pictorial.

One impulse the book comes from is a fantasy, or daydream I have. I think of myself, in a post-apocalyptic future, searching through the rubble of someone’s house for food or something, and I come across a copy ofGhost Machine (the first book I wrote). In my dream, I know the book was written by me, but I feel completely divorced from it. It has no place in the fucked up future I imagine myself in. The implications of the daydream still mess with me. I wrote my new book for the imagined me. I want him to pick up the book and feel the contents are still valuable, or poetic in the given context of nuclear fallout or whatever awful future he’s experiencing.

I don’t know what else to say about it at the moment.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

I wish we had incredible biodiversity. Also, equitable living standards for all humans.

A night on the town: What does that mean to you?


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